« AnteriorContinuar »
avail against commercial expediency, it may be answered that the expediency of compelling the Company to sell what they wish to retain, and of forcing the public to purchase what they cannot turn to profit, and must pay for by considerable increase of taxes, is not yet sufficiently demonstrated. It is true that one principal difficulty in all contracts, namely, the adjustment of terms, will, in this compulsory bargain, be wholly removed, because the compelling power, that is to say the representatives of the reluctant public, will impose their own conditions on the unwilling seller; and when the title-deeds of the property, being grants from the Great Mogul, shall have been duly authenticated, nothing more will be necessary, but that his Mahometan majesty shall constitute his well beloved cousin, the defender of the Christian faith, receiver general of his customs, and conservator of his person.
But what will be the probable advantages of this strange and indecorous metamorphosis?
To the Hindoos, who have never manifested a wish to rebel, it must evidently be indifferent whether the forts and garrisons which protect them against foreign aggression, and inspire them with no apprehension, are the property of a visible or invisible master; whether the resident ruler of India is a Viceroy or a Governor General; whether the subordinate officers whom they obey, are appointed immediately by the King of Great Britain or by his delegates. Their best security against oppression is derived from the laws which render the company's servants amenable to our tribunals for offences committed in India; and the best pledge for their happiness is found in the administration of their government, by persons well acquainted with their peculiar feelings and prejudices. A moment's reflection will suggest the certain inconvenience and probable danger, of any extensive innovation in such a government. Neither is such an innovation required by the interests of the state, because the British legislature already possesses a power of controul in the affairs of India, as effective as that which it could exercise through its own immediate officers; and it cannot be essential to the interests of commerce, since the most lucrative branch of our trade with the East (that of China) is carried on without any military intervention,
The history of our intercourse with China affords, indeed, some useful lessons on this subject. Whilst the English East India Company were devising means to conciliate the Chinese, Sir William Courten, an adventurer trading under a special licence granted by Charles I, in defiance of the company's charter, made a piratical attack on the town of Canton; in consequence of which the English were declared to be enemies of the empire, and have been viewed ever since with peculiar jealousy by the Chinese govern
ment. It is under circumstances thus untoward, that the company have carried on, during more than a century, an extensive and growing commerce. It is to a country thus hostile, that they export the far greater part of the British woollens, (exceeding a million sterling in value,) with which they supply the markets of Asia. From such a country they import the tea, an article now become a necessary of life, of which the annual consumption within the British dominions, amounts to twenty millions of pounds.
To some persons it may be amusing to learn that this article about the time of King Charles II, was so rare in England, that the infusion of it in water was taxed by the gallon, in common with chocolate and sherbet; and that the following memorandum is preserved in the diary of Mr. Pepys,--September, 5th, 1661. I sent for a cup of tea (a Chinese drink) of which I had never drank before.'-Two pounds and two ounces were, in the same year, formally presented by the company, as a most valuable oblation, to the king. Whether the present astonishing demand for such a beverage be a beneficial or a mischievous effect of the caprice of fashion, it is not, in this place, necessary to inquire: but there can be no doubt whether the demand, having been created, ought to be satisfied. The steady and uninterrupted supply of this portion of the national subsistence, which proves the prudent and conciliatory conduct of the company during a long series of years, affords, therefore, a satisfactory refutation of many of the charges against them.
But setting aside the claims of the Company and the probable wishes of the Hindoos, and considering only the permanent interests of the British empire, can the transfer of the whole civil and military patronage of India to the crown, be treated as a matter of little moment; or, can it be seriously urged that the inconveniences of such a measure would be compensated by a vast accession of resource to the national treasury? The revenue of India, it is well known, has been long since wholly absorbed by au expenditure applied not to the separate purposes of the company, but to the vigorous prosecution of a war directed against the enemies of Great Britain; and although the many new sources of wealth which have been acquired by the triumphant termination of that war, may promise the ultimate liquidation of the enormous debt incurred during ile progress, the period at which a net revenue will again become available, cannot be rationally foretold.
So long as the administration of Indian finance remains in the experienced hands to which it is now entrusted, a gradual improvement of the receipts and diminution of expenses may be expected; but it would be preposterous to hope for such an improvement by substituting the officers of the crown, for those of the municipal government. There is already scarcely any difference between the board of direction at home, and the other boards to which the executive power of the state is allotted, except that the Directors, being themselves proprietors of India stock, must be stimulated by personal interest, to the honest discharge of their duty, and that they are elected by the persons best qualified to judge of their competence to discharge it. They are, with respect to their most important functions, under the immediate control of the cabinet; but still, in providing for the execution of the gigantic enterprises in which they have been compelled to engage, their prudence and economy have not been wholly useless. That the patronage, of which it is now proposed to deprive them, has not been ill bestowed; and that our present accurate knowledge of eastern geography, of the laws, manners, literature, sciences, and languages, of a large portion of the globe, is owing to their encouragement, is not denied. “In war and negociation, (says Dr. Smith himself,) the councils of Madras and Calcutta, have upon several occasions conducted themselves with a resolution and decisive wisdom, which would have done honour to the senate of Rome, in the best days of that republic. The members of those councils, however, had been bred to professions very different from war and politics. But their situation alone, without education, experience, or even example, seems to have formed in them all at once the great qualities which it required, and to have inspired them both with abilities and virtues, which they themselves could not well know that they possessed!" (vii. p. 484.) No doubt, wherever talent is a sure passport to power, such examples may be found; but why then deprive India of this rare advantage? Why assign to the disposal of caprice, the funds which have been so justly appropriated? Why convert the candidates for active office into candidates for favour? On the subject of our Indian commerce, there may reasonably exist a considerable difference of opinion. The fear of adding fresh incitements to that spirit of rash speculation which is already so conspicuous in the mercantile world may, perhaps, be as visionary as the hopes entertained by others, of deriving a boundless extension of national profits from the indiscriminate competition of adventurers in the eastern seas. But it is surely impossible to admit, without hesitation, the reasoning of a Political Economist, who suggests, as a preliminary to the establishment of commercial freedom, a measure calculated to create an enormous increase of influence in one branch of our constitution, and consequently to endanger our civil liberty.
Being conscious that we have already extended this article to a length which many readers will consider as tedious, and that those who feel an interest in the subject will be much more gratified with the perusal of the original work than they can be with our imper
fect description of its contents; we will confine ourselves to a very few words of comment.
Mr. Macpherson assures us, in his preface, that his opinions on the subject before us have been the result of a long and patient investigation; and the historical part of the volume bears ample testimony to the truth of this assurance; but though we fully acquit him of any intentional deviation from the strictest impartiality, and are ready to admit every fact on which bis conclusions are grounded, we must confess that he has not ultimately conveyed to our minds the conviction which is impressed upon his own. If, as he contends, the nature of our intercourse with India be such, that when left to itself, the whole trade cannot fail to devolve into the hands of the company; the legitimate inference seems to be, that the exclusive privilege which confirms this monopoly is unnecessary. Inasmuch as such a privilege tends to degrade the whole mercantile body of the nation, whom it disqualifies from investing their capitals in one of the great branches of the national commerce; as it has notoriously exposed the company to the incessant jealousy of their fellow subjects, and in former times, to the frequent persecution of government;--and as though actually limited by conditions which render it apparently nugatory, it continues to force on the legislature the periodical examination of our commercial interests in the East, it is surely open to many objections; and we must confess our inability to discover the advantages by which these objections are counterbalanced. We are therefore compelled, even on Mr. Macpherson's premises, to acquiesce in Dr. Smith's conclusion against the continuance of the monopoly, though we cannot in conscience approve that sweeping spoliation of the Company's foreign possessions which he has so hastily, and, as we think, so inconsistently recommended.
It is indeed singular enough that this able champion of commercial liberty, after proving that all interference of government in matters of trade, is not only useless but pernicious, should solicit such interference for the purpose of obtaining a very dubious advantage, through the violation of the plainest principles of justice.
That a large proportion of India is the undoubted property of the crown,
that is to say of the state and people of Great Britain,' is certainly true, because those possessions are the property of British subjects; but it is equally true that the estate of every individual in the empire is in the same predicament; and we know not why this claim on the part of the public is brought forward, since it is at the same time admitted that the Company's estates cannot justly be confiscated, but ought to be purchased by an adequate remuneration. If, however, the proposed measure were not clogged with a condition which renders it, as we conceive, utterly impracti
cable, cable, we should still hesitate to recommend it; not only because it is obviously unnecessary for the establishment of that freedom of commerce which would be at once restored by the mere cessation of the restrictions now imposed upon it;-- or solely because we think, with Mr. Macpherson, that no prospect of purely commercial benefit, would justify the risk to which our civil liberties would be exposed by such an innovation ;-but farther because we entertain serious doubts whether those very sources of profit, which it was Dr. Smith's particular object to secure, would not be endangered by such a change. It is notorious that, whilst the Company have acquired, and preserved for the public, an extensive empire in the east, the legislature of Great Britain have thrown away an equally extensive empire in the west; and as the sagacious writer on the • Wealth of Nations' has, in his investigation of the principles of our colonial policy, very fully explained the causes of he latter event, we find ourselves compelled to dissent from his opinion in a single instance, where it seems to be at variance with his general reasoning
ART. VIII. Poetical Vagaries. By George Colman, the
Younger. 4to. London. Printed for the Author. 1812. THERE may be persons so little read in the nugæ canoræ
and farce-comedies of modern times, as to open this volume without any previous acquaintance with Mr. Colman, the Younger. Very young, indeed, will such readers judge Mr. Colman to be; and scarcely pardonable, even to the most extreme youth, will they pronounce his ' vagaries :' but to those who know that Mr. Colman is not a giddy boy just escaped from school, and setting up for a poet and wit, on a small stock of facility and fancy, and a large one of puns, old jokes, and double entendres, to those, we say, this volume will afford any thing but amusement, and will appear any thing but excusable.
We are not, at best, great admirers of parody, burlesque, and such small wit. It is only tolerable when it is confined within very narrow liinits, and adapted to light and momentary occasions; but, really, when trifling begins to grow ponderous, and swell into quartos, it is high time to relieve the slender stalk of light reading from the worthless pumpkin that threatens to overload it.
What has induced Mr. Colman to venture on the publication of such a volume as this, we are at a loss to guess. Not surely the hope of fame-he has too much taste and experience to expect any such thing; nor yet the hope of profit—he cannot expect that the gentle readers, who are pleased with builesque, will be induced to