In “Savage” Company: Sublime Aesthetics and the Colonial Imagination

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Abstract

Edmund Burke’s speeches and writings during the trial of Warren Hastings—from 1788 to 1795—remain one of the most comprehensive assessments of the effects of colonial trade and territorial expansion on Britain’s nationalist self. A rhetorical reading of his prosecution speeches reveals how they affected the public response to the trial by evoking the sublime and framing terror as the basic feature of Britain’s mercantile imperialist agenda in the colonies. Moreover, by associating Hastings’s governance of Bengal with sublime terror, Burke altered the interpretations of virtue and corruption, thus distancing both Britain and India from the rampant profiteering of the East India Company. Burke’s critique of the degenerative influences of commercial imperialism along with the reformulation of his ideas in subsequent colonial historiography is crucial for assessing how the aesthetics of the sublime conferred greater moral force to the sporadic and fragmented reports about the Company’s abuses of power in India.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-45
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Legacy
Volume24
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019

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Keywords

  • British Empire
  • East India Company
  • Edmund Burke
  • Enlightenment Philosophy
  • India
  • Sublime Terror
  • Warren Hastings’s Trial

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