You have heard of India, of its riches and its grandeur and its glory, of its hundreds of millions of people, and of the great deeds that have been done there. But perhaps you have never heard who it was that gave India to England; you may possibly know nothing of Robert Clive, the boy who, when he was really little more than a boy, laid for us the foundations of the vast Empire in the East over which King Edward VII. now reigns.
Clive was born on 29th September 1725, near Market, Drayton in Shropshire, where his people had owned an estate ever since about the time when Henry the First was King of England, which is a very long time indeed.
Even as a very small boy, Robert Clive was not quite like other boys of his age. Nothing could frighten him. He was like the boy in the fairy-tale who "did not know how to shiver," and he was so entirely without fear that sometimes his mother thought that her son was not quite sound in his mind, and even his father and his uncles were sometimes uneasy about him. At seven years old he was very much like that Scotch terrier whose solemn look was only to be accounted for (so his master said) by the fact that he "couldna get enough o' fighting." Clive was always fighting; he would fight anything and anybody, and he never gave in, nor knew when he was beaten. If a boy was too strong for him, Clive would fight again and again till he won. That is, of course, what every boy should do, but we don't all do it.
Clive (like a good many other boys, perhaps) would never learn his lessons, no matter how much he might be flogged—and a flogging, in those days was not a thing to laugh at. He was sent from school to school, but everywhere there was the same story: he was idle and bad, they said,—"a dunce" was the least ill name that was given to him. Of all his school-masters there was but one who saw in him any good, only one who said, "This boy may yet become a great man."
Clive's father is said to have been a man of violent temper, and perhaps it may have been because the father found the son difficult to manage that the little boy was sent away from home when he was only three years old. Whatever the reason, he was sent to Manchester, to the house of a Mr. Bayley, who had married his mother's sister. There Clive stopped for some years, and then, while still a very small boy, he went to a private school at Lostocke in Cheshire.
From Lostocke, when he was eleven, he was sent to Mr. Burslem's school at Market Drayton, and the people of that town: talked of "Bob" Clive's doings for many a long year afterwards. In all mischief he was first; wherever it was possible to get into a scrape, Bob Clive got into it. In the town, amongst the tradesmen, his hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him.
There was in Market Drayton a little band of boys of whom Clive was leader. Without cease they warred against the shopkeepers of the town, keeping the whole place in hot water. The band was really a little band of brigands, who made themselves to every one a nuisance and a terror, and everywhere levied "blackmail." That is to say, if the band took a dislike to any tradesman, Clive, as leader, would go to that tradesman and say to him: "Now, if you do not pay us so much"—perhaps it might be money, or perhaps something else that the boys had set their hearts on—"we'll see that you have no peace; and there's no saying what may happen to your shop windows."
Generally the shopkeepers paid up, for they knew that Clive might be trusted to do what he said he would do. They had tried being defiant, but it did not pay. Once a tradesman had refused what was demanded, and the band had straightway, during heavy rain, built a dam in the gutter near his shop, so that the flood-water swamped the place and his goods were damaged. And when, before the water poured into the shop, the dam had burst at a weak spot, Clive threw himself into the breach, and with his body kept the water from escaping until the other boys repaired the dam. The shopkeeper, in self-defence, was forced to pay what the boys asked.
Nowadays such pranks could not be played, in a town, but at that time, you see, there were no regular police, and what was called the "Watch" was formed of feeble old men who were no match for mischievous boys. They were not very much good for anything, those old men, except to toddle about of nights, with a lantern, calling the hour.
"Two o'clo-o-ck; and a fine frosty morning," perhaps they would shout in a long-drawn wail, at that hour. It is not easy to see of what particular use they were, except perhaps to make people, snug in bed, turn over sleepily and draw the blankets more snugly about their ears; just as the mate of a sailing-ship sometimes, when in port, orders a middy to call him at eight bells in the morning watch (the mate's usual time for going on duty when at sea), so that he may have the pleasure of turning round and dropping off asleep again.
But it was not only in mischief that Clive was leader. In everything where pluck was needed he was always first, and he never seemed to see danger, nor to shrink from risks that others dared not face. The greater the danger, during all his life the greater was his coolness.
There is at Market Drayton a church with a lofty tower, eighty feet or more in height. Near the top there are stone gargoyles (old-fashioned projecting waterspouts), shaped like a dragon's head and neck. Up to one of these Clive climbed at the risk of his life, and there, astride of a gargoyle, he sat, perfectly happy and fearless, with nothing to hold on by but the stone spout, whilst his boy friends and the townspeople stood shivering, each second expecting to see him lose his balance and come crashing on to the stones below.
It was a dangerous climb to get up; but it is always easier to climb up than it is to climb down. When you climb down you must look down, in order to see where your feet are to go, and to look down causes most people to become dizzy. Then people lose their heads, and sometimes can go no farther, either up or down. They clutch tightly till their hands become cramped, and then, if no help is possible, their grip loosens and they fall.
How Clive got safely to the ground is a mystery; the slightest mistake meant death. What he went up for is also a mystery. Old books say that it was "to get a smooth stone which lay on the projecting spout, for the pleasure of jerking it." But it is not easy to see how the "smooth stone" got on to the spout, nor, if it were there, how it could be seen from the ground. It seems much more likely that Clive climbed up to get a jackdaw's nest from some part of the tower.