Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Chronology and Ancient History of the Hindus - Selected Economic Writings
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CHAPTER I: Chronology and Ancient History of the Hindus - James Mill, Selected Economic Writings 
Selected Economic Writings, ed. Donald Winch (Edinburgh: Oliver Boyd for the Scottish Economic Society, 1966).
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Chronology and Ancient History of the Hindus
[The chapter opens with a warning against the extravagant claims to antique heritage commonly made by backward peoples. In order to establish an accurate picture of the state of manners, society and knowledge attained by the Hindus in the past, these ficitious accounts must be discounted.]
With regard to the Ancient history of India, we are still not without resources. The meritorious researches of the modern Europeans, who have explored the institutions, the laws, the manners, the arts, occupations and maxims of this ancient people, have enabled philosophy to draw the picture of society, which they have presented, through a long revolution of years. We cannot describe the lives of their kings, or the circumstances and results of a train of battles. But we can show how they lived together as members of the community, and of families; how they were arranged in society; what arts they practised, what tenets they believed, what manners they displayed; under what species of government they existed; and what character, as human beings, they possessed. This is by far the most useful and important part of history; and if it be true, as an acute and eloquent historian has remarked, ‘that the sudden, violent, and unprepared revolutions incident to barbarians, are so much guided by caprice, and terminate so often in cruelty, that they disgust us by the uniformity of their appearance, and it is rather fortunate for letters that they are buried in silence and oblivion,’1 we have perhaps but little to regret in the total absence of Hindu records.
Whatever theory we adopt with regard to the origin of mankind, and the first peopling of the world, it is natural to suppose, that countries were at first inhabited by a very small number of people. When a very small number of men inhabit a boundless country, and have intercourse only among themselves, they are by necessary consequence barbarians. If one family, or a small number of families, are under the necessity of providing for themselves all the commodities which they consume, they can have but few accommodations, and these imperfect and rude. In those circumstances the exigencies of life are too incessant, and too pressing, to allow time or inclination for the prosecution of knowledge. The very ideas of law and government, which suppose a large society, have no existence: men are unavoidably ignorant and unrefined; and, if much pressed with difficulties, they become savage and brutal.
If we suppose that India began to be inhabited at a very early stage in the peopling of the world, its first inhabitants must have been few, ignorant, and rude. Uncivilized and ignorant men, transported in small numbers, into an uninhabited country of boundless extent, must wander for many ages before any great improvement can take place. Till they have multiplied so far as to be assembled in numbers large enough to permit the benefits of social intercourse, and of some division of labour, their circumstances seem not susceptible of amelioration. We find, accordingly, that all those ancient nations, whose history can be most depended upon, trace themselves up to a period of rudeness. The families who first wandered into Greece, Italy, and the eastern regions of Europe, were confessedly ignorant and barbarous. The influence of dispersion was no doubt most baneful, where the natural disadvantages were the greatest. In a country overgrown with forest, which denies pasture to cattle, and precludes husbandry, by surpassing the power of single families to clear the land for their support, the wretched inhabitants are reduced to all the hardships of the hunter's life, and becomes savages. The difficulties with which those families had to struggle who first came into Europe, seem to have thrown them into a situation but few degrees removed from the lowest stage of society. The advantages of India in soil and climate are so great, that those by whom it was originally peopled might sustain no farther depression than what seems inherent to a state of dispersion. They wandered probably for ages in the immense plains and valleys of that productive region, living on fruits, and the produce of their flocks and herds, and not associated beyond the limits of a particular family. Until the country became considerably peopled, it is not even likely that they would be formed into small tribes. As soon as a young man became, in his turn, the head of a family, and the master of cattle, he would find a more plentiful subsistence beyond the range of his father's flocks. It could only happen, after all the most valuable ground was occupied, that disputes would arise, and that the policy of defence would render it an object for the different branches of a family to remain united together, and to acknowledge a common head.
When this arrangement takes place, we have arrived at a new stage in the progress of civil society. The condition of mankind, when divided into tribes, exhibits considerable variety, from that patriarchal association which is examplified in the history of Abraham, to such combinations as are found among the Tartars, or that distribution into clans, which, at no distant period, distinguished the people of Europe. The rapidity with which nations advance through these several states of society chiefly depends on the circumstances which promote population. Where a small number of people range over extensive districts, a very numerous association is neither natural nor convenient. Some visible boundary, as a mountain or a river, marks out the limits of a common interest; and jealousy or enmity is the sentiment with which every tribe is regarded by every other. When any people has multiplied so far as to compose a body, too large and unwieldy to be managed by the simple expedients which connected the tribe, the first rude form of a monarchy or political system is devised. Though we have no materials from the Hindus, which yield us the smallest assistance in discovering the time which elapsed in their progress to this point of maturity, we may so far accede to their claims of antiquity, as to allow that they passed through this first stage in the way to civilization very quickly; and perhaps they acquired the first rude form of a national polity at fully as early a period as any portion of the race. It was probably at no great distance from the time of this important change that those institutions were devised, which have been distinguished by a durability so extraordinary; and which present a spectacle so instructive to those, who would understand the human mind, and the laws which, amid all the different forms of civil society, invariably preside over its progress.
Hume's History of England, 1, 2.