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Residency at Nagpur, which he assumed at the early age of twentyfive. His appointment to the embassy to Cabul, which I shall immediately notice in connexion with the publication of his work on that country, took place in 1808. His journey to Pesháwar occupied him for abont twelve months; and his preparation of the Reports connected with that journey another year.
Towards the end of 1810, Mr. Elphinstone was nominated to the Residency at the Court of His Highness the Péshwa. He left Calcutta to proceed to Bombay in the Ship Ahmoody, Captain Kinsay, on the 7th January 1811. Among his fellow-passengers was the Rev. Henry .
Martyn, the celebrated chaplain, and translator of the New Testament into Hindustání and Persian, who, writing of him in his Journal, says, “ His agreeable manners and classical acquirements made me think myself fortunate indeed in having such a companion, and I found his company the most agreeable part of my voyage.” On the 24th of the following February, the party arrived in Bombay, from which Mr. Elphinstone soon proceeded to take up his appointment at Puná, which was the more important that the Maráthá powers were really then in an unsettled and restless state, though but few visible symptoms of their disaffection to the British Government were apparent.
Mr. Elphinstone was admitted into this Society, then known by its original designation of the BOMBAY LITERARY SOCIETY, on the 24th February 1812. He was proposed as a member by Major General John Malcolm, seconded by Mr. William Erskine. The party at Bombay with whom he had most genial sympathy was Sir James Mackintosh.
Mr. Elphinstone's literary leisure at Puná was, in the first instance at least, devoted to the final preparation for the press of his important work entitled, “An Account of the Kingdom of Cabul, and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary, and India, comprising a View of the Afghan Nation, and a History of the Douranee Monarchy.” Of this admirable production, in two volumes, three editions have appeared, -in 1815, 1838, and 1842.
The origin of the work is thus explained by Mr. Elphinstone himself: “In the year 1808, when, from the embassy of General Gardanne to Persia, and other circumstances, it appeared as if the French intended to carry the war into Asia, it was thought expedient by the British Government in India to send a mission to the King of Cabul, and I was ordered on that duty. As the court of Cabul was known to be haughty, and supposed to entertain a mean opinion of the European nations, it was determined that the mission should be in a style of great munificence, and suitable preparations were made at Delhi for its
An excellent selection was made of officers to accompany it. I was engaged for a year on the journey here referred to; and another year elapsed before the mission was finally dissolved. The whole of that period was employed in such inquiries regarding the kingdom of Cabul as were likely to be useful to the British Government. The first part of the time was spent by all the members of the mission in the acquisition of general information ; but during the remainder, a precise plan was arranged among the party, and a particular branch of the investigatior assigned to every gentleman who took a share in it.” It was Mr. Elphinstone's labour to combine the whole results of this research into a compact and homogeneous work.
The “Narrative of the Proceedings of the Mission," from Mr. Elphinstone's own pen, which forms the Introduction to the book, is one of great value. We follow in it, with deep interest, the travellers from Delhi to Pesháwar. It is from them that we get the first reliable information respecting the secluded States of Shekhảwati and Bikáner, and the country contiguous to Multan. Their journey, in advance of these places, brought many novelties to notice, connected not only with the physical features and productions of the countries through which they passed, but with the appearance and manners and customs of the various tribes by which they are inhabited. As a traveller, Mr. Elphinstone was observant and conciliatory in .no common degree ; while he constructed his story with the most scrupulous regard to truth and accuracy, avoiding all kinds of inflations and exaggerations.
Mr. Elphinstone, from political reasons, scrupulously abstains from saying anything to the public connected with the political negotiations in which he was engaged; but he gives us a lively view of the state of parties dominant in Afghanistán, and of the public ceremonial of the Court of Cabul at the time of his intercourse with it at the appointed place of meeting. Of Pesháwar itself he also furnishes us with an interesting account. The incidents of his return journey to Delhi he does not reiate at any considerable length.
In the body of Mr. Elphinstone's work we have a mass of digested information, mostly entirely new at the time that it appeared, and still maintaining its freshness and value, notwithstanding all the additions made to it by Captains Burnes and Conolly, and subsequent travellers. The geographical description which it gives of Afghanistán, --of its situation, boundaries, mountain-chains, rivers, and river-systems; its natural and political boundaries; its climate and effects; and its animal, vegetable, and mineral productions, though by no means all derived from personal observation, has been found to be unusually accurate. Of
the Afghan people, – their early history, form of government, social and religious state, manners and customs, agricultural and commercial resources, and associated tribes,- it presents us with a description which will ever be referred to as the first and successful attempt to bring them to the notice of the curiosity and intelligence of Europe. No subsequent accounts which we have received of this people have the fulness and precision of Mr. Elphinstone's book, which will long remain a standard work on the matters of which it treats. It is an honourable monument of the research and ability of the more distinguished men of the Indian Service in the generation which has just passed away, and of which Mr. Elphinstone himself was the last, and, all things considered, the best representative.
Mr. Elphinstone's public engagements at Paná after this work had been given to the public were entirely adverse to continued authorship. His principal occupation there was that of watching, and, if it had been practicable, preventing, the development of the treacherous plans of the Péshwa and of other unfaithful members of the Maráthá confederation. He was not taken by surprise when the crisis occurred in 1817. He narrowly escaped from the snares laid for his own destruction; and, though he had but a small force at his disposal, under Colonel Burr, he compelled the Péshwa to retire, and to commence those unmeaning movements in the Dakhan which soon led to the exhaustion of his forces and his own overthrow. The guiding mind of this short but decisive and final Maráthá war, though the supreme authority was in the hands of Lord Hastings, was that of Elphinstone. On him, too, devolved the settlement of the Maráthá Country after the 'war ; and this he effected with unexampled judgment, consideration, and ability. Higher practical duties than those which he discharged have never, all things considered, and especially the influence of the Maráthá nation on the whole of India, fallen to the lot of an eastern statesman. Let his “Report on the Territories conquered from the Péshwa," submitted to the Supreme Gevernment of British India in 1819, and printed at Calcutta in 1821, and reprinted in Bombay in 1838, be the witness in
very valuable state paper, we have a general view of the geography of the Maráthá Country, a brief sketch of Maráthá history, and an able review of its revenue system, and of its police and criminal and civil justice, with valuable hints for the improvenient of every branch of the Government administration. The peculiarities of his own rule,-for such it was, ere liberality to the influential classes of society, caution in dealing with all classes of the people, and quiet endeavours to promote the amelioration of their condition. He
had a more favourable opinion at first of the indigenous means of native improvement than he was afterwards led to form. While he says, “I do not perceive anything that we can do to improve the morals of the people, except by improving their education,” he adds, “I am not sure that our establishing free schools would alter this state of things, and it inight create a suspicion of some concealed design on our part. It would be more practicable, and more useful, to give a direction to the reading of those who do learn, of which the press affords so easily the means." These early opinions of the party who afterwards became the founder of Government education in the Bombay Presidency, and whose name is associated with all our subsequent advancement, are worthy of being specially marked. The judgments of Mr. Elphinstone varied with his information and experience to the end of his life. He had no stereotyped prejudices.
The appointment of Mr. Elphinstone to the Government of Bombay in 1819, was a strong testimony to the confidence reposed in him by the East India Company and the Ministry of the day, particularly Mr. Canning. Amongst the parties proposed with himself for the office, were Munro and Malcolm; but in this illustrious trio he was worthy of the precedence. The excellent spirit in which he conducted the administration of the West of India will never be forgotten in this locality.
Mr. Elphinstone was elected President of this Asiatic Society on the 29th November 1819, shortly after he assumed the Government; and he continued exactly eight years in office. During this time he conferred upon the Society many personal and public favours. In December 1819 he sanctioned the use of the South-West Ravelin, with its buildings, for an Observatory under its direction. On the 28th March of the following year, he presented it with a most valuable collection of books, containing 179 works in literature, history, and science, and comprising 280 volumes. It was through his influence, too, that the Society came into the possession of a great many of the most valuable of its Sanskrit manuscripts, from the collections of Dr. John Taylor and of Major Miles, which were presented to it by the Court of Directors of the East India Company on his solicitation.
Mr. Elphinstone retired from the presidentship of the Society in November 1827, when he was about to leave India for Britain. On this occasion, an address recognizing the obligations to him of the Society was delivered by the then Secretary, Major Vans Kennedy, from which, as it has never, so far as is now known, been given to the public, a few passages, irrespective of some digressions which it contains, may be here introduced
“It must be admitted that, from a singularly diffident and retiring disposition, which is so often the accompaniment and ornament of real ability, neither our labours have been animated by those discourses, nor our Transactions enriched with those memoirs, which Mr. Elphinstone was so competent to compose. For if not a profound classical scholar, he was sufficiently master of the Greek and Latin languages to enable him to appreciate and enjoy the matchless works of antiquity; and with the modern literature of his own country, France, and Italy, he was intimately acquainted. His active life, however, and public duties, restricted his knowledge of the numerous languages of Asia, to a conversancy with Persian,* and prevented him from prosecuting even in that language the study of Oriental learning by applying to its original sources. But his information on all subjects connected with it, and particularly with the civil and political history of Persia and India, was most extensive. That cause, perhaps, united to the correct and elegant taste which he had derived from nature, but which he had improved and sedulously cultivated by the perusal of the best ancient and modern authors, rendered him a rather too severe critic of Oriental composition. He denied not indeed that its occasional beauties deserved every praise, but he was inclined to think that these could not compensate for its numerous imperfections. This opinion, however, applied merely to the critical merits of Eastern literature; for he evinced, by many enlightened acts, his firm conviction that the Government of this country could not be conducted efficiently and prosperously for many years without adapting it, as far as the real interests of the people would admit, to their long-established and deeply-rooted habits and prejudices ; and hence it was that, in order to acquire an accurate knowledge of their customs, usages, and laws, he encouraged with the utmost munificence the study of the native languages and literature.
“But from his estimation of the native character, which he must have received in its most unfavourable light during his official intercourse with the late Peishwa, whose conduct and that of his Ministers during the last six years of his Government were so marked with duplicity and disregard of' every principle of honour and rectitude, Mr. Elphinstone was persuaded that mental and moral improvement were indispensable for securing the real prosperity of this country, and for enabling the people to understand and appreciate that impartiality, integrity, and justice which distinguished the British Government. Education, there
* To this the Hindustání should have been added, for his knowledge of which he was commended by the Duke of Wellington.