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THE SUPREMACY OF THE BRITISH IN INDIA.
If some future Gibbon should ever write the history of the British Empire, he will probably point to the rise and development of the British colonies as the most striking and lasting monument of Anglo-Saxon supremacy.
Yet their progress will not form the subject of his most eloquent passages. Man takes more pleasure in occupying himself with the feats of arms than with the pursuits of industry, and the brilliant conquests of the British in India will prove a more attractive theme for the historian's eloquence than the periodical censuses of men, oxen, and sheep in Canada or Australia. The few sentences in which Gibbon has described the agriculture of the Roman Empire have a more lasting value than the famous passage in which he has related the march of Julian from the Rhine to the Danube. Yet the details of the march of the emperor are recollected by thousands of readers who could not probably recall the conclusions of the historian on the rural economy of the Romans.
No romance ever contained a more stirring story than the record of the East India Company's achievements. The
heroes of antiquity did not obtain more success Empire of than that which was won by the strong heads and
stout hearts of the men who founded the Indian Empire. Yet, by a singular circumstance, the most thrilling
story in British history has never been told by a Its history
competent writer. Macaulay, indeed, in two of his
best essays, has related the deeds of Clive and the policy of Hastings. His admirable descriptions only excite wonder that a history which contains two such chapters
still un. written.
should not have found some writer to tell it as a whole. The dreary pages in which Mill and Wilson, Thornton and Marshman, have related the doings of the British in India find few readers because these authors have contrived to make an account which should have sparkled like a rivulet in the sunshine as dull as a shady pool; and the Englishman who delights in reading in his own language the achievements of a Pizarro or a Cortez in another hemisphere ignores the greater feats which men of his own race and own language accomplished in the Deccan and Hindostan.
In a history which only professes to commence in 1815, it would be impossible to attempt to supply a notable want, and the present writer is forced to content himself with referring, in he merest outline, to the circumstances in which the Indian Empire was founded. The story of the British in India in the nineteenth century, however, cannot be understood unless their peculiar position in the eighteenth century be recollected, and stress must therefore be laid on this fact by any writer who hopes to make his account either useful or intelligible.
Every one who desires to understand the history of the British in India should remember that trade and not conquest was the original object of the earliest adventurers. Trade, not The merchants who ventured on the perilous conquest, Indian seas went in pursuit of the wealth with ject of the
English in which India was supposed to teem. Perhaps every one who arrives first at a gold-mine thinks that he has an exclusive right to its treasure. The men who first embarked their capital in Indian trade desired a monopoly of its advantages. Just as the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, and the British would have liked to have shut out all nations except themselves from the Indian seas, so the East India Company succeeded in excluding all British vessels except their own from Indian commerce.
This desire, which appears both selfish and absurd to a modern mind, seemed consistent and reasonable enough in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The wisest states
races in India.
men at that time endeavoured to encourage trade by the promise of monopolies, and to ensure the wealth of their own country by excluding other nations from all share of their com
It was easier, however, to stipulate that no Englishmen,
xcept those armed with a charter from the Crown, should embark on the Indian trade than to confine the whole trade to the British nation. The British were not even the first
people who had landed in India; they had no more European
capacity for trade than other adventurers; and he
would have been a bold man who, in the middle of the eighteenth century, had predicted that the French and Portuguese settlements at Pondicherry and Goa were destined to torpor or decay, and that the British settlements were the first foundations of a mighty empire.
It is instructive, moreover, to observe that, of the three Powers, the Portuguese enjoyed advantages which might have pointed to their ultimate supremacy. Their navigators had been the first to arrive in the Indian seas; their kindred had displayed in Brazil their competence to found an empire; and the peace which usually reigned between Portugal and Britain prevented any serious disturbance between Portuguese and British on the coasts of India. On the other hand, neither the French nor the British had at that time displayed much capacity for trans-oceanic conquest, and the constant warfare in which they were engaged in Europe made it almost certain that they would transfer their quarrels to the East. Yet these circumstances, which seemed to point to the superiority of the Portuguese, ultimately ensured the formation of a British Empire, and the British may trace the series of events which led to their predominance in India to their ancient rivalry with the French in Europe.
It would be impossible in this volume to attempt any narraThe struggle tive of the events which this rivalry occasioned. French and During the war which ended with the Peace of AixEnglish ex
la-Chapelle in 1748, and the war which was con
cluded by the Peace of Paris in 1763, the struggle was extended to India. But in the two periods it was conducted
tended to India,
on different systems and with contrary results. In the former war the struggle—at any rate, under Labourdonnais-was virtually confined to the French and British themselves, and the advantages were not with the British. But before this war was concluded the British, smarting under the capture of Madras, sought to strengthen themselves by alliances with Native Powers. From thenceforward, French and French and British, engaged in a perpetual rivalry, successively English both sought support from, and lent aid to, native chief- help. tains; and the servants of a Company formed for purposes of trade found themselves occupied with the business of war and the intrigues of foreign policy.
There is a general opinion among the worshippers of heroes, that the man makes the opportunity. It is probably much more true to say that the opportunity makes the man. This conclusion is, at any rate, supported by the events on the Coromandel coast in the eighteenth century. Where before had so small a handful of Europeans produced such a galaxy of great names as Labourdonnais, Dupleix, Bussy, and Lally on the one side, or Coote, Lawrence, and Clive on the other? Any generous Englishman will admit that, if the victory finally lay with his own countrymen, the glories of the campaign were shared equally by both nations. The French, indeed, sent their beaten general to a gibbet, while the British rewarded the victor with a coronet. But the fame of the man who died on the scaffold will live almost as long as that of the great founder of the Indian Empire. If, indeed, Lally had received more support from France, if Chatham had displayed less energy, the history of the world might have been altered, and the French and not the British might have held the first place in the East Indies.
The death-struggle between France and Britain led to a closer connection between the British adventurers and the Native Powers. Thenceforward, the British in India found their own interests blended with those of Native princes, and were consequently drawn into the troubled sea of India politics.
The con dition of he Native States.
The conquerors, to whom India had in previous ages been a prey, had swept away the governments which they had
found, but had built up no new systems of their own : and this assertion was true of Alexander and
Timur, as well as of Baber, Akbar, and Aurungzebe. Systems sustained only by their personal energy were shattered by their death, and whole provinces passed under the sway of the first adventurer who had the ambition to desire and the capacity to secure the government. Thus the British who were drawn by a European contest into Indian struggles found the confusion in wiich diplomacy delights already made. They would, perhaps, have been more than human if, in such circumstances, they had stood apart. For, in all ages and among all men, the desire for rule is a stronger force than the craving for wealth. Power seems the one object worth pursuit, and mankind intensifies the feeling by giving its highest honours to the men of action. It seems so much better to be a statesman or a soldier than a merchant or a man of letters, that nine men out of ten are ready to exchange the counting-house and the study for the sword and the tribune. They omit to reflect that commerce survives while treaties are broken, and that the poet is read when the soldier is forgotten.
Men sent to India in the interests of trade were thus suddenly turned into warriors and diplomatists. There can
be no room for surprise that they paid afterwards more attention to affairs than to commerce. But
the circumstances which influenced the Company's servants in India had no weight with its Directors at home. They were intent on gaining riches, while their servants were
busily founding an Empire. Plassey, which brought Clive a title, brought them debt; and conquests
which, from a statesman's standpoint, were of priceless value, measured by a merchant's scales were hardly worth the cost.
It may, moreover, have possibly occurred to some of these sober citizens that the extension of their dominion was not
The servants of the Com
The Directors at home.