CLIVE (ROBERT, Baron Clive of Plassey) 'Clive of India'. Autograph letter signed, to John Pybus of the Madras Council, 1765

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Lot 41
CLIVE (ROBERT, Baron Clive of Plassey) 'Clive of India'

Sold for £ 2,125 (US$ 2,922) inc. premium
CLIVE (ROBERT, Baron Clive of Plassey) 'Clive of India'
Autograph letter signed ("Clive"), to John Pybus of the Madras Council ("Dear Sir"), discussing a diamond that Pybus had consigned to him, valued by Levy & Rubens Solomons at £3000, and urging that he "avoid investing any Part of your Fortune in these large Stones for they will not answer at any Price there being no Purchasers"; telling him that "Things are so fluctuating in Leaden Hall Street [home of the East India Company] that I would advise you, to confine your Views and Designs to the Place where you now reside, an Independant Fortune of between 30, & 40 Thousand Pounds with some share of Youth to enjoy it will in my Opinion make you much happier, than returning to England with ever so large a one, One Foot in the Grave"; and concluding: "Such a Voyage as this cannot be agreable to me... The absolute Power at Bengal is lodg'd in a Committee of five which were all nominated by Me, & I am determind whatever Odium may fall upon me from Individuals to cut up Root & Branch the Evils in Bengal both Civil and Military", 4 pages, docketed at the head of the first page, lightly browned, old repairs at corners, minor faults but nevertheless still in attractive condition, 4to, Madras, 16 April 1765


  • CLIVE OF INDIA ON THE CONFLICTS BETWEEN PUBLIC DUTY AND PRIVATE GAIN: 'nothing but the Point of Honor engag'd me to come out and I am determined to return as soon as possible without enriching my Self to the Value of one Farthing during my Government'; this letter being written within a few days of his return to India, after spending the previous five years in England.

    In April 1765, at the request of the East India Company, Clive returned to India for the third and last time, arriving in Madras on 10 April 10 and Bengal on 3 May. As Governor of Bengal as well as Commander-in-Chief, he was charged with restoring Company fortunes after a series of economic, political, and military setbacks: 'To help him overcome any resistance from disaffected company servants, a new five-man select committee was established and empowered to overrule the Bengal council whenever necessary. Clive was determined, as he later put it, to cleanse "an Augean stable" which, with an irony that was not lost on many contemporaries, his own earlier activities and example had in large part served to create." (H. V. Bowen, ODNB). He was to be largely successful in consolidating the Company's position, reforming the colony's civil and military administration. But at the same time he made himself very unpopular by his drive against corruption. On 9 May 1765 he insisted that members of the Bengal Council sign covenants preventing the taking of presents by Company servants and took measures against private trading; while continuing to invest on his own account and making a great deal of money that autumn by using his insider knowledge to make surreptitious investments in Company stock. He was to face a barrage of criticism when he finally returned home in 1767.

    The present letter shares much of this ambiguity. He advises Pybus against investing in diamonds, which is just what he had done when leaving India for the first time. He also advices Pybus not to sacrifice his health for the sake of riches, when he had much just such a sacrifice himself (if by no means entirely for his own benefit): 'If these contradictory views reveal anything at all, they demonstrate that he was simultaneously a man of many qualities and shortcomings who was very much a product of his time and the unique situation in which he found himself. These views have also ensured that he has remained prominent in popular consciousness, a position sustained through fictional and cinematic representations of his life. That his thoughts and actions were decisive in shaping the early expansion of British India is beyond any doubt, but so too responses to the events of 1756–9 and 1765–7 served to determine imperial attitudes and policy long after his death. For these reasons Clive was more than simply a soldier and statesman: he was an architect of empire whose influence has cast a lengthy shadow over the history of Britain and India' (Bowen).

    John Pybus (1727/1728-1789), the recipient, appears to have gone to India as a Writer with the East India Company as a young man, and served as Deputy Governor at Bencoolen (Fort Marlborough) in Sumatra from 1755 to 1757 and in 1762 on a diplomatic mission to Kandy, before being appointed to the Madras Council (see the Account of Mr Pybus's Mission to the King of Kandy in 1762, printed from the Records of the Madras Government, Colombo 1862). Another letter to him by Clive was sold at Sotheby's, 13 March 1979, lot 62. Letters by Clive, especially those written from his years in India, are rarely offered for sale.
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