'The Gravity of the Blunder'
The British Raj reached its apogee in 1903, with a grand durbar in Delhi, a ceremonial gathering to which all the princes and leaders of India were summoned to celebrate the accession of the new king-emperor, Edward VII, and to swear their fealty. Spread over two weeks, it was the most splendid display of wealth and power ever seen in the sub-continent, far outweighing the magnificence of the Mughals. And it was the brainchild of Lord Curzon, the most splendid of all the governors-general. Curzon, who had been appointed viceroy in 1898 at the tender age of 39, had been branded for life by a rhyme written by two fellow undergraduates at Balliol College, Oxford:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.
The doggerel may have been mocking, but it was accurate. Curzon was always a decidedly superior person, especially in his own eyes. Curzon had many qualities, but he also had two overriding faults: like so many clever people, he was utterly insensitive to the feelings of others, particularly those less fortunate than himself; and he was politically obtuse. Indeed, he seemed to despise politics, as though its intrigues were beneath him.
No one could have been better qualified for the position of viceroy than George Curzon. He had spent most of his life preparing himself for it, having decided as a boy that there were only two worthwhile goals in life: to be viceroy of India and prime minister of Great Britain. He saw no reason why he should not achieve both, using one as a stepping-stone to the other. As part of his preparation for the viceroyship, he had travelled widely in the Far East, in Persia, Afghanistan