Page images

such. The only representatives of law and order visible were two European police officers, a few native policemen, and the Govenor-General's native body-guard. It would not have been difficult to have extinguished the whole Government of India in one night; and a danger of that sort, however remote and unlikely, ought to be guarded against. Nothing in India was held to be more unlikely than the Mutiny—until it occurred, and even after it had commenced.

At the close of the Parliament of 1874 her Majesty acknowledged the great services of Lord Northbrook, in connection with the Bengal famine, in a manner which could scarcely have come from a Ministry opposed to that which appointed him, unless his “strenuous exertions” had really merited very “high approbation.” It is now seen by the public generally that he has met the great and disturbing disaster of the famine in a masterly manner. When he was exerting himself to the utmost, it was inexpedient for the Viceroy to speak of the measures he was taking to meet the coming calamity, and advantage was taken of his mouth being sealed, and of his having wisely refused to prohibit the export of rice, to criticise and assail him. Whether intentionally or not, an impression was created that the Viceroy did not see the magnitude of the danger, and would not of himself take energetic and sufficient steps to meet it. Highly sensational telegrams and articles to this effect appeared in rapid succession; and it was left out of mind, that on the very first report of danger, Lord Northbrook hurried down from Simla to Calcutta before the conclusion of the unhealthiest month of the year, and at

, once brought all his great energy to bear on the subject

of the famine. He could not proclaim from the housetops any intention of buying up millions on millions of tons of rice, and, if necessary, of feeding two and a half millions of people for an indefinite period ; because, to have done so would have vastly increased the difficulty by making the bunnias throughout India buy and store up rice right and left, and by creating a great movement into the famine districts of people desirous of participating in the bounty of Government. Also, as the event has shown, while making perfectly sufficient arrangements to meet the coming famine, the Viceroy refused, on sound economic grounds, to interfere with and check private trade by prohibiting the export of rice from Bengal; and this was immediately seized upon as a proof that he did not understand the magnitude of the coming crisis. It was most fortunate for India that at this crisis a thoughtful statesman was at the head of affairs, and one of sufficient force of character to disregard the outcry which was raised against him. An excellent authority on the spot, as quoted by the Calcutta correspondent of the Times,' has well said :

It will not be denied that had it not been for the action taken by Government, the mortality would have been very great. But I am convinced that it is equally true that had Government action been of a nature to check private trade to any extent, the result would also have been calamitous.

I firmly believe that had Government, last November, proclaimed to the world that they intended to rely solely on their own unaided efforts to save the people from starvation, the result would have been deplorable, both financially and in respect to the loss of life which would have ensued.This is another very important

[ocr errors]



view of the matter, and is by no means opposed to what I have said about the bunnias; because they would have bought and stored grain in order to sell it to the Government, rather than with a view to the difficult and risky operation of conveying it into the famine districts. The Viceroy had also to guard against the danger of inviting or allowing the people within the famine circle to rely too much on Government aid, which the natives of India are always most ready to do.

The Bengal famine of 1874 has now become a matter of history, and it is difficult to know whether to admire most the manner in which Lord Northbrook and Sir Richard Temple have dealt with it so as to prevent almost

any loss of life, or their success in managing the relief operations so as to avoid pauperising, or otherwise demoralising, the people, and so as to bring them readily back to their ordinary industrial operations. The first of these feats was entirely new in the history of India : the second was still more difficult of accomplishment; its success presents both rulers and ruled in the most pleasing light, and is a new illustration of the readiness of the people of India to appreciate and conjoin with action on the part of Englishmen, which is at once sympathetic and decided. Large powers are necessary to deal with them in a satisfactory manner, and, to that end, these powers must be exercised with knowledge of the necessities and wishes of the people, and yet with a confidence and decision which are only accepted and only tolerable when springing from a just conviction that the action undertaken and insisted upon is in accordance with the highest intelligence and morality.

But, though unwilling to enter here on the general subject of Indian policy, I must guard against appearing, even for a moment, to support the limited view which some of Lord Northbrook's admirers and critics take of the course which is marked out for him as Governor-General of our great Eastern empire, and must make a few general remarks which, though brief, are of cardinal moment. According to that view, the

. only matter of essential importance for India is to reduce its expenditure, and to keep that steadily within the limits of the revenue which may be afforded by the present recognised and understood taxation. It is assumed, that if that only be done, everything will go well—there will be no disaffection in India ; and a grateful populace will ornament us with garlands of yellow flowers, feast us upon pan súpári, and shower blessings upon our honoured heads. I believe that a greater mistake could not be made, and that this would be only another side of Lord Lawrence's policy of

masterly imbecility,” which has thrown Central Asia into the hands of Russia. Economy and strict financial management are very necessary in India, and the Viceroy has clearly seen that, and has addressed himself to the task with extraordinary skill, energy, self-abnegation, and success. But if there is a matter on which the people of India are likely to overvalue his services and urge him to excess, it is on that of financial economy. No one admires more than I do their many admirable qualities, but among these financial wisdom cannot be reckoned. They have no objections to a native prince levying the most enormous and oppressive taxation in very hurtful time-honoured ways, and

, spending it in the most reckless, useless, and debauch

ing manner. He may take half the produce of their fields, and lavish it on dancing-girls, devotees, beggars, and in support of degrading superstitions, and they are perfectly satisfied; but let the English Government incur a productive new expenditure, or impose a new tax of the least hurtful kind, and they are the most oppressed and afflicted beings in the world. We hear a great deal about India being a poor country—and that is a statement which should be taken with much qualification, for the concealed or hoarded treasure of India must be something enormous; but in so far as India is a poor country, how and why is it poor? It is poor, not from any sterility of its soil or scantiness of its products, or from any incapacity of labouring or acquiring knowledge among its people: in these respects it is one of the most favoured lands on earth. It is poor because it loves to lie down and dream rather than to rise up

and work ; because it hoards its wealth—buries it in the ground or sits upon it—in preference to turning it to profitable use ; because, except where the pride of noble families produces female infanticide, it not only exercises no restraint upon the increase of population, but even, in accordance with its religious ideas, regards any increase, however reckless, as partaking of the merit of a religious act; and because it is absolutely eaten up by non-productive classes of people -priests, devotees, beggars, retainers, family dependants, and princes and nobles of many fallen dynasties. The most energetic and the richest country in the world could not stand what India not only bears but welcomes, without bringing itself to poverty; and if all the English Raj is to do for India is to add another class of unfortunates to it in the shape of overworked

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »