In this volume I have to invite the reader to consider a special epoch of the world's progress, in which the sailing ship not only revolutionised British trade but laid the foundations of, and almost completed, that imposing structure which is to-day represented by the Indian Empire. It is a period brimful of romance, of adventures, travel and the exciting pursuit after wealth. It is a theme which, for all its deeply human aspect, is one for ever dominated by a grandeur and irresistible destiny.
With all its failings, the East India Company still remains in history as the most amazingly powerful trading concern which the world has ever seen. Like many other big propositions it began in a small way: but it acquired for us that vast continent which is the envy of all the great powers of the world to-day. And it is important and necessary to remember always that we owe this in the first place to the consummate courage, patience, skill and long-suffering of that race of beings, the intrepid seamen, who have never yet received their due from the landsmen whom they have made rich and comfortable.
Among the Harleian MSS. there is a delightful phrase written by a seventeenth-century writer, in which, treating of matters that are not immediately concerned with the present subject, he remarks very quaintly that “the first article of an Englishman's Politicall Creed must be that he believeth in ye Sea etc. Without that there needeth no general Council to pronounce him uncapable of Salvation.” This somewhat sweeping statement none the less aptly sums up the whole matter of our colonisation and overseas development. The entire glamour of the Elizabethan period, marked as it unfortunately is with many deplorable errors, is derived from the sea.