FOR nearly eighty years the spell of Macaulay’s literary genius has been over the British administration of India in matters educational, and there are still many placed in high authority who maintain that the benefits which India has derived intellectually and morally from British rule are due to the policy he inaugurated of attempting to Europeanise India “in morals, in intellect, in taste, and in opinions,” so that Indians shall remain Indian “only in blood and colour.” I venture to think that future historians will view the case in a different light, and attribute the great achievements of the British Raj to the wisdom of those of Macaulay’s successors who have tried to adjust his crude ideas of education to a better understanding of Indian culture and history.
For Macaulay’s policy, pursued to its logical conclusion, was not in the true sense of the word educational—directed towards a fusion or reconciliation of Eastern and Western ideals; it was only a philistine war of extermination against all the intellectual traditions of Hinduism which he did not think worth consideration. He was the great iconoclast of Anglo-India. The fact that both India and the British Raj have so far prospered on this educational foundation cannot be credited to Macaulay’s superior insight. The intellectual aristocracy of India has always been ready to consider new ideas with philosophic calm, even those opposed to its most cherished convictions; and the deep religious sense of the masses of the Indian people gives them an implicit faith in the inscrutable wisdom of Providence which has sent the White Brahmans of the West to rule over them. But it is confidence in British justice, and not in our intellectual or spiritual mission, as Macaulay conceived it, that keeps India loyal.
India under British rule has given many signs of an intellectual reawakening which fanatical followers of the Macaulay cult are always ready to put forward as proofs of its success. The patent fact is that those Indians who have profited least by Western learning are those who have blindly accepted Macaulay’s estimate of Oriental civilisation. The great majority of the English-educated Indians to whom Western ideas have been a real inspiration are those who have cherished most their own intellectual inheritance which Macaulay sought to destroy.
If Indian art, from being kept out of the sun so long, now possessed so little vitality that an educational system which as yet touches only a small fraction of the population could destroy it root and branch, it could not be helped much by a Western artist’s pen and ink. I myself do not anticipate that the Macaulay policy, even if British educationists should always continue to interpret it in the sense intended by its author, will ever succeed in fulfilling his intention. The inevitable result will be the exact opposite of that which Macaulay anticipated, to open wider and wider the cleavage it has already made between the educators and the educated. For the more we sap and mine at the foundations of Hindu civilisation, which has made the Indian masses of all people on earth the most amenable to law and order, the nearer we shall bring India into the vortex of anarchy.
There is no real danger that an art, with an unbroken tradition of over two thousand years behind it, which has maintained so much vitality in spite of the ban which intellectual Europe has put upon it in the last fifty years, should now die of inanition, when the whole of the East is vibrating with a newborn sense of nationality. Whether we like it or not, Indian nationality will grow, and Indian art will grow with it; nor should we dislike or be ashamed of the inevitable result of the contact of East and West. Under these conditions the worst enemy of the British Raj is our own ignorance of Indian history, of Indian ideals and their relationship to the practical affairs of Indian life as expressed in Indian art and craft, and our persistent habit of regarding art not as essential to life and nationality, but as a hobby and a pastime—a habit which does not prevent every European, from Thomas Atkins to the highest official, considering himself qualified to teach art to the benighted Hindu. By pretending to be artistic in India we only succeed in making ourselves artificial. If we would all, dilettanti and experts alike, give up pretending to teach art, and, like Akbar, put ourselves to school, we should soon understand the true secret of Mogul architecture, and instead of disfiguring utility with our art we should come to be artistic through being useful.
It is no justification of a Public Works system of architecture, based upon a misreading of history, bad art, and pseudoscience, to say that it is British: there are more excellent ways which are also British. A department which exists pro bono publico should not be worked, as it has been, to the detriment of Indian craftsmanship; neither is it politic to allow the vested interests of a great State monopoly to prejudice Indians against the British Raj. Certainly there are useful things which Indian builders might learn from co-operation with the Western engineer and architect. But why is it that in over fifty years, during which all the most important building operations in British India and in many of the Native States have been a close Government monopoly, not a single Indian master-builder has been trained to understand these useful modern things? History proves that the Indian craftsman has always had the capacity for learning, and even for teaching his teachers. But there is now no co-operation between the architect and the craftsman, and the education in architecture afforded to Indian students at Anglo-Indian engineering colleges is a relic of Victorian pedagogics in England seventy years ago. A knowledge of architectural drawing less than that of the youngest articled pupil in a modern London architect’s office has qualified a European for a professorship. In a good London architect’s office of to-day there is always a keen interest in Indian art, however little knowledge of it there may be. The Indian engineer learns just enough art to despise his own architecture and to remain ignorant of any other. The curriculum is such that if by any chance a young Indian master-builder should enter one of these colleges, he would end by ceasing to be a first-rate craftsman-architect and become a fourth-rate engineer. The Macaulay system applied to the training of a literary caste for the smooth working of departmental machinery may, with much tinkering, be made serviceable. Applied to Indian art and craft it is unworkable and entirely mischievous.
Indian architecture is said to be medieval and uneconomical; but if the Macaulay theory had justified itself in Anglo-Indian public works, it would not have failed in fifty years to make one Indian architect modern. The best architects in England are now endeavouring—in spite of its medievalism—to revive the old system of co-partnership between the architect and the craftsman which existed in Europe down to the middle of the eighteenth century,1 and many young architects are now becoming builders themselves. And this because it is generally admitted that no real art in architecture is possible except under these conditions. The medieval way in Europe is becoming the most modern way, just because there is no other way in art. Unless the British artistic conscience is always to be less sensitive east of Suez, it must also become the new Anglo-Indian way.
Macaulayism in relation to Indian economics is the propaganda of capitalism and machinery, and the misapplication of theories which have not proved successful in Europe to totally different conditions in India. But—the exponents of it say—if we can make these theories succeed in India, it will be splendid for the Empire! That is Macaulay logic. Economy is the modern Philistine’s cheap excuse for bad art; but the Philistine’s budget economy is seldom true economy, even in engineering. Budget economy does not consider whether a building will remain sound for ten years or for a century: its foresight in this respect is often limited to the duration of the financial year. It does not reckon whether processes which have been tested for only ten or twenty years in temperate climates are cheaper for India than those which have stood the test of centuries of tropical conditions. It does not consider how many good craftsmen are converted into bad mechanics, or driven to find employment in petty clerkships and agricultural pursuits; how many Indian stone-quarries and brick-kilns are closed; and how many indigenous industries are injured by the use of foreign methods and foreign materials. It does not take into account the effect of blocking up profitable artistic careers for Indian youth, or of the intellectual injury inflicted upon India by the neglect of all artistic culture in the education of the “educated.”
Even from the British standpoint there are considerations of equal importance for ourselves. The history of Indian architecture, if it teaches us anything, should bring to our minds one obvious lesson, writ large on all the monuments of Muhammadan rule, that the cordial relationship which existed between Hindus and Muhammadans at the height of the Musulmân supremacy in India was largely due to the fact that the Muhammadan rulers found in the practice of the arts and in the unprejudiced pursuit of learning for its own sake the best means of reconciling racial and religious differences. When Aurangzîb deliberately broke down the bridge which Akbar and Shah Jahân had built, the Empire of the Moguls quickly crumbled to pieces.
That is a bridge which we have not yet built. The Indian master-builder is there to help us, as he helped the great Mogul, but we have hitherto refused his aid. It is not a healthy sign that when a great imperial project like that of the building of the new Delhi is taken in hand, not a single departmental official—expert or non-expert—could be found tolerably acquainted with the present and past conditions and work of a great industrial community numbering over a million,2 representing a craft so intimately bound up with the real life of the people as that of the builder. Macaulayism, helped by the archæological pedant, instead of building a bridge between East and West, has separated them by a high social wall, through the loopholes of which they occasionally shake hands ceremoniously.
There is a religious aspect of the question which to the earnest Christian may present a real architectural difficulty, in connection with the building of Christian churches and cathedrals in India. The ecclesiastical pedant will insist that they must be either “Gothic,” which is a Christian form of architecture, or “classic,” which was originally pagan but has become Christian by adoption. If the architectural history of Christianity were better understood, the difficulty would at once disappear. India was the original home of the Western Gothic ideal. “Indo-Saracenic” architecture is Eastern Gothic. Let the Western architect teach the Indian master-builder to Christianise his symbolism and structure, as, the Muhammadans adapted them for their own ritual, and they would jointly build Indian churches for Christian worship which might be as beautiful as Muhammadan mosques, and perchance lead Indians to understand Christianity better and respect it more. This idea may not appeal to those who cannot recognise a Christian except in petticoats or trousers, but it is good architecture and archæologically consistent.
Western Gothic has been such a miserable failure in India, both in secular and religious buildings, only because Anglo-Indian builders have neither had the practical sense to orientalise it nor the historical sense to recognise its relationship to the Indian branch of the same school.
How will the new Delhi be built? Will it be the startingpoint of real Anglo-Indian architecture, or only the opportunity of a life-time for the modern Western stylist? We must wait and see. If the old precedents are maintained, the cut of its official uniform—“Renaissance,” “Indo-Saracenic,” or whatever its name may be—will be decided by eminent European professors after grave deliberation; and when the fashion-plates of the latest style have been duly admired by the British public, Indian craftsmen will be summoned from north and from south, from east and from west, as in days of old; but not to sit in durbar at the Padshah’s Court—only to copy the eminent professors’ paper patterns. And the things which really matter, both for East and for West, will remain as they were before. The new Delhi will be another splendid make-believe; and Mr. Kipling will perhaps, after all, prove to be a true prophet. Macaulay’s New Zealander will make a note of it.
- 1. An influential Committee, called the Beaux Arts Committee of London, with many leading British architects as members, was recently formed to improve architectural teaching in London, this being considered the first necessary step towards “placing architecture in Great Britain on a sound theoretical basis.” In India we have been propagating unsound architectural theories for over a century as part of the white man’s mission.
- 2. According to the Census of 1901, the population supported by “artificers in building” in India was 1,212,196; besides 367,564 supported by “building materials.” Twelve years ago a much greater industrial community—that of hand-weaving—numbering over five millions, was similarly ignored departmentally, and it was only through public lectures and other non-official channels that I succeeded in drawing the attention of the department concerned to the importance of the greatest of all Indian industries.