LEADENHALL STREET, Feb. 1858.
MY DEAR JOHN,—You received my last letter in so good a spirit, that I intend to write you another. It is more than ever desirable that I should address to you a few words of caution. They are throwing dust in your eyes, John. They are proposing to destroy me; and, like Mr Toots in the story, they are telling you that it is of "no consequence." Now, what I want to explain to you is, that it is of very great consequence. You have only to understand what it is they are proposing to do, to appreciate fully the consequence of the change which they are persuading you is so greatly to your advantage.
I believe that you are open to reason now, John. A few months ago you were in a state of great excitement—irate, confused, bewildered, eager to sacrifice some one to your fury; and I was the victim most ready to your hand. At that time, if any one had proposed to you to surround my big house with fagots, and burn me to a cinder, without judge or jury, or benefit of clergy, you would have shouted "a Daniel come to judgment!" and set fire to the pile. It was only natural, John. It is your wont in like cases; and I was not surprised. But you have cooled down a little; you have taken time to consider; you are not quite convinced that I am the author of all the mischief; and if you will give me nothing else, I think you will give me fair play. I am not afraid of that, John. You are an honest well-meaning fellow; but, you must excuse me for saying it, you are very easily gulled—easily led astray by platitudes and clap-traps. Designing people get about you, John, and throw dust in your eyes. They have an interest in blinding you so that you may not see the truth; and before you have rubbed the dust out of your eyes, they have done what cannot be undone, and you are left to deplore at leisure the obfuscation of your intellect, at a time when it was above all things desirable that you should have your senses about you.
This has happened before now, John, and it is likely to happen again, at the present time, when you have my affairs on the carpet. Since I wrote to you last, your men of business have presented you with a scheme of their own for laying me snugly in the earth. It maybe a good scheme, or it may be a bad one (of course, I think it is a very bad one, and I will tell you presently why I think so); but whatever else you may believe about it, don't believe that it is a small measure. Don't believe that it is a matter of no consequence. Don't think, because that jaunty First Minister of yours sticks a straw in the corner of his mouth, and, telling you not to be afraid, he is not going to hurt you, dawdles through an hour's speech, as though he thought India an ineffable bore, that the question which you are called upon to consider is not one of the gravest that has ever been forced upon you, John. Do not think that, because all the newspapers, which support your men of business, tell you, day after day, that the measure they have proposed for my extermination is a very "modest" one, that the changes which that measure involves are not very material changes—changes, I say, John, radical, revolutionary, and injurious to your constitution, whilst they are destructive of mine. When they tell you that these changes are nominal, formal, mechanical, touching lightly the surface of things, tell them either that they lie, John, or that they are as ignorant as babes and sucklings, and quite unfit to handle such weighty things as constitutions. That "no consequence" cry will ruin you, John, if you do not mind what you are about. You have got a man at the head of your affairs who cannot be persuaded to look seriously and solemnly at the most serious and solemn questions. He has an habitual "pooh-pooh" in his heart, in his head, and on the tip of his tongue. He pooh-poohs me, John, and he pooh-poohs you. He talks about responsibility to Parliament; but he pooh-poohs Parliament, and practically repudiates all responsibility. You must be careful, therefore, how you measure the importance of anything by the gravity with which he is disposed to treat it. He does the leading comic business extremely well, I admit, John; but the manufacture of a government on which the well-being of nearly two hundred millions of people is dependent, is not a comic business at all.
Look at it gravely, then—earnestly—solemnly. Be assured that no weightier matter has ever come before you than that which you are now called upon to consider. You have never before had to manufacture a Constitution de novo . Constitutions, as I have told you before, are the growth of time and the growth of circumstances. We do not commonly strike them off, hot from the anvil, at a single blow. But this is what they are doing now, John. They tell you that they are introducing only a few easy and obvious changes, the growth of circumstances, into an existing system. They are doing nothing of the kind. They are starting fresh, with an original conception; not tinkering an old, but creating elementally a new, system. They are inaugurating, in fact, a mighty experiment, Look at it in this point of view, John, and you will recognise the gravity of the occasion.
If the changes recommended to you had been merely nominal changes, I should still have exhorted you not to adopt them at the present time. Names go a long way with some people, and a change of name may well be supposed to prefigure substantive changes affecting mightily the destinies of India. You can proclaim no change that will not create suspicion and alarm. Besides, I repeat that your Parliament, John, is not sufficiently well informed to sit in judgment on proposed changes even of a superficial character. But if it be incapable of legislating, with any hope of good results, when only slight changes are proposed, how utter must be its incapacity to grapple with the great constitutional questions which are now presented to it. If there was danger of rash judgments in the one case, John, how much more danger is there in the other. If there was a necessity of increased knowledge and prolonged consideration—in other words, a necessity for delay—in the one case, how paramount the necessity in the other. And yet, John, you are going headlong to work, you are rushing blindly upon the manufacture of constitutions. You are suffering your Parlianient, without any preliminary training, without knowledge, without experience, without inquiry—almost, it may be said, without as much consideration as, in ordinary parish affairs, is given to a paving or lighting rate;—you are suffering them, I say, as the merest novices, to rush precipitately upon, and to grapple blindly with, this question; whilst your men of business are standing with their hands in their pockets, and telling you not to be afraid, for really it is of no consequence. I tell you, John, that it is a matter of the greatest consequence, and this you will find out some of these days.
In my last letter I think I said, John, that if I was deserving of your confidence in 1853, when my way of doing business was thoroughly investigated, I am worthy of your confidence now—unless it can be proved that either by some crime or some blunder, by something done or something left undone, I have caused this woeful mutiny in Bengal, or have failed to take proper steps, on the occurrence of the disaster, to suppress or to mitigate the evil. But not only, John, is this not proved, but I am happy to say that it is not asserted. One of the best of your servants—a gentleman of great learning and ability—who brought a vast display of historical research to bear upon the question of my extinction, said to you the other night, "I do not believe it possible to show that any vigilance on the part of the Directors in London could have guarded against the occurrence of the present mutiny, or that, when it did occur, it would have been possible to suppress it by measures more vigorous or rapid than those which have been taken."1 Everybody expected that, if a formal bill of indictment were not laid against me, some attempt, for mere decency's sake, would be made to show that I had gone wrong somewhere, somehow, and at some time. You would never have heard anything about a new India Bill if there had not been a mutiny in Bengal; and therefore it was naturally expected that some attempt would be made to show how the proposed measure had grown out of that calamity—how the latter, in some way or other, necessitated or justified the former. But not only was no attempt of this kind made by your First Minister, John, but the negative admission of my inoffensiveness was exalted into a positive admission by his coadjutor, in the passage which I have just quoted. And so you were informed that, because I had neither done anything that I ought not to have done, nor left undone anything that I ought to have done, there was a pressing necessity to extinguish me without benefit of clergy.
—"Logic for ever!
That beats my grandmother, and she was clever."
There was a conclusion utterly without premises. You were told that it was necessary to put me to death but you were not told in what manner I had forfeited the confidence which only a few years ago, was reposed in me by the very persons who are now compassing my destruction. On the other hand, you were told that I have done nothing to forfeit that confidence—only that I am inherently bad. If I am inherently bad now, John, I was inherently bad in 1853, when you were told that the welfare of India demanded that I should not be laid in the earth. This is so manifest, that history will record against you, that as John Company could not be sentenced to death after trial , you were persuaded to suffer him to be sentenced to death without trial . It will be said, John, that you brought me to a drum-head court-martial, and exterminated a great power, to which you owe the very empire from which you derive your greatness, with as little compunction as if you were shooting down a rebellious Sepoy. If you are a great person now, John, who helped to make you what you are? Would you ever have held the high place that you do, in the estimation of your neighbours, if it had not been for me and my acquisitions? You tell me that you did it yourself, that you owe nothing to me—that is like your ingratitude, John! Make me of no account, depreciate my services, say that I have done nothing, that I am nothing. It is necessary to follow this line of argument to satisfy your conscience, John. And I see that your servants are following it, as the only way in which they can justify to you the course that they are taking.
I wish to put you on your guard, John. Your servants think, as I have already told you, that they can persuade you into the ready acceptance of this measure, by telling you that it is really a very small affair. And they endeavour to make it appear that it is a very small affair, by telling you that I, John Company, am little better than a name, a tradition. Here, for example, is an astonishing declaration, made by one of your inferior servants, who ought to know better for he once had a place on the Indian benches of your servants' hall—"He wished," he said, "to speak with all respect of the East India Company; but he maintained that it had not been a great and potent element in conducting the business of India; that it did not possess that great control of which it boasted ; that it had no initiative, and was not the adviser of the Board of Control ; and that, so far as its direct agency was concerned, its functions were so slight, that they might be got rid of without its being found out." It seems so impossible, John, that one of your servants should have uttered the words which I have underlined, that, if I had not been told, by those who heard him, that he not only said this, but entered into some details confirmatory of the assertion, directly at variance with fact, I should, in the fulness of my charity, have believed that the newspapers had misreported him. To tell me, indeed—to tell you, John—that I have "no initiative." No initiative! Why, I initiate everything not in the "Secret Department." Every despatch is written in my house, and by my servants. Your people in Cannon Row do not see my despatches until my servants have written them. My servants decide, in the first instance, when to write and what to write. Your people know nothing about the matter until the work is done. And I am to be told that I initiate nothing! You are to be told that I initiate nothing—that, initiating nothing, I am of no use, and that, if I were to be abolished to-morrow, "no one would find it out." I suspect, John, that Cannon Row would find it out, if it were suddenly called upon to initiate all the business that is initiated in Leadenhall Street.
You will tell me, perhaps, that a statement so diametrically at variance with the truth must surely be discredited in Parliament. But I tell you, John, that it was not discredited. It is true that, five or six years ago, evidence was taken by the House, and is on record, respecting the manner in which my business is done. Any member taking the trouble to walk into the Library may find, in black and white, the whole history of the working of the "Double Government." But who reads the evidence taken by a former parliament—who troubles himself to search Blue-books for such details? A member of Her Majesty's Government, once Secretary to the Board of Control, surely ought to know how business is done! I was not surprised, therefore, when a highly intelligent and right-minded young member told me the other day, that the speech to which I am now alluding had made a profound impression on his mind. It had gone a long way to convince him that, for all administrative purposes, I am really little better than a tradition—a name—and that, therefore, there can be no possible harm in sweeping me away. This, you will observe, John, is the language of the ministerial journals. This, you must know, John, is the game your servants are playing. They know how reasonable is the cry against the precipitate adoption of any great measure. They know that you, John, being in the main a man of good sense and clear vision, when the dust is not in your eyes, are likely to cry out against the unconsidered introduction of great constitutional changes, affecting the very life of the system, into the government of your great Eastern dependencies; and therefore they are exerting themselves, in every possible manner, by pen and by tongue, to persuade you that they are recommending no vital changes, because in fact I have no life. Let it be once shown that I have no power, no life—that I can do no good myself, and cannot prevent others from doing harm—let it be shown that I do nothing in the initial, the middle, or final stages of business, but throw up obstacles and necessitate delays, and of course all the rest follows. The measure they are recommending is really a small measure; the changes are easy, obvious, and superficial, to be considered without alarm, and adopted without danger. Now John, understand this matter. I assure you it is a very weighty one; the proposed changes are vital, organic changes; and I am eager to make this clear to you. Know, then, in the first place, how my affairs are managed at this present time. I did not invent the system—you did not invent the system. It grew out of circumstances—and we have it; that is enough for our present purpose. On my old commercial stock, John, the wisdom of your Parliament, three-quarters of a century ago, grafted a great branch of imperialism. I do not deny that something of the kind was wanted. I had grown from a mere commercial company into a great governing body; and as I had become the master, not merely of factories and of merchant ships, but of territories, fortifications, and standing armies, my affairs became the concern, not of my shareholders only, but of the nation itself; and the nation had a right to demand that I should be subjected to national control. The Regulating Act was passed; an imperial Board of Commissioners was appointed; and all my acts, John, not of a purely commercial character, were subjected to the supervision of the Imperial Government, as represented by the Board of Control. I have nothing to say against this, John. The system of Government thus established was the system of the Double Government which you are now condemning. Although it arose out of this necessity to correct an existing evil, and was therefore, so to speak, an accident, there was a sound constitutional principle at the bottom of it. Two distinct governing agencies were thus associated, to co-operate with, but to control, each other. The one was—nay, I may still say, the one is—a representative body—a body elected by a constituency—a body representing the middle classes of England. The Court of Directors is at this time composed of men for the most part elected by middle-class voters. The majority are entirely independent of the Crown; they are neither appointed nor are they removable by the Minister of the day. They have nothing to do with fragile parties or fleeting policies. A ministerial crisis is nothing to them. They are subject to no corrupt political influences; they are agitated by no gusts of faction. There is nothing to warp them from the straight course of duty; and I believe that they do their duty as honest men, and as, doubtless, your servants would do their duty, John, if there were no such things as parliamentary majorities. But this body, for all its independence and all its honesty, may go grievously wrong. It may be wrong-headed, or prejudiced, or short-sighted, or indolent, or apathetic; and it may sometimes need stimulus and sometimes control. You have then the governing Board to stimulate or to control my Directors, and if they go too fast or too slow, John, your servants may keep them at the proper pace. Now this, I say, is sound in principle; for it represents what you are so fond of talking about, my friend—"the balance of the constitution." There is the independent popular element, and there is the imperial element—each checking and controlling the other. There is a permanent body, with a consistent policy, subject to no fluctuations of party and no caprices of popular opinion, but with a tendency, therefore, to stagnation. There is, on the other hand, a fluctuating body, with no fixed policy, subject to vicissitudes of party, and continually moved by a pressure from without—whose tendency, if not towards progression, is towards a kind of restlessness that simulates it. Each possesses, in some degree, what the other lacks; and, on the whole, we work advantageously together.
But this is not the point, John, on which it is most important to insist. An obstructive or a torpid government is, doubtless, a bad thing; but a corrupt government is infinitely worse. Now, John, you know much better than I do, that all who have written books on the nosology of your constitution, or who have touched upon it in books upon the subject—down to the latest writer, Lord Grey—have told you that in all parliamentary governments there is a necessary tendency towards corruption. The weaker the government, of course the greater the tendency. Now, it has always been thought that the Home and Colonial services afford quite sufficient opportunity for the corruption of the country without such assistance as India may afford, on that field of action, to the Minister of the day. The patronage of India is not now available for purposes of political corruption. Take care, John, how you do anything that will tend to convert it to these vile uses. You are going to remove the only obstacles which have hitherto lain in the way of this gigantic abuse. Beware, then, lest, when you are endeavouring to rend the oak, you yourself are destroyed by the rebound.
I must make the matter clear to you, John, by explaining what the checks are of which I speak. My managing board is composed of eighteen Directors—six of whom are nominated by the Crown, the remainder, or two-thirds of the entire body, being elected by a constituency. It may be a good or it may be a bad constituency; but, at all events, it is an independent body. It consists mainly of members of the middle classes, many of whom have served or resided in India, or are in some way associated with the country. They vote perhaps for the best man, perhaps not. Private interest goes a great way; perseverance goes a great way. But politics go no way at all. A man, who puts himself forward as a candidate for the East India Direction, announces his antecedents; sets forth what he has done (most probably) in India, and what he desires to do for the benefit of that country. But he never declares whether he is a Whig or a Tory—whether he is for the Government or against it. Mr Hayter is nothing to him, or he to Mr Hayter. I declare to you, John, that I don't know what are the politics of any one of my Directors that has not a seat in Parliament. And the few who have seats are so little of party men, that on one day they may vote with the Government, and on another against it. My worst enemies must admit, John, that I have never troubled myself with party politics, or turned any patronage to political uses. The majority of my Directors owe nothing to the Crown—nothing to the Minister of the day; and they have nothing to do with party. I think, then, it is fair to allow that they constitute an independent body. Now, as the law stands at the present time, John, all the military, the marine, and ecclesiastical patronage of India (you have stripped me of the civil and the medical), with the exception of a small share given by courtesy to the President of the India Board, is rested in my Directors. They send out every year a large number of young men; but beyond launching them fairly on the stream of life, they can do nothing to advance their progress. All the rest depends upon their own exertions, or on the view taken of those exertions by the Governor-General, or the Governor, or the Commander-in-Chief of the Presidency to which he belongs. Now, these high functionaries, virtually appointed by the Crown—that is, by the Minister—sit in judgment upon the claims of men not appointed by the Crown or the Minister, but by a wholly independent body. The Minister who appoints the Governor or the Commander-in-Chief, has no particular interest in the members of the Indian services, because those services are not appointed by him, and, except in a very few instances, do not belong to his order. He does not, therefore, exercise any influence over patronage in India; and the governors and commanders-in- chief appointed by him cannot ingratiate themselves with him by advancing his friends. And they do not care to advance my friends, John, because they owe nothing to me. I never interfere in these matters, and, if I did, any interference might not be very successful. So, with very rare exceptions (exceptions which will arise under any system, to "prove the rule"), every man in the Indian services is left fairly to carve out his own fortune. The best men make their way to the best places; and when a great crisis arises, the Lawrences, the Nicholsons, and the Outrams are found at their proper posts.
I have said, John, that after I have once launched a man on the stream of life, I do not interfere with his subsequent progress. But I must make one exception to this statement. It rests with me, John, to appoint the members of the Indian Councils. With the Governor-General of India, and with the governors of the minor presidencies of India, are associated Councils composed of members of the Indian services; and the members of these Councils are nominated by me. The governor may legally override his Council; but, practically, the fellowship, in the council-chamber, of some of the ablest and most experienced men in the Indian services, cannot fail to influence, perhaps to restrain, a governor who, in all probability, is destitute of knowledge and experience. The Council thus composed is, indeed, an important constitutional check. And why is it so, John? Because it is appointed, not by the governor himself, not by the Minister who appoints the governor, but by an independent body like myself, John—by a Board composed of men, a large majority of whom are appointed by an independent constituency.
And now, my dear John, I trust that I have made sufficiently clear to you, both the principles and the practice of the much-abused "Double Government of India." Your own natural acumen will clearly indicate to you the constitutional checks and safeguards inherent in such a system. Now mark how, in the proposed new Government, all these checks and safeguards will be removed. Instead of a Board appointed mainly by a constituency, there is to be a Board appointed entirely by the Crown—that is, by the Minister of the day. This Board is to consist of eight instead of eighteen members. Instead of sitting at the other end of the town, it is to sit under the same roof with the Minister, and is to be continually in personal communication with him. Now what guarantee is there for—nay, what reasonable expectation is there of—the independence of a Council so circumstanced? The abstract absurdity of a man appointing his own checks, is patent to every one with eye to see and faculties to comprehend. But I am not going to ride off on an abstraction. Let us examine the matter more closely, John—let us look at it in all its practical bearings. What hope is there of independence from the characters and conditions of the men appointed to the Council? Why, if there be any hope at all, there it is. The members of the new Council are to be appointed from among men who have either sat in my old Court of Directors, or who have resided a certain number of years in India; and they are not to be permitted to hold seats in Parliament. It is probable that the most independent Council which could be formed would be one composed entirely of my old Directors. They are habituated to independence, John; nay, more, they are accustomed—excuse me for using a not very refined colloquialism—to "think small beer" of the Indian Minister. Carrying with them from Leadenhall Street to Whitehall a large amount of knowledge and experience, and in all probability finding none in the latter place, they are not very likely to entertain much veneration for their President, or to sit very subserviently at his feet. But even supposing that the first Council were so constituted, new materials will in time be introduced into it, and new feelings will spring up; and even looking at the matter in the most favourable point of view, it will appear that, after all, an independent spirit is of little use without independent powers of action. The men may be honest and resolute men but, expending their honesty and resolution in fruitless conflicts with a Minister who may reject their advice and scorn their remonstrances, they might, for all practical purposes of beneficial administration, as well be the tools and toadies of the Minister.
I told you much of this in my last letter, but it cannot he repeated too often and too emphatically; for the First Minister of the Crown has told you that he proposes to transfer to this new Council all the powers possessed by my old Court of Directors; and if you do not look closely into the matter, John, you may be carried away by the belief that he is speaking the truth. Understand, then, that under no possible circumstances can a Board or Council appointed by the Minister be practically as independent as a Board appointed by a constituency. Neither can a Board immediately associated with the Minister, as a component part of the same institution, and in constant personal communication with him, ever be as independent as one sitting in another place, and, except occasionally through its chairman, never communicating with him at all. The power, therefore, derived from independence will not exist in the new Council, as it now exists in my Court of Directors; and the powers vested in it by the law will be greatly diminished. My Directors, John, stand between the English Minister and his vice-regal nominees in India. They cannot absolutely appoint a Governor-General, or a minor Governor for themselves; that is to say, they can only appoint "subject to the confirmation of Her Majesty;" but as the appointment cannot take place without nomination by the Court of Directors, they have virtually the power of rejecting the man selected by the Crown. But for the existence of this power in the Court of Directors, John, you would probably have seen a worse race of men at the head of affairs in India, than those who have actually governed my possessions, on the whole, so successfully and well. This power, you know, is coupled with the power of recalling an obnoxious Governor-General—a great and substantive power, John, with which I should willingly part only with my life. Now, these powers to reject, or rather to refuse to nominate, the favourite of the Crown, and afterwards to remove him from office, are necessarily a cogent check upon the Minister of the day. The interposition of the independent element of the elected Directors between the two representatives of the Crown in India and in England, has ever been one of the best safeguards of our Indian empire. It was a check that did not exist merely in name; and you must remember, as well as I do, many instances in which the power has been exercised.
But this power, John—this interposition—this check—is not to exist under the new system of Government. The Minister is to send his own nominees to India, and the Council are to have no power either to reject them in the first instance, or to recall them in the last. There is to be nothing between the Crown Minister in Downing Street and the Crown Minister in the Government House of Calcutta—nothing to prevent Lord Palmerston from sending out his friend Lord Clanricarde to India, and from keeping him there as long as he likes. Now, John, I maintain that this is a very great and a very dangerous change. But I have not yet told you the worst of it. You have seen that associated with the Governor-General and the minor governors in India are certain presidential councils, which, being appointed by my Directors, are altogether independent of the Crown and of the Crown nominees. Now these councillors, as I have said, having knowledge, experience, and ability, and being invariably selected, on account of these qualifications, by my Directors, were practically, as well as constitutionally a most important check upon the governors of the different presidencies. But now, just as the Minister at home, John, is to appoint his own checks, the Minister in India is to appoint his. And so the aristocracy is complete at both ends, and the old constitution of our Anglo-Indian empire is entirely destroyed.
Now, see the effect of this, John, upon the Patronage question. Your Ministers have the audacity to boast that these great changes will not yield to the Government of the day any amount of patronage, of which the country has any occasion to be jealous. But let us see how the account stands. Imprimis, there are eight members of the new Council to be appointed by the Government. Well, it may be said, this is not much. At present they appoint six of my Directors—six Directors, with salaries each of £500 a- year, and a twenty-second part of the patronage, military, naval, and ecclesiastical. Now, they are to appoint eight councillors, with salaries of £1000, and a tenth part (or perhaps not so much it depends upon the share taken by the President) of the local military patronage. Now, either the share of patronage to be vested in each councillor is much greater than that which is enjoyed by one of my Directors (and the appointments, therefore, proportionately valuable), or a very large portion of my army is to be handed over to the Horse-Guards, and the patronage administered by the Crown. In either point of view, the increased power of the Government is enormous. It must be remembered that henceforth even the councillors will be members of the Government; and that although they are not directly dependent on parliamentary majorities, they can never entirely detach themselves from imperial and aristocratic influences; and that, therefore, although in a limited sense as compared with the patronage of the Minister, their patronage will be Government patronage, and accession to the strengths of the Crown. You must bear in mind, John, that although, for decency's sake, when your eyes are upon the Minister, he will probably make, in the first instance, unexceptionable appointments—or the best that can be made on such terms as are prescribed in the Bill—there is no sort of guarantee for the excellence, or even for the harmlessness, of subsequent appointments; and that, as India will be flooded now with Queen's officers, and all the legal, marine, educational, engineering appointments, &c., will be in the gift of the Crown, Government will have plenty of protégés out of the line of those services, which I still, John, am proud to call mine. It will not be very long, you many be sure, before the creatures of the Court and the tools of Party are sitting in the Indian councils, and dispensing their patronage for the benefit of the Government of the day.
And how do you know, John, that the Council even thus deteriorated will last? how do you know that it is intended to last? It appears to me probable in the extreme that, good at first (as far as such a Council can be good), it will grow from good to bad, and from bad to worse, until it becomes either a scandal and a reproach, or such an entire nonentity that its abolition will be considered a virtue rather than a crime. And so the patronage, after being for some time administered for the Government, will be directly administered by it; and are you prepared to place such a gigantic instrument of corruption in the hands of the Minister of the day? Look to this, John, whilst there is yet time; keep your eye on the rocks, or you will assuredly find yourself drifting upon them before you know what you are about.
It appears, then, that a large portion of the initial patronage now held by my Directors is to pass immediately into the hands of the Government of the day, and that there is a strong likelihood of the whole of it eventually following in the same direction. But the contemplated changes will do more than this—they will materially affect the administration of patronage in India. The tendency of the proposed measure is to convert the Governor-General into a gigantic despot. All checks are to be removed from him, both at home and abroad. He is no longer to be controlled or influenced by my Directors, or by a council nominated by my Directors. He can do what he likes as long as the Crown Minister is with him. The Council at home cannot restrain him, for it is to have no power. The Council in India cannot restrain him, for henceforth it is to be composed of his own creatures. There is nothing in the world but his own scruples to restrain him from an abuse of patronage which may throw the whole country into confusion, and do more harm than a Sepoy mutiny. I admit the possibility, John, of this immense power being placed in worthy hands; but I doubt whether, under the new system, a really honest man could hold the appointment for a twelve- month. Though free himself from corruption, such corrupt influences will be brought to bear upon him that his position will be painful in the extreme. The Home Government, John, will expect him to serve their friends, and will be continually entreating him to "take care of Dowb." If he be determined not to take care of Dowb, he will soon be hopelessly at variance with his friends at home, and will be glad to make room for a more facile successor. Then the facile successor in India and the corrupt Government in England will have it all their own way. And the appointments in India, which no one has ever ventured to say have been unfairly distributed under my administration, will be Hayterised without remorse. Seats in Council, residencies, chief-commissionerships, Suddur judgeships, will be given away, at the instigation of the Government at home, for the direct or indirect purchase of parliamentary votes; and we may be sure that aristocratic connections will never again be of the little account that they now are under my middle-class Government. There will, doubtless, ere long be a line of telegraph the whole way between London and Calcutta. Think, John, of the messages from Jones of the Civil Service to Jones, member for Little Peddlington, announcing that Robinson in Council, or Brown of the Suddur is sick unto death of cholera, and that the dying man's appointment would just suit the transmitter of the message. Think of the little conversation that evening in the smoking-room of the House of Commons, between Jones, M. P., and the Government Whip, and the consequent message next morning from Whitehall to Government House, Calcutta, that the Minister hopes that Jones, C. S., will be taken care of, if the Honourable Robinson's seat in Council becomes vacant. You many laugh, John, and shake your head, but I assure you that nothing is more likely. We know that such things have happened in other directions before.
And yet, in spite of all this, they tell you, Joint, not to be afraid. Not to be afraid of a measure which sweeps away all those barriers which have hitherto stood firmly and unassailably between India and the united influence of parliamentary ignorance and parliamentary corruption. The new Indian bill contemplates the gradual absorption of all the power and patronage of the Indian Government by the Minister of the day. Can there ever be anything like a consistent policy under such a system of Government? Do your Governments not fluctuate—is your Parliament not capricious? Is not public opinion more capricious still? What, John, is an Indian Minister? Is he not, as I have seen him described, a man "who may be here to-day and gone to-morrow? who may preside over the Indian Board and govern India for a fortnight, and then be suddenly deposed by some gust of Parliamentary caprice—by the mistaken tactics of an inexperienced party leader, or the neglect of an inexperienced 'whipper-in?'"3 Some speaker, during the recent debate on my affairs in the House of Commons, stated that the average duration of the official lives of Indian ministers has been about two years and a half. Surprising longevity! Why, John, there have been as many as half-a-dozen ministers at the head of your colonial office in the course of a single year. There is no reason why you should not have the same number of ministers, in the course of some happy year, at the head of the Indian department of the State,—half-a-dozen men, each one knowing as much about India as his predecessor, and that is nothing. Have you half-a-dozen statesmen, John, of the class from which Indian ministers are likely to be taken, who know whether a Zillah is a wild beast, a district, or a regiment of horse? How many are there who can tell me off-hand whether Holkar is a Mohammedan or a Hindoo, and whether the Mohurrum is a Mohammedan or a Hindoo festival? What more does Parliament at large know about the matter? Not many years ago, a distinguished statesman, now no more, in a speech on the sugar duties, spoke, in the House of Commons, of the hardship of 100,000,000 of the people of India being compelled to drink their tea without sugar. Did the House laugh? Not a bit of it, John. The House listened calmly and complacently, and conjured up to their excited imagination visions of Indian ryots, sitting at the tea-table with their wives and children, and sipping sugarless bohea out of blue and white crockery. An ignorant Minister, John, is to be responsible to an ignorant Parliament. And this is the system of which you are told not to be afraid.
But then, you tell me, there is "public opinion." What is public opinion, John? I am telling you that you want something stable—something consistent between India and the Government of the day, and you tell me that there is "public opinion." You might as well tell me that there is the wind. Public opinion is anything—nothing. What has it been—what has it not been—by turns, since first the sad news of the mutiny reached us on that sultry June morning? Take only one point, John. You remember what at first was the outcry against proselytising officers. You remember how it was said that the over- zealous and indiscreet interference of missionary officers had done much to turn the hearts and the knives of the Sepoys against us. Well, for a while, this was public opinion. But presently the wind shifted—right to the opposite point of the compass. Instead of this signal calamity having been brought upon us by indiscreet Christian zeal, Public Opinion pronounced that it had been drawn down upon our devoted heads as a punishment for our unchristian indifference. And now many excellent people, John, are proclaiming that we can propitiate the Most High, and remove from our unhappy countrymen the weight if His chastening hand, only by an open, unreserved acknowledgment of the duty of the Government, as well as of individual men, to use every possible endeavour to convert the heathen to Christianity, whatever the prospect of success or the certainty of mischief. This, John, has been enunciated from your pulpits and from your platforms—is , John, enunciated now. But there will soon be another reaction, and the sooner, I cannot help thinking, the better. For nothing can be more mischievous than the present outcry—nothing more surely calculated to increase, whilst you are praying to the Almighty to assuage, the malice of your enemies. I told you in my last, John, to think of the effect that all this indiscreet talk about open demonstrations on the part of the State, in favour of extended schemes of proselytism, is likely to have upon the national mind, when coupled with a report of the intention of substituting for the old tolerant Company's Government, a new and more vigorous administration to be carried on in the name of the Queen. Do you not think it likely, John, that emissaries will go from place to place declaring that this is the real meaning of the change of Government, and that all past pledges and promises will be ignored? What is more likely than this, John? and what will give colour to the falsehood? Why, the Public Opinion, to which you think you may look as a safeguard, but which, in reality, is a source of incredible danger to our Indian Empire.
Yes, John, under the new system of government this "Public Opinion" will drag you into vile quicksets and horrible quagmires of danger. Public opinion, rash, hasty, ignorant, acting upon a Parliament equally ignorant and equally rash. Truly, indeed, was it said the other night, John, by a great man, that "before Parliament can legislate safely for Orientals, they must be able to form a just and discriminating opinion regarding the feelings and prejudices of people of a different colour and a different creed." "They might," it was truly added, "without that knowledge, pass a law which might appear to be for the benefit of the people, but which might turn out to be a horrible punishment."4 Wisely did he call your attentions to another danger, greater even, if possible, than the ignorance and the arrogance of the House. This scheme, John, for my speedy destruction, is popular in the House of Commons. Why is it popular? why were so many Members found, on the morning of the 19th of February, to vote, in the face of every possible argument, for the reconstruction of my house whilst it is in a blaze? Because the measure will throw into the hands of the Minister a large amount of patronage to be used for Parliamentary purposes—to be distributed among the hangers-on of Government, among the members of the Pope's brass-band, and other legislators of that class. Well might the orator exclaim that our Indian Empire is "threatened by a danger far more imminent than that of an enemy in the field—the danger that arises from organised red-tapery and jobbery; and that, as that Empire was won by the valour of the middle classes, he trusted that Parliament would never allow it to be wrested from their hands by official imbecility and ministerial corruption."5 Yes, John, these indeed are weighty matters for your consideration. Read the whole of the noble speech from which these words are taken, and lay the warnings it contains to your heart. Never again, if this measure becomes the law of the land, shall we find the best men working their way to high place by the innate force of their own integrity and ability—their own brave resolution and indomitable perseverance. Never again will the Munros and Malcolms, taking to themselves the noble motto, Aut viam inveniam, aut faciam , start from their father's country-house, or their father's farm, in highland or in lowland, to carve their way unaided to the governorship of a group of provinces. Never again, when a great danger bursts suddenly upon the land, will the Lawrences and the Outrams, the Nicholsons, the Wilsons, and the Chamberlaines,—middle-class men, without courtly favour, without ministerial influence—be found in the high places of the council- chamber and the camp. Never again will the nation turn with the same confidence as of old, to the heroes whom the Company have made, and the Company's system has fostered. A despotic Governor-General, backed by a Minister to whom patronage is the necessary fulcrum of Place, will have it all his own way in one department of the State; and the favourites of the Horse-Guards (I will not name them, John—you will easily supply their aristocratic patronymics) will ride rough- shod over the other. If there are no places vacant for such favourites, new appointments will be made for them, and I shall not be here, John, to protest against the jobbery. Are these, my dear John, considerations to which you can afford to turn a deaf ear? Is it all mere talk—is all an idle alarm? Or do you see in these suggestions anything to warn you that you are flinging away a great empire, at a moment, too, when it lies in your power to consolidate and to perpetuate it, by the exercise of a little patience, a little caution, and a little thought?
And now, John, before I conclude, I wish to put the whole case before you, like a pair of Limerick gloves in a nutshell. It is asserted, and I do not mean to deny, that the present system of "Double Government" is in some respects defective. It is said that it is encumbered with formalities, and that it engenders delays. Whether these delays may not on the whole be serviceable delays, I will not now pause to inquire. You do not trouble yourself to inquire, John, whether the old system of stagecoach travelling may not, in some important respects, be more advantageous than the present system of railway travelling. You have got your railways; you use them, and you say that this is a "go-ahead age." It is a "go-ahead age." We must take it, for better or for worse, as it is, or we shall be left behind in the mud. Now, I admit that your progress during the last quarter of a century has been inconceivably fast, and that during that period there has been an amount of progress, of different kinds, in India, far beyond what I ever anticipated; there has been territorial progress or extension; there has been moral and intellectual progress; there has been scientific progress, as demonstrated by the actions of steam-communication, of railways, of the electric telegraph. Now, I admit, John, that with all this progress, my administrative agency ought to keep full pace, and that if you prove to me that it has not kept pace, I am bound either to reform myself, to submit to be reformed by you, or quietly to abdicate my functions.
Well, John, I don't want to cavil about the matter. I am not obstinate, or self-sufficient, or vain-glorious. I know what a mess your Ministers would make of the government of India but I do not maintain that I am perfect myself. It is very probable that my mode of doing business has not kept pace with the requirements of extended dominion and increased facilities of communication—that there are, in short, defects in my system which require to be removed. But the question for your consideration is, whether these are vital, constitutional, organic defects—whether the disease has eaten, like a cancer, so deeply into my life, that it can only be removed at the expense of my existence; or whether they are accidental ailments, to which ordinary remedies may be applied, with hope of restoring me to health and activity, and enabling me to meet the demands made upon me by the increased and increasing business of my Indian Empire. This, John, I say, is the great question for your solution. I do not see that either your Ministers or your Parliament have taken it into consideration; and, therefore, I press it upon your own common sense. You are not wont, John, to prefer abolition to modification. If your own constitutional systems, at any period of your existence, have not worked well, you have modified, or, as you generally call it, you have reformed them; you have not applied the axe to the root. The diruit oedificat principle has never been yours. You have let circumstances, out of which all your systems of government have grown, still continue to operate upon those systems, and to shape them according to the pressure of the times. Now, what is it that makes my constitution an exception to your general rule of action? Is it that it is incurably bad? You have tried, from time to time, to improve it, John, and you declare that all these experiments have been successful. What is the logic, then, of declaring, that as all your attempts at improvements have succeeded, it is useless to try any more? One would have supposed that the success of past experiments was an argument for further efforts to improve me. At all events, it sufficiently demonstrates that I have not yet been proved to be incurable. If any defects, then—exaggerate them as you may—be not incurable; or, in other words, be not inseparable from my constitution, why seek to destroy me outright? You are not wont, in the ordinary affairs of life, to proceed in this irrational manner. If your horse goes lamely, you have him re-shod; you blister him, or you fire him; you do not shoot him until you have tried everything else in vain. If your carriage wheels go heavily and cumbrously, you grease them, or you mend them; you insert some new wood-work, or some new iron-work; or you buy new patent axles: you do not make a bonfire of the vehicle. You do not pull down your house because your fire smokes; you do not cut down your tree because there is a worm in the bark; you do not have your leg amputated, because, as Mr Dickens says, "your corns are an aggravation." I know nothing in ordinary life that is in any way a parallel to your present proceeding (assuming that you take the advice of your Ministers), except that capital story, John, told by one of my clerks, who, I believe, must have had a prophetic vision of my latter end, as he slumbered over one of my huge ledgers in the old mercantile days,—that story of the Chinamen who, desiderating the luxury of roast pig, and knowing no easier process towards its attainment, burnt down their houses in search of cracklin. Now, is not that what you are doing, John? You want cracklin. You have really only to tell any professed cook to produce it for you, and you will have it on your table at any hour you please to name. You have no need to burn down my house, or any other house, to get it. It is the cook's work, not the incendiary's. I have half-a-dozen cooks in my big house in Leadenhall Street, who will serve you up the right thing, apple-sauce and all, at a few hours' notice.
You will tell me, perhaps, that I should have done better if I had suggested this before—if I had set my house in order, unasked—if I had reformed myself out of a pure conscientious love of reform. Well, John, I admit it. But we are all of us somewhat prone to adopt the quieta non movere principle. It is a family failing, John. I don't know that it's peculiar to me. We all want some pressure from without to induce us to keep pace with the times. We do not "see ourselves as others see us." We think that we are doing very well; and we remember the words of the old epitaph, "I was well—I sought to be better—I took physic—and—I died." Of course, this dreadful mutiny in India roused me, as it has roused you, to a sense of the insecurity of my position in India; and I should have been culpable in the extreme, if I had done nothing to probe the evil to its depths. But I have done all that, up to the present time, could be done; I have ordered special commissions to assemble in India to ascertain the causes of the outbreak, the defects of my existing military system, and the best means of reorganising the army, now broken and shattered by the shock of this great rebellion. And I will undertake to say, my dear John, that if you do not interfere, my commissions will turn out better than those which you clamoured for so loudly after the Crimean war. Now, this was the first thing to be done. It was surely my business to address myself first to the proximate causes of the great disaster. But although I desired to begin there, I did not desire to end there. I was prepared to consider in what manner the existing system of government in England may have tended to create or to perpetuate the evils out of which the mutiny has arisen. It was your duty, John, to call for inquiry. It was my duty to be prepared for inquiry, prepared to have all my affairs thoroughly investigated. I was prepared, John—I am prepared. I do not shrink from—I court inquiry. I only protest against being condemned without trial.
If I thought that there were any hope of your proposed new system of government working as well as mine has done, I would not ask you to try whether mine may not be made to work better. But I can see no hope of this. Now, your advisers, John, do not deny that my constitution is radically sound. They do not say that the principles upon which it is based are erroneous. They merely sneer at my cumbrousness and indistinctness; and on account of certain accidental defects—defects which have really nothing to do with the constitutional part of my government, they propose to destroy that constitution, and to substitute for it one that is based upon a wholly different set of principles. They do not say that the representative system is bad; they merely assert that I have a bad constituency. Instead of inquiring whether that constituency might not be improved, they propose to abolish it altogether, and to substitute the despotic principle for the elective, in your new Indian constitution. They do not assert that the principle of Double Government, or constitutional equipoise, is bad. They merely assert that it engenders delay, and obscures responsibility. Instead of inquiring how the joint operation and reciprocal action of the two parts of this government may be simplified and harmonised, and how the responsibility may be rendered more distinct and more intelligible, they propose to convert the Double Government into a single Government, and to destroy at once all the constitutional checks which have so long been the safeguard of the Indian Empire. But you may easily reform any constituency, John—you may easily simplify the actions of the Double Government—and, as to responsibility, that is just what Parliament pleases to make it. But where there is no inquiry, there can be no response. And I do not see that the Indian Minister is to be rendered more responsible, by simply changing his official name.
You know the worst of me, John. You know that I have, somehow or other, added "the brightest jewel in the crown" to the regalia of Great Britain. You know that I have made you the wonder and the admiration of the world. But you do not know what will be the result of the dangerous experiment which your Ministers are now proposing to inaugurate. If there be one axiom, John, in the philosophy of Indian government more indisputable than any other, it is, that there must be a strong intermediate body between India and the Government of the day. Erect such a body, John, and I am satisfied. You may call it the East India Company—you may call it the Council of India—you may call it anything, nothing, I do not care—so long as it answers the purpose. But, be convinced that no council, no board, no assembly of any kind, can answer the purpose, if it be nominated by your Ministers. Think, then, if you do not like my present constituency, whether you cannot appoint another, and a better one; think then, if you do not like my independent Directors, whether you can get better ones equally independent; think, if you do not like my present system of check and counter-check, whether you cannot invent another with the same safeguards, but with fewer delays. Think whether you cannot improve that of which you have experience, before you fly to that of which you have none. Do not, cajoled by your Ministers, without knowledge, without inquiry, without consideration, accept from their hands a wholly new constitution for India, which will place the country at the feet of a Parliamentary majority, and soon assist you to lose it, as disastrously and disgracefully as you lost your American Colonies—and, probably, in the same way.
I am, my dear John,
Your affectionate friend,
Last modified 15 October 2007