« PreviousContinue »
Art. VII.-Memoirs of the Life of the Right Honourable Sir
James Mackintosh, edited by his son, Robert James Mackintosh, Esq.
The book, which we anew introduce to our readers, is one familiar no doubt to many of them: for it appeared some years ago, and was noticed at the time--but so partially, that the Indian topics, which occupy more than half its pages, were scarcely touched upon. The great celebrity of Mackintosh, a philosopher and a man of letters, is, it is true, European; yet the influence he exercised on the small circle in this country, into which it was his lot to be cast, and his impressions of “farthest Ind,” give an interest to his private history, which belongs to that of hardly any other individual, who has visited these remote shores. That there have been men of a career more brilliant, we do not for a moment question; but we feel certain there have been none, whose menoirs possess an equal charm. The dull routine of life in India was peculiarly fitted to draw out the talents of one like him, whose world was his library; as it led him with redoubled zeal to seek in literature relief from the ennui of ordinary Indian society. His criticisms on books are specimens of exquisite taste and extensive reading. Conversation, in the highest sense of the word, was to be met with in his company. His visitors did not come for the purpose of listening to the dissertations of a lecturer; but, on the contrary, he possessed the rare charm of imparting instruction without the appearance of doing so. Of those, who enjoyed the privilege of mixing in his circle at Parell, there remain, we believe, none now at Bombay: the greater portion are, like himself, gathered to their fathers, and the few have long since retired from the service. It was but a little while ago, that the newspapers announced another blank in the list-the old merchantbanker, Sir Charles Forbes. The book under review brings us acquainted, in an interesting manner, with society at Bombay, as it existed in those days. We flatter ourselves, therefore, that we shall be at once consulting the tastes of our readers, and discharging a debt, which we feel to be due to the memory of Mackintosh, by giving a connected narrative of his residence in India.
Our hero was born at Aldourie, near Inverness, in 1765. He was an only child; and, his father being often absent on regimental duty, his mother had more even than the common share of her sex in directing the early dispositions of her child.
She is represented to have been a woman of a very superior stamp, and to have been in the habit of encouraging her son in his early taste for study, somewhat in opposition to the wishes of her husband, who, though in other respects a kind and indulgent parent, complained that the boy would become nothing better than “a mere pedant." In 1779, he lost his kind mother, who died at Gibraltar, whither she had followed her husband, and where, thirty years afterwards, her son erected a monument to her memory. At the age of fifteen, we find him in Aberdeen College, where he remained for four years, wrote poetry, acquired a taste for philosophy, and made the acquain'tance of Robert Hall. In 1784, he went to Edinburgh to study medicine; and in 1788, proceeded, for the first time, to London.
The period was one of great political excitement. It was the era of liberty, or at any rate of what was done in its name. The French Revolution was on the point of bursting ; America had all but achieved her independence; Wilberforce was striving to abolish slavery. But the most remarkable circumstance of all, at least to the Indian reader, was the impeachment of Warren Hastings. Among the crowd assembled in Westminster Hall to listen to the eloquence of Burke and Sheridan, and to witness the deportment of a man, who, in bis day, had held the destinies of millions, but wbo was now a culprit at the bar of the High Court of Parliament, was one, then poor and unknown to fame, but who was destined soon after to break a lance with the Demosthenes of that hour--the noble Burke; and himself to sit in judgment over those nations, "living under strange 'stars, worshipping strange gods, and writing strange characters,
from right to left," among whom the orator was transporting his audience. Little could Sir James have thought, that he would ever have any connection with the country, whose guidance was on that day held up to public reprobation; and perhaps still less could he hare foreseen the renown and the consequences of the Vindicie Gallicæ.
But it is not our intention to dwell upon these scenes ; we shall rather press on to the period of Mackintosh's sojourn in India, contenting ourselves, en passant, with one or two only of the leading circumstances of his life prior to that event. In London he made the acquaintance of several of the leading men of the day, among whom we find as his most intimate friends, Sidney Smith, Whishaw of the Chancery Bar, Joseph Phillimore, Hallam, Chief Justice Mansfield, Francis Horner, Attorney General Law, and Scarlett (since Lord Abinger). By some of this number he was persuaded to abandon the medical
profession, and turn his attention to the study of law. He also, at that time, married; and first appeared as a public writer in the columns of the Oracle' newspaper, to which he contributed articles upon the politics of France and Belgium. This occupation, while it fell in with his taste for discussion, produced him a moderate salary. He continued thus employed till the year 1791, when the publication of the Vindiciæ Gallice, and its rapid sale through three successive editions, at once stamped his reputation as a scholar and an author. A few years afterwards, he succeeded to an excellent practice at the Bar, which, when the appointment of Recorder of Bombay was offered to him and accepted, was said to be worth £1,200 a year.
Sir James's object in accepting the Recordership, was, we are told, a pecuniary one. The magnitude of the salary tempted him. Under the impression that his household expenses in the East would be comparatively light, and that he would save à proportion of his income, sufficiently large, to enable him to return to his native country after a few short years, he took the fatal step--fatal to his greater renown, of relinquishing the charms of London society for those of a dull and infant coterie abroad. But soon all his visions of early affluence were dispelled ; and he had to regret, like Edmund Spenser,
My luckless lot
Into that waste where I was quite forgot." We do not however consider, that, in sending men of distinguished ability like Mackintosh to India, they are
" thrown away.” We believe on the contrary, that India especially requires men of the highest abilities.
We cannot, therefore, agree with Robert Hall, Mackintosh's early friend, who, when bidding him farewell, writes
-“ I am surprised that a great empire can furnish no scene • of honour and rewards for men of genius (a race always
sufficiently rare, and now almost extinct), without sending • them to its remotest provinces. It seems to me to betray
a narrowness of mind in the persons, who compose the 'administration; as if, while they felt the necessity of re
warding, they were not fond of the vicinity of superior
talent." We should rather attribute these remarks to the sentiment of regret, which must have filled Hall's breast, at parting with an early and distinguished friend. We might fill pages, indeed, with extracts expressive of the regret, which Sir James's most distinguished friends experienced at his departure for India. We, however, refrain, attractive as the matter is ; but Francis Horner's tribute
we cannot pass over in silence. In a letter to Mr. William Erskine, he says :-“ Give my respects to Sir James and ' Lady Mackintosh, when you see them. I never pretend
ed to express to either of them my sense of the great • kindness, they have shown me, since I came to London,
because I could not express it adequately; I shall ever feel it ' with gratitude, if I am good for anything. To Mackintosh, ' indeed, my obligations are of a far higher order than those even ' of the kindest hospitality ; he has been an intellectual master
to me, and has enlarged my prospects into the wide regions ' of moral speculation, more than any other tutor I have ever
had in the art of thinking: I cannot even except Dugald • Stewart, to whom I once thought I owed more than I could ever • receive from another. Had Mackintosh remained in England,
I should have possessed, ten years hence, powers and views, ' which are now beyond my reach. I never left his conversation, * but I felt a mixed consciousness, as it were, of inferiority and
capability ; and I have now and then flattered myself with this 'feeling, as if it promised that I might make something of ' myself."
The Winchelsea, Captain Campbell, the ship in which Sir James and his family embarked, quitted the Downs on the 13th February, 1804, and, after a favourable voyage of less than four months, arrived at Bombay. The season was, pero haps, the worst which could have been chosen-the end of May, when the monsoon is gathering in all directions, preparatory to a burst the month following. Of this, a fortnight after, Sir James had full proof. Writing to Mr. Sharp, he says :
“The rain tumbled from the heavens in such floods, that it seemed absurd to call them by the same name with the little sprinkling showers of Europe. Then the air was delightfully cooled, and we all exulted in our deliverance; but we were too quick in our triumph; we soon fouud that we were
to pay in health, for what we got in pleasure. The whole frame ' is here rendered so exquisitely susceptible of the operation of
cold and moisture, by so long a continuance of dry heat, that • the monsoon is the usual season for the attack of those disor• ders of the bowels, which, when they are neglected or ill treat
ed, degenerate into an inflammation of the liver, the peculiar • and most fatal disease of this country. Dr. Moseley's para• dox I now perfectly understand, that the diseases of hot coun
tries arise chiefly from cold. No doubt, cold is the immediate cause of most of them. In the monsoon, heat succeeds so rapidly to damp and comparative cold, and they are so
• strangely mixed together, that we find it very difficult to
adapt our dress and our quantity of air to the state of the weather. We, new comers, threw open every window, and put on our thinnest cotton jackets to enjoy the coolness. The experienced Indians clothed themselves thickly, and carefully ex. cluded currents of air. We soon found that they were right. Lady M. (Sir James's second wife, the former having died in
April 1797) has suffered considerably, and I a little, from the ' cold of Bombay. You may judge how troublesome the strug
gle between damp and heat must be, when I tell you, that I ' had on yesterday a very thin cotton jacket and vest; but
that, having been obliged to take one dose of Madeira and • another of Laudanum, I have this day put on an English
coat and waistcoat, though the thermometer be (I dare say) at 84o."
Jonathan Duncan was Governor of Bombay at the time. He kindly made over to Mackintosh his country residence at Parell, preferring as a bachelor the old Government House within the Fort walls for his own abode. This act of kindness can only be properly appreciated by calling to mind the state of Bombay then, as compared with what it is now. Few lived beyond the Esplanade : the élite of society occupied houses in Rampart Row. Malabar Hill was one dense jungle, frequented only by toddy-men, and infested with snakes; whereas now we find it accessible by a handsome carriage road, and studded with the country houses of the English. Parell, it is true, was something better. The high road to Mahim at least passed near it; though this was so execrably bad, that in the dry season a cut across the flats was commonly preferred. The house at Parell bas undergone little or no change. It was at that time, as it is now, to quote from one of Sir James's letters," a large, airy, and hand
some house, with two noble rooms, situated in the midst of grounds, that have much the character of a fine English Park.”
But, even with the advantage of a residence in the country, we find him soon lamenting how much he had sacrificed, by leaving England, and withdrawing from a society, of which he was one of the brightest ornaments. The consideration of salary, which had tempted him, he found to be little better than a vain shadow. He says—“I feel it somewhat discouraging to look at all my toil and
economy for the two first years, as being little more than enough to clear my expences in coming out and establishing myself......... You speak to me of leaving India :- would to
heaven that I had any near prospect of such an emancipation ! · The prospect of liberty and leisure in my old age allured
me to a colony ; but the prospect is distant and uncertain,