Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

THE ROYAL PROCLAMATION TO INDIA.

A NEW era has dawned upon India; the reign of VICTORIA BEATRIX has commenced.

On the 1st of November 1858, solemn proclamation of the new Raj was made in all parts of India. Jehan Koompanee, or John Company, Behaudur, was declared to be dead or deposed, and Victoria Padshah Begum sent to reign in his place. Up went the rockets, up went the hats, and up went the shouts of the Europeans; and down in reverential salaams went the heads of the subject races. Truly the cold season had commenced most auspiciously or portentously. Victoria Vindex in the field with Lord Clyde; Victoria Beatrix in Secretary Beadon's portfolio the message of peace floating over the land, with awful commentary, now and then, of cannon and fusillade. Rebellion not wholly trodden out-still only in its embers. New inquietudes from strange quarters blurring the fair prospect of returning peace: an epoch of contrarieties and inconsistencies bewildering to men's minds, as though the bayonet were affixed to the end of the olive branch, and the roar of the 8-inch howitzer were the fittest language of love.

If we could have conceived the possibility of such an imposing close to the Sepoy war as that-dazzling even to the obtusest imagination-of an immense British army, forming a wide extended circle, enclosing, as it were, with a ring of fire, the revolted districts, and hemming in the few remaining rebel-bands with certain destruction; then, by the voice of its commander, sending forth, on a given day, a summons to all the rebel chiefs to send their emissaries to his camp to hear the gracious message of peace, sent to them across the sea by the Queen of England; and then, the summons obeyed, of the reading of the Proclamation at the headquarters camp before all the wakeels of our former enemies, and of our native allies, amidst general demonstrations of joy and interchanges of friendship, we might have deplored the absence

VOL. LXXXV.—NO, DXIX.

of a more dramatic close to the war than that which is actually before us. But we have long conceived it to be an historical necessity that the strife should die out, spluttering; that, indeed, there should be no crowning catastrophe, no grand climax, nothing to afford an opportunity for a closing tableau with any startling theatrical effects. The Proclamation has been read; Victoria reigns; the message of peace has been delivered; but the mails from India still bring us tidings of war; and it may be doubted whether the Proclamation will hasten its close by a single day. Proclamations, as Lord Canning has recently assured us, have little effect upon the public mind. Between those who don't understand and those who don't believe them, the great mass of the people is divided. Of course, it was necessary to proclaim the new Raj; but it may be doubted whether the framers of the Proclamation ever expected it to produce any effect upon those to whom it was ostensibly addressed.

But looking at this Imperial manifesto altogether from another point of view, it is impossible not to regard it as a highly important document. Virtually, we may conceive it to be addressed to the people of England. It is an authoritative exposition of the future policy of the British Government towards the states and the people of India; a solemn enunciation of the self-imposed obligations of the paramount State towards the subject country. It lays down the principles upon which the greatest of the dependencies of England is henceforth to be governed. Addressed though it is to the people of India, it is a pledge given to the people of England that the dusky millions, who own the sovereignty of the Queen of England, will be ruled with righteousness and justice, with mercy and toleration, befitting a Christian monarch. From that ever-to-be-remembered 1st of November, a fresh start is taken; a new career of empire is commenced. The past is to be a rasa tabula. The

H

traditions of centuries are to be as nothing. The Company is not. The Queen reigns; and how she intends to govern, we may learn from the Proclamation before us.

And yet it was barely gracious certainly not at all graceful-to ignore all that magnificent Past. True, the army of the East India Company, after a century of loyalty, had broken out into revolt. But it is the nature of Indian armies to break out into revolt-not once in a hundred years, but many times in a hundred years not seldom thereby overturning great empires. Even overrun as it was by blood-stained mutineers, India was a great gift to the Crown of England; and something might well have been said about the merchant - princes who had reared such an empire, not at much cost of English blood, and at no cost at all of English treasure. Was not the East India Company-great in history-worth a sentence of this royal Proclamation? To issue such a proclamation is a mighty privilege, What monarch ever before issued such a proclamation to two hundred millions of foreign subjects, so many thousand miles away from the seat of the Imperial Government? And from whom did the sovereign derive the power and the privilege to issue such a proclamation, but from the merchant Company which is now ig nored? The Crown has dispossessed the Company. For good or for evil, the thing is done. Whatever we may have thought, whatever we may have said about that revolution when it was only in progress, now that it is a fait accompli, we shall not bewail the Past, but hope for the Future. Still we cannot speak of the inauguration of the new Raj without a word of gratitude to the old. Whether the Company governed wisely or unwisely, may be a question for the solution of historians in future ages, as it is for pamphleteers and journalists in the present. But it is a fact that, somehow or other, they achieved dominion over two hundred millions of Asiatics, and so placed England in the foremost rank of the sovereignties of the earth. In whatsoever way the new Sirkar may govern, it was by the old one that the marvellous empire was won.

The one defect of the Proclamation lies in this ungrateful omission. Forgetting what is left undone, we may applaud unstintingly what is done, and not with less pleasure for the feeling that the policy now enunciated in the name of the Queen of England is substantially the policy which the East India Company has ever professed to maintain, and, but for ambitious home-bred statesmen, doubtless would have maintained. If the Company, as its last solemn act, had put forth a declaration of its policy, the principles declared would have been substantially the same as those set forth in the Imperial manifesto. From first to last, it is little more than the traditional policy of the East India Company: the anti-annexation policy, which drove Lord Wellesley mad the neutrality policy, which grieved the spirit of Exeter Hall. The Company, however, were always slow to make proclamation of their sentiments. They knew how the best intentions may be falsified by adverse circumstances, and they never had worldly wisdom enough to make liberal use of platitudes. No great public body, indeed, ever did such manifest injustice to itself by its reticence and reserve. If the Company had been less regardless of public opinion, we should not now have the noble and generous sentiments of the Queen's Proclamation contrasted with the grovelling selfish policy of the defunct merchant rulers. We should not now hear the manifesto of the 1st of November lauded as a brannew coinage from the Imperial mint.

But, at all events, whether the metal be new metal, or only the old re-stamped with the image and superscription of Victoria Beatrix, from that memorable 1st of November we start afresh on a new career; and it is well that we should look seriously at the pledges that have been given, at the obligations which have been assumed, in the name of the Queen, and on behalf of the people of Great Britain. It would have been well, at all events, for the national reputation, if, in past years, England had from time to time taken stock of her duties towards India, and not waited to be aroused to a sense of them by a terrifying

1

and stunning explosion. But now that a new epoch has commenced, and she finds herself brought face to face with the people of India, the great veil of the Company being altogether removed, we may expect this Imperial indifference to be stimulated into something like curiosity, perhaps activity; and if the propensity to interfere be kept in abeyance, this awakening of national interest may have its uses. We have often wondered whether, after all, the past indifference of England may not have resulted from her confidence in the Company. Doubtless she had a prevailing sense that the Company knew what they were about, and might be intrusted to govern the country after their own way. There will be more uneasiness now, more vigilance, more inquiry, more criticism-criticism, in the first instance, taking the shape of grave questions about the meaning of the Imperial manifesto. "Wanted an interpreter." Language was given to us for the expression of our thoughts, but still more, it has been sarcastically said, for their concealment. It is an awkward question that you put to a man, when you ask him what is his meaning-awkward when only the operations of a single mind are to be traced, from the germ of the idea to its verbal expression. But awkward beyond measure, when Government, in its collective capacity, is called upon to declare its meaning. Who knows? Who meant anything? Who fathers the thought? Who will be sponsor for it? The actual paternity, in most cases, rests with some very able and efficient public servant, of whom no one out of his department ever hears, and who, after having made the reputation of halfa-dozen statesmen, quietly retires from the scene into blankest oblivion. Then, perhaps, some under-secretary, "permanent" or "parliamentary," grafts upon this original stock an idea or two of his own; then the Secretary of State applies his responsible pen to the documentdiruit, ædificat, mutat-more or less ; and then, in smaller matters, the business is complete. But, in more momentous cases, when Parliament and the people are sure to sit in judgment upon the measure, the

Cabinet considers it, the Crown condescends to it; new meanings are introduced, or new words are made to represent old meanings; and when the patchwork is accomplished, it is impossible to say whose work it is, or who is really the fittest interpreter of its meaning.

And, after all, we do not know that this is much to be deplored. If a proclamation is to be drawn up, or a despatch is to be written, it is necessary to find words at the outset; meanings may be found afterwards. It is no contemptible part of statesmanship to be able successfully spargere voces ambiguas-to employ words so wanting in sharpness and distinctness of outline, that you may shade them off on one side or the other into almost anything that you like. It has been often said, that no business is done so well as that which is left to do itself; and no public document, perhaps, is better explained than that which is left to explain itself-not by words, but by practical results. Much must necessarily be left to the operation of Time and the revolution of Circumstance; much to the discretion of those upon whom devolves the duty of giving practical exposition to the ambiguous words of the written document. Nothing in the world is so embarrassing as a definition-embarrassing to the individual, and often mischievous in the extreme to the community. Public men and public interests have ere now been sacrificed to a word. Clinging, for consistency's sake, to a meaning not to be escaped or evaded, men have gone wrong, in defiance of experience and regardless of results, damaging themselves and injuring others; and at last "perishing in their pride," rather than retract honestly an unlucky word, or confess that they used it without thinking of its meaning.

We have written this wholly without design; but it is not altogether of the nature of a digression. We do not know, indeed, any more fitting introduction to a commentary upon such a document as the great Indian Proclamation of November 1st, 1858-a document which, within the space of a single page of this journal, sets forth the policy of her Majesty Queen Victoria, not only

with reference to the present conjuncture of affairs, but to the circumstances of all time-the passing and the permanent-the particular and the general-policy of the Government of Great Britain towards the subject races of Hindostan. So few the words and so great the argument! In so small a space it was not possible to set forth so wide a scheme of policy with any accompaniments of definition and explanation. So much the better. The least said, the soonest mended. He is not the least wise statesman, who, in such a case, mindful of the conflict of opinion on many of the great questions to be glanced at, reverses the aphorism of the Roman satirist, and takes for his motto, not Brevis esse laboro-Obscurus fio; but Brevis fio; Obscurus esse laboro. It is good generalship to fight with one's words in front, and to keep one's meanings in reserve.

But it is time that we cease from these prolegomena, and take up the proclamation itself. We purpose to consider seriatim the great questions which it involves-the great principles which it enunciates-with the practical solution and application of these questions and principles. After the usual titular preamble, in which, according to the copy of the Proclamation now before us, her Majesty announces herself as Defender of the Faith of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and its several dependencies in Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australasia, Victoria Beatrix goes on to observe that, "whereas for divers weighty reasons, we have resolved, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, to take upon ourselves the government of the territories in India, heretofore administered for us in trust by the Honourable East India Company." To that Company, as we have already said, a just tribute might have been paid. It ought not to have been thus sarf-kar'd, or

*

cleared away, without a word of honourable mention.

The announcement of the act then follows the announcement of the resolution. "We have taken upon ourselves the said government." And this done, all her Majesty's subjects within her Indian territories are called upon to be faithful to Queen Victoria, to her heirs and successors, and to submit themselves to the authority of those whom she may appoint to rule over them.

Having appointed her Viceroy, the Queen confirms in their several offices all persons previously employed in the service of the East India Company, and accepts all the treaties or engagements made under the authority of the said Company. In these respects the Proclamation only follows the Act of Parliament under which India is now governed. But we come now to the pith and matrow of the document, contained in the next four clauses. The first of these runs thus: "We desire no extension of our present territorial possessions; and while we will permit no aggression upon our dominions or our rights to be attempted with impunity, we shall sanction no encroachment on those of others. We shall respect the rights, dignity, and honour of native princes as our own; and we desire that they, as well as our own subjects, should enjoy that prosperity and that social advancement which can only be secured by internal peace and good government." Of this it is impossible to speak otherwise than in words of highest commendation. But is it the enunciation of any new policy-does it

in any way indicate the inauguration of a new era? Is it, indeed, anything more than the traditional policy of the East India Company? If at any time since the Company began to govern, it had been asked to declare the principles upon which it regulated its conduct towards the native states of India, it would have enunciated its policy in language probably more emphatic than the above.

We use the text of the Friend of India-the only copies of the Proclamation, indeed, before the public, having been received from India. We assume their authenticity. In the copy before us the words are, "VICTORIA, BY THE GRACE OF Gon, OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, AND OF THE COLONIES AND DEPENDENCIES THEREOF IN EUROPE, ASIA, AFRICA AMERICA, AND AUSTRAL ASIA, Queen, Defender of the Faith."

When the East India Company existed as a company of merchants, its cry ever was, not for territory, but for trade. There was no crime which a Governor-general could commit less venial in its eyes than the extension of empire. In later days, the acquisition of new territory was either forced upon the Company by the aggression of its neighbours, or assented to upon the recommendation of Indian statesmen, when no principles were to be violated, and no rights to be swept away by the act of annexation. The assent may, in some cases, have been too readily yielded; but in no case was the usurpation one which the Company might not have justified with reference to such a declaration of policy as that quoted above. "We admit," the Company might have said, "no aggression upon our dominions to be committed with impunity; therefore we took the Punjab. We respect the rights, dignity, and honour of native princes as our own; but no native prince has a right to misgovern and oppress his people; and he who does misgovern and oppress has neither dignity nor honour; therefore we took Oude. We desire that the natives of the country should enjoy that prosperity and that social advancement which can only be secured by internal peace and good government; therefore, again we say, we took Oude, which, in the hands of its native princes, could have enjoyed neither prosperity nor social advancement." Looking, therefore, at the practice of the East India Company, it is to be justified by a reference to the doctrines of the Proclamation; and as to its declared principles (whenever the Company has taken the trouble to declare them at all), they have not been a tittle less pure or less elevated than those enunciated by the Crown.

With the exception of one, on which we shall presently comment, we do not know a word susceptible of greater latitude of interpretation than that word "Rights." We pledge ourselves to respect the rights of the native princes of India. But what are those rights? Is

"The right divine of kings to govern wrong"

henceforth to be one of them? The

rule of the paramount State has hitherto been, it must be acknowledged, somewhat arbitrary in this case. So also has it been in respect of another very important "right"what is called sometimes the right (properly the rite) of adoption. There is perhaps no one single point on which there are greater varieties of opinion. Is this son-making-this king-making-henceforth to be suffered without restriction? Doctors differ with respect to interpretations of Hindoo and Mohammedan law. But it is not very clear that when a knotty question arises, the power of solution ought to be vested in an interested party, who may settle the matter to his own advantage. We have always ourselves felt disposed to accept the dictum of Lord Metcalfe, that where the paramount State has itself conferred, by an act of grace, the sovereignty upon a native prince, it may, in default of genuine heirship, resume the title and the territories it bestowed, but in no other case. That which it gave, it may take away. But even under such circumstances, though the right be established, we confess that we would rather not see it exercised. And we hope that among the rights which are henceforth to be respected, the right of adoption will be one. Great care, however, must be taken to guard against possible-we may say probable fraud. The adoption must be clear and distinct-testified upon undoubted authority-during the lifetime of the adopter, whilst in the full possession of his faculties; and so far as the fact can be ascertained, it must be an act of unbiassed will. There is often, on the part of widows or interested state-servants, an attempt to make out a case of constructive adoption after the death of the prince or chief. Such, doubtless was attempted by the Nagpore Ranees-a weak case altogether in the hands of the grievance-monger; firstly, because there was no adoption during the lifetime of the Bonslah; and, secondly, because the defunct prince, on whose behalf a post-mortem adoption was attempted, was one of those who, having derived their title and their power from the British Government, had, according to the doctrine of

« AnteriorContinua »