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Erik Ringmar, Thinking Men and Ideal Betrayed

Apr 05, 2018



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  • 8/2/2019 Erik Ringmar, Thinking Men and Ideal Betrayed


    Thinking Men and Ideals Betrayed:Bentham, Coleridge and BritishImperialism in Nineteenth-CenturyChina

    There are two men to whom their country is indebted, John Stuart Mill wrote in

    1840, not only for the important ideas which have been thrown into circulation

    among its thinking men in their time, but also for the revolution in its general

    modes of thought and investigation. 1 The two were Jeremy Bentham and Samuel

    Taylor Coleridge. Bentham was a progressive, Mill explained, and Coleridge a

    conservative: Bentham's skill was to discover truths which were at variance with

    the accepted consensus, whereas Coleridge focused on truths that lay neglected

    in the existing doctrines and institutions. And although both were ignored - or

    even held in contempt - by ordinary readers, Bentham and Coleridge were the

    teachers of the teachers of their age:

    there is hardly to be found in England an individual of any importancei n the world of mind, who (whatever opinions he may have afterwardsadopted) did not first learn to think from one of these two. 2

    Two of these thinking men were John Bowring and James Bruce, the Eighth Earl

    of Elgin. Bowring worked closely with Bentham on the Westminster Review , the

    journal he started in 1823. Bowring was also Bentham's literary executor and the

    editor of his Collected Works . Lord Elgin, for his part, fully mastered Coleridge's

    thought when in college, and as a statesman he made continuous references to

    Coleridge in his diaries and letters. By a curious coincidence, in the 1850s, both

    men found themselves working for the British government in China. Between

    1 John Stuart Mill, Bentham, in Dissertations and Discussions, Political Philosophical, and Historical. Reprinted Chiefly from the Edinburgh and

    Westminster Reviews, Volume I (London: 1859), 330.2 Ibid . 330-331.


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    1849 and 1853 Bowring served as British consul at Canton (Guangzhou), and

    between 1854 and 1859 as plenipotentiary and governor of Hong Kong. In 1857,

    after recklessly starting a war with the Chinese, Bowring was replaced as

    plenipotentiary by Lord Elgin. Elgin negotiated a treaty with the Emperor in

    Beijing, but he too made war on the Chinese.

    Bentham and Coleridge held opposing views on the colonial system, although

    neither of them was completely consistent in their positions. In the main,

    Bentham was critical: he believed colonialism to be a mistake and an injustice

    imposed both on the colonized and the colonizers. At the same time he was a

    great defender of free trade and firmly believed that commerce would contribute

    to assuring the greatest happiness of the greatest number. Coleridge, for his

    part, had a keen appreciation of the devastations brought about by colonialism,

    yet he saw colonies as Britain's imperative duty. By contrast, he remained

    unconvinced regarding the virtues of free trade, which he called solemn

    humbug, and saw as a threat against the vitality, and long-term viability, of the


    Meeting up in China, Bowring and Elgin clashed repeatedly with each other

    over matters of policy. More surprisingly perhaps, they both ended up betraying

    the ideals of their mentors. Very far from respecting the views of the Chinese, as

    Bentham would have insisted, Bowring imposed his own version of their interests

    on them. He began by demanding that they open up the gates of Canton, and

    when the Chinese authorities refused, he ordered the city to be bombarded. The

    result was the Second Opium War. Lord Elgin, for his part, betrayed his mentors

    most famous dream - the vision of the imperial palace which Coleridge had

    described in the poem Kubla Khan. To Coleridge the palace had been an earthly

    version of paradise, as it indeed had been to the emperors who lived there. Yet on

    October 18, 1860, Lord Elgin decided that paradise had to be destroyed. He

    burned down the imperial palace complex, known as the Yuanmingyuan, located in


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    the north-western suburbs of Beijing.

    Comparing Bentham and Coleridge we can survey the spectrum of ideas

    regarding colonialism as it existed in Britain in the first decades of the nineteenth-

    century. Comparing Bowring and Elgin we can grasp how these ideas had changed

    by the 1850s. What we want to explain are the betrayals. What turned Bowring -

    the arch-Benthamite - into an aggressive imperialist? And what made Elgin - the

    mild-mannered Coleridgean - into a destroyer of imperial palaces? Looking for

    answers we will question Mill's thesis on the seminal importance of Bentham and

    Coleridge for the thinking men of the age. Or rather, we want to know which

    other, and ultimately more important, considerations that came to influence the

    statesmen of the 1850s. As we will argue, by mid-century, new social forces were

    at work, most notably an intensely competitive form of nationalism backed up by

    theories of race and social evolution. These new social forces, the argument will

    be, are what made both Bowring and Elgin betray the ideals of their mentors.

    Bentham's principles

    For Bentham, said Mill, arguments always started from first principles. His modus

    operandi was to set up a rational standard and proceed to judge existing social

    arrangements with its help. Institutions and traditions that survived the test of

    his felicific calculus were accepted; those that did not were condemned, and

    usually in the most energetic prose. Thus it was easy for Bentham to show, for

    example, that freely moving interest rates increased the greatest happiness of the

    greatest number whereas usury laws decreased it. 3 Or that free trade ultimately

    was to everyones benefit. Or consider the Panopticon, Benthams notorious

    solution to the problem of penitentiary reform. 4 By placing himself in the

    3 Jeremy Bentham, Defence of Usury; Showing the Impolicy of the Present LegalRestraints on the Terms of Pecuniary Bargains; in Letters to a Friend, in TheWorks of Jeremy Bentham, Volume 3 , ed. John Bowring (London: 1843).

    4 Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon; or, the Inspection-House: Containing the Idea of aNew Principle of Construction Applicable to Any Sort of Establishment, in Which


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    inspectors lodge at the center of this construction, a single person could easily

    survey the whole prison, and since all prisoners were visible while the inspector

    was hidden, the prisoners would never know if they were under scrutiny or not.

    This, Bentham insisted, was a more humane, more felicific, solution than

    traditional forms of incarceration. The central inspection principle made it

    easier, and cheaper, to control prisoners; riots and escapes were prevented and

    inmates were more effectively reformed. 5

    According to Benthams critics, such a priori reasoning gave his philosophy a

    cold, mechanical, and ungenial air. 6 Proceeding not from individual cases but

    from general principles meant that Bentham risked ignoring local variations and

    historical circumstances. Bentham was legislating not for England or for Britain,

    but for the world. This was not only extraordinarily pretentious, his critics argued,

    but fraught with dangers. The same laws, as Mill pointed out, would not have

    suited our wild ancestors, accustomed to rude independence, and a people of

    Asiatics bowed down by military despotism, 7 Bentham defended himself

    vigorously against such accusations. Indeed, he wrote an entire essay - On the

    Influence of Time and Place in Matters of Legislation - emphasizing the fact that

    social reformers always had to take local contexts into account. 8 Yet despite his

    own protestations, it was as a legislator for the world that Bentham celebrated his

    greatest triumphs. 9 To his students, the power of his argument rested in its

    general principles, and any restrictions on these principles would for that reason

    Persons of Any Description Are to Be Kept Under Inspection; and in Particular toPenitentiary-Houses, Works , vol 4. 37-172. On Benthams rejection of alternativemodes of punishment see R.V. Jackson, Bentham's Penal Theory in Action: TheCase Against New South Wales, Utilitas 25, no. 2 (1998): 226-241.

    5 On the central inspection principle, see Jeremy Bentham, Panopticon Versus NewSouth Wales: Or, the Panopticon Penitentiary System, and the Penal ColonizationSystem, Compared, in Works . vol 4. 212.

    6 Quoted in Mill, Bentham , 386.7 Ibid . 375.8 Jeremy Bentham, Essays on the Influence of Time and Place in Matters of

    Legislation, in Works , vol 1.

    9 Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: 2006), 103-22.


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    always appeared as ad hoc and as unjustified.

    Bentham's work had a particularly powerful impact in India. 10 Finding their

    careers blocked in the British civil service, many of his followers - James and John

    Stuart Mill included - joined the East India Company or the Indian colonial service.

    India, it turned out, was full of unexamined prejudices and entrenched

    institutions. 11 Besides, the despotic power which the British legislators had

    created for themselves meant that there were no obstacles blocking the

    implementation of their plans. The banning of sati , the custom of widow burning,

    in 1829, was one reform for which the Benthamites were quick to take credit. 12

    Considering the imperialist zeal of Bentham's students it may come as a

    surprise that Bentham himself was skeptical of colonialism. 13 Starting in the

    1790s, in essays like Emancipate Your Colonies!, Rid Yourself of Ultramaria,

    and Plan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace, Bentham repeatedly made the

    case against colonial possessions. 14 Empires, he argued, undermined the greatest

    happiness of the greatest number in both Europe and the colony. The unlimited

    power given to colonial administrators was conducive to corruption; colonies were

    financially unsound and inefficient; they exacted a tax on the poor for the benefit

    of the wealthy; they encouraged unnecessary growth of the state's military

    expenses but left the home country exposed; and they were founded on misguided

    conceptions of glory. 15 Colonies could not be profitable without being oppressive

    10 Eric Stokes, The English Utilitarians and India (New Delhi: 1989).

    11 James Mill, The History of British India, vol. 1 (London: Baldwin: 1817)12 Nancy G. Cassels, Bentinck: Humanitarian and Imperialist: The Abolition of Suttee, Journal of British Studies 5, no. 1 (1965): 77-87; Martha Kaplan,

    Panopticon in Poona: An Essay on Foucault and Colonialism, Cultural Anthropology 10, no. 1 (February 1995): 85-98.

    13 Pitts, Turn to Empire. 107-114. According to Wagner, Bentham's anti-colonialismwas inspired by Josiah Tucker and James Anderson. See Donald O. Wagner,

    British Economists and the Empire I, Political Science Quarterly 46, no. 2 (June1931): 256-57.

    14 Jeremy Bentham, Emancipate Your Colonies!: Addressed to the NationalConvention of France, Anno 1793, in Works , vol 4. 407-18; Jeremy Bentham, APlan for an Universal and Perpetual Peace, in Works , vol 2. On the status of the

    latter source, see Pitts, Turn to Empire , n. 43, 296-97.15 Cf. the summary in Pitts, Turn to Empire , 108.


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    and the oppression would sooner or later result in wars of national liberation. As

    Bentham asked the French National Convention in 1793:

    You choose your own government: why are not other people to choosetheirs? Do you seriously mean to govern the world, and do you callthat liberty ?16

    Despite Benthams anti-colonial stance, colonies nevertheless fascinated him as a

    location where his ideas might find an application, and to this extent at least he

    acknowledged that British colonialism might have a beneficial impact on the yet-

    to-be-enlightened parts of the world. His pet-project, the Panopticon, provides an

    example. After unsuccessfully lobbying the British government to construct aprototype of the prison, he turned his eyes on India. 17 In a letter to the Indian

    reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1828 he insisted that the central inspection

    principle would work very well in India, and he returned to the topic no fewer

    than three times in the same letter. What say you, he suggested to Roy, to the

    making singly, or in conjunction with other enlightened philanthropists, an offer to

    Government for that purpose? 18

    Coleridge's dream

    Coleridge's philosophy, as John Stuart Mill pointed out, began not with rational

    principles, like Bentham's, but instead with the world as it was given to the

    senses, and it proceeded towards the ideal and the unattainable. This basic mode

    of thinking remained the same even as Coleridge's political outlook changed. Inhis youth, he had been a purveyor of radical utopias: inspired by the socialist

    program of William Godwin, Coleridge and his friend Robert Southey, devised a

    16 Jeremy Bentham, Emancipate Your Colonies , 408.17 In 1812 the government decided to go ahead with an alternative penitentiary

    building. Although Bentham was awarded 23,000 pounds in compensation for hisefforts, the plans came to naught. Jackson, Bentham's Penal Theory , 241.

    18 Jeremy Bentham, Bentham to Rammohun Roy, in Works , vol 10. 589-92, quotep. 92. Compare John Bowring, Ram Mohun Roy, Autobiographical Recollectionsof Sir John Bowring (London: 1877) 394-396. On actual cases of Panopticons inIndia, see Kaplan, Panopticon in Poona , 85-98.


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    scheme for an ideal, Pantisocratic, community where private property was

    abolished and men lived in perfect equality with each other. 19 Making increasingly

    concrete plans, their eyes fell on the Susquehanna river in the backwoods of

    Pennsylvania. What they wanted to construct here was a pastoral idyll, la

    Rousseau , where they could escape the corrupting influences of society. But the

    scheme foundered after a quarrel: Southey wanted to bring servants with him to

    America whereas Coleridge rejected this as contrary to their egalitarian ideals.

    Doing research for his Pantisocratic community in the 1790s, Coleridge read a

    large number of accounts of European explorations in far away locations: Samuel

    Purchas, Purchas Pilgrimage; William Bartram, Travels; James Bruces Travels to

    Discover the Source of the Nile , among them. 20 The poetry he wrote in

    subsequent years was also heavily inspired by exotic images, a tendency

    accentuated by his increasing reliance on laudanum. 21 One of his most famous

    poems, Kubla Khan, subtitled A Vision in a Dream, usually dated to 1797, was

    such an opium-fueled description of the imperial palace in Shangdu built by Kublai

    Khan, the thirteenth century Mongol emperor of China: 22

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khana stately pleasure-dome decree,where Alph, the sacred river, ranthrough caverns measureless to mandown to a sunless sea.

    19 On Coleridge's thought in a colonial context, see James C. McKusick, 'WiselyForgetful': Coleridge and the Politics of Pantisocracy, in , ed. Tim Fulford andPeter J. Kitson (Cambridge: 1998).

    20 Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimage: Or Relations of the World and theReligions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered ... (London: 1614); WilliamBartram, Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida ... (London: 1794); James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of theNile, in the Years 1768, 1769, 1770, 1771, 1772, and 1773, Volumes 1-4(Edinburgh:1790).The definitive work on the sources relied on by Coleridge's isJohn Livingston Lowes, The Road To Xanadu: A Study In The Ways Of theImagination, [1927] (Edinburg: 2008), 356-434.

    21 Scholars have long disputed the extent to which opium inspired or caused thechange in Coleridges poetry in the mid-1790s. Lowes, Road to Xanadu , 414-425,provides a convincing case against such an interpretation.

    22 The remains of the palace are described in Lawrence Impey, Shangtu, theSummer Capital of Kublai Khan, Geographical Review 15, no. 4 (October 1925):584-604.


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    In his Introduction l'histoire des Mongols , Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, the

    fourteenth-century Persian statesman and historian, describes how this palace

    came into being. 23 Kublai Khan, says Rashid-al-Din, first saw the palace in a

    dream and when he woke up he ordered the vision to be constructed. As Lus

    Borges has pointed out, these two dreams - Kublai Khans and Coleridge's - form a

    strange pair, not least since Coleridge could not have been aware of the origin of

    the Emperors vision. 24 What seems eternal, says Borges, is the dream while the

    palace, its concrete manifestation, is quite ephemeral.

    Kublai Khan's palace, as Coleridge describes it, is surely a vision of paradise,

    but the setting is no longer a pastoral, Rousseauesque, idyll, and the palace is not,

    like the Pantisocratic community in Pennsylvania, an ideal intended to be realized.

    Instead the images are violent, sexual and narcotic; the description is quasi-

    religious, not quasi-political. Paradise, for Coleridge, is not a dream to be

    constructed as much as a dream to which we passively have to submit. Kubla

    Khan describes a sublime, Oriental, non-place, located beyond the reach of

    reason, inspiring both longing and dread.

    A savage place! As holy and enchantedas a'er beneath a waning moon was hauntedby woman wailing for her demon lover.

    And all should cry, Beware! Beware!His flashing eyes, his floating hair!Weave a circle round him thrice,And close your eyes with holy dread,For he on honey-dew hath fed,And drunk the milk of Paradise.

    23 Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, Contemporary Notices of Cathay under the Mongols:Retracted from the Historical Cyclopdia of Rashiduddin, Cathay and the Way Thither: Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, Volume 2 , edited byHenry Yule (London:1866), 260.

    24 As Borges points out, Introduction l'histoire des Mongols, was translated intoEuropean languages only by mid nineteenth-century. Jorge Luis Borges,

    Coleridge's Dream, in Selected Non-Fictions (Harmondsworth: 2000), 369-372.The first person to notice the curious similarity between the two dreams is HenryYule. See Yule, Cathay, volume 1:134, n. 2. The parallels between the dreaminclude details like the fountains produced by water imprisoned in the bowels of the earth. Rashid-al-Din, Contemporary Notices, 261.


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    Politically speaking, by the end of the 1790s Coleridge had turned sharply to the

    right. As he now saw it, radical experiments were doomed and only by accepting

    societys existing traditions and institutions could an ideal political community be

    constructed. 25 The loneliness of man in the contemporary world could only be

    remedied by belonging to a state which unified society and granted meaning to

    individuals. From the 1820s onward, Coleridge increasingly praised the national

    church - the Church of England - as the physical and spiritual embodiment of

    such a national community, and he identified the clerisy - a leading class of

    guardians - as the moral and intellectual teachers of the rest of society. 26

    Not surprisingly, Coleridge opposed Bentham on matters of free trade which

    he regarded as nothing but a solemn humbug. Free trade was either a truism -

    which is how Coleridge regarded the felicific calculus - or a dangerous scheme

    which might undermine the vitality of the nation.

    You talk about making this article cheaper by reducing its price in themarket from 8d. to 6d. But suppose, in so doing, you have rendered

    your country weaker against a foreign foe; suppose you havedemoralized thousands of your fellow-countrymen, and have sowndiscontent between one class of society and another, your article istolerably dear, I take it, after all. Is not its real price enhanced to everyChristian and patriot a hundred-fold? 27

    The entire tendency of modern political economy, said Coleridge in an aphorism,

    works against the nation. It would dig up the charcoal foundations of the temple

    of Ephesus to burn as fuel for a steam-engine! 28 On the question of colonies,

    however, he was more equivocal. His eventual conclusion was in favor, at least aslong as colonialism served to unite the British state and the British people:

    Colonization is not only a manifest expedient for, but an imperativeduty on, Great Britain. God seems to hold out his finger to us over the

    25 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On the Constitution of Church and State According to theIdea of Each (London: 1839).

    26 Ibid , xv-xvi . There could, Coleridge added in his Table Talk , be no order, noharmony of the whole, without them. Coleridge, Table Talk , April 10, 1832, 2:41.

    27 Ibid , 17 March, 1833, 2:131.28 Ibid . 20 June, 1834, 2:327.


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    sea. But it must be a national colonization, such as was that of theScotch to America; a colonization of Hope, and not such as we havealone encouraged and effected for the last fifty years, a colonization of Despair. 29

    What Coleridge approves of are communal projects similar to the Greek colonies of

    Antiquity, not the market-driven imperialism of free trade practiced by

    contemporary British merchants. 30 Coleridge was only too aware of the costs

    which colonialism imposed. His essay, On the Slave Trade, 1796, contrasts the

    plight of the slaves with the rural idyll which was Africa before the Europeans

    arrived. 31 In fact the original African village was remarkably similar to the

    Pantisocratic community which Coleridge wanted to establish:

    the Africans who are situated beyond the contagion of European vice,are innocent and happy. The peaceful inhabitants of a fertile soil, theycultivate their fields in common, and reap the crop as the commonproperty of all. Each family, like the peasants in some parts of Europe,spins, weaves, sews, hunts, fishes, and makes baskets, fishing tackle,and the implements of agriculture; 32

    As a conservative, Coleridge is clearly more respectful than his liberal

    contemporaries of established institutions, even those of non-European societies.

    Indeed, at least when under the influence of opium, he reverses the relationship

    between Europe and the non-European. The Kubla Khan of the famous poem is

    clearly not the kind of ruler you trade with, bully, and then occupy. The exact

    opposite is true: after you have drunk the milk of Paradise, and closed your

    eyes in holy dread, you are yourself quite helpless. And the experience is

    pleasurable. This is not a dream of colonial possession but of being possessed, of

    passively and blissfully submitting to a sublime, Oriental, overlord.

    29 Ibid , May 4, 1833, 2:165-166.30 Coleridge was, for example, against a continued British presence in Ireland. Ibid ,

    December 17, 1831, 2:14-15.31 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On the Slave Trade, in Essays on His Own Times,

    Volume I , from The Watchman, no. 4, Friday, March 25, 1796. (London: 1850),

    137-53.32 Coleridge, Slave-trade , 143.


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    John Bowring and the walls of Canton

    John Bowring began his career as a linguist and translator of poetry. 33 He learned

    French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese from an early age and

    published a string of anthologies of Russian, Polish, Serbian, Czech and Hungarian

    verse. 34 Getting to know Bentham in the 1820s, he joined the Westminster

    Review as an editor in 1824, and wrote on literature, but also very extensively on

    matters of free trade. Bowring soon became Bentham's confidante ; for a while he

    lived in Benthams home and when he eventually moved out he became

    Benthams neighbor. The friendship was evidently not hurt by Bentham's

    dismissal of poetry nor by Bowrings ardent, Unitarian, religiosity. 35 After Bentham

    had died in his arms in 1834, Bowring became his literary executor and the,

    sometimes unreliable, editor of his Collected Works in eleven volumes. 36

    In the late 1820s financial difficulties forced Bowring to look for a more secure

    employment. 37 He landed a job as a commissioner charged with writing reports on

    the state of trade with various European countries, and to assess the health of

    their public finances. Bowring interpreted the job description as a license to

    preach the virtues of free trade to anyone he came across on the Continent.

    33 For biographical data see Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections ; Gerald Stone, Bowring, Sir John, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: 2004), A highly critical portrait is providedin George Borrow, [1857], The Old Radical in The Romany Rye (London: 1907),381-392.

    34 For an assessment see Arthur Prudden Coleman, John Bowring and the Poetry of the Slavs, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 84, no. 3 (May 31,1941): 431-459. Not everyone was equally impressed with Bowrings linguisticpowers. He was, said Borrow, slightly acquainted with four or five of the easierdialects of Europe, on the strength of which knowledge he would fain pass for auniversal linguist. Borrow, Romany Rye, 388. His attempts to learn Chinese seemto have been largely unsuccessful. Wong, Deadly Dreams , 86-87.

    35 Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 388-89. On Bowrings religion, see R. K.Webb, John Bowring and Unitarianism, Utilitas 4, no. 01 (1992): 43-79.

    36 On the unreliability of Bentham as an editor, see Pitts, Turn to Empire , n. 43, 296-97.

    37 In 1827 his firm, Bowring & Co, exporting herring to France and Spain, wentbankrupt leaving him without means of supporting his eight children. Stone,Bowring .


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    Between 1832 and 1834 he toured the French countryside talking to assemblies of

    merchants, wine growers, newspaper editors, and to liberal political activists.

    Swaying public opinion, he had learned from Bentham, was the way to spread the

    liberal revolution. 38 Yet his efforts backfired: rather than seeing the benefits of

    free trade, many Frenchmen saw only so much pro-British propaganda. 39

    To Bowring the free-trade doctrine was merely one aspect of a more general

    principle of free communication which he applied to every aspect of life.

    Communication is civilization in activity, he explained. He who can

    communicate cheaply and rapidly with all his fellows must be elevated by the very

    fact of that communication. 40 Bowrings defense of free communication went as

    far as to reject quarantine regulations put in place during outbreaks of contagious

    diseases. Quarantines, he argued, was an unwarranted abuse of state power. 41

    And when he himself temporarily was detained by French authorities during a trip

    in 1822, he was outraged. 42 Indefatigably, Bowring canvassed support for his

    chosen causes. In the 1820s he was elected foreign secretary of the Society for

    the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace, and in 1838 he was, together

    38 Cf. the importance of counter-efficient influence, in Jeremy Bentham,Observations on the Restrictive and Prohibitory Commercial System; Especially with a Reference to the Decree of the Spanish Cortes of July 1820 (London: 1821),31-40. Bowrings activities are discussed in B.M. Ratcliff, Great Britain and Tariff Reform in France, 1831-1836, in Trade and Transport (Manchester: 1977), 98-135. For his own account, see Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 132-148.

    39 Todd, Global Dissemination , 381-382.40 Quoted in ibid , 388. On the use of metaphors of circulation, exchange, and

    trade, and the connection to civilization, see David Porter, A Peculiar butUninteresting Nation: China and the Discourse of Commerce in Eighteenth-CenturyEngland, Eighteenth-Century Studies 33, no. 2 (Winter 2000): 184-86.

    41 As an MP Bowring returned to the question again and again. See, for example, Quarantine, House of Commons Debate, March 15, 1842, Hansard , vol. 61, cc.608-618; Quarantine Laws and Regulations, House of Commons Debate, July 23,1844, Hansard , vol. 76, cc. 1292-1310. For Coleridge's speculations regardingquarantines, see Coleridge, Table Talk , April 7, 1832, 2:37-40.

    42 Sir John Bowring, Details of the Arrest, Imprisonment and Liberation of anEnglishman By the Bourbon Government of France (London: 1823). His outragewas cruelly lampooned, in French doggerel, in pitre a John Bowring, Arrt EtDtenu Illgalement Par Les Autorits Franaises, Puis Mis En Liberte SansJugement, The Morning Chronicle , December 26, 1822, issue 16750.


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    with Richard Cobden, a founding member of the Anti-Corn Law League. 43 His

    translations of poetry too were a part of this larger project: thanks to Bowrings

    efforts, speakers even of small European languages would be able to communicate

    their ideas freely with the members of the much larger English-speaking world. 44

    In 1835, after several unsuccessful attempts, Bowring became a member of

    parliament, and from 1841 he occupied a safe seat as the MP for Bolton.

    However, renewed financial difficulties forced him again to look for a more

    lucrative position. In 1848 he was made Consul in Canton and in 1854 Governor

    of Hong Kong and British plenipotentiary in East Asia. China, at the time, had

    very limited intercourse with the rest of the world: foreigners were not allowed to

    settle freely, to trade, or to preach their religion; the country had no permanent

    diplomatic relations and little apparent interest in the rest of the world. Clearly,

    Chinas attitude clashed with Bowrings most cherished beliefs. And taking up his

    new post he was fully determined to do something about it.

    In the latter part of the eighteenth-century, an insatiable demand for tea had

    given Britain a trade deficit with China. The problem was solved, however, once

    the Chinese in the first decades of the nineteenth-century became thoroughly

    addicted to opium, exported from British-controlled India. Although the Chinese

    authorities repeatedly banned the trade, and even appealed to Queen Victoria to

    have it stopped, they were powerless against British smugglers. 45 By mid-

    nineteenth-century, the financial viability of the British government in India

    depended entirely on its ability to sell opium to the Chinese. 46 Eventually two

    wars - the First and the Second Opium Wars - were fought over the issue. The

    43 Todd, Global Dissemination , 374.44 Coleman, Poetry of the Slavs , 431.45 For assorted documents on the opium question, see Hosea B. Morse, The

    International Relations of the Chinese Empire, Volume 1 (New York: 1900), 171-212. On the appeal to Queen Victoria, see ibid :194.

    46 Wong, Deadly Dreams, 434-454. Cf. Bowring, John Bowring, Colonization andCommerce in British India, The Westminster Review , no. 11 (1829):337; KarlMarx, Articles on China, Karl Marx in New York Daily Tribune ,


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    first of these, concluded through the Treaty of Nanjing, 1842, did not explicitly

    mention opium, but it opened up five Chinese ports to British merchants and it

    gave Britain a permanent foothold in Hong Kong. 47

    Yet for Bowring this was not enough. He wanted full and unimpeded access,

    including the right to freely sell opium. Although he as an MP had voted against

    the drug trade, he was now supporting it, indeed his son was a partner in Jardine

    Mattheson & Co, the largest opium dealer in the East. 48 And once he permanently

    returned to Britain in 1859, Bowring toured the countryside, much as he had done

    in France thirty years earlier, making his case at public meetings. The use of

    opium, he admitted, was certainly most deleterious, but compared with the

    social evils, and the crimes resulting from intoxicating liquors in this country, the

    results even of the abuse of opium in China are as nothing. 49 The opium smoker

    dreams and fancies delightful visions, but he does not, like a drunken

    Englishman, become a perfect ruffian.

    As plenipotentiary in China, the walls of the city of Canton became his

    particular obsession. 50 The British traded with the city each year, and they had a

    presence in the factories located outside the city wall, but Bowring insisted that

    Britain should have the right to trade permanently in the city itself and that British

    officials could come and go as they pleased. Citing the strongly anti-British

    sentiments among the population, the Chinese authorities rejected these

    demands. Their refusal pushed Bowring to the brink. In increasingly emotional

    dispatches, both to London and to the Chinese, he demanded that the gates of

    47 Morse, International Relations , 1:298-318.48 As pointed out in a letter to the editor by An Old Resident in China, Sir John

    Bowring and the Opium Question, The Times , October 5, 1859, issue 23429.49 Sir John Bowring on the Opium Trade, The Newcastle Courant , September 23,

    1859, Issue 9639 edition. For objections see ibid as well as Henry Richard, SirJohn Bowring and the Opium Trade, The Leeds Mercury , December 6, 1859, Issue7039 edition.

    50 John Bowring, Dr. Bowring to the Earl of Clarendon (Received June 14), inCorrespondence Relative to Entrance into Canton, 1850-1855 (London: 1857), 3-10. On the creation of this vocabulary as applied to China, see Porter, Peculiar but Uninteresting , 183-184, 187-192.


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    Canton give way. 51 The Chinese did not want free communication with the rest of

    the world; they were proud, and it was their pride which Bowring sought to


    In October 1856 Chinese officials seized the Arrow , a Chinese opium

    smuggling ship flying the British flag. 52 Despite the fact that the boat's

    registration had lapsed, and it no longer enjoyed British protection, Bowring seized

    on the incident as a casus belli . Insisting that the Chinese provide an apology -

    which they naturally refused - Bowring convinced the navy to lay a siege on

    Canton. The city was shelled from British war-ships, and from a fort across the

    harbor, and eventually a breech was made in the wall. But although the army

    entered the city, they did not have enough men to occupy it. It was a pointless

    victory. Indeed, since the European factories outside the city were burned down

    by the Chinese, the victory caused a substantial loss in trade revenue. 53

    Several members of the British parliament were highly critical of Bowring's

    conduct, foremost among them traditional conservatives like Lord Derby, and

    liberals, like Richard Cobden, who wanted free trade, but not colonies and not

    war. 54 Other MPs resented Bowrings recklessness. [M]any of his own

    associates, the newspaper editor Frederick Moy Thomas remembered, became

    estranged from him when, departing from all the tradition of his life, he forced

    upon the country a military expedition to China. 55 Lord Derby, who brought up

    51 See Correspondence Relative to Entrance into Canton, 1850-1855 (London: 1857).52 Wong, Deadly Dreams , 84-108. Wongs meticulous research replaces all previouswork on the Second Opium War.

    53 Bowring does not mention the Arrow and the bombardment of Canton in hisautobiography, merely stating that My career in China belongs so much tohistory, that I do not feel it needful to record its vicissitudes. I have been verelyblamed for the policy I pursued, yet that policy has been most beneficial to mycountry and to mankind at large. Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 217.

    54 Wong, Deadly Dreams, 103-08. John Morley, Cobdens biographer concludes thatBowring was a man without practical judgment, and he became responsible forone of the worst of the Chinese wars. John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden(London, 1903),

    55 Frederick Moy Thomas, Fifty Years of Fleet Street; Being the Life and Recollectionsof Sir John R. Robinson (London: 1904), 91.


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    the issue of the new China war in the Lords on February 24, 1857, questioned the

    monomania of Bowring's obsession with the walls of Canton. I believe he

    dreams of the entrance into Canton," Derby said, "I believe he thinks of it first

    thing in the morning, the last thing at night, and in the middle of the night if he

    happen to awake.

    I do not believe he would consider any sacrifice too great, anyinterruption to commerce to be deplored, any bloodshed almost to beregretted, when put in the scale with the immense advantage to bederived from the fact that Sir John Bowring had obtained an officialreception in the yamun [administrative office] in Canton. 56

    Clearly Bowring had gone against his instructions. 57 Britain had already acceptedthe status quo in Canton for over a decade and, as his superiors explained to him,

    it was necessary to proceed with much caution, and not to use menacing

    language, let alone military force, lest Britain suffer damage to its trade. 58

    Bowring's demands were particularly unreasonable given that they would result in

    no additional benefits neither for Britain nor for the merchant community in Hong

    Kong. As Cobden pointed out in the House of Commons, Britain already tradedwith the Canton merchants and nothing more would be gained from entering the

    city itself.

    I will ask the House, is it worth while fighting for this, that Sir JohnBowring should have the right to go into Canton in one costume oranother, especially when the Governor was ready to meet him half wayout of the town? 59

    In his monomania, Bowring did not only ignore the instructions from his56 Lord Derby, Debate 24 February, 1857, House of Lords, Hansard , vol. 144, cc.

    1177.57 Ibid , cc. 1192. Already in 1852, the Foreign Secretary, the Earl of Granville, felt

    compelled to remind Bowring that you will not push argument on doubtful pointsin a manner to fetter the free action of your Government; and you will not resortto measures of force without previous reference home ... Earl of Granville to Dr.Bowring, January 19, 1852, in Correspondence , 3.

    58 Lord Derby, Debate , cc. 1192.59 Richard Cobden, China War. House of Commons, February 26, 1857, in

    Speeches on Questions of Public Policy : Vol. 2 War, Peace, and Reform, ed. JohnBright and J.E. Thorold Rogers (London: 1908), 384; Richard Cobden, Debate 26February, 1857, House of Commons, Hansard , vol. 144, cc. 1414.


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    government but also the teachings of his mentor. Surely a principled Benthamite

    would have respected the wishes of the Chinese. After all, the felicific calculus

    prescribes no particular substantive content to peoples preferences; it does not

    tell you what actions you are supposed to prefer. If a closed-door policy makes

    the greatest number of Chinese happiest, that conclusion should be respected by

    an objective observer. But Bowring was no objective observer. He was sure that

    completely unimpeded trade would benefit Britain, but also that it would make

    the Chinese happier still - and his actions were designed to prove it. 60

    Indiscriminate bombings of defenseless civilians was a price even the Chinese

    themselves, if they considered the matter carefully, would be prepared to accept.

    And yet Bowring's obsession with the walls of Canton embodies a profoundly

    Benthamite logic. After all, Bentham's brand of radicalism insisted on unimpeded

    access - of enlightenment, of reason, of first principles, of trade. Bentham's was a

    penetrative form of liberalism: it was through unlimited access that both free

    communication and control were to be assured. Compare the central inspection

    principle which guaranteed order and reform in his Panopticon. In Canton central

    inspection was exactly what Bowring was denied. Walls, after all, block visibility,

    and blocked visibility allows secrets to be kept and prejudices to spread. Not

    surprisingly, the Chinese were famous both for their walls and for their

    inscrutability. Bowring had no idea what the Chinese were up to, and it drove

    him, as the MPs in London worriedly remarked, close to madness.

    Lord Elgin and the destruction of the Yuanmingyuan

    In the end, Bowring was removed from office. He was censored by the House of

    Commons and although he formally remained as governor of Hong Kong until

    1859, he was replaced as plenipotentiary in 1857 by James Bruce, the Eighth Earl

    60 For an analogous argument applied to India see Bowring, Colonization and Commerce , 328.


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    of Elgin. Elgins task, as Harriet Martineau put it, was to repair, or to turn to the

    best account, the mischiefs done by Sir John Bowring's course, and by the

    patronage of it at home. 61 Elgin, the son of the Seventh Earl, who robbed the

    Pantheon of its marbles, had already served the British government in Jamaica

    and Canada and he had proven himself both resourceful and measured in his

    actions. 62

    Like Bentham, Elgin was a religious man, yet far from a dissenter, he was a

    man of the established, Anglican, church. Politically, he was a Tory, yet of a

    liberal bent; and although he looked every bit the colonial administrator, he often,

    in letters home to his wife, complained about the ruthless actions of British

    merchants and insisted that he hated war. More than a conservative, Elgin was

    a Coleridgean. At Oxford, according to his brother, his intellect was attracted to

    high and abstract speculation; he read Plato, Milton, and Coleridge, the

    philosophy of the latter he had thoroughly mastered. 63 Like Coleridge himself,

    Elgin firmly believed in the benevolent actions of a patriarchal state. I am a

    Conservative, he declared when successfully running for parliament in 1841,

    because I believe that our admirable Constitution ... proclaims betweenmen of all classes and degrees in the body politic a sacred bond of brotherhood in the recognition of a common welfare here, and acommon hope hereafter. ... because I believe that the institutions of our country, religious as well as civil, are wisely adapted, when dulyand faithfully administered, to promote, not the interest of any class orclasses exclusively, but the happiness and welfare of the great body of the people. 64

    Elgin opposed the Reform Bill of 1832, and his first political pamphlet, Letter to

    61 Harriet Martineau, Memoir of the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, in A BritishFriendship and Memoir of the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine , reprinted from DailyNews, Dec. 12th, 1863 (Windermere: 1866), 28.

    62 The main biography is Theodore Walrond, Letters and Journals of James, EighthEarl of Elgin (London: 1872) which makes extensive references to Elgins letters;George McKinnon Wrong, The Earl of Elgin (Toronto: 1906) is derivative of Walrond, and John George Bourinot, Lord Elgin (Toronto: 1903) only deals onlywith Elgins time in Canada. Martineau, Memoir , is a contemporary hagiography.

    63 Walrond, Letters and Journals , 3, 8.64 Ibid , 9-10.


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    the Electors of Great Britain, 1834, was a staunch defense of the truly

    reactionary, and at the time deeply unpopular, policies of the Duke of Wellington. 65

    Like Coleridge, Elgin worried about the ravages brought by capitalism, and

    although he in principle supported the idea of free trade, he worried about the

    impact a reduction in tariffs would have on the rights of the labouring classes.

    We must remember, he said, that the only capital of the labourer is his skill in his

    own particular walk, and it is a mockery to tell him that he can find a satisfactory

    compensation elsewhere. 66

    Like other conservatives Elgin was morally uncomfortable with the opium

    trade, a view strengthened by his first experiences from the East. 67 In Singapore

    in June 1857 he visited some of the horrid opium-shops, which we are supposed

    to do so much to encourage. 68 They are wretched dark places, and the smokers

    are haggard and stupefied, except at the moment of inhaling, when an unnatural

    brightness sparkles from their eyes. Elgin also objected strongly to Bowring's

    free-booting style of diplomacy. The question of the Arrow , which had served as

    the pretext for the 1856 war, was, Elgin insisted, a wretched business, and a

    scandal to us, and is so considered, I have reason to know, by all except the few

    who are personally compromised. 69 I have got to fight everybodys battles, and

    make myself sponsor for everybodys follies. 70 Once in Hong Kong, Elgin made up

    excuses to avoid having to visit Bowring, and the two clashed repeatedly over

    issues of day-to-day policy. 71 On the larger question of the war, however, Elgin

    65 Wrong, Earl of Elgin , 14.66 Ibid .67 A particularly ardent opponent was Lord Shaftesbury. See Anthony Ashley Cooper,

    Earl of Shaftesbury, Suppression of the Opium Trade; the Speech of the Right Hon. Lord Ashley, M.P, in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, April 4, 1843(London: 1843).

    68 James Bruce, Earl of Elgin, Extracts from the letters of James, Earl of Elgin toMary Louisa, Countess of Elgin, 1847-1862 (Edinburgh: 1864), 29.

    69 Ibid , 62.70 Ibid , 64.

    71 See, for example, ibid , 60, 62. On the disagreement over how to administerCanton once it was occupied, see Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 26.


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    felt he had no choice but to stay the course. We should have done things

    differently, but we cannot look back. We must do for the best, and trust in

    Providence to carry us through our difficulties. 72

    At the end of December, 1857, the British once again attacked Canton, and

    although Elgin was responsible for drawing up the plans, he was a reluctant

    warrior. I hate the whole thing so much, that I cannot trust myself to write

    about it. 73 Looking at the British warships anchored in the harbor, I never felt so

    ashamed of myself in my life ... I feel that I am earning for myself a place in the

    Litany, immediately after plague, pestilence, and famine. 74 And when the final

    attack for a while was deferred until December 29, he immediately noticed that

    this was the day when Herod, in the Bible, massacred the innocents. In the end,

    the city was captured with only a few hundred, official, casualties, and Elgin was

    much relieved. 75

    Elgin, in short, was a sensitive soul. He was fond of quoting Romantic poetry

    - in addition to Coleridge, Tennyson was a favorite - and an emotionally stirring

    book which his wife had sent him, he confessed, is too touching for me, and I

    have been obliged to lay it aside. 76 He was also something of an Orientalist, with

    a perceptive eye for the sublime. When visiting Egypt, en route to China, for

    example, he made a night-time excursion to the pyramids - a classical setting for

    sublime experiences. 77 And as we would expect from a well-educated gentleman I

    touch with his Romantic side, Elgin was duly awe-struck. The sight of the sphinx

    left a particularly strong impression:

    72 Elgin, Extracts from Letters , 63.73 Ibid , 68.74 Ibid , 65-66.75 Ibid , 68. The number of casualties are given as between 200 and 300. Ibid , 77.76 Referring to that little pretty book of Guizots. Ibid , 48.77 The sight of the Egyptian pyramid ... moves one far more than one can imagine

    from all the descriptions ... Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of theBeautiful and Sublime , [1763] (Berkeley: 2004), 49. A contemporary accountemphasizing the sublime nature of the pyramids is Robert Ferguson, The Shadow of the Pyramid, a Series of Sonnets (London: 1847).


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    The mystical light and deep shadows cast by the moon, gave to it anintensity which I cannot attempt to describe. To me it seemed a look,earnest, searching, but unsatisfied. For a long time I remainedtransfixed, endeavouring to read the meaning conveyed by thiswonderful eye ... 78

    China, however, inspired no similar sublime feelings. All in all, Elgin was

    thoroughly unimpressed with what he saw. Chinese towns, and people, tended to

    be ugly, poor and dirty. And he was scathing about Chinese religion: Buddhist

    monks, invariably, seem particularly stupid, and temples contain a parcel of

    hideous idols behind altars, somewhat resembling those of Roman Catholic

    churches. 79

    Not even the imperial institutions were worthy of much praise.Government offices were invariably in a bad state of repair, giving impressions of

    decay rather than splendor. Surprisingly this was true even of the imperial palace


    In June of 1858 a settlement, the Treaty of Tianjin, was finally concluded

    between Elgin and his Chinese counterparts. The treaty opened up eleven new

    Chinese cities to foreign trade, and gave Western powers, inter alia , the right to

    establish permanent missions in Beijing, and the right to travel up the Yangtze

    [Chang jiang] river. The opium trade was also legalized under a fixed tariff. 80 His

    business concluded, Elgin left for home. In 1859, when ratifications were to be

    exchanged, the British decided to bring a military force. They attacked the forts

    at Dagu, which protected Beijing from the sea, but they were beaten back by the

    Chinese defenders. In order to obtain the sought-for ratification, and get revenge

    for the humiliating defeat, Lord Elgin was once again called into action, and he set

    off at the head of a combined Anglo-French army. On August 21, they

    successfully seized the Dagu forts and negotiations recommenced. 81 Yet Elgin

    78 Elgin, Extracts from Letters, 178. By contrast, when Bowring visited the pyramidsin 1837, his only comment concerns how he was robbed in one of the darkchambers. Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 187.

    79 Elgin, Extracts from Letters , 76, 27.

    80 Morse, International Relations , 1:512-538.81 The capture of the Dagu Forts were famously captured by Felice Beato, one of the


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    believed the Chinese were stalling for time, and after little hesitation he decided to

    march on the capital itself. On September 18, the Chinese took 39 Allies hostage,

    including twenty Indian soldiers and Thomas Bowlby, the correspondence for the

    Times. 82 They would be returned, the Chinese promised, but only once the

    Europeans were on their way back home.

    In the evening of October 6, 1860, the army reached the gates of the

    Yuanmingyuan, what the Europeans referred to as the Summer Palace of the

    Chinese emperor. 83 Built by Emperor Kangxi in 1709, the Yuanmingyuan was a

    vast complex of palaces, pagodas, pavilions, temples, lakes, gardens and groves,

    including a European style palace built by Italian architects in the 1740s. 84 In

    addition it contained a major library and it was the place where tributary gifts from

    foreign princes were stored, making it one of the most extraordinary collections of

    artefacts ever assembled. The Yuanmingyuan was, the Chinese insisted, the

    garden of gardens, and just like Kublai Khans palace in Coleridge's poem, it was

    a vision of Paradise.

    The Yuanmingyuan was already well-known in Europe. In the middle of the

    previous century a description of the palace by a Jesuit priest, Father Jean Denis

    Attiret, was widely disseminated among the reading public and it inspired Chinese-

    first war photographers. See David Harris, Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato'sPhotographs of China (Berkeley: 2000). On the war itself, see Morse, InternationalRelations, 1:593-608; For French sources see Henri Cordier, ed., L'Expdition deChine de 1860, histoire diplomatique, notes et documents (Paris: 1906), 255-282.

    82 See Stanislas D'Escayrac de Lauture, Rcit de la captivit de M. le comted'Escayrac de Lauture par les Chinois, fait par lui-mme, in Nouvelles annalesdes voyages, de la gographie et de l'histoire, tome 2 , vol. 182, 6 (Paris: 1864);Henry Brougham Loch, Personal Narrative of Occurrences During Lord Elgin'sSecond Embassy to China, 1860 (London: 1869).

    83 The best primary source is Garnet Wolseley, Narrative of the War with China in1860; to Which Is Added the Account of a Short Residence with the Tai-PingRebels at Nankin and a Voyage from Thence to Hankow (London: 1862). See alsoRobert Swinhoe, Narrative of the North China Campaign of 1860: ContainingPersonal Experiences of Chinese Character, and of the Moral and Social Conditionof the Country; Together with a Description of the Interior of Pekin (London:1861); D.F. Rennie, The British Arms in North China and Japan: Peking 1860,Kagosima (London: 1864).

    84 Carroll Brown Malone, History of the Peking Summer Palace under the Ch'ingDynasty (Urbana: 1934), 43-44.


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    style gardens to be constructed throughout the Continent. 85 Attirets account

    prompted the architect William Chambers, responsible for the pagoda in Kew

    Gardens and himself a visitor to China, to publish a manual on Chinese garden art.

    In its combination of dread and irresistible attraction, Chambers description was

    nothing short of Coleridgean. Chinese gardens, Chambers insisted, combine

    delightful vistas with scenes of terror:

    Bats, owls, and every bird of prey flutter in the groves; wolves, tigersand jackalls howl in the forests; half-famished animals wander uponthe plains; ... and in the most dismal recesses of the woods, where theways are rugged and overgrown with weeds, and where every object

    bears the marks of depopulation, are temples dedicated to the king of vengeance, deep caverns in the rocks, and descents to subterraneoushabitations, overgrown with brushwood and brambles ... 86

    To visit the Yuanmingyuan, in short, was a sublime experience. And many of the

    soldiers who suddenly appeared here in 1860 agreed. I was dumbfounded,

    stunned, bewildered by what I had seen, wrote one, suddenly Thousand and One

    Nights new seem perfectly believable to me. 87 In order to properly depict the

    palace, wrote another, I would need to dissolve all known precious stones inliquid gold and paint with a diamond feather whose bristles contain all the

    fantasies of a poet of the East. 88 Elgin, however, was far less impressed. It is

    really a fine thing, he admitted, like an English park. Numberless buildings with

    handsome rooms, and filled with Chinese curios , and handsome clocks, bronzes,

    85 Reprinted in English as Jean Denis Attiret, A Particular Account of the Emperor of China's Gardens Near Pekin: In a Letter from F. Attiret, a French Missionary, Now Employ'd by That Emperor to Paint the Apartments in Those Gardens, to HisFriend at Paris , M. Cooper (London: 1752).

    86 William Chambers, A Dissertation on Oriental Gardening (London: 1772). In lightof Lowes thorough scholarship, it is impossible to add additional sources toColeridges Kubla Khan. Yet Chambers work was widely read in the last decadesof the eighteenth-century. Another possible inspiration is the account of GeorgeMacartneys visit to the palace of the Chinese emperor in 1793. See GeorgeLeonard Staunton, An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China, Volumes 1 & 2 (London: 1797).

    87 Armand Lucy, Lettres intimes sur la campagne de Chine (Marseille: 1861), 96.

    88 Hrisson, Journal d'un interprte en Chine (Paris: 1886), 306. Cf. the reactions of the French general Montauban, quoted in Cordier, L'Expdition de Chine, 354.


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    etc. 89 But clearly, once you have come to regard something as fine and

    handsome, you can never regard it as sublime. 90 Elgin did not, like Coleridge,

    close his eyes in holy dread and he drank no milk of Paradise. He did not

    submit, instead he demanded submission.

    On October 8 the first of the European hostages were returned by the Chinese

    authorities. They showed signs of torture and told horrific tales of their treatment.

    Next the bodies of dead hostages were returned, and in the end only 18 of the 39

    men came back alive. 91 Outraged and offended, Elgin decided to teach the

    Chinese a lesson. The best way, he decided, was to burn down the


    Having, to the best of my judgment, examined the question in all itsbearings, I came to the conclusion that the destruction of Yuen-ming-yuen was the least objectionable of the several courses open to me,unless I could have reconciled it to my sense of duty to suffer the crimewhich had been committed to pass practically unavenged. I had reason,moreover, to believe that it was an act which was calculated to producea greater effect in China, and on the Emperor, than persons who lookon from a distance may suppose. 92

    It took the army two days to destroy the palace complex. "The clouds of smoke,"

    wrote one eyewitness, "driven by the wind, hung like a vast black pall over

    Pekin."93 Nous, Europens, nous sommes les civiliss, as Victor Hugo famously

    concluded, et pour nous, les Chinois sont les barbares. Voil ce que la civilisation

    a fait la barbarie. 94

    This is how Elgin, the Coleridgean, came to destroy the physical manifestation

    of the dream which his mentor had shared with Kublai Khan. And yet this is not

    89 Elgin, Extracts from Letters , 220.90 By beauty, said Burke, I mean, that quality or those qualities in bodies by

    which they cause love; whereas a mode of terror, or pain, is always the cause of the sublime. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideasof the Sublime and the Beautiful , [1759] (Oxford: 1998): 83, 124. Cf. Kant,Observations , 47.

    91 Morse, International Relations , 608.92 Walrond, Letters and Journals , 366. Cf. Wolseley, Narrative , 282.93 Loch, Personal Narrative , 274.

    94 Victor Hugo, L'Expdition de Chine: Au Capitaine Butler, in Oeuvres compltesde Victor Hugo : Actes et paroles pendant l'exile, 1852-70 (Paris: 1880), 270.


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    to say that his action cannot be given a Coleridgean rationale. Coleridge, after all,

    was a great believer in the state, and it was the British state which Elgin was

    serving. What blinded him to the splendors of Yuanmingyuan was his attention to

    the duties of his office. Elgin had no time to dream; he had revenges to exact,

    concessions to extract and wars to win. He destroyed one Coleridgean idea - the

    emperors palace - while defending another - the idea of imperative duty. In

    December 1857, at the time of the bombardment of Canton, such Realpolitik had

    caused him great moral anguish, but in October 1860 he expressed no such

    scruples. However, and very strikingly, he completely forgot to mention the

    destruction of the palace in any of the letters he wrote to his wife. Perhaps, after

    all, he was ashamed of his action. As Elgin himself had put it in 1857, after the

    bombardment of Canton:

    Whose work are we engaged in, when we burst thus with hideousviolence and brutal energy into these darkest and most mysteriousrecesses of the traditions of the past? I wish I could answer thatquestion in a manner satisfactory to myself. 95

    nationalism, evolution and ideals betrayed

    There are two men to whom we are indebted for the revolution in our general

    modes of thought, wrote John Stuart Mill: Jeremy Bentham, the critical

    rationalist, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poetic communitarian. 96 On matters

    of colonies, as we have seen, the two held opposite views, although neither was

    completely consistent. Benthams felicific calculus indicated to him that colonieswere detrimental to the greatest happiness both of colonizers and colonized,

    although he admitted that colonialism could have beneficial effects, at least if

    guided by his own principles. Coleridge, for his part, saw the importance of

    colonial expansion for the vigor and unity of the state, although he was aware of

    95 Elgin, Extracts from Letters , 101.96 This is a dichotomy which clearly serves Mill's own agenda. What he really wants

    to tell us is how he proposes to unite these two disparate bodies of thought into amore coherent whole. Cf. Pitts, Turn to Empire , 135.


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    the heavy costs it imposed on the subject peoples. Yet, as we have seen, there

    are good reasons to question Mill's conclusions. Bentham died in 1832 and

    Coleridge in 1834; Mill wrote his essay in 1840. In the middle of the following

    decade, however, the two teachers of the teachers no longer defined the

    spectrum of political opinions. The world had already changed too much and new

    factors, not considered by either man, had come to the fore. This is not least the

    case when it comes to the question of colonialism.

    Accounting for this transformation, a first thing to remember is that the

    original impetus for both Benthams and Coleridge's writings on colonialism can be

    located in the 1790s. Bentham's Emancipate Your Colonies! was written in

    1793, at the same time as Coleridge began planning his Pantisocratic move to the

    United States. In the 1790s, universal values were still dominant: the main

    current of Enlightenment thought made few distinctions between Europeans,

    Asians and Africans since everyone, everywhere, if to varying degrees, suffered

    under the yoke of prejudice and irrationality. Non-European peoples too were

    worthy of respect, and fit for self-governance, as long as they sought cast off this

    yoke. 97 Benthams letter to Raja Ram Mohan Roy took for granted the ability of

    the Indian reformer to understand, and act upon, rational arguments. And

    Coleridge insisted that Africans, with their variety of employment, have a greater

    acuteness of intellect than Europeans who the division of labor has condemned

    to mechanically repeating a few simplistic tasks. 98

    By the 1850s, however, this universalizing creed had largely been replaced

    by a new ideology which made sharp distinctions between nations, peoples, and

    their respective historical trajectories. 99 Social development, thinking men now

    97 Compare the notice issued by William Bentinch, Governor-General of India, in1829 for addressed to all native gentlemen, landholders, merchants, and others for suggestions tending to promote any branch of national industry. Discussed inBowring, Colonization and Commerce , 331.

    98 Coleridge, Slave-Trade , 143.

    99 For comments on this shift, see Pitts, Turn to Empire , 133-162; K. TheodoreHoppen, The Mid-Victorian Generation 1846-1886 (Oxford, 1998), 472-510. Or,


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    generally tended to believed, is a result of social evolution. 100 Evolution has placed

    some societies and some people at a higher level of development than others;

    some societies and people are civilized, others are barbarian, and a few in the

    middle are semi-barbarian. It was James Mill who first brought the utilitarian

    and the colonialist projects together. 101 In an essay on China from 1809, he

    discredited one Chinese achievement after the other with the aim of depriving the

    country of its status as a civilized. 102 In the six volumes of his History of India ,

    1817, Mill pre gave India the same treatment. Indian, he concluded, was a

    hopelessly backward society and Indians could not help themselves. Commenting

    favorably on Mills work in the Westminster Review in 1829, John Bowring

    endorsed this conclusion:A power, a stupendous power, of good is in our hands,

    and the chances of happiness for the Indian people are greater from our dominion

    than from that of any masters to whom it is likely they will be transferred.... 103

    In his celebrated essay, On Liberty, written as news of Bowrings China war

    reached Britain, Mill fils took the logical further step of arguing that if [the

    Chinese] are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. 104 The

    contrast with Mills earlier essay, Civilization, from 1836, is dramatic. 105 The two

    essays cover essentially the same ground - emphasizing the importance of

    individuality and of free expression as the engine of social improvement. Yet inmore generally, the contributions to Duncan Bell, ed., Victorian Visions of Global Order: Empire and International Relations in Nineteenth-Century Political Thought ,1st ed. (Cambridge: 2008).

    100 Charles Darwins Origin of the Species was published in 1859, and drew onevolutionary ideas current at the time. See Gregory Claeys, The "Survival of theFittest" and the Origins of Social Darwinism, Journal of the History of Ideas 61,no. 2 (April 2000): 223-240.

    101 Pitts, Turn to Empire , 123-133.102 There is not one of the arts in China in a state which indicates a stage of beyond

    the infancy of agricultural society. James Mill, Review of M. de Guignes, Voyages Peking, Manille, et lIle de France, faits dans l'intervalle des annes 1784 1801, The Edinburgh Review 14 (July 1809):424.

    103 Bowring, Colonization and Commerce , 328.104 John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (London: 1859), 129.105 John Stuart Mill, Civilization, [1836], in Dissertations and Discussions, Political

    Philosophical, and Historical. Reprinted Chiefly from the Edinburgh and Westminster Reviews, Volume I (London: 1859), 160-205.


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    1836 the foil for Mill's argument was a rather abstract, Hobbesian, state of nature,

    whereas in 1859 the foil was an eternally stagnant, and history-less, China.

    This evolutionary mode of thinking was accompanied by a new emphasis on

    questions of race. 106 From being occasional remarks scattered in the pages of the

    writers of the previous generation, racism had, by mid-century, developed into a

    full-fledged theory which explained differences between individuals, societies,

    even the general course of world history itself. It is clear that the representatives

    of the British government in China shared these views. It is a terrible business,

    said Lord Elgin in a letter to his wife, this living among inferior races. 107 And

    John Bowring condemned the rampant miscegenation taking place in the

    Portuguese colony of Macao: you can barely fancy, he wrote to his son, how any

    European race could by mingling with Malayan, negro & Chinese blood degenerate

    into such extreme ugliness. 108

    This is thus how the secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Permanent

    and Universal Peace came to make war on defenseless civilians, and how a

    conservative supporter of time-honored institutions came to act like a barbarian

    overrunning Rome. 109 In the end Bowring and Elgin were not Benthamites and

    106 An early work is Robert Knox, The Races of Men: A Fragment (Philadelphia: 1850).See Gregory Claeys, The "Survival of the Fittest" and the Origins of SocialDarwinism, Journal of the History of Ideas 61, no. 2 (April 2000): 223-240. Andmore generally Tzvetan Todorov, On Human Diversity: Nationalism, Racism, and Exoticism in French Thought (Cambridge: 1998).

    107 Elgin, Extracts from Letters, 44-45. Compare the rampant sinophobia of Coleridge's friend and fellow opium addict, Thomas de Quincey . See his TheChinese Question in 1857, in The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey,Volume 14 , ed. David Masson (London: 1897), 345-367.

    108 Letter to his Son, 12 May, 1850, quoted in Todd, Global Dissemination , 390.109 No man, says Bowring in his Autobiographical Recollections, w as ever a more

    ardent lover of peace than I. Yet the powers of reason fail when coming incontact with the unreasoning and unconvincible; with barbarous - ay, andsometimes with civilized nations - the words of peace are uttered in vain. Bowring, Autobiographical Recollections , 217-218. As general Hope Grant, militarycommander of the British forces in 1860, admitted:I don't know whether I shallbe justified at home for committing this, what may be called barbaric act, but inmy opinion it is a just retribution. James Hope Grant, Hope Grant to SidneyHerbert, October 17, 1860, in Athur H. Stanmore, Sidney Herbert, Lord Herbert of Lea: A Memoir (London: 1906), 349.


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    Coleridgeans as much as employees of the British state. 110 And yet, there are

    important respects in which the two remained faithful to their mentors. What has

    taken place is not a break with, but rather a winnowing down of, the original

    themes. In Bentham's mind, panopticism and anti-colonialism easily co-existed,

    just as Coleridge combined Orientalist fantasies with metaphysical speculations

    about the organic unity of the state. Fifty years later, however, these

    combinations were no longer possible and their disciples were forced to emphasize

    some parts of the legacy while turning their backs on others. Bowring and Elgin

    were Benthamites and Coleridgeans not within an internationalist, but within a

    nationalist, framework.

    architecture of our imagination

    Dreams strikingly often take architectural form. We first build things in our fancy

    which we later go on to build in real life. 111 Kublai Khan and Coleridge dreamed of

    an ideal palace and Bentham of an ideal prison. Kublai Khan, Rashid-al-Din

    reported, wanted a building fit for an imperial ruler which could

    spread his own fame - symbolize and aggrandize his power. 112 Bentham wanted

    power too. The building he so desperately sought to construct was to assure a

    centrally placed observer - himself, or a colonial administrator - complete control

    over the movements of the people subject to him. Coleridge's dream, by contrast,

    is not a dream of power but of how to relinquish it. It is a renunciation of the

    white mans burden and, perhaps, a subconscious plead for colonizers and

    colonized to trade places.

    110 That these conclusions were not inevitable, or the only ones, is proven by thecontributions to the China debates in the Houses of Parliament in February andMarch, 1857. Here Lord Derby provided a traditional, and respectful, conservativedefense of Chinese institutions and Richard Cobden, taking a universalist liberalview, argued that no rationale existed for treating China different from anyEuropean country. Lord Derby, Debate, cc. 1155-1195; Cobden, China War , 1908.

    111 The classical account is Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: 1994).112 Yule, Cathay , 2:258.


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    Reading letters and diaries of nineteenth-century colonial administrators one

    occasionally hears echoes of Coleridge's poem, and it is possible to hear them in

    Lord Elgins private correspondence. Yet these subconscious voices, to the extent

    that they existed, are never loud enough. And even Lord Elgin, when he came

    face to face with the sublime apparition itself, did not submit to it but destroyed it.

    He clearly never recognized it for what it was; he identified too closely with his

    official role. Once the Emperors palace was reduced to a smoldering heap, it was

    instead the Benthamite vision which came to be constructed. And eventually

    China was completely opened up to inspection, and its markets, its people and its

    land became subject to foreign control. 113

    And yet, as Borges pointed out in his essay on Coleridge, the dream of Kublai

    Khans palace is far more powerful than its dreamers. In the future the same

    dream will surely be picked up by others - Europeans, North Americans and Asians

    - and dreamed and re-dreamed over and over again:

    Perhaps this series of dreams has no end, or perhaps the last will bethe key Perhaps an archetype not yet revealed to mankind, an eternalobject, is gradually entering the world. 114

    Since the mid-nineteenth-century it is the Benthamite vision which has guided

    European relations with the non-European world. On the whole these relations

    have been unhappy and exploitative. Trusting in dreams, and in Borges, however,

    we can perhaps look forward to the day when the archetype imagined by Kublai

    Khan and Coleridge once again enters the world.

    113 In the end, Morse concludes, the Chinese learned, and they accepted as theirlaw, that, whereas formerly it was China which dictated the conditions underwhich international relations were to be maintained, now it was the Western

    nations which imposed their will on China. Morse, International Relations , 1:617.114 Borges, Coleridges Dream , 372.