Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXVII.: the indian mutiny—private affairs—second journey to america. - The Life of Richard Cobden
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER XXVII.: the indian mutiny—private affairs—second journey to america. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
the indian mutiny—private affairs—second journey to america.
The elections had barely taken place before the country1857.
“Midhurst, Oct. 16,1857. (To Mr. Ashworth.)—I thought I could have withdrawn myself for a time from public affairs, but every Indian mail quite overturns my resolution, and weans me back from my farm and my household, and makes me as much a politician in thought and feeling as ever. And yet I confess to you that this crisis in the East makes 1857.
“I am, and always have been, of opinion (see the enclosed extract from Hansard)that we have attempted an impossibility in giving ourselves to the task of governing one hundred millions of Asiatics. God and his visible natural laws have opposed insuperable obstacles to the success of such a scheme. But if the plan were practicable at the great cost and risk which we now see to be inseparable from it, what advantage can it confer on ourselves? We all know the motive which took the East India Company to Asia—monopoly, not merely as towards foreigners, but against the rest of their own countrymen. But now that the trade of Hindoostan is thrown open to all the world on equal terms, what exclusive advantage can we derive to compensate for all the trouble, cost, and risk of ruling over such a people?—a people which has shown itself, after a century of contact with us, to be capable of crimes which would revolt any savage tribe of whom we read in Dr. Livingstone’s narrative, and which had never seen a Christian of European till he penetrated among them.
“The religious people who now tell us that we must hold India to convert it, ought, I should think, to be convinced by what has passed that sending red coats as well as black to Christianize a people is not the most likely way to insure the blessing of God on our missionary efforts.
“I am aware that it is quite useless to preach these doctrines in the present temper of the people of this country; but if forced to appear in public to offer my opinion on the topics of the day, I could not ignore this greatest of all texts, and therefore I cling to my shell here because I know1857.
“Unfortunately for me I can’t even co-operate with those who seek to ‘reform’ India, for I have no faith in the power of England to govern that country at all permanently; and though I should like to see the Company abolished—because that is a screen between the English nation and a full sight of its awful responsibilities—yet I do not believe in the possibility of the Crown governing India under the control of Parliament. If the House of Commons were to renounce all responsibility for domestic legislation, and give itself exclusively to the task of governing one hundred millions of Asiatics, it would fail. Hindoostan must be ruled by those who live on that side of the globe. Its people will prefer to be ruled badly—according to our notions—by its own colour, kith and kin, than to submit to the humiliation of being better governed by a succession of transient intruders from the antipodes.
“These, however, are, I confess, opinions of a somewhat abstract kind, and not adapted for the practical work of the day. What is to be done now? Put down the military revolt in justice to the peaceable population, who are at the mercy of the armed mutineers. It is our duty to do so. We can do it, and I have no doubt it will be done. But then comes our difficulty. With the experience of the present year we can never trust a native force with arms again, with the feelings of security which we formerly indulged. Who will live in the interior of India in future, beyond the range of our forts or the sound of the regimental drum? Certainly no one with wife and children to love and care for. Yet we cannot possibly administer the affairs of that country without a native force, and we are now actually raising an army of Sikhs, the most warlike of 1857.
“No; there is no future but trouble and loss and disappointment and, I fear, crime in India, and they are doing the people of this eountry the greatest service who tell them the honest truth according to their convictions, and prepare them for abandoning at some future time the thankless and impossible task.”
“August 24. (To Mr. Bright.)—If we could meet, I should be glad to have a whole week’s adjourned debates on public matters with you; and I could write you long letters too, but somehow I always feel myself restrained by the fear that my correspondence does you harm by keeping the brain needlessly on the old scent. I wish you to discard politics from your thoughts; how then can I with consistency dose you with my political speculations? Besides, to tell you the truth, I can find nothing very cheerful to remark upon in relation to public matters. The proceedings of the House have ceased to interest me; and when I glance at the conclusion of the reports, and sometimes read ‘adjourned at a quarter to three o’clock.’ I hug myself with delight at the recollection that I am not of the dramatis personœ of the humiliating performance.
“The only subject that binds my attention fast to the newspapers is this horrible Indian business. There has been noting in history since the St. Domingo revolt to compare in fiendish ferocity with the atrocities by the Sepoys upon the women and children who have fallen into their hands. One stands aghast and dumbfoundered at the reflection that after a century of intercourse with us, the natives of India suddenly exhibit themselves greater savages than any of the North American Indians who have been brought into contact with the white race. It is clear that1857.
“Chance has thrown me in the society of some ladies who have lately returned from India, where they were accustomed to barrack life, their husbands being officers in native regiments. I find the common epithet applied to our fellow-subjects in Hindostan is nigger. One of these ladies took some credit for her condescension in allowing a native officer, answering to the rank of a subaltern, to sit down in her presence when he came for orders to her husband, All this might have been borne, though with difficulty, if the English with whom the natives came in contact displayed exalted virtues and high intellectual powers. But I fear the traits most conspicuous in our countrymen have been of a very different character. A low morale and an absence of mental energy have been the most conspicuous faults of the British officers, and the business of the regiments has more and more fallen into the hands of the natives. What is now 1857.
“I can see nothing but increased difficulties in future in consequence of the almost indiscriminate slaughter with which every commissioned officer and his drum-head court are visiting the Sepoys that fall into their power. Unless this is persevered in until the 100,0000 mutineers are hung up, the only effect will be to convert those who escape into worse assassins and incendiaries than before. How are we to maintain despotic sway in future over 100,000,000 of Asiatics (for it must be undisguised despotism henceforth) and preserve our own freedom at home? Will it be possible to find a sufficient number of recruits in England to keep up a sufficient army for this purpose?
“These are questions that I shall not answer at present, but I confess to you that I have no faith in the doctrine that by any possible reforms we can govern India well, or continue to hold it permanently. God and nature have put a visible and insuperable obstacle in the way of our rash and audacious scheme. And if it be true, as even Voltaire believed it to be, that there is ‘un Dieu rétributeur et vengeur,’ the deeds perpetrated by the British in times past, and still more the bloody deeds now being enacted, and which all arise from our own original aggression upon distant and unoffending communities, will be visited with unerring justice upon us or our children. But I am sinning against my own rule in thus venting my croakings upon1857.
“P.S. You hint at the possibility of Manchester taking me in case of poor Potter’s death. I don’t think the offer will ever be made, but I am quite sure that there is no demonstration of the kind that would induce me (apart from my determination not at present to stand for any place) to put myself in the hands of the people who without more cause then than now struck down men whose politics are identically my own. To confess my honest belief, I regard the Manchester constituency, now that their gross pocket question is settled, as a very unsound, and to us a very unsafe body.”
September 22. (To Mr. Bright.)—I am glad to see your handwriting again. Although I knew our minds were busy in one and the same direction, yet I abstained from sending you my cogitations, for I was fearful of adding fuel to fire. These Indian horrors give me a perpetual shudder. The awful atrocities perpetrated upon women and children almost give rise to the impious doubt whether this world is under the government of an all-wise and just Providence. What crime had they committed to merit the infliction of tortures and death? Verily the sins of the fathers have been visited on the children to the third and fourth generations! And how can it be otherwise in the case of a nation? For if a collective crime be perpetrated, and a community be visited with retributive justice, even an hour after the commission of the deed, those who have entered life in the interval must participate in the penalty. We can see that it must be so, but not that it ought to be.
“These fiendish outrages upon the defenceless—the propensity displayed in so many places to unparalleled cruelties—have amazed me more than anything that ever occurred in my time. We have read of something of the kind in St. 1857.
“Did you observe that the men who swam ashore at Cawn-pore after the boats, in which were the garrison who had been promised a safe passage, had been treacherously sunk, were blown from the guns on successive days, no doubt in imitation of our treatment of the Sepoys? To read the letters of our officers at the commencement of the outbreak, it seemed as if every subaltern had the power to hang or shoot as many natives as he pleased, and they spoke of the work of blood with as much levity as if they were hunting wild animals. The last accounts would lead one to fear that God is not favouring our cause, and that too many of our countrymen are meeting the fate which was intended for the natives.
“But the future—what is in the distance? The most cer tain and immediate result is that we shall have a bankrupt1857.
“October 18. (To Colonel Fitzmayer.)—Do we find that Government and Parliament acquit themselves so well in domestic matters that they have a surplus of efficiency and energy for Hindoostan? Shall we give education to India, or reform its criminals, or abate its crime, or moderate its religious bigotry and intolerance? Can we do these things at home? If a Board of Works can’t give us a 1857.
“However, I have wearied you with my abstractions. The practical business in hand is to put down the military mutiny, which, in justice to our own subjects, we are bound1857.
“Nov. 22. (To Mr. White, the Member for Brighton.)—.... You have seized upon the most important of our social and political questions in the laws affecting the transfer of land. It is astonishing that the people at large are so tacit in their submission to the perpetuation of the feudal system in this country as it affects the property in land, so long after it has been shattered to pieces in every other country except Russia. The reason is, I suppose, that the great increase of our manufacturing system has given such an expansive system of employment to the population, that the want of land as a field of investment and employment for labour has been comparatively little felt. So long as this prosperity of our manufactures continues, there will be no great outcry against the landed monopoly. If adversity were to fall on the nation, your huge feudal properties would soon be broken up, and along with them the hereditary system of government under which we contentedly live and thrive. When I was travelling on the Continent, I found among the thinking part of the population in France, Italy, and Germany, a great feeling of surprise that the men who had abolished the Corn Laws had not also abolished the monopoly of land; and they were quite puzzled, and almost incredulous, when I told them that there was little feeling against our custom of primogeniture even among the rural population of England. Another reason may help to 1858.
“London, May 16, 1858. (To G. Combe.)—... I have come to London for a few weeks, and have brought my wife and little girls. We have been staying with our friends in a succession of visits, and I have seen a little of the politicians from whom I have been so long separated.
“I am afraid our national character is being deteriorated, and our love of freedom in danger of being impaired by what is passing in India. Is it possible that we can play the part of despot and butcher there without finding our character deteriorated at home? Were not the ancient Greeks and Romans corrupted and demoralized by their Asiatic conquests, and may we not share their fate, though in a different way? Then comes the question which you have so ably put in your letter. ‘what possible benefit can we derive from our Indian conquests?’ I confess I take a gloomy view of our prospects in that quarter. The English people will not give up Hindoostan, any more than they did North America, without years of exhausting war.
“It is more and more my conviction that the task of governing despotically 150 millions of people at a distance of twelve thousand miles cannot be executed by a constitutional Government. It ought to be done, if at all, by a despot, whose rule is concentrated, and less liable to personal changes than our representative forms admit. With a change of Government every six or twelve months it is impossible that we can have a continuous plan or a real responsibility. Since1858.
“March 28. (To Mr. Gilpin.)—What a pretentious and hypocritical people we are in our dealings with the outside world! How we abuse and bully king Bomba because he will not govern his lazzaroni according to our notions of constitutionalism! But when you propose to apply a little of our love of liberty to our own fellow-subjects in India ‘oh! oh!’ is the reply you meet with in the House. Yet you would have no difficulty in carrying the cheers of the said House for any proposal to put the slaves in America or Cuba immediately on the same political level as their masters. This nation will meet with a terrible check some day, unless it makes a little better progress in the science of self-knowledge.”
“October30. (To Mr. Gilpin.)—... Is Klapka gone? He mentioned to me in conversation some views about our Indian massacres of private men, that I should like to be allowed to quote some day. I remember he expressed himself as a soldier with some disgust on the subject. He said the indiscriminate destruction of rank and file was unprecedented in modern times, and he stated that anybody accustomed to armies knew that when a whole regiment or army fell from its allegiance, the great body of the privates really took no active part, that they went with the officers as a mater of instinct, and that perhaps with the exception of a few violent ringleaders the rest hardly knew anything about it. In some cases a minority would in their hearts be opposed to the mutiny, but they had no choice but go with the rest. He argued that to slay all alike in the field or on the gallows was terrible.”
On the feeling between England and France which had arisen in connexion with the circumstances of the Conspiracy to Murder Bill, he wrote to his friend, Michel Chevalier:—
“July 13.—It is useless our pursuing the tu quoque argument, otherwise I should remind you that our estrangement has all sprung out of the unfortunate course pursued by your Government at the time of the Orsini horror. Never did your Emperor fall into such a mistake as to seek to widen the responsibility of that mad outrage by making it the ground of domestic legislation of a restrictive character and of diplomatic negotiation, requiring fresh safeguards from foreign governments: all which assumed that others besides those frenzied Italians were plotting against his life. To assume that assassination had sympathizers in England, France, or elsewhere, was an insult to humanity, His policy should have been the very opposite. He should have thrust aside the injudicious advisers who recommended such a course, and should have loudly proclaimed his belief that men of all nations would equally join in condemning the devilish act:1858.
The second Administration of Lord Derby was formed, and Mr. Lindsay asked for Cobden’s view of the new political situation. In reply he once more preached a sermon on the old text.
“March 23.— ‘The present men are more honest, and they are certainly more obliging than the last.’ In this I agree with you, and it might have been said of any Tory Government as compared with any Whig one since I have been in to political ring. I remember when I came into the House in 1841, after the general election which gave Peel a majority of ninety, I found the Tories more civil in the intercourse of the lobbies and the refreshment-rooms than the Whigs. It runs through all departments. It seems as if the Whig leaders always thought it necessary to snub the Radicals, to satisfy the Tories they were not dangerous politicians. But I do not blame them, for they live by it. I do blame those advanced Liberals who allow themselves to be thus used and abused. There is no remedy but in the greater self-respect of the middle class. I fear we have been going the 1858.
“You ask me my view of the political situation. It is hard fate for me to be obliged to choose between Derby and Palmerston, but if compelled to do so, I should certainly prefer the former. Nothing can be so humiliating to us as a party or a nation as to see that venerable political impostor at the head of affairs. But how will you prevent his return to power?.... Half a dozen great families meet at Walmer and dispose of the rank and file of the party, just as I do the lambs that I am now selling for your aldermen’s table. And I very much doubt whether you can put an end to this ignominious state of things. Until you can I don’t think you are playing a part in any noble drama.”
During this period of withdrawal from active public life, Cobden was greatly harassed by private anxieties. As there was always much ill-natured gossip about his affairs, it is well to state the facts as they were. With a portion of the proceeds of the national testimonial Cobden, as we have already seen, had purchased the little property which had belonged to his forefathers. The rest, or most of the rest, he had invested in the shares of an American railway. The Illinois Central is the great line from North to South, with its headquarters at Chicago, taking its course right through1858.
“Cobden,” Mr. Lindsay goes on to say, “viewed his investments in an entirely different light from that in which they would be seen by an ordinary man of business. He 1858.
In a letter to Mr. Moffatt, with whom he was in constant correspondence on the subject at this time, Cobden shows how conscious he was of the view which a hard-headed man of business would be likely to take of what he was doing. At the beginning of 1858, Mr. Osborn, the Chairman of the Railway, was in England, and visited him at Dunford.
“Osborn was so candid with me,” Cobden writes, “so disinterested and friendly in his advice, that I could not help suspecting that a very good friend of mine had whispered in his ear something to this effect. ’say nothing to feed his sanguine views. He has already become tête montée about the Illinois; but rather throw in a word of caution about putting too many eggs in one basket. He is a worn-out agitator, out of business, with a young family. Such people ought not to become speculators. As a rule your public men, and especially your revolutionary leaders, make unsuccessful men of business. They look too high and too far, and others who fire at a shorter range beat them in the1858.
Whether the surmise was right or not, it is clear that the investment, however sound, was not a prudent one for a man who had no spare capital, and who needed income. Cobden was greatly inconvenienced by outstanding loans which were raised to pay the calls. In connexion with them, it is for the honour of human nature that we should mention an extraordinary example of grateful and considerate munificence. The late Mr. Thomasson of Bolton, hearing from Mr. Slagg, their common friend, that Cobden was embarrassed by one of these outstanding loans for the Illinois shares, amounting to several thousand pounds, released the shares and sent them to Cobden, with a request that he would do him the favour to accept their freedom at his hands “in acknowledgement of his vast services to his country and mankind.” On a later occasion, when the same difficulty recurred for the same reasons, Mr. Thomasson went down to Midhurst, ascertained the circumstances, and insisted that Cobden should accept a still larger sum, refusing a formal acknowledgment, and handing it over in such a form that the transaction was not known to any one but Cobden and himself. After Mr. Thomasson’s death, there was found among his private papers a little memorandum of his advances, containing these magnanimous words: “I lament that the greatest benefactor of mankind since the Inventor of printing should be placed in a position where his public usefulness is compromised and impeded by sordid personal cares; but I have done something as my share of what is due to him 1858.
It was in connexion with the Illinois Railway that Cobden made his second voyage to the United States. He went on behalf of other English shareholders to examine the line and its management on the spot. He remained in the country for three months. Everything that he saw delighted him. The material and moral progress since his visit in 1835 realized all his expectations. “It is the universal hope of rising in the social scale,” he told Mr.Bright, “which is the key to much of the superiority that is visible in this country. It accounts for the orderly self-respect which is the great characteristic of the masses in the United States.... All this tends to the argument that the political condition of a people is very much dependent on its economical fate.”
So far as the immediate object of his journey went Cobden declared himself to be more than satisfied. “As respects the main question,” he wrote to his wife, “as to the ultimate success of the undertaking, I have no doubt whatever that it will prove the best railroad investment in America. But unfortunately it does not suit me to wait, and nearly all I have is at stake.” In another letter to Mrs. Cobden he writes: “My thoughts are much with you and the dear children. I feel great anxiety to know that you are settled. Everything has gone as unluckily as possible with me. I sometimes feel almost unnerved, great as is my energy and natural buoyancy.” As we shall see presently, the clouds vanished quickly from his spirit, as soon as ever he saw a piece of useful work to be done.
Almost on the very same day Lord Elgin wrote in his Journal:—“It is a terrible business, this living among inferior races. I have seldom from man or woman since I came to the East heard a sentence which was reconcilable with the hypothesis that Christianity had ever come into the world. Detestation, contempt, ferocity, vengeance, whether Chinamen or Indians be the object.”—Lord Elgin’s Journals, p. 199. (August 21, 1857.) On March 29, 1858, there is a similar entry:—“The truth is that the whole world just now are raving mad with a passion for killing and slaying.”
The 100 dollar ordinary shares were lately at 150, and are now 138.