Robert Clive

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Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation!

Major-General Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, KB, FRS (29 September 1725 – 22 November 1774), also known as Clive of India was the first British Governor of the Bengal Presidency. He began as a British military officer and East India Company (EIC) official who established the military and political supremacy of the EIC by seizing control of Bengal and eventually the whole of the Indian subcontinent and Myanmar. Together with Warren Hastings he was one of the key early figures setting in motion what would later become British India.

Quotes[edit]

  • The reigning Shah whom the victory at Plassey invested with the sovereignty of these Provinces still, it is true, retains his attachment to us, and probably, while he has no other support, will continue to do so; but Mussulmans are so little influenced by gratitude that, should he ever think it his interest to break with us, the obligations he owes us would prove no restraint. ... Moreover, he is advanced in years, and his son is so cruel and worthless a young fellow, and so apparently an enemy to the English, that it will be almost unsafe trusting him with the succession. So small a body as 2000 Europeans will secure us from any apprehensions from either the one or the other; and in case of their daring to be troublesome, enable the Company to take the sovereignty upon themselves. There will be the less difficulty in bringing about such an event, as the natives themselves have no attachment whatever to particular princes; and as under the present Government they have no security for their lives or properties, they would rejoice in so happy an exchange as that of a mild for a despotic government.
    • Letter to William Pitt (7 January 1759), quoted in Alexander John Arbuthnot, Lord Clive: The Foundation of British Rule in India (1899), p. 116
  • I flatter myself I have made it pretty clear to you that there will be little or no difficulty in obtaining the absolute possession of these rich kingdoms; and that with the Moghul's own consent, on condition of paying him less than a fifth of the revenues thereof. Now I leave you to judge whether an income yearly of upwards of two millions sterling, with the possession of three provinces abounding in the most valuable productions of nature and of art, be an object deserving the public attention; and whether it be worth the nation's while to take the proper measures to secure such an acquisition; an acquisition which, under the management of so able and disinterested a Minister, would prove a source of immense wealth to the kingdom, and might in time be appropriated in part as a fund towards diminishing the heavy load of debt under which we at present labour. Add to these advantages the influence we shall thereby acquire over the several European nations engaged in the commerce here, which these could no longer carry on but through our indulgence, and under such limitations as we should think fit to prescribe. It is well worthy consideration that this project may be brought about without draining the mother country, as has been too much the case with our possessions in America.
    • Letter to William Pitt (7 January 1759), quoted in Alexander John Arbuthnot, Lord Clive: The Foundation of British Rule in India (1899), pp. 118–119
  • A very few days are elapsed since our arrival; and yet, if we consider what has already come to our knowledge, we cannot hesitate a moment upon the necessity of assuming the power that is in us of conducting, as a Select Committee, the affairs both civil and military of this settlement. What do we hear of, what do we see, but anarchy, confusion, and, what is worse, an almost general corruption.
    • Letter to the Select Committee on the East India Company (7 May 1765), quoted in James Mill, The History of British India, Vol. III (1820), pp. 350–351
  • Am I not rather deserving of praise for the moderation which marked my proceedings? Consider the situation in which the victory at Plassey had placed me. A great prince was dependent on my pleasure; an opulent city lay at my mercy, its richest bankers bid against each other for my smiles; I walked through vaults which were thrown open to me alone, piled on either hand with gold and jewels! Mr. Chairman, at this moment I stand astonished at my own moderation!
    • Speech to the Select Committee on the East India Company (c. April 1772), quoted in Alexander John Arbuthnot, Lord Clive: The Foundation of British Rule in India (1899), p. 207
  • As to the fictitious treaty, Lord Clive informed your Committee, That ... Omichund had insisted upon 5 per cent, on all the Nabob's treasures...and threatened, if he did not comply with that demand, he would immediately acquaint Serajah Dowla with what was going on, and Mr. Watts should be put to death:—That when he received this advice, he thought art and policy warrantable in defeating the purposes of such a villain; and that his Lordship himself formed the plan of the fictitious treaty, to which the Committee consented; it was lent to Admiral Watson, who objected to the signing of it; but to the best of his remembrance gave the gentleman who carried it (Mr. Lushington) leave to sign his name upon it:—That his Lordship never made any secret of it; he thinks it warrantable in such a case, and would do it again a hundred times.
    • Speech to the Select Committee on the East India Company (1772), quoted in Report from the Select Committee appointed to enquire into the nature, state and condition, of the East India Company, and of the British affairs in the East-Indies (1773), p. 18
  • I will not patiently stand by and see a great Empire acquired by great abilities, perseverance and resolution, lost by ignorance and indolence.
    • Letter to Henry Strachey explaining why he had given Lord North his memorandum on Indian policy (7 November 1772), quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, Clive of India (1974), p. 277
  • That the Americans will be sooner or later master of all the Spanish possessions and make Cape Horn the boundary of their empire, is beyond a doubt.
    • ‘Considerations on the East India Company’ (24 November 1772), quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, Clive of India (1974), p. 296
  • Leave me my honour, take away my fortune.
    • Speech in the House of Commons defending his rule in India (21 May 1773), quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, Clive of India (1974), p. 287

Quotes about Clive[edit]

  • Flower of the Empire, Defender of the Country, the Brave, firm in War.
    • Alamgir II, Mughal Emperor, quoted in Robert Clive, A Letter to the Proprietors of the East India Stock, from Lord Clive, Volume I (1764), p. 70
  • Lord Clive has thus come out of the fiery Trial much brighter than he went into it. His gains are now recorded; and not only, not condemned, but actually approved by Parliament. His reputation too for ability stands higher than ever.
    • Edmund Burke to Charles O'Hara (22 May 1773), quoted in The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Volume II: July 1768–June 1774, ed. Lucy S. Sutherland (1958), p. 435
  • The origin of all plunders, the source of all robbery.
    • Charles James Fox, speech in the House of Commons (21 May 1773), quoted in Memorials and Correspondence of Charles James Fox, Vol. I, ed. Lord John Russell (1853), p. 92
That heaven-born general! — William Pitt
  • The King, a good judge of a fighter, agreed with Pitt in his estimate of Clive. When asked to allow a young lord to go and learn the art of war in Germany, he growled out, “Pshaw! What can he learn there? If he wants to learn the art of war, let him go to Clive.”
    • George II, quoted in Basil Williams, The Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Volume II (1914), p. 24, n. 2
  • I owne I am amazed that private interest could make so many forget what they owe to their country, and come to a resolution that seems to approve of Lord Clive's rapine. No one thinks his services greater than I do, but that can never be a reason to commend him in what certainly opened the door to the fortunes we see daily made in that country.
    • George III to Lord North (21 May 1773), quoted in The Correspondence of King George the Third with Lord North from 1768 to 1783, Vol. I, ed. W. Bodham Donne (1867), p. 135
  • Violent and bad, thou art Jehovah's servant still, And e'en to thee a dream may be an angel of his will.
    • Henry George Keene, ‘Clive's Dream before the Battle of Plassey’, Under the Rose: Poems Written Chiefly in India (1868), p. 141
  • Clive, like most men who are born with strong passions and tried by strong temptations, committed great faults. But every person who takes a fair and enlightened view of his whole career must admit that our island, so fertile in heroes and statesmen, has scarcely ever produced a man more truly great either in arms or in council.
    • Thomas Macaulay, ‘Lord Clive’, Edinburgh Review (January 1840), quoted in Critical, Historical, and Miscellaneous Essays: Volume IV (1860), p. 196
  • The fort was more than a mile in circumference; the walls in many places ruinous, the towers inconvenient and decayed, and everything unfavourable to defence. Yet Clive found the means of making an effectual resistance. When the enemy attempted to storm at two breaches, one of fifty and one of ninety feet, he repulsed them with but eighty Europeans and a hundred and fifty sepoys fit for duty; so effectually did he avail himself of his resources, and to such a pitch of fortitude had he exalted the spirit of those under his command.
  • Sabit Jang [‘steady in war’].
    • Muhammad Ali, quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, Clive of India (1974), p. 48
  • You are a very great Bahadur being always victorious over your enemies...you are a well-known invincible...you are a complete prudent.
    • Sardar Karachuri Nanjarajaiya Urs, Regent of Mysore, to Clive (1752), quoted in Mark Bence-Jones, Clive of India (1974), p. 50
  • We have lost our glory, honour, and reputation everywhere but in India. ... Clive—that man not born for a desk—that heaven-born general! He it is true had never learned the arts of war or that skill in doing nothing, which only forty years of service can bring! Yet was he not afraid to attack a numerous army with a handful of men with a magnanimity, a resolution, a determination and an execution that would charm a King of Prussia and with a presence of mind that astonished the Indies.
    • William Pitt, speech in the House of Commons (14 December 1757), quoted in Basil Williams, The Life of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Volume II (1914), p. 24
  • He was bold and seemingly frank, rather than apologising; and as secure of having gained sufficient support, or above danger, from his credit or the timidity of his judges, or impotence of his adversaries, he dealt his censures liberally, nay, seemingly without discrimination; and though he appeared to have gained wealth enough to indemnify him, he assumed great merit from having acquired no more, attributing to moderation what probably had been the effect of his prudence. His allusions and applications were happy, and when he was vulgar he was rarely trivial. Scorn of his enemies and even of his judges escaped, yet did but make him more formidable; and while the Ministers and the Parliament sunk before him, he shone eminently as a real great man, who had done great things, and who had the merit of not having committed more (perhaps not worse) villanies, when it appeared that he had known how to be more guilty, even with impunity.
    • Horace Walpole on Clive's May 1773 speech to the Select Committee on India, quoted in Horace Walpole, Journal of the Reign of King George the Third, from the year 1771 to 1783, Volume I, ed. J. Doran (1859), pp. 205–206

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