BLTC Press Titles

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The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois

Novalis Including Hymns to the Night

Novalis, George MacDonald, Thomas Carlyle

Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley

Paradoxes of the Highest Science

Eliphas Levi

On India

by Alexander Macleod



It is a well-known fact in the history of India, that there was current among the natives a superstitious prophecy, that, one hundred years from the battle of Plassy, British rule was to terminate in the East. As a matter of course, enlightened Britons looked upon this prophecy, as they do upon all prophecies of this nature, with such extreme contempt, that to mention it would be derogatory to the dignity of their character. In their legitimate assumption of this high tone of moral character, they forget or are apt to overlook two truths, namely, that superstition is a constitutional element of the human race wherever ignorance prevails, and that there is nothing too sacred for immolation at its dread shrines. A sad, fearful, and never-to-be-forgotten exemplification of these truths has been given us in the late Indian mutiny. And it is not alone that this mutiny shows how deep a hold superstition takes upon the ignorant mind, and how great barbarities infatuated human beings are capable of committing, but it also as strongly shows our own culpability in slighting such a terrible element as superstition, wherever it has unlimited control over the human mind. We should have been on our guard against its explosive and deadly fury.

Previous to the outbreak of the mutiny, we had more need than ever to be prepared for any contingency that might arise, and to be more careful in abstaining from everything that might tend to foment or urge on that dark spirit of revolt which was about to culminate at the expiration of the hundred years; but instead of these precautions, it is well known that, on our part, there was the utmost supineness, and more than ordinary recklessness, in unnecessary tampering with the prejudices and feelings of these deluded natives. That they were deluded, and that this prophecy had a deep root in their minds, can be seen from the following anecdote: —A few years previous to the mutiny, Subadar Major Ahmed Khan, my most devoted native friend, earnestly urged me to leave India with my family. I knew well that this advice was not a thing to be laughed at, and consequently I more than once pressed it on the notice of General Cubbon, but he, instead of looking upon it as a thing of any moment, did not hesitate to say that I was a kind of alarmist. But although I knew that there was serious cause for alarm, yet I as well knew that it was not my duty to leave India. The course I adopted was that which I had always followed,— to do my duty faithfully to the Government, and, paying as much respect as was consistent with duty to the prejudices and feelings of the natives, I used suasive and conciliatory means to dispel their deeprooted delusions. And, I believe, had these principles been acted upon throughout, we should never have heard of the atrocities that were committed in the year 1857. At the same time, it is my firm conviction that good will be the issue of the mutiny, not only to England, but tenfold more so to India.

The apparent cause of the mutiny was the introduction of the greased cartridge among the natives. This, as it were, gave them a handle or pretext for revolt without any apparent relation to the prophecy alluded to. But I have no hesitation in saying that the natives looked upon this given handle as a providential arrangement for the accomplishment or fulfilment of the prophecy. And it is a fact not to be altogether overlooked, that, at this very time, when it is more than probable that they desired some pretext for revolt, we, as it were, presented them with what they desired. That the Hindoos worshipped bulls and cows, and that the Mahometans held swine as an abomination, were facts as well known to Europeans as to natives of India. And the smallest portions of these animals (of the bull to the Brahmin, and of the swine to the Mahometan) taken within the lips was considered by themselves sufficient to subject them to eternal condemnation, or to be sent to Gehanum. Since such was part of their respective religions, our introduction of greased cartridges at such a time was a grievous oversight. That the unfortunate Sepoy did dare disobey the British Government in preference to the violation of his fancied creed is a mournful reflection. But this belief of theirs was not all. In all places, and on all occasions, there will be found designing and malevolent beings, fit and ready to concoct schemes of mischief whenever a chance presents itself. To increase the horror and dread of the Sepoy that the greased cartridge would be introduced among the native regiments of India, some designing knaves got up a false and distorted rumour that the English missionaries at Delhi had petitioned the Queen of Britain to give orders for the introduction of this cartridge among the native regiments, saying in that petition that the charm of using fat would have all the natives instantly, and by a supernatural impulse, converted to Christianity! This story was kept as secret as death from the English, but was, I believe, transmitted by living telegraphy with the speed of lightning to every native of India, both Brahmin and Mahometan, who owned British sovereignty. And as another instance of the power of superstition, it was not only that the natives believed that the English missionaries had sent such a petition to the Queen, but all the natives, both educated and illiterate, believed that the English believed in the potency of the charm! As a consequence, this story gave animation to the slumbering spirit of revolt, and tenfold impetus to set the Government at defiance, if it should dare to introduce the greased cartridge among them.

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