Printer-friendly versionSend by email

The Containment and Re-Deployment of English India

"An Unlimited Intercourse": Historical Contradictions and Imperial Romance in the Early Nineteenth Century

Siraj Ahmed, Texas A&M University

  1. 'We might assume that late-eighteenth-century British writers described their new empire in India in terms of Enlightenment concepts of progress. In fact, until the 1790s, they tended to associate it, on the contrary, with moral and political degeneration, acutely aware that the despotic politics of imperialism-and in particular of the East India Company-were in conflict with the civil principles of the British state. In the early nineteenth century, with parliament’s decision simultaneously to end the EIC’s monopoly by opening the colonies to British free merchants and to permit British evangelicals to establish missions there, the nature of the empire began to change: the British public now had an opportunity to play an economic and spiritual role in the empire. The effect of this reform, though, was not simply to align British imperialism with the civilizing mission. Rather, it was to internalize the conflict between the principles of the nation-state and the politics of empire so that it resided within the empire: now the economic and moral aspects of the empire, superintended by the British nation, separated from the political aspect, which remained in the hands of the EIC. The former staked the claims of "modernity"; the latter rationalized its politics by insisting that it was concerned to preserve native "traditions."

  2. Sydney Owenson’s early-nineteenth-century historical novel The Missionary: an Indian Tale is of particular interest in regard to this transitional period, since it was the first novel to represent the problem of colonial India in terms of a conflict between modernity and tradition, rather than between principles of the nation-state and the politics of empire. In order to produce this new vision of the colonial encounter, which depends on late Enlightenment and Romantic Period concepts of history, The Missionary needed to offer a correspondingly new narrative form that effaced a fact that eighteenth-century writers rarely could: in the colonies, Indian "traditions" were a mask constructed by the colonial society. The notion that the colonial encounter is a contest between modernization and traditional culture continues to vex our understanding of imperialism and globalization, as well as of early modern attitudes toward empire, leading us to believe that we speak for the colonized when we speak in the name of their traditions, as if these traditions somehow remain unmarked by the history of imperialism.

     

    Section One: The Politics of Conquest and the Civilizing Mission

  3. In 1805, Claudius Buchanan, the chaplain for the East India Company settlement at Calcutta, wrote Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India, which called for "civilizing the natives" (29)[1]. Although the East India Company had established the colonial government in Calcutta four decades earlier in 1765, it prohibited missionary activity, and the Memoir was the first statement by a Company official calling for the evangelism of the native population[2]. While we have come to assume that imperialism was the means by which the European nation-state spread its civilization to the non-European world, or at least by which it extracted surplus revenue under the pretense of spreading its civilization, the early history of British India requires a different narrative.

  4. In the preface to the Memoir, Buchanan writes:

    every character of our situation seems to mark the present æra, as that intended by Providence, for our taking in to consideration the moral and religious state of our subjects in the East; and for Britain's bringing up her . . . arrear of duty, and settling her account honourably with her Indian Empire. (2)

    If the present moment is one which Buchanan is convinced contains particular theological significance, he makes clear that the redemption it offers pertains not only to the Hindus, but to the British as well[3]. While Hindus in general have not yet had the opportunity to receive the gospel, Britain’s participation in the mercantile imperialism of the eighteenth century constitutes a wandering from the Faith, an "arrear of duty." By placing sovereign power over its Indian territories in the hands of a mercantile company, the British state had produced an empire that appeared to be a caricature of the state, a commercial society bereft of a moral foundation. In Buchanan’s vision, evangelism does not inspire British imperialism, nor does it mystify Britain’s exploitation of India. Rather, evangelism compensates India for the East India Company's ruthless extraction of its wealth; Buchanan asks rhetorically: "From [India] we export annually an immense wealth to enrich our own country. What do we give in return? (40). By "settling her account" with India, Britain also settles its account before God, finally redeeming itself from the sins of its eighteenth-century empire. Buchanan's Memoir discusses the project of "civilizing the natives" in its second part, only after it has discussed the more urgent project of "preserving the profession of the Christian religion among our countrymen in India" (1) in its first and so suggests in its very organization that we should see in the rise of British evangelism in India not the moral confidence that we might assume underwrote Britain's imperial claims, but rather a moral condemnation of the East India Company’s eighteenth-century empire. British imperialism has been degenerate; now it must be reformed.

  5. Evangelism steps onto British India's stage later than one would expect, because, as Hannah Arendt has argued, the civilizing mission and the politics of empire are to an extent mutually exclusive[4]. Although we tend to assume that European colonialism always fundamentally involved a civilizing mission, the East India Company's government in India explicitly avoided such a project throughout the eighteenth century. The Company believed that any attempt to anglicize the natives would offend their religious sensibilities, leading to unrest, political instability, and hence decreased revenue. The reforms of Lord Cornwallis (Governor-General of India, 1786-1793) were the only prominent exceptions to this general policy. Cornwallis was a parliamentary appointee, not a former Company servant, and London had chosen him to clean up the Company's corruption in the wake of Edmund Burke's allegations about Warren Hastings's administration (1772-85). Cornwallis reformed administration by removing all natives, whose influence was identified as a source of corruption, from important bureaucratic positions, and by centralizing power in the hands of British "collectors" who exercised their authority at a distance from the villages they governed[5]. At the end of Cornwallis's administration, the Act of Permanent Settlement reformed land-management by imposing what has been referred to as a Whig theory of property upon Bengal, securing the property rights and fixing the rents of a native aristocracy, in the hope that it would become a class of improving landlords[6]. But even these reforms were contested by forces within the Company, both in India and in England, as soon as they were established.

  6. Lacking, among other things, the hindsight that the twentieth century provided Arendt, Buchanan nonetheless has an awareness of this opposition, realizing that the Company did not concern itself with "the moral and religious state" (xvi) of its Indian subjects, because such a project did not serve its economic interests: "Did we consider their moral improvement equal in importance to tribute or revenue, we should long ago have attempted it" (31). Buchanan imagines an official of the East India Company articulating its political philosophy:

    "It is easy to govern the Hindoos in their ignorance, but shall we make them as wise as ourselves! The superstitions of the people are no doubt abhorrent from reason; they are idolatrous in their worship, and bloody in their sacrifices; but their manual skill is exquisite in the labours of the loom; they are a gentle and obsequious people in civil transaction." (41)

    According to Buchanan, the colonial government preserves Hindu traditions that it recognizes are morally degenerate, because these traditions compel obedience to authority, while an education in the principles of civil society would inspire the native population to resist its servility. In fact, during the late eighteenth century, the Company not only refused to civilize the natives, but in order to support its tenuous authority, itself adopted Hindu as well as Islamic social and political forms. The very title the "British Raj" inscribes the colonial government’s persistent ambivalence toward the civilizing mission and its belief that its own political stability depended on its continuity with Indian traditions. But for Buchanan and the early critics of the British empire in India, the East India Company’s investment in Hindu traditions placed the Company beyond the pale of the British nation, into the shadowy realm of oriental despotism. In other words, for its eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century critics, the British empire in India embodied not European progress, but rather something closer to the degeneracy of eastern tradition; Buchanan exclaims: "can it be gratifying to the English nation to reflect, that they receive the riches of the East on the terms of chartering immoral superstition!" (41).

  7. The civilizing mission that first began to emerge in British India in the early nineteenth century had two components: one was evangelism, while the other was liberalism, which, calling for an end to the East India Company’s monopoly, claimed that British commerce freed from mercantile constraints would push India forward on the scale of nations. In a pamphlet entitled A View of the Consequences of Laying open the Trade to India to Private Ships, an advocate for the Company, Charles Maclean, argued against free trade on the grounds that it would inevitably lead to the end of the empire. Maclean believed that if Britain's middle classes were to gain the privilege of free trade with British India, they would establish "an unlimited intercourse" with it and that this unregulated exchange relationship would lead them in turn to colonize it. Such colonization, Maclean insisted, "would weaken, or obliterate" the very "characteristic features of the native inhabitants" that made the British empire possible in the first place (200)[7]. In one passage, Maclean parodies an orientalist scholar's respect for traditional Indian culture:

    The division of the natives of Asia into numerous casts, and the principle of perpetuity which pervades this distinction, if one may so speak, constitute a source of security to the permanence of our East Indian Government, hitherto unparalleled in the history of the world; and, as there is no great probability that mankind will ever again be edified by a similar phœnomenon, it is rather a pity that we should be in any particular hurry to adopt measures, which might prematurely destroy it. (201)

    This passage is a succinct expression of the fundamental contradiction of modern imperialism—the conflict between the civilizing mission and the politics of empire—as it played itself out in early British India. The paradox emerges here in the fact that Maclean’s argument implies that imperialism and colonization are inimical to each other, that the project of empire must of necessity have nothing to do with the assimilation of the subject people[8]. And Maclean’s irony serves to emphasize the paradox. Maclean feigns respect for the caste system, claiming that it is without historical parallel and that it edifies mankind, but he undoubtedly recognizes that the British tended to see it as a manifestation of Hindu "prejudice," India’s want of reason and hence of social progress. The irony implicit in treating the caste system with a deference normally reserved for ancient British liberties underscores the fact that this tradition becomes worthy of respect only when one appreciates that it is the foundation of Britain’s political and economic presence in India, "a source of security to the permanence of our East Indian Government." It is also from this perspective—which is simply too unprincipled for Maclean to adopt without irony—that progressive reform movements like evangelism and liberalism become, regardless of the benefits they might confer on the native population, a "pity," since they would "prematurely destroy" the caste system, subverting it before the British have had sufficient opportunity to take material advantage of it. Because it can defend the mercantile empire only by acknowledging, however ironically, that it is founded upon prejudice, this passage inscribes the fundamental opposition between the principles of the nation-state and the politics of empire, which was especially prominent during this transitional moment in imperial history.

  8. Far from signalling a shift in the Company's attitude toward anglicization, Buchanan’s Memoir sparked a public debate in 1807 among the Company's shareholders and in the London periodical press that highlighted the tense relationship between the civilizing mission and imperial politics. Maclean's pamphlet was part of another extensive metropolitan debate that expressed this tension, one that took place in the years immediately preceding parliament's 1813 renewal of the Company's charter, in which advocates for the Company's monopoly confronted its opponents, both in parliament and in print. The 1813 charter, with which parliament finally ended both the Company's monopoly on Indian trade (which the Company had first received from the British state more than two centuries earlier), and the Company's prohibition on missionary activity in India, marked a watershed in the history of British imperialism[9]. Parliament in effect transformed the public rationale behind British imperialism in India fundamentally: while the eighteenth-century merchant empire justified itself merely in terms of the revenue it provided the British state, 1813 in effect finally inaugurated the civilizing mission in British India. The civilizing mission was born only after a controversial half-century of colonial rule during which, in works like Buchanan’s Memoir, metropolitan print culture repeatedly emphasized the discrepancy between the civil principles of the nation and the practices of its empire[10]. But the reforms of 1813 did not end this contradiction. Rather, they rearticulated it, so that it became no longer simply a conflict between metropolitan civil society and imperial colony, but rather one that also existed within empire, between the liberal and evangelical advocates of the civilizing mission on one hand and the colonial adminstrators who saw native traditions as the necessary prop for a government whose origins, like the veiled ones of civil society itself, had always been in conquest.

     

    Section Two: A Footnote to the History of Empire

  9. While the debate on Buchanan’s pamphlet was still underway, reports reached London about a mutiny against British authority that had taken place in the South Indian town of Vellore, involving two months of unrest in the Madras native army that culminated in a revolt on July 10, 1806, in which native mutineers killed or wounded 200 of the 370 person British garrison. A historian of early-nineteenth century British India, C.H. Philips, claims that the Indian soldiers interpreted the Company's attempt to regulate their facial hair and dress as one more sign that the British intended ultimately to eliminate Hinduism from India, when in fact the regulations were intended only to insure a uniformity of appearance among the soldiers. Regardless, the Company's Directors used the mutiny as an opportunity to promote their case against missionaries, representing it as the consequence of the inevitable offense that any evangelical activity would cause native sensibilities[11]. The Chairmen of the Court of Directors claimed that the mutiny originated in "opposition to the innovations in the customs and religious institutions of the sepoys, fanned to heat by general rumours of their forced conversion to Christianity" (Philips 160).

  10. Philips notes that "The question of converting the natives of India to Christianity was at that time supposed to depend for its solution upon the origin of the massacre at Vellore" (169)[12]. The struggle to interpret the uprising at Vellore included more than twenty-five authors in a pamphlet war and eventually led to the involvement both of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews. Like those about Buchanan’s pamphlet and the East India Company’s monopoly, the debate on the Vellore Mutiny was one more example of the discursive conflict between the principles of the civilizing mission and the politics of empire.

  11. Unremarked by subsequent historiography or criticism, the Vellore uprising becomes a footnote to The Missionary: An Indian Tale[13], published by the internationally famous author of The Wild Irish Girl (1806)[14], Lady Sydney (Owenson) Morgan, in 1811. The Missionary's footnote to the Vellore uprising draws a parallel between the novel’s setting, Portuguese Goa in the seventeenth century, and contemporary British India. Although Morgan's critics have not remarked upon the footnote, it turns out to be the case less that Morgan uses the Vellore mutiny to gloss her novel about seventeenth-century Portuguese India than that she uses her novel to gloss the Vellore mutiny, upon the interpretation of which the future of the civilizing mission in India seemed to depend.

  12. But as its title suggests, the novel responds not only to the debates about the Vellore mutiny, but also to those about Buchanan’s pamphlet: as if responding to Buchanan’s widely discussed call for the evangelism of British India by offering a lesson from history, the novel describes the voyage of the Portuguese monk Hilarion first to the Portuguese colonial territory of Goa as the Apostolic Nuncio of India, and then to the remote independent province of Kashmir. While in its representation of missionary activity and native resistance, the novel responds directly to the debates about Buchanan’s pamphlet and about the Vellore mutiny respectively, its date of publication places it in the midst of the metropolitan arguments that led up to the 1813 renewal of the Company’s charter. Hence, with The Missionary, another voice entered the conflict between the civilizing mission and imperial politics. But in The Missionary, imperial rule becomes the coercive attempt to uproot Indian traditions in the name of the civilizing mission. So The Missionary and the period in which it was written, in contrast to the literature of the late eighteenth century, mark the emergence of a specifically modern vision of the colonial encounter that effaces the traditional eighteenth-century association of imperialism with degeneration and with an awareness of the fundamental contradiction between imperialism and civil society. In other words, The Missionary serves the historical function of rearticulating the fundamental contradiction inherent in imperialism in terms of a basic romance plot. Eighteenth-century writers tended to argue, in various forms, that imperialism's renegade capitalism threatened the civil principles that were supposedly the foundation of the nation-state. The historical function that The Missionary serves is absolutely crucial, inaugurating the modern trope that would replace this eighteenth-century discourse, representing the imperial encounter as an often violent romance between civil society and native traditions.

     

    Section Three: The Rise of the Historical Novel and Imperial Romance

  13. Why does The Missionary efface the discrepancy between civil society and the imperial colony on which late eighteenth-century literature placed so much emphasis? One reason is that, unlike the Memoir, which responds to Buchanan's experience of colonial politics, The Missionary instead clearly reflects the development of historical consciousness in early nineteenth-century European culture. Taking issue with Lukács's championing of Scott as the inventor of the literary genre that first articulated modern historical consciousness, Katie Trumpener has argued that, in her early novels, such as The Wild Irish Girl and The Missionary, it was Morgan, who along with Maria Edgeworth, set the precedent for the historical novel[15]. Locating one source of modern historical consciousness in Scottish and Irish responses to Enlightenment programs for economic improvement that were seen to be imperialist, Trumpener's study of the late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century British novel in particular argues that the emergence of historical consciousness is intimately related to the experience of empire as a form of modernization or economic incorporation. One form that this response to internal colonialism took was the philosophical discussion of national development patterns, the most famous of which was the Scottish Enlightenment's four-stage theory[16]. The four-stage theory simultaneously narrated history and geography, since it claimed that one could map social development not only diachronically, but also synchronically across space.

  14. With its "intense interest in local color, customs, and attachments, " the early nineteenth-century novel placed these late eighteenth-century philosophical discussions into novelistic form, and the four-stage theory in particular lent itself to two narrative forms: the national tale, which according to Trumpener "maps developmental stages topographically," since "the movement of these novels is geographical rather than historical"; and the historical novel, which is "obsessed with [. . .] historical processes that [. . .] uproot traditional cultures" and hence which represents diachronic change (165, 141, 141, 167). If the focus of the historical novel is the modernization of traditional cultures, it is not surprising that it makes empire one more example of such processes, especially since its model for empire is internal anglicization. Even if one adopts Lukács's different but complementary account of the preconditions of the historical novel's rise—that is, historical consciousness developed during the Napoleonic Wars, when the propaganda of war across Europe attempted to justify war in terms of national development—the model of empire (in this case, the supposedly abstract rationality of the Napoleonic Empire) remains a modernizing force (Lukács 23-24). In other words, by the early nineteenth century, the relationship between imperialism and modernity or the civilizing mission appeared much less complicated in metropolitan culture than it was in point of fact in British India and than it had appeared throughout the eighteenth century.

  15. Trumpener claims that, while Morgan's earliest novels are national tales, The Missionary is a transitional form between the national tale and the historical novel, since it represents both a British periphery as a distinct stage in the progress of civilization and the historical processes that transformed this "life world," and she notes further that The Missionary is particularly representative of the historical novel, since it "highlights the thematics of colonialism, domination, and forced modernization beginning to emerge in the genre as a whole" (167, 146). Whereas the late-eighteenth-century novel could not imagine the British empire in India as an agent of progress, because it saw only violence, not liberal commerce, as the force that generated imperial expansion, the development of historical consciousness in metropolitan literary culture during the early nineteenth century engendered another possibility for the representation of empire.

  16. On one level, The Missionary is clearly a displacement of Morgan's preoccupation with Ireland, with the Indian heroine Luxima, the High "Priestess" of a Brahman sect, taking the place of the heroine of The Wild Irish Girl, Glorvina, a Celtic "princess," both of them embodiments of their respective national traditions[17]. But the novel is also a genuine attempt to project the form of the historical novel that Morgan was in the process of inventing onto the new space of colonial India, with its significantly different, non-European culture. During the period of her life when Morgan wrote The Missionary, she served as a governess in the household of the marquis of Abercorn, who had collected a large library of the orientalist works that had come out of colonial India during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries[18]. Morgan annotates The Missionary with extensive references to these works, and this kind of "scholarly" footnote, which would become a common literary apparatus as the historical novel continued to develop, served to authorize her reconstruction of Indian culture as arrested at a certain historical stage in the progress of human society.

  17. Soon after he arrives in the isolated province of Kashmir in order to carry on his missionary labors, the Portuguese monk Hilarion fixes all of his proselytic efforts on Luxima on the premise, he insists to himself, that if he can convert a "high priestess," all of her disciples and then the nation as such will follow. The narrative makes clear, though, that what actually drives Hilarion's tireless energy in pursuing his designs on Luxima is not his devotion to the Catholic Church, but rather his frustrated and sublimated sexual desire. Since the entrance into civilization for Hilarion in particular and for the civil self in general depends upon the placement of an essential "restraint" upon basic human passions, it follows that Hilarion and the civil self always experience a frustration that threatens to erupt outside civil society.

  18. The greater part of the novel describes Hilarion and Luxima's romance, which—although always unconsummated and for his part undeclared—leads the Inquisition to sentence him to burn at the stake, the climax of the novel. The romance is of course an allegory of the colonial encounter and it participates in a topos common to the nascent historical novel that Trumpener has discussed. In fiction not only by Morgan, but also by Edgeworth and Charles Maturin, a "national marriage plot" re-enacts the Act of Union between England and her internal colonies on the one hand and Ireland on the other that took place in 1800 (Trumpener 137). With Morgan in particular, the national marriage plot offers the possibility of "union" not only between different and apparently opposed national cultures within the British empire, but also between different historical stages in the progress of human society. The stadial theory of history leads inevitably to calls for a reconciliation between pre-civil states of nature and modern civil society, the reconciliation (or romance) within which human fulfillment supposedly lies.

     

    Section Four: The Stages of National Progress

  19. The footnote that refers to Vellore glosses a passage that claims the coercive proselytism of Goa's Catholic Church was on the verge of provoking a native insurrection, and it remarks in passing:

    An insurrection of a fatal consequence took place in Vellore so late as 1806, and a mutiny at Nundydrag and Benglore occurred about the same period: both were supposed to have originated in the religious bigotry of the natives, suddenly kindled by the supposed threatened violation of their faith from the Christian settlers. (248-9)

    This footnote is a concise portrait of the colonial encounter, and it happens also to encapsulate the basic terms of the novel's larger dramatization of this encounter. The words that introduce the footnote, "An insurrection took place in Vellore so late as 1806," imply that Morgan believes that the Vellore mutiny reflects the same basic tension that her novel explores and hence that she offers her novel as an explanation of the conditions that provoked the Vellore mutiny. The footnote suggests that the conditions that provoked the mutiny are the coercive nature of European colonial rule—or, one could say, civil society's violent attempt to transform the pre-civil world—and Hindu "religious bigotry"—or the irrationality of the pre-civil world. Brief as it is, the footnote nonetheless successfully reduces the colonial encounter to a confrontation between two different historical stages of civil progress. In its portraits both of the romance between Hilarion and Luxima and of the colonial encounter between the Europeans and the Indians, the novel is founded upon the categories of premodern irrationality and modern reason, and hence it is an elaboration of the footnote, and by extension of Morgan's interpretation of the Vellore mutiny.

  20. During the period in which Morgan sets The Missionary, the early seventeenth century, the imperial relationship was especially complicated, because while Goa was a Portuguese colonial territory, Portugal itself had recently become a province of the Spanish Empire. Hence, her choice of Goa as a setting enables Morgan to discuss two kinds of imperialism: not only that which obtains between Europe and India, but also that which occurs within Europe's borders. The retrospective placement of the imperial relationship in seventeenth-century Goa enables Morgan, more specifically, to gesture toward the present realities not only of British imperialism in India, but also of British imperialism in Ireland and of the Napoleonic Empire on the European continent. Morgan in fact opens her narrative by placing it in the context of Spanish imperialism in Portugal:

    In the beginning of the seventeenth century, Portugal, bereft of her natural sovereigns, had become an object of contention to various powers in Europe. . . . Under the goading oppression of Philip the Second, and of his two immediate successors, the national independence of a brave people faded gradually away, and Portugal, without losing its rank in the scale of nations, sunk into a Spanish province. (1)

    The quotation makes clear that Portugal already possessed the attributes of an independent nation-state before Spain subjected it to imperial rule. Under its "natural sovereigns," Portugal had progressed to the leading edge of the "scale of nations." Lukács notes that the propaganda of war during the Napoleonic years popularized the idea that the nation's character and hence by extension its independence require the preservation of its history. Early nationalist thought imagines that imperial rule suppresses this history and galvanizes the popular masses to resist imperial rule by reconstructing the nation's glorious past[19]. In the case of imperialism within Europe, whether Spain against seventeenth-century Portugal or Napoleonic France against the European continent, at least from the perspective of early-nineteenth-century historical consciousness, imperial rule can serve only to suppress those ancient traditions that are intrinsic to the nation's character. Early nationalist thought responds to Enlightenment theories of civil progress by claiming that the basic human passions that civil society by definition restrains and hence frustrates can gain a formed of refined fulfillment only if the general model of civil society is not coercively imposed on the nation, but rather respects and preserves the particular character of the nation's ancient traditions. But, as we shall see, Morgan believes that imperial rule does serve a function in India, because India's history, regardless of its virtues, does not contain the seeds of the nation-state.

  21. When Morgan first describes the colonial state of Goa, she continues her portrait of the Portuguese as, ironically, the victims of colonization, rather than its agents:

    The places under the civil and ecclesiastical government of Goa were filled by Spaniards, but the Portuguese constituted the mass of the people. They groaned under the tyranny of the Spanish Jesuits, and they heard, with a rapture which their policy should have taught them to conceal, that an apostolic nuncio, of the royal line of Portugal, and of the order of St. Francis, was come to visit their settlements, to correct the abuses of the church. (17)

    This passage illustrates Morgan's vision of imperial rule as coercive, especially within Europe, where it cannot serve a civilizing function. Morgan envisions the coercion of imperial rule in terms of an analogy with the repression of physical desire produced by the restraints that civil principles place on the body. Directed by an abstract civil rationality, the imperial government is analogous to the mind and specifically to conscience. In contrast to her representation of imperial governments, Morgan here emphasizes the collective affective life of the national masses and hence implies that they are analogous to the body. Their "groans" under "the tyranny of the Spanish Jesuits" express the sufferings of the body under the repressions of conscience. The rapture they feel at the possibility of being governed by their "natural sovereign," who embodies their traditions, points, on the other hand, toward the sort of transcendence possible only when mind and body are organically related. In other words, while imperial rule produces a disjunction between body and mind, alienating the population from the state, in the organic nation-state, political rationality is continuous with popular desire, the state's civil law evolving through history from the nation's premodern traditions.

     

    Section Five: The Romance Allegory

  22. In the case of European rule in India, the disjunction is more pronounced, because the colonized nation is at a historical remove from the imperial state. From the perspective of a four-stage theory that culminates in a utopian vision of the unfettered exercise of reason, the Indian national masses, arrested at an earlier historical stage, are even more imprisoned within their bodies than the European. The Missionary's romance allegory elaborates the idea that imperial instability is analagous to a mind-body dualism and emphasizes the gap between European reason and Indian affect. Within the allegory, Hilarion is of course the figure of European state rationality, and Luxima of Indian national culture. As a child, Hilarion had what one would have thought was the misfortune to be placed in a monastery, but he immediately discovered that monastic values agreed with his own precocious desire to overcome the body and by extension nature: he "sighed to retire to some boundless desert, to live superior to nature, and to nature's laws, beyond the power of temptation, and the possibility of error; to subdue alike the human weakness and the human passion" (4). Even more directly than etymology suggests, Hilarion's sublimation of his physical desire has its roots in an aesthetics of the Sublime. His premature introduction to monastic life serves as a parable of Enlightenment concepts of civil progress from the perspective of the Romantic period. Within this perspective, the principles of civil society serve not to rationalize the body's ruling passions but rather to turn them against themselves, producing a kind of masochism. Morgan portrays Luxima, on the other hand, as the very embodiment of sensuality (however chaste), and hence adds more than a hint of sexual frisson to Hilarion's missionary labors:

    To listen to her was dangerous; for the eloquence of genius and feeling, and the peculiar tenets of her sect, gave a force to her errors, and a charm to her look, which weakened even the zeal of conversion in the priest, in proportion as it excited the admiration of the man. (85)

    So while Hilarion is a caricature of modern civil society, of the aspiration toward unfettered reason, Luxima is a caricature of pre-civil life, of subjectivity imprisoned within the body. Not only does Morgan's characterization of Europe and India in terms of diametric opposites explain the sexual tension that drives the romance but it also purports to explain the cultural tension that destabilizes imperial rule.

  23. Hilarion does finally begin in fact to surrender his missionary "zeal" to his manly "admiration," and in doing so he redefines the significance of the narrative: now his romance with Luxima is an allegory no longer of imperial instability, but rather of the possibility of a union of different historical stages. In this union, Hilarion as modern man recovers the possibility of the affective life that he has long since renounced in his desire to master nature, to demystify its enchantment, the "force" of its "errors" and the "charm" of its "look." Morgan describes the effect that his undeclared love for Luxima and his life in edenic Kashmir have upon Hilarion:

    nature had now breathed upon his feelings her vivifying spirit: . . . the sentiment which had at first imperceptibly stolen on his heart, now mastered and absorbed his life. He now lived in a world of newly connected and newly modifed ideas; every sense and every feeling was increased in its power . . . and he felt himself hurried away by new and powerful emotions which he sought not to oppose, and yet trembled to indulge. (107)

    Pre-civil life, with all of its enchantment, enables Hilarion finally to overcome the alienated subjectivity that Morgan suggests is characteristic of civilized society. Trumpener notes that the "novels of Owenson's and Maturin's middle periods envision cross-cultural marriage as a form of countercolonization" (137)[20]. In fact, Morgan explicity represents Hilarion's transformation as the revolution (in the literal sense), not of the colonized nation against imperial rule, but rather of Nature against the usurped authority of civil society:

    [Hilarion] had brought with him into deserts the virtues and the prejudices which belong to social life in a certain stage of its progress; and in deserts, Nature, reclaiming her rights unopposed by the immediate influence of the world, now taught him to feel her power through the medium of the most omnipotent of her passions. (107, my emphasis)

    Where Enlightenment philosophers imagined not that civil society simply represses the body's passions, but rather that it refines them into the rational interests that generate modern economic activity, Morgan presupposes that the movement into advanced civil society entails the overcoming of the body as such, that civil society is the site of abstract reason rather than of rationalized passions. Hence, when "Nature" revolts against civil society here, it does so not in the form of passions revolting against the limits civil society has placed on them, but rather in the form of the body—articulated in terms of a conventional eighteenth-century model of nerves and sensibility—simply becoming aware of itself once again, as it had been in mythic consciousness[21].

     

    Section Six: An Ignorant Non-Age

  24. But if this victory of Nature over Reason in the context of romance enables modern man to regain his affective life, it comes at great cost in the very different context of political struggle. It is precisely the domination of Nature—in other words, mythology—that withholds the Indian nation from the course of world-historical progress and that explains the necessary failure of the Hindu uprising that ends the novel. The passage that introduces the uprising elaborates the footnote’s reference to native "religious bigotry":

    The arts used by the Dominicans and the Jesuits for the conversion of the followers of Brahma . . . had excited in the breasts of the mild, patient, and long-enduring Hindus, a principle of resistance, which waited only for some strong and sudden impulse to call it into action. (248)

    The Hindus are "mild, patient, and long-enduring"—or in Buchanan’s terms, "a gentle and obsequious people"—because they lack a rationality capable of critiquing political domination and promoting autonomy. Whatever its source, "the principle of resistance" that lies barely dormant in the Hindu "breast" is not reason; their uprising expresses, not a rational critique of imperial rule, but rather only a reaction to "some strong and sudden impulse," a largely spontaneous outburst, rather than a premeditated and organized strategy. In the political sphere, the enchantment of nature, the domination of the body, leads to violent anarchy, rather than to national independence.

  25. Morgan literally sets the stage for the Hindu uprising, by placing religious irrationality in general and Hindu irrationality in particular on its foreground. Near the novel's close, the Goan Inquisition imprisons Hilarion for his alleged indiscretions with Luxima and is about to burn him at the stake, when Luxima, herself having just escaped from imprisonment, discovers him. Delirious from her detention, Luxima imagines that Hilarion is her husband and that the Inquisition fire is his Hindu funeral pyre. She then attempts to commit sati—the ritual practice of "voluntary" widow-burning that had assumed a sensational place in the British literary imagination since the initial years of colonial rule—in the Inquisition fire[22]. In the shared element of fire, the irrationality of the Inquisition and of Roman Catholicism blurs into the irrationality of sati and Brahmanical Hinduism.

  26. Luxima's delirium contrasts with the clear-sighted reason of Hilarion, who saves her from this confused sati, presumably against her own wishes: "She sprang upon the pile: . . . the multitude shouted in horrid frenzy—the Missionary rushed forward— . . . he snatched the victim from a fate he sought not himself to avoid" (260). Hilarion's intervention in sati is a perfect emblem of the European civilizing mission. Hilarion saves Luxima from a "fate" that her religion dictates for her and in doing so, he offers her the opportunity to critique this religious dogma and this fate and thereby to regain her historical agency, to master fate. In British eighteenth-century fiction about India, such as Mariana Starke's 1791 play The Widow of Malabar, the British colonist rescuing the Brahman widow had become a commonplace tableau[23]. But the point we need to recognize is that while both The Widow of Malabar and The Missionary justify imperial rule in terms of a civilizing mission that manifests itself particularly at the scene of sati, they in fact misrepresent the colonial government's policy toward sati and hence its relationship to the civilizing mission. Ironically, the East India Company made it official policy to prohibit British intervention in sati precisely because it feared that proscribing a practice that claimed to have authoritative scriptural foundations and hence the status of an "ancient right" would subvert the very basis of its authority. It was only in the 1820s that colonial administrators would debate the official policy toward sati and only in 1833 that they would outlaw the practice[24]. This transformation from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, in which the British intervention in sati went from occuring in literature to being actual colonial policy, is significant: it marks the gradual entrance of the civilizing mission into British India, against the protests of many officials within the East India Company.

  27. When Hilarion breaks free from the grasp of the officers of the Inquisition to save Luxima, they attack him, but the dagger they aim at his heart finds Luxima's instead. It is this unintentional stabbing that provides the "impulse" for the Hindu uprising. The uprising is supposed to evidence that the "principle of resistance" concealed in the Hindu breast is a passion or an irrational consciousness that, when provoked, can only strike out violently and hence ineffectually, resistance somehow short of historical agency. The Hindu masses attack the Inquisition at a moment in which it had not offended them. As the irrationality of the Inquisition had blurred into that of sati, Luxima's delirium blurs into that of the Hindu crowd. What Morgan had insinuated about Vellore in the footnote, she makes the truth of her own recreation of Vellore: the uprising is a product of zealousness inadvertantly provoking a violence always latent in irrational or mythic consciousness:

    the timid spirits of the Hindus rallied to an event which touched their hearts, and roused them from their lethargy of despair; . . . to avenge the long-slighted cause of their religion, and their freedom;—they fell with fury on the Christians. . . .
    Their religious enthusiasm kindling their human passions, their rage became at once inflamed and sanctified by their superstitious zeal. (261)

    The irrationality of the Hindus' judgment leads of course to an equally irrational uprising. Note Morgan's choice of words: beginning in "their hearts," the uprising is vengeful, furious, enthusiastic, enraged, inflamed, and superstitious. Morgan creates binary oppositions between not only Luxima's madness and Hilarion's clear-headedness, but also the "credulous" and "superstitious" Hindu rebels and the professionalized Spanish soldiers: "the Spaniards fought as mercenaries, with skill and coolness; the Indians as enthusiasts, for their religion and their liberty, with an uncurbed impetuousity; . . . the Hindus were defeated" (262). The Spaniards are more effective, because they act out of self-interest, rather than out of a collective delusion. The binary between the Spaniards and the Hindus projects onto a collective level the binary between Luxima and Hilarion.

  28. The stadial theory of civil progress opposes the mythic subjectivity of feudal societies to the civic rationality of advanced commercial societies. The former subjectivity takes humanity out of its natural state of war, in Hobbes's term, without ever cultivating its critical faculty. Rather, mythology suppresses humanity's aggressive passions by subjugating them to the apparently overwhelming power of physical nature and fate. Hence, when humanity in the mythic state does act out its rulings passions in whatever form its religion inspires, these passions remain the still savage ones of natural man, incapable of aspiring toward civil society. In the representation of the imperial encounter in The Missionary at least, the stadial theory produces a romantic exchange that privileges mythic consciousness as the source of subjective fulfillment and a political exchange that privileges civil rationality as the source of historical progress.

  29. Like Morgan, Claudius Buchanan had also argued that though Hindus appeared "timid," their timidness was just another expression of a mythic or "superstitious" consciousness, an infatuation or enchantment that denies them historical agency and that can only manifest itself as rage:

    You will sometimes hear it said that the Hindoos are a mild and passive people. They have apathy rather than mildness; . . . They are a race of men of weak bodily frame, and they have a mind conformed to it, timid and abject in the extreme. They are passive enough to receive any vicious impression. . . . In the course of the last six months, one hundred and sixteen women were burnt alive with the bodies of their deceased husbands within thirty miles round Calcutta, the most civilized quarter of Bengal. But independently of their superstitious practices, they are described by competent judges as being of a spirit vindictive and merciless; exhibiting itself at times in a rage and infatuation, which is without example among other people. (37, my emphasis)

    In Morgan's and Buchanan's images of the Hindu, timidity will always turn into violence, because both the mildness and the violence manifest an inability to act effectively. If it is "religious enthusiasm" that kindles their "passions," the Hindus possess only superstition, not the knowledge necessary to effect a desired outcome. The "apathy" to which Buchanan refers is the logical consequence of their lack of agency. The "lethargy" and the "despair" with which Morgan characterizes the crowd also reflects their inability to believe in their own agency. The representation of irrational violence, both in the Memoir and in The Missionary, implies the necessity of colonial intervention in Hindu culture, refuting the countervailing vision of Hinduism as a gentle religion that should not be disturbed. But to the extent that Morgan agrees with Buchanan, she in fact aligns herself not with the colonial government, but rather with its critics. While the colonial government depended on what it considered to be a native infatuation with traditional forms of political authority, as it did throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it could not afford to represent native traditions as a form of mythic consciousness. Instead, even as it attempted to take advantage of these traditions, the colonial government took pains to publish the codifications of indigenous law that insisted the basic civil principle of private property was an ancient Indian right. The colonial government could not allow itself to accept the view that Hindu traditions merely reflected infatuation, because its government was based on these traditions.

  30. In fact, though, the early British anthropology of Hindu culture could not resist reducing it to pre-civil forms of barbarism, to the kind of tendency toward self-destruction that precedes the establishment of the social contract. Like The Missionary's conclusion, where the Hindus’ fanaticism leads in the end to their own slaughter, British writers drew attention to the practice of self-inflicted torture. Take, for example, the account that Lord Teignmouth, the president of the group of largely amateur orientalists that gathered in Calcutta as the famed Asiatic Society, gave of the Hindus’ "revengeful spirit":

    In 1791, Soodishter Mier, a Brahmin, the farmer of land paying revenue, and tenant of tax-free land in the province of Benares, was summoned to appear before a native officer, the duty collector of the district where he resided. He positively refused to obey the summons, which was repeated without effect; and after some time several people were deputed to enforce the process, by compelling his attendance. On their approaching his house he cut off the head of his deceased son's widow, and threw it out. (Asiatic Researches 335)[25]

    From the perspective of this passage, the Brahman clearly participates in a pre-bourgeois culture that responds violently to the prospect of shame, like the European aristocrat who responds to an insult of his honor by demanding justice in the form of a duel. But the Brahman exaggerates the absurdity of the aristocrat, because the gap here between the "insult" and the violence of the response is absolutely incommensurable. Teignmouth continues his narrative of Brahmans who literally lose their heads in their desire for revenge by describing two more instances of domestic violence, recounting the testimonies of a man who killed his daughter and another who committed matricide:

    "I became angry . . . and enraged at his forbidding me [to plough the field]; and bringing my own little daughter Apmunya, who was only a year and a half old, to the said field, I killed her with my sword." (Asiatic Researches 335-6)
    Beechuck . . . drew his scymetar, and, at one stroke, severed his mother's head from her body; with the professed view, as entertained and avowed by both parent and son, that the mother's spirit . . . might for ever haunt, torment, and pursue to death Gowry and the others concerned with him. (Asiatic Researches 337)

    Teignmouth's anecdotes construct a stereotype of the Brahman that explains why the colonial government was so wary of encroaching on traditional Indian culture. Each of the acts that Teignmouth recounts is supposed to manifest a resistance to authority but in fact constitutes a violation of the most basic filial affections and hence manifests a self-destructive tendency. From the perspective of this stereotype, Brahmanical subjectivity, unable to critique and reform government rationally, can only respond to government as a form of violence in kind; as Buchanan notes, Hindus are "passive enough to receive any vicious impressions" (37)[26]. The Hindu will imagine a violence in the operations of authority even when it is absent, and it will respond to authority simply by repeating this violence. But because the Hindu's passions have not been rationalized, his response to government is even more violent and much more perverse than the attempts to govern him were in the in the first place, and hence it only precipitates civil degeneration[27].

  31. Alongside Morgan's portrait of the Hindu uprising, Buchanan's account of the Brahmanical "revengeful spirit" (37) suggests that European and Indian national traditions bear very different relationships to modern civil society. About the Portuguese revolution against the Spanish Empire, Morgan writes:

    the spring of national liberty, receiving its impulse from the very pressure of the tyranny which crushed it, . . . produced one of the most singular and perfect revolutions which the history of nations has recorded. (1)

    Morgan presupposes that national traditions in Europe have already been rationalized by the Enlightenment or that they have the benefit of reason and hence that the national spirit in Europe can enter history as a revolutionary force, providing a people who have the critical capacity to form a civil society the sovereignty they deserve. When we recognize that from the perspective of Morgan and those who supported the civilizing mission in India, Indian traditions simply lacked reason as such, we will not be surprised that though Morgan was known internationally for her celebration of national traditions, she could not help but believe that Indian traditions were precisely what withheld India from independent nationhood and the inevitably teleology of world history. From her perspective, any Indian revolution against colonial rule will be premature, a still irrational outburst leading only to fruitless violence[28]. It is only colonial rule that can introduce reason into Indian national traditions and in doing so enable India to enter history[29].

     

    Section Seven: Preserving Native Traditions

  32. The romance plot rejoins the political subplot in the sense that it is only after the European has regained his affective life that he can rule India properly, respecting her traditions, in order to rationalize them upon a European model. By the novel's end, both Luxima and Hilarion express their visions of a reformed colonial rule that would reconcile a certain respect for Indian traditions with imperial rationality. Luxima presents her vision to Hilarion in her last words, before she dies from the stab wound, calling on him to undertake a different kind of proselytic project:

    "when I am no more, thou shalt preach, not to the Brahmins only, but to the christians, that the sword of destruction, which has been this day raised between the followers of thy faith and of mine may be for ever sheathed! Thou wilt appear among them as a spirit of peace, teaching mercy, and inspiring love; thou wilt sooth away, by acts of tenderness, and words of kindness, the stubborn prejudice which separates the mild and patient Hindu from his species; and thou wilt check the christian's zeal, and bid him follow the sacred lesson of the God he serves." (273)

    The reconciliation of the different historical stages in civil progress enables colonial rule to appeal to the heart, to construct an affective relationship with the premodern subject. In its emphasis on the necessity of a sympathetic foundation for colonial rule, Luxima's vision responds precisely and no doubt intentionally to the governing principles that supposedly inspired the Vellore uprising.

  33. Hilarion also insists that colonial rule must be sympathetic toward the native. To the Jesuits who will eventually turn him in to the Inquisition, he declares:

    "It is by a previous cultivation of their moral powers, we may hope to influence their religious belief; it is by teaching them to love us that we can lead them to listen to us; it is by inspiring them with respect for our virtues, that we can give them confidence in our doctrine." (226)

    But while Luxima calls only for the elimination of Hindu prejudice, the violent unreason that the uprising manifested, Hilarion, like Buchanan, believes that Hinduism simply is irrational, and searches for the method by which Hinduism can be "perfectly eradicated" (181) and "universally subverted" (184). For Hilarion, the affective relationship between colonist and colonized becomes in part the method that undoes the intricate interweaving of Hinduism with native subjectivity and that prepares the premodern subject for the exercise of a critical rationality; once the native achieves this rationality, he can and must abandon his traditions. While the early historical novel and post-enlightenment historical consciousness in general imply that tradition must be respected, because the nation-state cannot be founded on abstract reason alone, The Missionary argues that in the case of India, colonial rule must respect native traditions for the purely pragmatic reason of providing the civilizing mission an opening gambit. Within this image of the imperial encounter, India's national traditions do not inform but rather oppose the values of the nation-state, and hence the construction of an advanced civil society entails their ultimate destruction.

     

    Section Eight: Constructing Native "Tradition"

  34. It is a telling irony that though Morgan had an international reputation as an opponent of British colonialism, The Missionary promotes the civilizing mission more wholeheartedly than the British colonial government itself did. While the evangelical movement called for the establishment of missions in India as part of a broad project of anglicization that purported to insure that colonial rule served not to exploit the native population but rather to secure their prosperity, East India Company officials in general vehemently opposed evangelism in particular and anglicization in general, because they believed that such projects would provoke insurrection and destabilize their authority. Hence, even after parliament gave official support to missionary activity with its 1813 renewal of the East India Company charter, Company bureaucrats, who continued to govern India on the ground, showed little sympathy for missionaries. For example, both the Governor of Bombay, Mountstuart Elphinstone, and the Governor of Madras, Thomas Munro, opposed missionaries, with Munro actively punishing administrators who used their positions to spread Christianity[30]. While the evangelical movement in colonial politics legitimized its concern to promote Christianity by placing it under the banner of the civilizing mission, Company officials legitimized the political and social structures upon which their authority depended by placing them under the banner of the defense of Indian tradition.

  35. In his seminal study of nineteenth-century imperial ideology, The English Utilitarians and India, Eric Stokes refers to the new generation of colonial administrators who emerged in reaction to the beginnings of the civilizing mission in the early nineteenth century as "romantic"[31]. According to the historical narrative of Stokes and Bearce, a romantic ideology motivated these administrators—who included most prominently, Elphinstone, Sir John Malcolm, and their mentor, Munro—in the sense that they opposed the abstract political principles established by Cornwallis's anglicizing reforms, including the Act of Permanent Settlement, with the supposedly Indian custom of personal government, which created a sympathetic bond between ruler and ruled, and secured the peasant in traditional village India[32]. But Stokes and Bearce are taking these EIC officials at their word: their writings reinforce this narrative of their ideology, implying that their sensitivity to Indian tradition is the only means to insure the spread of Enlightenment, to prevent a premature Indian revolution. The following quotations are taken from, respectively, Thomas Munro in 1813; Elphinstone; and Malcolm, his successor as Governor of Bombay:

    When we have gained their attachment by mild and liberal treatment, they will gradually adopt from us new customs and improvements, which under a severe and suspicious government they would have rejected.
    It is not enough to give new laws, or even good courts; you must take the people along with you, and give them a share in your feelings, which can be done by sharing theirs. (Bearce 134)
    All that Government can do is . . . by adapting its principles to the various feelings, habits, and character of its inhabitants, to give time for the slow and silent operation of the desired improvement, with a constant impression that every attempt to accelerate this end will be attended with the danger of its defeat. (Stokes 23)

    In this emphasis on a sensitivity to tradition that will serve as the sympathetic foundation to colonial rule, one can hear precise echoes of both Luxima's and Hilarion's visions of a conciliatory colonialism and in particular of Hilarion's premise that sensitivity to Indian tradition is the only means to prevent a premature Indian revolution and hence to insure the spread of Enlightenment. Furthermore, Munro and Malcolm share the belief Buchanan expresses that there is a latent and easily provoked violence in Indian irrationality, and consequently, they also deduce from this belief the principle that the colonial government must first humor Indians, expressing sympathy for their traditions, before it attempts to civilize them.

  36. But in his recent study of Thomas Munro, without criticizing Stokes directly, Burton Stein argues that the motivation behind the system of property ownership and administration that Munro devised and established, which became the dominant models in British India, was neither to preserve native traditions of property as the basis of a reconstructed civil society nor to treat the Indian peasant with romantic benevolence, but rather to eliminate all intermediate indigenous property owners and political authorities who could possibly compete with Company power; Stein comments: "Munro was proposing nothing less than the completion, by administrative means, of the military conquest of the Baramahal territory. . . it was the perceived task of civil administration in the Baramahal to divest ancient local lordships of any capacity to resist or overturn Company rule" (59)[33]. Stein suggests that the kind of comments that Munro and his bureaucratic disciples made in defense of their administrative policies as sensitive to the traditions of India have fed into a propagandistic historiography that celebrates this sort of colonial administrator and this period of colonial rule as especially benevolent (46-8). This celebration depends on a confusion whose origins The Missionary marks: the premise that the colonial encounter is the inevitable confrontation of tradition and the civilizing mission, a confrontation that can be represented in terms of two individuals and that always risks being coercive and leading to the oppression of the nation, but that can always be conciliatory, leading both to the historical fufillment of the nation and the subjective fulfillment of modern consciousness. In fact, of course, neither side of the colonial encounter could be properly considered individual or unitary; the terms "tradition" and "modernity" in fact empty the colonial encounter of its history. The peculiar history of early British India suggests instead that rather than the stage where the civilizing mission and tradition play out the dramatic script of historical necessity, the imperial encounter is in fact precisely where imperial rule creates the intractable historical legacy of native traditions, in order to support its essential opposition to the civilizing mission. That is to say, the modern construction of "native traditions," one more cunning artifice of civil progress, attests to the fact that the imperial encounter always threatens to reveal the most naked images of civil society's own violent origins.

    Notes

    1  All references to the first American edition of Buchanan's Memoir. back

    2   For historical background to Buchanan's appointment, see Embree, especially 141-2 and 189-90, and for historical background to the publication and reception of the Memoir, see Philips, 159-60. back

    The movement that eventually succeeded in gaining missionaries access to India first surfaced in colonial politics during the 1790s, when William Wilberforce attempted to introduce a clause sanctioning the establishment of evangelical missions in British India into parliament's 1793 renewal of the East India Company's charter. Although Henry Dundas, president of parliament's Board of Control on Indian Affairs, was predisposed to this clause, the combined protest of the Company's governing elite, or "Directors," and its largest shareholders, or Proprietors, presented an insurmountable obstacle to Wilberforce's efforts. The grounds upon which the Company vehemently opposed the missionary clause—as "unwisely expending the Company's money and as dangerous to the peace and good order of the British possessions in India"—could serve as a summary statement of the Company's attitude toward the civilizing misson throughout the eighteenth century, with its purely pragmatic concern with the Company's finances, its awareness of the extreme instability of Company rule, and hence its refusal to promote what it considered to be an idealistic and inevitably offensive evangelism.

    In 1804, Charles Grant, a leading member of the politically influential Clapham Sect of evangelicals and a former servant of the Company, was elected to serve as a Deputy Chairman of the Company, thereby giving evangelicals their first powerful advocate within the Company itself. Grant appointed evangelicals to posts in India, one of whom was Claudius Buchanan.back

    3  There were also pragmatic reasons that the present had such potential theological significance. The East India Company had finally defeated its primary rival, Tipu Sultan, and hence could be more confident of its political stability, even when it was accompanied by missionary activity. Furthermore, with Napoleon's blockade of Europe's markets, India suddenly gained very clear significance to British manufacturers and merchants. In 1813, a group of Cutlers from Hallanshire petitioned against the EIC's monopoly by insisting upon the importance of British India as a market to the the nation in general. They called for free trade in order "to render our country so far independent of commerce with rival nations, that, whether at war or at peace, we may have the strength and resources within ourselves to conduct the former with glory and success, and to enjoy the latter with honour and security." See the anthology of documents relating to early British India, P.J. Marshall, ed., Problems of Empire, 222. The need to cultivate Indian taste so that it would buy British manufactured goods was an additional justification for evangelism. back

    4  See Arendt, especially Part Two, "Imperialism," and in particular Chapter Five, "The Political Emancipation of the Bourgeoisie," 123-57. back

    5  Metcalf's Ideologies of the Raj contains a description of Cornwallis's administrative reforms, 20-4. back

    6   Ranajit Guha's A Rule of Property for Bengal is probably the most widely read discussion of this reform. back

    7  Maclean notes that "an unlimited intercourse, by Private Ships, with India, would inevitably lead to the colonization of that country; which could not but terminate in its separation from Great Britain" (200). back

    8   In 1801, a special committee of the EIC's Court of Directors itself published a report in which it also argued against free trade as a form of dangerous colonization that would eventually lead to a violent uprising: "Even now, the society of merchants in India discover a wish to be emancipated from every material restraint: that spirit would live and be more powerful in the larger society. Governments, then, would find it a new and arduous task to maintain order and subordination. [. . .] That the rights and usages of our native subjects might not be encroached upon in this progress, that these people, though passive, might not be at length exasperated, and that they might not, from example, gradually lose their habits of submission to government, no man can be warranted to deny: [. . . .] a vast mass of native subjects, thus put into a new state of agitation, [. . .] might render it extremely difficult for this country to maintain, in that remote quarter, a government sufficiently strong and energetic to contain all these interests within their due bounds." See Marshall, 220. back

    9   Advocates of the civilizing mission gained a hearing in colonial politics only during the first years of the nineteenth century, because the Company's expansionist wars had greatly increased its debt, and hence compromised its influence in parliament. What we take to be essential to colonialism was in fact the product of a specific historical conjuncture: the decline of the Company's finances and the rise of evangelical and liberal reform movements in British society. But even after parliament ended the Company's monopoly, opening India to private British trade, and permitted officially-supported missionary activity with its 1813 renewal of the Company's charter, it left the Company to administer the colonial government. Hence, advocates for the civilizing mission would always confront Company servants who had final say in determining the shape of colonialism and whose interests did not necessarily lie with modernization. back

    10   Cain and Hopkins note: "Utilitarians treated the empire as a vast labratory for experimenting with scientific principles of human betterment; missionaries came to see it as a crusading vehicle for collective salvation. Together, they created a new international order in the nineteenth century by devising and implementing the world's first comprehensive development programme" (35). back

    11  Hence, both in its inspiration and in the colonial government's conservative response to it, the Vellore mutiny prefigured the Great Mutiny of 1857. back

    12  To recognize that the civilizing mission was not the inevitable scapegoat for colonial instability, one need only recall the 1770s and 80s, when both Edmund Burke and Adam Smith, as examples among many others, held the private interests of the Company's servants and of the Company itself as a purely mercantile concern responsible for the Company's inability to create public institutions that could properly govern Britain's imperial territories in India. back

    13  Joseph Lew notes that The Missionary "attracted critical and political opprobrium as well as an unprecedented audience" and that it "went through one American and four London editions in its first year." See Lew 39-65, 40. back

    14  Sensationally popular, The Wild Irish Girl had made the Irish Morgan a spokesperson for Irish nationalism and a publicly recognized critic of British imperialism. Morgan's novel helped popularize the concept that Irish nationalism was rooted in traditional folk culture. Morgan also expressed her sympathy for the principles of the French Revolution—principles which sat uneasily with her idealization of national tradition—in her 1817 travelogue France. This work, along with her support for Irish nationalism, helped cement her reputation as a dangerous radical, the constant object of the literary press's villification, which Chamberlain claims eventually began to undermine her celebrity in the 1830s, after she had already published more than twenty works of poetry, fiction, and nonfictional prose. See Kathleen Reuter Chamberlain and Carol Hart. back

    15   See "National Character, Nationalist Plots: National Tale and Historical Novel in the Age of Waverly, 1806-30" in Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism, 128-57, especially 128-32 and 138-46. back

    16  See for example Adam Smith, 14-16 and 201-21, for a description of the different stages of society. back

    17  All citations are from the American first edition of The Missionary. back

    18  See Campbell, 102-10. back

    19  See Lukács, 25: "The appeal to national independence and national character is necessarily connected with a re-awakening of national history, with memories of the past, of past greatness, of moments of national dishonour, whether this results in a progressive or a reactionary ideology." back

    20  Trumpener speculates further that the Irish national tale tends to have a radical edge that its generic spin-off, the Scottish historical novel, lacks, because the Irish, whose union with England was nearly a century younger than the Scottish, had not been as fully assimilated in the British empire, and she also notes that while Edgeworth's national tales were pro-Union, Morgan's had Jacobin tendencies. See 132. back

    21  In a sense, Luxima converts Hilarion from his missionary consciousness to a Hindu subjectivity. Along with this figurative conversion, Hilarion literally converts Luxima to Christianity, but in diametric opposition to Hilarion's conversion, Luxima's is clearly only rhetorical. Gauri Viswanathan has analyzed this conversion in terms of the "critique of religious absolutism as source of both colonial and patriarchal oppression" that it inscribes. See 27-31. back

    22  For discussions of eighteenth-century British writing about sati, see Teltscher, 51-68, and Nussbaum, 167-91. back

    23   The Widow of Malabar is an adaptation of Lemiere's La Veuve du Malabar. back

    24  For a discussion of the history and debates around sati in early-nineteenth-century British India, see Mani. back

    25  Buchanan incorporates this anecdote and the ones that follow in the Memoir, 37-8. Teignmouth, aka John Shore, had evangelical leanings and would become the Governor-General. back

    26  Marx also imagined that India's mythic consciousness led inevitably to anarchic violence: "We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction, and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindustan." See 18. back

    27  In 1807, Thomas Twining, one of the EIC's proprietors, argued against the introduction of missionaries to British India by insisting that Indians have only a religious, not a political, consciousness and hence will necessarily react violently to any perceived incursion upon their religion: "Sir, the people of India are not a political, but a religious people. In this respect, they differ, I fear, from the inhabitants of this country. They think as much of their Religion, as we of our Constitution. They venerate their Shastah and Koran, with as much enthusiasm as we our Magna Carta. [. . .] As long as we continue to govern India in the mild and tolerant spirit of Christianity, we may govern it with ease: but if ever the fatal day shall arrive, when religious innovation shall set her foot in that country, indignation shall spread from one end of Hindostan to the other; and the arms of fifty millions of people will drive us from that portion of the globe, with as much ease as the sand of the desert is scattered by the wind." See Marshall, 189-90. back

    28  Note that not only the Vellore mutiny, but also the Jacobite (1745) and the United Irishmen (1798) rebellions were precedents for the Hindu uprising. The uprising, then, is "overdetermined" to say the least, an extremely rich topos for Morgan that would have been immediately intelligible to the metropolitan reading public. Marilyn Butler comments: "In 1798 Ireland erupted in a widespread and bloody rebellion, headed by the United Irishmen and supported by an invading French army [. . .] . Continuing agrarian unrest, a mounting political campaign for Catholic emancipation, and bold criticism of Britain's war effort by an Irish journalist, Peter Finnerty, brought Ireland back into the headlines in 1811 [. . .] . It is partly because the question of Ireland--its persecuted religionists, its national consciousness--now began to emerge with the modern politics and ancient histories of various peoples of the Orient that Eastern imperialism henceforth figured as the topic of a new style of political poetry." See Butler, 421. back

    29  In Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World, Partha Chatterjee argues that even Third World nationalist thought has been unable to imagine a postcolonial state that is not managed by Western bureaucratic and scientific thought, and that this inability is its failure. back

    30  Bearce, 142-3. back

    31  "From the glimpses which the records of their private thoughts permit, they possessed what might be termed the Romantic temperament; combining a strong introspective bent, a sensibility for natural beauty and for historical associations, with an imaginative urge for release in action and adventure" (10). back

    32  David Ludden comments that "early colonialism produced two foundational ideas about traditional India: (1) India was "from time immemorial" a land of autonomous village communities in which (2) the force sustaining tradition was Hindu religion, with its complex social prescription, above all those pertaining to caste" (259). back

    33  Stein explains further: "In effect, Munro was proposing to strike at the powers and rights of any magnate by whom major decisions about the utilization of men and land were made" (58); "[Munro's] July 1794 report provides a clear idea of Munro's political principle of destroying any and all intermediary authority between the Company and the cultivator as the best assurance of the securing of control by the Company over its new dominions" (60). back

    Works Cited

    Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. 1948. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1979.

    Asiatic Researches. Vol 4. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications, 1979. 22 vols. Rpt. of Asiatick Researches, or, Transactions of the society instituted in Bengal, for inquiring into the history and antiquities, the arts, sciences, and literature of Asia. Calcutta: The Asiatick Society, 1791. In twenty-two volumes.

    Bearce, George. British Attitudes Toward India 1784-1858. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1961.

    Buchanan, Claudius. Memoir of the Expediency of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India: both as the means of perpetuating the Christian religion among our own countrymen, and as a foundation for the ultimate civilization of the natives. Cambridge, MA, 1811.

    Butler, Marilyn. "Orientalism." The Romantic Period. Ed. David Pirie. New York: Penguin, 1994. 395-447.

    Cain, P. J. and A. G. Hopkins. British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 1688-1914. New York: Longman, 1993.

    Campbell, Mary. Lady Morgan: The Life and Times of Sydney Owenson. London: Pandora, 1988.

    Chamberlain, Kathleen Reuter. "Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 116. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. 216-22.

    Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse?. 1986. U of Minnesota P, 1993.

    Embree, A. T. Charles Grant and British Rule in India. New York: Columbia UP, 1962.

    Guha, Ranajit. A Rule of Property for Bengal: An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement. 1963. Duke UP, 1996.

    Hart, Carol. "Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan." Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 158. Detroit: Gale Research, 1996. 234-48.

    Lew, Joseph W. "Sidney Owenson and the Fate of Empire." Keats-Shelley Journal 39 (1990): 39-65.

    Ludden, David. "Orientalist Empiricism: Transformations of Colonial Knowledge." Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament. Ed. Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1993.

    Lukács, Gyorgy. The Historical Novel. 1962. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1983.

    Maclean, Charles. A View of the Consequences of Laying open the Trade to India, to Private Ships; with some Remarks on the Nature of the East India Company’s Rights to their Territories, and the Trade depending upon them, and on the Conduct and Issue of the Late Negociation for a Renewal of their Exclusive Privileges. Collected in The Pamphleteer. London: Printed by A.J. Valpy, 1813. 185-242.

    Mani, Lata. "Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India." Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History. Eds. Kumkum Sangari and Sudesh Vaid. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990. 88-126.

    Marshall, P.J., ed. Problems of Empire: Britain and India 1757-1813. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1968.

    Marx, Karl. The First Indian War of Independence, 1857-1859. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.

    Metcalf, Thomas. Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994.

    Morgan, Lady (Sydney). The Missionary, an Indian Tale. New York: Franklin Company, 1811.

    Nussbaum, Felicty. Torrid Zones: Maternity, Sexuality, and Empire in Eighteenth-Century English Narratives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1995.

    Philips, C. H. The East India Company 1784-1834. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1961.

    Smith, Adam. Lectures on Jurisprudence. New York: Oxford UP, 1978.

    Stein, Burton. Thomas Munro: The Origins of the Colonial State and His Vision of Empire. New York: Oxford UP, 1989.

    Stokes, Eric. The English Utilitarians and India. 1959. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1963.

    Teltscher, Kate. India Inscribed: European and British Writing on India 1600-1800. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

    Trumpener, Katie. Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997.

    Viswanathan, Gauri. Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1998.

About this Page

Author

Published @ RC

November 2000

ProvinceOrState

Continent