Published: Sept. 1, 2012 By

[1] In the spring of 1789, the impeachment of former East India Company president Warren Hastings for war crimes in India was entering its second year. The outbreak of revolutionary violence in France was still a few months in the future. And a narrative appeared by Innes Munro, a Scottish officer in the British Army’s 73rd highland regiment, in a large and handsome volume. Widely advertised in advance of its publication, Munro’s account of his experiences in India during the Second Mysore War (1780-84) was partly plagiarized from William Thomson’s Memoirs of the Late War in Asia (1788), but it is significant in its own right as a portrait of powerful soldierly sentiments—masculine affective entanglements that undergird Britain’s expanding imperial project and threaten the emergent racializations that also supported it (for notes on the charge of plagiarism, see English Review, 372-82; and “Caution to the Young Gentlemen of the Army”). Munro’s text, which shifts from narrative to sentimental tableau to ethnographic observation and back again, also offers critics distinctive insights into the workings of gender, affect, and communities of feeling in the eighteenth-century British empire. Munro’s book condenses in a small compass three significant strains in late eighteenth-century discourses on masculinity: patriotism, militarism, and self-interest. Munro’s text seeks simultaneously to enfold soldier and reading public into a single sentimental national community, yet also grants the military male a distinctive position within that collective—a sacrificial figure, the bearer of feelings and the endurer of emotions from which the common reading public is excluded. But while his text positions the soldier as an essential member of a national and imperial community, its gendered logic also forges unexpected bonds across national and racial lines, since male embodiments of virtue and heroism are attractive even in the racialized bodies of Indian military men.

[2] Recent studies of masculinity in this period have examined the emergence of the citizen-soldier as an exemplary male (Colley,Britons 283-319; Fulford; Braudy 217-55). However, few close examinations of soldiers’ memoirs in this period have appeared, and fewer still demonstrate much interest in the way these memoirs might appropriate or deform shifting gender conventions for their own rhetorical purposes. The works that have appeared offer ambitious and compelling syntheses of shifting gendered discourses. Here, however, I take a different approach, unpacking a single memoir to argue that its procedures both confirm and complicate these arguments. Munro structured his Narrative as much around the feelings, patriotic and homosocial, that memories of the war inspired in him and in other soldiers as around the events of the war he narrates. Its technique gives us reason to doubt the claims of some historians that the language of male sensibility retreated somewhat after its peak in the 1770s (such as Wahrman 38-40). Munro’s text—like others closely associated with this period of the colonization of India—indulges heavily in the lachrymose displays of feeling familiar to readers of the sentimental novel. My more granular examination of a soldier’s story also supplements recent studies of the relationship between print culture and affect such as that recently highlighted by Laura Mandell (2009). Munro positions himself as a soldier within the affective nation and empire, which he imagines as a node in a network of affects that link violence, emotion, and community. But I also argue that Munro’s representation of this manhood exposes certain fissures in the conceptual masonry that joins military masculinity to national and imperial service; his emphasis on masculine and soldierly generosity of feeling threatens to establish affective links between Indian and Briton, blurring empire’s racial boundaries. In seeking to tease out these varied elements of Munro’s narrative, I highlight the centrality of military manhood to British conceptions of empire and nationhood, while also calling attention to the internal tensions in this gender construction that kept it from becoming a simple or straightforward component of imperial ideology. Munro’s imagining of an affective link between reading public and soldier also produces less predictable linkages.

Manly Ardor: The Passions of War

[3] In the second half of the eighteenth century, the British East India Company (EIC) underwent a profound transformation. Founded in 1600, its early activities focused on establishing trading centers in Bengal, Madras, and Bombay, but in the eighteenth century it gradually began conducting large-scale military operations across the entire Subcontinent, using private mercenary armies of Britons and Asians as well as regular British army forces. Numerous accounts of these wars appeared in print during this period, particularly the events of the wars with the central Indian Mysore state, which contested British influence in the region for several decades, and which held many British and EIC soldiers captive months or years (Colley,Captives 269-346; Bayly 95-98).

[4] These expanded activities were controversial. One reaction to this transformation of the Company was the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, which was entering its second year as Munro’s narrative appeared. The Hastings trial, conducted before the House of Lords and relying on an elaborate array of evidence and fiery displays of oratory from MPs Edmund Burke and Richard Sheridan, was driven by a growing public concern about British actions on the Subcontinent, where, it was feared, morally dubious profiteers were luxuriating in ill-gotten gains. For Burke and others leading the prosecution, Hastings exemplified the worst aspects of British colonialism—unjust wars and corrupt dealings with tyrants. The Hastings trial and broader attention to the EIC’s activities and influence had brought the Company under tremendous scrutiny, and countless critics have identified an ambivalence in the British government and in the literate public about the EIC’s operations as, on the one hand, an agent of the burgeoning British empire, and, on the other hand, as a problematic private enterprise acting illicitly as an empire in its own right (Suleri 24-74; O’Quinn 164-221). Others such as Anna Clark have commented on the significance of the Hastings trial for studies of contemporary rhetorics of femininity, highlighting Burke’s portrayal of Hastings as a sexual predator and victimizer of women (Clark 84-112). Munro’s text builds on the gendered language of the Hastings trial to suggest that masculine feeling, particularly love of liberty, country, and virtue, is severely challenged in the colonies. His account suggests that conditions in the torrid zone tend to corrode public spirit and to encourage self-interest and insensitivity, particularly among men who bear no arms. On the other, men who serve in the military there compensate for their isolation from their homeland through their bonds to one another; the narrative veers from critique of the barbarous wars of the Company towards sentimental accounts of the feelings of soldiers mourning their slain brothers in arms.

[5] Those who served in India faced multiple challenges to their identities; Munro, significantly, figures these challenges in terms of emotional vigor. The Indian environment strains the Briton’s attachment to his home country and threatens not only his health but also his patriotic attachment to his homeland:

The infinite perplexities arising in this ungenial region, and its vast distance from Home, absolutely erase from a man’s mind all ideas of zeal for the welfare of his country. Here patriotism evaporates through a stream of perspiration; and, when the native juices are once exhausted, he becomes an indifferent alien, ending his exiled being in misery and discontent. (94)

Britons resident in India are emotionally depleted by the intolerable Indian climate, just as India’s own earlier civilizations were often said to have been (Nechtman 36-41). This is the fate that haunts the colonist: an emptying of feeling, particularly feeling for the mother country, replaced by detachment and melancholy. “Indifferent” to community, Munro’s depleted men become “alien” not just to Britain but to community in general, suffering in isolation and exile. Almost literally drained of patriotism, East India merchants will fill the affective vacuum with raw greed.

[6] These deracinated beings become an altogether different sort of man; emotionally detached, they are susceptible to the lure of lucre and raw power that the EIC often seemed to exemplify. While Munro is far from alone in 1789 in condemning the cruelty and avarice of the Company and its servants, his gendering of soldierly sentiment is juxtaposed to his invective against the faceless agents of the Company, who represent a cooler strain of manhood associated with conquest and callousness. The company commits, in his word, “depredations,” and the merchants of the company transform themselves not simply into warriors, but into barbarians much like those they fight against. In Munro’s treatment, as the company moves towards a permanent war footing, they augment their forces and then transform them into capital, “lending them out as mercenaries to either Mahomedan or Gentoo; as opportunity offered, eagerly however preferring the prince that should cede to them the most … money as a recompense for their service” (101). They then become conquerors themselves, responsible for “invasion, conquest, and innocent bloodshed,” led by “avarice and ambition,” careless of the “the lives of their countrymen,” and committing “acts of injustice and oppression,” on a quest for “universal empire” (101, xi). Here Munro echoes some of the charges against Hastings, though he transfers the site of sympathetic engagement from Indian to British soldier, complaining that the company is “wantonly lavishing [the common soldier’s] blood” (318-19). His text longs for the noble and recently-deceased general Sir Eyre Coote, whose affection for the common soldier prevented him from engaging in needless wars; “In him the soldier lost a warm friend,” Munro writes, invoking once more the language of powerful feeling and affective relationships (319-320).

[7] Significantly, Munro figures this transformation from sympathetic man to cruel and cynical exile by ironically referencing a practice—circumcision—that yokes masculinity to cultural transformation. He writes that this process of becoming rapacious conquerors is one, in part, of cultural assimilation to a geography that conditions a different sort of masculinity: EIC agents “were soon induced … by such rapacious considerations, to blend war with commerce, so naturally adopting the policy and deceitful manners of the Moors, that I believe nothing but the act of circumcision was wanting to render them complete Mussulmen” (100). Munro here aligns the alien practice of circumcision with cruelty and loss of patriotism; the circumcised penis metonymically connects depraved masculinity to barbarism. Colley notes that many British prisoners of war in Mysore were in fact circumcised, sometimes voluntarily. Though some British observers at the time feared this ritual assimilation to Islamic practice reflected poorly on the durability of British soldierly patriotism, Munro deftly reverses the rhetoric and applies it to the more figuratively captivated Company directors (Colley, Captives 301-304). The merchants have not simply become brutal killers; they have become Khans in their own right. If their British masculinity is technically intact, secured by their foreskins, it is certain that for Munro they have slid over to another version of manhood in every other respect. They blend the worst aspects of military manhood—its potential for brutality—with the coldness and lack of feeling characteristic of the merchant, creating a monstrous and avaricious, though still very masculine, institution.

[8] For Munro, the soldier offers an alternative form of masculinity, one with emotional resources that stave off deracination. Soldierly patriotism is more intense than that of the merchant, though this patriotism is enormously facilitated by fraternal attachments to fellow soldiers. In Munro’s account, the work of positioning the colonial soldier as a patriot was somewhat vexed; though a regular British army officer, his Scottish ancestry made him something of an outsider in a Britain still dominated by Englishmen. More significantly, the war he narrated was a dubious conflict waged in support of a private enterprise in the Indian subcontinent rather than in a more obviously patriotic field of battle.

[9] The Mysore Wars had received a significant amount of attention in the British press. At the time that Munro’s narrative appeared, an uneasy peace prevailed between Britain and Mysore; the Treaty of Mangalore, signed in 1784, had ended the Second Anglo-Mysore war and restored conditions in southern India to a prewar status quo (Allan, Dodwell, and Haig 590-94). The first two wars between Britain and the EIC on the one hand and the resurgent Islamic regime in Mysore (led first by Haider Ali, then by his son, Tipu Sultan) had been difficult and brutal for British and Company forces. The second war, narrated in part by Munro, was particularly difficult for the British; Tipu Sultan’s army’s spectacularly defeated forces led by William Baille at Pollilur, resulting not only in a high number of casualties but also in the captivity of hundreds of soldiers in Mysore, some of whom continued to be held in Seringapatam for over a decade (Colley,Captives 276). At the end of the year in which Munro’s narrative was published, the treaty would collapse, and this time things would not go as well for Mysore. While within ten years the British would decisively vanquish Tipu Sultan, in 1789 he was still seen as a dangerous and nigh invincible warlord, hostile to British ambitions to dominate the India trade. Colley argues that the experience of captivity in Mysore allowed the British state to soften the image of the military by associating soldiers with the “feminine” traits of sensibility and sympathy (Captives 301-304). Similarly, Betty Joseph demonstrates that in India, in particular, the suffering male body becomes a register of suffering and trauma, which in turn become founding myths of the British colonial project there (Joseph 62-78; cf. Teltscher 229-257). My reading of Munro’s text extends and complicates Joseph’s argument. Munro offers a specific form of the passionate soldier: a man subject to powerful and spontaneous emotion, but capable of containing and suppressing that emotion in order to serve more ably the nation and the monarch. In particular, soldiers must turn away from their sympathies for women and civilians, channeling their feelings only in directions that will not interfere with their duties to the nation. Munro’s soldiers are immunized from charges of deracination and transculturation by a soldierly masculinity that is powerfully differentiated from that of the EIC warlords he criticizes. If most Britons in India are unfeeling agents of the EIC, their cool calculation serves as a foil for the heartfelt patriotism and brotherly emotion of the military. The soldierly masculinity that Munro’s narrative develops also offers a way of understanding the British nation and empire in terms of a particular form of emotional manliness with its pointed distinction between proper military heroism and patriotism, on the one hand, and mere imperial rapaciousness, on the other.

[10] Munro suggests that newly arrived soldiers, like merchants, also face the threat of deracination. Here, however, he presents that threat lightheartedly, referencing European sartorial adaptations to the Indian climate. The modernized dress of the British soldier is threatened in India not by law but by the combined forces of an inimical climate and the hostility of Indians themselves: “When an European arrives at Madras,” Munro informs the reader,

he is obliged, in a short time afterwards, to get a fresh supply of cotton shirts, waistcoats, and breeches, not only because they are better adapted to the climate, but because the washermen seem to have come under an engagement to the cotton-venders and tailors, to destroy the European habiliments as soon as possible; which indeed they do very effectually, and make no secret of their purpose; for while they thump your linen upon the washing-stones, at every blow they call outEurope! and strike it with ten times the force they would do the produce of their own country: so that it is folly for English gentlemen to bring any thing of that kind out with them ... (41)

The washermen Munro describes exhibit mixed motivations; they are most obviously mercenary agents working to create a market for local clothing vendors, but their cry of “Europe!” hints at a deeper antagonism and a desire to extinguish the exterior markers of European or British identity. This hostility is part of what produces the zone of conflict that contributes to the social anomie that Munro describes—an indigenous resistance on which he does not explicitly reflect. The product of this resistance, however, is that Britons in India are forced to adopt different external markers of identity; no longer displaying themselves as British, they come to look, superficially, more “Indian.” These same “European” clothes also serve as a synecdoche for the larger threats to European identity found in the East.

[11] The question of clothing was perhaps more freighted for Munro and his Highlanders than this ironic invocation might suggest. For Highlanders, clothing was even more explicitly associated with cultural identity than for other Britons. In the wake of the 1745 Jacobite uprising, Highlanders had found their loyalty to the nation questioned and their traditional ceremonies of allegiance restricted (Smout 343). Munro leads a company of Highlanders who have abandoned the Scottish plaid due to its unsuitability for the climate—a decision that Munro dwells on and that his men seem to have found disturbing: “we are … now clothed in white hats and trowsers, apparel better suited to an hot climate; but I believe notwithstanding this that some of our soldiers would have braved the utmost rage of the Musquitoes rather than quit their native dress” (92). Scottish regiments were exempted from the ban on Highland plaid, outlawed in the wake of the Jacobite uprising in 1745 (Trevor-Roper, 22-25); though Munro seems untroubled, some of his soldiers would prefer to retain the marks of a narrower identity.

[12] Clothing and other fashionable accoutrements return later in Munro’s tale, but there they take on quite a different connotation. For as Munro’s fellow military men move into combat, his rhetoric turns away from wit and towards sentiment, and the identity that is threatened by environmental conditions and indigenous hostility is preserved by the intense bonds that form between fighting men as they mourn their losses. Describing his company’s march across a South Indian battlefield from earlier in the war, the narrative pauses to offer a melancholic tableau:

Perhaps there come not within the wide range of human imagination scenes more affecting, or circumstances more touching, than many of our army had that day to witness and to bear. On the very spot where they stood lay strewed amongst their feet the relics of their dearest fellow-soldiers and friends, who … had been slain by the hands of those very inhuman monsters that now appeared a second time eager to complete the work of blood. One poor soldier with the tear of affection glistening in his eye, picked up the decaying spatterdash of his valued brother, with the name yet entire upon it, which the tinge of blood and effect of weather had kindly spared! -- Another discovered the club of plaited hair of his bosom friend, which he himself had helped to form, and knew by the tie and still remaining color! A third mournfully recognised the feather which had decorated the cap of his inseparable companion! The scattered clothes and wings of the seventy-third’s … companies were every where perceptible, as also their helmets and sculls, both of which bore the marks of many furrowed cuts. These horrid spectacles too melancholy to dwell upon, while they melted the hardest hearts, inflamed our soldiers with an enthusiasm and thirst of revenge, such as render men invincible … (240-41)

I have quoted this passage at length to illustrate the way that Munro has borrowed certain techniques from sentimental fiction, which frequently lingers over such scenes of sympathy and melancholy, as well as to indicate the specific way in which the intense homosociality of this sequence is defined in relation to war (Williams 465-84). Munro here asks his readers to envision and to feel the emotional torments of the marching soldiers as they themselves dwell on the friendships they have lost and the sufferings of their lost brothers. But there are other features of this passage worth mentioning. For one thing, those who suffer are soldiers and officers—not old soldiers bearing their scars manfully, but rather men experiencing sentiment virtually in the heat of battle. They ponder the accoutrements that, in a different register, might mark the soldiers as effeminate and superficial, macaronis or fops—the monogrammed spatterdashes and carefully-tied hair braids—as highly cathected emblems of feeling and loss. The language offers a register of profound intimacy, with soldiers seeing and touching relics of the body—bones, blood, and hair—macabre relics that serve as reminders of vulnerability and mortality.

[13] By reproducing these mementos in print, Munro attempts to create something like a second-order simulacra of soldierly patriotism in his readership, allowing the soldier to figure a patriotic community constructed around the sacrifices of sentimentally consecrated soldiers. Munro’s soldiers shore up British interests in India, deploying a richly emotional language that also works as a bulwark against other, more critical treatments of imperial emotion. Munro describes the sufferings of his fellow soldiers, he says, “with the tear of commiseration starting involuntarily from [his] eye” (166). Burke’s and Sheridan’s declamations against Warren Hastings, in particular, sought to evoke powerful sentimental responses in their auditors and in a wider readership. Burke became notorious for sentimental excesses regarding the treatment of civilians, especially women, by men allied to the EIC: “dragged forth from the inmost recesses of their houses … exposed naked to public view; the virgins were carried to the Court of Justice, where … in the face of the Ministers … those tender and modest virgins were brutally violated” (Burke 420-21). Burke uses rape and pungent images of violated womanhood as a synecdochal representation of the depredations of the EIC’s style of colonialism. In contrast, Munro’s rhetoric of powerful feeling attempts the work of commemorating and circulating in print a masculine community in which a national readership can participate but whose patriotism and sacrifice nevertheless render it exclusive and distinctive. Soldiers, in Munro’s account, are exemplary men not only because of their bravery and fortitude; they are also uniquely capable of powerful forms of emotional attachment and melancholy, fostered by their sharing in painful and terrifying experiences. If the post-national masculinities of the EIC threaten the imperial project, Munro’s soldierly masculinity can revitalize it by imagining empire as a network of sympathy organized not around atrocity but around the sufferings of the very agents of imperial violence.

[14] Munro’s sentimental network does not ignore the sufferings of Asians, to be sure. Moments of sentimental reflection on Indian suffering in fact play an important role in the masculinity of a soldier. Munro implicitly walls off the soldier as a special case within the national community: while the power of sympathy connects soldiers to other soldiers and to their mother country, their emotional responses to civilians in a wartime setting must be contained and regulated. When describing the destruction of villages by Mysore’s forces (visible from Munro’s garrison near Ft. St. George), Munro warns his fellow military men against too strong an emotional reaction to the suffering of females and of civilians, for a soldierly masculinity requires emotional detachment from non-soldiers. Describing the flight of villagers from the Mysorian enemy, he writes

This first scene, upon a nearer approach, presented to us all the horrors of war in their most distressing colours. Aged parents borne, like Anchises from the flames of Troy, upon the bleeding shoulders of their offspring, who were wantonly mutilated; mothers bewailing the loss of their helpless infants that had fallen a sacrifice to the fury of the enemy on the first surprise; and innocent virgins clinging for protection to the arms of their lacerated brothers. This was indeed a melancholy spectacle, which made the deepest impression upon our sympathising minds, as yet unaccustomed to such scenes of brutality and horror … (135)

This last comment on the “sympathetic minds” of the inexperienced solder is striking; it is natural for a man to respond to the distress of parents and virgins of whatever race or allegiance. But learning to discipline this affliction is part of the soldier’s profession: he “must not only learn to behold, but participate in, with calmness and indifference” (135). Here, the register is not that of lamentation and wailing; it is rather a comment on the difficult work of cultivating a style of feeling that does not interfere in the performance of war. This is not a process in which Munro expects his readership to participate: most readers ought to retain their tenderness of heart. To a soldier, such responses would be luxurious. Yet this passage makes this soldierly struggle with emotion a point of sentimental contact: the force of will required to turn away from such a terrible, emotive scene is itself made the subject of an emotional identification for the reader. Readers are invited to experience that struggle without themselves manufacturing the carapaced heart that military masculinity requires; they are also asked to feel for the soldiers themselves, who, on behalf of a national community, perform the difficult emotional labor of witnessing and enduring the sufferings of others.

[15] This soldierly detachment appears even in sequences where we might expect Munro to register outrage with the tyrannical machinery of the EIC. When a rice shipment runs aground and a food shortage looms, the resulting logistical crisis leads the company immediately to discharge most of its Indian soldiers to prevent food shortages within the Company and the British forces supporting them. This callous dismissal leaves these Indian soldiers and their families with no income and no way to feed themselves, and their hunger quickly turns into famine. Munro writes that

Scenes of a more distressing nature than it is possible for my pen to describe were now hourly presented to view whichsoever way the eye might happen to turn. The streets and roads were strewed with unhappy creatures lying prostrate upon the ground, swooning from weakness, the melancholy effect of want, or gasping in all the horrid agonies of a lingering dissolution. Frightful skeletons, trembling on the verge of fate, were seen supplicating for a morsel of food or a grain of rice; which, where the heart was most disposed to sympathy, it was impossible to grant. [...] Wretched mothers might be seen loaded with grief and affliction, offering to enslave their darling children for as much rice as would only contribute to prolong their miseries for perhaps eight dreadful days; while others were bewailing the extinction of their whole family ... (299)

This tableau, similar in tone to Munro’s earlier account of battlefield melancholy, works with a different sentimental logic. This scene of horror is not engaging or energizing; rather, its horrors are “such as to benumb every humanized faculty of the soul” (299). And while the soldiers do respond with humanity, offering where possible to share food and nourishment with the starving, Munro’s text registers no outrage with the abandonment of these former soldiers. Their dying bodies for Munro serve only to point towards the generosity of British soldiers; it is not intended that their sympathy should elevate the suffering or lead to any criticism of the colonial processes that led them to this catastrophe. If the reading public is asked to sympathize—and it surely is—it is largely in the service of intensifying admiration for a brave and feeling soldiery. It is important to distinguish, then, Munro’s sentimentality from the declamations of Burke, Sheridan, and the managers of the Hastings trial, who so powerfully manipulate images of feminine suffering. For feeling throughout this text is valorized precisely to the extent that it abets the British military project in India. In Munro’s most passionate passages, the language of melting and emotion is transformed into that of heat, ardor, and a thirst for revenge. The soldier’s affect melts him in the grand sentimental style—but it is also a spur to further conquests, as we have seen, since the attachment to fellow warriors fuels the drive to exact vengeance on their enemies. Powerful sentiments directed towards the suffering of a fellow soldier are, finally, useful in war in a way that the sufferings of noncombatants, particularly women, are not.

[16] There are gaps, however, in Munro’s presentation of this masculine sentimental virtue. Munro’s text briefly comes close to compromising this vision of masculinity in its dedication to King George III. The relationship between sovereign and subject is, not unusually, described not in abstract political terms but in the language of love and intimacy. Sovereign love sustains the soldier, who can retain his military ardor, his heat and his passion—and thus retain his military effectiveness—only while sustained by that sovereign affection. If love of his brother soldiers keeps him attached to his regiment, it is the love of the sovereign that keeps him attached to his nation:

[I]t is a comfortable reflection to us ... to be the subjects of a benevolent and generous sovereign, whose heart is ever disposed to redress their slightest grievances. What else could stimulate our zeal and inflame our actions in a disagreeable foreign country at the distance of ten thousand miles from home? Without such protection and support, be assured that military ardour would speedily decline (95).

The person of the king here performs emotional work on behalf of the nation; Great Britain in the abstract cannot reciprocate the soldier’s patriotic ardor, but the king can: without his “heart,” military passions would decline. But this language of transcendent emotion, significantly, appears in the context of the text’s most mercenary moment: a plea for additional compensation for Munro and his fellow soldiers. As we saw above, Munro’s Narrative registers a deep suspicion of the blurring of commerce and war the EIC represents. Yet Munro’s plea risks associating him with precisely this mercenary impulse. The EIC had promised to compensate the British regular army for the discrepancies between its (higher) pay to its private army and that of the public officers. Munro’s text encourages the state (embodied in the monarch) to insist that the company follow through and recover these payments, never made. However, to make such a request is to create an interference pattern in the economy of sentiment that is the text’s dominant mode.

[17] The text negotiates this tricky moment by subsuming the mercenary into the affective; Munro suggests that when deciding to publish this material, he “speak[s] of men and measures from the impulse of the heart …” (xi). The quotation discussed above—in which he connects soldierly sentimentality to patriotism and love for the king—actually comes out of a textual effort to disclaim this very mercenary quality of the text. The full quotation reads

Nothing … can be more flattering to the king’s troops than this compact, if strictly adhered to; of which we entertain no doubt, conscious that our royal master will see every justice done to his own troops; particularly when serving in defence of such distant territories. And, permit me to tell you, my dear friend, it is a comfortable reflection to us (and what indeed I think every Briton should glory in) to be the subjects of a benevolent and generous sovereign, whose heart is ever disposed to redress their slightest grievances. What else could stimulate our zeal and inflame our actions in a disagreeable foreign country at the distance of ten thousand miles from home? Without such protection and support, be assured that military ardour would speedily decline. (95)

Munro’s dedication transforms a pecuniary issue into one of morale, sentiment, and loyalty—a set of subjective personal relationships rather than economic dependence, an economy of emotion rather than of finance. For Munro, currency’s role in material exchange is subsumed into the symbolic exchange of affections and loyalty, a sign that the soldier’s love for country is reciprocated. Yet the struggle to do so makes these fissures visible. Elsewhere, military ardor is created in the heat of battle and in its aftermath, in scenes of blazing valor and of melancholic attachment to the captured and slain. Here, however, it is also closely linked to an entirely different register of value: the share of profits of empire.

“Brother Officers”: Interracial Feeling

[18] This crack in Munro’s account of manhood is akin to others that introduce problematic elements into his efforts to narrate manly feeling; these gaps point towards the ways that constructions of gender can work to undermine the imperial and racialized ideologies they might otherwise support. For Munro’s sympathetic manhood is one that cannot be discursively limited to British soldiers; it is also, at least intermittently, visible in the way Munro describes the Mysorian enemy. The racial demarcations that Munro’s text creates are, in other words, permeable to military feeling.

[19] India is, for Munro, a site profuse with varied masculinities. The gendering of Indian men is a frequent preoccupation. Alternate masculinities both highlight the superiority of some forms of British manhood and threaten them. These threats are visible in Munro’s fellow Highlanders’ interactions with Indian dubashes, who appear excessively feminine to Scottish eyes. The dubash is an Indian in the employ of the EIC, working as a translator and go-between. In Munro’s eye, these “natives” are compromised in their masculinity, being of “such a genteel and delicate mien, that, together with their dress, a stranger is apt to take them for women” (19). Munro’s fellow Highlanders, apparently less sophisticated than he, fall victim to this error:

[I]t is truly laughable to hear the Highlanders ... pass their remarks upon them in the Gaelic language. … ‘I never supposed till now,’ observed [one], ‘that there was any place in this world where the women wore beards.’ And upon seeing one of them who was very corpulent stalk about the deck in an unwieldy manner, [another] wondered ‘how she could have ventured on board so far gone in her pregnancy.’ All of them were taken for ladies of easy virtue; and it was only in attempting to use a few familiarities with them as such that the Highlanders discovered their mistake. (19-20)

The Highlanders are neither savvy nor cosmopolitan; the comic register here, though, seems to make their confusion ambiguously meritorious, for the dubashes really are, in Munro’s eyes, “feminine,” or at least effeminate. The Highlanders’ naiveté reveals a plain, unhybridized manhood that contrasts sharply with the amphibious genders of these interstitial men. The mistake would be an easy one to make, he suggests. The Highlanders are not likely to be seduced into imitating the dubash style, but their inability to read their gender codes poses a threat to their normative heterosexuality, threatening to ensnare them in dangerous attractions and affiliations.

[20] For Munro, most Indian males are not effeminate but simply unfeeling—insensible and “inhuman,” swayed only by “the blackest passions of the human heart” (164). Captives in Mysore are often subjected to needless cruelty, denied even “gentle little offices of humanity” while subject to arbitrary beatings by “savage guards” (161). Their inability to feel sympathy is not understood as essential to Indianness, however. As we have seen, Britons also become like this due to the influence of the Indian environment. And, perhaps more significantly, there are numerous exceptions to this rule of cruelty. Most prominent of these is the figure of Haider Ali himself. Though an enemy to British interests, Haider appears nevertheless as an intelligent planner and a man of somewhat refined sentiments. Haider was well known for his incorporation of European military tactics and technologies into his own campaigns (Colley, Captives273); to Munro, this marks him as an attractive and exceptional man, “a hero born to conquer,” “sublime in his views” and of “a generosity unbounded” (122). He inspires extraordinary admiration among his soldiers, who respond emotionally to his “intrepidity” (120). But more significant for my purposes is that Munro presents him as a man who can experience cross-cultural sentiments and inspire them in others, because he shares a certain language of and understanding of masculine military feeling. While admitting that Britain’s adversary harbors an irrational hatred of all things European—a hatred that recalls that of the washermen’s depredations on British wardrobes—Munro allows that these feelings are understandable, and even markers of a kind of masculine virtue. “His reasons were ... well founded,” Munro admits: “nor can he be blamed for breathing a spirit of patriotism, which is natural to every native of Hindoostan, and originally inspired by European tyranny” (123). Haider Ali is a mirror image of Munro’s own soldiers; his patriotism is natural, and if it runs to excess, that is in large part a predictable response to British conquests. His resistance to military power—his anticolonialism—registers for Munro as a mark of masculine valor.

[21] Haider’s feelings as the root of this virtue come into the foreground in a sentimental tableau of suffering that bears comparison with Munro’s tableau of mournful soldiers cited above. In this passage, Mysorian soldiers, having defeated a British unit, bear trophies to Haider including severed European heads. Thus far, we are following the gendered and racialized logic that Munro has laid out for us: Haider’s men are barbarous and unfeeling. However, Haider himself responds sympathetically to his captives, revealing a capacity for masculine sensibility among Mysorians:

At the same time several European heads were presented to him; many of which their countrymen, perhaps their own relatives, were inhumanly forced to carry: but Hyder, seeing how much the feelings of their brother officers were hurt at this shocking scene, had the humanity to give orders that this practice should be discontinued while they were present. (156)

Haider, for whom the text evinces a substantial amount of respect, is distinct from most of those that he commands; he responds with generosity to the sufferings of other men, and, even if he is not so sensitive as to abolish the practice, he has the “humanity” and sensibility to suspend it in order to spare the feelings of the prisoners in his command. Munro’s account of this practice is quite distinct from that of Thomson, whose Memoirs of the Late War in Asiapresent Haider as relishing this practice with “barbarous triumph” (2:4).

[22] But while not atypical, Munro’s logic of military masculinity here imperils rigid racialist and imperial thinking. Haider Ali is making a sentimental connection across racial lines—a feeling grounded not primarily on feeling for women (which we see elsewhere he has little of), nor even for men in general, but for the sufferings of those who, like him, are warriors. He recognizes and acknowledges the emotional bond between soldier and officer, and identifies with the feelings of those who cannot bear to endure the sufferings of their brothers-in-arms. In so doing, he suggests something about the efficacy of a very particular sort of cross-cultural communication. If Haider’s fellow warriors are barbarians in part because they have not left the stage of civilization that characterizes the barbarian—the dependence on plunder and war rather than of commerce—the text suggests that commerce on its own does not correct this problem; commerce only brutalizes. Critics have often noted the eighteenth-century belief in the civilizing powers of commerce; Adam Smith famously argued, following David Hume, that manufactures and commerce “gradually introduced order and good government” into barbarous lands, bringing peace and civility to peoples “who had before lived almost in a continual state of war with their neighbors, and of servile dependency upon their superiors” (Smith 1:412). Munro’s text offers an alternate logic: here it is not commerce but rather timeless military virtues that hold out hope for Indian progress towards civility and for future intercultural exchanges. Munro’s text seeks to fashion a national community and a role for soldiers within it, but the soldierly manhood he imagines also threatens the borders of that community, contaminating the national space of patriotism with an emotional militarism that fosters a different affective grid, founded on transnational attachments to soldierly men.

Coda: Imperial Emotions

[23] The conclusion of the war that Munro had fought also seemed to him unmanly and unpatriotic. The Treaty of Mangalore, signed in 1784, restored conditions in India to a prewar status quo. Munro argues that this treaty is base and craven, unworthy of the sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers endured. He confesses that peace has tremendous attractions—it “is generally considered by those who have toiled through the hardships of war as such a blessing, that the acquirement of it is generally applauded, however humiliating, or repugnant to the real interests of the state...” (370). But not every peace is a worthy peace, and the sufferings of soldiers are not an argument against war:

To begin a war is a matter of more serious import than the generality of mankind are capable of perceiving; but when once entered into upon proper grounds, in order to secure a permanent peace, it should never be ended while the least prospect of advantage remains. (370)

Indeed, patriotism demands that the British nation assume the affective stance of a soldier; sympathy for the suffering body of the captive ought to unite soldier and citizen in the desire to continue the war:

Can any Englishman read of the sufferings of his unfortunate countrymen, in the different prisons of Misore, without dropping a tear of sympathy? Or can he peruse the account of the repeated indignity and contempt with which his nation has been treated by the present usurper of Misore, without being filled with indignation, and burning with sentiments of retaliation and revenge? (370)

Here the male camaraderie of the soldier—textually extended to the entirety of the British reading public—drives an impulse towards violence; tears of sympathy fuel an imperial war machine that cannot rest without revenge.

[24] Munro’s affective economy ends in the same place that the EIC’s policy does: permanent military escalation. Recall Munro’s note on the “horrid spectacles” of slain soldiers, sights that “while they melted the hardest hearts, inflamed our soldiers with an enthusiasm and thirst of revenge, such as render men invincible” (241). Does soldierly feeling, then, merely screen an essentially similar drive towards conquest? Perhaps. But I think a more troubling truth lurks here, a truth that haunts our own political communities. Munro’s narrative offers a litany of wounded male bodies and dismembered corpses. These material remains of war are not simply military losses; they are also occasions to display the feelings appropriate to a soldier and, mediated by the printed page, to the national patriotic subject. These feelings are the bonds of affection for the nation and for one’s fellow soldier. In some accounts of patriotism, these two terms ought to collapse into one another, but here they do not. The valorization of soldierly homosocial feeling—of the urgent and corporeal camaraderie shared by men in uniform—remains with us in the twenty-first century, and still functions as an important component of our own day’s imperial projects, which similarly use soldierly suffering to mediate between patriotism and interracial violence. By historicizing and critiquing representations of soldierly affect, we may open a space to understand more completely the complicity of affect with gendered and racialized military practices.


Many thanks to Stephen Gregg, whose long-ago comments on a much different version of this essay helped me to give it shape. Thanks as well to the anonymous reviewers forGenders for their invaluable comments and suggestions.

Works Cited

  • Allan, John, Henry Dodwell, and Wolseley Haig. The Cambridge Shorter History of India. New York: Macmillan, 1934. Print.
  • Bayly, C. A. Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987. Print.
  • Braudy, Leo. From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. Print.
  • Burke, Edmund. India: The Launching of the Hastings Impeachment 1786-88. Ed. P. J. Marshall. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1991. Print.
  • “Caution to the Young Gentlemen of the Army.” Morning Post and Daily Advertiser [London]. 3 June 1789: 3. 17th-18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers. Web. 7 Sept. 2011.
  • Clark, Anna. Scandal: The Sexual Politics of the British Constitution. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2004. Print.
  • Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992. Print.
  • ---. Captives: Britain, Empire and the World, 1600-1850. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002. Print.
  • Fulford, Tim. “Romanticizing the Empire: The Naval Heroes of Southey, Coleridge, Austen, and Marryat.” Modern Language Quarterly 60 (1999): 161-96. Print.
  • Joseph, Betty. Reading the East India Company 1720-1840: Colonial Currencies of Gender. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2003. Print. Women in Culture and Society.
  • Mandell, Laura. “Introduction: Histories of Print, Histories of Emotion.”The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 50, no. 2-3 (2009): 119-126. Project Muse. Web. 20 Jan. 2012.
  • Munro, Innes. A Narrative of the Military Operations, on the Coromandel Coast, Against the Combined Forces of the French, Dutch, and Hyder Ally Cawn, from the year 1780 to the peace in 1784; in a Series of Letters. London, 1789. Print.
  • Rev. of A Narrative of the Military Operations on the Coromandel Coast..., by Innes Munro. The English Review, or, An Abstract of English and Foreign Literature 13 (1789): 372-82. Google Book Search. Web. 11 Jan. 2012.
  • Nechtman, Tillman W. Nabobs: Empire and Identity in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010. Print.
  • O’Quinn, Daniel. Staging Governance: Theatrical Imperialism in London, 1770-1800. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2005. Print.
  • Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Ed. P. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon P, 1976. Print.
  • Smout, T. C. A History of the Scottish People, 1560-1830. New York: Scribner, 1969. Print.
  • Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993. Print.
  • Teltscher, Kate. India Inscribed: European and British Writing on India 1600-1800. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1995. Print.
  • Thomson, William. Memoirs of the Late War in Asia: with a Narrative of the Imprisonment and Sufferings of our Officers and Soldiers. 2 Vols. London, 1788. Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.
  • Trevor-Roper, Hugh. “The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland.” The Invention of Tradition. Ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terrence Ranger. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1983. 15-41. Print.
  • Wahrman, Dror. The Making of the Modern Self: Identity and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. Print.
  • Williams, Anne Patricia. “Description and Tableau in the Eighteenth-Century British Sentimental Novel.” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 8, no. 4 (July 1, 1996): 1-18. Print.