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LORD THOMAS ERSKINE
sharply criticised in a pamphlet published by the Rev. Mr. Logan. The author was put on trial for libel, and engaged Erskine to defend him. Erskine's speech at this trial, from which we give a select passage, was one of the ablest and most eloquent displays of his powers of oratory.]
It may and must be true that Mr. Hastings has repeatedly offended against the rights and privileges of Asiatic government, if he was the faithful deputy of a power which could not maintain itself for an hour without trampling upon both. He may and must have offended against the laws of God and nature if he was the faithful viceroy of an empire wrested in blood from the people to whom God and nature had given it. He may and must have preserved that unjust dominion over timorous and abject nations by a terrifying, overbearing, insulting superiority, if he was the faithful administrator of your Government, which, having no root in consent or affection, no foundation in similarity of interest, nor support from any one principle which cements men together in society, could only be upheld by alternate stratagem and force. The unhappy people of India, feeble and effeminate as they are from the softness of their climate, and subdued and broken as they have been by the knavery and strength of civilization, still occasionally start up with all the vigor and intelligence of insulted nature. To be governed at all, they must be governed with a rod of iron; and our empire in the Eastern World long since must have been lost to Great Britain, if civil skill and military prowess had not united their efforts to support an authority which Heaven never gave, by means which it never can sanction.
Gentlemen, I think I can observe that you are touched with this way of cousidering the subject, and I can account for it. I have not been considering it through the old medium of books, but have been speaking of man and his nature, and of human dominion, from what I have seen of them myself amongst reluctant nations submitting to our authority. I know what they feel, and how such feelings can alone be repressed. I have heard them in my youth from a naked savage, in the indignant character of a prince, surrounded by his subjects, addressing the governor of a British colony, holding a bundle of sticks in his hand as the notes of his unlettered eloquence. “Who is it?" said the jealous ruler over the desert, encroached upon by the restless foot of English adventure; “who is it that causes this river to rise in the high mountains and to empty itself in the ocean? Who is it that causes to blow the loud winds of winter, and that calms them again in the summer ? Who is it that rears up the shade of those lofty forests, and blasts them with the quick lightning at his pleasure? The same Being who gave to you a country on the other side of the waters, and gave ours to us; and by this title we will
LORD THOMAS ERSKINE
defend it," said the warrior, throwing down his tomahawk upon the ground, and raising the war-sound of his nation. These are the feelings of subjugated man all round the globe; and depend upon it, nothing but fear will control where it is vain to look for affection.
These reflections are the only antidotes to those anathemas of superhuman eloquence which have lately shaken these walls that surround us, but which it unaccountably falls to my province, whether I will or no, a little to stem the torrent of, by reminding you that you have a mighty sway in Asia, which cannot be maintained by the finer sympathies of life or the practice of its charities and affections—what will they do for you when surrounded by two hundred thousand men with artillery, cavalry, and elephants, calling upon you for their dominions which you have robbed them of? Justice may, no doubt, in such case, forbid the levying of a fine to pay a revolting soldiery ; a treaty may stand in the way of increasing a tribute to keep up the very existence of the government; and delicacy of women may forbid all entrance into a zenana for money, whatever may be the necessity for taking it. All these things must ever be occurring. But under the pressure of such constant difficulties, so dangerous to national honor, it might be better, perhaps, to think of effectually securing it altogether, by recalling our troops and our merchants, and abandoning our Oriental empire. Until this be done, neither religion nor philosophy can be pressed very far into the aid of reformation and punishment. If England, from a lust of ambition and dominion, will insist on maintaining despotic rule over distant and hostile nations, beyond all comparison more numerous and extended than herself, and gives commission to her viceroys to govern them with no other instructions than to preserve them, and to secure permanently their revenues-with what color of consistency or reason can she place herself in the moral chair, and affect to be shocked at the execution of her own orders ; advertising to the exact measure of wickedness and injustice necessary to their execution, and complaining only of the excess as the immorality; considering her authority as a dispensation for breaking the commands of God, and the breach of them as only punishable when contrary to the ordinances of man?
Such a proceeding, gentlemen, begets serious reflection. It would be better, perhaps, for the masters and the servants of all such governments to join in a supplication that the great Author of violated humanity may not confound them together in one common judgment.
It now only remains to remind you that another consideration has been strongly pressed upon by you, and, no doubt, will be insisted on in reply. You will be told that the matters which I have been justifying as legal, and even meritorious, have therefore not been made the subject of
LORD THOMAS ERSKINE
complaint ; and that whatever intrinsic merit parts of the book may be supposed or even admitted to possess, such merit can afford no justification to the selected passages, some of which, even with the context, carry the meaning charged by the information, and which are indecent animadversions on authority. To this I would answer (still protesting as I do against the application of any one of the innuendos) that if you are firmly persuaded of the singleness and purity of the author's intentions, you are not bound to subject him to infamy, because, in the zealous career of a just and animated composition, he happens to have tripped with his pen into an intemperate expression in one or two instances of a long work. If this severe duty were binding on your consciences, the liberty of the press would be an empty sound, and no man could venture to write on any subject, however pure his purpose, without an attorney at one elbow and a counsel at the other.
From minds thus subdued by the terrors of punishment, there could issue no works of genius to expand the empire of human reason, nor any masterly compositions on the general nature of government, by the help of which the great commonwealths of mankind have founded their establishments; much less any of those useful applications of them to critical conjectures, by which, from time to time, our own Constitution, by the exertion of patriotic citizens, has been brought back to its standard. Under such terrors all the great lights of science and civilization must be extinguished, for men cannot communicate their free thoughts to one another with a lash held over their heads. It is the nature of everything that is great and useful, both in the animate and inanimate world, to be wild and irregular, and we must be contented to take them with the alloys which belong to them, or live without them. Genius breaks from the fetters of criticism, but its wanderings are sanctioned by its majesty and wisdom when it advances in its path; subject it to the critic, and you tame it into dullness. Mighty rivers break down their banks in the winter, sweeping away to death the flocks which are fattened on the soil that they fertilize in the summer ; the few may be saved by embankments from drowning, but the flock must perish from hunger. Tempests occasionally shake our dwellings and dissipate our commerce ; but they scourge before them the lazy elements, which, without them, would stagnate into pestilence. In like manner, liberty herself, the last and best gift of God to his creatures, must be taken just as she is ; you might pare her down into bashful regularity, and shape her into a perfect model of severe, scrupulous law, but she would then be liberty no longer; and you must be content to die under the lash of this inexorable justice which you have exchanged for the banners of freedom.
HENRY GRATTAN (1750-1820)
AN EMINENT IRISH STATESMAN AND ORATOR
RELAND is eminent among nations for the number of famous
orators who have been born upon her soil. We may name
men of such celebrity as Burke, Sheridan, Sheil, Emmet, Curran, Grattan, and O'Connell. . Among these Grattan stands high. Of his eminence in oratory it is difficult to say too much. Lecky says of him : “No British orator except Chatham had an equal power of firing an educated audience with an intense enthusiasm, or of animating and inspiring a nation,” and Mackintosh asserts that, “ The purity of his life was the brightness of his glory. Among all the men of genius I have known, I have never found such native grandeur of soul accompanying all the wisdom of age and all the simplicity of genius.”
THE RIGHTS OF IRELAND [Of Grattan's speech in 1780, on “Liberty as an Inalienable Right,” it has been said : “Nothing equal to it had ever been heard in Ireland, nor probably was its superior ever delivered in the British House of Commons. Other speeches may have matched it in argument and information, but in startling energy and splendor of style it surpassed them all.” His eloquence on this subject is vividly displayed in the following extract.]
England now smarts under the lesson of the American War; the doctrine of imperial legislation she feels to be pernicious ; the revenues and monopolies annexed to it she has found to be untenable ; she has lost the power to enforce it ; her enemies are a host, pouring upon her from all quarters of the earth; her armies are dispersed; the sea is not hers; she has no minister, no ally, no admiral, none in whom she long confides, and no general whom she has not disgraced ; the balance of her fate is in the hands of Ireland ; you are not only her last connection, you are the only nation in Europe that is not her enemy. Besides, there does, of late,
a certain damp and spurious supineness overcast her arms and councils, miraculous as that vigor which has lately inspirited yours. For with you everything is the reverse; never was there a Parliament in Ireland so possessed of the confidence of the people ; you are the greatest political assembly now sitting in the world ; you are at the head of an immense armynor do we only possess an unconquerable force, but a certain unquenchable public fire, which has touched all ranks of men like a visitation.
Turn to the growth and spring of your country, and behold and admire it. Where do you find a nation which, upon whatever concerns the rights of mankind, expresses herself with more truth or force, perspicuity or justice—not the set phrase of scholastic men, not the tame unreality of court addresses, not the vulgar raving of a rabble, but the genuine speech of liberty, and the unsophisticated oratory of a free nation ?
See her military ardor, not only in forty thousand men, conducted by instinct as they were raised by inspiration, but manifested in the zeal and promptitude of every young member of the growing community. Let corruption tremble ; let the enemy, foreign or domestic, tremble ; but let the friends of liberty rejoice at these means of safety and this hour of redemption. Yes, there does exist an enlightened sense of rights, a young appetite for freedom, a solid strength, and a rapid fire, which not only put a declaration of right within your power, but put it out of your power to decline one. Eighteen counties are at your bar; they stand there with the compact of Henry, with the character of John, and with all the passions of the people. “Our lives are at your service, but our libertieswe received them from God; we will not resign them to man.”
I read from Lord North's proposition ; I wish to be satisfied, but I am controlled by a paper-I will not call it a law-it is the 6th of George I. [The paper was read.) I will ask the gentlemen of the long robe : Is this the law ? I ask them whether it is not practice. I appeal to the judges of the land whether they are not in a course of declaring that the Parliament of Great Britain, naming Ireland, binds her. I appeal to the magistrates of justice whether they do not, from time to time, execute certain acts of the British Parliament. I appeal to the officers of the army whether they do not fine, confine, and execute their fellow subjects by virtue of the Mutiny Act, an Act of the British Parliament; and I appeal to this House whether a country so circumstanced is free. Where is the freedom of trade? Where is the security of property? Where is the liberty of the people? I here, in this Declaratory Act, see my country proclaimed a slave? I see every man in this House enrolled a slave. I see the judges of the realm, the oracles of the law, borne down by an unauthorized foreign power, by the authority of the British Parliament