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The “Pope” of Holland House
Sir James Mackintosh to John Whishaw, 21 February 1806

Chapter I: 1813
Chapter II: 1814
Chapter III: 1815
Chapter IV: 1816
Chapter V: 1817
Chapter VI: 1818
Chapter VII: 1819
Chapter VIII: 1820
Chapter IX: 1821
Chapter X: 1822
Chapter XI: 1824-33
Chapter XII: 1833-35
Chapter XIII: 1806-40
Chapter XIV: Appendix
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Produced by CATH
Parell, Bombay,
Feb. 21, 1806.

MY DEAR SIR,—During the two last years that have passed since we met, you are likely to have heard so often of me from our friends at the “King of Clubs,” that I shall not repeat to you the
From Sir James Mackintosh
few events which have occurred to le in that time. Neither shall I speak of the great and terrible news from Ulm and Cadiz, which is fresh to me at present, but which must be so obsolete before this reaches you. When I say obsolete, I mean if the apparent destruction of Austria be not even at that time too terribly felt in England to suffer the memory of these dreadful calamities to grow faint.

India is at length pacified by a compromise between the system of Lord Wellesley, to which the present Governor is inclined, and that of Lord Cornwallis, which he durst not totally reject. The Province of Bengal, Oude, Agra, Guzerat, and part of Delhi, with the whole Peninsula from Cape Cormorin to the Tapty and the frontiers of Berar, are directly or indirectly subject to England. The country between the Chumbal and the Tapty with the Rajpoot Principalities is left as a theatre for the ambition and turbulence of Scindia and Holkar. The Nayr Princes in Malabar and the Polygar Chiefs in the Southern Carnatic have at length been suppressed, though I fear not without great perfidy and atrocity. The Sikhs, the Rajpoots, and the two Mahratta chieftains are the only independent powers in India and without concert, seaports, or European officers they neither are nor can be formidable. India does not seem to me to contain any source of danger to the British authority. You can easily guess my opinion of the means by which this vast Empire has been acquired. I have been very desirous to know its effects, and perhaps you will not be displeased to hear the result of my inquiries, which have been
extensive, though my own opportunity for observation has been confined to one journey to Poona. There seems no reason to doubt that this revolution has been everywhere beneficial to the body of the people, and has bestowed on them a degree of security to which they and their ancestors in their most boasted days were strangers. Prejudice against foreigners and conquerors of different colour, manners, and religion, do, notwithstanding, render our Government generally unpopular. It seems, indeed, that many Indians prefer the occasional power of oppressing, even though attended with the chance of being oppressed, to the inflexible impartiality of equal government which covers them with a constant shield, but imposes on them a constant curb. They have been so long accustomed to favour and resentment that they have a disrelish for cold, unbending rules. Long experience has taught the people of Bengal to feel the value of security. The British Government is popular in that great Province. Justice is administered and revenue collected often not within a hundred miles of a soldier. The same thing may be said of this island, where we have perhaps a dozen Hindoo and Parsee merchants of fortunes from one to two hundred thousand pounds. That they have made some progress you will also allow when I tell you that several of them say they would purchase and cultivate estates in the rich and beautiful, though now almost deserted, island of Salsette, if it were subject to the Recorder’s Court, where no man can do what he pleases, but that they did not wish to risk their money under a Governor who might change his measures as he thought fit. I have said that our
From Sir James Mackintosh
Government is beneficial to the body of the people. To the higher classes, to all those who are candidates for power and greatness, it is intolerable. With the exception of the few degraded offices at the Courts of the tributary Princes, the lottery of ambition is shut against them. One able and versatile Brahmin, who has successively served
Hyder, Tippoo, and our Raja, administers Mysore, it is said, with great success, though not, I believe, without some instances of severity very repugnant to European usages.

You must not infer from what I have said that our Government, especially in distant countries or new conquests, is what you or I would call good. I only mean that it is far superior to any Asiatic Government. In many of the countries of India any European authority is a blessing. The Mahratta country, for instance, which I lately visited, was a scene of such constant rapine and civil war, that any change which controlled the freebooting chiefs must be beneficial. I saw too clearly the marks of general misrule and the ravages of the recent civil war and famine. Almost all the villages were laid waste chiefly by Holkar, who is the most perfect model of a Mahratta warrior; and even at the distance of fifteen months, skeletons scattered pretty profusely over the fields showed how dreadful the devastation and famine had been among a people who hold in such extraordinary reverence the rites of sepulture.

I must say that I also saw some of the good effects of the control for the first time established among these plunderers. The plains round Poona, which were appropriated and constantly employed as the
encampment of the several chiefs of the Empire, which for a century were a scene of almost daily bloodshed, have at last been restored to the plough, and I saw the first corn that perhaps for hundreds of years had grown upon them.

I may as well tell you of two personages whom I saw in my journey, a martial Brahmin, and an Incarnate God.

The first, a chief of the name of Goda, who came to pay his respects to me, was one of the sternest and most ferocious-looking barbarians I ever saw. He was fully armed, mounted on a fierce Candahar horse, and had a deep scar across his brow from a dangerous wound which he had received in battle about two years ago. His conversation corresponded with his appearance. He told me that he hated to live in cities, and loved the life of the field, where alone either honour or profit was to be got. He has about 3,000 horse, not in his pay (for they are supported by pillage), but under his command. This gentleman does not well correspond with the European ideas of a Brahmin. Of the Incarnate God at Chinchore you must have read in the seventh volume of “Asiatic Researches.” The present incumbent is a handsome child of eight or nine years old, who could scarce be kept awake to converse with us. The benefice is a rich one. The pagoda in which he resides is endowed with lands of which the rents amount to 50,000 rupees (or £6,000) a year, which remain like a fertile spot in a desert, having been spared by Holkar when he spread desolation all around. He is an Avatar, or incarnation of Gunnesh (the same deity
From Sir James Mackintosh
Sir W. Jones labours to identify with Janus). The incarnation has continued for eight generations in the family, and is itself the eighth of the Avatars of Gunnesh. A pundit of some learning is employed in teaching Sanscrit and theology to the young God. I asked what the event of the war in Europe would be. The pundit on the part of the Deo, or God, answered that the question required consideration. I asked how a god came to need consideration. The pundit seemed to feel the difficulty, and defended his master as well as most Doctors of Divinity. He said that an image of the sun in a vessel of water would be shaken as often as you shook the vessel, but the sun was unshaken and immovable. In like manner the Deity when incarnate was necessarily affected by the imperfections of the vehicle. Knowing the almost unanimous opinion of the pundits when they speak esoterically to be that neither gods nor men, nor indeed anything else material or spiritual, has real existence, that all is Maia, or illusion, the effect of the action of Brimh, the vast one, on himself (whom they call God, but by whom they mean only to express an infinite energy which produces the infinite variety of illusive appearances which give a fallacious notion of separate existence, and make up what is called the universe). I ventured to ask the pundit in the temple in the presence of his god, and what was more material of a crowd of votaries, whether the Deo as well as every one else was not Maia. He immediately and without the least hesitation answered that he was. Gunnesh and the other gods, even Bramah, Vishnu, and Siva, were, he said, acknowledged and
revered in theology, but in philosophy they must be owned to be mere Maia. I suppose that this may be the first time that ever a priest made such a confession in such circumstances. But the pundits never dissemble this opinion, though my friend at Chinchore seemed at first a little astonished at an European talking of his secret and philosophical doctrines. I intended to have given you a short specimen of the morality and public feeling of our English Indians, by an abridged account of a trial for peculation which I have lately had here. But
Sir Edward Pellew, who convoys our Indiamen down the coast of Malabar, is so resolutely determined on sailing to-morrow morning that I must refer you for this politico-juridical history to my letter to G. Wilson. You will then see a whole settlement so interested in an old rogue of notorious and long-stigmatised character, who with an office of which the fair, or at least the allowed, profits were £10,000 a year, had received bribes for the clandestine exportation of grain during the famine, as to raise the most illiberal and blackguard clamour against me, for having merely done my duty in preventing the escape of so scandalous a delinquent.

And now, my dear Sir, I am obliged hastily to conclude, but not without humbly requesting that you will refresh me sometimes by the reason, knowledge, and liberality of your letters, which I should estimate anywhere as they deserve, but which I shall indeed value in this vile place. Mention me kindly to the “King of Clubs” and to all its members; remember me to Scarlett and Creevey. I should be obliged by
From Sir James Mackintosh
your conveying my best respects and congratulations on his marriage to
Lord King, whose most excellent pamphlet I have read twice since I have been here, where we suffer under the same malady, of a fallen exchange from excessive issue of paper money. I could not read it without thinking at least, if not exclaiming, “Di Patrii quorum semper sub numine Troja,” &c.

Lady M. begs her best remembrances to you.

I am, my dear Sir,
Very truly and respectfully
Your faithful friend,
James Mackintosh.