Early Political Writings. 1890 — May 1908
Bande Mataram. August 24, 1907
The omniscient editor of the Indian Nation exposed himself last week to a well-deserved castigation at our hands by trespassing into history, of which he evidently knows less than a fifth form schoolboy in an English public school. We gave him his deserts, but were careful to couch our criticism, however deservedly severe, in perfectly courteous language. We find, however, that the courtesy was thrown away on the most hysterically foul-mouthed publicist in the whole Indian Press. The late Sambhunath1 Mukherji ironically described Mr. N. N. Ghose as a thundering cataract of law: he might more aptly have described him as a thundering cataract of billingsgate. He has attempted to answer our criticism in this week's Indian Nation, but the answer is so much befouled with an almost maniacal virulence of abuse that most of our friends have advised us to ignore his frenzies and never again give him the notoriety he desires by noticing him in our columns. It is true that the Indian Nation addresses itself to a microscopic audience and expresses the personal vanities, selfishness, jealousies of a single man, but so long as it enjoys a false reputation for learning and wisdom even with a limited circle or trades on that reputation to attack and discredit the National movement, it is our duty to expose its pretensions, and we shall not be deterred by any abuse, however foul.
Mr. N. N. Ghose's reply falls into three parts, of which one consists merely of rancorous vituperation, another of a feeble attempt to wriggle out of the uncomfortable position he has got into by his failure to consult a few historical primers before writing, and the third is a restatement of his opinions about nationality formulated this time in the shape of general ideas without any basis either of historical fact or of Metropolitan College fiction. As to the abuse we can only say that it might have been more skilfully done. At least it might have been more coherent. The aggrieved sage of Sankharitola2 picks out from all the Bande Mataram writers Srijut Aurobindo Ghose for the object of his wrath and among other elegant terms of abuse calls him a prig and a Graeculus esuriens. To those who may not be such accomplished Latin scholars as the Principal of the Metropolitan College, we may explain that the last expression means a starving and greedy scholar who is prepared to commit any vileness for the sake of earning a livelihood. We will not stop to ask whether this description applies to Srijut Aurobindo Ghose or to a Principal who daily exhorts his students to subordinate honour, high feeling and patriotism to the supreme consideration of bread and himself practises the lofty philosophy he preaches. We will only ask Mr. Ghose whether a man can be at once a prig and an esurient Greekling. Srijut Aurobindo Ghose may be one or the other or neither, but he can hardly be both. Either Mr. N. N. Ghose's knowledge of Latin is as distinguished and correct as his knowledge of history, or else he is so ignorant of English as to be even ignorant what the word prig means. We can understand his being in a rage at the merciless exposure of his pretended scholarship, but that does not excuse his incoherence: nor is it a sufficient reason for what was once a fair counterfeit of a gentleman and a scholar turning himself into the image of a spitting and swearing tom-cat. And with that we leave Mr. N. N. Ghose the fishwife and pass on to Mr. N. N. Ghose the historian.
He does not try to justify his blunders,– that would be hopeless – but he does try to excuse them. He practically admits that his Italian republics are a blunder and that he was thinking of the Middle Ages when he was writing of the nineteenth century. But he pleads that Burke uses the word commonwealth in the sense of state and therefore Mr. N. N. Ghose can use the word republic in the same sense. This is Metropolitan College logic and Metropolitan College knowledge of English. Does Mr. Ghose really think that republic and commonwealth mean the same thing precisely or that Burke would have talked of the Russian republic when he meant the Russian monarchy? But, says Mr. Ghose, it does not matter, as I was not talking about forms of government. But if Mr. Ghose in his class was to talk about adjectives when he meant nouns, would it be an excuse to say that he was not talking about the difference between various parts of speech? His defence of his other blunders is still more amusing.
Says the Oracle: “To combat our proposition about ancient Greece an academic commonplace is trotted out, namely, that the people of Greece never developed a panhellenic sentiment.” Really this is enough to take one's breath away. Mr. Ghose told us last week that the Greeks became an united nation under the pressure of the Persian invasion; this week he coolly tells us that it is an academic commonplace that the Greeks never even developed a panhellenic sentiment. We certainly never said anything of the sort. The Greeks, as any tyro in history knows, did develop a panhellenic sentiment but it was never strong enough – and that was all we said – to unite them into a nation. But Mr. Ghose flounders still deeper into the mire in the next sentences. “What does it signify whether they did or not? The whole question is, could the Greek states have been set against one another? Athens and Sparta, for instance, against each other? And if not, why not?” Really, Mr. Ghose, really now! Is it possible you do not know that soon after the Persian invasion which you say made Greece an united nation, Athens and Sparta were at each other's throats and the whole of the Greek world by land and sea turned into one vast battlefield on which the Hellenic cities engaged in a murderous internecine strife? What would we think of a “scholar” who pretended to know Indian history and yet asserted that the Hindus became an united nation under the pressure of the Mahomedan invasion and that it was impossible to set the Hindu states against each other, Mewar and Amber for instance? Yet this is precisely the blunder Mr. Ghose has committed with respect to Greek history. But he pleads bitterly that his facts are no doubt all wrong, but the conclusions he bases on them are right. What do facts matter? It is only Mr. N. N. Ghose's opinions which matter.
Mr. Ghose accuses us of incapacity to understand the substance of his article. We quite admit that it is difficult to understand the mystic wisdom of a sage who asserts that the soundness of his premises has nothing to do with the soundness of his conclusions. Mr. Ghose stated certain facts as supporting a conclusion otherwise unsupported. We have proved that his facts are all childish blunders. He must therefore accept one of the two horns of a dilemma: either his facts had nothing to do with his “truism” or his “truism” itself is an error. But we had another object in view in exposing the pretentious sciolism of this arrogant publicist. Our business with him is not so much to disprove his opinions as to convince the few who still believe in him of the hollowness of his pretensions. It was for this reason that we dwelt on his blunders last week and have done the same this week,– in order to show that this gentleman who claims a monopoly of culture and wisdom in India, is a half educated shallow man whose boasted mastery of the English language even is imperfect and who in other subjects, such as history and politics, is an ignoramus pretending to knowledge.
Later edition of this work: The Complete Works of Sri Aurobindo.- Set in 37 volumes.- Volumes 6-7.- Bande Mataram: Political Writings and Speeches. 1890–1908 .- Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 2002.- 1182 p.
1 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Shambhunath
2 2002 ed. CWSA, vol.6-7: Sankaritola