Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Confident as to this, I approached him with reference to India, and especially with reference to the wide-spread and passionate longing for self-government. At first he hesitated. 'Many years ago,' he said, 'I knew a good deal about India, but at present my knowledge is limited, and not absolutely fresh.'
'But it is an old question that is now up for judgment,' was my reply. 'It is simply one more instance of a nation "rightly struggling to be free."'
'Yes,' he said, 'and so far as that goes, I am with the Indian patriots, and my full sympathy is with the people of India in their aspirations for self-government.'
'What then as to the attitude of the British Government?' I said. 'That does not seem to be very sympathetic: and, as to that, your knowledge must be fresh enough.'
'Quite so,' he replied, 'and I must say I am surprised and rather disgusted at the weakness and cowardice of John Morley of whom I had such hopes. One naturally expected from him something akin to sympathy with national aspirations, something at least more liberal than his reference to such aspirations as crying for the moon. The true way to redeem India is to begin at the bottom, to restore the village communities as self-governing bodies, under the supervision of thoroughly seasoned and sympathetic English or Native inspectors; to restore to the people their land and to make it inalienable, with all that is upon it. That will make an end of the money-lender and the lawyer.'
'But that will take time, probably a long time,' I said, 'especially if "the predominant partner" has to be persuaded. What could be done in the meantime?'
'Well,' he answered, 'considering what we owe to India financially, we might remit the land assessment for some years, to allow the cultivators to rise above perpetual starving point. That, and free irrigation, would probably almost, if not quite, make an end of the chronic famine, which is itself the condemnation of our rule.'
'Then you are in favour of a very large surrender of our rights and rewards as conquerors of India?' I said.
'Of a total surrender as quickly as is prudent: and I think we ought to rejoice just in so far as India wants self-government and is fit for it. Instead of deprecating it and fighting it, we ought to welcome and help it.'
In parting from my good old friend, I only wished that the breed of 'Fine old English gentleman' were more widely represented on English soil.
John Page Hopps.