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Romanticism and Patriotism:
Nation, Empire, Bodies, Rhetoric

Projection, Patriotism, Surrogation: Handel in Calcutta

Daniel O'Quinn, University of Guelph

  1. Unlike the 1770s and 80s, the 1790s were a period of consolidation in the British empire. Military victories over Tipu Sultan in Mysore and the establishment of the Permanent Settlement not only confirmed actual British domination in India, but also provided an occasion for phantasmatic constructions of global supremacy.[1] I’ve written elsewhere about how these events were staged at Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre and at Sadler’s Wells, but in this essay I am more concerned with the enactment of masochistic nationalism among Britons in Calcutta—i.e. a nationalism that coheres in the pain of its mutilated members[2]—whose dynamics are deeply connected to the recalibration of British subjectivity following the loss of the American colonies. Masochistic nationalism may seem counter-intuitive to our normative understanding of national character since masochism carries with it the connotation of perversion, a turning aside from truth or right, and specifically a turning from pleasure to pain. But it helps to explain the allegorical tactics employed in Calcutta on the particular evening I will be discussing in this essay. Prior catastrophic losses both in Mysore and in America had a lingering effect on future actions in India not only because the British could not afford further defeat, but also because the primary British actant in the Mysore Wars and the Permanent Settlement, Lord Cornwallis, carried his experience of defeat at Yorktown, and other American campaigns to India when he was appointed Governor-General of Bengal.[3] As an icon of both imperial humiliation and domination, Cornwallis plays an oddly double role in the celebration of victory over Mysore. Because the commemoration of Cornwallis’s actions in India always carries the threat of re-activating traumatic memories of the American war, the performance of fragments from Handel’s oratorios that I discuss in this essay compulsively repeat and repudiate scenes of national humiliation. What interests me is the way both the actants and the audience, who are largely indistinguishable from each other, tie their fantasies of national and imperial election to an unresolved cultural wound.

  2. The chequered history of British conflict with the Sultans of Mysore prior to the early 1790s activated deeply felt anxieties not only about the susceptibility of British subjectivity to Indianization, but also about the viability of the imperial enterprise. As Linda Colley has reminded us, news of Britain’s spectacular defeat at Pollilur in the first Mysore War reached London at almost precisely the same time as the news of the fall of Yorktown and there was general consternation that the entire empire was going to collapse (269-77). These anxieties were only exacerbated not only by heavily contested accounts of British atrocities in India, but also by widely circulated captivity narratives from the 1780s which revolve around scenes of bodily degradation and mutilation. Many of Tipu’s prisoners were enslaved and forced to fight against the British forces. These cheyla battalions were the site of intense anxiety because most of the cheylas, or slaves, were forced to convert to Islam and were circumcised. As Kate Teltscher states, "The British cheylas, marked with the stigma of Muslim difference but otherwise unconverted to Islam, were stranded in a doctrinal no man’s land, and the texts reveal their sense of marginalization" (240). However, she is also quick to point out, following Pratt, that the very fact of the existence of the survival narratives performs a kind of inoculation of their dangerous contents (243). Presented within the frame of a survivor’s tale, the mutilation of the penis, and by extension of the religious and national subject, can be presented and contained. However, the line separating circumcision and castration is at times hard to discern in these texts because the mutilation, whether partial or complete, seems to instantiate a form of subjectivity that for all attempts at containment continues to inhere in the narratives and haunts even the most triumphant accounts of victory over Tipu in the early 1790s.

    Projection, or the Volatility of Paternalism

  3. Like earlier campaigns against the Sultans of Mysore, the Third Mysore War did not start well for the British forces. The initial campaigns were conducted under the leadership of General William Medows, the Governor of Madras. Medows served under Cornwallis in the American war and despite his prior experience made a number of tactical errors that reminded Cornwallis of his own miscalculations in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.[4] Tipu took almost immediate strategic advantage in the early phases of the conflict and forced Cornwallis to take over Medows’s command in mid-December of 1791. Cornwallis undertook one of the most massive deployments of men, animals and artillery in British military history and eventually conquered the strategic fortress of Bangalore. However, insufficient supply lines and uncooperative weather prevented him from successfully taking Tipu’s capital Seringapatam. The monsoon and other logistical problems forced Cornwallis to retreat.

  4. This anxiety regarding the mutilation of the national subject was partially resolved by Cornwallis’s victory over Tipu Sultan at Seringapatam some months later. However, the resolution was partial because this conflict did not conclude with a decisive military annihilation, but rather with an extraordinary diplomatic transferral of money, lands and two of Tipu’s sons as hostages to British rule. That transferral generated three successive performances of patriotism in Mysore and Calcutta, each of which had a supplementary relation to its immediate precursor. On February 23, 1792, Cornwallis himself engineered the first of these when he carefully staged a spectacle outside Tipu’s fortress at Seringapatam involving elephants, artillery and soldiers in full ceremonial costume, in which he publicly received Tipu’s two sons, "dressed for the melancholy occasion in muslin adorned with pearls and assorted jewellry", with a gesture of paternal care. The Gentleman’s Magazine’s account of the event is symptomatic:

    Lord Cornwallis received [Tipu’s sons] in his tent; which was guarded by a battalion of Sepoys, and they were then formally delivered to his Lordship Gullam Ally Beg, the Sultan’s Vackeel, as hostages for the due performance of the treaty....At length Gullum Ally, approaching Lord Cornwallis, much agitated, thus emphatically addressed his Lordship: "These children," pointing to the young princes, whom he then presented, "were this morning the sons of the Sultan, my master: their situation is changed, and they must now look up to your Lordship as their father." The tender and affectionate manner in which his Lordship received them, seemed to confirm the truth of the expression. The attendants of the young princes appeared astonished, and their countenances were highly expressive of the satisfaction they felt in the benevolence of his Lordship. (72: 760)[5]

    Teltscher argues that the representation of Cornwallis’s acceptance of Tipu’s sons as a scene of paternal benevolence contrasts with the popular accounts of Tipu’s alleged mistreatment of British captives. After the defeat of Tipu in 1793, war between the East India Company and Mysore was now refigured as a tropological struggle between normative and errant models of paternal care. The wide circulation of visual representations of this scene, on everything from prints to tea-trays, achieved the two-fold effect of putting the prior atrocities into abeyance and of re-enforcing British fantasies of colonial rule as a form of affectionate paternalism.[6]

  5. This spectacle of military paternalism outside of Seringapatam was followed by elaborate celebratory performances in Calcutta. A Gala Concert was performed using amateur musicians and singers from the ranks of the East India Company and an extraordinary number of illuminations or projected transparencies were displayed throughout the town. Pre-cinematic transparencies had been used to powerful effect in other colonial locales, but in this case it is the screens themselves that are most important.[7] By illuminating the key offices of the East India Company, the celebrations in Calcutta took icons of the bureaucratic regulation of subject peoples and made them contiguous with Cornwallis’s paternal care of Tipu’s sons:

    The Government house as it ought, the swelling of "public cause of pride" surpassed in magnificence grandeur all the rest:—the symmetry and style of the whole building, was particularly favorable to the occasion, and it was seen and embraced by the ingenious contrivers on this occasion with felicitous effect, the balustrades along the wings were ranged with party coloured lights, and intervening pedestals with lamps in festoons....A transparent painting of 32 feet high by 27 completed in its contrast an admirable idea of the whole spectacle; the scene bore a figurative allusion to memorable signature of the preliminary articles; and the introduction of the hostages to Earl Cornwallis on that occasion—three oriental figures in chief were the most remarkably distinguishable, and we think with propriety of judgement in the artist: They were the Vakeel and the Princes hostages presenting to Britannia, or her genius in the usual habiliment, a scroll—she appeared seated and behind her a figure of Hercules, emblematic of the great work so completely and speedily performed: above Fame appeared with a medallion of his Lordship and in the background a perspective view of Seringapatam.[8]

    The substitution of Britannia and Hercules for Cornwallis in this visualization of the hostage transaction has the curious effect of hollowing out his specific actions in favour of a fantasy of abstract national agency here projected onto the surface of Company rule. Removing him from the scene and re-locating him into an apotheosis of Fame simultaneously exemplifies Cornwallis and contains his heroism as a subset of Britain’s "clement bravery."[9] And does the eruption of femininity into the scene in the form of seated Britannia reinforce the notion of benevolent rule or undermine the particular significance of paternity to this ideological construct? It is as though each subsequent allegorical gesture calls into question the self-confirming fantasy of benevolent paternalism.

  6. One could argue that Cornwallis’s history of defeat and victory in colonial warfare makes him a volatile emblem of patriotic paternalism. That volatility requires not only repeated reassertions of his paternality—as Teltscher demonstrates, this ideological assemblage is highly over-determined—but also supplementation by a series of more complex phantasmatic constructions which not only undo the tight ideological sutures achieved in the initial performance, but also raise questions about how the nation can be seen at this distance from the metropole. The colonial newspaper accounts devote extensive coverage to the technical achievements of the illuminations that amounts to a subtle declaration of cultural superiority of technological modernity. Throughout the newspaper coverage there is a fascination with how the illuminations transform the quotidian spaces of Calcutta into "one continuous blaze" of allegorical splendor in which the very loci of formerly precarious rule emerge as classical emblems of virtue. As the Madras Courier declared, "suffice it to say, that where so general a display of beauty, splendor, and magnificence were combined to render Calcutta, and its vicinity, one of the most superb Coup d’oeil’s it has ever exhibited."10] This declaration of artifice is to the point because it both invests in the power of representation and recognizes its limitations.

  7. As the papers literally take the reader on a walk about town something strange begins to occur. In attempting to catalogue all the transparencies, the loco-descriptive act testifies to divergent visual interpretations of Cornwallis’s victory. As the papers turn their attention from the official Company buildings to the private houses of Company members, "Cornwallis" is increasingly figured forth by his coat of arms and the buildings become the surfaces on which a fantasy of pastoral peace is projected:

    Messrs Gibbon and Brown’s house in the Cossitollah; the whole extent of their house on all sides was laid out the same style of illumination as the government house, in front before the centre Window was displayed a neatly painted transparency, of his Lordship’s arms, the coat of which extended considerably beyond the supporters, and over the crest displayed the roof a superb and splendid tent—the allusion was happy, apt, and finely impressive: above the tent was the [?] [11]and George and below the star with Laurels and Palms; the lower story of the house was in a similar style, the Gateway and avenue leading thru shrubbery was converted with great skill into a luminous Vista terminated by an alcove containing a temple dedicated to peace; within which was an urn inscribed to the memory of the brave dead; and without the motto Glorious Peace—the perspective was so happily preserved, that nothing appeared out of proportion, and yet the object immensely distant.[12]

    Like other projections of "Fame relinquishing War,"[13] this image carries out a crucial act of memorialization which simultaneously marks the dead, so that they may be forgotten, and projects the viewer forward into a state of peace that is not only precarious, but also not fully achieved until almost a decade later. Tipu would not be killed until 1799.

  8. If we think of Calcutta on that night as a precursor to the image city, then the emphasis on the illusion of perspective in the description of both transparencies is resonant for it quite literally takes the present historical buildings and ruptures their very contemporaneity by giving them both spatial and historical "depth." In the case of government house, the view of Seringapatam puts observers in a position of elevated contemplation—quite literally, the lord of all they survey. In the case of Gibbon and Brown’s house, the everyday residence is literally and phantasmatically transformed into a picturesque pastoral scene of the kind that Britons were well acquainted with not only in the Georgic experiments of eighteenth-century poetry, but also in picturesque visual representation. Thomson’s "The Seasons" is the most apposite exemplar of this kind of deployment of the prospect as a tool for representing good governance and eliminating all manner of social resistances.[14] As Beth Fowkes Tobin demonstrates, these same Georgic strategies were vital to William Hodges’s almost contemporaneous picturesque erasure of warfare in his illustrations to Travels in India during the Years 1780, 1781, 1782 and 1783 which was published in 1793 (117-43). Significantly, the battles being veiled by Hodges's picturesque representation of captured Indian fortresses are precisely those troubling conflicts of the First Mysore War which generated so much anxiety among British observers. To employ John Barrell’s resonant phrase, both Hodges’s illustrations and the projections in Calcutta manipulate light to hide "the dark side of the landscape," only here it is not the rural poor who are occluded by representation but the ongoing social conflict between British imperial power and native colonial resistance (1-33).

  9. We should not be surprised to see geographically displaced Britons using the representational strategies of an earlier form of patriotic identification to figure forth a rather different imperial vision. But what remains so resonant here is the very duplicity of the image, for the projection of metropolitan fantasy is literally cast on the contours of colonial space. One has the sense that one could look upon the house of Messrs Gibbon and Brown and see conflicting images of triumph and ongoing struggle, past victory and present strife, the prospect of peace modelled on England’s past and the portent of continuing conflict with Tipu that inheres in the very ground on which the viewer walks. And if this overlay of contradictory representations and ideological scenes isn’t complex enough, it is important to remember that perspective is understood as a technology suited not only to the representation of peace, but also to the practice of warfare itself as practised by Cornwallis. The British ability to effectively target Tipu’s fortresses’s with their artillery relies on precisely the same geometric abstraction of physical space as that employed in the transparencies. The very technology of war figures forth the fantasy of peace.

    Mrs. Barlow’s Songs, or Spectres of France

  10. Oddly enough, it is the parallel acts of walking and reading, that ultimately give the image city its political purchase, but it is important to remember that this stroll does not climb up to an "eminence" but rather ends up in the theatre. Once inside the doors, the collocation of might, moderation and pre-cinematic visual wonder was similarly enacted in the Gala Concert held in the Calcutta theatre:

    Entering at the west door, the first object that rivetted the attention was a beautiful semicircular temple, of the Ionic order, dedicated to Victory, placed at the east end, whose dome reached within a foot of the ceiling. In this was placed a transparency, representing a bust of Lord Cornwallis on a pedestal, with the Goddess of Victory flying over it, with a wreath of Laurel in her hand, which she was in the act of placing on his Lordship’s brows:—on the plinth of the pedestal was his Lordship’s motto,
    Virtus Vincit Invidiam.
    And over the bust
    Regna Assignata.
    And on each side of this was a nich, —in one of which a figure of Fortitude, and in the other, of Clemency, was placed. Over these, and extending the whole breadth of the temple, was a transparent painting of the action of the 6th of Feb. 1792, and beneath, the following four lines:
    Still pressing forward to the fight, they broke
    Through flames of sulpher, and a night of smoke,
    Till slaughter’s legions fill’d the trench below,
    And bore their fierce avengers to the foe.

    The contiguity of the emblem of Clemency and the images of slaughter encapsulate a specific patriotic style that unites the illuminations and the musical entertainment. The projected lines are from Addison’s The Campaign, which celebrates the victory of the Duke of Marlborough over the French at Blenheim in 1704.[15] This comparison is bolstered by other elements of the poem which represent valiant British troops breaching the defences of hillside forts not unlike those Cornwallis encountered at Bangalore, Nundydroog and Severndroog.[16] Equating Cornwallis and Marlborough is an extremely important gesture not simply because it consolidates Cornwallis’s heroism, but because it suggests that Cornwallis’s treaty with Tipu, like the Treaty of Utrecht eighty years earlier, will establish a balance of power in the Asian subcontinent which will permanently check French aspirations to commercial and territorial empire. This allusion is effective because Tipu was widely supported by the French and British observers generally saw war with Mysore as a subset of a larger global struggle with France. What the projection suggests is that with this victory, the British have entered a new phase of imperial domination. However, this involves a misrecognition of both the past and the future that gets played out in the musical celebration.

  11. The accounts of the concert indicate that transparencies were illuminated and extinguished in order to direct audience attention to various patriotic emblems before the performance of excerpts from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. Like the mobilization of the prospects in the city itself and the citation of Addison’s The Campaign, the choice of repertoire here takes arguably the most famous example of patriotic discourse in the eighteenth century and modifies it to suit the present circumstance. Contrary to what one might expect, the members of the civilian cadre of the Company who put on the celebration decided not to perform the famous "liberty airs" or even the more direct celebration of martial victory, but rather focused on pastoral passages which drew attention to the terms of new found peace. Act I takes the audience directly to an ambivalent moment from Judas Maccabaeus which both looks back at momentary victory and anticipates a return to war. This return, and its attendant anxieties, is averted by a surrogative shift to a passage from Joshua which focuses on the Israelite conquest of Canaan. This activation and containment of anxiety is repeated in the Second Act with even more intensity. Despite the celebration of conquest at the end of Act I, Act II opens with the overture from Samson which calls forth the abject and dispossessed leader of the Israelites. This invocation of national weakness is answered by a return to the closing pastoral scenes of Judas Maccabaeus. Thus the evening’s entertainment both segmented and sutured together often divergent patriotic images, texts and oratorios into a hybrid performance that engages with and re-configures the allegorical objectives of the primary source material. The depth of that engagement is breathtaking, for it returns to the very scenes of forced conversion, circumcision and dispossession which crystallized British imperial anxiety in the 1780s.

  12. Judas Maccabaeus was originally, and continued to be, understood as an allegory for George II’s victory over the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, but as Ruth Smith has argued it is an exceedingly complex and ambivalent expression of patriotism (50-7). James Morrell’s libretto is based on both books of Maccabees, but much of its larger argument is implied. In 175 BC Antiochus Epiphanes ascended to the Syrian throne and was immediately involved in expansionist campaigns against Egypt. The Jews under Syrian rule were divided into orthodox and hellenized Jews who were open to the Greek culture of their rulers. Through a series of accommodations between these hellenized Jews, represented by Jason, and their Syrian rulers, steps were taken to turn Jerusalem into a Greek city with Greek institutions. More orthodox Jews came to fear that these developments would contaminate their religion and the ensuing conflict between orthodox and reform factions within the Jewish population was interpreted by Syrian rulers as rebellion and brutally put down. Following a massacre of Jews and a profanation of the Temple, Antiochus effectively outlawed Judaism including the act of circumcision. In 2 Maccabees these events are interpreted as a warning from God not to diverge from traditional religious practice: "Now I beseech those that read this book, that they be not discouraged for these calamities but that they judge those punishments not to be for destruction, but for a chastening of our nation" (2 Macc 6:12). As Ruth Smith indicates, this passage is presented nearly verbatim early in Part I of Judas Maccabaeus and needs to be understood as the condition of possibility for the oratorio’s patriotism (59). The period of national, ethnic and religious division constitutes that which must be overcome to secure the political liberty of the Maccabees and by extension their British counterparts. This period of chastisement precedes the action of the oratorio, which focuses instead on the Maccabees’ revolt against Antiochus’s attempt to enforce pagan sacrifice among them. The patriarch of the family, Mattithias, refuses the edict, flees with his sons into the mountains and upon his death establishes his sons, Simon and Judas, as the political and military leaders of a rebellion against Syrian rule.

  13. The oratorio begins at this point in the story, and the first two parts track Judas’s victories over the Syrian forces. Significantly, Morrell and Handel relegate much of the military action to the intervals between the parts of the oratorio and present the audience with retroactive, largely choral, celebrations of victory. The spiritual and political centre of the work occurs in the beginning of Part III when Simon recovers the Sanctuary of the Temple—i.e. the events still celebrated at Chanukah. In response to the recovery of the temple and the defeat of his general Lysias, Antiochus withdrew his repressive orders and Jews could now live in accordance with their own laws. The oratorio thus shifts its attention from the struggle for religious freedom to the pursuit of Jewish independence and concludes with a treaty which guarantees independence for the Maccabees. This structure allows Handel and Morrell to indulge in some of the most resonant celebrations of political liberty in the eighteenth century, while downplaying a whole series of reverses in the historical account of the Maccabees rebellion.

  14. When excerpts of this oratorio a performed in Calcutta in 1792, the audience was confronted with a cascade of allegories each laid over the top of the other, and like any palimpsest this act of layering erases as much as it figures forth. At the centre of these layers is the counter-intuitive allegorical connection between the Maccabees story and the Jacobite rebellion in Handel’s oratorio. In order to understand the allegory, it is crucial to recognize that the Jacobite rebellion was widely understood to be part of a larger French threat to English political and religious liberty. In this allegory, the Duke of Cumberland maps onto Judas, and the alliance between Scottish Jacobites and France becomes comparable to that of the alliance between the hellenized Jews and their Syrian rulers. As Smith states,

    At first sight, it might have seemed that the analogy would have appeared paradoxical or strained to its intended audiences...; the Maccabean story of a successful rebellion in which the rebels were in the right was apparently being used to celebrate the suppression of a rebellion in which the rebels were in the wrong. But Morrell is careful not to transcribe from Maccabees the instances in which the Jewish opposition resembled the Jacobite campaign, and the parallel is not between Syrians attempting to suppress a rebellion by the native Jewish population and Britain suppressing a rebellion by the native Scottish population. Rather, in the light of the contemporary perception of the rebellion as part of France’s plan to dominate Britain politically and forcibly to change its religion, Judas unifying a nation disrupted from within by hellenizers who co-opt foreign hellenizing Syrian forces is equivalent to Cumberland unifying a nation disrupted from within by Jacobites who co-opt foreign Catholic French forces. This factual analogy is given vitality by an emotional one: the purgation of hellenistic tendencies...parallels British affirmation of loyalty after the upsurge of popular anti-Hanoverian feeling in 1742-4. (61-2)

    So in its original context, Judas Maccabaeus allegorizes the Jacobite rebellion in order to repudiate the larger threat of French aggression and to argue for the necessity of purging not only schism, but also forms of political reform which threaten to make incursions on traditional notions of English political liberty. As Sudipta Sen argues, this "natural liberty" was not only "enshrined in legislation that reflected the intimate connections between liberty, private property, and law," but also supported by the continuing constitutional investment in the Protestant monarchy (13). What becomes portable, therefore, in subsequent performances of the oratorio, is its ability to call forth the anxious spectre of French aggression and the supposedly dire consequences of political apostasy or reform. And it is precisely this dramatization of disaster averted that fuels the oratorio’s most patriotic moments. However, the activation of these anxieties does not always result in their resolution, and their performance has the potential to resuscitate past reversals and humiliations without fully resolving them.

  15. With some sense of the political allegory of Judas Maccabaeus we can now return to the Calcutta theatre and sketch in the remaining allegorical layers. Addison’s lines on the Temple implicitly compare Cornwallis’s victory over Tipu to the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim. What links the two historical moments, aside from some obviously wishful thinking that the treaty with Tipu will be another Treaty of Utrecht, is the fact that British forces prevail against alliances between Mysore and France and Bavaria and France respectively. The inscription on the Temple globalizes the conflict in India by emphasizing French involvement in both conflicts and thus establishes the alliance needed for translating the Maccabean allegory to the third Mysore War. This is crucial because the Mysorean uprising of the early 1790s, like that of the Scottish Jacobites in the 1740s, needed to be figured not as rebellions but as French aggression carried out by proxy native forces for the allegory to operate properly.

  16. The parallels being drawn between Judas’s war against Syria, Marlborough’s campaign against the Franco-Bavarian alliance, Cumberland’s suppression of the French sponsored Jacobites, and Cornwallis’s victory over Tipu Sultan all revolve around the spectre of French interference in British affairs. Impending war with France in Europe is again setting up the political and emotional condition for the Maccabean allegory to have some purchase on the audience. The Calcutta papers were full of the news of revolutionary France and the palpable evidence of English social and cultural schism in response to the French example were as much a topic of concern in the colonies as they were in the metropole. Just as the adverse incidents which beset the Jews in Syria prior to the Maccabean revolt are interpreted as temporary punishment—or "chastening"—for hellenization, the staging of Judas Maccabeus in Calcutta plays out the reverses of British fortune in the first two Mysore wars not only as punishment for comparable prior examples of Indianization in which some British colonial subjects adopted the cultural and social norms of India, but also as a warning against current sympathy towards the French revolution among some British constituencies. In both the Maccabees story and the revisionist history implied by Cornwallis’s reforms of the East India Company, any deviation from national and racial purity implied by openness to surrounding Syrian or Indian society is punished and then overcome. This historical comparison is crucial because it speaks directly to the current moment of social schism in Britain itself. In the face of increasingly polarized British reaction to events in France, my suspicion is that the celebrants in Calcutta are exorcizing the dangers of social and cultural apostasy by turning the defeat of Tipu into a phanttasmatic victory over France. In other words, this performance both chastens the nation by invoking past humiliation in the time of political crisis and projects the future triumph of the re-consolidated nation in a larger geopolitical frame.

  17. This fantasy of unification, and its allegorical support, may have had particularly strong purchase because many of the audience members would have been Scots—the East India Company was composed of an inordinate number of Scottish employees. For these audience members, the entire allegorical economy is predicated on the historical ejection of forms of political affiliation perhaps not at all distant from some audience members’ pasts. In very real ways, the loyal Scottish members of the Company are the normative counter-example not only to past rebels, but also to current factions opposed to the actions of the state. One of the primary objectives of the Calcutta celebration is to crystallize this counter-exemplarity in the very space where previous observers, including Cornwallis, bemoaned the openness of Company officials to Indian styles of sociability.[17]

  18. In this context, the earlier British losses to Mysore with all their attendant narratives of abjection become evidence of Britain’s voluntary descent into faction and apostasy in the late 1780s and early 1790s. The allegory is at its most insistent here because Tipu’s forceable conversion of British soldiers to Islam is implicitly compared to Antiochus’s demand that the Maccabees take up Pagan worship. As noted earlier, the anxiety produced by forced circumcision and the intense resistance to such blurring of religious and ethnic identity is felt throughout subsequent representations of conflict in Mysore ,and they mirror the Maccabees story in eerie and powerful ways. But the allegory replaces the Mysorean act of forced circumcision with Antiochus’s prohibition of the act: that which is most terrifying is tropologically cancelled yet nonetheless activated. This is because, in the chain of allegories, forced Indianization in Mysore is being used to figure the openness of both Whig and more radical British constituencies to French constitutional reform, and thus the voluntary desire for reform among Britions is being recast as French desire for the absorption of British society. The entire figural economy aims to cancel past and present forms of voluntary cultural hybridization which were routinely satirized as an adoption of Eastern and/or French effeminacy by positing an external tormentor who violates the cultural, social and sexual autonomy of the patriot Briton. Thus the ostensibly prior hollowing out of masculinity from the inside is replaced by a fantasy of violation which paradoxically re-establishes the "integrity" of the patriotic subject at a future date. Put bluntly, the disturbing evidence of consensual, dare we say seditious, deviation from normative masculinity is replaced by a fantasy of being raped by the other. This ideological manipulation of what Reik in his analysis of Christian masochism refers to as "adverse incidents" not only allows the audience to re-configure past instances of abjection into prophetic signs of future imperial pleasure, but also to effectively subsume the real threat posed by Tipu or France into a masochistic fantasy where the tormented remains fully in control of the scene.[18]

  19. Because the Maccabean allegory is so concerned with establishing the threat posed by an alliance between an internal other and a larger external force, the entire event is traversed by fantasies of persecution and vulnerability. The Calcutta concert picks at the wound in revealing ways. The first Act of the Calcutta performance takes a brief recitative and song from the beginning of the oratorio’s second part which not only celebrates Judas’s first victory’s over Syrian forces, but also precedes a return to war. This return is negated by a sudden shift to a chorus from Joshua which focuses not on the contamination of the nation by foreign influence, but rather on the triumphant subjection of foreigners. Joshua, unlike Judas Maccabaeus, is largely about the acquisition of territory—in this case Canaan—through conquest. The surrogative effect of shifting from Judas Maccabaeus to Joshua is clarified by remembering the role of Canaan in seventeenth British theories of governmentality. In her analysis of Joshua, Smith argues that

    The partition of Canaan was for Harrington the origin of the Israelite ‘agrarian’, the ordering of society based on land ownership which in his view formed the foundation of right government....In other words, the division of Canaan by Joshua under God’s direction was the birth of the Israelite nation, and since the division was based on principles of land ownership essential to the prosperity and stability of any society, it was or should be the pattern of all societies—including, for the audience of Joshua, their own. According to Harrington their agrarian law was the key factor which saved the Israelites from falling into typical eastern servility. (Handel’s Oratorios, 251-2)

    This hypostatization of landed property as the source of governmental and social security is precisely what underpinned Cornwallis’s implementation of the Permanent Settlement following the 1792 treaty with Tipu. And the Permanent Settlement was itself as an allegorical policy—one which utilizes one form of social and economic relations to figure forth another.

  20. When, in Act 2, Mrs. Elizabeth Barlow, the wife of the very man who would attempt to reconfigure Indian property relations in terms of British notions of landed property [19], and Captain Haynes sing the following lines, one is presented with the aural equivalent of what C.A. Bayly refers to as the Permanent Settlement’s "massive effort in wishful thinking" (186):

    Oh! lovely peace! With plenty crown’d,
    Come spread thy blessings all around,
    Let fleecy flocks the hills adorn,
    And vallies smile with waving corn!
    Let the shrill trumpet cease
         No other sound
         But Nature’s songsters
    Wake the cheerful morn (3.27)

    In a significant alteration of Handel’s oratorio, this song, originally scored for the Israelitish woman, is transformed into a duet with the counter-tenor Captain Haynes. The uneasy association betwen counter-tenor roles and castrati reactivates the castration threat at this key moment, but with a crucial difference. The audience is presented with the civilian and the military wings of the East India Company singing in concert. Would it be too much to suggest that the duet re-fashions the pastoral moment such that the military man is tamed by the implied domestic relation between male and female singer? It is precisely this sublation of the soldier into the paternal, the military into the familial/bureaucratic that informs both the treaty ceremony and many of the projections. Thus the performance supplements the complex re-orientation of Cornwallis as imperial icon such that the spectre of castration is put into abeyance by the plenitude not simply of the imperial father, but of the biopolitical imperatives of the middle classes.[20] This supplemental relation is revealing, for it emphasizes that the fantasy of benevolent paternalism and the Permanent Settlement are ineffective in and of themselves and thus require the deep micrological regulation of domestic relations which came to pre-occupy British rule in India in the early nineteenth-century. As Sen, Collingham and others have recognized, sexual and racial deployments which the middle classes first utilized to consolidate their own power both at home and abroad became crucial norms for managing colonial populations.[21] It is precisely these deployments in the form of the singing conjugal pair which are grafted onto now obsolete figurations of pastoral peace and which re-orient the ideological import of this patriotic performance.

    The American Ghost

  21. However, the full depth of this re-orientation can only be fully understood when we look closely at how these pastoral lines are deployed. This happy fantasy in which India starts to look like England and the future French threat is conveniently consigned to allegorical oblivion, is haunted by an American ghost. Act 2 of the Calcutta performance opens with the overture from Handel’s Samson. Samson, like many of the Israelite oratorios, offers recurrent images of national weakness and opens with its hero collapsed on the ground, dispossessed by a foreign foe. As Smith argues,

    Samson and the Israelites, no longer hero and inferiors but, at the crisis, equally powerless, wait upon God’s aid, and there is no certainty that it will materialize....The nation’s setbacks, its oppression by an alien race, the only partly heroic career of its hero, its absolute dependence on divine favour which cannot be claimed to be merited, and its recognition of divine agency in every success—all these aspects of this oratorio, which recur throughout the librettos of the Israelites, even when taken with the many expressions of faith, strength and confidence which also recur, do not add up to triumphalism. (Handel’s Oratorios, 299)

    Smith is highly attentive to how anxiety works in each of the Israelite oratorios and argues that their patriotism is often shadowed by fundamental moments of doubt regarding British national election. But the performance we are examining in this essay fragments these patriotic texts and stitches them together such that "adverse incidents" are located in a very specific temporal structure. For audience members familiar with Handel’s music, the overture would have engaged the anxiety attending Cornwallis’s previous failures in America. Read in this way the sudden return to the pastoral passages of Judas Maccabaeus quoted above would amount to nothing less than an attempt to bury some particularly bad memories. But why risk engaging the very nightmare of colonial defeat? As in the previous allegorical cascade, imperial setbacks are mobilized to highlight the act of overcoming them. But there is also something else at stake, which lies deep in the heart of the allegory itself and perhaps explains why everything about this performance seems so overdetermined.

  22. When we consider the historical structure that allows the Maccabean allegory to function, what we encounter is a figure that cannot help but call forth the American disaster. After all the historical situation which most powerfully resembles the Maccabean story is that of the American colonies in 1776. As Dror Wahrman and others have argued, the key problem for British subjectivity posed by the American crisis is that the people most like them not only take up arms in internecine strife but form an alliance with the French.[22] If we run this through the Maccabean allegory, the Americans become the hellenized Jews, the French remain in the role of the Syrian oppressors, and the English find themselves cast as the orthodox Jews. Only in this story, no unification is effected, the orthodox Britons simply lose and are forced to re-imagine Britishness without their American brothers. In this story, Cornwallis is desolate, alone and dispossessed; a figure not unlike Samson who is in desperate need of recuperation. The nightmare of Yorktown becomes inextricably linked to the dreams fostered by the Mysorean treaty: a dream of Permanent Settlement and benevolent paternal rule, no less than a dream of global supremacy over France.

  23. Could we not argue that by 1792, this dispossessed figure has finally become politically useful, not only literally in the sense that he has a job to do in India, but also figuratively in the way he is invoked in the Gala Concert: as the chastened sign of history whose recurrent pain retroactively anticipates the pleasures of as-of-yet unrealized imperial domination. And it is the ultimate un-presentability of global supremacy either in fact or in fantasy that allows for its figural presentation in the person of Cornwallis. By invoking Lyotard’s reading of Kant’s famous notion of the "sign of history" I am trying to suggest that Britons at this moment of patriotic investment see human progress as a form of national election which is not susceptible to direct presentation but rather must operate through a complex temporal game in which patriotic enthusiasm—with all its recollected pain and forestalled pleasure—is itself an as-if presentation of supremacy.[23] As a "chastened" sign of history it is a perversion of the very notions Kant was attempting to explore in the late historical and political writings, but it should not come as a surprise because British patriotic discourse claims "liberty" in an altogether different fashion than Kant’s analysis of the French Revolution. Throughout this phantasmatic exchange the particular term "Briton" trumps any universal notion of the human; English "liberty" overrules any abstract notion of freedom as the tendency toward the moral idea of the Absolute Good; and thus the story inexorably reverts to arrogant attributions of God’s will. As Kaja Silverman states, all adverse incidents, all "sufferings and defeats of the fantasizing subject are dramatized in order to make the final victory appear all the more glorious and triumphant" (196). Imperial Britain’s calamities in America and Mysore are transformed into exemplary and necessary punishments which presage a level of future supremacy only God can bestow, because it has not—and we might add, will not—come to pass. But the supposed deviations from appropriate national character—Britons’ flirtations with hybrid forms of sociability whether they be understood as Indianization or Francophilia—for which the nation has been chastened or is to be chastened will become all too evident in the emergent patriotisms of the early nineteenth century. They will become the negative ground from which racialized notions of national election are activated and maintained.


1. The canonical treatment of this misadventure remains Guha.

2. What I am describing here is not that distant from the notion of "traumatic nationalism" recently articulated by Berlant (1-4). I have also explored this issue in "The State of Things." For my discussion of the Tipu plays at Astley's and Sadler's Wells see Staging Governance, 312-48.

3. Cornwallis became Governor-General of Bengal in 1786.

4. See Wickwire for a detailed account of the place of prior American experience in Cornwallis's correspondence on Medows' failures in Mysore in 1790.

5. This account was first published in the Madras Courier and reprinted in Gentleman's Magazine. For thorough accounts of the discursive construction of this event and its significance for popular acceptance of British policy in India see Marshall, 71-2 and Teltscher, 248-51.

6. See Forrest, 347-50 for a discussion of the pictorial representations of Cornwallis's victory.

7. See Casid.

8. The World (Calcutta), 28 April 1792. Except where otherwise noted all newspaper accounts are from this issue.

9. The World (Calcutta), 28 April 1792.

10. Madras Courier, 17 May 1792.

11. This word is illegible.

12. The World (Calcutta), 28 April 1792.

13. The World (Calcutta), 28 April 1792.

14. See Barrell's reading of the Lyttleton prospect in “Spring,” English Literature in History, 56-61.

15. See Addison, ll. 145-8.

16. See Addison ll. 131-40.

17. For evidence of Cornwallis's fear of interracial relations see Wickwire, 110. As C.A. Bayly argues, "Cornwallis moved heavily against European revenue officers involved in Indian trade and tried to create a wall of regulations to separate the Indian and European worlds” (149). See Bayly (133-62) for wide-ranging account of the consolidation of racial and social hierarchies from the Governor-Generalship of Cornwallis. Beth Fowkes Tobin, in Picturing Imperial Power (117-8) also argues Cornwallis's reforms were designed not only to minimize the amount of intermingling between British and Indian subject in the realms of commerce and civil administration, but also to avert miscegenation. See Collingham, 51-89 for a detailed account the segregation policies which eventually infused nineteenth-century Anglo-Indian relations. See also Sen, 119-49 for a discussion of “the decline of intimacy" promulgated during the Raj.

18. See Reik, 304 for a discussion of the manipulation of “adverse incidents” in masochistic fantasy.

19. As P.J. Marshall notes, Sir George Hilario Barlow "was very closely concerned with the devising and implementing of the permanent settlement of Bengal revenue enacted by Cornwallis in 1793. He was given responsibility for drafting the judicial regulations, known as the Cornwallis code. Barlow's correspondence with Cornwallis shows his total commitment to the principles embodied in the permanent settlement: security of property and government accountable to law. Cornwallis was generous enough to say that his ‘system' had been based on ‘adopting and patronizing your suggestions.'"

20. For an extended discussion of this biopolitical turn in imperial performance see Staging Governance, 260-8.

21. See Stoler, 95-136 for a similar set of arguments regarding coloniality, biopolitics and governmentality.

22. See Wahrman, Bradley, Linda Colley, Britons, Clark, Miller, Wilson, Gould, Pocock, Virtue, Commerce and History and The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800 (246-282).

23. See Lyotard, 161-71.

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