We now come to the gist of the matter. We
have a fund to be employed as Government
shall direct for the intellectual improvement
of the people of this country. The simple
question is, what is the most useful way
of employing it?
All parties seem to be agreed on one point,
that the dialects commonly spoken among the
natives of this part of India contain neither
Literary nor scientific information, and
are, moreover, so poor and rude that, until
they are enriched from some other quarter,
it will not be easy to translate any valuable
work into them. It seems to be admitted on
all sides that the intellectual improvement
of those classes of the people who have the
means of pursuing higher studies can at present
be effect only by means of some language
not vernacular amongst them.
What, then, shall that language be? One
half of the Committee maintain that it should
be the English. The other half strongly recommend
the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question
seems to me to be, which language is the
best worth knowing?
I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or
Arabic. — But I have done what I could
to form a correct estimate of their value.
I have read translations of the most celebrated
Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed
both here and at home with men distinguished
by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues.
I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning
at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves.
I have never found one among them who could
deny that a single shelf of a good European
library was worth the whole native literature
of India and Arabia. . . .
. . . It will hardly be disputed,
I suppose, that the department of literature
in which the Eastern writers stand highest
is poetry. And I certainly never met with
any Orientalist who ventured to maintain
that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could
be compared to that of the great European
nations. But, when we pass from works of
imagination to works in which facts are recorded
and general principles investigated, the
superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely
immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration
to say, that all the historical information
which has been collected from all the books
written in the Sanscrit language is less
valuable than what may be found in the most
paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools
in England. In every rank of physical or
moral philosophy the relative position of
the two nations is nearly the same.
How, then, stands the case? We have to educate
a people who cannot at present be educated
by means of their mother-tongue. We much
teach them some foreign language. The claims
of our own language it is hardly necessary
to recapitulate. It stands preeminent even
among the languages of the West. . . .
Whoever knows that language, has ready access
to all the vast intellectual wealth, which
all the wisest nations of the earth have
created and hoarded in the course of ninety
generations. It may safely be said that the
literature now extant in that language is
of far greater value than all the literature
which three hundred years ago was extant
in all the languages of the world spoken
together. Nor is this all. In India, English
is the language spoken by the ruling class.
It is spoken by the higher class of natives
at the seats of Government. It is likely
to become the language of commerce throughout
the seas of the East. It is the language
of two great European communities which are
rising, the one in the south of Africa, the
other in Australasia; communities which are
every year becoming more important, and more
closely connected with our Indian empire.
Whether we look at the intrinsic value of
our literature or at the particular situation
of this country, we shall see the strongest
reason to think that, of all foreign tongues,
the English tongue is that which would be
the most useful to our native subjects. . . .
. . . It is said that the Sanscrit
and Arabic are the language in which the
sacred books of a hundred millions of people
are written, and that they are, on that account,
entitled to peculiar encouragement. Assuredly
it is the duty of the British Government
in India to be not only tolerant, but neutral
on the religious question. But to encourage
the study of a literature admitted to be
of small intrinsic value only because that
literature inculcates the most serious errors
on the most important subjects, is a course
hardly reconcilable with reason, with morality,
or even with that very neutrality which ought,
as we all agree, to be sacredly preserved.
It is confessed that a language is barren
of useful knowledge. We are told to teach
it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions.
We are to teach false history, false astronomy,
false medicine, because we find them in company
with a false religion. . . .
. . .In one point I fully agree
with the gentlemen to whose general views
I am opposed. I feel, with them, that it
is impossible for us, with our limited means,
to attempt to educate the body of the people.
We must at present do our best to form a
class who may be interpreters between us
and the millions whom we govern; a class
of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but
English in taste, in opinions, in morals,
and in intellect. To that class we may leave
it to refine the vernacular dialects of the
country, to enrich those dialects with terms
of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature,
and to render them by degrees fit vehicles
for conveying knowledge to the great mass
of the population.