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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/399

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Prinsep
Prinsep
393

let; so that there were sometimes five or six middlemen between the rájá and the cultivating ryot. The tenure of the patnidárs was, by stipulation, perpetual and hereditary, and gave to them all the rights and authority of the rájá over the subtenants; the result was much confusion and litigation, difficulty in collecting the rájá's dues, and risk to the government revenue. Prinsep, after a thorough inquiry, came to the conclusion that there was no security for the government revenue, and no remedy for the existing confusion, unless a law were passed that, on default of the patnidár, all the middlemen who derived their rights from him should fall with him. He accordingly drafted a regulation, which was passed into law as Regulation 8 of 1819, and is in force at the present day, not only in the districts originally dealt with, but throughout Bengal.

From that time Prinsep was recognised as one of the ablest men in the service, and his promotion to high office was assured. On 16 Dec. 1820, before he had been twelve years in India, he was appointed Persian secretary to government on a salary of three thousand rupees a month; and except on two occasions, when he was compelled by the state of his health to leave India for a time, he never left the secretariat until he was appointed a member of council, first during a temporary vacancy in 1835, and five years later, when he was permanently appointed to the office. He finally retired from the service and left India in 1843.

During his long service Prinsep was brought into close contact with a long succession of governors-general, including Lords Hastings, Amherst, William Bentinck, Auckland, and Ellenborough. Many years afterwards, in 1865, he wrote a valuable autobiographical sketch of his official life (still unpublished), in which he recorded his impressions of each of these men. Of Lord Minto, with whom he does not appear to have had any direct intercourse, Prinsep had a poor opinion, although he gives him credit for the firmness he displayed in the operations against Java. He regarded Lord Hastings's administration, extending over nine years, as 'a glorious one,' which had 'nearly doubled the revenues and territories of the East India Company, and established its diplomatic influence over the whole peninsula of India.' Lord Amherst he describes as a courteous gentleman, and a ready and fluent speaker, but he 'lacked confidence in his own judgment and was by no means prompt in decision,' and 'had extraordinary notions of the importance of a very punctilious ceremonial.' He had a high admiration for John Adam [q. v.], who was acting governor-general for seven months in 1823, and on his death in 1825 wrote a memoir of Adam at the request of his family, which was published in the 'Asiatic Journal' for 1825.

The governor-general upon whom Prinsep is most severe is Lord William Bentinck. He regarded him as addicted to change for the mere sake of change, as unduly suspicious of those who worked under him, and too much addicted to meddling with details; but he gives Lord William credit for honesty of intention, especially in the distribution of his patronage. The two men differed essentially in character. Lord William was a strong liberal, while Prinsep was a conservative to the backbone. On the education question Prinsep was strongly opposed to tne policy, initiated by Macaulay and supported by Bentinck, of substituting English for the ancient oriental languages as the medium of instruction. The policy ultimately adopted was a compromise in deference to Prinsep's opposition. Later on, during the interregnum in which Sir Charles Metcalfe [q. v.] officiated as governor-general, Prinsep, while not opposing the act for giving freedom to the press of India, predicted, with a foresight which subsequent events have justified, that 'the native press might become an engine for destroying the respect in which the government is held.' Prinsep's remarks on this occasion were quoted forty-three years afterwards in support of the act passed in 1878 for the better control of publications in oriental languages in India.

With Lord Auckland, Prinsep appears to have been on very friendly terms throughout his administration, but he regarded him as deficient in promptitude of decision, and influenced by an overweening dread of responsibility. He entirely disapproved of Lord Auckland's Afghan policy, and foretold the failure of the policy of supporting Shah Soojah on public grounds as well as on account of the weakness of his character. With Lord Ellenborough Prinsep only served a year. In the autobiographical sketch he tells the story of the despatches which were sent by Lord Ellenborough to Pollock and Nott during the Afghan war.

On his return to England in 1843 Prinsep settled in London, where he had been already elected a member of the Carlton Club and also of the Athenæum Club by election of the committee. His ambition at that time was to enter the House of Commons, and he contested no less than four constituencies as a conservative candidate, the Kilmarnock Burghs, Dartmouth, Dover, and Harwich. At the last of these places he was returned by