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Response to Review no. 255

Professor Marshall’s detailed review provides an excellent summary of the main subjects and themes covered in the letters of Antoine Polier. His own extensive work on the period leaves him uniquely qualified to comment on these questions from a reading of British records. Some of his criticisms are undoubtedly valid, and an effort should be made in the second volume of the translation to take his suggestions into account. However, in respect of a few points, I would beg to differ from him, or to express a slightly different point of view. Scholars may differ in their readings, but these differences of opinion need not necessarily be because of ‘dubious interpretations’ on one or the other part.

With regard to the use of Hijri dates, it was a deliberate choice on our part. Readers who need to relate this to the Christian calendar can find easily available equivalences now. But since western writers on Indo-Islamic subjects do not provide Hijri dates in a good number of their books, we felt that this was not a necessary concession for us to make either.

In regard to the identification of English names, these proved difficult in a number of cases. Admittedly an additional effort should have been made, but in some instances, the problems seem quite insuperable. We have thus left the unidentifiable names in as ‘raw’ a form as possible, in the hope that some better-informed reader will be able to help us.

The most substantive issue concerns Polier’s identity. Professor Marshall expresses some doubts as to whether Polier was the victim of discrimination on this account. But it is clear that Polier himself thought so (as we see from his brief memoir, published by his niece the Chanoinesse de Polier), and this is a fact that we need to take into consideration. Further, to what extent was he French ? This is also more ambiguous than Professor Marshall suggests. He clearly had cultural affinities with the French, and spent much time in the company of other French speakers in northern India, sometimes with troubling consequences (as we know from the correspondence of Chevalier). Further, it is notable that after his return to Europe, he decided to settle down in France. This can only have been an affirmation of some sense of identity.

Whether English and French Orientalism differed in the eighteenth century is a large subject. There are some obvious suggestions of a gulf in the famous quarrel between Anquetil Duperron and William Jones. Certainly, Polier wanted to be close to William Jones and Joseph Banks in the later years of his career. But we still feel that his style of assimilation in his years in Faizabad had something original and open about it, which we identified with his Franco-Swiss background. Further details of Polier’s complex attitudes will be available from the second volume of his correspondence, when he offers to form a military force to fight for the Mughals. Only detailed studies will be able to tell us whether we can equate his behaviour with that of, say, Richard Johnson, William Palmer or later William Fraser. We look forward to clarifications on these questions in the future works of a number of scholars of this period of British expansion, including that of Professor Marshall himself.