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Robert KnightReforming Editor in Victorian India$

Edwin Hirschmann

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195696226

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195696226.001.0001

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(p.247) Appendix B A.O. Hume's Defences of Robert Knight and His Newspapers

(p.247) Appendix B A.O. Hume's Defences of Robert Knight and His Newspapers

Robert Knight
Oxford University Press

Allan Octavian Hume, Secretary of Revenue, Agriculture, and Commerce, defended the system of official subscriptions to Knight's monthly Indian Economist, and he showed a rare appreciation of the editor and the worth of his journal. His memo, dated 3 February 1874, is included in the files of India, General Department, Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce (RAC) Proceedings, June 1874, pp. 1–5. Two excerpts follow.

…It was not that Government by any means agreed with Mr. Knight on even a majority of the subjects discussed, but that his paper was the first, as it is still the only, special organ for the discussion of revenue matters; that it awoke district officers of the several provinces from the somewhat sleepy satisfaction with the arrangements of their own provinces … and generally, by provoking controversies, some of which were very ably argued, placed at the disposal of both district officers and of Government a vast amount of useful material that could hardly have been otherwise acquired….

As far as I can judge, the influence of the paper has been great, and on the whole entirely for good. True, Knight has at times dashed off rabid Philippics, or broached crude and indefencible theories, but with the poison came the antidote….Interest has been awakened, intelligence stimulated, and…indirectly the paper has in a marked degree contributed to the improvement of the Government revenue. Besides, however, controversial questions, the journal has become a receptacle for all kinds of information on every possible branch of agriculture and statistics laboriously culled by Knight from an infinite variety of sources, official and nonofficial, Indian, European and American.

* * *

(p.248) Four and a half years later, Hume again tried to explain Knight to his council colleagues and defend a policy of subsidizing one of his papers. This critique, while perhaps overly severe, is probably the most candid evaluation of Knight by a contemporary to survive. It is an official Government of India archive, General Department, RAC Proceedings, 30 July 1878, and was found in the Lytton Papers, E218/142B, pp. 549–61.

…it is necessary to realize Knight's character; and as I have known him well for years, and, despite his faults, like and respect him, I will endeavor to explain briefly what he is.

He is very sharp and clever in a small way, writes well at times, and is far better read and educated than would at first be supposed from either his writings or conversation. But he altogether lacks the faculty of estimating the relative proportion of things. He will slur an important point, make a mountain of a molehill, prefer the unsupported statement of a single…witness to the united testimony of a body of experts, will seize an idea, and run away with it at such a pace that no adverse views can ever catch his mind up.

He is…absolutely honest according to his gifts, so much so, that no considerations of interest or prudence will ever restrain him from taking up one man or denouncing another, if he conceives that he has grounds for doing so. He has about the best intentions and the worst judgment of any man I know.

He is the kindest-hearted man in private life, and would not, I believe, hurt a fly, but he has a vile-tempered pen, and continually oversteps in his writings the most liberal limits of journalistic criticism.

He has, on many occasions, done the country, I believe, good service, by stirring up controversy and disseminating right ideas on important questions; but…he has much more often been entirely wrong, and has notoriously of late years…abused and almost insulted various dignitaries and authorities on absolutely mistaken grounds…