In deciding to focus only on Joseph Emin’s early days in England, I am obviously leaving out large parts of his life as an intellectual and liberation activist. I may return to this, perhaps to incorporate one of his many letters to his English friends, especially in his late years when he complains of having been forgotten by them and cast aside. In one letter, he is indignant that his friends weren’t willing to be inconvenienced by parting with a bit of money to subscribe to the publication of his memoirs, saying that they were all so ready to spend money on entertainment and amusements such as visiting freak shows, why should his memoirs be worth any less. And there is a letter from Edmond Burke to Emin, obviously responding to the latter’s complaint that Burke had left many letters unanswered, where Burke tries to appease him by saying even his grown son who was only an infant when Emin had seen him in England, thinks of him as a dear uncle.
Emin’s letters have an air of loneliness and bitterness. He is disappointed at his return to his family in Calcutta without having realized his dream of forming a liberation army, and he resents having been dropped by his English patrons and friends whom he counted on so much and supplicated to so frequently for support. His trying to hang on to his exalted views of the English people and political system as being the most righteous and liberal is quite heart-wrenching. His ignorance of the English colonial politics is infuriating. He who rejects Eastern hierarchies of power and traditions of subservience is caught up in the British kind and deeply hurt by it. Or, perhaps, one should accord more agency and shrewdness to him and read in his complaints a calculated performance by a political leader who pulls on sentimental strings to get what he wants. I’m not fully convinced of this latter interpretation. His heartbreak seems genuine, while admittedly there is also a certain performativity in his rhetorical style.