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An Historical Review of the Commercial, Political, and Moral State of
Hindostan, from the earliest Period to the present Time : the Rise and Progress of Christianity in the East, its present Condition, and the Means and Probability of its future Adcancement. With an Introduction and Map, illustrating the relative Situation of the British Empire in the East. By ROBERT CHATFIELD, LL.B. Vicar of Chatteris, in Cambridgeshire. 4to.
If we compare the number of publications on the subject of India, with the knowledge disseminated in the nation, we shall perceive the first to be so great and the last so small, that a similar disproportion will not be found to exist, we think, in any other case that can be mentioned. In regard to no other department of the British interests is there, among well-informed men, so general a deficiency of knowledge, such confessed inability to form a judgment, such a lamented want of acquaintance with sources of satisfactory information, such absurdity in the opinions frequently started in conversation, such barrenness of intelligence and of ingenuity in parliamentary debates.
The consequence is by no means trivial. The public cease to take that deep interest in the government of India, they cease to exercise that vigilant inspection, which, in such a frame of government as ours, is the grand and almost the sole security for right administration, in every department of public affairs. The men who have been the most industrious, with whatever views or qualifications, in bringing questions relating to India under parliamentary notice, have in general complained bitterly of the difficulty of engaging any tolerable share of the attention of members. Every thing in the way statement, on the part of the administrators, every thing in the way of criticism, on the part of their opponents,
is too frequently addressed to empty benches, or is heard without the power of discrimination.
of discrimination. It is heard, therefore, with a disposition, begot by sloth upon ignorance, to acquiesce in whatever is done. When to this is added a similar blindness and acquiescence on the part of the people at large, there is then granted, to the administrators of India affairs, a certain range, a certain sphere, within which they work under the protection of darkness, within which their power is therefore arbitrary, and maladministration, from any or from all of its possible causes, from corruption, from caprice, from indolence, from ignorance, from stupidity, from domineering passions, may be exercised without fear either of detection or punishment.
What is the cause of this ignorance, when contributions so numerous have been made and are still making, to the Indian shelves of our national library? Where consequences so deeply injurious are in question, it is difficult, in approaching the subject, not to enlarge on the removal of the causes. On the present occasion, however, it must suffice to bring to view a few of the more obvious circumstances. To push the inquiry farther, would be inconsistent with the attention we owe to those other topics which Mr. Chatfield's work more directly presses upon our regard.
The nature of the subject is no doubt answerable for a part, and that by no means an inconsiderable one, of the unhappy result. It is so extensive, it involves so many parts, that, had we the information in its most commodious form, though skilful abstracts might go far towards communicating
a correct outline, not many minds would relish the trouble of taking in the whole in its detail. But the mode, in which the knowledge collected respecting India has been offered to the attention of the British public, has been such as to add to the discouragements arising from the subject; and that in such a proportion, that the difficulties, as regarding the public, or the public's interest, are insurmountable. It has been presented to us in broken, detached fragments, as the collectors happened to pick it up, or to be prompted with the desire of communicating it to others. It has very often happened that the contributor, even when we had the good fortune to receive from him something of value, very imperfectly knew what he himself had got. If he applied it to any purpose at all, it was, therefore, almost necessarily a wrong one. Whatever too has been published in this manner, has commonly been written as if it were addressed solely to those who knew as much in general about the subject as the author himself. For want of the previous information, it was therefore to the great body of readers, in the state of a sealed letter. From the degree of education which the persons we generally send to India have received, it was not to be expected that a great proportion, even of those who should be directed to such laudable pursuits as that of collecting notices for perfecting the stock of knowledge respecting India among their countrymen at home, would be enlightened enough to discriminate, with any tolerable accuracy, the circumstances truly evidential of national character and civilization ; those important particulars, on which so much of all that is interesting to the philosopher and statesman depends. It was to be expected that they would just copy, one after another, the prejudices of any man of name who had happened to become in vogue; that every thing which struck them as important, would be such things merely as appeared to bear testimony to the received opinions, while things of a different description, however expressive to an eye not thus pre-occupied or more discerning, would scarcely attract attention. It was not however to be expected, we think, that those, to whom we owe our notices respecting India, should to an extent so nearly total fall under this description,—that real illumination should have been among them a phenomenon so very rare. Their credulity, in general, is excessive. They proceed upon maxims, in judging of the character of the Hindoos, which have been renounced and exploded in estimating the character of all other nations. Instead of giving us facts, or documents, they too frequently give us only vague and unsupported opinions. The valuable notices they afford, are surrounded and overlaid with such masses of what is altogether useless, that the separation of the pure gold from the dross is in the first place a work of much labour, and in the next place of greater nicety than most workmen are well qualified to perform. Our common smelters give us, for pure metal, what contains at least full as much dross as gold. It has happened, accordingly, that the information we have received concerning India, and which if properly brought together, would nearly, if not entirely, yield the public just satisfaction with regard to every thing important to be known, is scattered and distributed in such a multitude of books, as would themselves form a library. It is no wonder, therefore, that members of parliament, and other persons like them, should complain of wanting information. To possess it, they must toil through many more books than it will suit the minds of most of them to read in the whole course of their lives.
The author before us has travelled over a great proportion of that extent of ground which Indian subjects occupy. His industry stands in a very respectable light. He has looked into a great variety of the books in which the information brought to Europe is to be found. He does not, however, appear to us to have been provided with all the requisites for extracting the genuine treasure in its most pure and brilliant form. His mind more naturally contents itself with collecting and displaying the opinions which others have already advanced, than boldly penetrates with its own native lights into darkness and difficulty to discover principles and construct theories for itself,
He has taken a very wide circuit for the object he had in view. That object was not a general delineation of Hindostan, or an analysis of its moral and political state. It was evidently an attempt to solve the question, lately, and but lately, brought before the public, and very keenly agitated, whether Christianity should or should not be taught to the Hindoos. But, whatever may have been the cause, he has not chosen to give us in very clear terms the result of his inquiries, if indeed
they terminated, which is not the case with every man's inquiries, in any result at all. We cannot tell our readers positively on which side of the question Mr. Chatfield has declared himself. We could tell them, perhaps, to which he discovers a leaning ; but whether it was diffidence in his own judgment, or the want of power to come to a decision, or some motive that prevented him from speaking out, he has in a great measure left his reader, ostensibly at least, to form an opinion for himself.
The track which he has pursued may be thus shortly traced. After an introduction, in which the dangers that threatened India from an invasion of French and Russians under the auspices of Napoleon are painted in dazzling colours, and some advices, very well meant, but rather too vague, are offered to those concerned in the government of India, upon this menacing aspect of affairs, he divides his inquiry into two parts.
The first is of a mixed nature ; it is historical, commercial, moral, political. The second is almost entirely religious. In the first, we are presented with a historical detail of the early commerce of the East with Egypt, Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia, Phenicia, and Greece; the modifications it underwent by the views of Alexander and his successors, by the conquests of the Romans and of Mahomet, by the circumstances of Constantinople, of Palmyra, and of the Italian states, till the great change which took place in the commerce and navigation of Europe, by the discovery of the mariner's compass. The progress of the Europeans in their new career is then described. This is followed by the history of the Portuguese discoveries, and afterwards by that of the settlements and conquests of the Dutch, the English the French, and other nations in India. After a short chapter on Bengal, the author next describes what appear to him the causes of the decline of the Mogul empire. He then gives us an account of the wars between England and France in the Deccan. A delineation of the state of Bengal at that period is next presented, and serves as an introduction to the history which he subjoins