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Good Words 1860
Aspects of Indian Life During the Rebellion

["My Diary in India." By W. H. Russell, LL.D. London: Routledge & Co.]


Suppose that we were told, for the first time in our lives, that a small insular people, of some thirty millions of inhabitants, held dominion, at the other end of the globe, over a vast tract of land more than three times the length of their own largest island, in parts more than three-fourths as broad as it is long, and peopled with from one hundred and eighty to two hundred millions of men; that this dominion was held, not by means of broad-cast colonies of the dominant race, but by an imperceptible garrison, civil or military, of not one hundred thousand souls of that race; that it was held without identity or amalgamation in blood, in religion, in language, in manners, between the dominant race and the subject ones; that the subject races were, with trifling exceptions, no wandering savages, but men skilful in agriculture and handicrafts, and most of the arts and luxuries of civilised life, and possessing a literature and a religion of which the earliest monuments are more than three thousand three hundred years old,—should we not declare the tale incredible?

But suppose that we were assured of the reality of that tale, what conclusion should we draw from it as Christian men? Should we not say: Such a state of things is awful, overwhelming. God's purpose respecting those two countries must be of unspeakable greatness. What a humbling position for those subject races! What a dreadful responsibility for that dominant one! What a blessed sphere of usefulness is open to it, if it use its dominion aright! What a curse impends over it, if it should abuse its power! Surely, if, even without being Christian, it have any feeling of national duty or righteousness, the sense of its relations with its far subject empire must outweigh all but the most pressing considerations of internal interest! What a field for the genius of its statesmen, for the labours of its philanthropists!

Perhaps our wonder would abate somewhat, when we were told that the dominant race was Christian, the subject races idolaters, votaries of the false prophet, fire-worshippers. Yes, we should say, that alone can explain the fact. The conquest has been a religious one. The vast empire thus won can only be that of the Cross. It must be that of justice, virtue, peace, love. No force could hold it together. A blessed rule must be that of this Christian people.

Many, very many of us have long loved to think even thus of England's Indian empire. The faith is a natural, almost irresistible one. It was sedulously inculcated upon us by all, or very nearly all of our fellow-countrymen who came back to us, rich with India's gold. It afforded a comfortable pillow for our ignorance of and indifference to the subject. Things went on so well in India—why should we trouble ourselves about them? Our government of India, if it had a fault, was only too mild, too considerate towards the native races. It certainly did not seem to take a quite high enough view of its spiritual duties. It was too afraid of missionaries. So far there might be some duty left for us private Englishmen to fulfil. The mission-box might have some claim on our gold, our silver, or our pence. Beyond that, all was blessing in our rule. What could prove it more incontrovertibly than the one palpable fact, that we ruled India through a native army, whose absolute faithfulness and reliableness were proclaimed by all who came in contact with them—a few unaccountable croakers excepted?

But in the year 1857, suddenly—amidst the profoundest internal peace—a few months after the departure of a Governor-General, the most able and successful, it was loudly asserted, since Lord Wellesley —this very native army, hitherto quoted as the irrefragable evidence of the justice and stability of our Anglo-Indian rule, broke out into mutiny, under circumstances which lit up, as with a lightning-flash, a gulf of misunderstanding and mistrust between the dominant and the subject races. The immediate ground of the mutiny seems to us as impalpable, as the sincerity was manifest with which it was urged. We, Protestant Christians, were charged by that class of natives of all others who were in the closest relations with us, who should have known and understood us best, with seeking to make Christians of them—by inveigling them into tasting beef-suet and hog's lard, mixed up in the shape of cartridge grease! So much for the ideas as to the nature of our Christianity, which some two or two and a half centuries of intercourse with us had given them. But so determined were they not to accept this Christianity, even at the cost of a bite, that sooner than do so, they rejected the use of the improved weapon (the Enfield) which that cartridge would have placed in their hands, submitted to punishment, disbandment, and finally, their heads turned with wild rumours, deceptive prophecies, and, as it would seem, long-stifled rancours, rose upon their European masters, with nothing, for the most part, but old Brown Bess in their hands,—murdered their most beloved chiefs, often with their wives and children, and filled the world with the noise of their unheard-of treachery. The mutiny rapidly swelled into a rebellion; throughout large tracts of country our authority vanished rather than fell; the empire was convulsed, from the Himalaya mountains on the north, to its southernmost province but one (Canara) —from Guzerat in the west to Assam in the east. Massacres the most barbarous shewed the love with which we had succeeded in inspiring our subject peoples; resistances the most heroic, on the part of scattered English garrisons, gave a new measure to the willingness of native loyalty; kingdoms annexed without a blow had to be conquered, and invaded over and over again, at a fearful sacrifice of life, before they were.

We conquered; yes, thank God! we conquered. But at what cost? At the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, of which God alone knows the tale,— many precious beyond a king's ransom—Henry Lawrence, and Havelock, and William Peel. At the cost of millions and millions of money, draining away still from England towards India. At the cost of the annihilation of one whole native army of ninety thousand men, proudest of the three in our pay. At the cost of the political power of that strange body, the East India Company, which seemed to have climbed the very summit of earthly greatness, only to establish its chairs of office on the apex of a yet unopened volcano, whose sudden eruption sent chairs and chair-holders, past, present, and future, flying wildly through the air.

"He setteth up one, and pulleth down another." In the revolutions of empires, in the upsets of human fortunes, the Bible teaches us invariably to see the hand of God. But the God of the Bible is not a capricious God. He is the same God who fixed the ordinances of heaven, "and caused the day-spring to know his place." A hidden order rules in all His doings, which it is our business to search out. Why did He send us the Indian mutiny and rebellion? Will He send us another? Is it true, as we are now often told, that India is to be ruled only by the sword? Followers of the God of peace, can this be our mission? Is India worth keeping at such a price? If not, how are we to avert, in future, the disasters of the past? Such ought surely to be the thoughts of every one of us, constituent atoms as we are all, tabling at the lowest, in that "public opinion" which is itself a power in the world. For this one conclusion is perfectly clear: If mutiny and rebellion in India are for the future to be averted, it is not by acting as we have acted. The course of government and policy which has led to such an explosion, is not to be pursued henceforth. Sweet as was our faith of old, that "all was well" in India, we can hold it henceforth but upon one condition, that of knowing that all is not as it was.

So that, in short, we are driven to the conviction that God does not choose us to be ignorant of, or indifferent to India. We must learn something of what it was—of what it is. And, as in all things one must look at the outside before the in—though in fact one never thoroughly understands the outside before one has looked within—let us apply ourselves to some work which shall give us that outside clearly and vividly. I know none better for the purpose than Mr Russell's—Dr Russell's, to give him the benefit of his LL.D. degree—the Times' correspondent's recently-published "Diary." Although often fatiguing, from that Times' smartness, and Times' scene-painting, which must have spoilt as many a pen as they have trained, it is nevertheless a striking, interesting, and valuable book. The man knows how to see, and how to tell what he saw, though he is too fond of shewing us that he knows it. He is no theorist or sentimentalist. He is used to practical life, used to the rough arts and rough acts of war. Scenes of horror may spoil his appetite for breakfast, or make him puff more vigorously at his cheroot, but he is willing to undergo the sight of them for a consideration. He has a sense of right and wrong, and does not shrink from expressing it; but the horror which he feels at seeing native servants lying bloody from the effects of their English master's " licking," does not hinder him from sitting down to table with the latter the moment after. We need not be afraid, under such guidance, of being carried away into excesses of pity or virtuous indignation. "Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" wrote the wise king. We may rest assured that a Times' special correspondent will act up to the precept.

Mr Russell started for India in the winter of 1857, engaged on terms, if rumour speaks true, unparalleled in newspaper annals. Our first great success had already been won; Delhi, the old capital of the Mussulman empire, had fallen; at Alexandria the traveller was met with the news of the relief of Lucknow, and, alas! of Havelock's death. We need not tarry with him over what is, as he says, "by a sort of 'dry humour' called the Overland Route," (seeing that the whole land-journey upon it is between Alexandria and Suez,) except to notice the humours of his fellow-passengers, "for the most part either old Indians, returning full of anger, gloom, and vengeance to their former posts, now freed from the enemy, or to others promised or to be gotten by interest and perseverance, or young ones, of whom one alone was preparing himself, by studying the language and history of the people, for the sphere of his labours;" besides "some Queen's officers going out to join their regiments," "a few 'younger men, unposted," "a few civilians," with "a poll of wives going to their husbands, and of young ladies going to find husbands,"—altogether, it would seem, a not unfair sample of such stuff as English rule and influence in India are made of.

Already, at Cairo, he observes, that "whatever may be the reason, such civilisation as the East may receive promises to be French." Do we wonder at this? Listen—"The insufferably rude and insolent behaviour of some of our fellow-countrymen, which here I witnessed for the first time, does, in my mind, go far to create dislike to us.....We ride at full gallop through the streets; laugh in the face of every long-bearded, odd-looking Mussulman we see; despise all foreign dignity." What should we say if a parcel of Frenchmen were to behave thus in our streets? And if we behave thus in a country where we are but guests, how are we likely to behave where we are masters?

As he journeys down the Red Sea, he finds already his Indian difficulties commence. There are men on board who "have spent their lives in Hindostan among the people. They have mastered their languages—they have administered justice. . . . Do they agree upon any one point connected with the mutinies, or with the character of the people? Not one. There is one man who has been the annual historian of the Punjab, who believes that the only salvation for India is the application of the system of the Punjab and John Lawrencism to all India. There is another who has passed a long career of active governmental life in Bengal, who declares that the attempt to introduce such a Lawrencratic, irresponsible, and arbitrary rule, would convulse his beloved province to the very centre. One man 'hates the rascally Mohammedans,' and says there will be no safety for us till they are 'put down.' . . . Another thinks that, after all, the Mohammedan can be made something of if a career is opened to him; but that those slimy, treacherous Hindoos, with their caste, and superstition, and horrid customs, constitute the real difficulty of government. . . . Meantime, sitting almost apart from the rest of the passengers, a few Englishmen, whom no one noticed, shook their heads as they listened, but the civilians took no thought of them.....They were traders, merchants, indigo-planters, and such like, who viewed with as much prejudice and antipathy the servants of the government under which they lived, as the latter exhibited in their demeanour for men who were undoubtedly developing the resources of the country in which they were passing the best part of their lives, and making their fortunes. All the evils which afflict India were and are, according to these gentlemen, the direct results of the rule of the Company. . . . Why should they not be magistrates, and sit on the bench, and adjudge disputes between themselves or their representatives, and the native landholders or labourers? Why should they, as Englishmen, not be exempted from the operation of the ordinary tribunals of the land in which they lived, and have special courts of their own, as being peers and nobles of a natural aristocracy placed among serfs and ignobles? As you listen to this chaos of opinions, you see a row of animated machines sitting crouched down on the floor of the cabin, swaying listlessly to and fro, as they pull the punkahs (large fans). Their slender, well-knit frames, bright eyes, and glistening teeth, give these 'poor niggers' some claim to be thought, as Mr Carlyle would say, not quite unlovely, but they have a dark hide—they are low Mohammedans, and, to the intelligent Briton, they are as the beasts of the field."

A striking picture, surely. But of what? Of "a house divided against itself," which, if Christ our Saviour lied not, (be the awful hypothesis uttered without blasphemy,) cannot stand. If Englishmen know no better than this what is to be their task in ruling India, they cannot rule it, though they may reconquer it from time to time. And what, indeed, is the train of thought to which our observer is led by this foretaste of Indian experience? Does he speculate upon the chain of blessings which Christian England is to confer upon heathen or Mussulman India? No. He is occupied with the dry, hard question—Can we keep India, and how? The white man, he thinks, treads the coloured man under foot, hunts him out wherever he can. But there are regions in the earth which seem to be specially reserved for the coloured man, in which the white man cannot permanently abide. "Do what we may or can, our race can neither destroy the inhabitants of India, as the Americans destroyed the red men, nor can it dispossess and drive them out to other regions, as the Spaniards drove out the Mexicans. And, were it possible for us to succeed, Hindostan would at once become a desert in which our race would miserably perish in the first generation. It would seem, then, if these views are right, that the Anglo-Indian, and his conquerors in India, must either abate their strong natural feelings against the coloured race, restrain the expression of their antipathies, or look forward to the day, not far distant, when the indulgence of their passions will render the government of India too costly a luxury for the English people. If we, who are the governors of the people, do not govern ourselves and protect the people, what redress have they, and what have we to expect? These were the sentiments which gradually grew upon me as, day after day, I heard the same expressions used with respect to the natives of Hindostan. Let every word that is tittered of that sort be granted in its entirety, and we come at once to the question, How can those who entertain such feelings govern a people in justice and in mercy?"

The voyage proceeds. The traveller begins his tropical experiences at Galle, the ill-chosen western port of Ceylon, that interesting island, of which Sir Emerson Tennent has given us lately so full and valuable an account, which has perhaps an older history than any other country — China and Palestine excepted—on the face of the earth. He touches at Madras, and sees a population "blacker, more naked, and more ugly" than he expected, yet, he is told, singularly given to hoarding. (Is hoarding a sign of prosperity? still more, of security? of affectionate confidence in the rule under which men live?) "It appears to be admitted by all those clever gentlemen on board that they know nothing of the inner social life of the people. One of them, indeed, said—'We know nothing of the natives as they appear to each other: their aspect to us is as different as possible from that which they present to their families, friends, and native rulers.' Indeed, it begins to dawn upon me that we are in India rather on sufferance and by force than by affection." The great trouble of his friends on board is the apprehended reduction of salaries. "Reduced salaries and, admission by competition will degrade the civil service . . . . One must be paid highly to live in such a country at all . ... Every Indian officer has a right to a good retiring allowance." The listener cannot forbear asking himself—"How is it that able men and gentlemen are easily had to discharge high functions in Ceylon at much lower salaries than in India?" Already a French official from Pondicherry, the chief establishment of France in India, had urged upon him that high salaries and too few officials are the bane of Anglo-Indian administration. At Pondicherry the French are as one in seven as compared with the natives; French is the language of the state, of the employes, of the courts, of the public schools, and of the government factories; and any native who desires the service of government, must speak the language of the governors. The French officials remain for years; the governor has only half the salary of the neighbouring English civilian, perhaps a young man just come a year or two from England. So says the foreigner; but what of that? The English boys on board wondered at our special correspondent for encouraging the jabber of " that confounded Frenchman."

The water becomes turbid with Ganges mud; the shadowy outline of land appears; the pilot comes on board. Then the bounds of the waste of yellow waters can just be made out on either side. As the river contracts, hundreds of first-class ships, fleets of odd-looking, dilapidated country boats, working up and down through many tortuous channels, give "an appearance of life and activity to the scene which could not be surpassed by the Downs." The native crews are thin, slight men, nearly black, very poorly attired. In the fields, men and women work, naked to the waist, under the hot sun. The villages are of mud huts, propped up by bamboo canes; but each has its temple—heavy-domed, squat, yet it may be of marble or finely-worked chunam (a kind of stucco). Between the villages no roads for traffic, only innumerable watercourses and cuts winding between muddy banks. Then the country becomes more civilised, with larger villages, better-cultivated fields; then detached houses appear, some of them two-storied, standing in detached gardens, with groups of Europeans, mostly women, on the balconies; then the houses appear on both sides, become continuous, run into lines of streets. Our traveller is at Calcutta.

He lands, passing on his way to the landing-place two or three dead bodies of Hindoos, consigned to their last place of unrest on the waters of the sacred stream (for the Bengalee makes a burying-place of his noble river, as the Londoner a sewer of his). He puts up at "The Club;" he is provided with a native servant—a Roman Catholic convert, named Simon; he is taken "to perform the great ceremony of Calcutta life," the evening turn on the esplanade or course. And here, after the first impression of utter weariness, he sees "such insult offered as the arrogance of the most offensive aristocracy—that of race —can invent, to those who by no means admit themselves to be the plebeians of the race." The great Hindoo merchant—one of the young Bengal school, who abjure heathenism and are civil to Christianity —is for the white man but "one of those nigger merchants, a cheeky set of fellows, and d—d blackguards all of them." Barely a few Europeans bow to a rajah, pensioned off on an allowance. A gulf separates the white people, not only from the natives, but from the Eurasians, or mixed bloods. "The high-capped Parsees," (fire-worshippers,) "who are driving about in handsome carriages, are on better terms with the Europeans, as far as the interchange of salutations go," (goes?); "but the general effect of one's impressions derived from a drive in the Calcutta course, is that not only is there no rapprochement between the Indian and the Englishman, but that there is an actual barrier which neither desires to cross." And who are the white men present? A privileged class themselves; for "it is not considered quite proper for shopkeepers to drive on the esplanade." Is it a privilege of superior morality? "Whose is this magnificent carriage with the gold liveries? 'That? Oh, that's Bunkum! He's a merchant, who has broken several times; but they don't think much of breaking in Calcutta. It's very easy to pass the court, and they come out as strong and as bright as ever.' .... There is an impression that the relief given by the bankruptcy and insolvency courts is administered too largely and too carelessly, where every clerk keeps a buggy" (gig with a hood), "every merchant has a carriage, and lives in a style which speaks of enormous profits or little conscience."

Still, Calcutta has a reforming school, though perhaps, in the main, little more than that of an opposition. Our special correspondent is pressed on, one evening, "to examine the working of the legal system;" "to expose the ruinous land system, as affecting the introduction of British capital;" "to go through all the missionary-schools;" " to 'shew up' the iniquities of the Company generally; to investigate the system of non-canalisation, non-irrigation, non-road-making, non-railway-constructing; to hold up to public obloquy the partial and defective administration of various courts, by which the Europeans were harassed and natives unduly protected." He is almost forcibly carried off to see "the worst road in the world," as a sample of the development of Indian resources by the Company. To all these promptings he turns a deaf ear, alleging that his sole object is "to give an account of the military operations, and to describe the impressions made on his senses by the externals of things."

The next day he drives to Government House, to present his letters of introduction. At the gateways he sees the first sample of the sepoy—disarmed, indeed, and with a cane only in his hands—but "so like a British soldier, when his back is turned, that at a sudden view he would beguile; tall, broad-backed, stiff-set, but with lighter legs than the Briton, and a greater curvature in the thigh." Within the Viceroy's palace he is surprised to find, in the midst of rebellion, not a single English servant,—none but white-turbaned natives, some with large daggers in their waists. From the Governor-General he receives all courtesy, and promise of assistance.

Another day he drives to Serampore, a former Danish settlement, and as such of old the asylum of British missionaries when denied a residence in British India, and crosses thence to Barrackpore, the military station of Calcutta. On his way to Serampore—ten miles or so—"he hunts, as an antiquary would hunt for an inscription, or a botanist for a new plant," for "a white face amid these leagues of black and brown fellow-creatures, with scant attire, who are swarming in and out of their miserable dwellings." He sees not one, till he enters his entertainer's house at Serampore. At Barrackpore, indeed, he finds them. But in what company? "Under every shady clump of trees, at every lazy corner, were groups of large, well-made, six-foot soldiers, in red coatees .... but their faces were black . . . These were the men of the disarmed regiments, two of which are stationed at Barrackpore, held in watch and ward by one English regiment. The men saluted us as we passed; but my companions made a point of not returning the salutes, or taking the least notice of the men."

We will leave our traveller preparing to start up the country for the army. He will have stayed at Calcutta from January 24 to February 4, 1858—certainly not long enough to do more than see, as he himself told us, that outside of things which he was sent to look at. And what has that been, even at this first glance? Leagues of black men with never a white among them. The black men scant of dress, swarming out of miserable dwellings. The white men members of a community in which every merchant keeps a carriage, every clerk a gig. An esplanade on which the two races drive side by side, but with a social barrier between them which forbids all intercourse, and so traced as to exclude even the white man's children by a dark mother. Such is the aspect of India's capital, of one of its centres of European life, as it presented itself to the newly-arrived European.

How it appeared to him when he had plunged deeper into the sea of Indian life which then lay before him, we shall observe hereafter.

J. M. L.

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