Page images

the glory of that hour, the strong affections of his nature hroke out with a strange force; and he wished to be at home with his brothers and sisters, to share with them the long-deferred but unsurpassed triumph. Truly, the milk of human kindness was a perpetual spring in that iron breast.

There was one thing in Scinde which Napier found it difficult to deal with, but which he was determined to suppress, and that was—what will our fair readers (and some few such we have) think ?—nothing less than wife killing! In China, it is a household practice to give wives the bamboo; a similar barbarous custom prevails in Russia; and, in times gone by, a man might subject his wife to moderate correction in England, provided the stick was not thicker than his little finger. But to think of killing the poor little things'. "What would the benevolent as well as honourable member who has just brought in a bill for flogging cruel husbands, say to this? Napier would not tolerate it for a moment, and announced his intention of promoting every wife-killer to the gallows. One poor creature was cut in pieces by her husband while her father was interceding for her life. Here was a case for an example, and the governor had the miscreant apprehended, and resolved to hang him. "Hang him!" cried a chief, with astonishment painted on his face. "He only killed his wife!" Think of that, Master Brook! But the old chief had caught a Tartar—one who was not only a defender of the weak against the strong, but who, moreover, was a devoted admirer and friend of the sex, and whose manly heart and mighty arm now accomplished what John Company, good man! had never troubled himself about, putting an end to wife-killing, and widow-killing, with very little opposition.

One remarkable characteristic of Sir Charles Napier was the strength of his judgment, which, though he was naturally hot and impulsive, kept his temper in check, even under the most trying provocations, and never permitted him to be involved in an unbecoming situation. It is pleasant to find him writing home to express a hope that his brother will be guided by the same prudence in writing the Conquest of Scinde. All who have read that matchless work, or the masterly biography now before us, will certainly feel there was no occasion for the warning; but the more reason is there to admire the candour and the generous good sense that prompted it. Napier was more jealous of his brother's reputation as an author than of his own fame. The work, he remarks, "will be corrected first by his taste, secondly, by the regard for his reputation as a writer, which to me is more dear than all the praise in the world; and he will know that the bitterest sarcasm is undue commendation." Is there nothing, then, of the spirit of the partisan in the narrative of the Conquest of Scinde ?— nothing of it in the present volumes? If there be, we do not feel, do not recognise it. We see only the hero of a glorious page in our military annals, fighting his way against every obstacle and every evil influence; and each obstacle is vividly described, and every evil influence eloquently denounced, by one who smites as effectually as the warrior in battle, though his two-edged sword is but words. If partisanship there be, it is fired by just indignation, by pious wrath; it guides the pen of one who thoroughly knew the nature, the inmost thoughts, of the man he depicts; who throws him full on the canvas, with all his little imperfections on his head, side by side with the glowing portraits of his calumniators, and is content to cry—Look on this picture, and on this!

Among the foremost of Napier's detractors was Lord Howick, now Earl Grey, who, with humanity always on his lips, has never been known to do a good action. The arrogance and overweening conceit of this impracticable peer are a proverb, and he was surely as little worthy of the hero's notice as Mr. Buist. He would, indeed, have been forgiven, only for a certain itching in Napier's fingers, which longed to give him a bear's embrace. "I am not such a robber," exclaims the old general, "as his grandfather was, and his father the minister for domestic relations. It is hard, in the common acceptation of the word, for an honest man serving his country in the midst of dangers and trials, physical and moral, and acting from the honourable feeling of doing his duty, in despite of any—I may say, of every danger; it is hard for him to be exposed to the insolence, the injustice, the falsehoods of men like Lord Howick. .... To give him personal chastisement would give me pleasure, such as one feels at cutting a village cur-dog with a whip; but I forgive all of them. After anger, contempt succeeds. I never feel angry in my heart against any one—beyond wishing to break their bones with a broomstick."

The recall of Lord Ellen borough in 1844, after a brilliant and useful administration, greatly affected Napier, who was sensible of the valuable services of that able man, and saw that the ruling faction would soon take the same step towards himself. In truth, he had no wish to remain any longer in India, and his declining health induced a presage that his stay on earth altogether would be short. But at every rumour of change, Scinde became troublesome; the " lion" burst from his stronghold in the mountains and ravaged the country, and the troops broke into mutiny. The untiring energy and tact of Napier were in constant requisition, and no hand but his could crush every disturbance, and bring things again into order. The harass and anxiety of these events, heightened by the necessity of adopting severe measures of repression, were relieved by an incident in his domestic circle, and he experienced a parent's satisfaction at the union of his daughter with a man of his own stamp—Major, now Colonel McMurdo, whom he succinctly describes as "a very fine fellow."

Sir Charles's subjects in Scinde were a rare lot of savages. As they thought nothing of hewing their wives in pieces, slitting up their noses, and chopping off their ears, so they had a common pastime of hanging their slaves by way of amusing the village children, while they satisfied their own diabolical fury. Great astonishment was created by the governor consigning the perpetrators of these crimes to the same fate. Of course, everybody was very indignant; but, somehow or another, they got reconciled to it, and slave killing, like woman killing, was summarily put a stop to. But, though the general population might be kept in order, it was not so easy to reclaim the Ameers, and they pertinaciously adhered to traditional practices. Infanticide was a favourite recreation of the Scinde noblesse. "They first give odalisques, women, potions to cause miscarriage; if that fails, they chop up the child with a sword, or place it underneath a cushion, and sit upon it, smoking and joking. This is as well known as that the sun shines. People may believe it or not, but it is true, and so common that I am unable to prevent it. In Cutch they kill daughters who do not marry quickly, or if they have not dowries to give them; it is a dishonour to grow up unmarried, and so they kill them."

What did not that man deserve from his species who sensibly checked, if he could not wholly repress, these outrageous atrocities! But Napier not only sought to regenerate the people; he exacted a scrupulous probity from his own officers. Justice was dealt out in the same measure, and with the same even hand, to all classes, and to every comer.

A lieutenant of police made a clean sweep of a village, and answered the humble remonstrances of the inhabitants by flogging their spokesman; but the poor and helpless were no longer without a protector, and when a rumour of the foul deed reached Sir Charles, this Lord High Constable was sent a prisoner to the despoiled hamlet, hoisted up in its centre, and subjected to the mild stimulus of two dozen. A powerful kurdar was convicted of cheating, and was mulcted in a fine of £500, deprived of his jaghire of eight thousand acres, and condemned to work in chains. Such examples had a salutary and wholesome effect. It was a proud boast for Sir Charles, and one worthy of his fame, that an Englishman, once so hated in Scinde, could now ride where he pleased without an escort. The poor women were especially charmed with the new state of affairs, as well they might be; and referring to Napier's government, openly declared that they had now got a "bundibus." Perhaps some of their husbands considered it a blunderbuss!

Sir Charles was not so occupied by his administration in Scinde as to have no thought for what was passing beyond its boundaries; and his eagle glance often turned anxiously on the Punjaub, noting the doubtful attitude of the warlike Sikhs. With characteristic sagacity he foresaw the approaching collision, predicted that the first movement would be made by the enemy, and that the crash would shake India. Ellenborough was succeeded by Hardinge, who had successfully manoeuvred for the appointment, and whose arrival was anxiously expected. The new Governor General snapped his fingers at the Sikhs, and thought he should " very easily thrash them." Such was the difference in the judgment and in the calibre of the two men, and so wisely did our rulers choose in that memorable crisis.

One of the most remarkable acts of Sir Charles Napier's government was his campaign against the hill robbers. These marauders were the scourge of the region, sweeping over it like an avalanche or an earthquake, laying the soil waste, and cutting off the inhabitants. After two or three isolated forays, the Governor determined to take the bull by the horns, and utterly destroy him. His designs, as usual, were misrepresented by the hostile portion of the press, and even by his enemies at home; and while seeking only to defend the poor Ryots, he was held up as a monster in human form, who waded in blood for the sake of plunder and prize-money. But no abuse could turn him from his purpose, or induce him to swerve from what he considered his duty; and, accordingly, he deliberately laid his plans, and set to work, tracking the robber bands to their fastnesses, and, with incredible efforts, bringing one after the other to bay. To give an outline of these skilful operations would require more space than our present limits will permit; but the campaign deserves to be studied as a great lesson in strategy. "Wellington, talking on the subject with Lord Ellenborough, declared he was charmed with what had been done, with Napier's zeal and energy, and that of the officers under him. The great Duke was above any petty jealousy: he recognised the merit of Napier, and was always foremost to proclaim it.

The Sikh whirlwind burst forth as Sir Charles had expected, as he had predicted, and found India and its Governor General unprepared. All that Lord Hardinge could now do was to hurry to the scene of action, and take his part in the burden as well as the glory of the pending conflict. But the glory was yet to be won. Fortunately, Lord Gough, a brave and victorious soldier, would not be made the tool of the aspiring Governor General; though he had not been properly equipped, he retained his ground, and fought those terrible and evermemorable battles, the very names of which awaken a shudder. The Sikh deluge rushed down, but was met by a rock—a rock immovable, impenetrable, which bore back the tide, mingled with the best and noblest blood in England's veins. Posterity will wonder why Hardinge was not censured for being thus taken by surprise, when the storm had been long foreseen; but much more that, after entailing on his country such fearful consequences, and endangering the very existence of our Indian empire.Court favour should have been permitted to confer upon him the prize rightly due to the gallant Lord Gough. Napier was a spectator of this great campaign. Himself threatened, and occupying a position of extreme danger, he yet could not withdraw his eye from the seat of war, and watched the operations with nervous anxiety. This was not lessened when he heard, on the authority of letters from the army, that Hardinge had been surprised on the field, and had suffered the Sikhs to cross the river with 60,000 men and 100 guns. But the Governor General displayed his usual gallantry in action, and his bravery deserves all praise. Far be it from us to detract one tittle from his just merits. A brave soldier and efficient staff officer he certainly was, but to anything more he had no pretensions, and the mischief which resulted from placing him in positions for which he was unqualified can hardly yet be estimated. Napier described his fatal incapacity on this occasion in a few words—" With Napoleon or one of his Marshals in front, he would have been lost: the courage of his troops carried him through." Yes, the courage of his troops! but was it not also their blood—blood that might have been saved! Sir Charles thus vividly reviews Hardinge's situation in the height of the crisis:— "Alas! alas 1 my plans are all upset. Hardinge would not believe that the Sikhs would war, because his dear friends the civil servants and old Indians, and such rubbish, told him so. He, therefore, neither gathered troops, nor formed magazines on the frontier, to enable him to assemble a powerful army. But the Sikhs did war, they crossed the Sutlege; from that moment, indeed, Hardinge did all that man could do to repair his error. He rapidly assembled troops, and three times by wise, intrepid conduct saved the army, which would otherwise have been lost. Victory was ours; yet, at the end of nearly two months, we were still encamped on the field of battle; and this after such bloody battles, and when we have above forty thousand men! Now Hardinge finds, what, had he been an experienced, practical commander, he would have known at first: viz., that errors in principle at the head of so large an army cannot escape punishment. Having no magazines, no heavy artillery, no ammunition prepared, he is paralyzed; and instead of being at Lahore, where he ought to have been, on last Christmas-day, he cannot move. He feels that he cannot. .... "He thought, from what the civil blockheads told him, that to put down a native enemy was a pastime. Suddenly he found all this fallacious, and that Indian warfare needs all the resources of art to meet its great difficulties; amongst those are the courage and superior numbers of the natives, and their sun, all bearing down at once and, unless skilfully met, very dangerous. Discipline and courage we have, but food and shelter must also be found, and Hardinge has found neither!

"In this extremity he has sent for me, and, so far as I can yet see, his army is in a most dangerous position. In sending for me, he may have done right, if he feels more confidence in me than in Gough or himself; but he has thwarted my campaign, which would have produced an immense effect. He has thus paralyzed fifteen thousand of his best troops, with which I should have conquered Mooltan and all that country up to Pauk Pittary; and probably have forced the Lahore government to have detached half the Sikh army to meet me: that half I should have drawn after me as far as I could and then beaten it, while Sir Henry advanced upon the remainder in his front. This would have been all practicable, and I should have opened the whole course of the river up to Ferozepoor. Now this advantage is lost. We shall see what will happen."

To these remarks Sir William Napier adds the following able comments : —

"The military error is shown above; the political or moral error is still more apparent: that is, if Sir C. Napier was called up with the view of directing the movements. For, if Gough's talent for command was doubted by Sir Henry Hardinge, and that he would not be guided by a Governor-General, it is certain that he would not be so by an inferior officer. "Why should he? He was an experienced, gallant, and successful soldier, and it is not in human nature to doubt our own abilities in such circumstances. Suppose, not an unlikely case, that the advising general had differed from both the Governor-General and the Commander-in-chief! How could he have enforced his views? And what a task! Charles Napier, drawn from the true line of operations, called from the head of an army which he had furnished with all material means, and excited morally almost to frenzy; called to be a hopeless arbitrator and adviser of disputing men in power, in face of an enemy! Had they yielded to him, would the policy have been good? No, certainly; for it was to take him from his own wellappointed army with which he was thoroughly acquainted, to act with an army in distress and of which he knew nothing, and by whom he

« PreviousContinue »