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scenes of daring spoliation, and harrowing injustice which had been sketched by Francis were filled in with every detail of oriental life, and coloured with all its glow. In the solitude of his study, and of his rambles in the woods, he began to paint those marvellous historic pictures, the like of which has never been seen in our day, and the effect of which upon the mind of Parliament and the nation he did not at the time venture to estimate. He knew that the Whig party was utterly broken by the late general election; that of those who had retained their seats, very few cared a jot for India; and only recalled with bitterness the fact that it was to the India Bill the ruin of their party was ostensibly if not altogether due. On the eve of the session, at a meeting of the opposition chiefs at Burlington House, the preponderant feeling unmistakably was against risking further battle on this ill-fated ground. But Burke was inflexible. It was the great occasion of his life; and though all the men of fashion and fortune around the Duke of Portland should desert the cause, he told them plainly that he had made up his mind to go on. Seeing him thus firm, Fox remained faithful; and a young countryman of his own, who had already made his mark in debate as a man of surpassing eloquence and wit, volunteered his service as a subaltern, as little dreaming as his leader that by him, in the great struggle, the highest honours of the fight would be borne away. This was Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
TYRANNY ON ITS KNEES.
“ The business of this day is not the business of this man. It is not solely whether
the prisoner at the bar be found innocent or guilty, but whether millions of mankind shall be made miserable or happy. Exiled and undone princes, extensive tribes, suffering nations, differing in language, manners, and in rites, by the providence of God are blended in one common cause, and are now become suppliants at your bar.”
accusations against Hastings. The first count of the indictment charged him with injustice, cruelty, and treachery in hiring British soldiers to extirpate the Rohillas :
2. With cruelty to the Emperor Shah Alum, in withholding his tribute :
3. With extortion and oppression in the case of the Rajah of Benares :
4. With ill-treatment of the family of the Vizier of Oude :
5. With improvidence and injustice in his policy towards Faruckabad:
6. With reducing Oude from a garden to a desert :
7. With sanctioning extravagant contracts and inordinate salaries : 8. With receiving money against the orders of the Com
Speech on the Impeachment, 23d February 1788.
and the Act of Parliament, under secret engagements, and using the same unwarrantably :
9. With resigning by proxy with a view to resume his office:
10. With treachery to Murzaffir Jung, his ward :
11. With enormous extravagance in bribery to enrich favourites and dependants :
Five other charges were subsequently laid upon the table. The great offender petitioned to be heard in his defence at the bar. “Everybody,” he wrote, “ came to ask me why I had done so imprudent a thing; everybody condemned it, all except my great friend the Chancellor. I had but five days granted me to defend myself against eleven historical libels, to which five more were added before the second day of my appearance.” Great was the curiosity to hear him, and all parts of the House were crowded. Every car was strained, and every eye fixed to catch the expected accents of eloquent indignation. But eloquence there was none. Hastings, in the opinion of every one but himself, had no skill in composition. His egotism was too profound to stoop to the common arts of controversy; and he was thoroughly convinced that a cold and somewhat contemptuous narrative of the facts, as he thought fit to give them, was alone needful for his vindication. The House thought otherwise. They had come full of hopes of a chase, and found nothing but a slow march. After an hour or two, the unusual effort of reading aloud compelled him to delegate the continuance of his task to one of the clerks at the table. This was too much for parliamentary patience, and by degrees the legislative crowd melted away.
But his equanimity was imperturbable, and he continued his recital during three successive days. “I was heard,” he said, “ with an attention unusual in that assembly, and with the most desirable effect, for it instantly turned all minds to my own way, and the ground which I then gained I still retain possession of.” In this he was strangely mistaken. He had but committed the error of telling his accusers beforehand on what he relied for his exculpation. He told Parliament that, having been the servant of the East India Company, he was accountable to them alone in his administrative conduct. Ministers took no exception to the matter or the manner of his apology, and rather showed a friendly disposition throughout. Copies were ordered to be printed and circulated for the benefit of the great majority of both sides, who had heard but a small portion of it.
When a month had been allowed for consideration, Burke moved, on the 1st June, that Hastings be impeached for his cruelty to the Rohillas. His conduct in the affair had been censured by the House in a resolution moved by Dundas, founded on the evidence of the Select Committee of 1773; but Dundas was now a member of the Board of Control, and he refused to confirm his own language of thirteen years before. The debate lasted two long nights. As the first gleams of sunrise grew visible, Pitt rose, and warily avoiding the substance of the charge, pleaded in abatement, that the sin had been condoned long since by the retention of Hastings in his post of Governor-General, and that the precedent would be fraught with inconvenience, if not injustice, if deeds remote in place and time, though known the while to all men, were made the subject of criminal proceeding. The motion thus encountered, was defeated by a majority of two to one.
On the reassembling of the House after Whitsuntide, Fox brought forward the second charge, regarding the extortion practised upon Cheyte Singh. Pitt, who had hitherto frowned on every attack, and shielded the culprit from every blow, to the surprise of all but Hastings, suddenly gave way. Better than subservient colleagues and imprudent friends, he discerned the signs of the times, and, for his own sake, he felt it necessary to abandon the position of an accessory after the fact. Did he really foresee the issue of the impending trial, or believe that the best chance of escape for the ex-Viceroy, whom till now he had striven to exonerate, lay in the uncertainties of what must inevitably be indefinitely protracted proceedings? We know not, and can never know. Hastings, who always distrusted him, ascribed so sharp a turn to jealousy, and fear of a possible rival in the esteem of the Court, or a possible competitor for parliamentary sway. Probably such an idea never crossed the mind of the haughty Statesman; and few who had heard Hastings toil through his folios of vindication, when pleading on his own behalf, would have heard the suggestion without a smile. Another explanation was whispered at the time, and subsequently gained credence. Dundas had for years been conspicuous in demanding that the “great public offender,” as the Governor-General was called by Fox, should be brought to justice. Few men have ever been more accommodating in office; but he felt, no doubt, that his individuality would be wholly compromised if, on this count of the indictment as well as all others, the accused should escape by the protection of the Administration. Early in the morning he had roused the First Minister from sleep, and had remained closeted with him for an unusual time. The subject of their conference was inferred from the unlooked-for incident of the evening.
1 Memoirs of Hastings, vol. i.