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For over 200 years the East India Company, a joint-stock corporation of London traders with shares which were daily bought and sold on the Exchange, functioned as the de facto government of India, exercising sovereignty over some 250,000,000 people. Gardner (The African Dream, 1970) traces the Company's history from the 1609 voyage of its first envoy, William Hawkins, to the carnage of the Sepoy Mutiny, in the wake of which India was finally made a Crown colony. In his hands it's a tale of self-justifying imperialism -- another rehash of the ever popular myth of how the British blundered into Empire while pursuing only peaceful pounds and shillings. The long line of Governor Generals who administered India following the ouster of the Dutch and the French are endowed by the noblest of Kiplingesque virtues: ""lt was duty, and duty alone, which spurred him on,"" writes Gardner of Cornwallis; and the same goes for Warren Hastings, Richard Wellesley, Bentinck, and the rest. Under their selfless guidance, ""the Indians of Bengal and the Carnatic had not been better ruled for centuries"" -- this despite excerpts from their correspondence which paint the natives as curs, cowards, and ""the most mischievous, deceitful race of people I have ever seen."" The rapacity, nepotism, drunkenness and opium addiciton of the Company's servants are alluded to parenthetically as a kind of inevitable by-product of climate and cholera, and Edmund Burke's classic denunciation of the imperialists during the impeachment proceedings against Hastings is dismissed as ""rubbish."" Gardner plays down the Nabob fortunes and does not bother to take up the vital question of the role which the wealth of the India-China trade played in supplying capital for the take-off of the English Industrial Revolution. By contrast he is lavish with the horrors of the Black Hole and the Cawnpore massacre and the military details of conquest and expansion are presented with energy. Upholds the White Man's Burden with fortitude, banners flying, profits soaring.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1971
Publisher: McCall