By 1768, when the French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville reached the Polynesian island of Tahiti, a year after the British navigator Samuel Wallis, the European conquest of the world was well advanced. In the three hundred years before the French Revolution, land masses had been mapped in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific; attempts had been made to classify peoples and their religions; and trading posts had been established. It has become fashionable among historians to view this early modern colonialism as a precursor to the high imperialism of the nineteenth century (Hobsbawm, 1987), while some twentieth- and twenty-first-century historians (Bénot, 1970; Mutha, 2004; Pitts, 2005), examining the opposition which colonisation provoked, have identified a form of ‘anti-colonialism’ in eighteenth-century Europe.
Focusing on British and French colonialisms in India, this chapter will demonstrate that the ideological basis of colonial rule was still in a state of flux and formation. A range of European sources – travelogues, military memoirs, and the archives of the trading companies (the East India Company and the Compagnie des Indes) – has been traditionally used to write the story of colonialism from the perspective of the colonisers, but documents produced in Europe can equally be used to show evidence of European unease and ambivalence about expansion overseas. Carrying out discourse analysis on three of these sources, the chapter will demonstrate how far Europe was interlinked with the rest of the world in the early modern era; how rivalries and collusions were imagined and represented; and how political and economic dominance was questioned although not ultimately contested.
The vast lands of South Asia, known as the East Indies to the British and as les grandes Indes (the great Indies) to the French, were a prize fiercely contested during the early modern period when mercantilism was the dominant economic practice. Rich in spices and minerals, they attracted rival sea-faring European powers after Vasco de Gama’s establishment of trade links between Portugal and India in the fifteenth century. Following Portugal’s example, the Dutch Republic, England, France, and Denmark all founded trading posts in India in the seventeenth century and, exploiting the decline of the Mughal Empire, increased their influence by collaborating with, and manipulating, the unstable Indian states which emerged in its wake.
While the commercial imperative was the primary motivating factor behind the European encounter with India, an essential part of this trade was the acquisition of ‘concessions’. Granted to European companies such as the English East India Company (established in 1600), the Dutch Vereenigde Oost Indische Compagnie (V.O.C., established in 1602), the Danish East India Company (1616), and the French Compagnie des Indes (1664), these ‘concessions’ brought significant powers and rewards: land containing warehouses and shops; a national monopoly on trade relations between the state and Indian clients; the right to maintain an army and negotiate treaties; and the authority to mint money and exercise justice. Mughal law allowed foreign communities administrative and judicial autonomy (for a high price) and Europeans accepted their part in a ‘suzerain-vassal system’ in exchange for the commercial advantages which it conferred. Over the course of the eighteenth century, European rivalry in India increasingly became a struggle for dominance between Britain, under the East India Company, and France (Lenman, 1998, pp.159–62). The construction of a citadel at Pondichéry by the government of Louis XIV between 1702 and 1705, and the granting of the patent of nabob to the governor of Pondichéry in 1741 (the first European to receive such an honour, which he received in exchange for protection offered to the mother of the nabob of Trichinopoly), gave the French a strong political and physical presence in southern India (Marsh, 2009, pp.13–14). However, during the Seven Years’ War (1756–63), the principal French trading posts (the Établissements of Pondichéry, Karikal, Mahé, Yanaon, and Chandernagor) were poorly defended and were quickly taken over by the forces of the British East India Company. The Treaty of Paris of 1763, which marked the end of the war, restored the original five trading posts to French control, but stipulated that French control be limited to these areas alone (Article 11 of the Treaty of Paris). The Treaty signalled the dominance of the British East India Company both over rival European powers and over India, a dominance which was further consolidated by the accession of the Company to diwani (the right to collect revenue) in Bengal and Bihar in 1765 (Marshall, 1976, p.13).
The assumption of diwani in 1765 demonstrated that the British East India Company was no longer simply exercising commercial power but was also a political power; accordingly, the erosion of boundaries between commerce and political power in the colonies became a prominent subject of debate in Britain and France (Abbattista, 2006; Marsh, 2009). Alongside contemporaneous debates about slavery in the Atlantic World, the subject of India, and specifically its rule by the British East India Company, was used to explore Enlightenment ideals and to tackle questions about human progress, universalism, and difference. In recent years, historians have made links between colonialism and imperialism (the ideas and theory which drive the practice of colonialism; Cooper, 2005, p.3) with the philosophies associated with the Enlightenment. Informed by critical approaches to understanding colonialism and its discourses, as developed by Edward W. Said and others (Greenblatt, 1993; Said, 1978; Suleri, 1991), these interpretations posit that the Enlightenment, in its search for the universal, ignored cultural difference and produced an intellectual hierarchy with eighteenth-century Western Europe at its top; in other words, it provided the ideal rationale for the ‘civilising mission’ of European colonialisms (Festa and Carey, 2009). This has led to a revised evaluation of philosophical texts previously viewed as heralding ‘modernity’. At the same time, research by the Subaltern Studies Group in India, and works by cultural historians informed by the various paradigms of ‘postcolonialism’, have challenged the perceived dominance of a European ‘planetary consciousness’ (Pratt, 1992, p.9); crucially, these researchers have rejected the tendency of previous histories of imperialism to tell the story of European colonialism as a unidirectional process of Europe imposing its will over the rest of the world, and have sought instead to recover voices and stories previously silenced by the European grand narrative. In 1996, Linda Colley, reflecting upon the development of the historiography of empire, argued that imperial history was ‘no longer a monotonal tale of Britain or France or Spain or the Dutch against the rest, but rather a complex saga of the collisions, compromises and comings together of many different cultures’ (Colley, 1996, p.8). The ‘monotonal’ tales of Britain ‘against the rest’ which Colley is evoking here include, for example, the classic Whig history of the British empire in India by the nineteenth-century historian Thomas Macaulay (1907 , p.489). Colley’s central argument that empire can no longer be viewed as simply a story of Europeans imposing their will over the rest of the world has become a tenet of historiography, with recent histories emphasising the importance of accommodation as well as conflict between colonisers and colonised.
Historiography has begun to consider not only accommodation and resistance to European domination in colonised areas (the Caribbean, the Americas, India) during the early modern era, but also those elements of negotiation and resistance which developed in metropolitan Europe. Informed by, and responding to, developments in feminism, cultural studies and postcolonial theory, historians such as Kathleen Wilson have stressed the interconnectedness of imperial and national history: in other words, the history of Britain (for example) should not be confined to the geographical area of the British Isles alone, but should be viewed instead as having occurred in America and Asia – just as, indeed, the history of Asia and America should be considered part of British history. Known as the ‘new imperial history’, this perspective has demonstrated ‘that the “local” and the “global” have been difficult to disentangle since 1492’ (Wilson, 2004, p.15). Whereas new postcolonial histories of European empires have uncovered the silenced voices of the formerly colonised by moving away from a reliance on high-level diplomatic sources (such as the archives of the East India Company in Britain), this new imperial history has revisited and re-evaluated well-known primary sources (such as eighteenth-century philosophical texts, travelogues, histories, and political prints) in order to question how empires were viewed by populations in Europe and how far ‘ordinary people’ were aware of empire (Hall and Rose, 2006, pp.22–25). This has led to historians of political thought identifying in the writings of eighteenth-century French and British philosophers an increasing unease with colonial expansion – an unease especially evident in France after the Seven Years’ War and in Britain after the definitive loss of the American colonies (1783), and which has invariably been characterised as ‘anti-colonial’ thinking (Mutha, 2003).
Exploring a selection of eighteenth-century primary sources produced in Europe about India, this chapter will show how they can be used to demonstrate the uneven European response to early modern colonialism, but will question whether the sources opposing that colonialism should be viewed as ‘anti-colonial’ at all. The three sources have been used by historians in various ways before: to demonstrate the material presence of Indian culture in eighteenth-century Britain (Teltscher, 1997); to argue for the centrality of the colonial world to philosophical thought in eighteenth-century Britain and France (Marsh, 2009); and to show evidence of resistance among indigenous populations (Franklin, 2006). Focusing comparatively on both French and British sources produced in the years leading up to the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the chapter will also consider how they can be used to reveal the importance of inter-European rivalry to colonialisms before 1789.
Selecting and interpreting sources
This chapter concerns itself broadly with intellectual history. In concentrating on the debates which took place in Britain and France about colonial rule in India during the second half of the eighteenth century, it does not seek to suggest that Indians were either passive or silent in the face of European colonialism; indeed, as recent scholarship has demonstrated, the shape of the British and French empires in India was the result of both active opposition to, and accommodation of, arriving European powers by Indian peoples (see, for example, Colley, 2003). What it aims to do instead is to examine how India was talked about – what people said, and how they said it – and thus to show how primary sources can be used to uncover what British and French people thought about India. Following the example of Natalie Zemon Davis and her investigations into the cultural history of sixteenth-century France, the analysis considers the sources used here primarily as representations. At issue, therefore, is not their factual accuracy, nor the breadth of information which they display about India; rather, the aim is to ‘let the “fictional” aspects of these documents be the center of analysis’, by which is meant ‘their forming, shaping, and molding elements: the crafting of narrative’ (Davis, 1987, p.3).
Such a theoretical approach to interpreting the sources allows the historian to focus on the language choices made, and to unpick the arguments developed about India in the eighteenth century. However, caution is needed. While the historian can uncover ways of thinking by using this methodology, showing (in the words of Robert Darnton) ‘not merely what people thought but how they thought – how they construed the world, invested it with meaning, and infused it with emotion’ (1985, pp.3–7), all historical documents are, of course, written from someone’s point of view, with a specific purpose and audience in mind. In order to use the primary sources as evidence to support the argument being established here (namely that colonialism was contested by some in the eighteenth century), the significance of the sources needs to be ascertained. To do this, the historian needs to pose and answer several questions: what was the context of the source? Who was the author? Where and when was it written? Who was the intended audience? Establishing the identity of the author is not as straightforward as it might sound. In the eighteenth century, particularly in the case of contentious political tracts in France, sources were often anonymous – or, like Raynal’s Histoire philosophique et politique des établissements et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes [A], published under one author’s name but in reality the work of many contributing authors. When examining such documents, the use of complementary critical sources is vital. The historian needs to consider how typical the source is for the period under examination. What problems, assumptions, arguments, ideas and values, if any, does it share with other sources from the period? What other sources can be found to corroborate the conclusions drawn? This process, frequently viewed as ‘triangulating’ the value of a source with others, involves comparing the source not only with other primary sources but also with interpretations offered by secondary sources. Historical contexts shape ways of thinking; for a historian to deploy her or his evidence effectively s/he also needs to evaluate how influential the ideas discussed were. How widely was the text circulated? Do the ideas appear elsewhere? In eighteenth-century texts it was usual to see an unreferenced use of passages from other authors. Textual migrations from, say, a travel account to a historical text, which today would be viewed as plagiarism, can allow historians to establish how knowledge about other parts of the world was circulated and what sorts of ideas predominated. Only by considering sources alongside others can historians ensure that they are not over-privileging one selected source to generate a specious argument.
In the winter of 1769–70, news of a devastating famine in Bengal reached Europe and reports suggested that the East India Company had refused to alleviate the suffering of the Indians; a quarter of the population of Bengal died. This was one of a series of scandals that, following the assumption of diwani, made the question of Company rule in India a vexed one. In Britain this questioning took many forms. The popular press focused its attention on nabobs – an inaccurate transliteration of the Mughal nawab, the title given to semi-independent rulers of Mughal provinces and, after Samuel Foote’s play of 1772, a term of abuse for British merchants who had returned after a relatively short stay in India with a large fortune – and their perceived threat to the existing social order. In Britain, the unease among the landed elites towards Company nabobs returning from India with vast fortunes from the ‘spoils of ruined provinces’ (Foote, 1830 , p.84) generated a range of satirical plays evoking the nefarious effects of decadence and luxury; in addition to Samuel Foote’s The Nabob (1772), popular plays included Richard Clarke’s Asiatic Plunderers (1773), Henry Frederick Thompson’s The intrigues of a Nabob: or, Bengal the fittest soil for the growth of lust, injustice and dishonesty (1780), and Mariana Starke’s The Sword of Peace (1788). A parliamentary enquiry was instituted in 1772 into Robert Clive, the former commander-in-chief of British India, for allegations of greed and brutality. This, combined with the near-collapse of Company stocks in 1772, led to the Regulating Act of 1773, designed to give parliamentary oversight of the Company’s actions. A further attempt at regulation was envisaged by Fox’s radical East India Bill, which failed to pass the House of Lords; after the fall of North’s government, however, William Pitt’s new government passed the India Act of 1784, establishing a Board of Control and stabilising the government of India. In May 1782, the House of Commons demanded the dismissal of Hastings as Governor-General of Bengal, accusing him of having ‘acted in a manner repugnant to the honour and policy of the British nation’ (Rose, 1929, p.193). In and among the debates about the governance of India, the role played by Hastings was much disputed; Edmund Burke set out the formal charges against him on 4 April 1786, and parliament debated whether these constituted impeachable offences. Hastings’s trial began on 13 February 1788, with the prosecution led by four opposition Whig MPs, Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox, Charles Grey, and Richard Sheridan. The trial lasted until 23 April 1795, when Hastings was cleared by a majority vote.
For an exploration of the various European views of colonialism in India, primary sources are, to a certain extent, self-selecting. The infamous impeachment trial of Warren Hastings was one of the major political and cultural events of the late eighteenth century, not just in Britain but in Europe more widely. As numerous historians have pointed out, it spilled beyond Westminster Hall and into the pages of the press, stimulating letters, articles, commentaries, and cartoons which invited the public to view the European encounter with India as a theatrical spectacle (Musselwhite, 1986, p.92). In France, the press reproduced such reports and commentaries, while the published account of the arrival of Indian ruler Tipu Saib’s ambassadors at Versailles in August 1788 contextualised this French state occasion with reference to the trial of Hastings in Britain (Les Indiens ou Tippoo-Saïb, 1788, p.5). Given that the nature of colonial rule was at the very heart of the trial, the historian is faced with a wealth of documents. Trials are, of course, adversarial: the prosecution and the defence offer competing accounts of the same events, and such competition continues in accompanying accounts, reflecting whether the author or creator of the document was a partisan of Hastings or of his chief prosecutors (Burke, Fox, Grey, and Sheridan).
In recent years, Burke’s prosecution of Hastings has produced much historical analysis from a postcolonial perspective (Nechtman, 2010; Suleri, 1991; Teltscher, 1997); but Sheridan’s speech in favour of impeachment, delivered to the House of Commons on 7 April 1787 and discussing the alleged spoliation of the Begums of Oudh on Hastings’s authority, was no less significant at the time, being viewed by his contemporaries as one of the greatest examples of parliamentary oratory. Before using such a source, certain characteristics should be acknowledged. The published version is not the entire text of the speech, which lasted ‘for nearly six hours’ (detailed in the ‘Preface’, The Genuine Speech, unpaginated). Parliamentary reporting was not consistent in the eighteenth century; speeches were frequently edited, and might be a composite production of the work of various reporters if, as in this case, the speaker did not publish the text himself (Sheridan, in fact, refused to do so). Neither the pamphlet version used here [C] nor the version recorded in The Parliamentary History provides the complete text of the speech. When approaching the text, therefore, the historian needs to be mindful that the printed version of the speech is a selected text. As the Editors’ Preface makes clear, the editors were reliant upon notes taken during the speech itself; they chose to omit the lengthy statement of facts which Sheridan adduced to support his case against Hastings, claiming that their aim in publishing the speech was to provide the public with ‘such passages only as made the most powerful impression on the house’ (p.65).
This rhetorical and highly emotive speech, whose influence may be inferred from the fact that the pamphlet version ran to two editions in 1787 alone, will be examined here alongside a pro-Hastings cartoon published on 11 May 1786, a month after Burke laid out his charges against Hastings: James Gillray’s cartoon, The Banditti of India [B]. Each source has its limitations. Sheridan, the famous playwright turned parliamentarian, relies on rhetoric and appeals to his audience; the speech is deliberately sensationalist and needs to be approached with due circumspection. Gillray, an inveterate anti-Whiggite, is satirising what he views as the pernicious prosecution of Hastings. Both sources have been used previously in various ways by historians – Sheridan’s speech to illustrate Whiggish oratory, Gillray’s cartoon to examine radical and satirical print culture in Hanoverian Britain (Nicholson, 1996) – but this does not mean that an effective and original argument cannot be constructed. The central point here is to show how adopting an approach of discourse analysis can reveal ideas about how India was viewed. Most particularly, the analysis will demonstrate that both sources, while on opposing sides of the debate around Hastings, rely on similar ideas about Britain’s role in India. For all the rhetoric condemning colonial practices, what was at stake was how colonial rule was practised by the Company – not colonial rule itself.
In light of the argument being put forward here, it is important to assess how typical the evidence under consideration is and to reflect upon the wider historical context. Using a French-language source, it is possible to show that anxieties about British rule in India were not unique to Britain but were present across the Channel too. The French-language source used here, Abbé Raynal’s Histoire philosophique et politique de l’établissement et du commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes (1770) [A], has been selected for its influence. Research carried out by Hans Wolpe has estimated that between 1770 and 1789 there were thirty authorised and forty pirated editions of the Histoire, making it, along with Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Heloïse and Voltaire’s Candide, one of the three most widely read books in France in this period (Womack, 1972). A collective work, to which the most famous contributor was Diderot, it went through three major editions; the final edition, dating from 1780 and distributed in 1781, was condemned by the parliament of Paris and resulted in the issue of a warrant for Raynal’s arrest (Bénot, 2001, pp.5–12). Created in the wake of France’s defeat in the Seven Years’ War, the Histoire provided a timely questioning of colonial expansion. As a co-authored work which went through multiple editions, it saw mood and rhetoric varying not only from edition to edition but also within individual entries, while the contributions of Diderot ensured that the work became a damning indictment of abuses in the colonies and that the final edition of the work was more trenchant than the original (Bénot, 1970, p.259). The role played by the Histoire in shaping debates, however, was not confined to France alone, where the loss of French influence in India rankled after 1763. The first English translation was published in 1776 and went through twelve editions between 1776 and 1794 (Lawson, 1997, p.748). By comparing and contrasting the language and ideas used in the Histoire with those used surrounding the trial of Hastings, the historian can draw from the sources a convincing argument about the commonality of ideas in Britain and France. Using a French-language source is not, of course, without its problems. If a published translation is used as a primary source, the historian should always be aware that another writer has mediated the original source text to make it accessible to a culturally different reader, and that the words chosen, while imitating the foreign text, can and invariably do generate different associations (Venuti, 2013, p.110). If the aim of an essay or a dissertation is to analyse how someone in the eighteenth century thought about a subject such as colonialism, and if specific words or phrases are to be adduced as evidence, then the use of a translation without comparing it with the source text becomes highly problematic. However, if an argument is being advanced, as it is here, regarding the pervasiveness of anxiety about empire and about how ideas circulated across Europe, then a good translation can be useful in providing evidence of how arguments published in France influenced thinking in Britain.
The three sources selected here can be used to document how India, and the European encounter with India, were viewed by commentators in the eighteenth century. With the sustained application of discourse analysis, the sources can also be used to explore the anxieties which colonial rule generated. This, in turn, allows the sources to be employed as a means of challenging the traditional imperial narrative of an India subordinated to Britain after 1763.
When the British sources associated with the impeachment of Hastings are considered alongside the arguments put forward by Raynal’s Histoire, the historian is able to detect ideas which were circulating about India and the actions of Europeans there, particularly the British. In his opening speech at the impeachment trial, Burke suggested that Hastings had undergone a character change while in India, a change which meant that he had abandoned ‘civilised’ European behaviour. As a result, Burke claimed, Hastings had demonstrated ‘a kind of GEOGRAPHICAL MORALITY – a set of principles suited only to a particular climate, so that what was speculation and tyranny in Europe, lost both its essence and its name in India’ (Burke, 1991 , p.346). According to Burke, Hastings’s career in India exemplified a European tendency to engage in behaviour overseas which would be deemed unacceptable in Europe, and to make it admissible. Essential to this argument is an assumption that Europe and India are fundamentally different, and that while Europe is civilised, India is marked by tyranny. Raynal’s Histoire shows that anxiety about European behaviour overseas was not confined to commentators in Britain alone. The opening paragraphs of the Histoire des deux Indes pose the specific question: how should Europeans behave overseas? (Raynal, 1777, I, p.2). As with Burke’s condemnation of Hastings in the impeachment trial, the argument, which uses the example of rule by the East India Company, relies on establishing a sense of difference between Europe and India. Since the publication of Montesquieu’s De l’esprit des lois in 1748, India, and more particularly Mughal despotism, had become a recurring theme in philosophical debates. According to Montesquieu’s geo-determinist thesis, the hot climate of Asia made despotism inevitable (Montesquieu, 1979 , p.431). Just as Burke in 1788 would see a connection between the Indian climate and Hastings’s lapse in morality, so did Raynal and his contributors draw a clear link between the Indian climate and corruption:
Unopposed rulers in an empire where they had been only merchants, the English found it very difficult not to abuse their power. Far away from their homeland, they were no longer restrained by the fear of embarrassing themselves in the eyes of their countrymen. In a hot climate, where the body loses its vigour, the soul must lose its strength. In a country where nature & customs lead to indolence, one is easily led astray. In countries where one came to find riches, one easily forgets to be just.
(Author’s translation, from Raynal, 1777, I, p.460.)
France had lost its influence in India during the Seven Years’ War, a loss that it still resented – so is this invective against the British (les Anglais) simply an example of typical French Anglophobia? Britain and France were at war for much of the period between 1689 and 1815, and historians of British imperialism (Maya Jasanoff, for example) have discussed how war with France dominated and moulded the modern British Empire (Jasanoff, 2005, p.9; see also Meyer, 1980, p.139). Historians such as Dziembowski have delineated the growing patriotism and outright Anglophobia that followed the defeat of the French in the Seven Years’ War, linking the anti-British rhetoric in the Histoire with that which resonated through the increasing number of overtly anti-English texts. Fiercely patriotic novels, such as Robert-Martin Lesuire’s Les Sauvages de l’Europe (1760), posited the British as more savage than the peoples of Africa (Dziembowski, 1998, pp.253–62). The process of ‘Indianisation’ which caused Company personnel to lose their natural sense of justice was not, however, simply anti-British propaganda peddled by the French; it was also prominent in British texts attacking Company rule. Sheridan’s speech of 7 February 1787 reveals the same fear of Eastern corruption, as do Burke’s observations at Hastings’s trial and the rhetoric in the Histoire. In the second paragraph on page 76 of The Genuine Speech, Sheridan accused Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey (the first chief justice of the Supreme Court in Calcutta, who was accused of judicial murder and impeached alongside Hastings) of being infected by Oriental practices and abandoning British justice. Although Raynal, Burke, and Sheridan were all condemning British actions, the condemnation relies on presenting India as ‘other’: the antithesis of civilised Europe. This ‘othering’, however, is not a straightforward assertion of European superiority over the ‘passive’ East; Burke, Raynal, and Sheridan all refer to the power of the East to corrupt and debilitate the British.
Turning now to Gillray’s satirical cartoon, and equipped with this knowledge of a prevailing belief in the corrupting influence of the East on civilised Europeans, the historian can detect a certain ambivalence in ‘The Political-Banditti assailing the Saviour of India’ [B]. At first viewing, this satirical sketch is clearly in support of Hastings. Astride a camel laden with sacks of treasure and a map of the Indian provinces acquired under his rule, Hastings is under attack from the three politicians who were determined to assert control over the East India Company: Edmund Burke (on the left), Lord North (in the centre), and Charles James Fox (far right). This unsubtle political satire displays Gillray’s personal dislike of the three Whig politicians: Burke is attempting to shoot at Hastings with a blunderbuss and is wearing a Jesuit’s biretta, a sign of Burke’s support for the Irish Catholic cause and a suggestion that he is not truly patriotic; North, helping himself to a bag of rupees hanging from Hastings’s saddle, carries an old sword on which is written ‘American subjugation’, a reference to the role which North played in the loss of the American colonies at the end of the American War of Independence; while Fox, Gillray’s favourite figure of villainy, is attempting to stab Hastings in the back. In contrast, Hastings carries a ‘Shield of Honour’, emblazoned with a crown, signifying the support which he had from the king. In short, the ‘Saviour of India’, as Hastings was known to his supporters, is being attacked by three highwaymen: Burke, North and Fox. But, is the Saviour of India unequivocally a ‘British’ hero? As in other cartoons by Gillray, Hastings is conspicuously dressed in oriental garb, and his clothing encapsulates stereotypical features of the oriental ‘other’: opulent and feminised, with sumptuous swathes of cloth, loose trousers and heeled dainty shoes. In other words, Gillray too is revealing unease about the debilitating effects of the East on Britain, Britishness and masculinity.
In Raynal’s Histoire, the censure of Company corruption is consistent and unrelenting. The despotism of the East India Company is not only comparable with that of the Mughal despots; it has surpassed it:
Who would have imagined that this same company, changing suddenly its behaviour & its conduct, would soon reach the point of making the people of Bengal miss the despotism of their former masters? This sinister revolution has been only too soon & too real. A methodical tyranny has taken the place of authority occasionally exerted. Actions have become general & regular; oppression has been continuous & absolute. The destructive art of monopolies has been perfected and new ones have been invented. In a word, the company has tainted and corrupted all public sources of happiness.
(Author’s translation, from Raynal, 1777, I, p.442.)
Should this damning indictment of Company rule be read as an example of anti-colonialism, as certain historians have contended? Closer reading of the Histoire would suggest that colonialism is not being condemned in its entirety; rather, what is being advocated is the need for a reformed version of colonial rule. In the Histoire, a vision of enlightened French colonial policy exhorts the French to practise equity in order to increase both their reputation and power:
And so the French, viewed as the liberators of Indostan, will leave behind the state of humiliation to which their unfortunate behaviour has reduced them. They will become the idols of the princes & the peoples of Asia, if the revolution that they will have procured becomes for them a lesson in moderation. Their commerce will be widespread & flourishing, and all the time they will know to be just. But this prosperity will end in catastrophe, if untempered ambition incites them to pillage, to rampage and to oppress.
(Author’s translation, from Raynal, 1777, II, pp.166–67.)
Looking at the language used here, the historian can establish two tenets upon which the argument is based: first, that some form of rule by the French is necessary for the peoples of India (they cannot liberate themselves but need the French to do it for them); and second, that a French version of colonialism would be different from that practised by the British. Rather than espousing anti-colonialism, then, the source provides an example of how colonial rule could be construed: necessary for the passive Indians in need of civilised protection, but markedly different according to whether it was implemented by Britons (spreading corruption) or by the French (spreading civilised values).
Sheridan’s case for the impeachment of Hastings similarly reveals how far colonialism was defined, and justified, with reference to rival European powers. (The twentieth-century historian John S. Galbraith would use this notion to characterise Britain, somewhat unconvincingly, as a ‘reluctant’ imperialist (Galbraith, 1963), forced into creating an empire in order to keep up with competing European powers.) For Sheridan, the need for civilised Britain to intervene in uncivilised India is self-evident: ‘can we be better employed than in rescuing millions of innocent and helpless people from the savage grasp of despotism[?]’ (1787, p.10). He continues that if rule were exercised appropriately, demonstrating the ‘liberality and equality of our happy constitution’, it would have the advantage of serving as an exemplar to all Britain’s competitors:
This will bind your dependences in every part of the globe by ties so much stronger as their confidence in your integrity is strengthened. You have set up a beacon or mark not only for a guide to your own conduct, but for an example to all the nations on earth.
For commentators on both sides of the Channel, discussions of colonialism in India were also discussions about French and British prestige, and were consequently as much a European question as one about the Indian land mass and its peoples. These sidelong glances to the European neighbour across the Channel show that British rule over India was not viewed as a fait accompli by either the French or the British after 1763. Although the French commitment to expelling the British from India was more rhetorical than material, various plans for seizing control were discussed both in Paris and in the French trading posts until 1815 and the French defeat at Waterloo (Marsh, 2009, pp.14–20). In Britain fear of destabilisation persisted until the storming of Seringapatam on 4 May 1799 by British East India Company troops and Crown forces, resulting in the death of Tipu Sultan, and marking Britain’s victory over the state of Mysore after four wars that spanned a period of thirty-two years.
Primary sources – the written, visual and oral sources from the past, duly scrutinised and tested against others for veracity – bind historians, providing the means by which they support their arguments. Historians are not, of course, bound to one interpretation of a source. By using the approach of comparative discourse analysis, this chapter has sought to stress how various sources can be deployed as evidence of how India was viewed by European commentators in the eighteenth century. It has also proposed how these sources can be used to develop an original argument about how colonialism generated anxieties and uncertainties – about both contact with other cultures and the importance of colonial rule, and about European rivalry and the competition to colonise. Colonial rule was not only a clash with the inhabitants of India; it was also a clash between European colonisers, and between different European visions of colonial rule.
Abbattista, G., 2006. Empire, liberty and the rule of difference: European debates on British colonialism in Asia at the end of the eighteenth century. European Review of History – Revue européenne d’Histoire, 13, pp.473–98.
[Anon.] 1796. The history of the trial of Warren Hastings. London. [n. pub.].
Bénot, Y., 1970. Diderot, de l’athéisme à l’anticolonialisme. Paris: Maspero.
Bénot, Y., 2001. Avertissement. Histoire philosophique & politique des deux Indes. Paris: La Découverte, pp.5–12.
Colley, L., 1996. Clashes and collaborations. London Review of Books, 18(4), pp.8–9.
Colley, L., 2003. Captives: Britain, empire and the world 1600–1850. London: Pimlico.
Cooper, F., 2005. Colonialism in question: theory, knowledge, history. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Darnton, R., 1985. The great cat massacre and other episodes in French cultural history. New York: Vintage.
Davis, N. Z., 1987. Fiction in the archives: pardon tales and their tellers in sixteenth-century France. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Dziembowski, E., 1998. Un nouveau patriotisme français, 1750–1770: la France face à la puissance anglaise à l’époque de la guerre de Sept Ans. SVEC. 365.
Festa, L. and Carey, D., 2009. Introduction: some answers to the question: ‘what is postcolonial Enlightenment?’. In: Carey, D. and Festa, L. eds, 2009. The postcolonial enlightenment: eighteenth-century colonialism and postcolonial theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.1–33.
Franklin, M. J., ed., 2006. Romantic representations of British India. London: Routledge.
Galbraith, J. S., 1963. The reluctant empire: British policy on the South African frontier, 1834–1854. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Greenblatt, S., 1993. Introduction: new world encounters. In: Greenblatt, S., ed., 1993. New world encounters. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp.vii–viii.
Hall, C. and Rose, S. O., 2006. Introduction: being at home with the empire. In: Hall, C. and Rose, S. O., eds, 2006. At home with the empire: metropolitan culture and the imperial world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.1–31.
Hobsbawm, E., 1987. The age of empire: 1875–1914. London. George Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
Jasanoff, M., 2005. Edge of empire: lives, culture and conquest of the east 1750–1850. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Lawson, P., 1997. The missing link: the imperial dimension in understanding Hanoverian Britain. A taste for empire and glory: studies in British overseas expansion, 1660–1800. Aldershot: Variorum, pp.747–51.
Lenman, B. P., 1998. Colonial wars and imperial instability, 1688–1793. In: P. Marshall, J. ed., 1998. The Oxford history of the British empire: vol. ii: the eighteenth century, ed. by. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp.152–67.
Macaulay, T. B., 1907 . Critical and historical essays, 2 vols. London: Dent.
Marsh, K., 2009. India in the French imagination: peripheral voices. London: Pickering and Chatto.
Marshall, P. J., 1976. East Indian fortunes: British in Bengal in the eighteenth century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Meyer, J., 1980. The second hundred years’ war (1689–1815). In: Johnson, D., et al, 1980. Britain and France: ten centuries. Folkestone: Dawson, pp.139–63.
Musselwhite, D., 1986. The trial of Warren Hastings. In Barker, F., et al, 1986. Literature, politics and theory: papers from the Essex conference 1976–84. London: Methuen, pp.77–103.
Mutha, S., 2003. Enlightenment against empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Nechtman, T. W., 2010. Nabobs: empire and identity in eighteenth-century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nicholson, E. E. C., 1996. Consumers and spectators: the public of the political print in eighteenth-century England. History. 81, pp.5–21.
Pratt, M. L., 1992. Imperial eyes: travel writing and transculturation. London: Routledge.
Pitts, J., 2005. A turn to empire: the rise of imperial liberalism in Britain and France. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Said, E. W., 1995 . Orientalism: western conceptions of the Orient, 2nd edn. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Rose, J. H., 1929. The Cambridge history of the British empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Suleri, S., 1992. The rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Teltscher, K., 1997. India inscribed: European and British writing on India 1600–1800. New Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks.
Venuti, L., 2013. Translation changes everything: theory and practice. London: Routledge.
Wilson, K., 2004. Introduction: histories, empires, modernities. In: Wilson, K., ed., 2004. A new imperial history: culture, identity, and modernity in Britain and the empire, 1660–1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.1–28.
Womack, W. R., 1972. Eighteenth-century themes in the Histoire philosophique et politique des deux Indes of Guillaume Raynal. SVEC. 96.