LADY OLDHAM: With the wealth of the East, we have too imported the worst of its vices.
(Samuel Foote, The Nabob, 1772:14) 1
When Thomas Coryate postured on the seventeenth-century stage of Mogul India, his aim was to acquire fame on the basis of his exotic “discoveries” of the fabled “India/Indies. ” While Coryate was largely forgotten by the mid-eighteenth century, India itself began to loom large in the popular imagination in Britain. The power of the East India Company had grown considerably by this time. And in 1757, when Robert Clive defeated Siraj-udDaula, the ruler of Bengal, in the famous battle of Plassey (replacing him with a pliant substitute), his victory opened the way for an untrammeled, monopolistic, and often ruthless, profiteering among Company officials. Such activities caused a widespread concern about the proper governance of India, leading to reforms in the trading practices of the Company officials undertaken by Lord Cornwallis in the 1790s. And an important consequence of these developments was the gradual replacement of Company officials by civil servants, which in turn led to direct British rule in the nineteenth century. It is clear, then, that while in the seventeenth century the interests of the state and the Company were closely related—coalescing, for instance, in the embassy of Sir Thomas Roe—by the mid-eighteenth century they were fraught with tensions “between the merchant’s desire to act as a state and the state’s desire to own the power of the merchant” (Suleri 1992:25).
It is not surprising that this transition from the Company’s commercial activities to direct political rule in the late eighteenth