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EMPIRE IN ASIA.
“ It would be an ill lesson indeed for the people of India, that while they are
subjects to Vizier or Soubahdar we will protect them in their rights, that while they hold of him we will stand forth in their favour. If he attempts to oppress you, we will rescue you from the hands of your lawful master ; but if by conquest or by any other means we become your sovereign, remember there is none can guarantee the treaty between you and us. The power of the sovereign is all, the right of the vassal is nothing. You are persons without right, engagement, or any political existence, but our will and arbitrary pleasure. That this doctrine is unjust, that it is inequitable, that it is monstrous, that it is detestable, is so clear that I am almost ashamed of having misspent time in showing how impolitic it is.” 1
--CHARLES JAMES Fox.
be said to have been, to the people of Europe, an unknown land. Save to the learned who had read of its ancient fame, or to such as listened to the wonder-weaving legends that now and then made their way from the shores of the Levant, its name was a sound that woke no echo of individual hope or national solicitude. It was out of reach ; it was out of sight: from the cupidity of Christendom it was safe. The command which said, Ye shall not
1 Speech on the Benares charge ; impeachment of Warren Hastings, 220 February 1788.-Speeches in the Trial, edited by E. A. Bond, vol. i. p. 197.
covet,” spake of a neighbour's goods; for it is those things that are pleasant to the eye to see, and pleasant to the lip to taste, that stand chiefly in need of its inhibition.
But distance, which had hitherto left fair Hindustan secure from European lust, seemed to lessen year by year, after the Portuguese and Dutch mariners had proved that the Cape of Storms could be safely passed in ships of heavy burthen. The prolific isles of the Eastern Sea were speedily lit upon by these birds of adventure; and the loud satisfaction they were heard to express, invited by degrees successive migratory expeditions of the rival or kindred dwellers in the colder regions they had wandered from. Finding on their arrival that there was room enough for all, certain of these latter set about the business in a more methodical way, and strove by various regulations, charters, laws,—and, whenever needful, forgetfulness of laws,—to establish for themselves the most lucrative and gigantic monopoly that the annals of commerce contain.
In the accomplishment of this gradually formed and slowly developed plan, they were eminently successful. By degrees they drove the Portuguese, or first discoverers, completely from the field ; and the Dutch, who came somewhat later, and who made a harder fight for their share, were eventually reduced to so low an ebb, that they continue now rather by sufferance than by any inherent power of self-defence to retain a remnant of their once great possessions. The Spaniards were engrossed with their acquisitions in the West, but the French were easily led to put faith in fortune in the Eastern seas; and, at a later period, fair promises of factories and fortresses, influence and dominion, in Asia, seemed likely to be realised. The English, for a time, lagged slowly in the race of gain and glory. They had come last, and they stood long at disadvantage. Civil dissensions and the want of a strong and wise Government at home left them without material support; and they had to be content, from the accession to the overthrow of the house of Stuart, to chaffer and bargain as best they might with the rulers and people of the land. The bravest hearts and clearest heads
them during the seventeenth century, never dreamed that they were marking the site, if not laying the foundation, of an empire --not of the ocean merely, or its isles,—not of trade alone, with its infinite produce,—but of territory won by the sword for its own rich sake, and kept by the same for the like reason.
Southern Asia, in the days of Walpole and the elder Pitt, was still ruled, like Western Europe, by a number of distinct and independent Governments differing in origin, creed, power, and civilisation ; frequently at feud with one another, and often suffering from overweening vanity and ambition, just as if they had been blessed with the paternal sway of most Christian kings, august and apostolic kaisers, or most religious and gracious sovereigns of immortal memory : but they were practically self-ruled and locally free. Even where the loosening ties of fealty to Moslem or Mahratta suzerain rendered states of a secondary rank dependent in diplomacy or war upon the superior will of Peishwa or Padishah, the people of each separate province still saw in the midst of them the camp and the court of the prince whom they obeyed; and, whatever may have been the burthens on their industry, they could not be unconscious that its produce was lavished or husbanded within their borders.
The whole of the vast region lying between the Affghan hills and those of Burmah, and from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, 1,500,000 square miles, with upwards of
200,000,000 of inhabitants, consists to-day of revenue districts under an English Minister, or of mediatised states dependent for their continuance in that equivocal condition on his will.
No change like this, effected within a single century, is to be found in the chronicles of conquest. It may be said to have been begun in 1757, when India was but a geographical expression, identical with no political unity, and to have been completed in 1858 by the proclamation that her present Majesty assumed thenceforth the rights, duties, and responsibilities of sovereignty throughout the wide domains partially or perfectly brought beneath her sway. As foreshortening is in art the means whereby the most vivid sense of reality is imparted, it is even so in history. The infinitely varied lights and shades that fall upon events as they unfold themselves in succession, render it difficult, if not impossible, to realise as one the aggregate of facts which we know to be indisputable. But it is instructive as well as startling, to place for a moment the beginning and the end of recent and contemporary changes in the degree of proximity, wherein from afar they will by and by appear in the view of the historian.
How will our acquisition of empire in the East, and our actual position there, look in the sight of those who shall come after us? How does it look in the sight of Heaven?
These are not merely curious questions fit to amuse the speculative or idle. If public morals be a reality, and if there be such a thing as national conscience and national accountability, it behoves us, as a free people, to consider how we came by Asiatic empire, and how, for its sake, and for our own, we ought to deal with it.
If the attempt of Napoleon to subjugate Europe to his authority may be said to have begun at Campo Formio, and
if we can imagine the course of victory rolling onwards at his bidding until it reached at length the shores of the Dardanelles and those of Lapland, the banks of the Vistula and the mouth of the Tagus, we shall have something like an accurate parallel, as far as space is concerned, and the variety of creeds and Governments existing in that space, to that which is now presented to the world by the spectacle of British India. Great and manifold as are the discrepancies between the two, there are points of analogy not ascribable to accident. Napoleon, when he conquered, did not always or generally annex or seek to crush the memory or the spirit of separate political existence. He pulled down kings and set up his nominees in their room ; but he left Naples, Spain, Holland, and Westphalia the titular dignity and the municipal freedom of separate states, and was prudently content with the absorption of comparatively limited acquisitions, and their incorporation as provinces of France. No scruple would assuredly have withheld him from adopting an indiscriminate policy of imperial amalgamation. But we know from his public acts, and from his private after-thoughts in captivity, that his ambition was not to be head constable, but Lord Paramount of Western and Southern Europe. He was a fearless and a selfish man, but he had the discernment, foresight, and magnanimity of genius; and to him it would have seemed purblind impolicy and greedy blundering to have affected to establish, for such widely-scattered realms, one centralised administration in Paris. On the contrary, he spent no end of time and toil in replacing firmly, as he thought, the foundations and the outworks of separate and local government in nearly all the subordinated states over which his power extended. His aim was to be suzerain-appellate judge in peace, generalissimo in war. But he thoroughly understood