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Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770–1845$
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Porscha Fermanis and John Regan

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199687084

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199687084.001.0001

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No ‘nonsense upon stilts’

No ‘nonsense upon stilts’

James Mill’s History of British India and the Poetics of Benthamite Historiography

(p.72) 3 No ‘nonsense upon stilts’
Rethinking British Romantic History, 1770–1845

John Regan

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the extent to which James Mill’s History of India (1817) dismisses imaginative licence in historical writing by adapting eighteenth-century philosophic models of history to a newly militant, pragmatic utilitarianism in which history is ‘put to work’. Mill indicts an Indian society that is resistant to European taxonomies of historical progress because its historical, civic, scientific, and legal texts are in verse. Delivering a withering report on the verboseness of Hindu culture, Mill enshrines concision and exactness at the heart of his imagined, corrective verse-vision. Yet little of this concision is borne out in European and British verse in the period. The text’s trenchant excoriations of Indian verse histories therefore operate dialectically, revealing ideals which are not present in Mill’s own text, and also seem at variance with the melodrama of Romantic ‘slashing criticism’ and the hyper-annotative tendencies of verse in his native Britain.

Keywords:   India, utilitarianism, James Mill, History of British India, concision, annotation, philosophic history, verse, review culture, Romantic periodicals

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