George Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

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As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it, we shall drop straight away to a third-rate Power.

George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, (11 January 185920 March 1925), known as The Lord Curzon of Kedleston between 1898 and 1911 and as The Earl Curzon of Kedleston between 1911 and 1921, was a British Conservative statesman who was Viceroy of India and Foreign Secretary, but who was passed over as Prime Minister in 1923 in favour of Stanley Baldwin. The Curzon Line was named after him.

Quotes[edit]

  • The miracle of the world...the biggest thing that the English are doing anywhere.
    • On British rule in India, quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969), p. 256
  • We are ordained to walk here in the same track together for many a long day to come. You cannot do without us. We should be impotent without you. Let the Englishman and the Indian accept the consecration of a union that is so mysterious as to have in it something of the divine, and let our common ideal be a united country and a happier people.
    • Speech as the Chancellor of the University of Calcutta (15 February 1902), quoted in Lord Curzon in India, Being A Selection from His Speeches as Viceroy & Governor-General of India 1898-1905 (1906), p. 489
  • Powerful empires existed and flourished here while Englishmen were still wandering painted in the woods, and when the British Colonies were wilderness and jungle; and India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind than any other terrestrial unit in the universe.
    • Address at the state banquet in Delhi (1 January 1903), quoted in Speeches by Lord Curzon of Kedleston, Viceroy and Governor General of India. Vol. III. 1902–1904 (1904), p. 99
  • I believe that the Durbar, more than any event in modern history, showed to the Indian people the path which, under the guidance of Providence, they are treading, taught the Indian Empire its unity, and impressed the world with its moral as well as material force. It will not be forgotten. The sound of the trumpets has already died away; the captains and the kings have departed; but the effect produced by this overwhelming display of unity and patriotism is still alive and will not perish. Everywhere it is known that upon the throne of the East is seated a power that has made of the sentiments, the aspirations, and the interests of 300 millions of Asiatics a living thing, and the units in that great aggregation have learned that in their incorporation lies their strength. As a disinterested spectator of the Durbar remarked, Not until to-day did I realise that the destinies of the East still lie, as they always have done, in the hollow of India’s hand. I think, too, that the Durbar taught the lesson not only of power but of duty. There was not an officer of Government there present, there was not a Ruling Prince nor a thoughtful spectator, who must not at one moment or other have felt that participation in so great a conception carried with it responsibility as well as pride, and that he owed something in return for whatever of dignity or security or opportunity the Empire had given him.
    • Budget Speech (25 March 1903), quoted in Lord Curzon in India, Being A Selection from His Speeches as Viceroy & Governor-General of India 1898-1905 (1906), pp. 308-309
We are ordained to walk here in the same track together for many a long day to come. You cannot do without us. We should be impotent without you. Let the Englishman and the Indian accept the consecration of a union that is so mysterious as to have in it something of the divine, and let our common ideal be a united country and a happier people.
  • If I had done nothing else in India I have written my name here, and the letters are a living joy.
  • To fight for the right, to abhor the imperfect, the unjust, or the mean, to swerve neither to the right hand nor to the left, to care nothing for flattery or applause or odium or abuse—it is so easy to have any of them in India—never to let your enthusiasm be soured or your courage grow dim, but to remember that the Almighty has placed your hand on the greatest of His ploughs, in whose furrow the nations of the future are germinating and taking shape, to drive the blade a little forward in your time, and to feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist—that is enough, that is the Englishman's justification in India. It is good enough for his watchword while he is here, for his epitaph when he is gone. I have worked for no other aim. Let India be my judge.
    • Speech at the Byculla Club in Bombay (16 November 1905) two days before he left India, quoted in Lord Curzon in India, Being A Selection from His Speeches as Viceroy & Governor-General of India 1898-1905 (1906), pp. 589-590
  • No one believes more firmly than we do that the safety and welfare of India depend on the permanence of British administration.
    • Letter to Lord Minto (1907), quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969), p. 256
  • As long as we rule India, we are the greatest power in the world. If we lose it, we shall drop straight away to a third-rate Power.
    • Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969), p. 256
  • The British people realise that they are fighting for the hegemony of the Empire. If necessary we shall continue the war single-handed.
    • Remarks recorded in King Albert I of Belgium's diary (7 February 1916), quoted in R. van Overstraeten (ed.), The War Diaries of Albert I King of the Belgians (1954), p. 85
  • In a few weeks, or at most a few months, thanks to the skill of the Allied Commanders and the bravery of their men, the objects for which we and they have endured more than four years of sacrifice and suffering have been attained. The lands upon which the enemy had laid his cruel and predatory hand are in course of being evacuated. The exiled peoples are returning in joyous crowds across the war frontiers to their homes. The military power of the enemy is broken. His resources are spent. His armaments are in course of being surrendered. Hope breathes again in the souls of the unhappy peoples whom he has trampled in the mire. The impious spirit that claimed that Might was superior to Right and that there was no law but that of successful violence in the world has been exorcised, let us hope for ever. The conflict for international honour, righteousness, and freedom has been won, and the authors of this vast and wicked conspiracy against the liberties of mankind are fugitives on the face of the earth. My Lords, this is a great hour. It has been a wonderful victory. Are we presumptuous if we see in it the judgment of a Higher Power upon panoplied arrogance and enthroned wrong?
[Frenchmen] are not the sort of people one would go tiger-shooting with.
  • We may also, I think, congratulate ourselves on the part that the British Empire has played in this struggle, and on the position which it fills at the close. Among the many miscalculations of the enemy was the profound conviction, not only that we had a "contemptible little Army," but that we were a doomed and decadent nation. The trident was to be struck from our palsied grasp, the Empire was to crumble at the first shock; a nation dedicated, as we used to be told, to pleasure-taking and the pursuit of wealth was to be deprived of the place to which it had ceased to have any right, and was to be reduced to the level of a second-class, or perhaps even of a third-class Power. It is not for us in the hour of victory to boast that these predictions have been falsified; but, at least, we may say this—that the British Flag never flew over a more powerful or a more united Empire than now; Britons never had better cause to look the world in the face; never did our voice count for more in the councils of the nations, or in determining the future destinies of mankind. That that voice may be raised in the times that now lie before us in the interests of order and liberty, that that power may be wielded to secure a settlement that shall last, that that Flag may be a token of justice to others as well as of pride to ourselves, is our united hope and prayer.
  • [Frenchmen] are not the sort of people one would go tiger-shooting with.
    • Leonard Mosley, Curzon: The End of an Epoch (London: Longmans, 1960), p. 210.
  • Obstinate, tiresome and stupid.
    • His opinion of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, quoted in Nicholas Mansergh, The Commonwealth Experience (1969), p. 224
  • Powerful empires existed and flourished here (in India) while Englishmen were still wandering, painted, in the woods, and while the British Colonies were still a wilderness and a jungle. India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind, than any other terrestrial unit in the universe.
    • Lord Curzon, while Viceroy of India, in his address at the Great Delhi Durbar in 1901. Quoted from Stephen Knapp, Mysteries of the Ancient Vedic Empire [1]
  • "I do not see how any Englishman, contrasting India as it now is with what it was, and would certainly have been under any other conditions than British rule, can fail to see that we came and have stayed here under no blind or capricious impulse, but in obedience to what some (of whom I am one) would call the decree of Providence, others the law of destinyin any case for the lasting benefit of millions of the human race. We often make great mistakes here: we are sometimes hard, and insolent, and overbearing: we are a good deal strangled with red tape. But none the less, I do firmly believe that there is no Government in the world (and I have seen most) that rests on so secure a moral basis, or that is more freely animated by duty.""
  • India was "the land not only of romance but of obligation." Curzon told members of the Bengal Chamber of Commerce at a dinner in 1903, "If I thought it were all for nothing, and that you and I ... were simply writing inscriptions on the sand to be washed out by the next tide, if I felt that we were not working here for the good of India in obedience to a higher law and to a nobler aim, then I would see the link that holds England and India together severed without a sigh. But it is because I believe in the future of this country, and in the capacity of our own race to guide it to goals that it has never hitherto attained, that I keep courage and press forward."47
  • Curzon told the Asiatic Society of Bengal: If there be any one who says to me that there is no duty devolving upon a Christian Government to preserve the monuments of a pagan art, or the sanctuaries of an alien faith, I cannot pause to argue with such a man. Art and beauty, and the reverence that is owing to all that has evoked human genius or has inspired human faith, are independent of creeds, and, in so far as they touch the sphere of religion, are embraced by the common religion of all mankind.... There is no principle of artistic discrimination between the mausoleum of the despot and the sepulchre of the saint. What is beautiful, what is historic, what tears the mask off the face of the past, and helps us to read its riddles, and to look it in the eyes-these, and not the dogmas of a combative theology, are the principle criteria to which we must look.52
  • "For where else in the world has a race gone forth and subdued, not a country or a kingdom, but a continent peopled, not by savage tribes, but by races with traditions and a civilisation older than our own, with a history not inferior to ours in dignity or romance; subduing them not to the law of the sword, but to the rule of justice, bringing peace and order and good government to nearly one-fifth of the entire human race, and holding them with so mild a restraint that the rulers are the merest handful against the ruled, a tiny speck of white foam upon a dark and thunderous ocean?"59
  • We endeavoured to frame a plague policy which should not do violence to the instincts and sentiments of the native population; a famine policy which should profit by the experience of the past and put us in a position to cope with the next visitation when unhappily it bursts upon us; an education policy which should free the intellectual activities of the Indian people, so keen and restless as they are, from the paralysing clutch of examinations; a railway policy that will provide administratively and financially for the great extension that we believe to lie before us; an irrigation policy that will utilise to the maximum, whether remuneratively or unremuneratively, all the available water resources of India, not merely in canals.... but in tanks and reservoirs and wells; a police policy that will raise standard of the only emblem of authority that the majority of the people see, and will free then from petty diurnal tyranny and oppression.... [T]he administrator looks rather to the silent and inarticulate masses, and if he can raise, even by a little, the level of material comfort and well-being in their lives, he has earned his reward....
  • We have endeavoured to render the land revenue more equable in its incidence, to lift the load of usury from the shoulders of the peasant, and to check that reckless alienation of the soil which in many parts of the country was fast converting him from a free proprietor to a bond slave. We have done our best to encourage industries which little by little will relieve the congested field of agriculture, develop the indigenous resources of India, and make that country more and more self-providing in the future. I would not indulge in any boast, but I dare to think that as a result of these efforts I can point to an India that is more prosperous, more contented, and more hopeful. Wealth is increasing in India. There is no test you can apply which does not demonstrate it. Trade is growing. Evidences of progress and prosperity are multiplying on every side.6°
  • India must always remain a constellation rather than a country, a congeries of races rather than a single nation. But we are creating ties of unity among those widely diversified peoples, we are consolidating those vast and outspread territories, and, what is more important, we are going forward instead of backward. It is not a stationary, a retrograde, a downtrodden, or an impoverished India that I have been governing for the past five and a half years. Poverty there is in abundance. I defy any one to show me a great and populous city, where it does not exist. Misery and destitution there are. The question is not whether they exist, but whether they are growing more or growing less. In India, where you deal with so vast a canvas, I daresay the lights and shades of human experience are more vivid and more dramatic than elsewhere. But if you compare the India of today with the India of any previous period of history-the India of Alexander, of Asoka, of Akbar, or of Aurangzeb-you will find greater peace and tranquillity, more widely suffused comfort and contentment, superior justice and humanity, and higher standards of material well-being, than that great dependency has ever previously attained."
  • "and to feel that somewhere among these millions you have left a little justice or happiness or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spring of patriotism, a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty, where it did not before exist-that is enough, that is the Englishman's justification in India. It is good enough for his watchword while he is here, for his epitaph when he is gone. I have worked for no other aim. Let India be my judge."62
    • quoted from Ibn, W. (2009). Defending the West: A critique of Edward Said's Orientalism. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.

Quotes about Curzon[edit]

  • My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
    I am a most superior person.
    My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,
    I dine at Blenheim once a week.
  • "All civilization", said Lord Curzon, quoting Renan, "all civilization has been the work of aristocracies". ... It would be much more true to say "The upkeep of aristocracies has been the hard work of all civilizations".
  • He was likewise determined to prevent famine from being used as a cause for reform. With hunger spreading on an unprecedented scale through two-thirds of the subcontinent, he ordered his officials to publicly attribute the crisis strictly to drought. When an incautious member of the Legislative Council in Calcutta, Donald Smeaton, raised the problem of over-taxation, he was (in Boer War parlance) prompdy "Stellenboshed." Although Curzons own appetite for viceregal pomp and circumstance was notorious, he lectured starving villagers that "any Government which imperilled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any Government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralised the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime."
  • Thirty-five years ago he and I were young men in London, with different outlooks, with different social surroundings, with different ideas about our careers, but an intimacy sprung up which was never checked.... Three things distinguished him then, as they did later: unflinching courage, a wide devotion to the State which always looked beyond himself, and an unshakable resolution when he had made up his mind. With these qualities Lord Curzon went to India as Viceroy. It is not necessary to agree about everything in his policy in order to appreciate how great an administrator Lord Curzon was there.... I know, not by his testimony but by the testimony of others, that by his courage and his determination to see justice done he redressed many an individual evil and put right much that a man of less energy and tenacity of purpose than himself could not have put right.... He was a man in a high sense of the word.... We shall look back upon his figure, we shall look back upon it as a figure which was that of a great Englishman, and we shall look back upon that figure with pride in our race.
  • Curzon is an intolerable person to do business with—pompous, dictatorial and outrageously conceited.... Really he is an intolerable person, pig-headed, pompous and vindictive too! Yet an able, strong man with it all.
    • Maurice Hankey's diary entry (12 May 1916), quoted in Stephen Roskill, Hankey, Man of Secrets: Volume I 1877-1919 (1970), pp. 271-272
  • The very epitome of snobbishness and embodiment of the exclusive hereditary principle.
    • A. D. Harvey, Collision of Empires. Britain in Three World Wars, 1793-1945 (1994), p. 460
  • A system whose ends were virtuous was beset by vices, most of them bureaucratic and racial. They were uncovered and vigorously dealt with by Lord Curzon, who arrived in Calcutta in January 1899. He was a man of vision who, unlike his predecessors, had wanted his position and came to it with an unequalled knowledge of Asian affairs. Curzon was certainly the most attractive and intelligent Viceroy, and India's best ruler under the British Raj. He was not an easy master in that he recognised and upbraided incompetence and procrastination.
    • Lawrence James, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India (1997), p. 315
  • I had known Curzon for many years, had had him as a colleague at the India Office; had exchanged weekly letters with him ever since he became Viceroy, and had acquired a most sincere admiration for his very remarkable gifts. He was wonderfully well equipped for political success: he had a first-rate intellect, immense energy and industry; a genius for detail, a copious supply of fluent speech, and a most hearty and unfeigned interest in himself and his own career. He longed for power and pre-eminence, and was sincerely anxious to use them for what he believed to be good purposes; but he was equally anxious that his good deeds should be fully and conspicuously recognized. At no period of his life did he make the mistake of underrating himself.
  • He has travelled a lot; he knows about the countries of the world. He has read a lot. He is full of knowledge which none of us possesses. He is useful in council. He is not a good executant and has no tact, but he is valuable for the reasons stated.
    • David Lloyd George, remarks to Lord Riddell (1 October 1916), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908–1923 (1986), p. 170
  • The symbol of Empire in its noon-tide splendour.
  • Whether in India or here at home, from first to last through a long and strenuous career, he set... and he followed, the highest possible standard of duty, of tireless and devoted industry.... A great and unselfish servant of the State, who, in that service, was always ready to "scorn delights and live laborious days," a man who pursued high ambitions by none but worthy means, who never sulked under the rebuffs of fortune, who never allowed himself to be soured by the disappointment of unrealised hopes, he takes an assured place in the long line of those who have enriched by their gifts and dignified by their character the annals of English public life.
  • A pompous windbag.
    • William Robertson, remarks to Lord Riddell (17 May 1917), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908-1923 (1986), p. 189

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