Can You Bail Grandfather Out Of Jail? (Brits Abroad Book 2)
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Subscriber Only. The Jewel: full of the aching, inescapable truths of history. The River Capture review: Portrait of an individual at the confluence of past and present. Most Read in Culture. Some contained philological, some antiquarian, researches. A considerable number consisted of translations from the writings of the natives in the native tongues; others were books on the religion of the people of India; books on their laws; books on their sciences, manners, and arts.
The transactions in India were not the only transactions of the British nation, to which the affairs of India had given birth. Those affairs had been the subject of much discussion by the press, and of many legislative, executive, and even judicial proceedings, in England.
Those discussions and proceedings would form of course an essential part of the History of British India; and the materials of it remained to be extracted, with much labour, from the voluminous records of British literature, and British legislation. The British legislature had not satisfied itself with deliberating, and deciding; it had also inquired; and, inquiring, it had called for evidence.
This call, by the fortunate publicity of parliamentary proceedings, brought forth the records of the councils in India, and their correspondence, with one another, with their servants, and with the constituted authorities in England: a portion of materials, inestimable in its value; but so appalling by its magnitude, that many years appeared to be inadequate to render the mind familiar with it.
Such is a short and very imperfect description of the state of the materials. To omit other particulars, which will easily present themselves, and are common to this with all undertakings of a similar nature, a peculiar demand, it is evident, was presented for the exercise of discrimination, that is, of criticism, in a chaotic mass, of such extent, where things relating to the subject were to be separated from things foreign to it; where circumstances of importance were to be separated from circumstances that were insignificant; where real facts, and just inferences, were to be separated from such as were the contrary; and above all things, where facts, really testified by the senses, were to be discriminated from matters, given as testified by the senses, but which, in truth, were nothing but matters of opinion, confounded with matters of fact, and mistaken for them, in the minds of the reporters themselves.
A critical history is, then, a judging history. But, if a judging history, what does it judge? It is evident that there are two, and only two, classes of objects, which constitute the subject of Edition: current; Page: [ vi ] historical judgments. The first is, the matter of statement, the things given by the historian, as things really done, really said, or really thought. The second is, the matter of evidence, the matter by which the reality of the saying, the doing, or thinking, is ascertained.
In regard to evidence, the business of criticism visibly is, to bring to light the value of each article, to discriminate what is true from what is false, to combine partial statements, in order to form a complete account, to compare varying, and balance contradictory statements, in order to form a correct one.
In regard to the matter of statement, the business of criticism is, to discriminate between real causes and false causes; real effects and false effects; real tendencies and falsely supposed ones; between good ends and evil ends; means that are conducive, and means not conducive to the ends to which they are applied.
In exhibiting the result of these several judgments, the satisfaction, or the instruction of the reader, is very imperfectly provided for, if the reasons are not adduced. I have no apology, therefore, to make, for those inductions, or those ratiocinations, sometimes of considerable length, which were necessary to exhibit the grounds upon which my decisions were founded.
Those critical disquisitions may be well, or they may be ill performed; they may lead to correct, or they may lead to erroneous conclusions; but they are, indisputably, in place; and my work, Edition: current; Page: [ vii ] whatever had been its virtues in other respects, would have remained most imperfect without them.
There will be but one opinion, I suppose, with regard to the importance of the service, which I have aspired to the honour of rendering to my country; for the public are inclined to exaggerate, rather than extenuate, the magnitude of the interests which are involved in the management of their Indian affairs. And it may be affirmed, as a principle, not susceptible of dispute, that good management of any portion of the affairs of any community is almost always proportional to the degree of knowledge respecting it diffused in that community. Hitherto the knowledge of India, enjoyed by the British community, has been singularly defective.
Not only among the uneducated, and those who are regardless of knowledge, but among those who are solicitous to obtain Edition: current; Page: [ viii ] a competent share of information with respect to every other great branch of the national interests, nothing is so rare as to meet with a man who can with propriety be said to know any thing of India, and its affairs. A man who has any considerable acquaintance with them, without having been forced to acquire it by the offices he has filled, is scarcely to be found.
The same must continue to be the case, till the knowledge of India is rendered more accessible. Few men can afford the time sufficient for perusing even a moderate portion of the documents from which a knowledge of India, approaching to completeness, must have hitherto been derived. Of those, whose time is not wholly engrossed, either by business or by pleasure, the proportion is very moderate whom the prospect of a task so heavy, and so tedious, as that of exploring the numerous repositories of Indian knowledge, would not deter.
And, with respect to the most important of all the sources of information, the parliamentary documents, they were not before the public, and were by the very nature of the case within the reach of a number comparatively small.
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But though no dispute will arise about the importance of the work, I have no reason to expect the same unanimity about the fitness of the workman. One objection will doubtless be taken, on which I think it necessary to offer some observations, not-withstanding the unfavourable sentiments which are Edition: current; Page: [ ix ] commonly excited by almost any language in which a man can urge pretensions which he may be suspected of urging as his own; pretensions which, though they must exist, in some degree, in the case of every man who writes a book, and ought to be encouraged, therefore, rather than extinguished, had better, in general, be understood, than expressed.
This writer, it will be said, has never been in India; and, if he has any, has a very slight, and elementary acquaintance, with any of the languages of the East. I confess the facts; and will now proceed to mention the considerations which led me, notwithstanding, to conclude, that I might still produce a work, of considerable utility, on the subject of India.
In the first place, it appeared to me, that a sufficient stock of information was now collected in the languages of Europe, to enable the inquirer to ascertain every important point, in the history of India. If I was right in that opinion, it is evident, that a residence in India, or a knowledge of the languages of India, was, to express myself moderately, not indispensable. In the next place, I observed, that no exceptions were taken to a President of the Board of Control, or to a Governor-General, the men entrusted with all the powers of government in India, because they had never been in India, and knew none of its languages.
Again, I certainly knew, that some of the most successful attempts in history had been made, without ocular knowledge of the country, or acquaintance Edition: current; Page: [ x ] with its language. Robertson, for example, never beheld America, though he composed its history. He never was in either Germany or Spain, yet he wrote the history of Charles the Fifth.
Of Germany he knew not so much as the language; and it was necessary for him to learn that of Spain, only because the documents which it yielded were not translated into any of the languages with which he was acquainted. Tacitus, though he never was in Germany, and was certainly not acquainted with the language of our uncultivated ancestors, wrote the exquisite account of the manners of the Germans. But, as some knowledge may be acquired by seeing India, which cannot be acquired without it; and as it can be pronounced of hardly any portion of knowledge that it is altogether useless, I will not go so far as to deny, that a man would possess advantages, who, to all the qualifications for writing a history of India which it is possible to acquire in Europe, should add those qualifications which can be acquired only by seeing the country and conversing with its people.
Yet I have no doubt of being able to make out, to the satisfaction of all reflecting minds, that the man who should bring to the composition of a history of India, the qualifications alone which can be acquired in Europe, would come, in an almost infinite degree, better fitted for the task, than the man who should bring to it the qualifications alone which can be acquired in India; and that the business of acquiring the one set of qualifications is almost wholly incompatible with that of acquiring the other.
For, let us inquire what it is that a man can learn, by going to India, and understanding its languages. He can treasure up the facts which are presented to his senses; he can learn the facts which are recorded in such native books, as have not been translated; and he can ascertain facts by conversation with the natives, which have never yet been committed to writing. This he can do; and I am not aware that he can do any thing further. But, as no fact is more certain, so none is of more importance, in the science of human nature, than this; that the powers of observation, in every individual, are exceedingly limited; and that it is only by combining the observations of a number of individuals, that a competent knowledge of any extensive subject can ever be acquired.
Of so extensive and complicated a scene as India, how small a portion would the whole period of his life enable any man to observe! If, then, we may assume it as an acknowledged fact, that an account of India, complete in all its parts, at any one moment, still more through a series of ages, could never be derived from the personal observation of any one individual, but must be collected from the testimony of a great number of individuals, of any one of whom the powers of perception could extend but a little way, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that the man best qualified for dealing with evidence, is the man best qualified for writing the history of India.
It will not, I presume, admit of much dispute, that the habits which Edition: current; Page: [ xii ] are subservient to the successful exploration of evidence are more likely to be acquired in Europe than in India. The man who employs himself in treasuring up, by means of perception and the languages, the greatest portion of knowledge in regard to India, is he who employs the greatest portion of his life, in the business of observing, and in making himself familiar with the languages.
But the mental habits which are acquired in mere observing, and in the acquisition of languages, are almost as different as any mental habits can be, from the powers of combination, discrimination, classification, judgment, comparison, weighing, inferring, inducting, philosophizing in short; which are the powers of most importance for extracting the precious ore from a great mine of rude historical materials.
Whatever is worth seeing or hearing in India, can be expressed in writing.
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As soon as every thing of importance is expressed in writing, a man who is duly qualified may obtain more knowledge of India in one year in his closet in England, than he could obtain during the course of the longest life, by the use of his eyes and his ears in India. As soon as the testimony is received of a sufficient number of witnesses, to leave no room for mistake from the partial or the erroneous statements which they may have separately made, it is hardly doubtful, that a man, other circumstances being equal, is really better qualified for forming a correct judgment on the whole, if his information is totally derived Edition: current; Page: [ xiii ] from testimony, than if some little portion of it is derived from the senses.
It is well known, how fatal an effect on our judgments is exerted by those impulses, called partial impressions; in other words, how much our conceptions of a great whole are apt to be distorted, and made to disagree with their object, by an undue impression, received from some particular part. Nobody needs to be informed, how much more vivid, in general, is the conception of an object which has been presented to our senses, than that of an object which we have only heard another man describe.
Nobody, therefore, will deny, that, of a great scene, or combination of scenes, when some small part has been seen, and the knowledge of the rest has been derived from testimony, there is great danger, lest the impression received from the senses should exert an immoderate influence, hang a bias on the mind, and render the conception of the whole erroneous. If a man were to lay down the plan of preparing himself for writing the history of India, by a course of observation in the country, he must do one of two things.
Either he must resolve to observe minutely a part; or he must resolve to take a cursory review of the whole. Life is insufficient for more. If his decision is to observe minutely; a very small portion comparatively is all that he will be able to observe. What aid he can derive from this, in writing a history, has partly been already unfolded, and may for the rest be confided to the reflections of the intelligent reader.
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What I expect to be insisted upon with greatest emphasis is, that, if an observer were to take an expansive view of India, noting, in his progress, those circumstances alone which are of greatest importance, he would come with peculiar advantage to the composition of a history; with lights capable of yielding the greatest assistance in judging even of the evidence of others. To estimate this pretension correctly, we must not forget a well-known and important law of human nature. From this we shall see, that a cursory view, of the nature of that which is here described, is a process, in the highest degree effectual, not for removing error, and perfecting knowledge, but for strengthening all the prejudices, and confirming all the prepossessions or false notions, with which the observer sets out.
This result is proved by a very constant experience; and may further be seen to spring, with an almost irresistible necessity, from the constitution of the human mind. In a cursory survey, it is understood, that the mind, unable to attend to the whole of an infinite number of objects, attaches itself to a few; and overlooks the multitude that remain. But what, then, are the objects to which the mind, in such a situation, is in preference attracted?
Those which fall in with the current of its own thoughts; those which accord with its former impressions; those which confirm its previous ideas. These are the objects to which, in a hasty selection, all ordinary minds are directed, over-looking the rest. For what is the principle in the mind by which the choice is decided? Doubtless Edition: current; Page: [ xv ] that of association. And is not association governed by the predominant ideas? To this remains to be added, the powerful influence of the affections; first the well known pleasure which a man finds, in meeting, at every step, with proofs that he is in the right, inspiring an eagerness to look out for that source of satisfaction; and, secondly, the well-known aversion which a man usually has, to meet with proofs that he is in the wrong, yielding a temptation, commonly obeyed, to overlook such disagreeable objects.
He who, without having been a percipient witness in India, undertakes, in Europe, to digest the materials of Indian history, is placed, with regard to the numerous individuals who have been in India, and of whom one has seen and reported one thing, another has seen and reported another thing, in a situation very analogous to that of the judge, in regard to the witnesses who give their evidence before him.
In the investigation of any of those complicated scenes of action, on which a judicial decision is sometimes required, one thing has commonly been observed by one witness, another thing has been observed by another witness; the same thing has been observed in one point of view by one, in another point of view by another witness; some things are affirmed by one, and denied by another. In this scene, the judge, putting together the fragments of information which he has severally received from the several witnesses, marking where they agree and where they differ, exploring the tokens of fidelity in Edition: current; Page: [ xvi ] one, of infidelity in another; of correct conception in one, of incorrect conception in another; comparing the whole collection of statements with the general probabilities of the case, and trying it by the established laws of human nature, endeavours to arrive at a complete and correct conception of the complicated transaction, on which he is called to decide.