MONIER WILLIAMS ON SOUTHERN INDIA.
THOSE who, living in England, care to understand, or at all events to appreciate India, should read the admirable letter from Professor Monier Williams, the Sanscrit scholar, which the Times printed in its outer sheet on Monday. It is very long, long as a debate but the only feeling of those who read it steadily through 'will be that it is not long enough. The Professor has gained from his studies the knowledge of an old Anglo-Indian while he retains the power of taking a bird's- eye view which belongs to the ablest and freshest travellers, and which Anglo-Indians almost without an exception, seem incompetent to retain. iire have not read for years anything at once so picturesque and so accurate, so full of information and so attractive as his sketch of Southern India—in which, quite rightly, he includes Ceylon—with its entirely tropical character—Northern India, hot as it is, is only semi-tropical- its endless luxuriance of life, animal as well as vegetable its vastness of scale, which remoulds' all your geographical ideas, its glorious mountains, its widespread dominating plateau, the Deccan, a world in itself, 2,500 feet above the sea, and more than twice the size of France • its equable but weakening climate, and its millions upon millions of feeble people, the visible deposits of a dozen invasions, all differing in colour, language, and race-signs, but all creating on the observer's mind the same impression of inexplicable want of strength,—of being, to use a pretentious but intelligible phrase, the children of the humanity of Asia. They are half-forgotten at home, these Southern Indians, where all impressions are formed either from the warrior races of the North, or from the bright-minded, graceful, feeble-bodied people of Bengal ; but they are in many respects even more worthy of study, while they contrive among those who know them well to inspire a deeper attachment. To all, strangely diverse as they are, one common character applies. They have the virtues and the defects of children left to run alone. Compared with Europeans, they "have more natural courtesy of manner, more filial dutifulness, more veneration for rank, age, and learning," more temperance in eating and drinking, more care for their relatives, and more pride in their creeds ; while they have more indifference to truth, more disposition to cheat, intrigue, and deceive, more pettiness of nature in all things, and a far deeper and more diseased crave for "mental stimulants," for the tales and the superstitions and the ceremonials which at once satisfy and excite their lust for wonder. The Professor believes they have a positive incapacity for appreciating or assimilating facts, which is true, though his language is exaggerative, and pro- pounds a curious theory in explanation,—that they have been for generations the children of fathers and mothers themselves still almost children, and therefore inherit childishness, which we fear, if he will remember the social circumstances of the Hindoo warrior tribes, and the great Indian pundits, who also marry too early, he will think himself bound to give up. We should attribute the incapacity rather to continuous mental indolence, but whatever its cause, the fact remains, and is essential to any picture of the Southern Indian mind.
It is a most striking letter, all the more so to true Anglo- Indians, that is to those who have made some effort to com- prehend as well as merely to control the millions of India— most Anglu-Indians pass their lives in the peninsula in the mental attitude of London tourists in Switzerland—because the Professor reveals a trace of that feeling which all such Anglo-Indians entertain and say so little about, the kind of despair which seizes them whenever they consider the problem which —it is one of the strangest facts of history—is never entirely absent from their minds, the problem of how to give these myriads of attractive children one dead-heave upwards in the human scale. Why the conquering race, last of a dozen conquering races, should so intensely desire to do this, to do it at any hazard to themselves or their Empire, is inexplicable on any theory we have ever heard,—for the Englishman has not shown this spirit in the same unchanging way towards Red Indian or negro—but we never met an Anglo-Indian, however refined or however brutal, who was without it, and never met an ex- perienced one who had not more or less surrendered hope, in face of the vastness of the task. The more successful the soldier, the more experienced the administrator, the older the missionary, the more unwearying the teacher, the more does he recognise the powerlessness of any conceivable agency
for the task. The sense of the changelessness of India slowly filtering down into the European mind kills out its energy. As it was and is now, so, save for a miracle, it always will be, is the fixed conviction at which he almost invariably arrives. The feeling in imaginative men sometimes developes itself suddenly, to the utter despair of its victim, whose whole scheme of life may be, and very frequently is, thereby shattered in a month. We have known a fervent Evangelical', devoted to missionary ideas, a most sincere and ardent believer, surrender, in face of the shock, the convictions of a life,—and there are minds on which the recoil leaves an impression of actual horror. A little book was published the other day by an unknown author, which dropped, we suspect, stillborn from the press, describing European life upon the Bombay side. If bore the absurd title of "Sleepy Sketches," was too small' to attract attention, and was partly made up of quasi-scientifie jottings of very little interest. The little book is, never- theless, one of the very best, for its size perhaps the very best., ever published in England about India, or rather about the impression which India produces on the European mind, a mental photograph positively painful in its unshaded troth. The writer—who may be man or woman, for what we know—is obviously totally unaware of his own capacity for description, but only wants to spegk as he would speak to his most intimate friend, and the feeling he brings out most clearly at every turn of his subject is this horror, this sense of mental prostration under the unalterable, which yet ought to be altered. That feeling affects Professor Williams also—as the Times in ifs article upon him has perceived—not quite so strongly, for he has seen much of many lands, but still very keenly indeed. He waists,
like the rest of them, to give South Indian society one dead- heave, and like the beat of them, distrusts all agencies, or rather hopes only in agencies which cannot be secured by man. If, he says, we could abolish early marriage, if we could eradicate the tendency to endogamy—that is, to marriage within a continually decreasing circle, which is a consequence of caste—if we could, above all, break down the wall of impenetrable secrecy with which the Indian surrounds his home, or in other words, if we could change the first ideas of the people as to what is divine, and right, and respectable, if we could destroy a creed that satisfies its votaries, and could root up the sentiment of caste, and could kill down the habits of segregation and seclusion, and could alter radically every notion of honour, then we should effect that upheaval which Professor Williams, with all his tolerance, still desires, like any missionary who thinks there is but one road to heaven. He does not know it, or will not say it, for he hints at movements already existing in these directions which, with his knowledge, he must know to be of little account, and keeps his cheerfulness to the last ; but the Pro- fessor at heart feels the despair of the true Anglo-Indian, the sense not that the stone will rebound, but that it is too heavy for man or demigod to roll up. He may struggle on through ages, but it will not move an inch. There is no machinery which could so transform Indian society, and if there were, there is no man, not the Professor himself, who would have the daring to set it in motion, without more light than we possess. We are not, be it understood, defending this feeling of despair, which, if enduring, would hardly be distinguishable from despair of Providence, but only stating a fact of great importance and little known, in order to add this suggestion. May not the peculiar vice of the English conquest of India be also its peculiar advantage? Every other conqueror—and anti- quaries count at least six waves of them—has settled, has been accepted by the people, has, as we feel certain, though we are aware of the doubts suggested, intermarried with the people, and has ultimately settled down into their changeless civilisation. It is nearly certain that the Englishman, if he lived in India, would also settle down, would give up first the hope and then the wish to alter anything, and would find for himself a nook within native civilisation in which he could be comfortable. He would seat himself somewhere on the stone, so increasing its weight, instead of rolling it. May it not be because the Englishman does not reside, because he only serves in India for his energetic period, because he is perpetually replaced by a man still in the vigour of his hope, that he has been chosen out, in defiance of all geography and all probability, as the fittest conqueror? We quite see the evils, and especially the imaginative evils, of this form of invasion. It must be almost intolerable to sensitive natives— fortunately, the mass think of other things—to be governed by a perpetual succession of white strangers, whose histories are unknown, who never acquire local accent, ways, or manners, who never settle, and who retreat before their beards are white with all they can grasp, to a land where they are in- visible, and who are not succeeded even by their sons. To be governed irresistibly by men so circumstanced, men who never give themselves the time to learn to sympathise, who often depart as they came, as completely strangers to the people they rule, as counsel to the clients they defend, yet who do everything on the assumption of their own infinite superiority, pose and write and decree from the stand-point of so many Matthew Arnolds—must be, one would fancy, almost infinitely aggravating, even to men who know not of time in history, and regard a new conquest like an inundation, a tornado, or an eclipse. And yet one can dimly perceive that only in this form of conquest, only in this incessant impact of fresh minds armed with the same idea, only in this scheme of governing by relays—surely the strangest scheme of government ever thought of—could the necessary leverage be found. Falling water is a torture, but only falling water wears. It is in this ever-renewed impact, this perpetual urging-forward of fresh though inadequate strength, this government by an agency incapable of weariness, exhaustion, or old age, that the necessary momentum may yet be found, and the huge stone, the weight of which would weary out the hope of any labourers not so incessantly relieved, may be rolled to a new resting-place. Of all the strange cir- cumstances which accompany our rule in India, the strangest surely is this,—that government there never falls to the man whose head is white ; and yet is it not in that endless succession of youthfulness, a succession unique in history, a succession impossible save under the condition of conquest by a race that perishes under heat, that the one cure for the otherwise inevitable despair may ultimately be discerned?