Page images

endangered, and both Houses were prayed to hear counsel at the bar. The prayer was granted, and some eight-andtwenty Whig commoners, and about as

many peers, divided against the principal clauses of the bill. Their resistance eventually availed nothing. A Governor-General with four colleagues, to hold office for five years, were named in the Act, and a supreme tribunal of justice, to sit at Calcutta, as a court of appeal from all inferior jurisdictions, whether native or English, was in the same manner established. General Clavering, Mr Philip Francis, Colonel Monson, and Mr Barwell, were named in the Act as the colleagues of Warren Hastings, the new Proconsul of Hindustan.

When it had served its turn, this first imperial statute for India was superseded, and most of its provisions were swept away among the dead leaves of legislation. But one clause remains to be ever memorable in the history of modern society-more pregnant with consequences than all the statutes taken together enacted in the longest reign of English kings. To eke out the help they needed in their plight of financial embarrassment, the Company asked and obtained a remission of the duty on tea imported in their vessels. For clearness' sake, the additional port-dues of 3d. in the pound chargeable in the colonies was declared to be repealed. Parliament took upon itself to confer this fiscal boon on the Transatlantic as well as home provinces of the Empire, by declaring that the drawback should be allowed in both upon all tea borne in the East India Company's bottoms. The King was fooled with a device which Lord Hillsborough assured him would entrap the colonists, by the bait of a remitted duty, into acknowledging the right of taxation in Parliament, which they had in the case of the Stamp Act so stoutly denied. Speakers in

opposition warned Ministers that the people of Pennsylvania and New England were not likely to be thus beguiled; and the event soon verified their prognostics. Upon acquiescence in that arrogant assumption to remit imposts, the converse right to impose them manifestly hung. The colonists would admit neither, and, to show that they were in earnest, they flung the cargoes of tea free of duty into Boston harbour. We all know what followed.

Meanwhile, the ablest man in the Company's service, Warren Hastings, was, apparently without opposition, nominated Governor-General of India. He had filled the chair of President in Bengal for the two preceding years, to the satisfaction of the Company. Several of his acts had indeed drawn down on him the censure of the Opposition in Parliament; but the merits of the questions at issue were ill understood, and no audible objection was heard when he was named for the newly-created dignity. Why was he chosen ? and what had he done to earn this high distinction? What was the character of the man, that the responsible advisers of the Crown should confide to him so great a trust? In their early instructions the Board of Directors positively forbade the assumption of a military position, and enjoined a peaceful adherence to strictly commercial objects. But Hastings had no mind to obey these suggestions further than in name. There was neither rapid fortune nor the reputation of a conqueror to be made thereby. Clive's example had, in fact, debauched all the adventurous and unscrupulous class who were at this time, and for many years after, in the East. The affairs of the Company at home were in great embarrassment; Hastings took advantage of this on the one hand, and the Ministers of the Crown took advantage of it on the other.

The new President wrote to the Secret Committee

“The truth is, that the affairs of the Company stand at present on a footing which can neither last as it is now, or be maintained on the rigid principles of private justice. You must establish your own power, or you must hold it dependent on a superior, which I deem to be impossible.” The reply of the Secret Committee expresses their “entire approval” of his conduct. The vigour he displayed at the same time in curbing subordinate abuses, and the retrenchments he effected in many quarters, rendered them unwilling to supersede him; and Ministers at home, who wanted to obtain a larger share of patronage, not only left him undisturbed, but by the Act of 1773 raised him to a position of unprecedented power. Thus it was that this singularly able, fearless, and

. unscrupulous man came to be the first individual who ever filled the post of English Viceroy of the East.

The family of Hastings was of ancient and honourable name,

but at the beginning of the century its fortunes had fallen into decay. The last portion of its heritable possessions seems to have been the manor of Daylesford, in Worcestershire. The vicarage was held for many years by the grandfather of Warren Hastings, and under the old man's roof his earlier days were passed. Of his father, who was a runagate, we only know that he married, at fifteen, a lady of the neighbourhood, who died in the infancy of her only son; and that from his birth the portionless boy was virtually left in the condition of an orphan. Of his father, who survived many years, he was never known to speak. The poor old vicar treated the child with tender

He was sent to the village school, and in his playhours, as he used afterwards to tell, he would stroll through Daylesford Wood, or lie beside the margin of the stream that rippled through the meadows, pondering in his boyish

Despatch, 16th April 1773.



heart how his grandfather had been driven from the pleasantest-looking place in all that country-side, and wondering if he ever should be rich enough to buy it back again. Throughout a long and chequered life, the thought, nurtured in his speculative and romantic brain by the family talk he had overheard in winter nights while sitting in the chimney-corner—that thought exercised an inexorable mastery over his whole fate, spurring his ambition and goading his avarice, reining his fierce passion, and stimulating him in hours of despondency to endurance, enterprise, and crime. By his uncle, a clerk in the Customs, he was put to school at Newington, where he learned little, and was half starved. He used to ascribe his stunted and delicate frame to the treatment he experienced there. Subsequently sent to Westminster, he soon distinguished himself as a scholar, and won the good-will alike of his playfellows and his teachers. There he became known to Lord Shelborne and other men, eminent in after life; there too began his intimacy with Elijah Impey, that fatal friend, whose lifethread was destined so disastrously to be interwoven with his own. At his uncle's death he was offered a cadetship by his guardian, who was a Director of the East India Company. The head-master said-No; India was very far off. Hastings was a very good Grecian, and he was sure to make a distinguished figure at the University : if expense alone was the consideration, he would pay for a couple of years the necessary charge himself, sooner than allow such a pupil to be sent for life beyond the seas. There must have been something really likeable about the boy, to have opened the heart and the purse of the old schoolmaster-something more than his mere proficiency in classics.

Uncle Chiswick, however, had no faith in Sophocles or Aristotle; so it ended in the youth's acceptance of a writership at Calcutta. In a brief summary of his early days, found amongst his papers, he mentions how he was the junior of eight young men of respectable middle-class parentage, who went out at the same time. The prospects of such adventure were then held in moderate estimation. They were soon to brighten marvellously, and soon to multiply, so as to form items of household calculation in the contingent resources of a too numerous family. Any one might buy India Stock; the Directors were chosen by the stockholders; and nominations for the Company's service became widely diffused through various sections of the community.

Hastings could never be induced to talk much of his earlier days. Peering, as one tries to do, through the glare of his subsequent career, the circumstances and incidents of that portion of it which was, perhaps, the purest and the best, look indistinct and dim, like objects seen through a telescope turned the wrong way. It is the saddest of sad things, and one of the worst of bad signs, of a man that has fought his own way to greatness, that he should endeavour to ignore the earlier reminiscences of the struggle. There certainly was no lack of courage or persistency in the

cadet. He worked hard at the Factory, as it was called—that is, the place where the few English in Bengal resided, and where they had built storehouses for carrying on the export trade of the Company.

When Clive, in 1756, was sent from Madras to retrieve the disaster on the Hooghly, he was looked upon by the outnumbered and desponding English at Calcutta as a Heavensent deliverer. Hastings gazed on the passionate features of Clive with wonder, and was fascinated by the energy and selfreliant daring of the man. On his part, Clive, who was ever

young cadet.

« PreviousContinue »