The Infamous Macaulay Speech That Never Was
By Anirban Mitra
The Wire - 19/02/2017
A quotation supposedly culled from a speech by Thomas Babington Macaulay is a staple of social media forwards and has even been quoted by senior Indian politicians. But is it authentic?
We live in times of fake news and made-up history. From Padmini of Chittor to the battle of Haldighati to ‘Bhagat Singh was hanged on February 14’, there’s no stopping the barrage of ‘alternative facts,’ and not surprisingly, it is social media that is the carrier of such information. In this scenario, it would not be wrong to presume that most readers have come across this ‘shared post’ more than once on social media. It keeps on circulating on the web, repeatedly proving how much Macaulay – and his colonial brethren – hated India’s cultural heritage. The implication is that Macaulay’s ‘desi’ children i.e. those Indians who are educated in a western setup, are a despicable racist imposition.
Historians agree that racist supremacy was, at least since the beginning of the 19th century, a defining feature of the angrez mindset. Also, that Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) sincerely believed it was the solemn British duty to enlighten the ‘heathens’ who lived in perpetual darkness outside Europe. But is this particular speech authentic? Did he actually say these words? Or is it but another example of information fabrication that is part of political propaganda, something increasingly common in an internet-trusted world?
It is notoriously difficult to disprove something that probably does not exist. How can one be absolutely certain that some obscure piece of evidence has not been missed? Fortunately, the post itself provides a starting point. It states that the quote is from a speech that Macaulay delivered at the British parliament on February 2, 1835. Now, that is certainly verifiable in the archives at Westminster.
However, one need not go so far because T.B. Macaulay was in Calcutta, not London, on February 2, 1835. And, given that even the fastest ships took a few months to travel between London and Calcutta, the Whig politician could not have been at both places on the same day. In fact, Macaulay left England in 1834 to take up his new assignment as an advisor to the British Governor General and did not return till 1838. Thus, the first piece of ‘evidence’ turns out to be a poorly concocted lie.
But what if the speech was made at the governor’s house in Calcutta? Fortunately, the ‘Minute [on Indian education] by the Hon’ble T.B. Macaulay, dated February 2, 1835’ has survived. It is an interesting speech and exemplifies his beliefs. The notable point, however, is that the words ‘I have travelled across the length and breadth of India…. a truly dominated nation’ are not present in it. Neither is the quote included in the several volumes of Letters of Thomas Babington Macaulay (edited by Thomas Pinney, Cambridge University Press). This is confirmatory that Macaulay, although a committed racist, did not use these words. The quote, that has acquired legitimacy by the Goebbels way of repeating a lie, is almost certainly a hoax.
There is other evidence within the text itself that indicate it is of recent origin. Firstly, the language is ‘too modern’ and hence very different from official correspondence of the 19th century. There is a compositional awkwardness – the use of the words ‘foreign’ and ‘English’ – and ‘selfesteem’ is too nasty a spelling mistake for a literary figure of Macaulay’s stature – the imperial politician was also a historian and poet (‘Horatius at the Bridge’ is one of his oft-quoted poems.)
In addition, there are substantial factual errors. Is it believable that Macaulay travelled the ‘length and breadth of the country’ and yet did not come across a single beggar? That too, at a time, when British rule was already causing the famous ‘drain of wealth’ from India? Or even a fakir or sadhu? Or did he not get to know of any theft at a time when the infamous cult of thugee terrorised large parts of north and central India? Were there absolutely no criminal cases being tried at the Calcutta, Bombay and Madras high courts in 1835? And, ‘I do not think we would ever conquer this country unless’ is perhaps the worst mistake of all. By 1835, the colonial conquest of India was effectively complete with only one significant power – the Sikh empire – left to be subdued. It is too naïve to assume that Macaulay was living in the past. It is easier to conclude that whoever drafted this forgery is terribly ignorant of even the basics of Indian history.
However, does this all mean that Macaulay was an Indophile who is being wronged? Not at all. Macaulay was undoubtedly a colonial apologist and racist who passionately believed there was no ‘culture’ beyond Europe. This is evident even from his ‘minutes of 2nd Feb, 1835’ where he said, “…a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia…’’ and
“… I certainly never met with any orientalist who ventured to maintain that the Arabic and Sanscrit poetry could be compared to that of the great European nations. But when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England…’’ Is it believable that the same man would utterly contradict himself in the same speech by saying, “…we break the very backbone of this nation which is her spiritual and cultural heritage….”
Furthermore, it was from his erroneous, yet arrogant assessment of Indian civilisation that Macaulay advised, “…We have to educate a people who cannot at present be educated by means of their mother-tongue. We must teach them some foreign language. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate… Whoever knows that language has ready access to all the vast intellectual wealth which all the wisest nations of the earth have created… we shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects…”
It is evident that Macaulay’s understanding of India was awful. But, not unlike David Hare and Lord Bentinck, he was passionate about spreading the fruits of European enlightenment to Indians. His beliefs were racist, but he certainly was not the cultural-Nazi that the hoax tries to portray him. And, although Macaulay would perhaps have bristled at it, several of the freedom fighters would be products of English education – another proof of the ignorance of who created this post.
A dubious quotation, a controversial reputation: the merits of Lord Macaulay Koenraad Elst discovers through a wrong quotation attributed to Lord Macaulay how right the anglicizer of Indian culture was, or at least how right his intentions were, subjectively. Read more: http://bit.ly/2quStLa
The 'actual' Macaulay's Minute on Education, February 2, 1835 Minute by the Hon'ble T. B. Macaulay, dated the 2nd February 1835. As it seems to be the opinion of some of the gentlemen who compose the Committee of Public Instruction that the course which they have hitherto pursued was strictly prescribed by the British Parliament in 1813 and as, if that opinion be correct, a legislative act will be necessary to warrant a change, I have thought it right to refrain from taking any part in the preparation of the adverse statements which are now before us, and to reserve what I had to say on the subject till it should come before me as a Member of the Council of India. It does not appear to me that the Act of Parliament can by any art of contraction be made to bear the meaning which has been assigned to it. It contains nothing about the particular languages or sciences which are to be studied. A sum is set apart "for the revival and promotion of literature, and the encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the sciences among the inhabitants of the British territories." It is argued, or rather taken for granted, that by literature the Parliament can have meant only Arabic and Sanscrit literature; that they never would have given the honourable appellation of "a learned native" to a native who was familiar with the poetry of Milton, the metaphysics of Locke, and the physics of Newton; but that they meant to designate by that name only such persons as might have studied in the sacred books of the Hindoos all the uses of cusa-grass, and all the mysteries of absorption into the Deity. This does not appear to be a very satisfactory interpretation. To take a parallel case: Suppose that the Pacha of Egypt, a country once superior in knowledge to the nations of Europe, but now sunk far below them, were to appropriate a sum for the purpose "of reviving and promoting literature, and encouraging learned natives of Egypt," would any body infer that he meant the youth of his Pachalik to give years to the study of hieroglyphics, to search into all the doctrines disguised under the fable of Osiris, and to ascertain with all possible accuracy the ritual with which cats and onions were anciently adored? Would he be justly charged with inconsistency if, instead of employing his young subjects in deciphering obelisks, he were to order them to be instructed in the English and French languages, and in all the sciences to which those languages are the chief keys? Download pdf: http://bit.ly/2pjmYWF
Rare books Wire is anti indian please do not share propaganda ...found your page and likes it for what you description in about..don't peddle other's wares, unless you also are hand in glove with them..
Agree on bhagat singh hanged in 14th Feb hoax but why would you call padmini of chittor a hoax and what part about battle of haldighati do you find to be a hoax? Please clarify
: The integral version of the (in)famous article: "Macaulay advocates Western Education for India", dated 1835, can be found online in a very rare original record preserved at the National Archives of India: http://www.digitalarchive.gov.in/GP/search/preview/4/9929460/hom-pub-07031835-15/9/19657
What shall that language be? "One half of the committee maintained that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommended the Arabic and sanskrit. The whole question seems to me to be, which language is the best worth knowing? But I have done what I could to form an correct estimate of their value." Thomas Babington Macaulay, Minute of 2 February 1835, on Indian education. Cited from : Language in India, volume 3, 2003
described by by H.E.Busteed in 1882 in 'Echoes from Old Calcutta 1882, Days of Warren Hastings, Impey" "We always thought it strange while the history of Spanish Empire is known to all over in the World, the action of Englishmen in India should excite so much interest. and Babington Macaulay - who introduced English and western concepts to education in India by abolition of Ayurveda 'Sanskrit replacing of Persian by English as the Official language, the use of English as the medium of instruction in all schools, and the training of English-speaking Indians as teachers. Wrote about - the "Black Hole" "It might have been expected that every Englishman who takes any interest in an part of history would be curious to know a handful of his countrymen, separated from their home by an immense ocean subjugated in the course a few year, one of the greatest Empires of the world. Unless we greatly 'err' this subject is to the most reader not only 'insipid' but positively distastesful " --- Macaulay
You can debate about his words. Actually he had used those words or not. But, start debating about whether the condition of India stated in this msg, those colonial's intention, what they tried to mold into and have they achieved? And, see the results.
We have to be highly proud of Macaulay's observation that Indians are very strong in their cultural and spiritual heritage.
Anything the white man said or says about India is to be taken with a pinch of salt.how these baffons ruled us with such cruelty baffles me no end.
This is gonna disappoint lotsa graduates from Whatsapp university!
Thanks for the link that I am sharing