Page images

gain ; and Benfield, like so many others who made haste to be rich, overstretched himself in speculation, became a bankrupt, and died in France in abject want.

Hastings by this time had had enough of pro-consular exile ; and Hyder being dead, and the war with the Mahrattas at an end, he deemed the time propitious for returning home. Through a long continuance of toil and danger he had held his persistent way, and at length the obstructions that had hitherto barred his upward path to opulence, fame, power, and dignity, seemed to be overcome. Lord Shelburne in one Cabinet, and Lord Thurlow in another, had assured him of the favour of the Crown, and that the honours of the peerage awaited him. The Chancellor had even gone so far as to say, that to the sympathy of Warren Hastings, and the influence of his name, was in no small degree attributable the fall of the Coalition and the establishment of his friends in power, declaring that he knew no man who cut so great a figure on the stage of the world, and that his influence had been potently felt in the recent change of Administration. It would be ungrateful, therefore, in the new Cabinet if he were neglected. The faithful Major Scott suggested Daylesford as a suitable title; the Chancellor approved, and wished the affair to be left in his hands. Lords Weymouth, Gower, Sidney, and Carmarthen agreed in supporting his view, and nothing was wanted but the First Minister's consent. Pitt was specious in flattering acknowledgment of public services rendered; but he had a difficulty about the vote of censure carried by Dundas in 1773. He was not himself in Parliament at the time, and personally therefore he was not embarrassed by the vote. The charges, he said, on which it was founded were ridiculous and absurd, and were, as he really thought, fully refuted ; yet until the sting of the resolutions was done

away by a vote of thanks, he did not see how he could with propriety advise his Majesty to confer such an honour upon Hastings.' Thurlow continued to urge the point, and in an interview at Putney, pressed the Minister to say what were his real objections. Pitt replied that there were four. The Governor-General had sought to extend our territories in India, a policy of which he strongly disapproved; he had forfeited the confidence of the native princes; he had frequently disobeyed the orders of the Court of Directors; and he had created enormous salaries in Bengal to gratify those attached to him. The Chancellor presse for instances, and when Pitt confessed himself at fault, he laughed at him for knowing as little about India as the rest of his colleagues. About the same time Hastings

” wrote to his wife in England that he was not to be deceived by the fair words of the First Minister, some of whose expressions, when introducing his India Bill, had mortified him deeply, and whose purpose was to keep him from returning home until the new Administration should have had time to strengthen itself without his aid. Full of chagrin, he vowed that he would disappoint his enemies by resigning his post ere they wished him to do so; and this threat he carried into execution in January 1785. In laying down the office, he congratulated the Directors that at last they were rid of him; and applying to himself, in scornful irony, the words of Pitt, he wrote: “I am in this act the fortunate instrument of dissolving the frame of an inefficient Government, pernicious to your interests and disgraceful to the national character.”3 In reality, his exultation was great. As he looked back over the twelve years of his viceregal reign, and reviewed the Prosition he had overcome, and the denunciations he had braved,

* Conversation with Major Scott, Gleig's Life of Hastings, vol. iii. • Ibid.

Letter to Directors, January 1785.

words of haughty triumph broke from him. He had found the treasury empty, and the Executive infirm; he restored the

; finances and invigorated every department. “I was a man unknown, unprotected, and unconnected at home, and possessed of no other influence abroad than that which I had acquired by my own knowledge and practice, in the credit which the success of my measures impressed on the people of Hindustan, and in the attachment of my fellow-servants and citizens. For six years I was thwarted and insulted openly by the rest of the Council. But even during that time they never tried to take the current of business out of my hands; while I was sustained by consciousness of greater ability and merit. I suffered in patience; I did my duty when I could; I waited for better and more lasting means; no act or word escaped me; no meanness of submission ever afforded my assailants the triumph of a moment over me; my antagonists sickened, died, and fled. I maintained

my ground unchanged; neither the health of my body nor the vigour of my mind for a moment deserted me.' ” 1 Well might Burke declare that this was no ordinary offender, but in every sense “a Captain-General of iniquity.”

As President and Governor-General, Hastings had borne locally irresponsible rule in India for twelve years. Everywhere he had changed the ancient landmarks and added field to field. He had slain and taken possession, and he could point alike to the spoils of war, the triumphs of diplomacy, and the augmentation of revenue as the proofs of his vigour and success in administration. Beggared princes, impoverished towns, and a starving peasantry might curse his name, but the Board of Directors and the Board of Control found no fault at all in him; and if he had enriched himself, had he not added tenfold to the riches of

? Letter to Anderson, 13th September 1786.

his masters ? Great merchants in the city and high Ministers of State applauded him, and he had smiles of approval from the Woolsack, York Minster, and the Throne. All hailed his return as that of a conqueror who had won for his country a new empire to compensate for the old one lately lost. Who should gainsay such testimony ?

Nevertheless, the clerks in the finance department of Leadenhall Street were much exercised in spirit by the question-Did conquest pay? The financial results of his administration are thus summed up by one who had the privilege of access to every detail of the accounts. In 1772 the Government receipts were £2,373,650, and the expenditure £1,705,279, leaving £668,371 to be divided between shareholders, bondholders, and holders of office at home. In 1785 the income was £5,315,197, and the expenditure £4,312,519, leaving a balance of £1,002,678. On the other hand, the debt in India was augmented from £1,850,866 to £10,464,955, while a large increase of liabilities to the Home Government and to private creditors had accumulated. “ The administration of Hastings added £12,500,000 to the total debt of the Company; and the interest, at 5 per cent., of this additional debt was more than the amount of the increased revenue.'

These nett results were not indeed disclosed at the time in such a form as that the public at large might understand them. According to the established custom in such matters, they were permitted only to see the light piecemeal, and then enveloped in so many disguises and swathed in so many deceptive folds of extenuation, that no one could feel sure that he knew what they were. It would never have done to let the naked truth be seen. Othello's occupation had been gone. Hundreds and thousands who

Mill's History of British India, vol. iv. p. 442.


had benefited largely by the process of absorption and exaction were ready to testify how profitable was the work. It was not the field or the owners of the field that were benefited, but those who drove the ploughshare through its bosom, and made away with such gleanings as each could

, secure of its fruit.

Mrs Hastings was sent home to prepare good society for her husband's appearance in its circles. Whig duchesses refused to know her as a divorcé, but Queen Charlotte received her at court with every mark of distinction, and great ladies without number crowded her salons and boasted of the curious and precious gifts which she bestowed. Royalty itself did not refuse to accept the unique present of an ivory bedstead, elaborately carved; and the wits of Brooke's had no end of stories about the gems and pearls which fell from Marion's hair, or dropped from her gorgeous train. This indiscreet ostentation, and the still more unwise audacity of Scott, was not without its effect, perhaps, in rekindling the embers of Burke's indignation, and fanning into flame the resentment of Francis.

On the 30th of June, Hastings returned to England, and he was received by King, Ministers, and nobles with every demonstration of respect. Burke lost no time in giving notice that, as the session was then so far advanced, he would, when the House re-assembled, redeem his pledge of demanding that strict inquisition be made into recent viceregal acts. He spent the autumn at Beaconsfield in further study and contemplation of his task, exchanging confidences by letter with Fox and Francis, the first of whom would gladly have dissuaded him from an undertaking of success in which he himself had little hope, but the duty of which Junius concurred with him in thinking imperative. In the dark chambers of his imagery, the

« PreviousContinue »