Macaulay: Essay on Clive
edited with Introduction and Notes
by Vincent A. Smith, C.I.E.
M.A. (Dublin and Oxon), Hon. Litt.D. (Dublin), I.C.S. Retired; Author of 'The Oxford Student's History of India', etc.
London: Oxford University Press, Humphrey Milford, 1911
Smith's introductory comments:
Macaulay's 'Essay on Clive', unlike that on Warren Hastings, is essentially true history, to be prized not only as a masterpiece of English prose, but as a sober historical narrative and judicious criticism. The reason of the difference between the two compositions is that the essayist when discussing the career of Hastings was dazzled by the glare of Burke's eloquence and biased by the weight of Whig tradition, whereas he was free to examine the case of Clive with an unprejudiced mind. Moreover, when writing the story of the victor of Plassey, he could draw his facts from the rich store provided by Orme's masterly narrative, the accuracy of which, save in one detail, is unquestioned.
The solitary exception to Orme's accuracy is his account of the effect produced on the mind of Omichand (Aminchand) by the lamentable deception with which Clive stained his soul. Documentary evidence proves clearly that Orme was misinformed, and that the banker recovered from the shock of disappointment sufficiently to resume the transaction of business with Englishmen and to execute a will in 1759 bequeathing large sums to both Sikh and British charities, including £2,000 for the Foundling Hospital in London, established in 1739. Macaulay is not to be blamed for accepting Orme's authority.
All the biographers of Clive, except Sir John Malcolm, are agreed that his breach of faith to Aminchand cannot be justified. The trick, by reason of the discredit cast on the British reputation for straight dealing, was as impolitic as it was dishonourable. Aminchand's services, as Macaulay truly states, had been great, and the price agreed on, although high, was due. However knavish and tricky Aminchand may have been, it is impossible to contest the justice of Orme's remark that 'the 2,000,000 rupees he expected should have been paid to him, and he left to enjoy them in oblivion and contempt'. Macaulay was mistaken in believing Aminchand to have been a Bengali; there is no doubt that he was a Sikh. The errors concerning Aminchand are the only serious mistakes of fact in the essay.
Among the few minor errors the only one worthy of notice here is the statement that the authorities at Madras, within forty-eight hours after the receipt of the intelligence of the Black Hole tragedy, determined that an expedition should be sent to Bengal with Clive in command of the land forces. In reality, as Orme tells us, 'two months passed in debates before these final resolutions were taken, and then the embarkation began'. The historian explains the delay by stating that the command to which Clive was ultimately appointed was claimed by both Mr. Pigot, the Governor, and Colonel Aldercorne.
Subject to such slight correction Macaulay's summary of the facts of Clive's career may be accepted.