The East India Company was created on this day in 1600, the queen granting a royal charter to “George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses.” The East India Company became, as the title of Nick Robins’s recent history puts it, The Corporation that Changed the World and also, as his first chapter explains, the mother of the modern multinational:
In its more than two-and-a-half centuries of existence, it bridged the mercantilist world of chartered monopolies and the industrial age of corporations accountable solely to shareholders. The Company’s establishment by royal charter, its monopoly of all trade between Britain and Asia and its semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and to raise armies certainly mark it out as a corporate institution from another time. Yet in its financing, structures of governance and business dynamics the Company is undeniably modern. It may have referred to its staff as servants rather than executives, and communicated by quill pen rather than email, but the key features of the shareholder-owned corporation are there for all to see.
For over thirty years, Charles Lamb had a day job as one of the Company’s quill-penned servants. But Lamb was more widely known for his essays and for being, after he closed the door on his clerk’s office in India House, a convivial man: “And now another cup of the generous! and a merry New Year, and many of them, to you all, my masters!” (from Lamb’s “New Year’s Eve,” first published in the January 1821 issue of The London Magazine).
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.