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GOVERNMENT OF INDIA,
MORE ESPECIALLY WITH REFERENCE TO
THE INVASION OF BURMAH.
Non tamen sine usu fuerit introspicere illa primo aspectu levia, ex quis inagnaruin sæpe rerum motus oriuntur.— Tac. Annal.
BY LIEUTENANT-COLONEL M. STEWART.
To the many unavoidable evils which attend a country subjected by conquest to the administration of another, lying at a remote distance, a prodigious aggravation arises from the little interest the conquerors are apt to take in its concerns. In the history of our connexion with India, few circumstances have occurred which serve more strongly to illustrate this fact, than the indifference which the public have manifested to the war which has lately arisen in that part of the world. Its importance is not to be estimated by its success or failure as a military operation, but by its merits as a measure of policy, capable of producing lasting and extensive results, in whatever way hostilities may terminate, if effectual steps are not taken to prevent the prosecution of such views.
In order to make the real nature of this war more apparent, it will be desirable to take a short retrospect of the connexion between events from the commencement of our government, and of the apparent views which have been entertained for the permanent and peaceable establishment of our empire, till it has reached a point when that object is in a great measure secured. The connexion between this historical review and the merits of the more immediate question, may not be at first very apparent, but it is essentially necessary, both to illustrate the new and peculiar character of the present operations, and the state and interests of India generally
When the intercourse between Europe and India began, a powerful and florishing government existed in the country-a Court, unrivalled in magnificence and wealth-viceroys, or rather feudatory sovereigns, governing great principalities – powerful individuals, administering the great offices of state, superior and subordinate-great military chiefs, with hosts of retainers-and, in short, a large body of gentry, sharing among them all the immense resources of the territory, and the dignities of the Mogul empire.
The habits of all this class were decidedly military. The government was founded on conquest. It was a common saying, that the empire belonged to the longest sword; and such were the principles of its constitution, that by no other sceptre but the sword could it be ruled.
The effect of such a state of things was to beget in the nobles, among all the servile forms of a despotism, a spirit of the most haughty independence, repressed only by the superior force which compelled their obedience. The empire, with all its honors and emoluments, was considered a sort of common inheritance, to which their several pretensions were to be settled by war; and the consequence was, that there was rarely, if ever, a moment at which the government was not engaged in hostilities with some refractory principality, or the country torn by the dissensions of individuals too powerful for controul; and at times, whole provinces were dismembered, and erected, by successful rebellion, into separate kingdoms.
Men, excited by contests for prizes so splendid, could not fail to acquire those qualities by which, in such a state of society, they were to be obtained. Courage and cunning, a daring and unprincipled ambition, a restless disposition to tempt fortune, unlimited hopes, and the most total disregard of the means by which they were pursued, by such animating principles among those by whom movement was to be given to society, there were reared up all the instruments necessary to render their operation effectual_hardy and daring retainers, whose only virtue was fidelity to their chief, and whole classes of men, endowed with the most consummate address in all the arts of corruption and of low intrigue. The literature of the country (if such might be said to have existed) formed by the prevailing tastes, was exactly such as was calculated to keep alive this state of things :-memoirs of successful rebellions, and exaggerated accounts of the magnificence of war-enthusiastic descriptions of personal prowess, and in all their maxims, the most liberal allowance for every measure recommended by considerations of policy: these, with songs and ballads, and fictions like the Arabian nights (held in such a state of society, sufficiently possible to stimulate the imagination to extravagant attempts)—the stern and fanciful doctrines of the Korân, and the wild legends of the Hindoos, constituted nearly all that could form or reflect the character of the people.
Viewing our first hostilities in India with the advantage of distance, and in relation to all that has since occurred, it is perfectly manifest, that the moment we drew the sword among such a condition of mankind, to maintain by force a mercantile intercourse, there could be but one termination to the struggle-the complete
and avowed superiority of the one power or the other; either that we should be expelled from the country, and received again, if received at all, on such terms as the Government should choose to prescribe, or that we should clearly and confessedly become the paramount authority in India.
There is some ground to think that the great Lord Clive, even at that early period, was not blind to this view of the subject, and that when he called his council of war before the battle of Plassy, he was much less influenced by any hesitation as to the almost certain victory' that awaited him, than by an unwillingness fairly to measure the strength of the Company with that of the native Government. His views certainly, afterwards, were strenuously and consistently directed to prevent the necessity of further usurpation on the native authority ; but a variety of circumstances concurred to precipitate the uncontrolable process, to which he had contributed so materially to give a beginning.
The power, constituted for the regulation of the Company's mercantile transactions, and the subordination of their servants, necessarily proved totally inadequate to enforce obedience to acts that were now to assume the character of measures of Government. The individuals who thus suddenly found themselves in a condition to dictate terms to the native authority, were merchants trading largely on their own account, and consulting the gain of their employers in England. Their views, their interests, were those of merchants, and their object naturally was, to make the most of the existing condition of things. The motive was common to all; the power to repress feeble, and, with the responsibility, uncertain and divided. Their wishes were powerfully seconded by the avidity and want of principle of native agents ; and the whole establishment, every thing that could claim affinity with the triumphant power of the Company, rushed with the eagerness of bloodhounds to the plunder of the devoted and defenceless country. It was not without repeated struggles that the native authority relinquished the defence of its own rights and those of the people ; but every struggle terminated in a revolution, accompanied by additional concessions, till the power of the Nuwab was so completely enfeebled, that it became altogether inadequate to carry on the functions of Government. After the power of the Company had been once evinced, to place the Government in hands of their own choosing, nothing but the continued residence of such a man as Clive in the country, with power sufficient to subject the interests of his inferiors to those
' He had insured the defection of a large part of the enemy's force during the action.