+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error

Bengal's boots could not be got off, he was
allowed to keep them on, and the British power
consented to pocket the affront. But the real
difficulty was to come. Native gentlemen,
seeing that the wearers of boots were privileged,
saw no reason why the wearers of slippers should
not be privileged also. They accordingly struck,
and refused to go barefoot into the presence.
The natural alternative was put to themif they
did not choose to uncover their feet, like Asiatics,
they might have the option of uncovering their
heads, like Europeans. But the latter idea
was not to be thought of. The indignity was
such as no native gentleman could survive.
Considering that the shedding of the slippers
is not an act of submission or of deference
amounting to an admission of inferiority, but
a mere form of courtesy founded upon
convenience, meaning neither more nor less than
the doffing of the hat in England, which a
nobleman will do in a gamekeeper's cottageit
was a little too much to expect that the
governor-general would submit to this settlement
of the question.

In the East, where the luxuries of life rank
among the necessities, social trifles become
matters of serious political import. Lord
Dalhousie well knew that any dignity which he
neglected to maintain, would dwindle away, and
leave him in the well-known position of majesty
stripped of its externals. This was more than
the British power could bear, with any number
of bayonets. All the king's horses and all the
king's men could never set up the proconsulate
Humpty Dumpty, when it had once dropped
from its dignity. The representative of Britain
saw that the time had come to act. The course
of action to be adopted was the next question.
He had the giant's strength; he might use it
like a giant; but was such a policy desirable?
The representative of Britain thought not. He
had the hand of steel; he drew on the velvet
glove. He had the fortiter in re; he adopted
the suaviter in modo. He issued an order that
natives who dressed like natives, and wore
slippers, should leave the latter on the
threshold, according to native custom, on pain
of not being admitted to his presence; but that
natives who conformed, to a partial extent, to
the fashion of European costume, might retain
their boots if they chose to do so. If they
wore hats they must doff them; but the turban,
or purree, not being meant for removal, it
might in any case be retained. I believe that
the article relating to the boots contained a
stipulation to the effect that they could be
retained only when surmounted by European
pantaloons, strapped down; by which provision
the privilege was placed in its true lightas a
concession to convenience rather than an
extraordinary favour. However this may have
been, all parties appeared to be satisfied with
the arrangement. The wearers of slippers
resigned those articles as heretofore at the
threshold; and the wearers of boots, finding
that they gained no particular dignity or
importance by parading them at Government
House, ceased to do so to a considerable extent.
The Wellington of Europe may still be heard
to creak occasionally on native feet in the vice-
regal presence; but young Bengal, for the
most part, meets the representative of the
sovereign upon the old footingthat is to say,

The question thus happily set at rest, was
revived the other day at Bombay, in consequence
of an order which may be considered just a
little injudicious. It appears that the income-
tax commissioners of that presidency took
umbrage at the want of respect shown by many of
the natives who appeared before them to make
their returns. The said natives actually came
into the presence of the high and mighty, with
covered feet! The official dignity was roused,
and an order issued rendering the doffing of the
slippers compulsory. The result was, very
determined resistance on the part of the natives,
and very considerable confusion on the part of
the commissionersfor they had imposed a rule
which they evidently had no power to enforce.
The income-tax commissioners represent neither
majesty nor law; they are simply executive
officials sitting in an office. If they have any
complaint to wage against the persons who
appear there on business, they can simply return
the names of the offenders, who must be dealt
with by other authority. They have no more
right to make a complaint against a native of
Bombay for not removing his slippers in their
presence, than the officials at Somerset House
have a right to make a complaint against a
native of London for not removing his hat. The
omission in either case is a piece of bad taste and
bad manners, but it is nothing more. It is not
analogous to the case of a man, either in Bombay
or in London, who might refuse to doff his
slippers or his hat in a court of law. How the
dispute has been adjusted, or whether it has
been adjusted at all, does not appear; but it is
scarcely too much to suppose that an amount
of respect which satisfies the governor-general
in Calcutta should satisfy the income-tax
commissioners in Bombay. That these gentlemen
are not quite so easy to please, seems evident
from the fact that they demand the attention in
question at the handsor rather at the feet
of the Parsees, who generally wear English
shoes. The Parsees are the most loyal and
respectable class in the presidency, and any
resistance on their part to the demand is not likely
to be dictated by bad feeling. To them, therefore,
every consideration is due. With regard
to other classes there is quite sufficient ground
for forbearance, in the fact that the income-tax
is already the most unpopular measure of finance
ever imposed upon India.