Relationships between the representatives of British imperial expansion and the people of the regions which came under their influence have long been subjected to scholarly investigation. Such studies have focused on economic interdependencies, racial tensions, and military confrontations. In the case of India the best discussion of cultural interactions was presented fifty years ago by Percival Spear who examined the “social life of the English in eighteenth century India.” Spear was much concerned with the attitudes which the British developed towards the peoples of India in a period of transition which later led to “many of the problems of racial relations in India.” He pointed out that the early English traders were not burdened with color prejudice and were willing to adopt Indian customs when useful or profitable. As the number of Europeans, especially soldiers and women, increased in India, the early tolerance was overwhelmed by the view that Indian society was stagnant and morally inferior.
Subsequent evaluations of British attitudes in eighteenth century India have differed little from Spear's picture. George Bearce emphasized the sense of wonder many Englishmen held toward India and that their motivation in going there was primarily one of profit. He also underscored what Spear had previously noted, that “the British relied principally on British prejudices and thought, rather than a knowledge of India or standards devised from Indian experience.” The British believed that India had little to offer the West intellectually and that the climate combined with despotism had created a society incapable of change. There were rare exceptions to such generalizations, particularly in the period after Clive's success. Scholars such as William Jones and officials such as Warren Hastings came to have a greater appreciation for Indian culture. However, even Hastings measured Indian society by European standards, which led in less perceptive minds to “an acutely messianic form of racial pride and religious smugness.” By the turn of the nineteenth century most Europenas had adopted the “Peter Pan theory” of Asians as unchanging children. Subsequently, the inflexible attitudes of Evangelicals and Utilitarians produced “a ruling class consciously isolated and imbued with a sense of racial superiority.”