Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter VI.: BLITHE NEWS. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7
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Chapter VI.: BLITHE NEWS. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 7 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 7.
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Few indeed were the places in the island where there were no struggles of poverty by day, or of death by night. In Rayo's hut, the poverty struggle seemed to be drawing near its close, and that of death impending. There needed the agency of no hag to touch the dwellers in the jungle with leprosy; no curse from above to make them feel as outcasts in their own land. The sunny days and starlight nights of the dry season were full of dreariness. Rayo, now the victim of leprosy in its most fearful form, passed the day in solitude,—now creeping from his mat to his threshold, and there finding that his swollen limbs would carry him no farther; now achieving with much toil, his daily walk in search of the honeycomb of the hollow tree, or of any windfall of the fruit he could no longer climb to reach. The pitcher-plant grew all around his hut, and regularly performed its silent service of preparing the lnnpid draught to satisfy his feverish longing; but the monkeys were now too strong for him; and often, in a state of desperate thirst, he saw a pert ape, or an insolent baboon, twist the green cup from its tendril, and run up a tree with it, or upset the draught before his eyes. If ever he got far enough to look out upon the open landscape, it stirred his spirit to see the herds of buffaloes on the hill-side, and the proud vessels on the distant main, blmging luxuries from many a clime; feeling, as he did, that the food and the wine thus exhibited to him would have preserved him from his disease, and kept Marana, in all her youth and strength, by his side. If he met a countryman, with whom to speak, his tumultuous thoughts were not calmed; for he heard tell of the high price which emnamon bore this season, on account of the lucky damage done by lightning to the crop. To him and his countrymen it signified little whether the Honourable Company were enabled to ask the prices of such a scarce season as this, or whether they sought from government a compensation for the loss occasioned by an over-supply; Rayo and his countrymen had no part nor lot in the harvests of their native island; but Rayo had in the concerns of the rulers the deep stake of unsatisfied revenge. As often as he became sensible of a new loss of strength, as often as any of the horrible symptoms of elephantiasis met Ms consciousness, he drew sharp and brief inferences respecting the philosophy of colonization, which might have been worthy the ear of a British parliament, if they could have been echoed so far over the sea.
Marana, meanwhile, was hurrying northwards with all the speed of which her wasted frame was capable. She pushed on eagerly by day, now in heat and now in damp, and halted unwillingly at night under the shelter of some rest-house provided for travellers of a different caste. When she looked upon the withered garlands that dangled from the corner-posts, and longed for the draperies of cotton by which healthier persons than herself had been sheltered from the night-dews, she too felt, though of a milder and more placable nature than her husband, that some one had stepped in between them and Providence, and turned their native paradise into a dreary wilderness. She had heard strangers marvel at the absence of singing-birds in her native glades at noon, and among the bowers of the banian, when the sinking sun peeps beneath its arches, and she had accounted for it to such marvellers, by tales of the wars between the serpent and his feathered prey; but to her it seemed strange that none should ask why the warbhngs of human gladness were so seldom heard in a region whence their outpourings should echo to heaven. If asked to account for this silence also, she would have told of the wily and venomous agency of monopoly, which wages war against the helpless, from generation to generation, till the music of joy is forgotten in the land.
Marana's spirits rose as she approached the northern parts of the island, and, leaving woods and hills behind her, entered upon the level and sandy region, whose aspect never changed but as the sea, which was its boundary, was gleaming or grey, as the heavens were clear or clouded. The bare shore near her father's dwelling was above all beloved; and she stopped for all instant to listen to the tide as it made itself heard above her throbbing pulses, before she stole across the well-known threshold.
The cottage looked as It used to look, except that there were no remains of the, household decorations which the neat-handed love to prepare in countries where decoration requires no expenditure but of skill. Her mother-of-pearl shells, her embroidery of fish-bones, her tutts of many-coloured sea-weed, had disappeared, and instead ot there, there were more snake skins, a new set of sharks' fins, and a larger variety of inexplicable charms. Her father slept upon his mat, a ray of moonlight falling across his brow from a chink in the frail roof of his cottage.
Marana was afraid to waken and alarm him while there was no more light than this in the cottage. She refrained till she had caught a handful of fire-flies, and fixed them in her hair, there being no sign of fire in any, neighbouring cottage. This done, she bent over the Charmer, and charmed away his sleep. He gazed at her long; and, common as was the sight of his dark countrywomen crowned with a green flame, the figure before him was so like one which he had often expected to see in vision, that the repeated sound ot her voice was necessary to assure him that it was indeed his daughter.
“You are flying before Amoottra, my child, or she has already laid her hand upon you. Not the less shall your head rest on my bosom.”
Before she could rest, Marana said, she must confess her impiety in parting with her charm, and obtain another. She sorely repented having sold the chank. The gold it brought was presently consumed; and what was gold in a country where it could not be made to reproduce itself, or answer any purpose beyond delaying want for a time? She would take any vow Father Anthony should prescribe, not to part with any other charm.
“Father Anthony will tell you,” replied her father, with a smile, “that it is better to grow and sell cinnamon than to get a charm blessed, and then part with it.”
Marana prayed her father not to mock her, not to speak of forbidden traffic to one who was deep in sin already. She was told in reply that growing cinnamon was not one of the crimes on which the heavens frown, but an act which the will of man makes innocent or guilty. It was now the will of man to pronounce it innocent, and every man in Ceylon might have his cinnamon garden, and go unharmed by the powers of the earth or of the air.
But how had this miracle taken place? And was it so with pearls?
“The pearl banks are still sacred, my child; but, as for the spice, it is no miracle that the owners are tired of their losses. Much gold must they pay to the Challias, and much more must they risk on the seas; and when the spice is landed in their own country, the buyers com-plain that any thing that grows upon a common tree should be worth so much. Three years since, even the rich would not buy half that was prepared, though much was burned, as usual. Then the king gave up some of his share of the price, and immediately there were three eaters of cinnamon where there was one before; and, instead of the king losing, the people gained by more of them being able to consume the spice. What wonder, after this. if more cinnamon is permitted to be grown, that more may eat, and more grow rich by selling it?”
“But who will buy it of us. father?”
“Come and see, at the next fishery. Any man of whatever nation, who wishes to buy of you, may do it in the open market, and no punishmen't shall follow to him or you.”
“And if Ravo had a boat, father, and carried spice to any ships he might meet upon the sea, would not that be a crime?”
“A crime no longer, Marana. He may take dollars from the Spaniard, and silk from the Italian, and cotton from the Englishman, and iron from the Russian, and grain from the American, and no one will ask him how he got his wealth, or threaten those who exchange with him. I will go with you, and plant and bless your first shrub with my own hands.”
“Ravo's bands arr too feeble to dig, and he cannot kneel for your blessing,” observed Marana, mournfully. “Will there be any more burning of cinnamon, father?”
“Never more till all people in every land shall have had their fill, and the cinnamon twigs with which we light our fires shall be used un-barked through their abundance. Why should there be destruction of any good thing when the many are to decide what price they will give, instead of the few what price they will take?”
This was the best news Marana had yet heard, and her father had no more to tell. While he was moving about, preparing for the exercise of his art, and leaving his mat for his daughter's repose, he told of poverty and sickness among his neighbours, to whom it mattered not whether the fishery proved a rich or a ruinous one. In the former case, they derived none of the benefits; in the latter, they could scarcely be starved down to a lower point than they were sure to reach in the intervals of the seasons. His representations were confirmed to Marana when she went abroad in the morning to seek Father Anthony, and accost any friends she might meet by the way.
Old Gomgode, her father-in-law, lay on the beach, glancing about him with his restless eyes for something to feed his inquisitiveness. There was no inducement at present to go to sea in search of curiosities, there being no fair at this season, and none of his neighbours being wealthy enough to make purchases when each had nothing to do but to secure his own scanty provision for the day. Gomgode's sole employment was asking questions of any one he could meet, and longing for the sight of an unaccustomed face.
He started up as he recognized Marana's form, though wasted, and her gait, though feeble and spiritless. When he had asked a multitude of questions, where was Rayo? how was Rayo? why did not Rayo come? and so forth, he was struck dumb by the tidings of his son's afflictions. He silently pointed to the cottage where Neyna, his daughter, might be found, and lay down on his face to importune the saints with prayers for his children; for Neyna, who was awaiting a dowry he could not earn for her; for Marana, who was likely to be a widow before she was a mother; and for the sufferer who was pining in his distant solitude. Before his prayers were ended, Father Anthony had joined him, and was uniting in his intercessions when the young women appeared to ask the priest's blessing.
Marana had not found Neyna in the cottage, but bathing with her companions in a reedy pool behind the dwellings. There was something left among these maidens of the sportiveness which seems to belong to the most refreshing exercise of bathing, and which was Marana's wont in her younger days, There was now a song and now a laugh; now a conspiracy to empty all the waterpots at once on the head. of one, and then the chace of a dusky beauty among the rushes, of Neyna, who had forgotten for the moment her hopelessness of a dowry. She was startled by the apparition of a stranger, intercepting her with outstretched arms in her flight, and recovered her gravity at the first recognition of Marana's faint smile. The other girls wrung out their dripping hair, and came up from the water to crowd round their old companion, to ask tidings of the rich land to the south, where, if there were no pearl-banks, there was every other wealth of nature, where, as the songs of their dancing-girls told them, life under the cocoa-nat trees was all that could be desired; where thousands of yards of cotton might be had from abroad, and hundreds of thousands of bags of rice were landed from foreign fleets. Marana pointed to her tattered garment, and let fall that it was long since she had tasted rice.
Why did she not seek relief from the English? she was asked. Did not the English come to provide for and protect the natives? Had not the English cotton enough to tapestry Adam's Peak, and could not they purchase the rice grounds of the globe?
“We,” said they, “are too far off from this fountain of wealth and mercy. The English come for our pearls once a year, and then they see us gay, and observe that our shore is spread with wealth. They do not know how little of this wealth is ours, or suspect what our hunger and nakedness are when they withdraw the light of their faces. But you live in that light, and yet you are wasted and sorrowful.”
“The English themselves complain,” answered Marana. “When there is a bad cinnamon harvest, the Government complains that the richer of our countrymen pay no dues, and that feeding the poor is a costly burden. When there is a good cinnamon harvest, the Company complains of the abundance, and burns half the crop; so that the strangers are always complaining, and the labourers of the country are always poor. This is the way with us in the south.”
“And with us in the north. Why then did the English come? And why now do they not go away?”
This question was too puzzling for any maiden of them all to answer, and they hastened to refer it to Father Anthony.
“Would you have me go away?” inquired he, smiling. “Shall I set the example to my countrymen, and leave you to your woods and waters in peace?”
“You do not forbid our fishing in our waters; you do not hark and burn our woods; you do not live upon our wealth, paying us only a pittance for getting it for you. Why, therefore, should you go?”
“My children, you speak as if the English settlers were thieves. you speak You speak as if it was nothing to have wise and skilful strangers come to teach you the arts of life. You speak as if you forgot the protection afforded to you by the government of the mother country, and the expense incurred by her for your support.”
“Who is it that robs us, not only of our spice and our pearls, but of all that many another country would give us for our spice and our pearls, if it be not the English?” cried one.
“Are we the happier for their wisdom and their skill?” cried another. “And as for the arts of life, do we need strangers to teach us to lie beneath the fig-tree, and sleep away our hunger?”
“From what do they protect us?” asked a third. “If they will go away, we will protect ourselves against their returning; and our own expenses we can bear as soon as ships from every land may come to trade on our shores.”
Father Anthony reminded them of the social institutions which had been established among them, with the entire good-will of the natives: but his pupils were obstinate in the opinion that slavery could not be said to be abolished while labourers were dependent for daily bread on the arbitrary will of a monopolizing party; and that, excellent as was trial by jury, the prevention of the manifold crimes which spring from oppression would be still better.
“If the English were to withdraw their protection,” said Father Anthony, “would you forbid them your shores?”
“They should be more welcome than they have ever been yet,” declared the old fisherman. “Let them land here, and we will spread white cloth for them to tread upon, and carry them on our shoulders to Columbo. If they will buy our pearls, the Dutchman, and the Frenchman, and the Spaniard shall all stand back till the English are served, and the money that we shall receive in our fairs and our markets shall buy the merchandise that comes from Britain. “We have dealt with the English so long, that we would deal with them rather than with people of strange tongues and ways, if they would but traffic as fairly as other people.”
“Why, then, should the English go? Why should they not live in the houses they have themselves built, and walk in the gardens they themselves have planted?”
“Let them do so—the merchant, and the priest, and the judge, and the labourer be there be British labourers here. Of these we can make countrymen and friends. But we do not wish for rulers, if they make us poor, and so tempt us to wickedness. We do not wish for soldiers, if we must give our daughters' dowries to maintain them. And as for the government agent, who takes our pearls, and the Company, that forbid us to grow cinnamon for anybody but themselves, if they will go, we will work hard, and soon make a beautiful ship to carry them away.”
“Then it is not the English you object to, but some of their conduct towards you? Let us hope that the time will come when you will live together, not quarrelling for the possession of what Providence has given to all, but finding that there is enough for all.”
“Why do not the wise English see this?”
“Many of them do. The wisest of the English see that there is little honour or advantage in calling any colony a possession of her own, if it would bring her profit instead of loss by being her friend, instead of her servant. The wisest among the English see, that to make a colony poor is to make it unprofitable, and that colonies cannot be very rich while they are dependent. To protect and cherish a colony till it can take care of itself, is wise and kind; but to prevent its taking care of itself, and is folly and crime. It is as if every man here should keep his grown up son in the bondage of childhood. Such fathers and such sons can never be prosperous and virtuous.”
“Who prevents the wise among the English from acting wisely?”
“Some who are not so wise. Though it may be clear that all England and all Ceylon would be more prosperous if the trade of Ceylon were free, some few would cease to make gains which they will not forego. Some hope that their sons may be made soldiers, if there should be a war in the colony, and others expect that a brother or a cousin may be a judge, or a priest, or a servant of the government.”
“But there cannot be many such.”
“Very few; but those few have been enough to burden England with expensive colonies up to this day. They are few, but they are powerful, because the many do not know what a grievance they are submitting to. The selfish are few; but it does not follow that all others are wise, or England would leave off maintaining colonies expensively for the sake of their trade, when she would trade more profitably with them free.”
“Why do the people not know this?”
“It is strange that they do not bestir themselves, and look abroad, and judge.”
“Where should they look?”
“To the east or to the west, as they please. In the east they may see how their trade has been more than twice doubled since they have allowed some little freedom of traffic; and they are told every year how expensive is this island, where no trade is free. They might know that, with the greatest natural wealth, this island is among the least profitable of their colonies. They might know that its total revenue does not pay its expenses, and that no making shifts, no gathering in of money from all quarters, can prevent its being a burden to them and to their children, if they persevere in their present management.”
“And what may they learn by looking westward?”
“That the States of America are a source of much greater wealth and power to Great Britain now than when she had a ruler in each of them. She is saved the expense of governing at a great distance, and has more trade with America than when she called it her own. Also, the colonies that she still holds in the west are an enormous expense to her—as fearful a burden as America is an advantage. Besides the loss which the mother country incurs for the sake of the colonies, (and which loss does those very colonies nothing but harm,) there is a direct expenditure of upwards of a million and a half in time of peace, for the apparatus of defence alone. How much more there is laid out in times of war, and in the necessary expenses of a government far from home, the people of England can never have considered, or they would long ago have permitted, ay, encouraged, Canada and Jamaica to govern themselves.”
“If the English will but let us take care of ourselves, they may, perhaps, learn a new lesson about the places in the west.”
“I am happy to tell you that a beginning is already made. There is only one among you— your father, made. Marana—to whom I have yet told the news. Every man may now plant cinnamon in his garden, and sell it to whomsoever he pleases. The news will not be long in flying round the world, and then more and more will ask for cinnamon continually; your countrymen will grow a greater quantity, and obtain a larger variety of comforts in exchange.”
“Then you will have to preach to us as they say you preach to the strangers,—against gay dresses, and rich food, and too much love of gold,” said the old man, chuckling.
“And if so, less against theft, and fraud, and hypocrisy, and indolence,” replied the priest. “There will be little stealing of chanks when all may fish them; little false bargaining when bargains shall have opportunity to become fair; little pretence of penitence hiding a mocking heart, when there is room for real thankfulness, and for a sense of ingratitude to a bountiful God; and much more industry when the rewards of industry are within reach. However true it may be that mortal men sin while they are mortal men, it is certain that they change their sine with their outward state, and change them for the better as their state improves.”
“Some tempters from above must be worse than others, I suppose,” said Gomgode; “but it is surprising to think that our rulers have power to send away the worst, that some less bad may come in.”
Marana hoped that her husband might benefit by the change. If his elephantiasis could but turn into some disease less dreadful, how would she bless the relaxation of the cinnamon monopoly!
Father Anthony could not encourage his dear daughter to look for such a result as this. But there were no bounds to the mercy of God towards one who repented,—as it was to be hoped Rayo did. Father Anthony would journey southwards with Marana and her father, to visit and console and pray with his unhappy charge, Rayo. He was ready at any moment to set forth.
Marana's ecstacies of gratitude and joy were checked only by the fear of what spectacle might meet her in her hut on her return, and by the mournful farewells of Neyna and her young companions, to whom no immediate prospect of a dowry was opened by the new change of policy. They regarded Marana as about to enter a land of promise whither they would fain follow her; unless, indeed, some similarly precious permission respecting the pearl banks should arrive, and convert their dreary shore into a region of hope and activity, They silently received their priest's parting blessing and injunctions as to their duties during his absence, and then watched him on his way. Setting forth laboriously on his mission of charity, he looked, indeed, little like one of the intruding strangers whom they had been taught to wish far from their shores.