Friday, July 04, 2014

Pecunia non olet? Not if it is from Yale. From Chennai?

The title of this post should not, by any means, mislead a reader into thinking that I am now a Latin student at Yale.  Far from that; they would not allow the likes of me at those Ivies!

A few years ago, when I was in Boston for a conference, I went to Harvard, and walked about.  When I was in the law school buildings I decided to use the restroom instead of hunting for one later on.  As I like to joke about it, I have contributed a lot to Harvard!

Boston's Charles River, 2008

While those kind of contributions stink, we stink, therefore we are human ;)  Money, however, apparently has no smell.  Remember that earlier post on Pecunia non olet?

It is most appropriate that I continue with that smelly topic from here in Chennai.  Not because of the stink in Chennai, about which one could write doorstoppers.  But because of Chennai's connection with Yale.  With the university's namesake, that is.
Elihu Yale was more a product of the East India Co. than of any place or political jurisdiction. Descended from a Welsh family, he was born in 1649 in Boston but spent most of his childhood in London, where his father, David, sought freedom from the puritanical strictures of New England and a friendly environment for trade. Young Yale enjoyed an education from William Dugard, headmaster of the storied Merchant Taylors' School, before obtaining a job with the East India Co. in 1670. He soon shipped out to Fort St. George, the company's lucrative outpost in southern India, around which had grown the town of Madras, now Chennai, India's sixth largest city. There he remained for the next quarter-century, eventually becoming governor of the settlement. In between, he and his wife, Catherine, would become the first couple married at St. Mary's Church—India's oldest Anglican church—and Elihu would amass a fortune dealing in textiles and precious stones on his own account. After retiring to a grand estate in London, he arranged for a burial at his ancestral home in Wrexham, Wales, beneath a tomb paying homage to his peripatetic life: "Born in America, in Europe bred / In Afric travell'd and in Asia wed / Where long he liv'd and thriv'd; at London dead."
From a common puritan to a governor.
Yale had come to India with the entry-level title of a company "writer" and an annual salary of £10—about half a shilling a day at a time when an English cloth suit cost around 15 shillings. Having demonstrated a knack for negotiations with local trade partners, by 1687 he had been named governor.
Sounds like there is no reason why his money should smell, right?
His position was precarious: Opportunities for graft were extraordinary, and governors were vulnerable to accusations of improprieties. It didn't help that Yale was widely regarded as a brusque and divisive manager. After the company replaced Yale in 1692, a wide array of allegations regarding his tenure as governor emerged, keeping him on the legal defensive in Madras. But he used the time off the company's payroll in India to focus on growing his vast estate. The precise size of his fortune by the time he left India is unclear, but his assets were numerous enough that their disposal at his death required seven separate auctions.
I suppose the formula is simple.
First, you plunder.
Then create universities or hospitals or scholarships and launder that money clean.
And get recorded in history as one of the greats.
Yale had ensured that his name would emerge in the centuries to come as a byword for learned privilege. Always a a shrewd trader, Yale found in his gift to the fledgling New Haven school the best deal he ever made.
Oh well ... I have other smelly problems to deal with rather urgently--like how no amount of deodorants can help me in Yale's old robbing grounds ;)

3 comments:

Ramesh said...

Oh - Is that the story7 of THE Yale. Wonder how, after all the background, the University came in the US of A. His descendants ??

By the way, why do you think you would have no place in the Ivies ?? Especially since you quote obscure Latin !

Sriram Khé said...

As for Yale's descendants, to quote my late great-uncle, who was sharp with one-liners and sarcasm, "no issues, so no issues" ;)
No issues is all the more why there was keen interest in his wealth, and it didn't take giving away much of it to buy up the college's name ...

Sriram Khé said...

And, in The Hindu (a classmate, Subhasree, sent me the link):
http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/elihu-and-the-obelisk/article6237863.ece

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