The expansion of England around the globe, and particularly in India, constitutes an ‘imperial’ epoch when East and West met together. The nature of this meeting, involving millions of people completely alien to each other, over a considerable period of time, is more significant for an understanding of British imperialism and its impact than a mere historical or political account of events describing the Empire. For, after all, what imperialism really denotes is a relationship: specifically, the relationship of a ruling or controlling power to those under its dominion. The nature of such a relationship will define the peculiar imperial idea or theory which results in that relationship.1 What were the terms on which Britain met India, or for that matter Asia or Africa? What was the imperial idea which impelled the British to build an empire? Was there a viable imperial philosophy dedicated to some higher cause? Or was imperialism simply a manifestation of national ego? Was there, indeed, any substance to the imperial idea? These are the basic questions which confront a student of the intellectual content of imperialism, and these questions essentially concern the mystique of imperialism.


Moral Evil Stereotyped Image Imperial Idea Female Infanticide Imperial Theme 
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  1. 1.
    George Lichtheim, Imperialism (New York, 1971), p. 5.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Thornton, A. P., The Imperial Idea and its Enemies, 1966.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    James Mill, History of British India (London, 1820), V, 416.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    India was seen by these thinkers as a tabula rasa where they could freely experiment with their social or religious theories, which could not be done at home because of the conservatism of British life. The reformers of the early nineteenth century did not assess correctly the problems and institutions of India. See Francis G. Hutchins, The Illusion of Permanence (Princeton, 1967).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Lord Curzon, Speech in Bombay, 16 November 1905. See George Bennett (ed.), The Concept of Empire: Burke to Attlee, 1774–1947 (London, 1953), p. 105.Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    Jawaharlal Nehru, Autobiography (London, 1936), p. 438.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    Changes in anthropological thinking introduced by Malinowski radically altered the nineteenth-century image of the so-called ‘primitive’ people. A primitive society was no longer assigned its appropriate niche in the world order. The modem approach to an alien experience is ‘what does it mean to them?’ not ‘how strange it seems to me’. Hence the whole notion of the ‘civilised’ and ‘noncivilised’ societies was demolished. The influence of these new ideas in literature may be seen in the post-1914 novels. D. H. Lawrence, for example, gives considerable significance to the symbolism of colours in Aztec ritual, whereas earlier writers had dismissed face-painting as hideous distortions. See Brian V. Street, The Savage in Literature (London, 1975), pp. 1–17.Google Scholar
  8. For a detailed treatment of British images of India see Allen J. Greenberger, The British Image of India: A Study in the Literature of Imperialism, 1880–1960 (London, 1969).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Louis Cornell, Kipling in India (London, 1966), p. 3.Google Scholar
  10. 23.
    Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Council of the Gods’, Pioneer, 18 February 1888.Google Scholar

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© Shamsul Islam 1979

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