India, and all that was happening there in connection with our family, was to Bagehot, no less than to my sisters and myself, the most absorbing subject of interest during the winter, spring and summer months of 1859 and 1860. The arrival of the Indian mail was an all-important event. Everything that concerned my father was reflected into Bagehot’s life through the natural sympathy existing between them. As he wrote in a letter quoted on a future page, “I had a constant habit of referring to his mind and keeping up a sort of mental dialogue with him,” and in his letters to Bagehot my father wrote as he would have conversed with him, entirely freely and without reserve. To no one else did he write in so confidential a strain alike on public and private matters. Bagehot was an ideal depository for all confidences, as he possessed discretion, discernment, and a fine tact. Extracts from my father’s letters will show how constantly my father’s mind also was in touch with Bagehot’s, after he left for India. Bagehot’s answers to these letters were returned to him from India; but no trace of them can now be found. In December, 1860, he wrote to my sister: “The box from India has just come and I have examined it, but it contains nothing of any interest. My own letters come back, which gave me a turn.” Not being in the habit of keeping letters, he probably destroyed these at once.
The last act in my father’s career is dwelt on somewhat lengthily in this Life of Walter Bagehot, not only because it is distinctly connected with Bagehot’s position among the politicians of his day, but because it directly influenced his own personal attitude towards public affairs. Both my father and Bagehot had what Bagehot designated as experiencing natures. Both natures expanded in proportion as their circumstances expanded. The colossal character of the work in India that my father had undertaken, and the buoyant confident spirit in which he tackled it, appealed to Bagehot’s imagination, and quickened his own feeling of self-confidence. He found himself in close intimate contact with work which was on a bigger scale than any he had previously coped with, work which was, at that moment, of momentous importance to the empire. Bagehot was called by some of his contemporaries “a sort of supplementary Chancellor of the Exchequer”. This honorary position was first earned when he found himself in the position of interpreting my father’s great work in India to the public in England through the pages of the Economist.
My father lost no opportunity of impressing upon Bagehot the strong antipathy he felt against any personal element entering into the criticism of his measures, or into any public question whatsoever. As Bagehot said in his memoir of my father: “Few men ever transacted so much important business with so little of the pettiness of personal feeling”. But even if my father had not expressed this antipathy, it would have been impossible for Bagehot to have been guided, even unconsciously, when writing of him, by personal interest or affection. His taste in literary matters was morally fastidious, and a clear-sighted sincerity alone could satisfy it. He had “a concern for the simple truth,” Matthew Arnold’s words written when first he recognised in Bagehot’s essays this purity of aim. Nevertheless, if intimacy with my father had been a lucky turn in fortune’s wheel for Bagehot, it was no less a happy turn for my father to find so able and appreciative an exponent of his Indian measures as Bagehot proved to be. Bagehot estimated the value of my father’s policy together with my father’s character and power of carrying out that policy. What is wise in a strong man may be foolish in a weaker man. Bagehot recognised the value of my father’s purity and moral strength, the force and simplicity of his nature, and the great power he possessed of succeeding in carrying out his aims. Courage is required to write favourably of those who are known to belong to you. This courage Bagehot possessed; moreover, he could well stand the ordeal of frankly owning his appreciation for his father-in-law’s public work. Statesmen attended to what Bagehot said because of the impartial and obviously sincere manner in which he conducted all controversy. Politicians of all parties recognised that Bagehot stood outside the pale of political strife, its frictions, jealousies, compromises and expediencies. Sir Charles Wood, as Secretary of State for India, attended to what Bagehot wrote in the Economist about Indian matters; Gladstone watched what he wrote, not only of himself but of others; Sir Stafford Northcote appealed to Bagehot in a financial difficulty, and at once adopted his suggestions. Sir M. Grant Duff said truly: “he [Bagehot] was in his proper place as a deeply interested spectator and critic of public affairs”. Public men knew that they were being watched by Bagehot, and were in their turn deeply interested in his criticisms of their political actions. Bagehot might drape his published writings with a reserve and moderation becoming to the discussion of public matters in an authority such as the Economist newspaper, but those who were intimate with him at home knew how deep could be his affections, how enthusiastic his admirations, and how justly he appreciated the great qualities in my father.
After arriving in India, my father wrote:—
Calcutta, 8th December, 1859.
“There was an impression in some quarters that my appointment would not be very agreeable to Lord Canning, but his letters which met me on my way out and on my arrival here show very much the contrary. I cannot express in terms too strong the willingness of every one here to aid me in every way. It may be that they cannot do much, but certainly the will is not wanting.
“I have had a great deputation of the Chamber of Commerce and the India Planters’ Association this week to present an address, and another from the Native Association. They are very confiding and express themselves very willing to be taxed if done fairly. I don’t think they will be a difficult people to manage.”
The following letters from Lord Canning were those to which my father alluded. He confided them to Bagehot’s care.
22nd September, 1859.
“Dear Mr. Wilson,
“By the last mail I have heard that your appointment is certain, and Sydney tells me that you will leave England in October.
“I therefore write this to meet you as you set foot on the first outpost of our Indian Empire (not a cheerful specimen of it), and to carry to you an early and very sincere welcome. I am only sorry that it will not be possible for me to greet you in person when you land in Calcutta, my plans for a visit to the N.W.P. and Punjab have long been made and meetings with the native chiefs fixed.
“I start on the 9th or 10th of next month; how long it may be before I return to Calcutta I cannot yet say. I hope to pass a part at least of the next hot season in the hills, but if need be I shall come down to Bengal again at the end of April or May before going to Simla. But I am very desirous to see you before you set to work, and as you will get to Calcutta just at the time of year when the journey can be made with ease and pleasantly, I would propose to you to join the Camp, as soon as you conveniently can do so after landing; seven or eight days will take you to Agra and two days more to Delhi; if I shall have reached that distance before you overtake me you will see much that is worth seeing of men and things military and civil whilst in Camp and under circumstances of unusual interest, and you will realise at once the difference between Calcutta and India, which is not easily taken in at first, great as it is. There are several points upon which I wish to speak with you, connected with our finances, and which a few days of talk will dispose of more effectually than reams of letters; five weeks’ absence from Calcutta will enable you to spend at least a fortnight in Camp and to see much with your own eyes by the way, including most of our great public works. I cannot at present propose a distinct plan to you because I do not at all know by which steamer in October you will leave England, but as soon as I hear this, I will describe a more definite arrangement than is possible at this moment. There is another matter, you will probably find it very difficult to suit yourself at once with a house in Calcutta. I do not know whether any of your family accompany you, but if so the difficulty will be increased. I will therefore leave orders that apartments in a wing of Government House shall be ready for yourself and yours on your arrival. My whole establishment will, almost to a man, be up country, but you will find no difficulty in making provision for household wants. Should your daughters be with you it might perhaps be more agreeable to them in your absence to fix their residence at Barrackpore, fifteen miles from Calcutta; if so one of the houses in the park shall be at their disposal, but this is a subsidiary arrangement which can easily be settled when the time comes. I shall no doubt hear something certain of your movements before I leave Calcutta. Upon doing so I will send another letter to meet you at Galle.
Yours very faithfully,
4th November, 1859.
“Dear Mr. Wilson,
“You will have received at Aden a letter which I wrote before yours of the 25th August reached me. I send this to catch you at Madras, and to assure you that you shall find everything in Calcutta ready for your reception to such a degree as I hope to spare you all inconvenience and trouble. In saying this I refer to bodily comforts mainly; but pray dismiss from your mind all suspicion that you will in more important matters meet with any antagonism, open or silent, on the part of Officers of Government. I see that Sir C. Wood has this apprehension as well as yourself, but I will almost undertake to say that none shall show itself, and I will confidently answer for its being put down if it does. I will send to meet you at Calcutta, a memorandum strictly private of the disposition, usefulness, capacity or incapacity of those with whom you will be brought into immediate contact; you will, I think, find it of service and reassuring. I entirely concur with you as to the blot in India of the divided responsibility of the financial and revenue department. I do not think that you will find any financial officer of the Government of India to disagree with you on this point, certainly none whose opinion is worth having, but if there be such, depend upon it, his opinion will not be in your way.
“I will write to you again to Calcutta respecting the arrangements for your run up country. I got a letter from Sir C. Wood yesterday, 3rd October, in which he seems to hope that I would not leave Calcutta before your arrival. I would willingly have stayed, if that were possible, but it was not so, after the engagements I had made with the native chiefs, and moreover my presence in Oude and elsewhere has been productive already of results which will be of great and immediate effect upon our financial task. The Commander-in-Chief is in Camp with me, and will remain until you come up. I will endeavour so to spin out the next business of my tour (I leave this place to-morrow) as not to pass beyond Agra before you arrive. An officer of my staff will present himself on board the steamer as soon as she anchors at Garden Reach and shall conduct you to Government House, where altho’ necessarily denuded greatly of household, by my being in Camp, I hope that Mrs. Wilson and her daughters will find themselves fairly comfortable.
“I beg you to offer them my hearty welcome, and also my regret that I cannot signify it in person.
“Believe me, dear Mr. Wilson,
22nd November, 1859.
“Dear Mr. Wilson,
“I write this to meet you at Calcutta, where you will arrive about the 28th. I am sanguine that a few days’ interview with those, amongst whom your labours will lie, will dispel any apprehension you have entertained of thwarting or opposition or even of lukewarm aid.
“In a recent letter, Sir C. Wood expressed a hope that I should remain in Calcutta to help you against any such discouragements, but I could not, without risk of causing suspicions and much mischief, have put off my meetings with the native chiefs, and the rewarding and recementing of relations with them, even if I had received his letter in time, and so far as your own facilities for your work are concerned it is quite unnecessary. I dare say that capital will be made by the newspapers and elsewhere of my being absent when you arrive, but this is of no great moment; I think, however, it is a reason (though a minor one) for your coming on a visit to the Camp, as soon as you can do so conveniently. The fact of your having been in personal communication with the Governor-General and returning, as will be obvious, armed with his fullest support, will be the best possible antidote to any mischievous representation; it will also help your way with all your colleagues and highest subordinates, but the strongest reasons are in the real business we have in hand, the re-casting of the financial department, the so-called license tax and the paper currency, and there are some minor matters.
“As regards the financial department, I am strongly inclined to carry out the scheme which was proposed by Lord Dalhousie in 1854 and 1855 but rejected by the Court of Directors, for joining the home and financial departments, but I think that some modification of that scheme is necessary. The license tax is too long a chapter to enter upon here. I recommend you to ask Mr. Harrington to give you verbally a full account of the course that measure took; there has been a good deal of misunderstanding about it; still it is not yet in a right shape. I heard a day or two ago that none of the local Governments, except Bombay, had sent in their opinions on it. I am very anxious about the paper currency. I look to it as one of our surest though an indirect means of relief. The care must be to make it safe from abuse in times of temptation to the Government. My present opinion is that there is no way of doing this so satisfactorily as by giving to Parliament a control over the issue. Wood tells me you are favourable to the measure, but he does not say in what shape, nor do I clearly know his own views upon it. The legal tender of sovereigns is a small question. I am opposed to it, but if the paper currency is taken in hand it will cease to be called for.
“As to my movements I shall be at Agra on the 26th. I shall spin out my stay there but shall not be able to extend it beyond the 6th or 7th of December. Thence the Camp will march (12 miles a day) to Delhi, but I shall stop at Muttra, or near to it, for three days. This will bring me to Delhi about the 21st or 22nd December. You will of course be sworn in at once on your arrival. I can hardly judge how much time you will require to look about you and to examine the above-mentioned subjects, but if you could start within a week of the 20th of November, you would easily come up with the Camp several marches this side of Delhi. Lt.-Col. Gale, Secty. P.W.D., who probably has made the voyage from England with you, has to join me forthwith, but I have told him I can dispense with him till I get to Delhi. His convoy might be useful to you. Nobody knows the road better, or what there is worth seeing upon it. Less than a month would suffice to spend a week in Camp and to see everything of note from Calcutta to Delhi.
“Let me add that the sooner any man who has to deal with the administration of this country learns the immeasurable differences there are between Calcutta and India, the better. I would have given the best year of my life to have made this tour I am now making before 1857. You already know that the flag staff house at Barrackpore is at the disposal of Mrs. Wilson.
22nd November, 1859.
“Dear Mr. Wilson,
“This will be delivered to you by Captain Delane, 2nd in command of my body-guard, who has orders to go on board of your steamer as soon as it arrives, and to conduct yourself and Mrs. Wilson to Government House. I hope, more than I expect, that you will find things comfortable in the wing which has been prepared for you; the whole house is more or less in the hands of workmen for its triennial repair which I was obliged to postpone last year when they were due, thereby giving the white ants an extra chance. The person in charge of Government House is named Westfield; he has often ushered you into Lady Palmerston’s drawing-room. I think you will find him useful, in bringing servants and providing for other wants, at all events he is very willing to be so; I mean of course servants for personal use, he has his own staff for the care of the house. I don’t think I have anything more to say in this note than again to bid you and yours heartily welcome. The letters which accompany this you had better open in some quieter spot than the deck of a disgorging steamer.
“P.S.—Captain Delane is brother to Delane of the Times.”
On his voyage out and while in India my father kept up a constant correspondence with Sir Charles Wood and other officials, copies of which he sent to Bagehot. Out of a few of these very lengthy letters the following extracts outline the work my father had in hand. Soon after his arrival in Calcutta he wrote:—
“My dear Sir Charles Wood,
“In prosecuting preliminary enquiries before going to Lord Canning, the great difficulty I have experienced is the impossibility of obtaining information, not from a want of will to give it, but from the difficulty of reaching it.
“A Chancellor of the Exchequer in England would find it a difficult task to arrange his annual budget and especially to impose new taxes if he had to consult every revenue officer in the country as to what would prove best. He would have as many and as conflicting opinions as we have here, and his position would not be mended if, not content with offering an opinion if asked or not, many of them were to rush into print and each to show that some tax or other could not be borne. The truth is there is so much to be said against any and every tax taken separately that it is not difficult to raise a prejudice against them all, and thus make any tax difficult. But what I feel is, that as all are unpopular the best course is to take that which will best bear discussion, and firmly stand by it. I do not believe in any serious opposition if fair ground is taken and a firm front maintained.
On the next day he writes to Sir Charles Trevelyan with whom he had discussed public matters at Madras on his way to Calcutta:—
“I have now had ten days clear work here and begin to have some measure of the extent of work to be done. Departmentally alone it is enormous; the whole fabric seems to have arisen without any attempt at any general system or plan, and with regard to Finance and Expenditure and checks, including pay and audit, we seem here to be much in the same condition as we were in England, under our old Exchequer system, with numerous separate audits, and with little or no Treasury control, and in those days with a very imperfect Parliamentary control. But perhaps one of the most imperfect departments is the Commissariat. I believe we shall have to go through here much the same process that we did in England in order to reduce everything into a system. No one is more familiar with the reforms which have been made of late years in England than yourself—and especially as regards the Commissariat branch—I have sent for all the minutes and regulations in England upon these subjects.
“Upon the plans of estimates, sanction, and budget I think from our conversation the other day we are pretty well agreed.
“May I express a hope that you will instruct your officers entrusted with the settlement of the imposts that no expression will be used that can be construed into an exemption from any general tax to which they in common with others may be exposed, so that the difficulties (theoretical, I think) which have been raised in respect of the Bengal Zemindars may not arise in respect to new settlement.
“We arrived in Calcutta on the 20th all the better for our short but agreeable stay at Madras, and the fresh fruit you sent on board. I start to-morrow for Meerut and Delhi to join Lord Canning for a week or ten days. I shall be absent five weeks. Let me hear from you as often and at as great length upon these to me all-absorbing topics as you conveniently can.
“I am very anxious for the result of the Military Finance Committee.
To Sir Charles Wood my father writes: “A fair Income Tax has everything now to commend it. (1) The merchants one and all have declared publicly and to me privately that they are all in favour of it, if generally extended. (2) The press has done the same. (3) It would give us far more money. (4) And above all, it would be the introduction of a principle of taxation which, being just and general, may lay the basis for a sounder financial system, and of a revenue to the State flexible and adapted to emergencies. As to the practicability of assessing it, I have no fear if we only take powers sufficiently large and discretionary to assess Schedule D somewhat in accordance with the habits of the people, giving a wide margin to the Commissioners of the districts to determine the precise plan.
“P.S.—Above all things we must take our stand upon some intelligible principle in taxation and stick firmly to it—vacillation and hesitation will ruin anything in this country. They like to be ruled if you are only just and equal in your dealings. At the present moment they are not in the mood to resist anything. I am glad to find that your views and my own are perfectly in unison, so that I may securely proceed without fearing any cross that might mar our best exertions. If I find Lord C. as well agreed with me, I shall propose to act at once on my return to Calcutta, as something must be done with Harrington’s bill which is now lying over referred to a Committee.”
After arriving at the Camp my father writes to Sir Charles Wood:—
“We have had to-day a visit in Camp from Sir R. Montgomery, but who has left this evening for the Punjab. We took the opportunity of having a long discussion upon the subject of the new taxes best adapted for India, and particularly for this part. Lord Canning and I had full four hours of it. I read to them all I had written to you upon the subject.
“The conclusions arrived at with ‘perfect unanimity’ were that the License duty is to be regarded as a permanent tax, but the Income Tax to be passed for five years, subject then to revision and reconsideration.”
“Calcutta, 1st February.
“My dear Sir C. Wood,
“I shall be glad to find that you adopt the suggestion of sending out Mr. Durand. We shall have so much to do with the military departments to bring them under control and order, that I shall be thankful for the assistance of one so well versed practically in this department—it is the chief point when I want assistance and support. I must not, however, say this much without adding that so far as Lord Clyde and Sir W. Mansfield are concerned, nothing could be better than their conduct in respect to affording every assistance and faculty in their power.
“We shall have a great labour in military affairs, in which department there is reason for enormous deduction. I shall be thankful if in any arrangement you make you can give me additional military practical aid to assist in reduction. You know my views as to the necessity, if we are to have efficiency, of having departmental responsibility.”
4th February, 1860.
“Dear Sir W. Mansfield,
“I thank you very much for your letter of the 26th ult., because it lays bare and touches what seems to me to have been the real source of weakness and extravagance in India—divided authority in military matters. I become daily more of opinion that until we have one superior Military head for the whole Indian Army for all military administration, and one supreme Civil head, not in theory but in reality, responsible for military expenditure all over India, in short till we have our Horse Guards and our War Department for all India, as we have in England for the whole British Empire, it will be hopeless to make those reductions which are absolutely required, and I will add until all really military forces are under that single head.”
From “The Camp, Delhi,” my father wrote, 30th December, 1859:—
“My dear Walter,
“Lord Canning is so well satisfied and pleased with the Note plan, that I am to introduce a bill into the Legislation Council on my return to Calcutta. I have also all but settled my scheme of taxation. I mean to have an Income Tax proper, giving large discretion to the local officers and commissioners as to the mode of levying the tax under Schedule D. Our chief plan will be to assess the whole town at an aggregate sum, leaving the people in the town to apportion the assessment among themselves subject to the approval of an appeal to, by individuals, against what they think unfair, our own officers or commissioners. Then all classes will be included holders, Zemindars, public officers, from the Governor-General down.
“This country is magnificent and full of the most marvellous evidence of ancient grandeur. There is, however, no sympathy between the Europeans and the Natives and no bending to its increase. There is not the slightest Social communication.
“I cannot tell you how much advantage I have derived from coming up here. I shall have seen more of India in the first two months of my residence, both of its people and its surface, than most men do in a lifetime. Everywhere I see the European Officers and often many of the leading Bankers and Merchants (Natives).
“Our plan is to return and meet Lord Canning again in Camp a week hence, to spend one day and to get down to Calcutta, visiting Agra and many places on our way, about the 20th of January. We shall have travelled nearly 3000 miles up and down. With love to all.”
To my sisters and myself the unofficial side of life was recounted:—
“The Camp, Meerut,
20th December, 1859.
“My dear Eliza, Julia and Emmy,
“. . . We left on Saturday morning the 10th, crossed the river in the Governor-General’s barge to the south side of the Hooghly where the Station is, and found the State carriage (like one of the Queen’s on the Great Western) prepared for us, in which we travelled in as good a style as we could upon any English line to Runnegunge, the present limit of the line, 120 miles. It was a curious feeling when I had brought to my mind the planning of this line, and particularly the Branch to Runnegunge, which I remember deciding at Fontainville about ten years ago. Thus far we passed through a flat, rich country teeming with people and the richest of crops of every description. A goodly country to bear taxes!
“From Runnegunge we rode into the high hilly country which extends all the way to the banks of the Ganges, which river we crossed at Benares; that part of the journey occupied sixty hours, resting only about two hours at one of the Bungalows each day for the one meal which we took, saving cold tea, biscuits, and oranges as we journeyed on. The country all the way is perfectly beautiful. The flat parts all flanked with fine trees, tamarinds, mango groves, and every variety of large tree, in a park-like fashion. On each hand, at less or greater distances, we had magnificent ranges of hills rising in the most picturesque manner, rugged and pointed in their outlines, clothed with jungle wood to the top and resembling the steep hills near Chepstow. One hill, almost the only bare one, was a facsimile of Arthur’s Seat at Edinburgh. We arrived at the banks of the Ganges (follow me on the map) opposite Benares just as the sun was rising on Tuesday morning, and as we crossed the river I certainly never saw a more imposing City view than the Holy City presented stretching along the banks of the river, with its mosques and minarettes. We drove direct to the College of Benares where we were taken in by Mr. Griffith, the Chief Resident of the College. The Maharaja of Benares, the wealthiest Native of the country, had heard of my probable visit, and in order to have the first intimation had horsemen posted round Mr. Griffith’s for the whole day before. He wished to visit us, but I postponed receiving him till my return when I should have more leisure. He sent, however, presents of flowers, fruits, sweetmeats, etc. We rested all the morning with Mr. Griffith, who knew us at Westbury, his father being the late Clergyman of Corseling; we visited the College where we found Dulup Sing’s cousin one of the scholars, whom the people regard as the real representative of the family.
“On Thursday morning we started by railway from Allahabad to Cawnpore where we remained only two hours to dine. Our Bungalow was close to the place of the Massacre, which we went to see with Mr. Drummond, one of the best Officers of the District. We started by dark again and came on direct for the Camp, which we reached early on Sunday morning and found a most comfortable tent, with sitting-room in the centre and a bedroom on each side of it prepared for us next to Lord Canning’s. Everything in Camp, including tents, is in duplicate, so that when you arrive morning after morning you seem always to go into the same place again. You find everything in the new spot just as you left it two hours before in the last place. Everything is made as agreeable and comfortable as possible for us. We move daily in one of Lord Canning’s carriages appropriated to our use. We have Lord Clyde pitched close to us. We have General Mansfield and Lady Mansfield in the Camp and a great many public officers Yesterday we had Sir Robert Montgomery from the Punjab, with whom Lord Canning and I had a long conference. My business goes on as well as I could wish. Last night Lady Canning gave a dinner party, Lord Clyde, General Mansfield and Lady M. and many others were there. It was a curious sight when we came out of the tent with Lord Clyde to come away, to find a magnificently caparisoned elephant waiting for him to take him home. The beast quietly kneeled down. His Lordship walked up a ladder and seated himself on his high throne; the animal quietly rose, and proceeded with dignified steps on his way, Lord Clyde being as high as the top of the second storey window of an English house.
“This morning we made a most imposing entry into this Station (the cradle of the Mutiny). All the country through the whole line of march seemed turned out. In the Station there are some thousands of troops, English and Seikh, all paraded, and the whole scene was most striking. The Camp alone consists of 20,000 persons of all classes who move every day. You can conceive the space of ground which the whole streets of tents cover. The country is everywhere extremely quiet, the people feel themselves completely beaten, are annoyed at their folly and failure, and more than ever look with astonishment upon British courage, intrepidity, and power. They seem eager only that the past shall be forgotten. Their leaders are all dead or taken. The prestige of England never stood higher. They are ready to submit to anything and to pay any taxes we impose; they are only astonished at our generosity and leniency after the deep offence we have received. Lord Canning’s progress through the country has had the best effect. I am glad I have come to the Camp. I could not have learned so much in any other way. It is likely I shall go from Delhi to Lahore and Umritza in the Punjab and get back to Calcutta about the 18th of January. We shall stay longer at the places on our way back.
“P.S.—The weather is brilliant, sunny, and cold.”
On 18th February my father brought forward his Budget in the Legislative Council at Calcutta. Bagehot wrote in the Economist of 24th March: “Mr. Wilson showed that the real Indian deficit was £4,060,809, and including home charges, was £9,016,909. He had, then, more than a £9,000,000 deficit to cover. We extract from the Bombay Gazette the following: ‘On Saturday, 18th February, Mr. Wilson rose in his place in the Legislative Council to make the statement about which England and India have been vainly speculating for the last six months. The demand for tickets to be present on the occasion seems to have been quite unprecedented in Calcutta, and, indeed, the people of the metropolis are now beginning to enjoy something of the excitement of Parliamentary life.’ ”
My father wrote to Bagehot:—
Calcutta, 22nd February, 1860.
“My dear Walter,
“They yield. I brought forward my Budget on Saturday. I cannot say with much doubt of its success, but it was certainly rather audacious. For six months they had been discussing whether they should have an Income Tax or a License Tax, or a Tobacco Duty, and I have given them all three, and so far from grumbling, all parties are rather vieing with each other in its support. The Englishman, the rabid opponent of Government, is now the loudest in approval. The Friend of India, you will see, is for him, very complimentary, and all the other papers approve; no one opposes. Even the Bengal Zemindars, who have seen their pretensions to exemption swept away for ever, approve. All these bills will pass without opposition. I also begin to see my way very clear to some very large reductions. The prosperity of the country is great, and its repose and tranquillity beyond precedent. The heavy hand of power shown during the Mutiny, and the great moderation pursued since, have effectually calmed everything. I shall be curious to see how the English papers will pick me to pieces.
“You must deal with my speech and my policy as you think best, without thinking of me at all. At this distance I may be treated as a stranger.”
“23rd February, 1860.
“I wrote to you yesterday with copies of my speech. I write to-day to explain what I find out is the real source of the enthusiasm, for no other word would express the fact, with which my schemes have been received. Yesterday some of the chief merchants called upon me and said, ‘Now, Sir, we know what to be about. We have never seen such heart in the trade of Calcutta before. We never had any knowledge before, and therefore we could not have confidence. When we contemplated transactions for the future we always felt in a terror that some sudden unforeseen financial disaster would upset us by making a light moving market. Now we see our way clear upon public matters as we do upon our own. We would gladly have paid double what you take for such a boon.’ This is their language and one can understand it.
“They added too, ‘The policy inaugurated holds out to us indefinite extension of trade, especially as we see the firm hand with which the Government will be carried on’.”
In the Economist of 31st March, Bagehot wrote a leader of five columns on the Indian Budget, explaining in detail the policy my father was inaugurating. He ended his article by the following paragraph: “Such is the scheme which Mr. Wilson has proposed for remedying the financial difficulties of India; and, though the Economist cannot but be suspected of partiality on the subject, we think that we run no risk in saying that in all its main provisions it will be as acceptable to the public of England as we know it has been to that of Calcutta”. In the same number of the Economist he published an extract, four columns in length, from my father’s speech on the Budget entitled “Mr. Wilson’s Impressions of the Productiveness of India,” and in the issue of 7th April Bagehot wrote an article, “Mr. Wilson’s Plan for a Paper Currency in India,” and another extract from the Budget Speech, “Mr. Wilson on the Amount of the Indian Deficit: its real cause and its true cure”. On 4th April Bagehot wrote a long article, “The Income Tax in England and in India,” and in the next number an extract from my father’s speech on the Currency, delivered at Calcutta, 3rd March, headed, “Mr. Wilson’s Remarks on a Gold Currency for India”.
“Mr. Wilson’s Impressions of the Productiveness of India.
(The Economist, 31st March, 1860.)
“Sir, I am fearful of wearying the Council with all these details, but I trust you will bear with me. We have a grave conjunction of affairs to deal with. I think you will already begin to perceive that the evil is deeper and broader than at first it appeared. I think you will begin to see that our task will be heavier, and must extend to great questions of administrative reform, as well as to immediate questions of finance. You will, therefore, I am sure, pardon me if I feel it to be my duty, to the best of my ability, to unbare before you the whole extent of the evils as they present themselves to my mind. Sir, I sincerely trust that in the free observations which I feel compelled in the performance of my duty to make I shall be understood not to reflect unfavourably either upon any individual or upon any class. It is to the system, and the system alone, that I refer. Nay, I will say more. It has been a matter of surprise to me that, with so defective a system, greater evils have not arisen, and that they have not I attribute only to individual zeal and care.”
“Mr. Wilson on the Amount of the Indian Deficit: Its Real Cause and Its Real Cure.
(The Economist, 7th April, 1860.)
“But, Sir, there is one point upon which I must remark. Until we have one central point of responsible control of Army finances, as of all others, established, it will be in vain to expect great reduction. Our first course must be to consider carefully what force is sufficient, and not more than sufficient. Our next point must be to have carefully revised estimates, what is here improperly called a Budget System, for military and all other charges, submitted to the Supreme Government annually, as they are in England to Parliament, to sanction only what is necessary, and strictly to keep every province and every department within their limits. Till you have this central financial and revenue control, it is in vain to look for economy;—when you have it, you may safely give much greater executive responsibility to local authority. Sir, in England there is more local government than in any country in the world; but there is no country where the central authority and control of the Government itself is so strong. And, I will add, that it will be in vain that we make improvements and reforms in our finances if these administrative reforms do not take place. You must rely upon a sound system if you will have permanency, and not upon any individual, especially in a country where individuals change so rapidly. Sir, this is nothing new. You have had Finance Commissions over and over again. What have they done? In looking over the archives of the Government of India, I must say, that the minutes left on record of no Governor-General have struck me with more force than those of Lord Ellenborough, and they have induced me to regret that his stay in India had not been longer. That noble Lord is a distinguished member of a great party, always opposed to that with which I have had the honour of acting, and my testimony may therefore be regarded as impartial. Sir, that noble Lord saw and understood the evil of which I speak: he warned the Court of Directors of it. On the 7th of August, 1842, he wrote as follows:—
“ ‘But I cannot hold from the Honourable Court the expression of my decided and long-formed opinion, that whatever diminution may be made by my exertions in the amount of expenditure will only be of a temporary character, without an entire change in the financial department, and some very material modification of the system of carrying on the Government. There is now no one officer charged with the duty of viewing the expenditure of the State as a whole, and of considering every proposed or existing item of charge, not by itself only, but with reference to the total charge upon the revenue.
“ ‘Without this concentration of duty and authority in a really responsible officer, I have no hope of giving permanence to the influence of economical principles in the financial administration of India, or of even dealing satisfactorily with the details of expenditure.’ ”
On 9th May, Walter writes to my sister from London:—
“I have read Sir C. Trevelyan. He says your father will cause a rebellion and that all his laws are unnecessary. Mr. Lowe thinks your father’s Budget masterly”.
The following letters and extract from the Economist, written by Bagehot, explain the disastrous course Sir Charles Trevelyan had thought fit to take respecting the measures of the Central Government of India:—
“Sir Charles Trevelyan’s Minute on Mr. Wilson’s Budget.
(The Economist, 12th May, 1860.)
“Sir Charles Trevelyan has entered on the Minutes of the Madras Presidency an elaborate protest against Mr. Wilson’s scheme of finance. We greatly lament the publication of this document in India, and are apprehensive of its consequences. We scarcely know how the natives of India are to be governed, if one of their rulers tells them they ought not to be taxed, and the rest of their rulers tell them they shall be taxed. But in this country it is very important that we should hear all that can be said against Mr. Wilson’s plans as well as all that can be said for them, and Sir Charles Trevelyan’s recall does not render it the less necessary that we should examine fully the nature of his objections. Indian finance is a very difficult subject, and though the minute of Sir Charles Trevelyan is rather too like a political pamphlet, we may overlook the defects of its form. We believe the publication of it will tend to strengthen the confidence which is at present felt in the soundness of Mr. Wilson’s plans. On a subject so vast and so little investigated as Indian finance, we could not be sure that there were not some considerations which we had wholly overlooked. We have now heard everything which can be said against Mr. Wilson’s scheme by a very competent and seemingly not reluctant critic; if he has discovered no conclusive objection to them, it is very unlikely that any such objection can be found.
“It will be remembered that Mr. Wilson found the deficit in India larger than he expected. It was £9,000,000 last year, and will probably be £6,500,000 this year. To meet this formidable deficit he imposed three taxes—an income tax, a licence tax, and a tobacco tax. Sir Charles’s criticism on these taxes is distinct enough. He says, first, that they are unjust as respects a great part of India; secondly, that they are unnecessary; lastly, that they will cause a rebellion. We will take these objections one after another. . . .
“Sir C. Trevelyan thinks there is danger in the course Mr. Wilson has taken. But is there not greater danger in his own course? He has told the natives of Madras that new taxes which are unjust and unnecessary are about to be levied upon them. He has used his authority as local Governor to spread this doctrine. He has hinted that he expects the natives will rebel. Who will be to blame if they do rebel? Surely the ruler who was instructed with an authority over 30,000,000 of people, and who incited them to resistance.”
My father writes on 4th July, 1860:—
“With regard to the great Madras revolt, I have probably been the calmest spectator either here or at home. From the first I anticipated trouble from him and warned my colleagues of the danger, and our confidential despatch of the 9th of April was written by me in consequence of my apprehensions. But it was all in vain. I expected trouble from him, but never that he would proceed to such extremities.
“As soon as we received his minute our line was taken at once, I saw it would never do to make any reply to him. . . . So we replied to his minute that we must decline any controversy, but that our observations would be made to the Secretary of State. And when I found that he published it even before it was in our hands, I came at once to the conclusion that a firm and decisive front was our policy, and if accompanied by great temperance and moderation, I felt quite confident all would come right. Our despatches to the Secretary of State, up to one which goes by this mail, will, I believe, do more to reveal the real character of Indian Finance than all that has been written the last four years. I hope they will all be presented to Parliament. . . .
“But much as I was prepared for trouble from him, and easily as I took it when it came, I own it was very annoying. Up to the moment there was not a dissenting voice. The measures were received with acclamation. But upon the whole I doubt if the ordeal of discussion to which they have now been exposed will not be without its advantage. I cannot say that I feel less practically secure than I did before. What we have to do is to show no hesitation. Firmness and justice are the only policy for India. No vacillation or you are gone; they like to be governed, and respect an iron hand, if it be but equal and just. I have, I think, more confidence than ever that the taxes will be established and collected, and without disturbance; but the task is still an enormous one.
“However, you have no idea of the increased capacity of the mind for undertaking a special service of this kind when removed to a new scene of action and when one throws off all the cares and engagements, less or more trivial, by which one is surrounded in ordinary life, and throws one’s whole soul into such special service, and particularly when one feels assured of having the power to carry it out. I cannot tell you with what ease one determines the largest and gravest question here compared with in England, and I am certain that the more one can exercise real power, there is by far the greater tendency to moderation, care and prudence.
“My colleagues are in every respect what I could wish. Lord Canning has a very competent mind, is open to conviction whatever his views may have been at first. Sir James Outram is a man of the highest honour, with the least self-seeking I have ever seen in any man; and Sir B. Frere is one of the most competent, clear-headed, original-thinking, and amiable men I ever knew. We have not had an approach to a disagreeable word since my arrival. If we have differed, friendly discussion has brought it right.
“About the Economist and your threatened opposition. I am very glad to see that in every way it holds its own so well. Its writing is certainly as a whole very good and its views sound. One number only I complained of because it consisted in a great measure of an extract from my speech and another from my minute. The more I see of life, and public life, the less I like to see my name prominent in documents. Throughout the late contest I never put anything in the shape of a minute, but always in the form of a despatch from the whole Government. It removes that unhappy personal character to all public proceedings which Trevelyan could not resist. So pray say nothing, and admit nothing that looks like a personal puff or undue pushing forward of me. The way you have treated the Trevelyan matter was fair, reasonable and dignified.”
To my eldest sister my father wrote from Barrackpore:—
“19th July, 1860.
“It was quite cheerful to have but half a sheet from you by the last Mail. It was very thoughtful to notice my birthday which is more than I did here. I shall be very sorry to deprive you of Julia and Emmy, but still I am selfish enough to hope that circumstances will combine to enable them to come.
“I suppose you have finished your London visit long ere this and are again settled at Clevedon. I hope you enjoyed it. As you say I don’t think the Trevelyan affair has done me any harm, but the contrary in England; but there is no doubt it has given us a great shock among the natives here. Up to the time of those minutes appearing, all Europeans showed a combined and united front, and that had a great effect upon the natives. Had that not been disturbed they would never have ventured even to think of opposition. As it is, that moral power and restraint has been removed and what was like a charm has been broken. Certainly all that could have been done to counteract the effect has been done. On the instant here, we declared our undiminished determination to proceed with our plans, and the prompt recall of Trevelyan gave all the support to that determination we could have desired. For a bad job the best has been made of it, but the task is heavy and I fear a long one. Write to me frequently, it is a great pleasure to receive your letters. I cannot write often.
“Remember me to the good people at Langport and to Sir Arthur and other old friends.
“With love to you all, believe me,
Always your affectionate Papa,
Walter wrote to my sister from London on 2nd August: “They say Sir Charles Trevelyan is on board the Calcutta mail; that he would take command, and lost it”.
In his memoir of my father Bagehot writes:—
“The reception of Mr. Wilson’s Budget was universally favourable until the publication of the minute of Sir C. Trevelyan, which, as was inevitable, produced a serious reaction. Heavy taxation can never be very pleasant, and in the Presidency of Madras Sir Charles gave the sanction of the Government—of the highest authority the people saw—to the hope that they would not be taxed. The prompt recall of Sir Charles, however, did much to convince the natives of the firm determination of the English Government, and Mr. Wilson hoped that the ordeal of criticism through which his measures had to pass would ultimately be favourable to them. It certainly secured them from the accusation of being prepared in haste, but it purchased this benefit at the loss to the public of much precious time, and to Mr. Wilson of precious health. Of the substance of this minute it is sufficient to say that its fundamental theory, that additional taxation of any sort was unnecessary in India, has scarcely been believed by any one except its author.”
From Barrackpore my father writes:—
“19th July, 1860.
“My dear Walter,
“I have now got a Military Finance Commission in full swing; a Civil Finance Commission also going. I am re-organising the Finance Pay and Accountant General’s Departments in order to get all the advantage of the English System of Estimates, Pay Office and Audit; and this with as little disturbance of existing plans as possible,—the latter is a point I have specially aimed at. On the whole and almost without an exception I have willing allies in all the existing offices. No attempt that I see is anywhere made to thwart or impede.
“You can well understand then, how full my hands are, if to all these you add the new currency arrangements, and you will not then wonder that my health has rendered it necessary to come down here for a day or two to get some fresh air.”
The following is the last letter my father wrote to Bagehot. By the same mail—some unconscious prophetic instinct seems to have been at work—he wrote to each of my sisters and myself separately, and in a specially affectionate tone. In all he expressed the desire he felt that my sister Julia and I should be with him.
“My dear Walter,
“We have been in great anxiety for the last fortnight for pending famine in the N.W.P., but at the last moment rain has come and has just saved us. We had already begun our preliminary preparations to meet it. As it is the crops may not be good and trade may still be affected by high prices.
“I have had rather a bad attack with the hot damp rain and tremendous work; but I am getting on well, and with my measures, and am the better for having been a week at Barrackpore. Capital accounts from the Nilgiris.” (My mother had been sent there for reasons of health.) “I hope Julia and Emmy will come. I know nothing yet. My Income Tax is now law and will begin collection on salaries and dividends next week. I managed to get it through the L.C. without a single division and without giving up one point of importance.
“My Licence Bill will be finished in a few days and the Currency Bill has gone as far as I want it till October. I have every reason to be well satisfied and am very happy now that the famine is no longer imminent.
“With love to you all,
On 11th August a calamity in every sense awful had befallen us: yet for four weeks, all unconscious of our loss, we had been passing happy days at The Arches, following our usual pursuits and receiving and answering Indian letters.
In the Diary on 12th September is noted the following: “Walter stayed at home to write for the Economist. At one o’clock we saw Papa’s death in the Times. Julia found it and called me and we both ran to Walter’s study.”
From my room I had heard a cry and confused sounds of voices and I too ran to Walter’s study. The moments there, and those before and after, can never be forgotten. Then came a blank. The clock—all marking of time—stopped. When the hands began to move again they seemed to be moving on another dial.
The following message had been received at the Indian Office on the 11th, and was forwarded to us, but did not reach The Arches till 13th September:—
“Alexandria, 4th September.—A message received from Suez sent by order of the Governor-General of India informs me that the Right Hon. James Wilson died on Saturday evening at 7 o’clock. He was interred on Sunday evening. Fifteen minute guns were fired from Fort William.—R. Colquehoun.”
Walter Bagehot at once wrote to his father.
“Hour after hour,” Mr. Bagehot wrote in answer, “makes me feel more and more sad and my heart aches for you all more than I can describe. The loss of such a parent, and such a man is not easily borne, nor can its extent be at once comprehended. I think of you as a fellow-sufferer quite with his own children. Your affection for him I know, and his for you was always shown in a way not to be mistaken, and the relation of father and son seemed as complete as it could be. Your loss I cannot attempt to estimate. I will come to you whenever you wish. I feel almost that we have no right to intrude on sorrow so deep and trying.”
No words could prove better the modesty and unselfishness of Mr. Bagehot’s character. He was willing generously to share with another the tie which existed between himself and the son who had ever been his “greatest treasure”. Mr. and Mrs. Bagehot came to The Arches on 17th September. They were the first friends we saw.
Letters of sympathy poured in—mostly addressed to Bagehot—from relations, friends, and my father’s political colleagues, one and all expressing the belief that my father’s death was a national calamity. On the day we heard of it Mr. Hutton wrote to Bagehot:—
“Is this terrible thing true! I cannot bear to think it. I see no telegraphic despatch from India and have very faint hopes it may be false. I feel, and always felt, the warmest regard for Mr. Wilson and am quite stunned.” Again he writes: “It struck me with horror to hear that Miss Wilson learned it in that way. It was bad enough for a man friend. God knows how I feel for them all and for you. . . . The whole thing is terrible beyond expression, the more so that I cannot reconcile the idea of death with Mr. Wilson in any way.”
Later he writes to Bagehot: “All I implore of you is to let some worthy notice be taken of his life and character in the Economist, and soon, before the warmth of public sentiment is quite cooled concerning his sad end. If you delay long this will be so in the outer world. And I feel very strongly that something is due to him in his own paper, as I am sure you will do.
“That paragraph in the Times haunts me still. I don’t know that I can explain why the whole thing weighs on me so much like griefs which have cut far deeper. I think you are mistaken in fancying you estimated him intellectually more highly than I did. My very incapacity to deal with his subjects in the same fashion at all, joined to great enough appreciation of the subjects to make me see how powerfully they were dealt with, made his intellect to me most fascinating. I have often on Friday nights walked down to the very end of Pall Mall with him at near three in the morning, merely to get half an hour’s more conversation.”
On 17th September Mr. Hutton writes:—
“My dear Bagehot,
“It occurred to me on Friday that you might be able to write a Memoir of Mr. Wilson as a special supplement. It would be very good. I did not think it inconsistent with having a briefer notice during the first excitement of public feeling. Greg’s gave no idea of the massive simplicity and geniality of his social character and tastes, which in a great financier was exceedingly remarkable. Thorough enjoyment of all the more genial sides of life distinguished him, I should think, from Peel and Lewis and Lord Overstone and all those whose interests came nearest to his.”
Mr. Greg wrote to Bagehot on 13th September: “I have scarcely been able to realise the thing. Wilson was the last man in the world with whom one could connect the idea of death. Of all possible calamities it was about the only one I had never dreamed of. I believe in my heart the country could not have sustained a greater loss—and as for his family—!”
Truly the loss was irreparable to us, and during the many years that have passed since that terribly memorable 12th September, 1860, more and more has it been felt to be so. Nevertheless how unutterably sadder and more difficult our lives must have been had not Walter Bagehot been one of us. So completely one with us did we feel him to be, so naturally and unobtrusively did he at once take my father’s place in managing all our family affairs and in settling all matters great and small in which our interests were concerned that perhaps, at the time, we hardly realised how much of the great blank he filled, how much more altered our family life would have been without his help.
“Let us pull together in all things,” he wrote about that time to one of the family.
The following extracts from letters written to William Halsey in a measure reveal the effect produced on Bagehot by the news of my father’s death.
24th September, 1860.
“My dear William,
“As you anticipated, long before your last letter we had the awful intelligence of Mr. Wilson’s death. It was in the strictest sense awful news—at least to me. In India where you are daily and hourly familiar with such sudden calamities I have no doubt that you are able to realise the uncertainty of human life, but I never realised it at all. Especially in Mr. Wilson’s case. I never really contemplated the contingency of his death. He had so much life, vigour, energy, that it was and even still is—peculiarly difficult to me to connect him with that idea. I have never felt the shock of any event so much. I hope we are well here,—that is as well as we could reasonably expect. Julia saw her father’s death in the paper notwithstanding the telegram which you hoped would have prevented it. It was a terrible scene for the time.”
A fortnight later Bagehot wrote:—
“I suffered deeply from Mr. Wilson’s death—more than I could have supposed possible. I had such extreme pleasure in talking to him on his favourite subjects before he went to India, and since he went away, from writing on the same subjects in the Economist where he used to write, that I had a constant habit of referring to his mind and keeping up a sort of mental dialogue with him; and for several days I was almost bewildered at feeling he was gone. Even now, though I have known of his death almost a fortnight, I am to some extent.
The Economist, bordered with black, appeared on 15th September. Bagehot had decided to write a Memoir as a supplement to a future number, therefore wrote no article himself in that number, but quoted the Leader from the Times.
“The Death of the Right Honourable James Wilson.
“The conductors of this journal do not feel that they can at present do more than record this mournful event in the words of others. It has come too suddenly upon them. If they should themselves say anything on the subject, it must be hereafter and deliberately.”
(From the “Times” of 13th September).
“Scarcely has the grave closed over Sir Henry Ward and all the hopes and aspirations connected with his appointment to the Government of Madras, when we are called upon to record the loss of a man who filled the most prominent situation in India, and to whom we, at least—and, we believe, the great majority of the community in England and in our Eastern Empire,—looked as the regenerator of the finances of India. Mr. Wilson has sunk under the combined effects of a climate to which his constitution was unsuited, and the cares and anxieties of a position of almost unexampled difficulty, labour, and responsibility. He had just life enough given him to carry through the Indian Legislature his great scheme for remodelling the taxation of the country. The complement to that scheme, the reorganisation of the revenue department, the establishment of an efficient central check on expenditure,—we fear he had not time to realise. With him is gone down to the grave a vast amount of knowledge and experience of the principles and details of all subjects connected with finance, together with an acquaintance with the affairs of India sufficient to make that knowledge thoroughly applicable and available. . . .
“Mr. Wilson suffered severely from the effects of the Indian climate, and was advised to seek for health in a Hill Station, but he felt the arduous nature of the duty he had undertaken too strongly to allow any personal consideration whatever to interfere with it. To that sense of duty he has sacrificed his valuable life.
“We can find men to fill the Government of Madras in whose ability to discharge its duties with prudence and vigour we can feel every confidence, but we look in vain for the man whom we should place in the situation which by the consent of all Mr. Wilson was thoroughly competent to fill. . . . No worthier panegyric can be passed on the public servant we have lost than this,—that he has gone, and left no successor.”
Sir Charles Wood kindly forwarded to us a private letter Lord Canning had written him, describing the last interview he had with my father.
“The sad news of poor Wilson’s death will have reached you by telegraph. It was rather sudden at the end, for he rallied a little after I closed my last letter (9th August), and some about him still had hope, but on the following day he sank rapidly and all was over. I saw him on the 9th. It appeared to me then that death was in his face; but he was not very weak. He talked chiefly about some private arrangements, and then a little about public matters—the Currency Bill, the Military Finance Committee, etc. I was by his bedside for a quarter of an hour, at the end of which he got exhausted. He said he knew how it must end, and I could say no more in dispute of this, than that his Doctor had told me in the morning that a return of strength might show itself in the course of the next two days, and that if so, his life might still be safe. He was stronger the next day, but it was only for a few hours. A bad night followed and on the 11th he died.
“I was much struck by the tone in which he spoke of public matters—not a word of self—or of his own name or share in the work in hand, and yet with great hopefulness of the success of most of the machinery which he has set at work. It was very touching.”
The official announcement of my father’s death was also forwarded to us.
“To the Right Honourable Sir Charles Wood, Bart., G.C.B., Secretary of State for India.
“Sir, the painful task is imposed upon us of announcing to Her Majesty’s Government the death of our colleague, the Right Honourable James Wilson.
“2. This lamentable event took place on the evening of Saturday, the 11th, after an illness of a few days.
“3. We enclose a copy of the notification by which we yesterday communicated the mournful intelligence to the public. The funeral took place at the time mentioned in the notification; and the great respect in which our lamented colleague was held was evinced by a very large attendance of the general community, in addition to the public officers, civil and military.
“4. We are unable adequately to express our sense of the great loss which the public interests have sustained in Mr. Wilson’s death. We do not doubt, however, that this will be as fully appreciated by Her Majesty’s Government as it is by ourselves, and as we have every reason to believe it will be by the community generally throughout India.
“5. But we should not satisfy our feelings in communicating this sad occurrence to Her Majesty’s Government, if we did not state our belief that the fatal disease which has removed Mr. Wilson from amongst us was in a degree the consequence of his laborious application to the duties of his high position, and of his conscientious determination not to cease from the prosecution of the important measures of which he had charge until their success was ensured. Actuated by a self-denying devotion to the objects for which he came out to this country, Mr. Wilson continued to labour indefatigably long after the general state of his health had become such as to cause anxiety to the physician who attended him, and it was within a few days only after the Income Tax had become law, and when, at the earnest request of his medical adviser, he was preparing to remove from Calcutta for the remainder of the rainy season, that he was seized with the illness that has carried him off.
“6. It is our sincere conviction that this eminent public servant sacrificed his life in the discharge of his duty.
“We have, etc.
H. B. E. Frere.
13th August, 1860.”
Bagehot wrote in the Memoir: “The mourning in Calcutta was more universal than had ever been remembered. He had not been long in India, but while he had been there he filled a conspicuous and great part: he had done so much that there were necessarily doubts in the minds of some as to the expediency of part of it. No such doubts, however, were thought of now. ‘That he should have come out to die here!’—‘That he should have left a great English career for this!’ were the phrases in every one’s mouth. The funeral was the largest ever known in Calcutta. It was attended by almost the whole population, from the Governor-General downwards, and not a single voice, on any ground whatever, dissented from the general grief.”
In the pages of the Economist of 20th October Bagehot inserted the tribute Sir Bartle Frere paid my father in a speech delivered to the Legislative Council at Calcutta:—
“It had pleased Providence to take him from among us, and he [Sir Bartle Frere] believed there was not throughout India a single right-minded Englishman who did not feel his death as a personal as well as a national loss. He was sure that, when the intelligence of this melancholy event reached England, Mr. Wilson’s loss would be mourned in the same manner as was that of Neil, of Havelock, of Nicholson, and of Peel. What Mr. Wilson’s loss would be to the Government, those only who had laboured with him could understand. . . .
“It was not only that we had experience of his large statesman-like views and great abilities in the transaction of every branch of public business, but we felt the same confidence in his opinions on every subject connected with finance which was accorded to him by men of every party at home. He was a master in his craft, and no other man could possibly succeed in gaining that amount of public confidence for his judgment on all financial matters which Mr. Wilson so justly possessed.”
In Sir Richard Temple’s record of his Indian experiences is found a full account of my father’s work in India. He was on my father’s personal staff in addition to being the ordinary financial secretariat of the Government.
“In February, 1860, Mr. Wilson produced his financial Budget before the Legislative Council at Calcutta, carefully explaining that his proposals had the concurrence of his colleagues and the approval of Lord Canning. His speech on that occasion was the most able and eloquent statement that had ever up to that time been made orally in India. Remarkable minutes and reports had been frequent in India, but not speeches; and since that day the proceedings of the Indian Legislature have often been animated by oratory. But the novelty of Wilson’s oratorical effort, enlivening so grave a subject as finance, charmed as well as astonished both those who heard the statement and those who read the verbatim report of it. The warmth, confidence, and enthusiasm of his words, also the solidity of his arguments founded on a financial experience far larger than that possessed by any one in India seemed to take, as it were, the public mind by storm. All men believed that the State, having passed successfully through its political and military trials, was drifting into another danger, which, if less pressing, was more abiding, namely, that of certain disorder and possible disaster financially. As matters grew worse a state of urgency appeared to be approaching; the time was full, and, in public estimation, here was Wilson, the man to cope with it. . . .
“Men felt that some remedy must be applied, and were prepared to support the man who proposed a definite policy. The European members of the community both official and non-official were, indeed, jealous of being ‘taxed without representation,’ that is, taxed under a Government which had no representative institutions. Still they loyally accepted a necessity which had been proved to their satisfaction, and patriotically acquiesced in the sacrifices demanded from them. The Anglo-Indian newspaper Press strongly and cordially supported the Budget. The natives generally were silent; and the organs of native opinion seemed to yield to the current of approbation which had set in.
“Thus it happened that Wilson was at the outset greeted with a chorus of public approval. Though he relied much on the spirit and patriotism of his countrymen in India, he was agreeably surprised at the more than favourable reception accorded to his Budget statement. And as congratulations continued to pour in from many quarters, he used to declare himself to be ‘the most fortunate of tax-gatherers’. To complete his contentment, he received friendly support from the then Secretary of State, Sir Charles Wood (afterwards Lord Halifax).
“Soon, however, clouds began to rise on this clear horizon, as was indeed to be expected by all who knew the changeableness of the ‘popularis aura’. It transpired that one important functionary, Sir Charles Trevelyan, Governor of Madras, disapproved the Budget, describing its main provisions as ‘three tremendous taxes’. He was then in full swing of his administration, and was deemed to be one of the most competent and energetic Governors that had ever ruled over the Madras Presidency. His unfavourable view in respect to the Budget, besides exercising great influence with his colleagues at Madras and his principal officers, affected public opinion throughout Southern India. He then allowed the local newspapers to publish the protest which he had deemed it his duty to record against the proposed taxation. This publication caused excitement at Calcutta and other centres of opinion in India, and was thought to constitute an official collision between the Government of Madras and the Supreme Government. Lord Canning, who was then absent in Northern India, returned to Calcutta, in order that he might better arrange measures for vindicating his authority. Sir Charles Trevelyan shortly left Madras, having been recalled by the Government in England. . . .”
Later my father “produced,” writes Sir R. Temple, “before the Legislative Council his measure for a Government paper currency, to which great importance was attached. His speech on that occasion was so lucid as to invest with much interest a subject not ordinarily attractive. Being the first statement of that kind made in India, it was received with admiring attention. . . .”
Bagehot had written in the Economist, 25th February, 1860: “There is no country in which the admitted advantages of a paper currency would be of so great importance as in India. In that country itself enormous quantities of silver are continually being transferred from one place to another, both for the purposes of trade and for the purposes of revenue. This not only entails upon India a vast expense, and absorbs much capital which it would be more wise to employ productively, but it requires that the Government shall keep continually at hand considerable bodies of troops for the purpose of protecting the remittance of its money from one part of the country to another.
“It is now generally, though not universally, agreed that, in conformity with the recommendation of Mr. Wilson, the paper currency which is to be issued in India should be a Government currency both in reality and name. We showed a short time since that on every account it was most advisable that this course should be adopted.”
“. . . Mr. Wilson,” Sir Richard Temple continues, “probably learnt more of the country in a very short time than any person who ever landed on its shores; and his general information extended daily. His hopes of success in his financial policy were as high as his sense of the gravity and difficulty of his task. As weeks and months wore on, bringing with them their load of toil, trouble and anxiety, his character showed itself in a stronger light. Despite the depression from great heat, to which he had not been accustomed, his spirits were buoyant, and disposition elastic, while his bearing was genial and animated. His temper, though not destitute of warmth and impetuosity in pursuit of great objects, was yet ready and equable disappointments. Though desirous of entering into the views of his opponents, he was yet very self-reliant, never doubting that if his plans were defeated for a time he would surely rectify them, and that they would come right in the end if only his eye should be upon them and his hand remain at the helm. He kept before his imagination a goal from which his thoughts were never diverted; if he could not win it at once he would be content with some progress, and pause with the full intention of starting again some day from the point where he had then stopped. His mind was fertile in expedients and whenever obstacles threatened him with failure he would forthwith contrive remedies in the conviction that his policy was good for the public interests and must ultimately prevail.
“At first his illness excited no alarm in his family or among the public, and the general impression regarding his vigour and vitality remained undisturbed. He continued to read official papers, giving general attention to public affairs without performing much actual business. But he was soon obliged to accede to the request of his physician, Dr. Alexander Macrae, of Calcutta, that he should call in a second medical adviser, and cease reading or thinking; then warnings of danger began to be whispered abroad. As the dysentery developed more and more of its formidable symptoms day after day, he asked for a categorical statement of his condition from Dr. Macrae, in whose judgment and devotion he placed much confidence. The physician’s reply, without absolutely shutting out hope, led him to prepare for a speedy end. He immediately sent to Lord Canning, to come for a last interview. During that conversation he commended the services of several who had worked with him, and mentioned some arrangements he had intended to propose, evincing thoughtfulness for others to the last. His countenance had become emaciated in the extreme; he looked as if he had been starved to death by the illness, as Lord Canning thus described his aspect to me afterwards. He then wrote a letter to his wife in the Nilgiri Hills, also dictated various messages on public and private affairs with steady coolness and entire self-possession. A few hours later, he sank under dysentery in its most fatal form on the evening of Saturday, 11th August. The following evening he was buried in the principal cemetery of Calcutta, and as his coffin was lowered, there stood around his grave one of the most important and varied assemblages that had ever been seen in that place—an assemblage comprising representatives of every class of the European community, whether official or non-official. The strings of carriages, carrying sorrowful spectators, covered more than two miles of the road leading to the burial-ground. That Sabbath was a day of mourning, and in every church of the city allusion was made from the pulpit to the solemn lesson conveyed to the community by the sudden demise of one among the foremost citizens of the Empire.
“On a retrospect of that stirring and eventful time, the mind at first hardly realises that these broadly laid plans embracing, with a comprehensive policy, vast affairs and varied subjects, were all crowded by Wilson into the brief space of eight months. A review of these proceedings will help us to imagine what great things a man, who did so much in a few months, would have accomplished had he been spared for a few years. Between December and July he introduced for the first time in India a financial Budget framed upon the English model—inspired the public mind with fresh confidence—brought together the threads of finance which had been broken and scattered by a military and political convulsion—proposed to the legislature three new taxes and carried one of them, the income-tax, through several stages in the Legislative Council—devised a scheme for the Government paper currency—stimulated the operations of the Military Finance Commission over the entire range of army expenditure for both the European and Native forces—procured the appointment of a commission to review the numerous branches of civil expenditure—caused arrangements to be begun for re-organising the whole police of the Empire—reviewed the existing system of audit and account—besides discharging the multifarious duties devolving on a finance minister and a member of the general Government. All this was compassed by him immediately on landing in an utterly strange country amidst an alien people, and further was carried on with unabated vigour despite the depression caused by a tropical climate.”
Bagehot published in the Economist, 18th August, 1860, an important minute, written by Sir Bartle Frere, refuting statements which had been made to the effect that my father’s scheme of taxation was that of one who was trying to force purely English measures on to a people to whom they were unsuited.
“Minute by the Hon Sir H. B. E. Frere, dated 24th April, 1860, showing that the taxes now proposed to be levied in India are in accordance with the practice of the natives themselves:—
“There is one point in the objections which have been raised to Mr. Wilson’s financial measures which it seems to me has been hardly sufficiently noticed, and which, indeed, I should scarcely have thought, required elaborate refutation, had it not been taken up by the press in some parts of India, and by the British Indian (Zemindars’) Association in the petition which was presented to the Legislative Council on Saturday last, and urged in terms so plausible as to mislead all but those who are intimately acquainted with native modes of taxation.
“I allude to the assertion that Mr. Wilson’s scheme is entirely ‘on the English model’; that ‘the taxes he proposes are utterly unsuited to India’; that ‘his plan embraces the introduction into India of direct taxation’ (as if it were a perfect novelty) ‘calculated to arouse all the natives’ latent feelings of opposition’. That it is, in fact, such a plan as a man acquainted only with England and English modes of taxation would devise, and which anyone acquainted with India and Indian modes of taxation would reject as impossible or dangerous.
“But how stands the fact? It would be far nearer the truth to say the taxes proposed by Mr. Wilson are in principle, and in most of their details, similar to taxes which are almost universal throughout all native States in India, which date from the earliest periods of Indian history, which have never been given up to any considerable extent by any Indian Government till we conquered the country, and that the scheme Mr. Wilson has devised for restoring the equilibrium of our finances is precisely such as would commend itself to the judgment of any experienced native financier. No notice is taken of the fact that, during the present discussion, no scheme of fresh taxation has hitherto been propounded by anyone, native or European, which would bear a moment’s examination, which has not included some form of direct taxation, all more or less partial, inadequate to our wants, or otherwise more objectionable than that selected by Mr. Wilson—but all direct taxes, and generally in some form, more or less cumbersome, taxes on incomes—such taxes, in fact, being, from the earliest times, component parts of all native schemes of finance.
“It seems to be forgotten that up to 1834-6, taxes on incomes, trades, and professions were levied almost universally throughout British India under various names, and that they were then abolished in parts of Bengal and throughout the North-Western Provinces and Bombay, not because they were in theory bad taxes, but because they were so unfairly assessed and unequally levied, that it was difficult to reform them in their then existing shape. Many able men then advocated their retention, after a thorough reform; but they were not then needed. . . .
“Altogether, I doubt whether there is any part of India where an income tax, and taxes on arts, trades, and professions, are as much a novelty as the income tax was in England when revised by Sir Robert Peel; certainly there is none where such taxes are as new to the people as the income tax was in England, when first proposed by Mr. Pitt as a regular part of his financial system.
“(Signed) H. B. E. Frere.
“24th April, 1860.”
On 20th October, the anniversary of my father’s leaving England for India, Walter met my mother and my sister Matilda (Mrs. Horan) at Southampton on their return from India and brought them to The Arches.
He was then writing the memoir of my father which appeared as a supplement to the Economist on 17th November, 1860. He sent the proofs to Mr. Arbuthnot of the Treasury who wrote in reply:—
1st December, 1860.
“My dear Sir,
“I have read very carefully the passages in your memoir of Mr. Wilson which relate to his work in the Treasury, and I see nothing whatever that requires correction. I think however that they are susceptible of some addition. You might with justice to his memory refer to the very cordial manner in which he discussed subjects with those who acted under him, listened to their objections or suggestions, and often governed himself by them.
“While he worked as no other Secretary of the Treasury ever worked, so far from depressing others, he encouraged their exertions, co-operated with them, and was always ready to bear hearty testimony to the merits of deserving Officers. For myself, it would be very gratifying to me if you made some allusion to the generous spirit in which he forgot temporary animosities which are too apt to arise amongst earnest men who differ in opinion, and which spirit prevented him from allowing them to operate to the prejudice of the public service.
“He was eminently tolerant. In my own case, after differences which were enough to ruffle the temper of any man, he soon allowed all personal feeling to subside, and it has been a great consolation to me to reflect that, previous to his departure for India, I had the opportunity of confidential and unreserved communication with him on matters of great public interest, and that we parted with as much cordiality as if there had been no unpleasant passages between us. I had several letters from him from India written in the same spirit, and in the last which I received from him, he enquired about several Officers of this Department, with whom he had been thrown principally in contact, expressing great interest in matters affecting their prospects of advancement.
“Yours very truly,
“W. Bagehot, Esq.”
Lord Grey wrote a long letter to Bagehot which began:—
24th November, 1860.
“I cannot forbear writing to say with how much interest I read your memoir of Mr. Wilson in the supplement to last week’s Economist.
“Having had the pleasure of knowing him very well, and the advantage of much valuable assistance and advice from him when I was in office, I can bear testimony to the strict accuracy of all you say with regard to his great ability in public affairs and especially with reference to all questions of commerce and finance. His death is indeed a great calamity to the nation, and still more so to India, and though I trust the great measures he had begun there had made so much progress that the sound principles on which they rest may ensure their success, it is impossible not to feel that the probability of this is greatly diminished by their execution being no longer guided by his energy and judgment. . . .”
In the grave pages of the Economist Bagehot dwelt almost exclusively in this memoir on the serious side of his subject. He fully appreciated nevertheless the value of my father’s personality, the charm of which lay much in the keen sympathy he felt for various interests outside his own line of work. As Mr. Hutton notes he had “thorough enjoyment of all the more genial sides of life”. He greatly enjoyed the beauty of nature, and cared much for art and music.
A very happy description of the combination in my father of gravity and vivacity is given in Sir Richard Temple’s Men and Events of my Time in India. Working with and under my father, he was daily brought into contact with him. Among his many attainments Sir Richard Temple was a good artist, and he recognised in my father’s temperament those sensibilities which were in sympathy with the artistic side of his own. He writes: “He (my father) had a keen perception of every object that met his view, a habit of casting observant looks in all directions, and an extraordinarily retentive memory of what he saw, heard, or read. His manner and conversation, though grave while he was intent on work, were bright and vivacious in society. He delighted in India as a country, and regarded her resources with hopeful interest, her people with sympathy, her scenery with admiration, her antiquities with curiosity. Nothing, he said, could be imagined more intensely interesting than India; with the ancient cities, the relics of decayed dynasties, the thronging population, the bustle of trade at every corner, the expansive plains bounded by alpine ranges affording a climate for new varieties of production, the large rivers, the magnificent canals irrigating the country, the careful agriculture with cultivation up to the roadside, the thrifty and economical habits of the people bent on active and profitable pursuits. These descriptive expressions are his own, being taken straight from his sayings and writings. It was instructive as well as amusing to accompany him in his walks during the early morning hours amidst the suburbs of Calcutta. He would observe every Native garden that we passed, talking about the natural habitat, culture and uses of the trees or plants. He would often stop at the wayside booth or shops, discussing the manufacture, prices and style of the wares. He would note the carts, drawn by bullocks and laden with produce, on their way to the capital, also the men and women carrying head-loads of articles to market. Then he would ever and anon exclaim that the country seemed bursting, as it were, with vitality and industry. The fairs which were held almost daily in various places, and more especially the central market of Calcutta, offered to him an extensive scope for economic reflection. He would watch the piece-goods and fancy-wares from Europe, the Oriental stuffs made in far-off cities, the flowers and vegetables brought by railway from gardens distant hundreds of miles, the game snared or shot in forests and marshes. He regarded all these goods, indeed, with the eye of an economist, in reference to their uses, but having a lively imagination he recognised their beauty also. If a thing seemed beautiful he felt all the more zealous in promoting its usefulness; if a thing was useful he appreciated it the better from its being beautiful also. Having been from the first imbued with the principles of unrestricted freedom in trade, he loved to speculate upon the moral advantages arising from the interchange of produce, which were in their way as great as the material advantages. Trade, he would say, is a great agency for securing peace and charity among men in all parts of the earth, enlarging the minds of diverse nations, raising their thoughts beyond petty jealousy, softening their mutual animosities, and uniting them by the bonds of goodwill and of common interest. . . . Wilson’s intellect was essentially methodical in its habits, ever searching for first principles and fundamental axioms, and then applying them to practice and to actual circumstances. . . . He was eminently practical. His principles lay deep in his mind, but in respect to practice he was ever studying the variety of circumstances, keeping his imagination open for the reception of the new ideas to be derived from the facts as recently learnt, and from the phenomena as freshly perceived. He was most anxious to understand India not as she had been supposed to be, or as she ought to have become, but as she actually was. While keeping in recollection the broad traits of human nature, as common to mankind in all times and places, he was especially desirous to realise to himself the idiosyncrasies, aptitudes and tendencies—even the prejudices—of the Natives. Although the people had to be led gently towards the paths of economic science, yet he wished to show the tenderest consideration towards the thoughts and sentiments springing from their historical antecedents. He hoped also to evince that moderation and self-restraint which befitted the peculiar position of the British as foreign masters of an eastern empire.
“Such in brief was Wilson, the first scientific economist who had ever visited India. . . .”
And, it may be added, such was the nature which had a more direct influence on Bagehot than had any other after his mind became matured. Intimate contact with my father established a harmony between Bagehot’s active and his intellectual impulses. This led to trains of thought which later found expression in his three complete works—The English Constitution, Lombard Street, Physics and Politics, and the Economic Studies left unfinished when he died.
Shortly after my father’s death the English Government approached Bagehot on the question as to whether he would accept the post my father had filled in India. He at once declined, stating that family reasons made it impossible for him to leave England. Under no circumstances would Bagehot have left his father to bear the home trouble without his help. As is well known, Mr. Samuel Laing was then appointed as my father’s successor but resigned the post in 1862. Sir C. Wood then appointed Sir Charles Trevelyan. In the Economist of 8th November, 1862, Bagehot wrote a long article, of which the following are the first passages:—
“Sir C. Trevelyan as Finance Minister for India.
“The appointment of Sir C. Trevelyan as Finance Minister of India must awaken recollections in the face of which the conductors of this journal cannot profess to be impartial. They have weighed well whether on such a subject it would be advisable for them to say anything, but they think that it would be best for them to say a few words.
“There is but little need to refer to the publication by Sir Charles Trevelyan of the now celebrated Madras despatches, and his consequent recall by the Secretary of State for India. He was then recalled, not for erroneous doctrines in finance, not for a single doctrine which he avowed, or a single doctrine which he combated, but for palpable and plain insubordination. There is, and must be, a supreme Government in India; Mr. Wilson was for the time the authorised and recognised organ of that Government. Sir Charles Trevelyan resisted that Government, and revolted against the policy of Mr. Wilson, and he has paid the inevitable penalty.
The Right Hon. James Wilson, M.P. 1859 Presented to Mrs Wilson by The Royal Academy of Scotland
“The publication of the Madras despatches was a monstrous act of misjudgment and insubordination, but it was only an aggravated outbreak of an inherent disposition. Sir Charles Trevelyan has many eminent qualities—great acuteness, great industry, an ardent though ill-regulated public zeal—but he never was a safe man; he never had a sound and simple judgment; from vanity or from some better motive, he has never been very willing to confine himself to his proper sphere, especially when it was a subordinate one. These are the very opposite qualities to those which India requires in the situation to which he has been appointed. . . .”
Referring to this article Bagehot received the following letter from Sir Charles Wood:—
“Secretary of State for India in Council.
28th November, 1862.
“I have been intending to write to you for a long time, ever since indeed I determined to send Sir C. Trevelyan to India.
“You naturally might view the appointment with a critical eye, and I have not a word to say against the criticism in the Economist on the subject. I believe, however, that you will find that he will be a much more faithful successor in Mr. Wilson’s steps than Mr. Laing. He will maintain the Income Tax according to Wilson’s avowed intention for the five years and fully carry out his plans for the management of the currency, as far as is possible after the derangement made in them of late. He is fully aware of the error which he committed and will, I believe, make an admirable public servant at Calcutta. He is thoroughly imbued with what were Wilson’s notions, that a financier to make great plans and long speeches is not what is now needed, but a practical man of business to reduce and keep down expenditure.
“I think you will be pleased to hear this. He erred and has paid dearly for his error, though not more dearly than was fitting, and I hope we shall get good service out of him yet.
“W. Bagehot, Esq.”
In answer to this letter Bagehot wrote:—
“I am very much obliged to you for your kind note of yesterday.
“It was impossible that Mr. Wilson’s wife and relations could hear of Sir C. Trevelyan’s appointment without feeling some pain, but this the information contained in your note must very much diminish.
“It would be untrue to say that I feel no anxiety as to Sir C. Trevelyan’s future course in India for he is undeniably a little erratic; but nothing can be more satisfactory than his present opinions, and in every way I am sure he will be better than Mr. Laing.”
Sir Charles Wood answered this note enclosing one from Sir Charles Trevelyan to him.
“India Office, Belgrave Square,
2nd December, 1862.
“My dear Sir,
“Your letter was written in so kind a spirit that I could not resist sending it to Trevelyan, and I now enclose his answer, which I am sure will be gratifying to all Mr. Wilson’s friends and relatives.
“They were not men to differ except on public grounds, honourable alike to both, and there was, and is, nothing petty or crooked in either of them.
“I am glad you sent me Mr. Bagehot’s note. I have never yielded to the weakness of under-rating my predecessor or successor, and of Wilson I can only think and speak as of a very able, indefatigable public servant, who did much for his country while he lived, and ended by sacrificing his life for it, after he had laid the foundation of the new system of Indian Finance which I hope to finish. My personal relations with Wilson while we were in India together were perfectly friendly, and I regret that I did not preserve a letter which he wrote me after my recall reminding me that our difference had been entirely public and expressing his regret that India was to lose my services, and warmly thanking me for some attentions I had been able to pay to his family. Whatever faults I may have, to do injustice to my predecessor is not one of them, and in this case the circumstances are such as would induce a man from mere self-interest to pretend a kindness which he did not feel.
In the Economist of 6th June, 1863, Bagehot writes: “The Budget of Sir C. Trevelyan has now been received in this country. From actual facts we are now justified in saying that the Indian deficit is extinguished.” After enumerating other sources of revenue, Bagehot writes: “Lastly, there has been the produce of between £1,500,000 and £2,000,000 of Mr. Wilson’s income tax. Such has been the final extinction of the deficit which Mr. Wilson went out to cure. It will be universally admitted that by the impetus which he gave to the career of improvement, by the military commission which he created, and which really effected the enormous economy which we have mentioned, by the additional taxation he imposed, and by the general vigour which, even in a short time, his imperturbable will imparted to all the financial measures of Government, he essentially contributed to the great result which has now indisputably been attained.”
[Page 317, line 6,]for 4th read 14th.
When Secretary to the Indian Board of Control my father had done important work by establishing railway services in many parts of India which up to that time were difficult of access.
Dulup Sing had visited my father at Fontainville, Westbury, where the natives of Wiltshire had viewed him and his black servants as emanations of the evil one on account of their complexions.
The Times correspondent at Calcutta wrote on 8th August, speaking of the circumstances that preceded my father’s death. “About six days ago, the Calcutta public was startled by the news that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after struggling against and vanquishing several minor illnesses, was at last confined to his bed by a very severe attack of dysentery. It is difficult to exaggerate the effect which this intelligence produced on the public mind. Every one seemed suddenly to appreciate the fact that all chance of financial regeneration was bound up in the life of Mr. Wilson; that the removal of his guiding hand from the rein would be the signal for retrogression into that slough of despond from which we are but now beginning to emerge. It flashed suddenly across the minds of men that Mr. Wilson was not only the directing agent of the new taxes, but the centre and vivifying spirit of all the Committees which are now sitting to bring about administrative reforms. He had made himself a necessity for India; it seemed impossible that, when yet only one of his measures—the Income Tax—had been matured and brought into action, he should be compelled to leave the scene of his labours. These thoughts, combined with the knowledge that his illness had been brought about by intense and unremitting labour in a most trying climate, caused a sensation which, as I said before, it would be difficult to exaggerate. Inquiries were constant, and came from all classes of the Community; even the natives shared in the general feeling of regret.”
Men and Events of My Time in India, by Sir Richard Temple, Bart., G.C.S.I., C.I.E., D.C.L., late Finance Minister of India; Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, and Governor of Bombay.