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PROCEEDINGS AGAINST MR. HASTINGS.
The house having resolved itself into a committee of the whole house, Mr. St. John in the chair, on the fourth charge against Mr. Hastings, viz. the resumption of the Jaghires, and the confiscation of the treasures of the princesses of Oude.
The subject of this charge was particularly fitted for displaying all the pathetic powers of eloquence; and never were they displayed with greater skill, force, and elegance. For five hours and a half Mr. Sheridan commanded the universal attention and admiration of the house (which from the expectation of the day was uncommonly crowded), by an oration of almost unexampled excellence; uniting the most convincing closeness and accuracy of argument, with the most luminous precision and perspicuity of language; and alternately giving force and energy to truth, by solid and substantial reasoning; and enlightening the most extensive and involved subjects with the purest clearness of logic, and the brightest splendour of rhetoric. Every prejudice, every preposession were gradually overcome by the force of this extraordinary combination of keen, but liberal, discrimination; of brilliant, yet argumentative wit. So fascinated were the auditors by his eloquence, that when Mr. Sheridan sat down, the whole house, the members, peers, and strangers, involuntarily joined in a tumult of applause, and adopted a mode of expressing their approbation, new and irregular in the house, by loudly and repeatedly clapping with their hands. Mr. Burke declared it to be the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit, united, of which there was any record or tradition. Mr. Fox said, “all that he had ever heard all that he had ever read when compared with it, dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapour before the sun." Mr. Pitt acknowledged, that it surpassed all the eloquence of ancient or modern times, and possessed every thing that genius or art could furnish, to agitate and control the human mind. The effects it produced were proportioned to its merits. After a considerable suspension of the debate, one of the friends of Mr. Hastings (Mr. Burgess) with some difficulty obtained, for a short time, a hearing; but finding the house too strongly affected by what they had heard to listen to him with favor, sat down again. Several members confessed they had came down strongly prepossessed in favor of the person accused, and imagined nothing less than a miracle could have wrought so entire a revolution in their sentiments. Others declared, that though they could not resist the conviction that flashed upon their minds, yet they wished to have leave to cool before they were called upon to vote; and though they were persuaded it would require another miracle to produce another change in their opinions, yet, for the sake of decorum, they thought it proper that the debate should be adjourned. Mr. Fox and Mr. A. Taylor strongly opposed this proposition; contending, that it was not less absurd
than unparliamentary to defer coming to a vote for no other reason that had been alleged than because the members were too firmly convinced; but Mr. Pitt concurring with the opinions of the former, the debate was adjourned a little after one o'clock.
Mr. SHERIDAN commenced by observing that, had it been possible to have received, without a violation of the established rules of parliament, the paper* which the honorable member, Mr. Dempster, had just now read, he should willingly have receded from any forms of the house, for the purpose of obtaining new lights and farther illustrations on the important subject then before them; not, indeed, that, on the present occasion, he found himself so ill prepared, as merely, for this reason, to be prevented from proceeding to the discharge of his duty; neither, to speak freely, was he inclined to consider any explanatory additions to the evidence of Sir Elijah Impey so much framed to elucidate, as to perplex and contradict. Needless to his present purpose was it for him to require Sir Elijah, legally, to recognize what had been read, in his name, by the honorable gentleman. In fact, neither the informality of any subsisting evidence, nor the adducement of any new explanations from Sir Elijah Impey, could make the slightest impression upon the vast and strong body of proof which he should now bring forward against Warren Hastings. Yet, if any motive could have so far operated upon him, as to make him industriously seek for renewed opportunities of questioning Sir Elijah, it would result from his fresh and indignant recollection of the low and artful stratagem of delivering to the members, and others, in this last period of parliamentary inquiry, printed hand-bills of defence, the contents of which bespoke a presumptuous and empty boast of completely refuting all which, at any time, kad, or even could be advanced against Mr. Hastings,
* A paper from Sir Elijah Impey, amending his evidence. VOL. I.
on the subject of the fourth article in the general charge of a right honorable member (Mr. Burke). But even this was far beneath his notice. The rectitude and strength of his cause were not to be prejudiced by such pitiful expedients; and he should not waste a moment in counteracting measures, which, though insidious, were proportionately frivolous and unavailing. Nor would he take up the time of the committee with any general arguments to prove, that the subject of the charge, which had fallen to his lot to bring forward, was of great moment and magnitude. The attention which parliament had paid to the affairs of India, for many sessions past, the voluminous productions of their committees on that subject, the various proceedings in that house respecting it, their own strong and pointed resolutions, the repeated recommendation of His Majesty, and their reiterated assurances of paying due regard to those recommendations, as well as various acts of the legislature, were all of them undeniable proofs of the moment and magnitude of the consideration; and incontrovertibly established this plain, broad fact, that parliament directly acknowledged that the British name and character had been dishonored, and rendered detested throughout India, by the malversation and crimes of the principal servant of the East India Company. That fact having been established beyond all question, by themselves, and by their own acts, there needed no argument, on his part, to induce the committee to see the importance of the subject about to be discussed that day, in a more striking point of view than they themselves had held it up to public observation. There were, he knew, persons without doors who affected to ridicule the idea of prosecuting Mr. Hastings; and who not inconsistently redoubled their exertions, in proportion as the prosecution became more serious, to increase their sarcasms upon the subject, by asserting that parliament might be more usefully employed; that there were matters of more immediate
moment to engage their attention; that a commercial treaty with France had just been concluded; that it was an object of a vast and comprehensive nature, and in itself sufficient to engross their attention. To all this he would oppose these questions. Was parliament mis-spending its time, by enquiring into the oppressions practised on millions of unfortunate persons in India, and endeavoring to bring the daring delinquent, who had had been guilty of the most flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation, to exemplary and condign punishment? Was it a misuse of their functions to be diligent in attempting, by the most effectual means, to wipe off the disgrace affixed to the British name in India, and to rescue the national character from lasting infamy? Surely no man who felt for either the one or the other would think a business of greater moment, or magnitude, could occupy his attention; or that the house could, with too much steadiness, too ardent a zeal, or too industrious a perseverance, pursue its object. Their conduct in this respect, during the course of the preceding year, had done them immortal honour, and proved to all the world, that however degenerate an example of Englishmen some of the British subjects had exhibited in India, the people of England collectively, speaking and acting by their representatives, felt, as men should feel on such an occasion, that they were anxious to do justice, by redressing injuries, and punishing offenders, however high their rank, however elevated their station.
Their indefatigable exertions in committees appointed to enquire concerning the affairs of India; their numerous, elaborate, and clear reports; their long and interesting debates; their solemn addresses to the throne; their rigorous legislative acts; their marked detestation of that novel and base sophism in the principles of judicial enquiry (constantly the language of the Governor-General's servile dependents!), that crimes might be compounded;
that the guilt of Mr. Hastings was to be balanced by his successes; that fortunate events were a full and complete set-off against a system of oppression, corruption, breach of faith, peculation, and treachery; and, finally, their solemn and awful judgment that, in the case of Benares, Mr. Hastings's conduct was a proper object of parliamentary impeachment; had covered them with applause, and brought them forward in the face of all the world, as the objects of perpetual admiration. Not less unquestionably just, than highly virtuous, was the assertion of the commons of Great Britain, that there were acts which no political necessity could warrant; and that amidst flagrancies of such an inexpiable description, was the treatment of Cheit Sing. To use the well-founded and emphatic language of a right honorable gentleman (Mr. Pitt), the committee had discovered in the administration of Mr. Hastings, proceedings of strong injustice, of grinding oppression, and unprovoked severity. In this decision the committee had, also, vindicated the character of his right honorable friend (Mr. Burke), from the slanderous tongue of ignorance and perversion. They had, by their vote on that question, declared, that the man who brought the charges. was no false accuser; that he was not moved by envy, by malice, nor by any unworthy motives to blacken a spotless name; but that he was the indefatigable, persevering, and, at length, successful champion of oppressed multitudes, against their tyrannical oppressor. With sound justice, with manly firmness, with unshaken integrity, had his right honorable friend, upon all occasions, resisted the timid policy of mere remedial acts-even the high opinion of Mr. Hastings's successor; even the admitted worth of Lord Cornwallis's character, had been deemed by his right honorable friend, an inadequate atonement to India for the injuries so heavily inflicted on that devoted country. Animated with the same zeal, the committee had, by that