Monday, March 13, 2017

50% mortality in exchange for a 20% chance of striking it rich

From Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson, starting page 36.
Of course, not every East India Company writer became a Clive. Of a sample of 645 civil servants who went to Bengal, more than half died in India. Of the 178 who returned to Britain, a fair number — around a quarter — were not especially wealthy. As Samuel Johnson said to Boswell: 'A man had better have ten thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in England, than twenty thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in India, because you must compute what you give for money; and a man who has lived ten years in India, has given up ten years of social comfort and all those advantages which arise from living in England'.

Nevertheless, a new word was about to enter the English language: the `nabob', a corruption of the Indian princely title of nawab. The nabobs were men like Pitt, Clive and Hastings, who brought their Indian fortunes back home and converted them into imposing stately homes like Pitt's at Swallow-field, Clive's at Claremont or Hastings's at Daylesford. Nor did they confine themselves to buying real estate. It was with money he had made in India that Thomas Pitt bought the Parliamentary seat of Old Sarum, that notorious `rotten borough' which his more famous grandson later represented in the House of Commons. It was magnificent hypocrisy on William Pitt's part when he complained in January 1770:
The riches of Asia have been poured in upon us, and brought with them not only Asiatic luxury, but, I fear, Asiatic principles of government .. . The importers of foreign gold have forced their way into Parliament, by such a torrent of private corruption, as no private hereditary fortune could resist.

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