Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/The Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone
So high was Elphinstone's reputation for administrative ability, that, when the lieutenant-governorship of Bombay fell vacant in 1819, the Court of Directors appointed him to the position in preference to two candidates of distinguished merit who were both his seniors. He entered upon his new duties in 1820, and discharged them until 1827, when he was succeeded by Sir John Malcolm. The period was tranquil, and the governor devoted himself to internal reforms with that happy combination of zeal and discretion which always distinguished him. His principal achievement was the drawing up of the Elphinstone code, which for comprehensiveness, clearness, and equity takes a high rank among works of its class. He faithfully carried out the policy of retrenchment prescribed by the East India Company, and it may be noted as characteristic that he commenced his economic reforms by reducing the Government House establishment. His efforts to promote native education, however, had probably more beneficial and far-reaching results than any other department of his activity. He may fairly be regarded as the founder of the system of state education in India, and he probably did more than any other Indian administrator to further every likely scheme for the promotion of native education. Adhering to the policy he had adopted at Poonah of respecting the customs, opinions, feelings, and even—wherever possible—the prejudices of the native population, he won their attachment in quite an exceptional degree. Bishop Heber, who specially admired his zeal in the cause of education, spoke of him as one of the most extraordinary men and certainly the most popular governor that he had fallen in with. Of his popularity remarkable proof was afforded both by natives and Europeans when he resigned his post. The farewell addresses which poured in upon him were almost innumerable; and his connection with the presidency was most appropriately commemorated in the endowment by the native communities of the Elphinstone College, and in the erection of a statue in marble by the European inhabitants of the presidencies.
Elphinstone spent nearly two years on the journey home, visiting Egypt and Palestine, and many of the scenes in Greece and Italy with which he was already familiar as an ardent student of classical literature. On his arrival in England the choice was open to him of a distinguished career in home politics or the highest place in the management of Indian affairs. But he was deficient in ambition, and his health had suffered so much from his residence in India that he deemed himself disqualified for public life. Accordingly, although the governor-generalship of India was twice offered to him in the most flattering terms within a few years of his return, he declined it on both occasions; and he resisted with equal firmness all attempts to induce him to enter the home parliament. It is understood that he declined the offer of a peerage. The retirement in which he spent the last thirty years of his life, however, was far from being either indolent or dishonourable. He kept up the habit of study he had acquired in India, he made contributions of the highest value to literature, and he preserved until his death the liveliest interest in the affairs of the great empire which had been the scene of his activity. His advice was always taken and generally followed in difficult questions of Indian policy, and he kept up constant communication by correspondence and otherwise with leading Indian administrators, so that his personal influence continued to be an important factor in the government of India almost to the day of his death. He had long before his return from India made his reputation as an author by the work on Cabul already mentioned, which was published in 1815 with the title An Account of the Kingdom of Cabul and its Dependencies in Persia and India. Soon after his arrival in England he commenced the preparation of a work of wider scope, a history of India, which was published in 1841. It embraced the Hindu and Mahometan periods, and is generally regarded as a work of the highest authority. Its chief features are thoroughness of research, judicious use of materials, and condensation of style.
Mr Elphinstone died at his residence at Limpsfield, in Surrey, on the 20th November 1859. (w. b. s.)