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ART. V.-Life of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone. By Sir T. E. COLEBROOKE, Bart., M.P. 2 vols. 8vo. London: 1884.
SIR IR EDWARD COLEBROOKE'S Life of Mountstuart Elphinstone' is the best work of its kind that has appeared for a long time. Among the rather numerous biographies of eminent Anglo-Indians that have been published latterly, very few have been free from a tendency to diffuseness, or from an inclination to make rather too much of their central figure, by painting it on a disproportionate scale, or in a style somewhat too imposing. From these defects the book now before us is quite free; it presents us with a fulllength portrait, admirably composed, of an Anglo-Indian belonging to a past generation, and to a type that has become very rare. It takes us back to one of the most stirring and important periods of our Indian history; it throws us into the middle of that tide of war and politics which at the beginning of this century was leading us on to fortune and empire; and it brings us into occasional contact with some of the leading personages of the time.
Elphinstone was a cadet, of good Scottish family, who took an appointment in the Indian Civil Service. In 1796 he reached Calcutta, whence he went up to Benares, then our frontier station to the north-west, as Peshawur is now; and there he met the Governor-General, Sir John Shore, who had come up to concert measures against a threatened Afghan invasion of India. This business, with the murder at Benares of a British Resident by a deposed Nawab of Oude, formed Elphinstone's first introduction to Indian diplomacy, and served as appropriate indications of the general political situation. Our readers will understand that at this epoch the English were only just coming into contact with the politics of Northern India, and, remotely, of the Asiatic countries lying beyond. Up to the date when Elphinstone landed in India, the centre of an important political and military operation had been, and still was, the Indian peninsula; for the battles of Plassey and Buxar had only cleared Bengal of impotent Nawabs and local competitors for the monopoly of plundering a rich but outlying province. Whereas in the peninsula not only had we been matched against formidable native Powers, such as the rulers of Mysore and the Marathas, but our real struggle was constantly with France. Mr. Seeley, in his Expansion of
England,' rightly lays stress on the fact, so little understood, that all our early wars in India were heartily supported at home because they formed part of our contests with the French. Every fresh declaration of war in Europe was the signal for the resumption of active operations in India; and such statesmen as Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley were sent out as Governors-General, not so much to govern India as to co-operate with the European policy of England. The East India Company, which has been so incessantly accused of a greed for annexation, was actually in perpetual opposition to the ambitious and enterprising proconsuls who represented the English senate. The native Indian States, which we subdued and dismembered, were mainly grist in the great European mill, and were broken up between the upper and nether millstones of England and France. It will be found that during the two very brief intervals when a servant of the Company held the Governor-Generalship, our policy in India has been remarkably pacific; and so it happened that in Sir John Shore's time there was a lull in war and a retrograde movement in politics. But with Lord Mornington's appearance on the scene in 1798 the movement of the drama began again, greatly stimulated and propelled by Bonaparte's invasion of Egypt, which was naturally regarded as a direct menace to our Asiatic possessions. Tipu of Mysore was crushed, the Nizam was compressed into alliance with us; thenceforth the Maratha States stood alone as serious rivals, and our whole policy was directed towards breaking up their confederation, and towards exterminating French influence at their Courts.
It was at this juncture, while the peace of Amiens had caused a momentary suspension of arms throughout the world, that Lord Wellesley offered Elphinstone diplomatic employment in Western India, which was then the scene of much political activity and military preparation. He accepted, of course, what was equivalent to an opportunity of going to the front, and with his friend Strachey he travelled, by a long circuitous route, through Seringapatam (where they stayed with General Arthur Wellesley) to Hyderabad, and eventually to Poona. His diary during this long journey shows the characteristics that run through all his papers and correspondence-he whiles away the time by reading Homer and Virgil, and regrets that his debts and his duty chain him to Persian and Hindi. The heat seems to have troubled the two companions very little, for they travelled, generally in palanquins, throughout the summer, and their
line took them almost entirely through the territory of native States, where they were often kept on the alert by the close vicinity of freebooting bands. They visited every remarkable place within range of an excursion, and mixed freely with the natives. The following passage gives a glimpse of what India was eighty years ago:
'At Malaud we found a Mahratta condottier with thirty or forty men. He had been hired by Mr. Brown for our protection. He brought a very polite letter from Mr. Brown, informing us that his province was in complete distraction, and that he had merely troops enough to enable him to keep possession of the open country. Breakfasted. Went to Strachey's tent. He had been conversing with the Mahratta, who told that Mr. Brown was at a place within two miles of Ganjam, that the refractory zemindars plundered the open country, and that from Brown's camp villages were to be seen burning on all sides. We talked over our plans for marching, and determined that we three were to ride in front with pistols. We were to be accompanied by five of Gopi Nath's (the Mahratta) men. After us were to come the bangies, the beds, and the unarmed attendants. Then were to come the elephants and camels and bullocks. The sepoys, in a body, were to bring up the rear. Our left flank was to be covered by the sea, and our right by Gopi Nath's men. Then the clashies and other
At the present day an officer ordered to Hyderabad or Poona is a passenger in a first-class railway carriage, and his opportunities for studying the intervening country are limited to looking through, a darkened window-pane at the sliding scenes of the landscape that flash past him.
During the autumn of 1801 Elphinstone remained at Hyderabad, where he formed acquaintance with Kirkpatrick, the eccentric but very able Resident at that court, who is thus described:
""Major Kirkpatrick is a good-looking man; seems about thirty, is "really about thirty-five. He wears mustachios; his hair is cropped very short, and his fingers are dyed with henna. In other respects he " is like an Englishman. He is very communicative, and very desirous "to please; but he tells long stories about himself, and practises all the "affectations of which the face and eyes are capable. He offered me a "horse, which I declined. He said the horse should attend me, and that "I might do as I pleased." The Resident's conversation appears to have been as eccentric as his manners. He tells a strange story how his hookah-burdar, after cheating and robbing him, proceeded to England and set up as the Prince of Sylhet, took in everybody, was waited upon by Pitt, dined with the Duke of York, and was presented to the King. On the following day at dinner Major Kirkpatrick talked rather wildly about the secrets of the Government being known in the court before they were communicated officially to the Resident during the recent
negotiations for a subsidiary treaty, and he concluded with talking "with much pomp about the sources of springs, and with execrable "taste about Homer."
Early in 1802 he seems to have reached Poona at last, after roaming about, very much to his own profit, for eight months; and here began his diplomatic career, which, excepting the episode of his mission to Peshawur in 1809, was throughout intimately and exclusively connected with the decline and fall of the Maratha dominion in the Dekhan and Central India.
Like most successful men, Elphinstone was lucky in his opportunities. He reached Poona at the critical time when Lord Wellesley was preparing for the bold stroke whereby the Peshwa, whose defeat by Holkar and Sindia had driven him into our arms, was induced to accept subsidiary alliance with the English and to sign the Treaty of Bassein. We despair of interesting the general reader in the affairs of India eighty years ago; but some attempt must be made to explain the position of the pieces on the political chessboard. In South India, British supremacy was now complete. In North India, the Moghal empire had been utterly wrecked; and its richest provinces, up to Delhi, had fallen into the hands of the Nawab of Oude, the Marathas, and the English. The Marathas had become much the strongest power in all India; from Delhi, where the Moghal Emperor was in their custody, their possessions or suzerainty stretched right across India to the seashore of Guzerat on the west, and to the Dekhan hills on the south-west; their nominal head was the Peshwa at Poona, but their dominion was really shared by the Peshwa with four other powerful chiefs-Sindia, Holkar, the Raja of Berar, and the Gaicowar-all virtually independent rulers commanding large predatory armies. Lord Wellesley's first movement against the Marathas had been to detach the Peshwa from the confederation by the Treaty of Bassein; a step that alarmed and offended the others. Our relations with the Maratha leader were thus in a threatening condition when the news from Europe, that war with the French was again imminent, gave Lord Wellesley an occasion for pushing matters to an issue in India. His ground of action was, that since Perron, the French soldier of fortune, commanded the armies of Sindia and held possession of the person and nominal authority of the Moghal Emperor, therefore our rupture with France involved hostilities against Sindia. The Maratha leaders, who were themselves meditating an attack upon us, mustered their forces in a menacing
position on the Nizam's frontier; war was declared in 1803, and Elphinstone was attached to General Arthur Wellesley as political secretary. His letters from camp at the opening of the campaign mix up in an amusing jumble quotations from Homer and Catullus, from Spencer and Milton, with Anglo-Indian slang, with scraps of military and political intelligence, and with all kinds of allusions to Indian manners, places, and camp life. He was managing the intelligence department with a swollen liver and a blister on it, while Wellesley's force gradually felt its way up to close quarters with the Marathas, until the two armies met upon the battlefield of Assaye.
The description of this engagement, so celebrated as one of the severest of our Indian fights, and as the action which established Wellesley's military reputation, is given in letters from Elphinstone to his friend Strachey; and we make no apology for a rather long extract.
'The line advanced under a very hot cannonade. When we got near enough the enemy to hear them shout, the General rode back to the cavalry, whom he had sent for, and who were now in the rear. He rode full gallop, told Colonel Maxwell to take care of the right of the infantry, and rode back at speed. In coming back as in going there was the Divil's own cannonade (an exquisite Irish phrase which I have found out), and three horses of our party were knocked down. The General galloped forward to a line which was before us, and we were getting near it very fast when it fired a gun our way; we were barely out of musket shot. Somebody said, "Sir! that is the enemy's line.' The General said, "Is it? Ha, damme, so it is!" (you know his manner) and turned. Before we got to our own line we had the satisfaction to fall in with several pieces of fine shining brass cannon which the enemy had just left. We were away about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour. Our line continued to advance; round and grape flew in all directions. About this time the 74th, who were now at the right of our line, suffered prodigiously from the cannon, and were so thinned as to encourage a body of the enemy's horse to charge them. They did so, and, I am assured by more than one eye-witness, broke and dispersed the few of them who had survived the cannonade. This was the critical moment. The 74th (I am assured and convinced) was unable to stop the enemy; and I know that the sepoys were huddled in masses, and that attempts which I saw made to form them failed; when "the genius and fortune of the Republic" brought the cavalry on to the right. They charged the enemy, drove them with great slaughter into the Joee Nulla, and so saved the 74th. After this the cavalry crossed the Joee, and the infantry, continuing to advance, drove the enemy's infantry across the Joee. They seemed to retreat in good order; but some of them must have been broke, for the cavalry, which had then crossed the nulla, charged up its bank, making a dreadful slaughter, but affording a most delightful spectacle