Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Lord Ellenborough’s Proclamation
By Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800–1859)
 
From Speech, “The Gates of Somnauth,” 1843

SO much for the serious side of this business; and now for the ludicrous side. Even in our mirth, however, there is sadness; for it is no light thing that he who represents the British nation in India should be a jest to the people of India. We have sometimes sent them governors whom they loved, and sometimes governors whom they feared; but they never before had a governor at whom they laughed. Now, however, they laugh, and how can we blame them for laughing, when all Europe and all America are laughing too? You see, sir, that the gentlemen opposite cannot keep their countenances. And no wonder. Was such a state paper ever seen in our language before? And what is the plea set up for all this bombast? Why, the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of the Board of Control, brings down to the House some translations of Persian letters from native princes. Such letters, as everybody knows, are written in a most absurd and turgid style. The honourable gentleman forces us to hear a good deal of this destestable rhetoric; and then he asks why, if the secretaries of the Nizam and of the King of Oude use all these tropes and hyperboles, Lord Ellenborough should not indulge in the same sort of eloquence? The honourable gentleman might as well ask why Lord Ellenborough should not sit cross-legged, why he should not let his beard grow to his waist, why he should not wear a turban, why he should not hang trinkets all about his person, why he should not ride about Calcutta on a horse jingling with bells and glittering with false pearls. The native princes do these things; and why should not he? Why, sir, simply because he is not a native prince but an English Governor-General. When the people of India see a Nabob or a Rajah in all his gaudy finery, they bow to him with a certain respect. They know that the splendour of his garb indicates superior rank and wealth. But if Sir Charles Metcalfe had so bedizened himself, they would have thought that he was out of his wits. They are not such fools as the honourable gentleman takes them for. Simplicity is not their fashion. But they understand and respect the simplicity of our fashions. Our plain clothing commands far more reverence than all the jewels which the most tawdry Zemindar wears; and our plain language carries with it far more weight than the florid diction of the most ingenious Persian scribe. The plain language and the plain clothing are inseparably associated in the minds of our subjects with superior knowledge, with superior energy, with superior veracity, with all the high and commanding qualities which erected, and which still uphold our empire. Sir, if, as the speech of the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of the Board of Control, seems to indicate, Lord Ellenborough has adopted this style on principle, if it be his lordship’s deliberate intention to mimic, in his State papers, the Asiatic modes of thought and expression, that alone would be a reason for recalling him. But the honourable gentleman is mistaken in thinking that this proclamation is in the Oriental taste. It bears no resemblance to the very bad Oriental compositions which he has read to us, nor to any other Oriental compositions that I ever saw. It is neither English nor Indian. It is not original, however; and I will tell the House where the Governor-General found his models. He has apparently been studying the rants of the French Jacobins during the period of their ascendancy, the Carmagnoles of the Convention, the proclamations issued by the Directory and its Proconsuls; and he has been seized with a desire to imitate those compositions. The pattern which he seems to have especially proposed to himself is the rodomontade in which it was announced that the modern Gauls were marching to Rome in order to avenge the fate of Dumnorix and Vercingetorix. Everybody remembers those lines in which revolutionary justice is described by Mr. Canning:—
        “Not she in British courts who takes her stand,
The dawdling balance dangling in her hand;
But firm, erect, with keen reverted glance,
The avenging angel of regenerate France,
Who visits ancient sins on modern times,
And punishes the Pope for Cæsar’s crimes.”
  1
  In the same spirit and in the same style our Governor-General has proclaimed his intention to retaliate on the Mussulmans beyond the mountains the insults which their ancestors, eight hundred years ago, offered to the idolatry of the Hindoos. To do justice to the Jacobins, however, I must say that they had an excuse that was wanting to the noble lord. The revolution had made almost as great a change in literary tastes as in political institutions. The old masters of French eloquence had shared the fate of the old states and of the old parliaments. The highest posts in the administration were filled by persons who had no experience of affairs, who in the general confusion had raised themselves by audacity and quickness of natural parts; uneducated or half educated men, who had no notion that the style in which they had heard the heroes and villains of tragedies declaim on the stage was not the style of real warriors and statesmen. But it was for an English gentleman, a man of distinguished abilities and cultivated mind, a man who had sate many years in parliament, and filled some of the highest posts in the state, to copy the productions of such a school.  2
 
 
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