Perhaps the most significant, and certainly the most highly respected, “imperialist” writer was Kipling. He was however a more complicated figure than popular legend suggests: the Anglo-Indian stories with which he first made his name were as much cynical as heroic., while many of his admirers must have found his later work disappointingly cryptic or oblique. But he was also a publicist of genius, with an unsurpassed knack of coining catch-phrases and investing his fables with cartoon-like pungency. ‘If’ -, ‘The White Man’s Burden’, ‘What Do They Know of England’ and a score of other poems rapidly became part of the folklore of imperialism, as near to tribal lays as anything the period can show . Nor was it simply a question of exhortations and rousing appeals. Even more important, in poems like ‘The Overland Mail’, Kipling made the routine existence of the Empire seem interesting and momentous as never before.
Learn how the British people with a population of 45 million governed and administered the law to a quarter of the worlds land mass and population in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Topics included are - imperial fever, indian civil service, haileybury school and dr. arnold, victorian character, school for empire, play the game of life,patriotism, rudyard kipling, g.a.henty, osborne house, victoria and albert, imperialist mass media, lord baden-powell, music halls, london- hub of empire, seats of power, market of the world, naughty nineties, the far flung imperial army, poor army funding, guns that won the empire, anglo-indians at work and play, district officers in india, calcutta and simla, right to rule, royal navy, samuel pepys, a sailors life, coming of steam, Crimean war, the imperial machine, rule of law, governorship of a british colony, the crown agents,rule of law, who ran india, imperial estates, industrial revolution, great exhibition 1851, stephenson’s rocket, richard arkwright, grand tour of europe, cook’s tours, tour of the nile valley, tour of orient, cruising, british commonwealth, birth of dominions,civil war in ireland, eamon de valera, michael collins.
Victorians and Empire tells how during the last 30 years or so of the Victorian Age, large numbers of British became conscious as never before of their imperial role. The very word “Imperialism” had previously carried an unpleasant (and un-English) taint of military despotism; now it was seized upon eagerly and acclaimed as the expression of an ennobling ideal.
Where the empire had once been regarded as a political device, mainly of interest to those directly involved in its workings, it was now a hallowed birthright, a source of intoxicating mass enthusiasm that combined naive racialism with religious dedication, thoughtful poetry with hack literature, and popular entertainment with high-minded government service.
The imperial fever that struck Britain at the end of the 19th Century was in many ways a sign of weakness rather than strength, a reaction to external rivalry or fear of internal disruption. It was fear of Russian expansion towards Constantinople and Suez in 1877 that inspired the music hall song : -
“We don't want to fight
But by jingo if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men
And got the money too.”
Apologists for the Raj, with memories of the Indian Mutiny fresh in their minds insisted on the permanent , if not positively eternal nature of the British presence in India. In 1877 the Queen was proclaimed Empress of India giving notice to both the natives and to potential interlopers (in effect - the Russians) that the British were in India to stay. Disraeli, who had won the new title for her from parliament, had already sensed - prematurely as it turned out - that the imperial cause could be a vote-winner if it were presented with enough theatrical flair.
Another new development of the 1870‘s was the imperial federation movement . In the course of the decade and the one which followed, a large number of schemes were put forward, mainly by the Liberals, for binding the white colonies much more closely to the motherland by means of a federal system, before they went their own way and were beyond recall. It was widely believed that such a system was a practical possibility, now that distance had been abolished by the steamship and the telegraph.
It was of course, generally true that imperialism rested on racist assumptions, and there were those who elevated these assumptions into an ideology, the basis for which was Darwins’s ‘Origin of the Species’. With his theory of evolution through natural selection and the survival of the fittest, Darwin provided a rationale for those who believed that the existence of the Empire proved the British were selected by Nature to rule.
Others saw British superiority not as something inevitable, but as something sacred to be preserved at all costs in the face of threats from inferior races. In ‘National Life and Character’, C.H. Pearson argued that other racial groups could insidiously undercut and undersell white labour, which should carefully be protected from the non-white competition.
Less systematic racial doctrines obtained an ever more widespread hearing. From the time of Sir Charles Dilke’s ‘Greater Britain’ (1868), for instance, it was increasingly argued that the English-speaking peoples, if they worked in unison, had it in their power to inherit the earth. Occasionally, too, the Germans were allowed to join the club - it was not just a private whim that led Cecil Rhodes to set aside a number of Rhodes scholarships for them. Many prophets of imperialism transferred to the idea of Empire, emotions which they would previously have invested in religion. In a man like Kipling, descended on both sides from Methodist ministers, it is not hard to see an Evangelical sensibility still at work after it had been almost completely severed from orthodox religious beliefs.
The men who actually ran the Empire also contributed to the development of the ‘mystique’ . The late Victorians and early 20th century imperial governors - or ‘proconsuls’ as they liked to term themselves - had a lofty sense of their own calling, not only Cromer, Curzon and Milner, to cite the most famous, but the hundreds of lesser lights - above all in India - of the administrative elite. Reforms after the 1857 Mutiny transformed the Indian administration from a private guild under the East India company into a public institution under the Crown.
Apart from possible family ties, what was it that persuaded men who could have enjoyed highly successful careers at home to spend their working lives in India? A certain adventurousness, no doubt, social prestige, the chance to exercise power - and not least, extremely good rates of pay. But at the same time it would be a great mistake to make light of the professional pride and sense of satisfaction which went with the job. Most members of the I.C.S. Were exceptionally hard working, conscientious and dedicated to their communal ideals, and it is here that their academic training was important. From their elitist education they had imbibed, almost without thinking about it a picture of themselves as a superior caste charged with the duty of preserving civilisation in India.
Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby in the early 19th Century, owed his reputation as the founder of the Victorian public school system and its ideals to his earnestness. One of his Oxford contemporaries joked that Arnold invented the word ‘earnest’ and brought the quality, the hallmark of the rising Evangelical movement, into the public schools, the nurseries of the statesmen and colonial governors. In 1828 the Trustees of Rugby were looking for a reforming but solid headmaster. The school itself and society as a whole demanded it.
Socially, it was an anxious time. The Industrial Revolution was gathering pace. A newly wealthy, ambitious middle class was threatening the traditional power of the gentry. Arnold at 33 was already a formidable figure, sure of his ground. His answer to indiscipline and outdated curricula at Rugby was godliness and good learning , with good learning a clear second: apart from introducing a little maths and history, he did very little to shift the curriculum's centre of gravity away from Latin and Greek prose.
Taking the existing ‘prefect’ system, he strengthened it as a task force for Godliness. Arnold achieved only a limited success before his death in 1842. Several of Arnold’s former pupils became in turn headmasters and moulded other public schools in the Arnold image. They now conformed with the evangelicals moral character of 19th century Britain. Though Godliness in time was displaced by late Victorian ideal of manliness, the steadfast pursuit of high ideals remained a central feature at home and among administrators of the Empire.
The public schools with their emphasis on Character, Manliness, and Sport, embodied the essence of the imperial ethic. Of all the public schools Haileybury, had the closest connections with Empire. It was founded in 1809 as the East India Company College.; then in 1862, after the Company had been taken over by the Crown, the college was reconstituted as an independent school. Through a curriculum that combined classical study and practical Christianity, the future guardians of the Empire - most of them boys from solid middle-class families - were taught the ideals of dedicated, disinterested service. When these photographs of the school were taken near the turn of the century, the tradition of imperial service was still strong.
The tradition of the ‘thoroughbred’ Anglo Indian who’s ‘blood’ in the words of one Anglo Indian commentator “has distilled through Haileybury for three generations and whose cousins to the fourth degree are Collectors and Indian Army colonels”.
The ideal schoolboy did not have to be academically bright, but if he had ‘grit’ if he was a ‘sport’ if he believed in his country, he would soon learn to respect and use authority. As a fag in his first few terms he learned to submit; as a prefect he learned to rule, in accordance with the system established by Dr. Arnold
The Headmaster of Rugby had, in the 1830‘s increased the authority held by the schoolboys themselves. As the historian and political writer George Trevelyan wrote “The real education of a civil servant consists in the responsibility that devolves on him at an early age.
On the playing-field, the public-school-boy, learned the importance of teamwork and fair play. ”It would be terrible to think what would happen to us if from our public school system were swept away our Athletics and our Games“, said Eustace Mile, amateur tennis champion of the world in 1899, an apt sentiment from one who believed that the best proof of a mans fitness to rule India was a to have been “Captain of Games” at school.
These were the traditions that built up the unshakeable belief among Victorian public schoolboys that the British held a god-given monopoly of wise rule, the traditions that created in Trevelyan’s words “the fire of zeal which glows in every vein of an Indian Official”. The tradition was remarkably long-lasting.
It was the men of the I.C.S. therefore, who were the vanguard of the imperial ethic. They wrote copiously, and they presented themselves as ‘pro-consuls’ - guardians of a secret trust, master builders of civilisation.
But the British as opposed to the Romans as the 19th century wore on was increasingly only one among a group of competing empires, each with its own characteristic version of the imperial credo.
The spirit of imperialism was abroad in many countries and in many guises. As senior practitioners, the British prophets of Empire generally enjoyed an advantage when it came to an exchange of ideas. The international climate, undoubtedly fortified English imperialists in their conviction that they were right both from the immediate standpoint of British self-interest and in their basic reading of human nature. If they saw their more formidable rivals, especially the Germans gaining economic and industrial ground at their expense, they could comfort themselves with the thought that no other empire was likely to approach theirs in size and diversity.
The public schools intended to turn out gentlemen in general rather than Empire Builders in particular, helped form the imperial outlook and the Empire in turn increasingly gave them their rationale. Headmasters tended to make a cult of patriotism for, although the chapel and the sermon were still an essential part of school routine, religion was no longer the driving force that it had been at Rugby. Sometimes patriotism meant more than pious uplift: in 1900 for example the headmaster of Eton, Dr. Warre, urged the government without success, to insist that the public schools gave their boys six months worth of compulsory military training. Distinguished visitors too, waxed eloquent on the imperial theme. It was an address given to the boys at Eton by Colonial Under-Secretary Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, that first kindled in the ambitious young Curzon, future Viceroy of India, a sense of his own destiny.
The literature of public school life enshrined the fierce conviction that as far as possible the study of patriotism be promoted on a daily basis. In Horace Annesley Vachell’s ‘The Hill’ (1905) a classic specimen of the public school story, the exemplary Desmond is first licked into shape by Harrow and then, after enlisting in the Army, goes off to lay down his life on the South African Veld.
For advertisers the turn-of-the-century fad for all things imperial was a god-send. The Empire was a permanent source of second-hand excitement, a stage show of exploitation and warfare with all suffering either romanticised or removed. In the clichés suggested by “Queen, Empire and British Character”, manufacturers had ideal material: dramatic, colourful and flattering to patriotic self-esteem.
Inevitably, adventure stories for boys also followed the flag. The unrivalled master here, was G.A. Henty, who between 1870 and his death in 1902 turned out over 80 sagas of juvenile pluck. Henty himself led an adventurous life, mainly as a foreign correspondent, which took in the Crimean War, the campaigns of Garibaldi and the Paris Commune as well as various imperial excursions. Without preaching any high flown political lessons, Henty implied that the Empire was the most natural setting for displays of valour.
The very titles of Henty’s books constitute a miniature imperial gazetteer, punctuated by appropriate battle-cries: ‘With Clive in India’, ‘St. George for England’,‘ Maori and Settler’, ‘By Right of Conquest’, ‘With Wolfe in Canada’, ‘The Dash for Khartoum’. A Henty hero might equally well expect to find himself On the Irrawaddy or Under Wellington’s Command. In ‘For Name and Fame’, he accompanies Roberts to Kabul; and although one of Henty’s imitators Captain Brereton, was first off the mark, with the book, ‘With Roberts to Kandahar“, Henty regained his customary lead using, ‘With Roberts to Pretoria’. These tales would not be as readable as they are if Henty had not stuck, almost literally to his guns. He was preoccupied with the deeds that won the Empire rather than the men who administered it.
Many of Henty’s stories first saw the light in the pages of such papers as Chums, The Captain, the Union Jack and Boy’s Own Paper (the legendary “B.O.P.”). From about 1880 magazines like these found their way into countless middle-class homes. Unlike their predecessors, the ‘penny dreadfuls’, they were generally approved of by parents and one sure pledge of their respectability was the amount of space they gave to stories with an imperial slant. Where Sweeney Todd and Spring-Heeled Jack had once held sway there were now tales of desperate odds in Matabeleland and courage among the Ashanti.
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