第二章 在土地革命战争中开辟农村包围城市的道路 (4)

MOB BURNING A FARM IN KENT. (See p. 325.)

The disabilities under which the Roman Catholics laboured were a constant source of irritation in Ireland; the agitation upon the subject was becoming every day more formidable. Mr. Plunket was anxious to bring forward the question in the House of Commons, but he was urged by his colleagues to postpone it, from an apprehension that the time was not yet come to give it a fair consideration: the Cabinet was divided, the Chancellor was obstinate, and the king vacillating, if not double-minded. "As to the conduct of the king," writes Mr. Freemantle, a member of the Government, "it is inexplicable. He is praising Lord Liverpool on all occasions, and sending invitations to nobody but the Opposition. With regard to Ireland, I am quite satisfied the great man is holding the most conciliatory language to both partiesholding out success to the Catholics, and a determination to resist them to the Protestants." [409]

"Now is the stately column broke,

No sooner was the conquest of Scinde completed than the Governor-General began to discern another cloud looming in the distance. In the Punjab, Runjeet Singh had organised a regular[594] and well-disciplined army of 73,000 men. He died in 1839. His heir died the next year, it was supposed of poison. The next heir was killed a few days afterwards by accident. The third, who succeeded, was an effeminate prince, who left the government in the hands of his Minister, a wicked man, who, conspiring with others, caused to be murdered several members of the Royal Family. They were, in their turn, punished by having their heads cut off, and the only surviving son of Runjeet Singh, a boy only ten years of age, was proclaimed Maharajah. This was the work of the Sikh army, now virtually masters of the country. Lord Ellenborough and his Council suspected that this army, still 40,000 strong, and very brave, was unfriendly to the British, and might some day give trouble to the Indian Governmentpossibly invade its territories and cut off its communications. In order to guard against such contingencies, it was necessary, they thought, to take possession of Gwalior, a powerful Mahratta State in Central India. This country lay on the flank of our line of communications with Allahabad, Benares, and Calcutta. In this country also there were, fortunately for the British, a disputed succession, royal murders, civil dissensions, and military disorganisation. A boy, adopted by the queen, was proclaimed Sovereign by the chiefs, with a regency, over which the British Government extended its protecting wing. The young Sovereign died in 1843, leaving no child; but his widow, then thirteen years of age, adopted a boy of eight, who became king under another regency. The regent Nana Sahib was deposed, notwithstanding the support of the British Government. This was an offence which Lord Ellenborough would not allow to go unpunished; and besides, the disorganised army of Gwalior was said to be committing depredations along the British frontier. Here, then, in the estimation of the Governor-General, was a clear case for military intervention, to put down disorder, and secure a good position for future defence against the possible aggressions of the warlike Sikhs of the Punjab. Lord Ellenborough explained his policy to the Company, stating that the Indian Government could not descend from its high position as the paramount authority in India. The year 1823 opened auspiciously, and continued to exhibit unequivocal marks of progressive prosperity. Every branch of manufacturing industry was in a flourishing state. The cotton trade was unusually brisk. There was a considerable increase in the quantity of silks and woollens manufactured; and in consequence of augmenting exportation, the demand for hardware and cutlery was quickened from the state of stagnation in which it had remained since the conclusion of the war. The shipping interest, which had been greatly depressed, fully shared in the general improvement. The agriculturists, however, were still embarrassed and discontented. In January no less than sixteen English counties had sent requisitions to their sheriffs to call meetings to consider the causes of their distresses. The principal remedies proposed were reduction of taxation; reform of the House of Commons; depreciation of the currency; commutation of tithes; and appropriation of the redundant wealth of the Church to public exigencies. At the Norwich meeting a series of resolutions was proposed and seconded by the gentry of the county, but they were rejected and put aside on the motion of Mr. Cobbett, who read a petition which was adopted with acclamation. It recommended an appropriation of part of the Church property to the payment of the public debt; a reduction of the standing army; an abolition of sinecures and undeserved pensions; the sale of the Crown lands; an equitable adjustment of contracts; the suspension of all legal processes for one year for the recovery of rents and tithes; and the repeal of the taxes on malt, soap, leather, hops, and candles.