George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 3 of 13)
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Wilkins, were all Fellows of the Royal Society. When were
these gentlemen, individually or collectively, appealed to by the


learned Fellows, to use the influence which they possessed with
the Court of Directors, regarding the Great Trigonometrical
Survey, and other scientific undertakings in India ?

Mr. Colebrooke and Mr. Edmonstone were also Fellows of
the Royal Society, and were, I know, particularly the latter
gentleman, most anxious to do all that lay in their power to pro-
mote science. The late Mr. Davis, and Mr. John Loch, gentle-
men in the direction, and whose influence has always been
considerable in Indian affairs, have not only shown no disincli-
nation to exert that influence in the promotion of scientific
pursuits, but have constantly been the advocates, the unflinching
advocates of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. Of the
latter gentleman I speak from personal knowledge, and with the
warmth of personal friendship, and therefore mine may perhaps
be considered a partial testimony ; but it must be remembered
that our friendship has been formed and grown up in the course
of an official intercourse and discussion on this very question,
and thereby only furnishes one more item of evidence of the
accessibility of the members of that body towards those who will
consent to study the happy mean between obsequiousness and

But of all those who have most shielded this extensive under-
taking, and, at a time when the ink was yet flowing in the pen
which was to pass its sentence of annihilation, have exerted
themselves most to stay the hand of short-sighted economy, and
perpetuate its existence till brought to an honourable conclusion,
let me not omit to mention my lamented friend the late Major-
General Salmond, the Military Secretary of the India House.

And what was the meed of praise which the learned gentlemen
ever thought fit to bestow on exertions so honourable, and tend-
ing to make amends for the inglorious indifference displayed
towards objects so purely national, by those on whom the burden
chiefly devolved ? Please your Royal Highness, the names of
neither Mr. Loch, nor the late Major-General Salmond, are
known within the walls where the Royal Society holds its


meetings ; and this will be perhaps one of the first, if not the very
first occasion in which either of them has been pronounced in
connection with the subject of the Great Trigonometrical Survey
of India.

I speak too, no doubt, of the late Military Secretary, with the
warmth of personal friendship, but it was a friendship formed
subsequent to my arrival in England in 1826, for prior to that
we knew each other only by name. Mutual esteem grew up
between us as our official intercourse made us better acquainted ;
and I hold it as one of the proudest events of my life that I
made of this highly honourable-minded man a firm friend and
powerful advocate, without being required to deviate from the
course of candour and independence which had characterised me
through life, and which had made for me few friends, and not
that very few of enemies.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.




" Cum scelus admittunt, superest constantia : quid fas
Atque nefas, tandem incipiunt sentire, peractis
Criminibus. Tamen ad mores natura recurrit
Damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia. Nam quis
Peccandi finem posuit sibi ? Quando recepit
Ejectum semel attrit& de fronte ruborem?
Quisnam hominum est, quern tu contentum videris uno
Flagitio?" JUVENAL.


Or all the wonderful facts which history records, that of the
government of India by Great Britain is the most calculated to
excite surprise, and the most difficult to reconcile with any pre-
conceived notion.

Whether we consider the relative areas of the two countries,
or their respective amounts of population ; the distance which
separates the one from the other, or the total contrast between
the manners, religion, usages, and climates of the two, where is
the man who would have ventured to say d priori, that such a
contingency was within the reach of probability, or even possi-
bility ?

The stranger who arrives from Europe to satisfy himself of the
existence of this truly surprising feature in the history of man, is
absorbed in wonder at the general security with which the
traveller proceeds by night and day along the high roads, and is
punctually conveyed from stage to stage in a palankin, carried


on the shoulders of relays of men, and lighted by torches care-
fully prepared, tended and carried by others, who chatter and
wrangle with each other in a tongue unknown to him ; whilst
he, unless long intercourse, habit, and study, have made him
familiar with the dialect of the inhabitants, is utterly powerless to
communicate the most common emotion of his mind to a single
creature around him, and is borne along, as if in a land of magic,
at the mercy and will of his carriers.

The secret of all this is better and more concisely expressed in
one of the dispatches of His Grace the Duke of Wellington,
when the Honourable General Wellesley, than I have elsewhere
seen, and consists in the fact, that the Hindus are the only true
practical philosophers in respect to government. In fact, it
seems a matter of perfect indifference to them who governs,
provided they are allowed to hoard money by drops, and spend it
by buckets-full in their own way; to follow the customs -of their
forefathers without interruption whether as regards religious
worship, the rules of caste, or other such matters; to obtain
hearing for their tales of hardship from those in authority over
them ; are not liable to be fleeced illegally, or more than they
have been used to ; and are ensured tolerable protection against
plunder and robbery.

As to the Mohammedans, those who are nominally of that creed
form scarcely more than one in ten of the whole population, and
of those by far the greater portion are converted Hindus ; converted
in form of faith only, for they almost universally abide by their
old habits, and continue to a greater or less degree to bow down
before the same idols which were objects of the worship of their
forefathers before the change.

The genuine Mohammedans are in fact the only class who exhibit
any deviation from the condition of practical philosophy of
which the noble Duke makes mention, unless indeed we except
now and then some stray ambitious Brahmin or two, who may
sigh for the pleasant times prior to the days of Mohammedan
invasion, when their class was looked on as sacred and divine,


and had the privilege of plucking out tongues by the roots, and
pouring boiling oil down the throats of low caste rogues who
chanced to look awry at them, crossed their path in the morn-
ing, or presumed to pronounce any word of the Vedas or other
holy books with their unhallowed voices.

Persons of this class would not be so easily contented to be
governed by strangers and Christians ; but then the mass of the
people amongst whom they exist are bitterly hostile to them; and,
outnumbered as they are by these, and powerless, as they know
themselves, to make head against British discipline and British
courage leading on and directing the multitude, they also deem
it the part of wise men to put on the semblance of virtuous
resignation to the decrees of fate, and the will of Allah or Par-

I have taken the liberty, please your Royal Highness, to enter
into this little preface, in order that I may be understood here-
after, without the necessity of a reference to first principles for
this wonder of history. This unparalleled control of a vast and
distant country, with all its complicated and intricate machinery,
is, as we know, entrusted by the law of the land to the E. I.
Company, who were in the origin, and still are nominally, a
body of merchants trading to the East Indies, though they have
for some years totally abandoned all trade whatever in their
chartered capacity.

Now though individually the gentlemen of the Direction are, as
I have above said, generally remarkable for their unassuming,
unpretending manners, yet it is a great mistake to conclude
therefrom, that they are insensible to the importance of their
functions as a body : they have a perfect consciousness of their
strength, consequence, and the mightiness of the trust reposed
in them, in which respect they are perhaps hardly surpassed by
the autocrat of all the Russias.

It must be evident to your Royal Highness, that a Government
so constituted, whether we regard the home or local authorities
which compose it, must have many objects to attend to which


are essential to the maintenance of their actual position and
existence. The higher branches of science can only be promoted
by them incidentally, as an interlude, if I may so express
myself, not as a main part of the drama ; and it ought to be
rather matter of gratulation and praise, that they have accom-
plished so much, than that so much remains to be achieved.

And really, though I have no intention of sounding the trum-
pet of the Court of Directors, yet common justice requires me to
say, that in matters connected with science, it would be difficult
to find any set of men more actuated by purity of intention,
singleness of purpose, or entire disinterestedness in the choice of
their agents, than I have found them in all my transactions with
them and few persons have had more. Wherefore when they are
told by an officer in their own service, in unmeasured terms, that
" the public money has been usually muddled away in the
accomplishment of scientific objects, one hardly knows how, in
the most unsatisfactory way, with few or no results of any prac-
tical utility," I should think they have great reason to be not
very well pleased with the compliment.

This elegantly-turned phrase is, I remark, attributed by Major
Jervis to Professor H. H. Wilson and Dr. J. F. Royle, who
were formerly also in the service of the E. I. Company ; and it
can hardly be doubted that these gentlemen are not very con-
scious of the obligation rendered by the Major, in thus coupling
their names, in a published letter, with what he confessedly calls
a homely expression, which were, as I humbly opine, much
better consigned to oblivion; for as far as my experience goes, the
E. I. Company have at least as much to show for their outlay in
scientific matters as other governments usually have, and if this
opinion be correct, the censure conveyed would be as unmerited
as out of place. Now, though I am prepared to enter into parti-
culars, and discuss the merits of this opinion of mine in proper
time and place, yet as I am confined for room at present, I do
not feel it incumbent on me to do so in this correspondence; and
in the mean time I have only to hope, that those who controvert


it, will be prepared to define what they mean by the terms
*' muddled away" " unsatisfactory way" " results of any
practical utility," which your Royal Highness will give me
leave to say, are in India at least, if not throughout the world, of
the most dubious import.

For example, the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India is
perpetually denounced in the public papers of India as a source
of waste and expenditure, both needless and profitless ; and we
have yet to learn whether this is the sort of muddling away
implied by the learned gentlemen cited, for if it be, there is
a difference in limine between them and me, and I presume your
Royal Highness also, which had much better be disposed of
before such a discussion were commenced on.

I will not be hard upon the learned Professor, whose amiable
manners and good taste, as well as extensive acquirements,
entitle him to a full allowance of the privilege of desipere in loco;
and really, if all the hasty and unwise expressions which any
of us poor mortals, however highly gifted, could be proved to
have uttered during his lifetime, were to be treasured up, and
brought in judgment against him, it would be a sorry affair.

The case, however, is very different, when an officer of the
E. I. Company's Service, selected by the Court of Directors to hold
the highest scientific situation under them, not only in a letter
to his masters distinctly charges them with this misdirection of
the funds of their constituents, but publishes that letter to the
world, and that too in a pamphlet, with which is bound up an
Address from thirty-eight learned Fellows, pledging themselves to
make common cause with the author. This, I submit to your Royal
Highness, is a decided breach of subordination and decorum,
striking at the very root of that discipline without which no
Government can hold together, but particularly one constituted
like that of India. Our conquests in this country are owing to
our superiority on this point, and without it they cannot be
maintained ; so that, if this, which is the basis of our rule, be
undermined, the whole edifice must naturally tumble to the


ground, and with it will vanish all hope of further prosecuting
scientific inquiries.

It is my persuasion (and few men have had better opportu-
nities of forming a judgment, or have more solid ground whereon
to entitle them to utter their sentiments with frankness than
myself,) that nothing would, at all times, have afforded the Court
of Directors higher gratification than the expressed testimony
of the Royal Society to the value of their unremitted exertions
in the cause of science, and the manifestation of a sincere and
cordial desire on the part of that learned body to co-operate with
them. I have little doubt that, as to the selection of a fitting
person to be their Surveyor-General, the nature of the scientific
operations most worthy to be carried on, or to the manner of
conducting them, the Court would most thankfully' receive any
suggestions from the Royal Society which might be offered
in the pure spirit of philosophy, and dictated by calm delibera-
tion, and patient investigation ; but a hasty Address, got up on
the spur of the moment, calling on them, in language little short
of peremptory, to repose confidence in, and delegate power to
Major Jervis, a gentleman of whose practical fitness the thirty-
eight learned Fellows who sign that Address knew nothing what-
ever, whilst the Court themselves have yet to find means to
appreciate it, unless they are pleased to take that officer's own
affirmations as valid warrantry, is indeed a very, very different

In the meantime the Court, who are well known for caution
in placing their confidence, will hardly have allowed it to escape
them, with what ominous silence my name and experience are
passed over, and set aside. Abundantly grateful I naturally
feel, and most lowly do I bow to the ground for the implied
compliment, and this unequalled return for all my labours and
sacrifices ; yet the Court, who have hitherto allowed to my poor
merits a higher place in their estimation than they are entitled
to, are, unfortunately for the project, as slow in withdrawing their
confidence, as deliberately cautious in reposing it ; and when they


come to reflect that I am myself a Fellow of the Royal Society,
and have often sat within the walls of that assembly, where none
ventured to question my capability for the trust confided to me,
what is the result, please your Royal Highness, that they must
inevitably come to ?

Is there any mode of escaping the conclusion that my absence
is the cause ? that I am well known to be a person having an
opinion of my own, which I will never yield but to conviction?
that the thirty-eight learned Fellows desire to have a more pliant
instrument, and to impose on India and the E. I. Company,
in the person of their Surveyor-General, a puppet, of which the
strings of action shall be pulled by themselves ; an automaton
obedient to their impulse only, and who should move only by
the mechanism which a quartetto of their nomination may be
pleased to arrange ?

The plan is ingeniously enough devised, and if the learned
gentlemen had known more of the local peculiarities of the
country which is destined to be the theatre of their spectacle,
it might have held out more promise of success ; but without
some acquaintance with these, it can hardly avoid sharing the
fate of poor Mr. Cocking's parachute, in which case the least
evil to be dreaded is the fruitless waste of the public money,
which will considerably add to the number of opponents of
science in the abstract, already greater than is desirable, and,
by bringing it into disrepute, greatly obstruct its advancement.

The crash which will assuredly ensue of the whole of the
never-to-be rivalled scheme, is one which I could be well content
to look on at with folded arms and resignation ; but I am anxious
to rescue from the wreck what has been accomplished by myself,
and preserve it from that sort of spoliation which has been so
often carried on in times past and present, by scientific depre-
dators, and will no doubt in times future, to the end of the

In such matters, men who pass for, and doubtless are, in the
common affairs of life, strictly honourable characters, ofttimes



seem to labour under a species of mental hallucination, which
blinds them totally, or almost so, to the distinction between
meum and tuum. Who could have supposed that Halley, and
the mightiest of the mighty, Newton, could ever have de-
liberately lent themselves to the cruel spoliation of Flamsteed,
had their eyes been wide open to the wickedness of the deed ?
Yet it is too plain they did so ; for what is it else than this, and
what other name can possibly be assigned to the act of surrep-
titiously obtaining leave to examine a voluminous set of observa-
vations, and then publishing them to the world, against the
consent, and without the knowledge, of him who made them.

The disgraceful scene which appears in the end to have been
enacted in the chamber of the Royal Society itself, in which the
greatest philosophers of that or any other age, one of them,
probably, the most original genius that the world will ever see,
and all grown grey in pursuit of science, are described as la-
vishing personal abuse on each other, and dealing out mutual
recriminations, in language which ought never to pass between
gentlemen and Christians, still less philosophers, might well
and ought to have been consigned to oblivion, but for the great
moral lesson which it holds forth. If this lesson is to be lost
sight of, it would have been the height of turpitude to rake up
and revive from its ashes such an inglorious and indecent con-
flict ; but if the object be to preserve us from the chance of a
future infliction of the kind, we cannot too highly laud him
who has taken the trouble to place the whole subject in array
before a calm and unbiassed posterity.

Now it will hardly happen but that, having so long been en-
gaged in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, there must
be many portions of my work yet remaining to be brought up,
which would have been all in a floating state if I had not been
compelled by sickness to return to England in 1 834-5 ; and even
yet this might happen, if I were to quit India whilst any portion
is left incomplete. What then is to deter some stranger hand
from seizing on the data in my office, and giving them to the


world as his own ? If the celebrated Halley could stoop to
similar and worse meanness, and the immortal Newton could
sanction such a proceeding with his advocacy, why are inferior
men to be supposed more immaculate, and incapable of perpe-
trating a depredation of the sort I allude to ?

Without meaning at all to attribute any disposition of the
kind to any person in particular, yet as I have learned in my
lifetime to be cautious of reposing confidence in men until
long and effectual trial has convinced me of their worth, it must
be admitted that till then I am perfectly justified in protecting
myself from invasion ; and therefore I look to the justice of your
Royal Highness to stand by me, and give the support of your
august name to the following arrangements, as the only repara-
tion for the injury in which you have participated, as I suppose,

First : That no description of any thing whatever executed by
myself, or my subordinates under my direction, be received from
the pen of Major Jervis, or any other person than one of my
assistants, Lieut. A. S. Waugh, Lieut. Renny, or Lieut. Jones,
of the Bengal Engineers ; for those gentlemen have been the
companions of my labours, and are intimately acquainted with
every part of them.

Second : That Major Jervis confine his description entirely to
such matters as may have been executed by himself, and under
his own superintendence.

Third : That if Major Jervis be (as I conceive he inevitably
will) necessitated to avail himself of my arrangements, inventions
and system, or of persons educated and trained by me, he be
constrained to make a full, fair, candid, and unequivocal avowal
of the extent to which he does so.

That your Royal Highness may perceive that it is not without
reason that I express so much anxiety on this point, I beg to
remark that I have in my possession a private letter from Major
Jervis to my address, dated 9th January, 1838, which is indited
in a style the total opposite of that of his pamphlet and letter


to the Court of Directors, dated August 6th, 1838. The former
appears to have been written whilst that gentleman was in a
different frame of mind from that which possessed him after the
thirty-eight learned Fellows had bound themselves to make
common cause with him ; and the person in whose modes of
thinking seven short months are sufficient to compass a revolu-
tion so striking and entire, is precisely the character with whom
I least desire to have any thing in common.

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.



" Whither bound ? (you will ask) 'tis a question, my friend,

On which I long doubted ; my doubt's at an end.

To Arabia the stony, Sabjea the gummy,

To the land where each man that you meet is a mummy,

To the mouths of the Nile, to the banks of Araxes,

To the Red, and the Yellow, the White and the Black Seas,

With telescopes, glasses, and a quadrant and sextant,

And the works of all authors whose writings are extant,

With surveys and plans, topographical maps,

Theodolites-watches, spring-guns and steel-traps,

Phials, crucibles, air-pumps, electric machinery,

And pencils for sketching the natives and scenery."


IN all matters connected with architecture or engineering, the
master-hand of genius is more decidedly shown by converting such
portions as are sound, and such materials as are serviceable, to
the purposes of the fabric we are about to raise, than in pulling
the whole edifice to pieces, and raising an entirely new structure
of elements all our own.


The truth of this will be found in the daily operations of
, common life, wherefore I need not stop to prove it by an elabo-
rate argument, for I do not doubt that I shall have your Royal
Highness's sanction to treating it as an axiom ; viewing it in
which light I will proceed to apply it as a square or straight edge,
whereby to test the various propositions contained in the Address
of the learned Fellows to the Directors of the E. I. Company.

As far as regards myself, enough, perhaps more than enough,
has been already said on so insignificant a subject ; and as far as
my masters are concerned, T have, perhaps, expressed my opinions
at greater length than they will warrant or approve ; therefore we will
for the present suppose all obstacles removed, and that the Court
have had the uncommon good-nature to be perfectly acquiescent
in the whole proposition ; that I am, either with or without my
own consent, quietly out of office; and that Major Jervis, under
the leading-strings of the self-elected quartetto, is fully installed,
and at liberty to geologize, astronomize, geodetize, geographize,
and natural-philosophize, in the wide extended plains, the sloping
uplands, the precipitous hills, the dense forests, and the mighty
mountains of this vast country, comprising, according to the map
constructed by me in 1832-3, 10,765,907 British square miles.

The field is indeed, as the Address truly describes it, ample,
and that to an extent adequate to the ambition of the most
aspiring; but it must be remembered that the resources of the
country are not unlimited ; that quiet and practically philosophical

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 3 of 13)