INDIA AT THE DEATH OF AKBAR.*
THE mediaeval belief in the wealth of the Indies served a useful purpose in stimulating hardy mariners to go westward across the Atlantio and eastward round the Cape when the age of exploration began in the late fifteenth century. Those who went to India, expecting to find a land of rich men, were soon undeceived, but the Western peoples who were dazzled by the splendour of returning nabobs clung to the legend of the gorgeous East as a veritable Tom Tiddler's ground. Now that Indian civilians are not allowed to engage in trade and cannot, on their retirement, buy great estates with hastily • amassed savings, the public has learned to take a more sober view of the resources of India. We all know nowadays that India is a poor country or, to put it more accurately, that the vast majority of the inhabi- tants are very poor people. The gradual recognition of the truth about India has, however, had one carious result. There are always a few British citizens who carry the national virtue—or failing—of modesty into politics and take a strange and perverse delight in depreciating the efforts of their country. Some of these eccentrics, notably the late Mr. Hume, have contended that, if India is poor nowadays, it is the fault of her British rulers. They assume that the old legend of India's wealth was true. They contrast the supposed Golden Age of the Moguls with the stern facts of the Indian situation to-day, and they infer that the British administration of a century and a half has impover- ished India. It is regrettable that any British people should indulge in these anti-British paradoxes, which are of course welcome to the handful of extreme native agitators of whom Mr. Montagu stands in awe. But the charges can be refuted with ease. Any one who cares to read Indian history may satisfy himself that India is now more justly governed and more prosperous than she had been for centuries before " John Com- pany " became all powerful.
Mr. Moreland's excellent study of the condition of India in 1605, at the death of Ahbar, shows how the subject should be approached. If we are to determine whether India has advanced or declined in wealth, we must have some standard by which to measure the changes. Mr. Moreland takes as his fixed point the close of Akbar's long and successful reign, when all India was more or less subject to the Mogul administration under the direction of an exceptionally capable and thoughtful Empress. There are elaborate accounts of Akbar's system by his con- temporaries. There are also many narratives by European travellers who visited India in his day. Mr. Moreland, an
• India at the Death of etkbar ; an Economic Shay. BY W. H. Moreland. London t Macmillan. 1128. net.] experienced Indian civilian whose writings' on agriculture • and taxation in the United Provinces are well known, has endeavoured' to reconstruct from the available materials a picture of the India of three centuries-ago. He writes dispassionately, citing all his authorities'and giving his reasons for all his conclusione. He has thus produced a book of great historicaLinterest while at the same time he dissipates the legend of India's former wealth and the foolish and malevolent deductions drawn from it. In the first plats we may notice that he estimates the population at a hundred millions, or less than a third of what it is-to-day. The middle classes did not oount, any more than in modern Russia. "There were at this time no lawyers, veryfew, if any, professional teachers, no journalists or politicians, no engineers, no forms of employment corresponding to the modern railway, postal or irriga- tion services, or to factories and large workshops, few landholders in the modern sense, and, unless I am mistaken, scarcely any families living upon accumulated property "—because the Emperor confiscated, if he could, the fortunes left by his nobles, officers or merchants; Power and wealth were the monopoly of the foreign court and the official hierarchy. This small favoured class, with its multitudes of soldiers and personal attendants, had to be supported in luxury by the masa of cultivators, which was as large as it is now, in proportion to the total population. The peasant was required to pay the Emperor the equivalent of a third of the gross produce of his land, as estimated on the area sown and the average yield. The author finds that for typical districts in the Meerut division Akbar's assessment was roughly double the present rent paid to a landholder, and that for one district it was three times as much. There were other taxes of uncertain amount to set off against the modern taxes and dues, so that the peasant was clearly far worse off under the Moguls than he is now. Moreover, in return for this heavy taxation there was no security—no regular court to which to appeal against oppression, no help in time of famine, no road to market that was free from tolls or from robbers. When the crops failed, the townsfolk might perhaps receive assistance, but the peasantry could only wait for death to relieve them. It was the regular practice for famiehed ryots to sell their children into bondage. " We read of a Persian envoy taking home a large number of Indian children, because famine had made them cheap during his visit." As late as 1785 Sir William Jones, in a charge to a jury, spoke of "large boats filled with children, mostly stolen from their parents or bought perhaps- for a measure of rice in a time of scarcity, coming down the river for open, sale in Calcutta." There were many slaves or serfs in Akbar's day. It was reserved for Great Britain to make every Indian a free man.
Mr. Moreland's account of Indian trade and commerce is profoundly interesting. Apart from the industries patronized by the court, it is clear that the Indian artisan's lot was very hard. He lived upon credit and was dependent on the middle- man. The East India Company's Madras correspondence shows that the factors had to advance money to the weavers who worked for them. This was the universal practice in Akbar's time. The weaver had to pay an Imperial tax on every piece of cloth that he produced before he could offer it for sale. The author thinks that real wages, in the towns, were much the same then as now, provided always that part of the wages were not intercepted by some official or contractor. The extent of the foreign trade of India seems to have been much exaggerated. It was hampered by the heavy risks of transit, whether by land or by Sea. Furthermore, India had little to export but textiles, indigo, spices and sugar, while her main import was bullion. The market for European goods was small and uncertain, because only the higher classes could afford to buy them. But for the discovery of gold and silver mines in the New World it is difficult to see how Europe could have continued to trade with India through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, for mediaeval Europe had only a slender stook of the precious metals. Mr. Moreland reminds us that the pepper-pot ought to be the symbol of our Indian Empire. Until Western Europe- had discovered how to keep cattle in good condition through the winter, the beasts had to be slaughtered in the summer and autumn and the meat salted, or " powdered " with spices and - pepper. The glories of Venice were based on her old monopoly of the . indirect import of spices and pepper from the East, by way of Turkey or Egypt. The Portuguese were the first to open the sea route for these costly necessaries of life. The Dutch followed only when the occupation of Lisbon by the Spaniards closed the pepper-market of Western. Europe, and the English in turn went to the East Indies because the Dutch had mono- polized the pepper trade and fixed their own prices. The East India Company's agents only went to Surat on their third voyage because they had failed to buy pepper and spices at Java or Sumatra. Thus the quest for pepper gave us India. But the trade in these precious wares was necessarily small, and the cloth trade was of modest proportions because the natives of the -countries abutting on the Indian Ocean were not in the habit of wearing many clothes. Mr. Moreland, after reviewing the course of Indian commerce of Akbar's day, con- cludes that the total volume of shipping leaving India yearly for foreign parts was from 24,000 to 38,000 net register tons. Before the war the corresponding figure for modern shipping was 8,750,000 net tons—or two hundred times as much. The statement helps us to realise how European venturers trans- formed the commerce of India. The profits on successful voyages were very great—perhaps four or five hundredfold— but the risks were enormous. The imports of gold and silver went to increase the luxury of the court and to swell the hoards of treasure which the wealthy liked, then as now, to accumulate. It was the existence of these useless hoards, in presence of one of which Clive, being invited to help himself, was astonished at his own moderation, which confirmed in European minds the belief in India's colossal wealth. But the heaps of gold and silver did not fructify the soil of India or benefit in the least the vast majority of the Indian peoples. Mr. Moreland concludes that, " then as now, India was desperately poor," and that " the lower classes, including very nearly all the produetive elements, lived even more hardly than they live now." The State took all that it could and gave nothing in return, thus discouraging production and encouraging men to seek the idle life of the menial classes. The result was the collapse of the Mogul Empire, which we have replaced by a less burdensome and far more actively beneficent rule.