Images de page

tious or infamous casts. The one is called Burrun Sunker, consisting of all those who have sprung from the prohibited intermarriages, or other illicit intercourse, of the members of the primary classes; and the other, denominated Pariars or Chandalahs, is composed of all those who, by their own crimes, or those of their forefathers, have forfeited cast. To these we may add a seventh cast or class, created by the connection of Europeans with Hindoos or Mahometans, and formed of their offspring. This last, secluded alike from the privileges of the British and the society of the natives, more formed by nature for enduring the climate than the former, and better fitted for military enterprise than the latter, seem destined to make, in some future period, a conspicuous figure, and act a distinguished part, on the theatre of India. The two preceding classes are the most miserable and degraded of mankind; for the forfeiture of cast is the loss of all respectability and comfort, and, once lost, the privilege is irrecoverable: no wealth, no influence can procure its restoration*. Even betwixt the four first orders, which are accounted honourable, there is drawn a line of distinction so complete, that no individual can, on any account, quit his own cast, and enter into another; or marry a person of a

* Vide note F.


History of this singular institution.

different class; or even (except at one religious solemnity) hold any intimate intercourse, particularly in eating drinking and smoking, with his countrymen thus separated from his society*. At the same time, although one of an inferior rank may not assume the privileges, or exercise the functions of another belonging to a superior cast, yet the latter may, in certain instances, descend to the station, and execute the duties of the former.-This distribution of society justly excites our astonishment. Its origin is inexplicable. That one order of men should be ambitious of acquiring, and of establishing a selfish ascendancy, is not wonderful; but that the other classes of the community should have been induced to submit to such arrogant claims, and to concur in enacting laws confirming the usurpation of the few, and degrading, not only themselves, but their posterity for ever, is utterly unaccountable. Its permanency is not less surprising than its origin. In other countries we see remote tendencies to such a distribution; but no distinction of ranks, so complete and so authoritative, anywhere exists: and although in ancient Egypt a similar classification was once established, yet it has been abolished for ages. The Hindoo constitution, however, derived from a period of

* Vide Note G.

which there is no account*, and, unbroken by the violence of Tartar conquest, unshaken by the fanaticism of Mahometan zeal, unimpaired by all the vicissitudes of their history and revolutions of their government, subsists a singular monument of the stability of an order of things, at once unnatural, unjust, and impolitic.


In all the above circumstances the British empire in British emIndia, and its inhabitants, partake. It contains a surface of vast extent; stretching, according to the latest accounts, with the addition of our recent conquests, from Delhi to Cuttach, a thousand miles south; westward, as far as Agra;


and, upon the east, to Silhet, only twelve days journey Extent and from the borders of Yunan in China. Augmenting still, in the career of victory; embracing, in alliance or subjection, the greater part of the peninsula, it has attained a decided preponderance in the East, and exhibits a commercial empire, which, whether you regard its extent, its opulence, the slender means by which it was acquired,

* Vide Note H.



or the lustre of military exploit by which the history of its acquisition has been distinguished, is of the first consideration in the annals of human affairs, or the schemes of modern policy.

The population of this magnificent empire has never been exactly ascertained, and, of course, is variously estimated. A well-informed writer* computed it before the late conquests at thirty millions; and, if some† have raised, and others lowered the computation, this variation may serve to confirm his conjecture. How many the newly-acquired territories may contain, cannot be determined. Besides subjects, there are in Hindostan about thirty thousand servants of the Company, civil and military.

This vast and populous territorial acquisition is under the immediate jurisdiction of three presidencies, viz. Bengal, Madras, and Bombay. Each of these consists of a Governor and Council, composed of a small number of the Company's servants. The government of Fort William in Bengal is the chief of the three; but the other two act independently, unless when such an emergency arises as may compel the supreme power to assume its predominant rights,

Sir William Jones.

+ Dr Tennant rates them at fifty millions. Pinkerton estimates them at twelve or fourteen millions.

to call for the assistance, and to regulate the exertions of the other two. At home, the affairs of the Company are managed by a Board of Directors, chosen, from time to time, by the holders of stock. The proceedings of this original court are now superintended by another and higher judicature, a committee of his Majesty's ministers and privy council, under the title of a " Board of Controul." It is also provided, that an exact account of the transactions of both, and of the affairs of the Company, shall be annually laid before parliament for their review.


By a wise and liberal policy, the natives have been left Condition of to enjoy the benefit of their own institutions and laws; subject, however, to such modifications and arrangements, civil and military, as their internal security, and the nature of their relations to neighbouring powers may require. Among British institutions two are of principal consideration. The one is a supreme court of justice, holding its sittings at Calcutta, and consisting of a president and three subordinate judges, who try the British, the Hindoos, and the Mahometans, severally, by their own laws. The university of Bengal, a still more recent erection, is the other. A magnificent monument of the taste and liberality of the present government of India; may it also prove, for many an age,

« PrécédentContinuer »