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Florence Nightingale Letters

[Letter, Sir John Lawrence, Baron to Florence Nightingale, January 27, 1879] Lawrence, John Laird Mair, 1811-1879 Jan 27, 1879

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 27th January 1879 23, Queen's Gate Gardens, S.W. Dear Miss Nightingale I have been thinking over your letters of the 11th and 14th inst., ever since their receipt. I feel unable to discuss all the important points which are raised in them - I am very much broken down, and my eyesight unfits me from reading or writing to any useful extent - I am only thankful that I am able in some slight way to go about and enjoy the light of heaven. I can quite understand how great must have been the mortality, directly as well as indirectly consequent on the late famine in India; the diseases which starvation and exposure engender in a delicate population like that of Southern and Western India at these times, must have been very great; dysentry and cholera inevitably follow famine; so that the indirect causes which lead to excessive mortality, are very much greater than the direct results of famine. There are many curious circumstances worthy of consideration in the different Reports of the District Officer, to which you allude - it is not always easy to estimate at their proper value some of the opinions which have been given. Thus there are often latent causes which conflict with the real interests of one or the other party connected with the land, which have more influence in preventing useful measures being carried out, than would be confessed by either - for instance, the Zemindar or proprietor will often oppose the construction of wells, not merely lest he should have to pay the Cultivator the money thus expended, but because he fears that that fact will be construed into a recognition of some kind of proprietorship by the Cultivator. As a rule I should say, that where the District Officers are zealous for the improvement of the condition of the people, and while taking care to guard against the abuses of the Takavi system, (advances of money) make that system as easy and elastic as it ought to be, the Cultivators would prefer taking the money from the Govt. rather than from the village banker, for the simple reason that they get it so much cheaper. The Govt. Officer must look after his Takavi advances, and as a rule require tolerably punctual payment, but on the other hand he should have power to exercise his discretion, so as not to unduly press a borrower, but give him time when he is really hard up. Such a system only requires extra trouble on the part of the District Officer. However an increasing evil of our system is, that so much work is put on the District Officer - he is the unit of the whole scheme of administration; the more supervision is introduced, the more work is expected from him - and yet without supervision, the majority of men will not do their best. I have not seen Mr. Knight's Pamphlet; but I can quite understand the state of things to which he alluded, having myself been eye-witness of the condition of the N.W. Provinces during the famines of 1833-34 and 1837-38. I should think that on the whole Mr. Knight's statements were trustworthy. I have never met him - but in my time, he bore the character of being an able and zealous man, though somewhat opinionated.     I should like to have a copy of your Paper on the People of India, should you have any separately printed.     There are many causes which lead to the great miseries of the people in the years of drought when the Crops more or less fail - the greatest of all perhaps is that early in the day large numbers are thrown out of employment, simply because no work is to be found for them in the localities to which they belong, save and except what Government may supply. Four-fifths of the people probably depend on agriculture; and the poorer classes of them usually subsist on field work - but when there are no crops this entirely ceases. This point is clearly brought out by some of the district officers. I do not know what has become of the Bengal Rent Papers; no doubt they are safely deposited in some of the Pigeon holes of the India Office. When Govt. goes mad, and sends a good many of its Officers mad also on such subjects as Afghan wars and the like, there is little hope of civil reforms, and the remedy of social evils. The only Records which I can suggest as likely to give information on the subject of the number or proportion of Ryot's children who attend school, would be the Educational Reports - and perhaps more or less in a compendious form in the annual Social Progress report. Any official at the India House connected with the preparation of these reports, ought to be able to help you in this search. I think you will find that in former days few of the children of the Cultivators in India, received any real education, but that during the last 20 or 25 years a considerable improvement in this respect has been effected - more particularly in some provinces. Education no doubt is the best if not the only hope of getting the people to understand what are their true interests. But when we see how many in our own country more or less educated, are regardless of such interests, we cannot be surprised at the want of sense and foresight exhibited by the masses of the natives of India. They are for the most part, and the Hindoos particularly so, remarkable for their thrift and economy - and yet on some occasions they will spend the savings of a life time, or what is still worse hamper themselves with debt, which enthralls them for years. I will get Mr. Seu's Pamphlet read to me, and see if it contains anything worthy of notice. There were several Model Farms started about Mayo's time in Bengal, most of which appear to have come to grief. I myself have never been much in favour of these experiments - they are usually set a going on wrong principles, with expensive establishments, and an undue outlay of money; whereas what is wanted is Model Farms carried on in such a way as to instruct poor men with moderate means how to improve their agriculture by thrift and carefulness. Of course Model Farms for the culture of valuable produce like Tea and Chinchona, come under a different category. One of the evil effects of droughts and famines is of course the depopulation of the country and the desertion of villages the re-establishment of which must be a work of time. You quote a case of the consumption of what would have been useful manure in smelting Iron, with apparent surprise. One of the great evils incident to agriculture in India is that a large portion of valuable manure derived from cattle, is used as fuel. In the champagne country there is little wood of any kind to be found, and with rare exceptions no coal. Where the women and children can find a few twigs or brambles, they collect them eagerly; but for the most part the case is as I have above stated. There are scarcely any hedges, and the fields are usually protected by brambles cut and carried from the wastes - when the crops have been gathered in, these brambles are available as fuel, but are soon exhausted. The people thoroughly understand the value of manure, as is seen by the fact that from 1/5 to 1/4 of the land under cultivation (generally that in the immediate vicinity of a village) is well manured. In Upper India the grass lands have for the most part been brought under tillage, and what remains is of the poorest quality - such lands are never I may say artificially irrigated, and hence food for cattle is becoming more and more scarce, and the cattle poorer and poorer. I am not surprised that the Bengal Returns to which you allude are so scanty - the districts there are unduly large and the subordinate establishments connected with the land unduly small. This arises from the land revenue being fixed, and paid usually in large sums by great land-holders; whereas in other parts of India the land revenue is fixed for terms of years, and chiefly paid by petty proprietors - these circumstances require native establishments which are readily available for statistics. I have to thank you very much for the kind expressions used at the end of your letter, with regard to my humble efforts to prevent a war with Afghanistan. It was indeed a Forlorn Hope which I undertook - but perhaps that circumstance only lent a stimulus to the undertaking. At present things look very hopeless in that quarter - but some good may yet come out of this misfortune which human ken cannot foresee. I take the liberty of sending you a copy of my speech in the House of Lords, it is a poor affair; but as coming from a man who could not refer to a single note, it was as much as I could manage. Yours sincerely Lawrence


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