G. B. Malleson upon 1857

This gentleman was an officer of the British Raj, writing at its zenith. Presumably, when he wrote in reply to his rhetorical question about British victory in the War of Independence: “How did they accomplish the impossible?”, he did most earnestly mean his reply: “It was a question of race”, which seems as incredible and insufferable to us today as Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. And yet, consciously or unconsciously, the worthy Colonel writes us, in the selfsame work , some very remarkable gems of irony.

Consider the following paean of ‘the Anglo Saxon Race’: “This race of ours has been gifted by Providence with the qualities of manliness, of endurance, of a resolution which never flags. It has been its destiny to conquer and to maintain. It never willingly lets go. […] Wherever it has conquered, it has planted principles or order, of good government […] The race did the rest. It showed itself equal to difficulties which, I believe, no other created race would  successfully have encountered.”

As for “its lessons and warnings”, applied to the political context some thirty years and more after the actual war, he draws conclusions that are either thoroughly delusional or quite wilfully blinkered:

“I would impress upon the rulers of India the necessity, while there is yet time, of profiting by the experience of the Mutiny. I would implore them to decline to yield to an agitation which is not countenanced by the real people of India. I entreat them to realise that the Western system of representation is hateful to the Eastern races which inhabit the continent of India; that it is foreign to their traditions, their habits, their modes of thought […] The millions of Hindustan desire a master who will carry out the principles of the Queen’s proclamation of 1858. Sovereigns and nobles, merchants and traders, landlords and tenants prefer the tried, even-handed justice of their European overlord to a justice which would be the outcome of popular elections.”

So on and so forth … But I reserved for the end my personal favourite, a very prince of perles: “I know that it has been contended, and recently very ably contended, that that treatment was absolutely just. It was just according to western ideas. But the oriental mind does not admit of the validity of an agreement which deprives a man of his kingdom and makes no provision for his family after his death. Such was the grievance of the Nana Sahib. He had no title in law. But the natives of India believed then, and they believe still, that he had a claim superior to all law.”

Did Colonel George Bruce M. of Her Majesty’s Royal Army actually realise what he was saying? Alack, we shall never know …

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