The Gates of Somnauth
|The Gates of Somnauth (1843)
|A speech on the actions of Lord Ellenborough, the Governor General of India, in removing the gates of a Muslim temple and erecting them at the Hindu temple to Shiva at Somnauth and of issuing a letter to the Indian Chiefs. Given to the House of Commons on 9 March 1843.|
Mr Speaker, — If the practice of the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of the Board of Control, had been in accordance with his precepts, if he had not, after exhorting us to confine ourselves strictly to the subject before us, rambled far from that subject, I should have refrained from all digression. For and truth there is abundance to be said touching both the substance and the style of this Proclamation. I cannot, however, leave the honourable gentleman's peroration entirely unnoticed. But I assure him that I do not mean to wander from the question before us to any great distance or for any long time.
I cannot but wonder, Sir, that he who has, on this, as on former occasions, exhibited so much ability and acuteness, should have gravely represented it as a ground of complaint, that my right honourable friend the Member for Northampton (Mr Vernon Smith) has made this motion in the Governor General's absence. Does the honourable gentleman mean that this House is to be interdicted from ever considering in what manner Her Majesty's Asiatic subjects, a hundred millions in number, are governed? And how can we consider how they are governed without considering the conduct of him who is governing them? And how can we consider the conduct of him who is governing them, except in his absence? For my own part, I can say for myself, and I may, I doubt not, say for my right honourable friend the Member for Northampton, that we both of us wish, with all our hearts and souls, that we were discussing this question in the presence of Lord Ellenborough. Would to heaven, Sir, for the sake of the credit of England, and of the interests of India, that the noble lord were at this moment under our gallery! But, Sir, if there be any Governor who has no right to complain of remarks made on him in his absence, it is that Governor who, forgetting all official decorum, forgetting how important it is that, while the individuals who serve the State are changed, the State should preserve its identity, inserted in a public proclamation reflections on his predecessor, a predecessor of whom, on the present occasion, I will only say that his conduct had deserved a very different return. I am confident that no enemy of Lord Auckland, if Lord Auckland has an enemy in the House, will deny that, whatever faults he may have committed, he was faultless with respect to Lord Ellenborough. No brother could have laboured more assiduously for the interests and the honour of a brother than Lord Auckland laboured to facilitate Lord Ellenborough's arduous task, to prepare for Lord Ellenborough the means of obtaining success and glory. And what was the requital? A proclamation by Lord Ellenborough, stigmatising the conduct of Lord Auckland. And, Sir, since the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control has thought fit to divert the debate from its proper course, I will venture to request that he, or the honourable director who sits behind him (Sir James Hogg), will vouchsafe to give us some explanations on an important point to which allusion has been made.
Lord Ellenborough has been accused of having publicly announced that our troops were about to evacuate Afghanistan before he had ascertained that our captive countrymen and countrywomen had been restored to liberty. This accusation, which is certainly a serious one, the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of the Board of Control, pronounces to be a mere calumny. Now, Sir, the proclamation which announces the withdrawing of the troops bears date the first of October 1842. What I wish to know is, whether any member of the Government, or of the Court of Directors, will venture to affirm that on the first of October 1842, the Governor General knew that the prisoners had been set at liberty? I believe that no member either of the Government or of the Court of Directors will venture to affirm any such thing. It seems certain that on the first of October the Governor General could not know that the prisoners were safe. Nevertheless, the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control assures us that, when the proclamation was drawn up, the Governor General did know that the prisoners were safe. What is the inevitable consequence? It is this, that the date is a false date, that the proclamation was written after the first of October, and antedated? And for what reason was it antedated? I am almost ashamed to tell the House what I believe to have been the reason. I believe that Lord Ellenborough affixed the false date of the first of October to his proclamation because Lord Auckland's manifesto against Afghanistan was dated on the first of October. I believe that Lord Ellenborough wished to make the contrast between his own success and his predecessor's failure more striking, and that for the sake of this paltry, this childish, triumph, he antedated his proclamation, and made it appear to all Europe and all Asia that the English Government was indifferent to the fate of Englishmen and Englishwomen who were in a miserable captivity. If this be so, and I shall be surprised to hear any person deny that it is so, I must say that by this single act, by writing those words, the first of October, the Governor General proved himself to be a man of an ill-regulated mind, a man unfit for high public trust.
I might, Sir, if I chose to follow the example of the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control, advert to many other matters. I might call the attention of the House to the systematic manner in which the Governor General has exerted himself to lower the character and to break the spirit of that civil service on the respectability and efficiency of which chiefly depends the happiness of a hundred millions of human beings. I might say much about the financial committee which he appointed in the hope of finding out blunders of his predecessor, but which at last found out no blunders except his own. But the question before us demands our attention. That question has two sides, a serious and a ludicrous side. Let us look first at the serious side. Sir, I disclaim in the strongest manner all intention of raising any fanatical outcry or of lending aid to any fanatical project. I would very much rather be the victim of fanaticism than its tool. If Lord Ellenborough were called in question for having given an impartial protection to the professors of different religions, or for restraining unjustifiable excesses into which Christian missionaries might have been hurried by their zeal, I would, widely as I have always differed from him in politics, have stood up in his defence, though I had stood up alone.
But the charge against Lord Ellenborough is that he has insulted the religion of his own country and the religion of millions of the Queen's Asiatic subjects in order to pay honour to an idol. And this the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control calls a trivial charge. Sir, I think it a very grave charge. Her Majesty is the ruler of a larger heathen population than the world ever saw collected under the sceptre of a Christian sovereign since the days of the Emperor Theodosius. What the conduct of rulers in such circumstances ought to be is one of the most important moral questions, one of the most important political questions, that it is possible to conceive. There are subject to the British rule in Asia a hundred millions of people who do not profess the Christian faith. The Mahometans are a minority: but their importance is much more than proportioned to their number: for they are an united, a zealous, an ambitious, a warlike class.
The great majority of the population of India consists of idolaters, blindly attached to doctrines and rites which, considered merely with reference to the temporal interests of mankind, are in the highest degree pernicious. In no part of the world has a religion ever existed more unfavourable to the moral and intellectual health of our race. The Brahminical mythology is so absurd that it necessarily debases every mind which receives it as truth; and with this absurd mythology is bound up an absurd system of physics, an absurd geography, an absurd astronomy. Nor is this form of Paganism more favourable to art than to science. Through the whole Hindoo Pantheon you will look in vain for anything resembling those beautiful and majestic forms which stood in the shrines of ancient Greece. All is hideous, and grotesque, and ignoble. As this superstition is of all superstitions the most irrational, and of all superstitions the most inelegant, so is it of all superstitions the most immoral. Emblems of vice are objects of public worship. Acts of vice are acts of public worship. The courtesans are as much a part of the establishment of the temple, as much ministers of the god, as the priests. Crimes against life, crimes against property, are not only permitted but enjoined by this odious theology. But for our interference human victims would still be offered to the Ganges, and the widow would still be laid on the pile with the corpse of her husband, and burned alive by her own children. It is by the command and under the especial protection of one of the most powerful goddesses that the Thugs join themselves to the unsuspecting traveller, make friends with him, slip the noose round his neck, plunge their knives in his eyes, hide him in the earth, and divide his money and baggage. I have read many examinations of Thugs; and I particularly remember an altercation which took place between two of those wretches in the presence of an English officer. One Thug reproached the other for having been so irreligious as to spare the life of a traveller when the omens indicated that their patroness required a victim. "How could you let him go? How can you expect the goddess to protect us if you disobey her commands? That is one of your North country heresies."
Now, Sir, it is a difficult matter to determine in what way Christian rulers ought to deal with such superstitions as these. We might have acted as the Spaniards acted in the New World. We might have attempted to introduce our own religion by force. We might have sent missionaries among the natives at the public charge. We might have held out hopes of public employment to converts, and have imposed civil disabilities on Mahometans and Pagans. But we did none of these things; and herein we judged wisely. Our duty, as rulers, was to preserve strict neutrality on all questions merely religious: and I am not aware that we have ever swerved from strict neutrality for the purpose of making proselytes to our own faith. But we have, I am sorry to say, sometimes deviated from the right path in the opposite direction. Some Englishmen, who have held high office in India, seem to have thought that the only religion which was not entitled to toleration and to respect was Christianity. They regarded every Christian missionary with extreme jealousy and disdain; and they suffered the most atrocious crimes, if enjoined by the Hindoo superstition, to be perpetrated in open day. It is lamentable to think how long after our power was firmly established in Bengal, we, grossly neglecting the first and plainest duty of the civil magistrate, suffered the practices of infanticide and Suttee to continue unchecked. We decorated the temples of the false gods. We provided the dancing girls. We gilded and painted the images to which our ignorant subjects bowed down. We repaired and embellished the car under the wheels of which crazy devotees flung themselves at every festival to be crushed to death. We sent guards of honour to escort pilgrims to the places of worship. We actually made oblations at the shrines of idols. All this was considered, and is still considered, by some prejudiced Anglo-Indians of the old school, as profound policy. I believe that there never was so shallow, so senseless a policy. We gained nothing by it. We lowered ourselves in the eyes of those whom we meant to flatter. We led them to believe that we attached no importance to the difference between Christianity and heathenism. Yet how vast that difference is! I altogether abstain from alluding to topics which belong to divines. I speak merely as a politician anxious for the morality and the temporal well-being of society. And, so speaking, I say that to countenance the Brahminical idolatry, and to discountenance that religion which has done so much to promote justice, and mercy, and freedom, and arts, and sciences, and good government, and domestic happiness, which has struck off the chains of the slave, which has mitigated the horrors of war, which has raised women from servants and playthings into companions and friends, is to commit high treason against humanity and civilisation.
Gradually a better system was introduced. A great man whom we have lately lost, Lord Wellesley, led the way. He prohibited the immolation of female children; and this was the most unquestionable of all his titles to the gratitude of his country. In the year 1813 Parliament gave new facilities to persons who were desirous to proceed to India as missionaries. Lord William Bentinck abolished the Suttee. Shortly afterwards the Home Government sent out to Calcutta the important and valuable despatch to which reference has been repeatedly made in the course of this discussion. That despatch Lord Glenelg wrote, - I was then at the Board of Control, and can attest the fact, - with his own hand. One paragraph, the sixty-second, is of the highest moment. I know that paragraph so well that I could repeat it word for word. It contains in short compass an entire code of regulations for the guidance of British functionaries in matters relating to the idolatry of India. The orders of the Home Government were express, that the arrangements of the temples should be left entirely to the natives. A certain discretion was of course left to the local authorities as to the time and manner of dissolving that connection which had long existed between the English Government and the Brahminical superstition. But the principle was laid down in the clearest manner. This was in February 1833. In the year 1838 another despatch was sent, which referred to the sixty-second paragraph in Lord Glenelg's despatch, and enjoined the Indian Government to observe the rules contained in that paragraph. Again, in the year 1841, precise orders were sent out on the same subject, orders which Lord Ellenborough seems to me to have studied carefully for the express purpose of disobeying them point by point, and in the most direct manner. You murmur: but only look at the orders of the Directors and at the proclamation of the Governor General. The orders are, distinctly and positively, that the British authorities in India shall have nothing to do with the temples of the natives, shall make no presents to those temples, shall not decorate those temples, shall not pay any military honour to those temples.
Now, Sir, the first charge which I bring against Lord Ellenborough is, that he has been guilty of an act of gross disobedience, that he has done that which was forbidden in the strongest terms by those from whom his power is derived. The Home Government says, Do not interfere in the concerns of heathen temples. Is it denied that Lord Ellenborough has interfered in the concerns of a heathen temple? The Home Government says, Make no presents to heathen temples. Is it denied that Lord Ellenborough has proclaimed to all the world his intention to make a present to a heathen temple? The Home Government says, Do not decorate heathen temples. Is it denied that Lord Ellenborough has proclaimed to all the world his intention to decorate a heathen temple? The Home Government says, Do not send troops to do honour to heathen temples. Is it denied that Lord Ellenborough sent a body of troops to escort these gates to a heathen temple? To be sure, the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control tries to get rid of this part of the case in rather a whimsical manner. He says that it is impossible to believe that, by sending troops to escort the gates, Lord Ellenborough can have meant to pay any mark of respect to an idol. And why? Because, says the honourable gentleman, the Court of Directors had given positive orders that troops should not be employed to pay marks of respect to idols. Why, Sir, undoubtedly, if it is to be taken for granted that Lord Ellenborough is a perfect man, if all our reasonings are to proceed on the supposition that he cannot do wrong, then I admit the force of the honourable gentleman's argument. But it seems to me a strange and dangerous thing to infer a man's innocence merely from the flagrancy of his guilt. It is certain that the Home authorities ordered the Governor General not to employ the troops in the service of a temple. It is certain that Lord Ellenborough employed the troops to escort a trophy, an oblation, which he sent to the restored temple of Somnauth.
Yes, the restored temple of Somnauth. Those are his lordship's words. They have given rise to some discussion, and seem not to be understood by everybody in the same sense. We all know that this temple is in ruins. I am confident that Lord Ellenborough knew it to be in ruins, and that his intention was to rebuild it at the public charge. That is the obvious meaning of his words. But, as this meaning is so monstrous that nobody here can venture to defend it, his friends pretend that he believed the temple to have been already restored, and that he had no thought of being himself the restorer. How can I believe this? How can I believe that, when he issued this proclamation, he knew nothing about the state of the temple to which he proposed to make an offering of such importance? He evidently knew that it had once been in ruins; or he would not have called it the restored temple. Why am I to suppose that he imagined it to have been rebuilt? He had people about him who knew it well, and who could have told him that it was in ruins still. To say that he was not aware that it was in ruins is to say that he put forth his proclamation without taking the trouble to ask a single question of those who were close at hand and were perfectly competent to give him information. Why, Sir, this defence is itself an accusation. I defy the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control, I defy all human ingenuity, to get his lordship clear off from both the horns of this dilemma. Either way, he richly deserves a parliamentary censure. Either he published this proclamation in the recklessness of utter ignorance without making the smallest inquiry; or else he, an English and a Christian Governor, meant to build a temple to a heathen god at the public charge, in direct defiance of the commands of his official superiors. Turn and twist the matter which way you will, you can make nothing else of it. The stain is like the stain of Blue Beard's key, in the nursery tale. As soon as you have scoured one side clean, the spot comes out on the other.
So much for the first charge, the charge of disobedience. It is fully made out: but it is not the heaviest charge which I bring against Lord Ellenborough. I charge him with having done that which, even if it had not been, as it was, strictly forbidden by the Home authorities, it would still have been a high crime to do. He ought to have known, without any instructions from home, that it was his duty not to take part in disputes among the false religions of the East; that it was his duty, in his official character, to show no marked preference for any of those religions, and to offer no marked insult to any. But, Sir, he has paid unseemly homage to one of those religions; he has grossly insulted another; and he has selected as the object of his homage the very worst and most degrading of those religions, and as the object of his insults the best and purest of them. The homage was paid to Lingamism. The insult was offered to Mahometanism. Lingamism is not merely idolatry, but idolatry in its most pernicious form. The honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control seemed to think that he had achieved a great victory when he had made out that his lordship's devotions had been paid, not to Vishnu, but to Siva. Sir, Vishnu is the preserving Deity of the Hindoo Mythology; Siva is the destroying Deity; and, as far as I have any preference for one of your Governor General's gods over another, I confess that my own tastes would lead me to prefer the preserving to the destroying power. Yes, Sir; the temple of Somnauth was sacred to Siva; and the honourable gentleman cannot but know by what emblem Siva is represented, and with what rites he is adored. I will say no more. The Governor General, Sir, is in some degree protected by the very magnitude of his offence. I am ashamed to name those things to which he is not ashamed to pay public reverence. This god of destruction, whose images and whose worship it would be a violation of decency to describe, is selected as the object of homage.
As the object of insult is selected a religion which has borrowed much of its theology and much of its morality from Christianity, a religion which in the midst of Polytheism teaches the unity of God, and, in the midst of idolatry, strictly proscribes the worship of images. The duty of our Government is, as I said, to take no part in the disputes between Mahometans and idolaters. But, if our Government does take a part, there cannot be a doubt that Mahometanism is entitled to the preference. Lord Ellenborough is of a different opinion. He takes away the gates from a Mahometan mosque, and solemnly offers them as a gift to a Pagan temple. Morally, this is a crime. Politically, it is a blunder. Nobody who knows anything of the Mahometans of India can doubt that this affront to their faith will excite their fiercest indignation. Their susceptibility on such points is extreme. Some of the most serious disasters that have ever befallen us in India have been caused by that susceptibility. Remember what happened at Vellore in 1806, and more recently at Bangalore. The mutiny of Vellore was caused by a slight shown to the Mahometan turban; the mutiny of Bangalore, by disrespect said to have been shown to a Mahometan place of worship. If a Governor General had been induced by his zeal for Christianity to offer any affront to a mosque held in high veneration by Mussulmans, I should think that he had been guilty of indiscretion such as proved him to be unfit for his post. But to affront a mosque of peculiar dignity, not from zeal for Christianity, but for the sake of this loathsome god of destruction, is nothing short of madness.
Some temporary popularity Lord Ellenborough may no doubt gain in some quarters. I hear, and I can well believe, that some bigoted Hindoos have hailed this proclamation with delight, and have begun to entertain a hope that the British Government is about to take their worship under its peculiar protection. But how long will that hope last? I presume that the right honourable Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury does not mean to suffer India to be governed on Brahminical principles. I presume that he will not allow the public revenue to be expended in rebuilding temples, adorning idols, and hiring courtesans. I have no doubt that there is already on the way to India such an admonition as will prevent Lord Ellenborough from persisting in the course on which he has entered. The consequence will be that the exultation of the Brahmins will end in mortification and anger. See then of what a complication of faults the Governor General is guilty. In order to curry favour with the Hindoos he has offered an inexpiable insult to the Mahometans; and now, in order to quiet the English, he is forced to disappoint and disgust the Hindoos.
But, apart from the irritating effect which these transactions must produce on every part of the native population, is it no evil to have this continual wavering and changing? This is not the only case in which Lord Ellenborough has, with great pomp, announced intentions which he has not been able to carry into effect. It is his Lordship's habit. He put forth a notification that his Durbar was to be honoured by the presence of Dost Mahomed. Then came a notification that Dost Mahomed would not make his appearance there. In the proclamation which we are now considering his lordship announced to all the princes of India his resolution to set up these gates at Somnauth. The gates, it is now universally admitted, will not be set up there. All India will see that the Governor General has changed his mind. The change may be imputed to mere fickleness and levity. It may be imputed to the disapprobation with which his conduct has been regarded here. In either case he appears in a light in which it is much to be deplored that a Governor General should appear.
So much for the serious side of this business; and now for the ludicrous side. Even in our mirth, however, there is sadness; for it is no light thing that he who represents the British nation in India should be a jest to the people of India. We have sometimes sent them governors whom they loved, and sometimes governors whom they feared; but they never before had a governor at whom they laughed. Now, however, they laugh; and how can we blame them for laughing, when all Europe and all America are laughing too? You see, Sir, that the gentlemen opposite cannot keep their countenances. And no wonder. Was such a State paper ever seen in our language before? And what is the plea set up for all this bombast? Why, the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control brings down to the House some translations of Persian letters from native princes. Such letters, as everybody knows, are written in a most absurd and turgid style. The honourable gentleman forces us to hear a good deal of this detestable rhetoric; and then he asks why, if the secretaries of the Nizam and the King of Oude use all these tropes and hyperboles, Lord Ellenborough should not indulge in the same sort of eloquence? The honourable gentleman might as well ask why Lord Ellenborough should not sit cross-legged, why he should not let his beard grow to his waist, why he should not wear a turban, why he should not hang trinkets all about his person, why he should not ride about Calcutta on a horse jingling with bells and glittering with false pearls. The native princes do these things; and why should not he? Why, Sir, simply because he is not a native prince, but an English Governor General. When the people of India see a Nabob or a Rajah in all his gaudy finery, they bow to him with a certain respect. They know that the splendour of his garb indicates superior rank and wealth. But if Sir Charles Metcalfe had so bedizened himself, they would have thought that he was out of his wits. They are not such fools as the honourable gentleman takes them for. Simplicity is not their fashion. But they understand and respect the simplicity of our fashions. Our plain clothing commands far more reverence than all the jewels which the most tawdry Zemindar wears; and our plain language carries with it far more weight than the florid diction of the most ingenious Persian scribe. The plain language and the plain clothing are inseparably associated in the minds of our subjects with superior knowledge, with superior energy, with superior veracity, with all the high and commanding qualities which erected, and which still uphold, our empire.
Sir, if, as the speech of the honourable gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control seems to indicate, Lord Ellenborough has adopted this style on principle, if it be his lordship's deliberate intention to mimic, in his State papers, the Asiatic modes of thought and expression, that alone would be a reason for recalling him. But the honourable gentlemen is mistaken in thinking that this proclamation is in the Oriental taste. It bears no resemblance to the very bad Oriental compositions which he has read to us, nor to any other Oriental compositions that I ever saw. It is neither English nor Indian. It is not original, however; and I will tell the House where the Governor General found his models. He has apparently been studying the rants of the French Jacobins during the period of their ascendency, the Carmagnoles of the Convention, the proclamations issued by the Directory and its Proconsuls: and he has been seized with a desire to imitate those compositions. The pattern which he seems to have especially proposed to himself is the rhodomontade in which it was announced that the modern Gauls were marching to Rome in order to avenge the fate of Dumnorix and Vercingetorex. Everybody remembers those lines in which revolutionary justice is described by Mr Canning:-
- "Not she in British courts who takes her stand,
- The dawdling balance dangling in her hand;
- But firm, erect, with keen reverted glance,
- The avenging angel of regenerate France,
- Who visits ancient sins on modern times,
- And punishes the Pope for Caesar's crimes."
In the same spirit and in the same style our Governor General has proclaimed his intention to retaliate on the Mussulmans beyond the mountains the insults which their ancestors, eight hundred years ago, offered to the idolatry of the Hindoos. To do justice to the Jacobins, however, I must say that they had an excuse which was wanting to the noble lord. The revolution had made almost as great a change in literary tastes as in political institutions. The old masters of French eloquence had shared the fate of the old states and of the old parliaments. The highest posts in the administration were filled by persons who had no experience of affairs, who in the general confusion had raised themselves by audacity and quickness of natural parts, uneducated men, or half educated men, who had no notion that the style in which they had heard the heroes and villains of tragedies declaim on the stage was not the style of real warriors and statesmen. But was it for an English gentleman, a man of distinguished abilities and cultivated mind, a man who had sat many years in parliament, and filled some of the highest posts in the State, to copy the productions of such a school?
But, it is said, what does it matter if the noble lord has written a foolish rhapsody which is neither prose nor verse? Is affected phraseology a subject for parliamentary censure? What great ruler can be named who has not committed errors much more serious than the penning of a few sentences of turgid nonsense? This, I admit, sounds plausible. It is quite true that very eminent men, Lord Somers, for example, Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Chatham and his son, all committed faults which did much more harm than any fault of style can do. But I beg the House to observe this, that an error which produces the most serious consequences may not necessarily prove that the man who has committed it is not a very wise man; and that, on the other hand, an error which directly produces no important consequences may prove the man who has committed it to be quite unfit for public trust. Walpole committed a ruinous error when he yielded to the public cry for war with Spain. But, notwithstanding that error, he was an eminently wise man. Caligula, on the other hand, when he marched his soldiers to the beach, made them fill their helmets with cockle-shells, and sent the shells to be placed in the Capitol as trophies of his conquests, did no great harm to anybody; but he surely proved that he was quite incapable of governing an empire. Mr Pitt's expedition to Quiberon was most ill judged, and ended in defeat and disgrace. Yet Mr Pitt was a statesman of a very high order. On the other hand, such ukases as those by which the Emperor Paul used to regulate the dress of the people of Petersburg, though they caused much less misery than the slaughter at Quiberon, proved that the Emperor Paul could not safely be trusted with power over his fellow-creatures. One day he forbade the wearing of pantaloons. Another day he forbade his subjects to comb their hair over their foreheads. Then he proscribed round hats. A young Englishman, the son of a merchant, thought to evade this decree by going about the city in a hunting cap. Then came out an edict which made it penal to wear on the head a round thing such as the English merchant's son wore.
Now, Sir, I say that, when I examine the substance of Lord Ellenborough's proclamation, and consider all the consequences which that paper is likely to produce, I am forced to say that he has committed a grave moral and political offence. When I examine the style, I see that he has committed an act of eccentric folly, much of the same kind with Caligula's campaign against the cockles, and with the Emperor Paul's ukase against round hats. Consider what an extravagant selfconfidence, what a disdain for the examples of his great predecessors and for the opinions of the ablest and most experienced men who are now to be found in the Indian services, this strange document indicates. Surely it might have occurred to Lord Ellenborough that, if this kind of eloquence had been likely to produce a favourable impression on the minds of Asiatics, such Governors as Warren Hastings, Mr Elphinstone, Sir Thomas Munro, and Sir Charles Metcalfe, men who were as familiar with the language and manners of the native population of India as any man here can be with the language and manners of the French, would not have left the discovery to be made by a new comer who did not know any Eastern tongue. Surely, too, it might have occurred to the noble lord that, before he put forth such a proclamation, he would do well to ask some person who knew India intimately what the effect both on the Mahometans and Hindoos was likely to be.
I firmly believe that the Governor General either did not ask advice or acted in direct opposition to advice. Mr Maddock was with his lordship as acting Secretary. Now I know enough of Mr Maddock to be quite certain that he never counselled the Governor General to publish such a paper. I will pawn my life that he either was never called upon to give an opinion, or that he gave an opinion adverse to the course which has been taken. No Governor General who was on good terms with the civil service would have been, I may say, permitted to expose himself thus. Lord William Bentinck and Lord Auckland were, to be sure, the last men in the world to think of doing such a thing as this. But if either of those noble lords, at some unlucky moment when he was not quite himself, when his mind was thrown off the balance by the pride and delight of an extraordinary success, had proposed to put forth such a proclamation, he would have been saved from committing so great a mistake by the respectful but earnest remonstrances of those in whom he placed confidence, and who were solicitous for his honour. From the appearance of this proclamation, therefore, I infer that the terms on which Lord Ellenborough is with the civil servants of the Company are such that those servants could not venture to offer him counsel when he most needed it.
For these reasons, Sir, I think the noble lord unfit for high public trust. Let us, then, consider the nature of the public trust which is now reposed in him. Are gentlemen aware that, even when he is at Calcutta, surrounded by his councillors, his single voice can carry any resolution concerning the executive administration against them all? They can object: they can protest: they can record their opinions in writing, and can require him to give in writing his reasons for persisting in his own course: but they must then submit. On the most important questions, on the question whether a war shall be declared, on the question whether a treaty shall be concluded, on the question whether the whole system of land revenue established in a great province shall be changed, his single vote weighs down the votes of all who sit at the Board with him. The right honourable Baronet opposite is a powerful minister, a more powerful minister than any that we have seen during many years. But I will venture to say that his power over the people of England is nothing when compared with the power which the Governor General possesses over the people of India.
Such is Lord Ellenborough's power when he is with his council, and is to some extent held in check. But where is he now? He has given his council the slip. He is alone. He has near him no person who is entitled and bound to offer advice, asked or unasked: he asks no advice: and you cannot expect men to outstep the strict line of their official duty by obtruding advice on a superior by whom it would be ungraciously received. The danger of having a rash and flighty Governor General is sufficiently serious at the very best. But the danger of having such a Governor General up the country, eight or nine hundred miles from any person who has a right to remonstrate with him, is fearful indeed. Interests so vast, that the most sober language in which they can be described sounds hyperbolical, are entrusted to a single man; to a man who, whatever his parts may be, and they are doubtless considerable, has shown an indiscretion and temerity almost beyond belief; to a man who has been only a few months in India; to a man who takes no counsel with those who are well acquainted with India.
I cannot sit down without addressing myself to those Directors of the East India Company who are present. I exhort them to consider the heavy responsibility which rests on them. They have the power to recall Lord Ellenborough; and I trust that they will not hesitate to exercise that power. This is the advice of one who has been their servant, who has served them loyally, and who is still sincerely anxious for their credit and for the welfare of the empire of which they are the guardians. But if, from whatever cause, they are unwilling to recall the noble lord, then I implore them to take care that he be immediately ordered to return to Calcutta. Who can say what new freak we may hear of by the next mail? I am quite confident that neither the Court of Directors nor Her Majesty's Ministers can look forward to the arrival of that mail without great uneasiness. Therefore I say, send Lord Ellenborough back to Calcutta. There at least he will find persons who have a right to advise him and to expostulate with him, and who will, I doubt not, have also the spirit to do so. It is something that he will be forced to record his reasons for what he does. It is something that he will be forced to hear reasons against his propositions. It is something that a delay, though only of twenty-four hours, will be interposed between the first conception of a wild scheme and the execution. I am afraid that these checks will not be sufficient to prevent much evil: but they are not absolutely nugatory. I entreat the Directors to consider in what a position they will stand if, in consequence of their neglect, some serious calamity should befall the country which is confided to their care. I will only say, in conclusion, that, if there be any use in having a Council of India, if it be not meant that the members of Council should draw large salaries for doing nothing, if they are really appointed for the purpose of assisting and restraining the Governor, it is to the last degree absurd that their powers should be in abeyance when there is a Governor who, of all the Governors that ever England sent to the East, stands most in need both of assistance and of restraint.
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.