This paper is not a resolved narrative, but rather a fulmination on the discourse between Scotland and the Bengali Renaissance, and the profoundly dynamic socio-cultural site of colonial interaction in Bengal in the early nineteenth century, with particular reference to Scottish missionaries and the Hindu elite.
The Bengal Renaissance began within, and in direct opposition to, the British colonisation of India. The commodities of knowledge, religion, and art were, however, exchanged between the two nations as they sought to identify themselves within the larger colonial world. This paper is the beginning of a research project that focuses on the interchange of ideas by concentrating on the lives and writings of Alexander Duff (1806-1878) and Raja Rammonhun Roy (1772-1833).
Duff is remembered primarily as a missionary but his reputation lies in his educational legacy. Roy’s legacy lies in his fashioning of a cultural self-image that pulled from both Eastern and Western thought, he was foundational in the creation of a composite cultural synthesis which reappropriated ideas from the ambiguous mid nineteenth century colonial interactions in ways not predicated on Western superiority.
Is it possible to expand upon our understanding of the colonial encounter, the site of which has often, if not always, created a new historiography? J.S. Mill said that the ‘whole government of India is carried out in writing,’ those seated at the Imperial metropole presided, organised, and dictated the colonial sphere but far more interesting are those who physically encountered each other. It is in this geo-cultural sitedness of the colonial encounter that a new historiography is formed, or in which the influence or people can be seen and the effectiveness of their agency measured.
This way of analysing the socio-political encounter follows from the work of Clifford Geertz, who explained that to understand the structure of meaning within cultures, how something—be it gesture, behaviour, action, signal or practice—can have any number of responses; yet it is how it is produced, perceived and interpreted that defines its meaning, its Thick Description. He wrote in his seminal collection of essays, The Interpretation of Cultures: ‘believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore one in search of meaning’.
Max Weber put the question: ‘which motives led and continue to lead individual functionaries and members of this ‘community’ to behave in such a way that it comes into being and continues to exist?’ In a similar vein to Geertz and Weber, what are the ‘motives’ or ‘webs of significance’ that are produced by a community, in this case the Scottish missionaries, at once removed and yet constrained by the Imperial metropole.
History has taught that it is impossible to undo the colonial encounter, no matter how benign the interloper, the socio-cultural and geo-political exchange and influence will always be profound. This leads back to missionaries and specifically Alexander Duff. There are some standard tropes one expects when studying missionaries: the nature of their work often meant they were some of the first external people to arrive in a place; they often had difficulty communicating with the indigenous people they met; and finally and they often turned up unannounced. Yet none of these were issues that Alexander Duff encountered. This then suggests that what was happening in India was a unique site of socio-cultural colonial interaction.
In understanding the colonial interaction the researcher is not a passive consumer, nor does a focus on history mean the researcher is ‘distracted from real political engagement’. It is in fact what makes these discourses so interesting, that they involve real people, and people are political and cannot be reduced or homogenised and neither can the researcher ever presume to know absolutely what another person thought.
As David Bunn states, by the acknowledgement of ‘the political implications of the scholarly decision to engage in research and teaching on colonial (or post-colonial) discourse’ academics ensure the work being done continues to destabilise the Western academic colonisation of an-‘others’ history or culture.
Monological assumptions abound in colonial research, particularly when it comes to histories ascribed from the Imperial metropole. In 1839, prior to being made Under Secretary of State for India, Sir Herman Merivale said, that ‘[t]he modern colonizing imagination conceives of its dependencies as a territory, never as a people’. This is clearly falling into the same category as the above mentioned assumptions regarding missionaries.
Duff never went out to proselytize to India; he went to preach to the Hindu people (the emphasis on people) there is no doubt that he never refers to the people of India as anything other than a group of people. Emphatically his colonial encounter was human in its character. Already it is clear that what happened in colonial India, specifically Bengal up to and including the Renaissance was a distinct and complex interaction. At first glance the basic power structures suggest that the agency of the colonised was far greater than it was in any other site of colonial encounter. This ultimately leads to the research question:
Through the micro-narratives of the colonial encounter is it possible to identify strands of interaction that are contra-narrative to the primary hegemonic Western scribed Imperial history, and leading from that, is the perceived Scottish Bengali comradeship a response to their shared English subjugation.
For is that not in essence what a renaissance is, not solely an ideology but that which engenders many within a geo-political and socio-cultural group. The term renaissance would be problematic as the idea of free spirited enlightened thinking under the yoke of colonialism should be a non sequitur, yet that is what makes the Bengali renaissance all the more interesting. Niyogi posits that ‘although there was no fundamental socio-economic change characteristic of the eighteenth century European one, the Bengali renaissance fostered a long period of universalism, humanism and rationalism’.. To take this a little further and return to Geertz, the researcher must look at:
The historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life.
What then can the research be grounded upon, what could be more symbolic and expressive of person’s ‘inherited conceptions’ than how they chooses to educate their children. To draw on the words and logic of Sudhir Chandra it is to the ‘aspects of man-in-society that reflect movement.’ Many small movements engender a change, it is not just those who are willing to talk, but those who are willing to listen, those willing to do and most strikingly those who are willing to put their children on the front line of that change.
The machinations of a renaissance enable the main protagonists to enact their ideas. In Bengal the lyricism that came from the instigators of the change and the younger English language educated generation could only happen in an environment of flux; providing an arena to ruminate on both the changing religious impetus and the aspects of colonialism that could be reengineered or crafted for the good of the indigenous population.
There is a further question which links on from the above point, which is whether the renaissance was in part due to not being able to get rid of the British physically, as evidenced by the first signification parry of independence, the Indian revolt. As has become evident to the researcher, the revival of Bengali culture had been happening since the eighteenth century. It was a renascent identity, an oppositional response to the moribund stasis of a previously vibrant and varied culture, a shoring up of nationalist feeling and identity.
As the Scots did not wish the State to be integral to their religion so Bengalis pushed against the overwhelming wave of imperial socio-cultural ideology, so rigidly written into governance by the East India Company. Ultimately it is possible to suggest that such an iconoclastic approach by the British stimulated a stronger oppositional stance to the Interlopers.
Alexander Duff came to India with an attitude similar to that of the fictional Marlow in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). As Marlow was drawn to the spaces ‘of delightful mystery’ in South America, Africa and Australia, so Duff as a child was drawn to India. He writes: it was ‘in perusing the article on India in Sir David Brewster’s Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, that my soul was first drawn out as by a spell like fascination towards India.’
Duff sailed with his wife, Anne Scott Drysdale on the Lady Holland, an East Indiaman, for India in 1829. They arrived in Calcutta, after two shipwrecks which left them with a most inconveniently slender wardrobe, on the 27th of May 1830. Duff instantly set to work absorbing all he could about the religion and education of the city of Calcutta its and surroundings, he went to every school, every mission, he made a detailed study of all the current forms of education, and found them lacking.
Duff’s interest in education was long founded, he was from the tiny village of Moulin near Pitlochy in Scotland, and it was a place of dual language, the indigenous Gaelic which been dying out since the Highlands Clearances (which caused massive population movement and emigration) of the eighteenth century, and English language of learning and commerce. Many people in the vicinity spoke Gaelic and from his father’s time it was considered a hindrance to the spread of the Christian gospel, as most ministers spoke English and thus a large percentage of the population could not be ministered to.
Part of the solution was to send children to school when they were young to enable them to learn English then they would be able to hear the word of God from all preachers, not just those who could speak Gaelic. The importance of duality of language was evident in Duff’s own beliefs. Whilst Duff was adamant about English being the language of instruction he also believed strongly in the independence of Scotland and its people as a nation distinct from England. He said:
The genuine spirit of liberty and independence could outlive the wear and tear of whole centuries of oppression; and ever and anon, rallying into fresh vigour, could humble in the dust the pride and flower of all her chivalry. Thus roughly cradled amid the storms, and nurtured amid the tempests of troubled life, the character of the Scottish people grew up into a robustness and hardihood, and their principles of action into a tenacity of sinewy strength, that could not brook the touch of foreign tyranny.
Duff’s understanding of a dual language culture, alongside his early fascination with the India as evidenced in the encyclopaedia quotation, gives an insight into the way Duff thought, and begins to show why Roy took to him as he did.
Duff was reformer, educationalist, and nationalist. His words suggest a kind of egalitarianism which mirrors the early constructs of the Bengal Renaissance. Duff took the earliest opportunity to meet Roy, and in fact had been told to see him by his Church superiors, he was thoroughly pleased by the conversation they had. It appears Roy was also taken with the young Scotsman, it is quoted that they both believed that theology helped develop and regulate the powers of the mind, heart and conscious.
Roy was part of a group of men, many of whom spoke English, who were the vanguard of educational and to some degree social reform in Calcutta. The group included men such as Dwarkanath Tagore, Ram Komul Sen and Raja Radhakanta Deb. They were men who not only spoke English but were erudite and had influence due to their social status and wealth which enabled them to enact change. Sumanta Niyogi notes that:
[T]he first half of the nineteenth century, which can be termed as the age of Rammohun Roy, witnessed the advent of rationalistic and scientific spirit, the endless endeavour for the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge, the tireless struggle for the emancipation of women and continuous battle against the time honoured orthodoxy, backwardness and superstition.
The early nineteenth century was recognised as the spirit of a new age, a chance to instigate socio-cultural transformation. These men were prima facie in the colonial discourse, a chance to change or reform colonial ways, and push for an enlightened colonial discourse around education. As Mignolo emphasises:
[in using] colonial discourse in my vocabulary particularly when talking ‘of the humanities and the social sciences with a literary bent’ as it offers, in my view, an alternative approach to a field of study dominated by notions such as “colonial literature” or “colonial history.” As defined by Peter Hulme…colonial discourse embraces all kinds of discursive production related to and arising out of colonial situations, from the Capitulations of 1492 to William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from royal orders and edicts to the most carefully written prose.
Primary in the initial stages of Duff’s personal colonial discourse was Roy’s influence on his being sent out to India in the first place. Roy had been helping Scots and English set up schools in and around Calcutta. Roy had even sent a letter in support of James Bryce, First chaplain of the kirk in Calcutta’s petition to the Scottish General Assembly for missionaries. In the Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy, Collett writes that,
Scotsmen will doubtless regard it as a compliment to their national type of religion that while this cultured theist was horrified by the overtures of the Anglican Bishop and was antagonised by the Baptist editors, he was induced to beg for the presence in his country of Scottish Presbyterian missionaries.
Whether or not Roy was quite so keen on the Scottish presbytery or whether it was a canny awareness on his part that what the Scottish offered was much more in line with his own ideas than that of the absolutist English orthodoxies remains to be uncovered. As to what Duff offered, Reverend Day notes that Duff, whilst being impressed with the sheer domineering character of the English colleges already in place in Calcutta, he ‘saw with regret that, though the English education was mighty in pulling down the strongholds of error, it constructed nothing in their room’. Or that the English Colleges offered a doctrine heavy pedagogy that was rather light on the theory of knowledge. What Roy wanted, and Duff was suggesting, was a holistic pedagogical environment.
Duff wanted to facilitate a form of education, that at the time was very modern; based on three principles-remarkably similar to Deriozo’s concept of a free interchange of thought between professor and pupil. Firstly, he pushed for an Interrogatory method: students should be able to question what they learn, pull it apart and analyse it.
This then leads on to the second premise: that students should have a clear conception of the subject in their mind, rote learning would not produce nimble brains. And thirdly, students should be able to then express the subject in their own words. He was also adamant the education he taught was in English, as D. H. Emmott notes, Duff had to instruct in the English language.
As a native of the Scottish Highlands, he had early realized that among Gaelic-speaking people the demands of higher education could only be met by English. Duff placed Gaelic and Bengali in the same category. English was necessary for the education of people who spoke either.
To return to the quotation from Day, it is clear from Duff’s concept of pedagogy that the current system did not fulfil his ideal. Emmott expands on this when he notes that ‘whereas elsewhere as in the Hindu College, western knowledge was being taught divorced from Christianity, Duff, in his college did show that western knowledge did not necessarily mean materialistic knowledge.’ It is this separation of education from ‘materialistic knowledge’ that binds Duff and Roy.
Provantasu Maiti says ‘the connection between society and education is very deep and intimate. The education people receive exercises a deep and far reaching influence on the moulding of society’. Together Roy and Duff used each other to mould their society, for Duff he saw his role as an inherent part of his Scottish-ness. ‘[I]t is not the nature of the genuine sons of Scotia to refuse aid, or sympathy, or gratulations, the weal or the woe, the joys or the sorrows of their fellow creatures.’
He saw it as his duty to provide an education that was appropriate for the colonial population not one that suited the Imperial metropole. Rabindranath Tagore writes of Roy that ‘Rammohun was the only person in his time, in the whole world of man, to realise completely the significance of the modern age. He knew that the ideal of human civilisation does not lie in the isolation of independence but in the brotherhood of interdependence of individuals as well as of nations in all spheres of thought and activity’.
This education creation, this site of cultural interaction, a profound exchange of beliefs and ideologies, was creating a new concomitant culture, neither one nor the other but a new transient and malleable culture subject to intervention on both sides. The educational establishment these two men set up forced a dialogue, a socio-cultural site of colonial ambiguity. When one creates a new pedagogy and asks for input many people have ideas and suggestions but few have concrete conceptions. What Roy and Duff created was a structure, a beginning, which though not ideal, created a concept that could be built on and refashioned.
Although the Hindu College in theory was Roy’s attempt at a syncretic binding of modern educational policies with traditional Indian Spiritual concepts and literature, it was a project he had to step away from to prevent antagonising a section of the Hindu orthodoxy, ‘who were a bit suspicious of the Christian foreigners and of those who like Rammohun, held views far more advanced than what could be appreciated by them’. With Roy, it seems that others mistook his ideas of education to be a duplicitous subterfuge. As Bhabha writes in the Location of Culture:
They [the paranoid], too, cannot regard anything in other people as indifferent, and they, too, take up minute indications with which these other, unknown, people present them, and use them in their ‘delusions of reference’.
Ultimately, the reifying of the place of Indian literary historiography in education owes much more to the later work of Devendranath and the Tagores in general. What the researcher is trying to show is that Duff and Roy’s school was allowed to develop because at that particular moment in that particular time they created a new colonial discourse.
Using education they opened the doors to both Western and Eastern pedagogies, and, essentially, religion was just another medium to engender dialogue, bearing in mind Roy’s truism, ‘no one ever became a Christian by reading the bible’, but education in English would give greater agency to the indigenous population. 
The only way to respond to colonial ideology is to furnish oneself with the tools of the interloper, write in his language, and use his own words to reflect his own folly. There is a parity of thought between Rammohun Roy and Alexander Duff, that while often oppositional the inherent similarities between their aims, knowledge acquisition, creation, and expansion were great enough to override their fundamental differences.
1 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge Classics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004)
2 David Bunn, ‘Embodying Africa: Woman and Romance in Colonial Fiction’, English in Africa, 15 (1988)
3 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Renaissance & Reaction in Nineteenth Century Bengal (Bengal: South Asia Books, 1977)
4 Sophia Dobson Collet, The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy (India: Classic Press, 1914)
5 Lal Behari Day, Recollections of Alexander Duff: And of the Mission College Which He Founded in Calcutta (India: Nelson, 1879)
6 Rev. A. Duff, ‘The Sole and Supreme Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over His Own Church; a Voice from the Ganges, Relative to the Cases Which Led to the Recent Disruption of the Established Church of Scotland and the Consequent Formation of the Free Church of Scotland’, (Calcutta: W. Rushton, 1840)
7 D. H. Emmott, ‘Alexander Duff and the Foundation of Modern Education in India’, British Journal of Education Studies, 13 (1965)
8 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz (New York: Perseus Books Group, 2000)
9 Provantansu Maiti, ‘English Education in Bengal: From Class Education to Mass Education’, in Commemoration Volume Published on the Occasion of the 150th Year’s Celebration of the Scottish Church College, ed. by Aparesh Bhattacharjee (Kolkata: Principal Aparesh Bhattacharjee, 1980)
10 Walter D. Mignolo, ‘Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural Critique or Academic Colonialism?’, Latin American Research Review, 28 (1993)
11 Sumanta Niyogi, The Brahmo Samaj Movement and Development of Education 1872-1911 (Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986)
12 George Smith, The Life of Alexander Duff, D.D., Ll.D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1879)
13 Rabindranath Tagore, The English Writing of Rabindranath Tagore (Atlantic, 2007)
14 Max Weber, ‘The Nature of Social Action in Wirtschaft Und Gesellschaft’, in Max Weber: Selections in Translation, ed. by W. E. Runciman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956, First published in 1922)
 Qtd in: Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge Classics (Abingdon: Routledge, 2004). p.133.
 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz (New York: Perseus Books Group, 2000).p. 5.
 Max Weber, ‘The Nature of Social Action in Wirtschaft Und Gesellschaft’, in Max Weber: Selections in Translation, ed. by W. E. Runciman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956, First published in 1922). p. 21.
 David Bunn, ‘Embodying Africa: Woman and Romance in Colonial Fiction’, English in Africa, 15 (1988), 1-28. p. 4.
 Walter D. Mignolo, ‘Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural Critique or Academic Colonialism?’, Latin American Research Review, 28 (1993), 120-34. p.121.
 Bhabha, The Location of Culture. p.138.
 Sumanta Niyogi, The Brahmo Samaj Movement and Development of Education 1872-1911 (Patna: Janaki Prakashan, 1986). p. 2.
 Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz. p. 89.
 Chandra p287-288
 George Smith, The Life of Alexander Duff, D.D., Ll.D. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1879).p.43-44.
 Rev. A. Duff, ‘The Sole and Supreme Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over His Own Church; a Voice from the Ganges, Relative to the Cases Which Led to the Recent Disruption of the Established Church of Scotland and the Consequent Formation of the Free Church of Scotland’, (Calcutta: W. Rushton, 1840). p. 4.
 Niyogi, The Brahmo Samaj Movement and Development of Education 1872-1911. p.1
 Mignolo, ‘Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: Cultural Critique or Academic Colonialism?’. p. 124.
 Collett Sophia Dobson Collet, The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy (India: Classic Press, 1914). p.151.
 Lal Behari Day, Recollections of Alexander Duff: And of the Mission College Which He Founded in Calcutta (India: Nelson, 1879). p.24.
 D. H. Emmott, ‘Alexander Duff and the Foundation of Modern Education in India’, British Journal of Education Studies, 13 (1965).
 Provantansu Maiti, ‘English Education in Bengal: From Class Education to Mass Education’, in Commemoration Volume Published on the Occasion of the 150th Year’s Celebration of the Scottish Church College, ed. by Aparesh Bhattacharjee (Kolkata: Principal Aparesh Bhattacharjee, 1980). p.4.
 Duff, ‘The Sole and Supreme Headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over His Own Church; a Voice from the Ganges, Relative to the Cases Which Led to the Recent Disruption of the Established Church of Scotland and the Consequent Formation of the Free Church of Scotland’. p.149
 Rabindranath Tagore, The English Writing of Rabindranath Tagore (Atlantic, 2007). p.907
 Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyaya, Renaissance & Reaction in Nineteenth Century Bengal (Bengal: South Asia Books, 1977). p.12
 Bhabha, The Location of Culture. p.132.
 Collet, The Life and Letters of Raja Rammohun Roy.