« PreviousContinue »
To the Editor of the Bee.
SIR, As the charter of the East India company has nearly expired, it is of high importance to consider by what means the British nation can secure to herself the esteem and confidence of the people of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa, together with the extensive population that has been lately added, by the termination of the war in the Meissore.
With this scope I have sent you a very interesting letter from a gentleman of eminence, who had an high command in India, was well acquainted with the country, and had no interest to pursue contrary to that of his native country, and of general policy and humanity in the good government of its extensive dependencie.
This letter you will observe by its date, and its reference to Mr Fox's famous speech on the India bill, was written with a view to be communicated to some of the leaders of the parties, that at that time distracted this country and nation; and its good sense entitles it to more particular attention now that higher considerations and more general knowledge of the springs of political contest in Britain have brought all parties into disrepute, and have taught the friends of the country and of humanity to think for themselves. I am, Sir, your constant reader,
Letter from a gentleman of high military rank, on India affairs.
Ever since Indian affairs became so much the subject of public disquisition, I have thought of writing the following letter, but was always deterred by the ridicule
that attends a projector of any thing new and unusual. But since the parliament seems ready to enter into some final determination about these matters, I would accuse myself if I did not communicate the knowledge I have acquired of these things by a very dear bought experience. I am sensible that a person who had an eminent office in India, without becoming richer for it, must in general be looked on as a very silly fellow; I therefore intended at first to have written an anonymous letter; but I reflected that such information could not be read with so much attention, as when it was known to come from one that had been at two of the principal British settlements in India, had visited several of the subordinate ones, and had sat both in their councils, and secret committees, and seen the secret springs that put many things in motion. And it is certainly worth while for any that may have a deter mining voice on such important points, to listen for a few minutes to one that had spent, in making observations, those years that others bestowed more profitably in making great fortunes, per fas et nefas.
Mr Fox (if his speech, such as we had it, in the newspapers be authentic,) has either been imposed on, or has intended to impose on his hearers, when he affirmed that lands were hereditary in India. Except houses in towns, and what may be called church lands, there is no heritable possession of land; nor can you find betwixt the Indus and Ganges what we call a laird; all belongs to the sovereign. An opulent financier takes from him a lease perhaps of a whole province. For facilitating the collection of rents, this is subdivided to small farmers, and often many of their shares subdivided again; and as each of these sets of farmers must have a profit, the actual cultivator of the soil must pay for all; so that the lands yearly yield a much greater revenue than ever comes to the exchequer,
This puts a stop to all valuable improvement of the ground, the miserable peasant endeavouring to raise no more from it than just what serves to support his family, well knowing that if he should meliorate his land, his rents will be raised of course. If he should get a little money, it is generally hid in the earth, and the possessor often dies without revealing where his treasure lies: so that it is commonly believed that much more money is concealed in the earth, than what is in actual circulation. When opprefsion becomes intolerable, the people have no other resource but to remove to another province, perhaps to the lands of another prince. It is true, that these migrations are more common among manufacturers; and I have known more than one of them in about five years that I was in India. But they are also not rare among peasants. A few buffaloes or goats are driven before him; his household furniture is in a manner nothing; two carts will carry the very materials of his house, and the labour of two days will build him a new one. By these frequent migrations the people contract not any affection for the natale solum; as many can scarcely tell where was the place of their birth; and their parants and near relations are scattered over the whole continent of India. When forced or hired to military service, they have no regard for the sovereign; and I have letters from French officers that were present when they changed sides by ten or twelve thousand at a time. Of the abuses that arise from the method of letting grounds, I will give you a striking instance from original letters that are now in my pofsefsion. There fell into our hands a French pattyman (courier,) who had letters from, I believe, every one of the council of Pondicherry. These letters give an account that their governor had let for 150,000 rupees some lands that used before to pay 400,000; so here was a deduction
of about 25,000l. sterling from the public treasury. No body will doubt that the governor had a valuable consideration from the financier; and as few will doubt that Britons may be corrupted as well as French
For all these evils there is an easy and an obvious remedy. Let the peasants that now pofsefs the ground be declared hereditary proprietors of the lands they now have in lease, paying to the sovereign, as a land tax, the same sum they now pay to the financier as rent. The consequence will be a great encrease to the revenue, without any additional burden to the landholder; the grounds will be improved to the utmost, when every man knows that he is providing a lasting inheritance for his family; the money they now hide in the earth, will be produced and brought into the commerce of life; every moneyed man in India will come in troops to lay out their money in the only place where they can purchase an inheritance; every one will, according to his abilities, build more solid habitations, which they could not leave without regret, and lofs to themselves; all will be filled with esteem and affection for a government under which they enjoy a blessing hitherto unknown in India; they will contract that natural affection every one feels for the town or village where he was bred up, where all his nearest and dearest connections are to be met with, and where he has rejoiced with the companions of his youth; the neighbouring princes will have no other way of retaining their subjects but by following the example of Britain.
As all my literary occupations can never produce any other advantage to myself, but merely a temporary amusement, the foul copy of the origina! letter has, by a careefsnefs usual with me, been mislaid or lost; you have
here the rough sense of it; so that if it is to be fhewn to any body, it will much need polishing; and I know that I put it into a very able hand, for that purpose. But this my scheme can serve for no use, as people in power aim only at private emolument, or the support of their own party. The British possessions in India have grown too extensive. I foresee a storm that will probably soon rise from those quarters. Consider that the armies there are not supported, like other armies sent abroad, by money sent from the Metropolitan country, but by rents arising from the subject provinces; so that every popular governor has an army ready to be employed against whom he pleases. It is well that there have been hitherto only avaricious governors, that have aimed at nothing else than accumulating money. If either Madras or Bengal fhould have an ambitious governor who aims at power, there could be no pofsibility of subduing him, but by the afsistance of the other. If both at one time should aim at independence, they may bid defiance to Europe. And if Europe will not trade with them, America will.
The peers who now support the tumultuous commoner are mistaken in their politics. If the democratical faction prevails, peers will become as insignificant as they were during the long parliament. Take it for a certain truth, as if it had come from the adyta of an oracle; or, if you please, as certain as if you had read it in Nahum or Habakkuk.
I presume, and hope it is needless to put my name below to protest duty, respect, service, &c. You know who is the only man that will draw up a scheme for the public good, when he can reap no good from it to himself.
Feb. 8. 1784..