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ART. I. The History of British India. By JAMES MILL Esq." In Three Volumes. 4to. pp. 2148.
THE HE state of our Indian Provinces is a subject as to which all sound information is nearly as unattainable, as the commonplaces which have been substituted for it are dazzling and abundant. The extent and populousness of the territory-its strange people the numerical disproportion of the conquered to those who hold them in subjection-have been obvious topics for every declaimer: and even persons who are accustomed to political inquiries, have sometimes been content to wonder at an empire which nothing but good fortune could have created, and nothing but good fortune could preserve. By the great bulk of our countrymen, however, Hindostan is looked upon merely as a large country, which serves to swell the number of the King's subjects to the astonishment of foreigners, and affords a convenient place for the younger sons of respectable families to acquire fortunes and diseases in the liver. About the people, too, we make ourselves perfectly easy. They have been transferred from Pagan and Mahomedan to Christian rulers; and, of course, been. exalted to the highest pitch of happiness by the exchange.When it is proposed to review the Company's charter, a little temporary interest seems to be excited on the subject; and the sympathy, which had been dormant for years, revives for a moment, when the question comes to be, whether British traders should be admitted to a competition with the India CompaBut with the settlement of that question, this interest has uniformly subsided; and, during the five Sessions since the act of 1813, not one inquiry has been entered upon, and (if we may trust our memories) not one question has been put, in the British Parliament, respecting the condition of the fifty millions of Hin
VOL. XXXI. NO. 61,
doos over whom that body possesses a Sovereign power, and is bound, if there be any reciprocity of duties between rulers and subjects, to exert a Sovereign's eare.
This silence respecting Indian affairs, interrupted only by flashes of panegyric, will appear still more strange, when contrasted with the incessant calls made on the attention of the nation, thirty and forty years ago, by the greatest orators and statesmen of the day. The British dominions in India certainly have not become more contracted since that period; nor, although our possession of them be more secure, has the welfareof their countless inhabitants become less worthy of concern. We shall see, by and by, whether it can be maintained that the plans which have been devised for their administration are so perfect as to exempt from the common necessity of inspection,or whether their distance from the seat of government, and the abjectness and ignorance of the people, be sufficient to ensure the utmost vigilance and probity on the part of their delegated masters.
Among the causes which have contributed to produce this apathy, one undoubtedly is, the increased and increasing amount of the materials necessary to form an accurate knowledge of Indian affairs. There have been speeches in Parliament and polemical pamphlets, with a multitude of conflicting opinions, and just as many facts as were necessary to support them;-there have been detailed histories of campaigns, and apologies for particular administrations;-there have been voluminous Parliamentary reports, with their usual accompaniments, correspondence, minutes of evidence, and accounts, more formidable than the ordinary run of such documents:-But there has not hitherto been any work discriminating between the useful and unimportant parts of this vast mass, which it is impossible for any one who has not devoted years of labour to that purpose, to wade through. To enable an individual to take an interest in present politics, some historical knowledge is just as necessary as an acquaintance with the rudiments of science to the reader of a scientific journal: For to those who are not acquainted with previous transactions-with plans of legislation which have been projected or put to the test-and who have formed no theories which give the mind a motive to observe occurrences and to reflect on them, by connecting them with its pride or its disappointment, the passing events will afford no instruction, and will scarcely be held in remembrance. A good history of British India was necessary, therefore, not only to supply a deficiency in our literature, but to afford a better chance that India should be well governed, by attracting to its administration the eyes of some who have not an interest in praising all its acts.
This is the work which Mr Mill has undertaken; and of the execution of which it is impossible for us to give any thing more than a very general idea. He appears to possess, in perfection, the patient industry and habits of research which the work demanded; an acute and logical mind, with very little imagination or passion, and well stored with that sort of information, which such a mind, combined with such powers of application, is apt to acquire. He seems perfectly familiar with the modern and ancient historians and orators, and to have studied diligently the progress of all the sciences connected with government and legislation, from the earliest speculations to their most recent advances. It is not difficult, after this character, to imagine how he has performed his task. Those parts in which picturesque description, and the power of warm and interesting, narrative might have been displayed, are not made the most of by him. But in the careful investigation of facts, and of the inferences to be drawn from them-in illustrating his subject by help of the widest range of historical knowledge-in discriminating between the real and apparent causes of events-in the examination of policy-in the exposition of the motives of the actors, and the consequences of their acts-in unfolding
-the drift of hollow states hard to be spelled,'
he leaves little to be desired. Of partiality in bending facts or opinions in favour of any individual or any party, we have not discovered the least symptom; and though it may be invidious to pry into the causes of so good a quality, we are apt to attribute his merit, on this score, to his habits of thought, as much as to his love of justice. He has evidently formed to himself a very high standard of attainable perfection in matters of government, and seems to entertain no little contempt for all practical statesmen. He is therefore nowise disposed to exaggerate the merits of persons with whom he feels so little in common. He is sparing of his censure and of his praise; and the influence of no name or party can procure an exemption from his scrutiny, for a fallacy or an error.
There is one objection against Mr Mill, which he anticipates, and against which he reasons in a manner to us very satisfactory. He has never been in India; and has at best but a slight acquaintance with the languages of the East: and, at first sight, this objection may appear of some importance. If we take two persons of the same station in life, one of whom has resided in India, while the other has never left this country, we shall of course generally find the former much better acquainted with Indian affairs than the other, who has probably read and thought very little about them. On the other hand, all those who have made per
sonal observations on India, are apt to undervalue the information which can be obtained from books, and create a monopoly which will secure the reception of the opinions which they choose to dispense to us. Mr Mill contends, that though some knowledge may be acquired by seeing India, which cannot be acquired without it; yet, that the qualifications which can be acquired in Europe, are much more essential to the composition of a history of India; and that a life spent in travelling in India, or in the acquisition of languages, is almost incompatible with the habits of deciding on the testimony with which the historian has to deal, and the knowledge which is necessary to convey just ideas on the nature and tendency of the great measures on which he has to form a judgment. He remarks, too, that as the powers of observation in any one individual are very limited, a competent knowledge of so large a scene as India could never be obtained but by combining the testimony of many; and that it is therefore very doubtful how far it is desirable that one of the witnesses should be called to decide on this complex evidenceespecially as conceptions derived from the senses are much more vivid than those supplied by description; so that, when some small part of a great mass of knowledge has come from observation, and the rest from testimony, however indisputable, it can scarcely but happen, that the impressions received from the senses should exert an undue influence, and render the conception of the whole erroneous. To this we may add, that the most enlightened of the Company's servants have ever been most ready to acknowledge how little their own habits, and the reserve of the Hindoos, will allow them to learn of native society; and our readers may remember, that, in a former Number, we noticed the work of a French missionary, published by the Court of Directors, for the express purpose of supplying their officers with somewhat more knowledge on this subject, than by their personal exertions they would be able to procure. It is also an advantage not to be overlooked, that Mr Mill has not been drawn into the vortex of an Indian party. The writers on the affairs of India have too frequently been men who have either themselves filled high stations, or, being attached to this or that ruler by ties of gratitude, have been disposed, at all events, to defend his particular system of administration. Their productions are excellent materials for history; but it is well for us, and for themselves, that they are not historians."
Mr Mill proposes, 1. To describe the circumstances in which the intercourse of this nation with India commenced, and the particulars of its early progress, till the era when it could be first regarded as placed on a firm and durable basis. 2. To exhibit as accurate a view as possible of the people with whom