“Tell them,” he cried, “that if a hair of any one of their heads is touched by any official on any account whatever, all England shall ring with it. Good God! What callous oppression! The dark places of the earth are full of cruelty.” He wiped his face, and throwing out his arms cried: “Tell them, oh! tell the poor, serfs not to be afraid of me. Tell them I come to redress their wrongs—not, heaven knows, to add to their burden.”
The long-drawn gurgle of the practised public speaker pleased them much.
This is from “Little Foxes“, published in 1909. It is a send-up of the tendency of Liberal politicians to assume that British imperial rule is always cruel and dictatorial. In a province along the Nile, the new British administration are seeking to establish fair governance , based on laws that the local people understand. Their main concern is to secure the title to their land.
The Governor, a keen hunting man, observes that the country is teeming with foxes, and decides to bring out a pack of hounds to have some sport. As in England or Ireland, it is necessary to stop up the foxes’ earths to prevent them ‘going to ground’ and the Governor hits on an ingenious way of achieving this, and at the same time resolving land disputes. He decrees that farmers must stop up the earths on their land, on pain of being beaten. Men who have failed to do so are soon found to be claiming the right to be beaten, as a badge of ownership, and thus sport is combined with justice. The ‘beatings’ are soon transmuted into a token tap on the shoulder.
When, however, the Governor’s Inspector is home on leave, on a mission to bring back some new hounds, he encounters at the dinner table a Liberal Member of Parliament who is deeply committed to righting the wrongs of the oppressed. The young man gives him a racy and entirely fictitious account of the brutal beatings regularly administered in the colony. Soon after the MP, who has taken all this entirely seriously, comes out to see for himself, and makes an impassioned speech to the local villagers. Unfortunately it has been translated in a way that makes him seem to be a madman, and his words are swept away in a gale of laughter.