A prejudiced work
Granskad i Storbritannien den 17 oktober 2019
The book opens with a list of characters, beginning with Lord Robert Clive, whom Mr Dalrymple hates. It's followed by Warren Hastings whom he loves. Clive, he describes as a 'genuinely...a ruthless unprincipled plunderer,' p 311 and yet on p 312 we read of Hasting's excesses, which appear to have included 'judicial murder,' and yet still he loves him. He'll forgive him anything, and is very happy to remind us that upon impeachment Warren Hastings was cleared of all charges but is pretty quiet about Clive who was cleared of all charges that had been levelled against him long before.
The book is a chronology of the Mughals and the how the British gained India, the heavy-handed, brutal antics of the East India Company and its British officers. He singles out Lord Robert Clive. He attacks him in a personal, vindictive way, which not only smacks of amateurism but reads as though he's trying to appease a little gang somewhere. It made me focus on it. He makes him the villain of the piece. Yet from Clive's correspondence, (not quoted in this book), we read that this same man, upon purchasing of land in Wales and on the Welsh borders, pored over the maps to ask which tenant farmed what type of land and, where they were farming marginal hill land, reduced their rent to a 'homage rent,' peppercorn, which is not consistent with the bigoted picture Mr. Dalrymple paints. He's equally rude about the Powis family, but I notice, but didn't have the grace to visit any of them during his research, as Bence Jones had in his book Clive of India, who went to see the Earl of Plymouth and gathered a lot of personal information thereby. Obviously Mr Dalrymple considers himself above common courtesy.
Later in the book, he accuses Henrietta Clive who went to India to join her husband Edward, Governor of Madras, of carrying off jewels looted from Tipu Sultan's palace after his defeat by Richard Wellesley in 1799 (p 353). She paid for them. Had she not bought them where would they be now? Not in an Indian museum for certain. They'd have been lost. Today they form part of a collection of the National Trust in Powys Castle. It's reminiscent of the Elgin Marbles: had Elgin not recovered these, where would they have been now? In Greek hands? Or more likely, become target practice, smashed up and turned into foundation rubble for a block of flats. Had Robert Clive, Lord Robert Clive's great-grandson, not gone as watercolour artist to record the excavations at of the Assyrian reliefs in Nimroud and imported to England The Assyrian King Tukul-apil-esharra III (Tiglath-pileser III) bas relief, (which now hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum), where would that be now? Robert Clive painted the lamassu - the monolithic stone sculptures of human headed winged bulls - which Layard shipped to England, which were exhibited in a the British Museum this year. The ones that remained ISIS blew up and defaced, whose shattered remains vividly demonstrate. Perhaps it might have been a little less spiteful to thank Henrietta Clive for saving these treasures. And Lady Clive, Lord Robert Clive's wife, Margaret Maskelyne - whose character he attempts to assassinate by first of all attempting to demonise her brother, Dr. Nevil Maskelyne, Astronomer Royal, whom Dava Sobel turned into the blockhead of her book Longitude, then secondly by telling us of a report from The Salisbury Journal that her 'pet ferret had a diamond necklace £2,500' (p 140). It was a joke Mr Dalrymple, a satirical joke. She didn't really have a pet ferret with a diamond necklace, you see. To try to pass that one off as fact is a bit cheap. And another, if a beggar asked charity of Clive, he reputedly responded: 'Friend, I have no small brilliants about me,' is another joke, Mr Dalrymple: a skit. It's depressing to encounter an historian so unfamiliar with 18th Century satire and humour as to miss it again and again. It might explain why his own book is so shorn of it. Usually I look forward to my bed time read but not this one. I slogged on to encounter yet more dubiously executed insults of Clive.
We are told that after Plassey Clive 'wore six or seven bracelets, every one of a different species of gem; and he also had hanging from his neck, over his breast, three or four chaplets of pearls, every one of inestimable value...He at the same time amused himself with listening to the songs and looking at the dances of a number of singers, who he carried around with him wherever he went on elephants.' Pull the other one - it's way out of character. Moreover, given that Mr Dalrymple assures us how much Clive hated India and the Indians it seems pretty unlikely that he would go around dressed or behaving like one. As a source he quotes Ghulam Hussan Khan, whoever he is, it reads to me that Ghulam Hussan Khan cracked another satirical joke, another Mr Dalrymple missed.
On page 263, he delivers another twist of spite where Shah Alam writes a letter to his fellow monarch George III in England, sending along a nazr (ceremonial gift) of rare jewels worth Rs100,000 (£1M today we are advised). Neither letters nor gift reached their destination. The inference being Clive stole them.
Ships sunk, Mr Dalrymple. Cargoes never reached England. Many fortunes were lost at sea. Including gifts from potentates, one to another. Check your shipping and you'll find out.
This book is a slog. There are no insightful little cameos of what it must have been like to have been a sepoy, or gunner or mahoot in the Indian army, or in the EIC army for that matter, no insight into the daily fare. For me, Dalrymple falls into the category of the dusty academic who manages to cram in every historical detail while missing the human story. It makes for heavy going: the book is thick, it's hard to hold in bed at night, the only place to read it is on a desk or table, I'd advise anyone thinking of buying it to get the Kindle version at you'll be spared the struggle.
The best line in the book comes right at the end when Shah Alam dies, which tells us that he was the last of the Timurid line, beginning with the lame and ending with the blind - but even they're not his words. They come from a quote by William Fraser, Ochterlony's deputy. p 387. Shah Alam had awarded the Diwani with Clive and his end was as a 'chessboard' king, with a pension paid by the EIC under the protection of Richard Wellesley, who 'conquered more of India than Napoleon did of Europe', become power-mad and turned into a something of a despot himself before being recalled to England for his excesses. His brother Arthur, later the Duke of Wellington, returned from India a very wealthy man as well. Do we hear any criticism of these? How they came by their loot?
The East India Company was a rotten business, and as he fairly states, an example of irresponsible corporate greed at its very worst but then so had been the South Sea Company, which very nearly brought down the entire British economy in the 1720s. Commerce, it would appear, does not learn.
All told, I found the book turgid and prejudiced. I'll certainly not pick it up again nor recommend it.
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