We have great pleasure in publishing the following interesting letter from India: –
“Madras, Feb. 4, 1820. “I have, thank God, no very brilliant events to communicate to you, but if the happiness of man is the legitimate object of all Government, it is good to learn that British India is at peace, and that a temperate and radical reform is gradually going on under the Marquess of Hastings’ administration. The establishment of schools, and a free press, are the moving principles by which this great advancement in the state of society will be accomplished, unless checked by impious powers.
“On the subject of these schools, it is not necessary here to dilate. Suffice it to observe, that it is in the power of any Government, abitrary or free, to educate the great bulk of its subjects, and thereby to advance them in knowledge, civilization, and happiness, in the shortest possible period.
“The establishment of a free press in Asia is, in my estimation, as useful and magnanimous an art as ever adorned the biography of any Statesman. What, say its detractors, is setting loose a parcel of printer’s devils so great an act? No, but setting loose all the intelligence of the age to work upon the public mind and conduct, is an act of unrivalled benevolence. Be it asserted that a free press is only applicable to an advanced state of society, I deny the position ; it is not founded in reason or experience. I contend on the other hand, that where least knowledge and msot evil exist, there is the greatest scope for improvement ; and I offer Scotland as a proof of the efficacy[?] of education and a free press.
“The Marquess of Hastings, Governor General of India, has, in the newspapers of Madras and Calcutta, been accused of having sent two persons of the name of Hastings, to unhealthy climates, the one to the East and the other to the West Indies, where they died ; and for the base purpose of securing to his family the title of Huntingdon. This, you must be aware, was touching his sensitive honour to the quick ; and it would seem as if some one inimical to a free press, had introduced the paragraph to irritate him. But this virtuous man, who would not tread on an insect, allowed this shameful slander to pass unnoticed. It stood refuted in every bosom, and his manly forbearance tended but to give further proofs of his attachment to our infant liberty. Attacks have likewise been made on Sir E. East, our Chief Justice. He complained, they say, of these alleged libels to the Chief Magistrate, who desired him to have recourse to the law Conceive not, however, that I am the advocate for a licentious press. My maxim is, that a great power, when mischievously applied, must be hurtful, and when well applied, beneficial, in proportion to its strength.
“You will rejoice to learn that Mr Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay, has done away with the Censorship of the Press. This wise Statesman, being a friend to freedom, and having experienced the benefits which had arisen in Bengal from the measure (for scarce a day no passes that some abuse is not brought to light by the press), adopted it the moment he came into power, and thus proved himself a public benefactor.
“To conclude, it is my firm conviction, that the diffusion of knowledge, through the medium of education and a free press, will more than any other measure accelerate the improvement and heighten the prosperity, not only of British India, but of the surrounding world.”
Citation: Aberdeen Journal (Aberdeen, United Kingdom), 12 July 1820, available at the Scissors and Paste Database, http://www.scissorsandpaste.net/168.