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1527—1707. Commencement of the British Intercourse with
India ; and the Circumstances of its Progress, till the Establishment of the Company on a durable Basis by the Act of the Sixth of Queen
Anne. Two centuries have elapsed, since a few British merchants humbly solicited permission of the Indian princes to traffic in their dominions.
The British power at present embraces nearly the whole of that vast region, which extends from Cape Comorin to the mountains of Tibet, and from the mouths of the Brahmapootra to the Indus.
In the present undertaking, it is proposed to collect, from its numerous and scattered sources, the information necessary to convey correct and adequate ideas of this empire, and of the transactions through which it has been acquired; and, for that purpose,
BOOK I. 1. To describe the circumstances in which the
intercourse of the British nation with India commenced, and the particulars of its early progress, till the era when it could first be regarded as placed on a firm and durable basis:
II. To exhibit as accurate a view as possible of the character, the history, the manners, religion, arts, literature, and laws of the extraordinary people with whom this intercourse had thus begun; as well as of the physical circumstances, the climate, the soil, and productions, of the country in which they were placed :
III. To deduce to the present times a history of that part of the British transactions, which have had an immediate relation to India; recording the train of events; unfolding the constitution of that Body, half political, half commercial, through which the business has been ostensibly performed ; describing the nature, the progress, and effects of its commercial operations; exhibiting the legislative proceedings, the discussions and speculations, to which the connexion of Great Britain with India has given birth; analyzing the schemes of government which she has adopted for her Indian dominions; and attempting to discover the character and tendency of that species of relation to one another in which the mother country and her eastern dependencies are placed.
The subject forms an entire, and highly interesting, portion of the British History; and it is hardly possible that the matter should have been brought together, for the first time, without being instructive, how unskilfully soever the task may have been performed. If the success corresponded with the wishes
of the author, he would throw light upon a state of BOOK I. society, curious, and commonly misunderstood; upon the history of society, which in the compass of his work presents itself in almost all its stages and all its shapes; upon the principles of legislation, in which he has so many important experiments to describe; and upon interests of his country, of which, to a great degree, his countrymen have remained in ignorance, while prejudice usurped the prerogatives of understanding.
From the Commencement of the Efforts to begin a
Trade with India, till the Change of the Company from a regulated to a joint-stock Company.
The Portuguese had formed important establishments in India, before the British offered themselves as competitors for the riches of the East.
From the time when Vasco de Gama distinguished his nation by discovering the passage round the Cape of Good Hope, a whole century had elapsed, during which, without a rival, the Portuguese had enjoyed, and abused, the advantages of superior knowledge and art, amid a feeble and half-civilized people. They had explored the Indian ocean, as far as Japan; had discovered its islands, rich with some of the favourite productions of nature; had achieved the most brilliant conquests; and, by their commerce, poured into Europe, in unexampled pro
BOOK I. fusion, those commodities of the East, on which the CHAP. 1. !
nations at that time set an extraordinary value.
The circumstances of this splendid fortune had violently attracted the attention of Europe. The commerce of India, even when confined to those narrow limits which a carriage by land had prescribed, was supposed to have elevated feeble states into great ones; and to have constituted an enviable part in the fortune even of the most opulent and powerful: to have contributed largely to support the Grecian monarchies both in Syria and Egypt; to have retarded the downfall of Constantinople; and to have raised the small and obscure republic of Venice to the rank and influence of the most potent kingdoms. The discovery therefore of a new channel for this opulent traffic, and the happy experience of the Portuguese, inflamed the cupidity of all the maritime nations of Europe, and set before them the most tempting prospects.
An active spirit of commerce had already begun to display itself in England. The nation had happily obtained its full share of the improvement which had dawned in Europe; and the tranquil and economical reign of Elizabeth had been favourable both to the accumulation of capital, and to those projects of private emolument on which the spirit of commerce depends. A brisk trade, and of considerable extent, had been carried on during the greater part of the sixteeenth century with the Netherlands, at that time the most improved and commercial part of Europe. The merchants of Bristol had opened a traffic with the Canary Islands; those of Plymouth with the coasts of Guinea and Brazil: the English
now fished on the banks of Newfoundland; and BOOK I.
CHAP. 1. explored the sea of Spitzbergen, for the sovereign of the waters: they engrossed, by an exclusive privi- 1527. lege, the commerce of Russia: they took an active part in the trade of the Mediterranean: the company of merchant-adventurers pushed so vigorously the traffic with Germany and the central parts of Europe, as highly to excite the jealousy of the Hans Towns: and the protestant inhabitants of the Netherlands and France, flying from the persecutions of their own oppressive and bigoted governments, augmented the commercial resources of England by the capital and skill of a large importation of the most ingenious and industrious people in Europe.
In these circumstances, the lustre of the Portuguese transactions in the East peculiarly attracted the admiration of the English. Already a most adventurous spirit of navigation was roused in the nation. The English were the first who had imitated the example of the Spaniards in visiting the New World. In 1497, Cabot, with a small squadron, explored the coast of America, from Labrador to Virginia, and discovered the islands of Newfoundland and St. John. An English merchant, named Robert Thorne, who had been stationed for many years at Seville in Spain, and had acquired particular knowledge of the intercourse which the Portuguese had opened with the East, presented a project to Henry VIII, about
Anderson's History of Commerce in the reign of Elizabeth, passim. See also Hakluyt's Voyages, ii. 3, 96. Ibid. iii. 690. Guicciardini's Description of the Netherlands. Sir William Temple. Camden, 408.
? Hakluyt, iii. 4. Rymer's Fædera, xii. 595. Anderson's History of Commerce, published in Macpherson's Annals, ii. 11. Robertson's History of America, iv. 138.