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Critical and Historical Essays Volume 1 by Thomas Babington Macaulay

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An attack by sea on Bengal was little to be apprehended. The
danger was that the European enemies of England might form an
alliance with some native power, might furnish that power with
troops, arms, and ammunition, and might thus assail our
possessions on the side of the land. It was chiefly from the
Mahrattas that Hastings anticipated danger. The original seat of
that singular people was the wild range of hills which runs along
the western coast of India. In the reign of Aurungzebe the
inhabitants of those regions, led by the great Sevajee, began to
descend on the possessions of their wealthier and less warlike
neighbours. The energy, ferocity, and cunning of the Mahrattas,
soon made them the most conspicuous among the new powers which
were generated by the corruption of the decaying monarchy. At
first they were only robbers. They soon rose to the dignity of
conquerors. Half the provinces of the empire were turned into
Mahratta principalities, Freebooters, sprung from low castes, and
accustomed to menial employments, became mighty Rajahs. The
Bonslas, at the head of a band of plunderers, occupied the vast
region of Berar. The Guicowar, which is, being interpreted, the
Herdsman, founded that dynasty which still reigns in Guzerat. The
houses of Scindia and Holkar waxed great in Malwa. One
adventurous captain made his nest on the impregnable rock of
Gooti. Another became the lord of the thousand villages which are
scattered among the green rice-fields of Tanjore.

That was the time throughout India of double government. The form
and the power were everywhere separated. The Mussulman nabobs who
had become sovereign princes, the Vizier in Oude, and the Nizam
at Hyderabad, still called themselves the viceroys of the House
of Tamerlane. In the same manner the Mahratta states, though
really independent of each other, pretended to be members of one
empire. They all acknowledged, by words and ceremonies, the
supremacy of the heir of Sevajee, a roi faineant who chewed bang
and toyed with dancing girls in a state prison at Sattara, and of
his Peshwa or mayor of the palace, a great hereditary magistrate,
who kept a court with kingly state at Poonah, and whose authority
was obeyed in the spacious provinces of Aurungabad and Bejapoor.

Some months before wax was declared in Europe the Government of
Bengal was alarmed by the news that a French adventurer, who
passed for a man of quality, had arrived at Poonah. It was said
that he had been received there with great distinction, that he
had delivered to the Peshwa letters and presents from Louis the
Sixteenth, and that a treaty, hostile to England, had been
concluded between France and the Mahrattas.

Hastings immediately resolved to strike the first blow. The title
of the Peshwa was not undisputed. A portion of the Mahratta
nation was favourable to a pretender. The Governor General
determined to espouse this pretender's interest, to move an army
across the peninsula of India, and to form a close alliance with
the chief of the house of Bonsla, who ruled Berar, and who, in
power and dignity, was inferior to none of the Mahratta princes.

The army had marched, and the negotiations with Berar were in
progress, when a letter from the English consul at Cairo brought
the news that war had been proclaimed both in London and Paris.
All the measures which the crisis required were adopted by
Hastings without a moment's delay. The French factories in Bengal
were seized. Orders were sent to Madras that Pondicherry should
instantly be occupied. Near Calcutta works were thrown up which
were thought to render the approach of a hostile force
impossible. A maritime establishment was formed for the defence
of the river. Nine new battalions of sepoys were raised, and a
corps of native artillery was formed out of the hardy Lascars of
the Bay of Bengal. Having made these arrangements, the Governor-
General, with calm confidence, pronounced his presidency secure
from all attack, unless the Mahrattas should march against it in
conjunction with the French.

The expedition which Hastings had sent westward was not so
speedily or completely successful as most of his undertakings.
The commanding officer procrastinated. The authorities at Bombay
blundered. But the Governor-General persevered. A new commander
repaired the errors of his predecessor. Several brilliant actions
spread the military renown of the English through regions where
no European flag had ever been seen. It is probable that, if a
new and more formidable danger had not compelled Hastings to
change his whole policy, his plans respecting the Mahratta empire
would have been carried into complete effect.

The authorities in England had wisely sent out to Bengal, as
commander of the forces and member of the Council, one of the
most distinguished soldiers of that time. Sir Eyre Coote had,
many years before, been conspicuous among the founders of the
British empire in the East. At the council of war which preceded
the battle of Plassey, he earnestly recommended, in opposition to
the majority, that daring course which, after some hesitation,
was adopted, and which was crowned with such splendid success. He
subsequently commanded in the south of India against the brave
and unfortunate Lally, gained the decisive battle of Wandewash
over the French and their native allies, took Pondicherry, and
made the English power supreme in the Carnatic. Since those great
exploits near twenty years had elapsed. Coote had no longer the
bodily activity which he had shown in earlier days; nor was the
vigour of his mind altogether unimpaired. He was capricious and
fretful, and required much coaxing to keep him in good humour. It
must, we fear, be added that the love of money had grown upon
him, and that he thought more about his allowances, and less
about his duties, than might have been expected from so eminent a
member of so noble a profession. Still he was perhaps the ablest
officer that was then to be found in the British army. Among the
native soldiers his name was great and his influence unrivalled.
Nor is he yet forgotten by them. Now and then a white-bearded old
sepoy may still be found who loves to talk of Porto Novo and
Pollilore. It is but a short time since one of those aged men
came to present a memorial to an English officer, who holds one
of the highest employments in India. A print of Coote hung in the
room. The veteran recognised at once that face and figure which
he had not seen for more than half a century, and, forgetting his
salaam to the living, halted, drew himself up lifted his hand,
and with solemn reverence paid his military obeisance to the

Coote, though he did not, like Barwell, vote constantly with the
Governor-General, was by no means inclined to join in systematic
opposition, and on most questions concurred with Hastings, who
did his best, by assiduous courtship, and by readily granting the
most exorbitant allowances, to gratify the strongest passions of
the old soldier.

It seemed likely at this time that a general reconciliation would
put an end to the quarrels which had, during some years, weakened
and disgraced the Government of Bengal. The dangers of the empire
might well induce men of patriotic feeling--and of patriotic
feeling neither Hastings nor Francis was destitute--to forget
private enmities, and to co-operate heartily for the general
good. Coote had never been concerned in faction. Wheler was
thoroughly tired of it. Barwell had made an ample fortune, and,
though he had promised that he would not leave Calcutta while his
help was needed in Council, was most desirous to return to
England, and exerted himself to promote an arrangement which
would set him at liberty.

A compact was made, by which Francis agreed to desist from
opposition, and Hastings engaged that the friends of Francis
should be admitted to a fair share of the honours and emoluments
of the service. During a few months after this treaty there was
apparent harmony at the council-board.

Harmony, indeed, was never more necessary: for at this moment
internal calamities, more formidable than war itself menaced
Bengal. The authors of the Regulating Act Of 1773 had established
two independent powers, the one judicial, and the other
political; and, with a carelessness scandalously common in
English legislation, had omitted to define the limits of either.
The judges took advantage of the indistinctness, and attempted to
draw to themselves supreme authority, not only within Calcutta.
but through the whole of the great territory subject to the
Presidency of Fort William. There are few Englishmen who will not
admit that the English law, in spite of modern improvements, is
neither so cheap nor so speedy as might be wished. Still, it is a
system which has grown up among us. In some points it has been
fashioned to suit our feelings; in others, it has gradually
fashioned our feelings to suit itself. Even to its worst evils we
are accustomed; and therefore, though we may complain of them,
they do not strike us with the horror and dismay which would be
produced by a new grievance of smaller severity. In India the
case is widely different. English law, transplanted to that
country, has all the vices from which we suffer here; it has them
all in a far higher degree; and it has other vices, compared
with which the worst vices from which we suffer are trifles.
Dilatory here, it is far more dilatory in a land where the help
of an interpreter is needed by every judge and by every advocate.
Costly here, it is far more costly in a land into which the legal
practitioners must be imported from an immense distance. All
English labour in India, from the labour of the Governor-General
and the Commander-in-Chief, down to that of a groom or a
watchmaker, must be paid for at a higher rate than at home. No
man will be banished, and banished to the torrid zone, for
nothing. The rule holds good with respect to the legal
profession. No English barrister will work, fifteen thousand
miles from all his friends, with the thermometer at ninety-six in
the shade, for the emoluments which will content him in chambers
that overlook the Thames. Accordingly, the fees at Calcutta are
about three times as great as the fees of Westminster Hall; and
this, though the people of India are, beyond all comparison,
poorer than the people of England. Yet the delay and the expense,
grievous as they are, form the smallest part of the evil which
English law, imported without modifications into India, could not
fail to produce. The strongest feelings of our nature, honour,
religion, female modesty, rose up against the innovation. Arrest
on mesne process was the first step in most civil proceedings;
and to a native of rank arrest was not merely a restraint, but a
foul personal indignity. Oaths were required in every stage of
every suit; and the feeling of a quaker about an oath is hardly
stronger than that of a respectable native. That the apartments
of a woman of quality should be entered by strange men, or that
her face should be seen by them, are, in the East, intolerable
outrages, outrages which are more dreaded than death, and which
can be expiated only by the shedding of blood. To these outrages
the most distinguished families of Bengal, Bahar, and Orissa were
now exposed. Imagine what the state of our own country would be,
if a jurisprudence were on a sudden introduced among us, which
should be to us what our jurisprudence was to our Asiatic
subjects. Imagine what the state of our country would be, if it
were enacted that any man, by merely swearing that a debt was due
to him, should acquire a right to insult the persons of men of
the most honourable and sacred callings and of women of the most
shrinking delicacy, to horsewhip a general officer, to put a
bishop in the stocks, to treat ladies in the way which called
forth the blow of Wat Tyler. Something like this was the effect
of the attempt which the Supreme Court made to extend its
jurisdiction over the whole of the Company's territory.

A reign of terror began, of terror heightened by mystery for even
that which was endured was less horrible than that which was
anticipated. No man knew what was next to he expected from this
strange tribunal. It came from beyond the black water, as the
people of India, with mysterious horror, call the sea. It
consisted of judges not one of whom was familiar with the usages
of the millions over whom they claimed boundless authority. Its
records were kept in unknown characters; its sentences were
pronounced in unknown sounds. It had already collected round
itself an army of the worst part the native population,
informers, and false witnesses, and common barrators, and agents
of chicane, and above all, a banditti of bailiffs followers,
compared with whom the retainers of the worst English sponging-
houses, in the worst times, might be considered as upright and
tender-hearted. Many natives, highly considered among their
countrymen, were seized, hurried up to Calcutta, flung into the
common gaol, not for any crime even imputed, not for any debt
that had been proved, but merely as a precaution till their cause
should come to trial There were instances in which men of the
most venerable dignity, persecuted without a cause by
extortioners, died of rage and shame in the gripe of the vile
alguazils of Impey. The harems of noble Mahommedans, sanctuaries
respected in the East by governments which respected nothing else,
were burst open by gangs of bailiffs. The Mussulmans, braver and
less accustomed to submission than the Hindoos, sometimes stood
on their defence; and there were instances in which they shed their
blood in the doorway, while defending, sword in hand, the sacred
apartments of their women. Nay, it seemed as if even the
faint-hearted Bengalee, who had crouched at the feet of Surajah
Dowlah, who had been mute during the administration of Vansittart,
would at length find courage in despair. No Mahratta invasion had
ever spread through the province such dismay as this inroad of
English lawyers. All the injustice of former oppressors, Asiatic
and European, appeared as a blessing when compared with the justice
of the Supreme Court.

Every class of the population, English and native, with the
exception of the ravenous pettifoggers who fattened on the misery
and terror of an immense community, cried out loudly against this
fearful oppression. But the judges were immovable. If a bailiff
was resisted, they ordered the soldiers to be called out. If a
servant of the Company, in conformity with the orders of the
Government, withstood the miserable catchpoles who, with Impey's
writs in their hands, exceeded the insolence and rapacity of
gang-robbers, he was flung into prison for a contempt. The lapse
of sixty years, the virtue and wisdom of many eminent magistrates
who have during that time administered justice in the Supreme
Court, have not effaced from the minds of the people of Bengal
the recollection of those evil days.

The members of the Government were, on this subject, united as
one man. Hastings had courted the judges; he had found them
useful instruments; but he was not disposed to make them his own
masters, or the masters of India. His mind was large; his
knowledge of the native character most accurate. He saw that the
system pursued by the Supreme Court was degrading to the
Government and ruinous to the people; and he resolved to oppose
it manfully. The consequence was, that the friendship, if that be
the proper word for such a connection, which had existed between
him and Impey, was for a time completely dissolved. The
Government placed itself firmly between the tyrannical tribunal
and the people. The Chief Justice proceeded to the wildest
excesses. The Governor-General and all the members of Council
were served with writs, calling on them to appear before the
King's justices, and to answer for their public acts. This was
too much. Hastings, with just scorn, refused to obey the call,
set at liberty the persons wrongfully detained by the court, and
took measures for resisting the outrageous proceedings of the
sheriff's officers, if necessary, by the sword. But he had in
view another device, which might prevent the necessity of an
appeal to arms. He was seldom at a loss for an expedient; and he
knew Impey well. The expedient, in this case, was a very simple
one, neither more nor less than a bribe. Impey was, by Act of
Parliament, a judge, independent of the Government of Bengal, and
entitled to a salary of eight thousand a year. Hastings proposed
to make him also a judge in the Company's service, removable at
the pleasure of the Government of Bengal; and to give him, in
that capacity, about eight thousand a year more. It was
understood that, in consideration of this new salary, Impey would
desist from urging the high pretensions of his court. If he did
urge these pretensions, the Government could, at a moment's
notice, eject him from the new place which had been created for
him. The bargain was struck; Bengal was saved; an appeal to force
was averted; and the Chief Justice was rich, quiet and infamous.

Of Impey's conduct it is unnecessary to speak. It was of a piece
with almost every part of his conduct that comes under the notice
of history. No other such judge has dishonoured the English
ermine, since Jeffreys drank himself to death in the Tower. But
we cannot agree with those who have blamed Hastings for this
transaction. The case stood thus. The negligent manner in which
the Regulating Act had been framed put it in the power of the
Chief Justice to throw a great country into the most dreadful
confusion. He was determined to use his power to the utmost,
unless he was paid to be still; and Hastings consented to pay
him. The necessity was to be deplored. It is also to be deplored
that pirates should be able to exact ransom, by threatening to
make their captives walk the plank. But to ransom a captive from
pirates has always been held a humane and Christian act; and it
would be absurd to charge the payer of the ransom with corrupting
the virtue of the corsair. This, we seriously think, is a not
unfair illustration of the relative position of Impey, Hastings,
and the people of India. Whether it was right in Impey to demand
or to accept a price for powers which, if they really belonged to
him, he could not abdicate, which, if they did not belong to him,
be ought never to have usurped, and which in neither case he
could honestly sell, is one question. It is quite another
question whether Hastings was not right to give any sum, however
large, to any man, however worthless, rather than either
surrender millions of human being to pillage, or rescue them by
civil war.

Francis strongly opposed this arrangement. It may, indeed be
suspected that personal aversion to Impey was as strong motive
with Francis as regard for the welfare of the province. To a mind
burning with resentment, it might seem better to leave Bengal to
the oppressors than to redeem it by enriching them. It is not
improbable, on the other hand, that Hastings may have been the
more willing to resort to an expedient agreeable to the Chief
Justice, because that high functionary had already been so
serviceable, and might, when existing dissensions were composed,
he serviceable again.

But it was not on this point alone that Francis was now opposed
to Hastings. The peace between them proved to be only a short and
hollow truce, during which their mutual aversion was constantly
becoming stronger. At length an explosion took place. Hastings
publicly charged Francis with having deceived him, and with
having induced Barwell to quit the service by insincere promises.
Then came a dispute, such as frequently arises even between
honourable men, when they may make important agreements by mere
verbal communication. An impartial historian will probably be of
opinion that they had misunderstood each other: but their minds
were so much embittered that they imputed to each other nothing
less than deliberate villainy. "I do not," said Hastings, in a
minute recorded on the Consultations of the Government, "I do not
trust to Mr. Francis's promises of candour, convinced that he is
incapable of it. I judge of his public conduct by his private,
which I have found to be void of truth and honour." After the
Council had risen, Francis put a challenge into the Governor-
General's hand. It was instantly accepted. They met, and fired.
Francis was shot through the body. He was carried to a
neighbouring house, where it appeared that the wound, though
severe, was not mortal. Hastings inquired repeatedly after his
enemy's health, and proposed to call on him; but Francis coldly
declined the visit. He had a proper sense, he said, of the
Governor-General's politeness, but could not consent to any
private interview. They could meet only at the council-board.

In a very short time it was made signally manifest to how great a
danger the Governor-General had, on this occasion, exposed his
country. A crisis arrived with which he, and he alone, was
competent to deal. It is not too much to say that if he had been
taken from the head of affairs, the years 1780 and 1781 would have
been as fatal to our power in Asia as to our power in America.

The Mahrattas had been the chief objects of apprehension to
Hastings. The measures which he had adopted for the purpose of
breaking their power, had at first been frustrated by the errors
of those whom he was compelled to employ; but his perseverance and
ability seemed likely to be crowned with success, when a far more
formidable danger showed itself in a distant quarter.

About thirty years before this time, a Mahommedan soldier had
begun to distinguish himself in the wars of Southern India. His
education had been neglected; his extraction was humble. His
father had been a petty officer of revenue; his grandfather a
wandering dervise. But though thus meanly descended, though
ignorant even of the alphabet, the adventurer had no sooner been
placed at the head of a body of troops than he approved himself a
man born for conquest and command. Among the crowd of chiefs who
were struggling for a share of India, none could compare with him
in the qualities of the captain and the statesman. He became a
general; he became a sovereign. Out of the fragments of old
principalities, which had gone to pieces in the general wreck he
formed for himself a great, compact, and vigorous empire. That
empire he ruled with the ability, severity, and vigilance of
Lewis the Eleventh. Licentious in his pleasures, implacable in
his revenge, he had yet enlargement of mind enough to perceive
how much the prosperity of subjects adds to the strength of
governments. He was an oppressor; but he had at least the merit
of protecting his people against all oppression except his own.
He was now in extreme old age; but his intellect was as clear, and
his spirit as high, as in the prime of manhood. Such was the
great Hyder Ali, the founder of the Mahommedan kingdom of Mysore,
and the most formidable enemy with whom the English conquerors of
India have ever had to contend.

Had Hastings been governor of Madras, Hyder would have been
either made a friend, or vigorously encountered as an enemy.
Unhappily the English authorities in the south provoked their
powerful neighbour's hostility, without being prepared to repel
it. On a sudden, an army of ninety thousand men, far superior in
discipline and efficiency to any other native force that could be
found in India, came pouring through those wild passes which,
worn by mountain torrents, and dark with jungle, lead down
from the table-land of Mysore to the plains of the Carnatic.
This great army was accompanied by a hundred pieces of cannon;
and its movements were guided by many French officers, trained
in the best military schools of Europe

Hyder was everywhere triumphant. The sepoys in many British
garrisons flung down their arms. Some forts were surrendered by
treachery, and some by despair. In a few days the whole open
country north of the Coleroon had submitted. The English
inhabitants of Madras could already see by night, from the top of
Mount St. Thomas, the eastern sky reddened by a vast semicircle
of blazing villages. The white villas, to which our countrymen
retire after the daily labours of government and of trade, when
the cool evening breeze springs up from the bay, were now left
without inhabitants; for bands of the fierce horsemen of Mysore
had already been seen prowling among the tulip-trees, and near
the gay verandas. Even the town was not thought secure, and the
British merchants and public functionaries made haste to crowd
themselves behind the cannon of Fort St. George.

There were the means, indeed, of assembling an army which might
have defended the presidency, and even driven the invader back to
his mountains. Sir Hector Munro was at the head of one
considerable force; Baillie was advancing with another. United,
they might have presented a formidable front even to such an
enemy as Hyder. But the English commanders, neglecting those
fundamental rules of the military art of which the propriety is
obvious even to men who had never received a military education,
deferred their junction, and were separately attacked. Baillie's
detachment was destroyed. Munro was forced to abandon his
baggage, to fling his guns into the tanks, and to save himself by
a retreat which might be called a flight. In three weeks from the
commencement of the war, the British empire in Southern India had
been brought to the verge of ruin. Only a few fortified places
remained to us. The glory of our arms had departed. It was known
that a great French expedition might soon be expected on the
coast of Coromandel. England, beset by enemies on every side, was
in no condition to protect such remote dependencies.

Then it was that the fertile genius and serene courage of
Hastings achieved their most signal triumph. A swift ship, flying
before the southwest monsoon, brought the evil tidings in few
days to Calcutta. In twenty-four hours the Governor-General had
framed a complete plan of policy adapted to the altered state of
affairs. The struggle with Hyder was a struggle for life and death.
All minor objects must be sacrificed to the preservation of the
Carnatic. The disputes with the Mahrattas must be accommodated.
A large military force and a supply of money must be instantly
sent to Madras. But even these measures would be insufficient,
unless the war, hitherto so grossly mismanaged, were placed
under the direction of a vigorous mind. It was no time for
trifling. Hastings determined to resort to an extreme exercise
of power, to suspend the incapable governor of Fort St. George,
to send Sir Eyre Coote to oppose Hyder, and to intrust that
distinguished general with the whole administration of the war.

In spite of the sullen opposition of Francis, who had now
recovered from his wound, and had returned to the Council, the
Governor-General's wise and firm policy was approved by the
majority of the Board. The reinforcements were sent off with
great expedition, and reached Madras before the French armament
arrived in the Indian seas. Coote, broken by age and disease, was
no longer the Coote of Wandewash; but he was still a resolute and
skilful commander. The progress of Hyder was arrested; and in a
few months the great victory of Porto Novo retrieved the honour
of the English arms.

In the meantime Francis had returned to England, and Hastings was
now left perfectly unfettered. Wheler had gradually been relaxing
in his opposition, and, after the departure of his vehement and
implacable colleague, cooperated heartily with the Governor-
General, whose influence over the British in India, always great,
had, by the vigour and success of his recent measures, been
considerably increased.

But, though the difficulties arising from factions within the
Council were at an end, another class of difficulties had become
more pressing than ever. The financial embarrassment was extreme.
Hastings had to find the means, not only of carrying on the
government of Bengal, but of maintaining a most costly war
against both Indian and European enemies in the Carnatic, and of
making remittances to England. A few years before this time he
had obtained relief by plundering the Mogul and enslaving the
Rohillas; nor were the resources of his fruitful mind by any
means exhausted.

His first design was on Benares, a city which in wealth,
population, dignity, and sanctity, was among the foremost of
Asia. It was commonly believed that half a million of human
beings was crowded into that labyrinth of lofty alleys, rich with
shrines, and minarets, and balconies, and carved oriels, to which
the sacred apes clung by hundreds. The traveller could scarcely
make his way through the press of holy mendicants and not less
holy bulls. The broad and stately flights of steps which
descended from these swarming haunts to the bathing-places along
the Ganges were worn every day by the footsteps of an innumerable
multitude of worshippers. The schools and temples drew crowds. of
pious Hindoos from every province where the Brahminical faith was
known. Hundreds of devotees came thither every month to die: for
it was believed that a peculiarly happy fate awaited the man who
should pass from the sacred city into the sacred river. Nor was
superstition the only motive which allured strangers to that
great metropolis. Commerce had as many pilgrims as religion. All
along the shores of the venerable stream lay great fleets of
vessels laden with rich merchandise. From the looms of Benares
went forth the most delicate silks that adorned the balls of St.
James's and of the Petit Trianon; and in the bazars, the muslins
of Bengal and the sabres of Oude were mingled with the jewels of
Golconda and the shawls of Cashmere. This rich capital, and the
surrounding tract, had long been under the immediate rule of a
Hindoo prince, who rendered homage to the Mogul emperors. During
the great anarchy of India, the lords of Benares became
independent of the Court of Delhi, but were compelled to submit
to the authority of the Nabob of Oude. Oppressed by this
formidable neighbour, they invoked the protection of the English.
The English protection was given; and at length the Nabob Vizier,
by a solemn treaty, ceded all his rights over Benares to the
Company. From that time the Rajah was the vassal of the
Government of Bengal, acknowledged its supremacy, and engaged to
send an annual tribute to Fort William. This tribute Cheyte Sing,
the reigning prince, had paid with strict punctuality.

About the precise nature of the legal relation between the
Company and the Rajah of Benares, there has been much warm and
acute controversy. On the one side, it has been maintained that
Cheyte Sing was merely a great subject on whom the superior power
had a right to call for aid in the necessities of the empire. On
the other side, it has been contended that he was an independent
prince, that the only claim which the Company had upon him was
for a fixed tribute, and that, while the fixed tribute was
regularly paid, as it assuredly was, the English had no more
right to exact any further contribution from him than to demand
subsidies from Holland or Denmark. Nothing is easier than to find
precedents and analogies in favour of either view.

Our own impression is that neither view is correct. It was too
much the habit of English politicians to take it for granted that
there was in India a known and definite constitution by which
questions of this kind were to be decided. The truth is that,
during the interval which elapsed between the fall of the house
of Tamerlane and the establishment of the British ascendency,
there was no such constitution. The old order of things had
passed away; the new order of things was not yet formed. All was
transition, confusion, obscurity. Everybody kept his head as he
best might, and scrambled for whatever he could get. There have
been similar seasons in Europe. The time of the dissolution of
the Carlovingian empire is an instance. Who would think of
seriously discussing the question, what extent of pecuniary aid
and of obedience Hugh Capet had constitutional right to demand
from the Duke of Brittany or the Duke of Normandy? The words
"constitutional right" had, in that state of society, no meaning.
If Hugh Capet laid hands on all the possessions of the Duke of
Normandy, this might be unjust and immoral; but it would not be
illegal, in the sense in which the ordinances of Charles the Tenth
were illegal. If, on the other hand, the Duke of Normandy made
war on Hugh Capet, this might be unjust and immoral; but it would
not be illegal, in the sense in which the expedition of Prince
Louis Bonaparte was illegal.

Very similar to this was the state of India sixty years ago. Of
the existing governments not a single one could lay claim to
legitimacy, or could plead any other title than recent
occupation. There was scarcely a province in which the real
sovereignty and the nominal sovereignty were not disjoined.
Titles and forms were still retained which implied that the heir
of Tamerlane was an absolute ruler, and that the Nabobs of the
provinces were his lieutenants. In reality, he was a captive. The
Nabobs were in some places independent princes. In other places,
as in Bengal and the Carnatic, they had, like their master,
become mere phantoms, and the Company was supreme. Among the
Mahrattas, again, the heir of Sevajee still kept the title of
Rajah; but he was a prisoner, and his prime minister, the Peshwa,
had become the hereditary chief of the state. The Peshwa, in his
turn, was fast sinking into the same degraded situation into
which he had reduced the Rajah. It was, we believe, impossible to
find, from the Himalayas to Mysore, a single government which was
once a government de facto and a government de jure, which
possessed the physical means of making itself feared by its
neighbours and subjects, and which had at the same time the
authority derived from law and long prescription.

Hastings clearly discerned, what was hidden from most of his
contemporaries, that such a state of things gave immense
advantages to a ruler of great talents and few scruples. In every
international question that could arise, he had his option
between the de facto ground and the de jure ground; and the
probability was that one of those grounds would sustain any claim
that it might be convenient for him to make, and enable him to
resist any claim made by others. In every controversy,
accordingly, he resorted to the plea which suited his immediate
purpose, without troubling himself in the least about
consistency; and thus he scarcely ever failed to find what, to
persons of short memories and scanty information, seemed to be a
justification for what he wanted to do. Sometimes the Nabob of
Bengal is a shadow, sometimes a monarch. Sometimes the Vizier is
a mere deputy, sometimes an independent potentate. If it is
expedient for the Company to show some legal title to the
revenues of Bengal, the grant under the seal of the Mogul is
brought forward as an instrument of the highest authority. When
the Mogul asks for the rents which were reserved to him by that
very grant, he is told that he is a mere pageant, that the
English power rests on a very different foundation from a charter
given by him, that he is welcome to play at royalty as long as he
likes, but that he must expect no tribute from the real masters
of India.

It is true that it was in the power of others, as well as of
Hastings, to practise this legerdemain; but in the controversies
of governments, sophistry is of little use unless it be backed by
power. There is a principle which Hastings was fond of asserting
in the strongest terms, and on which he acted with undeviating
steadiness. It is a principle which, we must own, though it may
be grossly abused, can hardly be disputed in the present state of
public law. It is this, that where an ambiguous question arises
between two governments, there is, if they cannot agree, no
appeal except to force, and that the opinion of the stronger must
prevail. Almost every question was ambiguous in India. The
English Government was the strongest in India. The consequences
are obvious. The English Government might do exactly what it

The English Government now chose to wring money out of Cheyte
Sing. It had formerly been convenient to treat him as a sovereign
prince; it was now convenient to treat him as a subject.
Dexterity inferior to that of Hastings could easily find, in the
general chaos of laws and customs, arguments for either course.
Hastings wanted a great supply. It was known that Cheyte Sing had
a large revenue, and it was suspected that he had accumulated a
treasure. Nor was he a favourite at Calcutta. He had, when the
Governor-General was in great difficulties, courted the favour of
Francis and Clavering. Hastings, who, less perhaps from evil
passions than from policy, seldom left an injury unpunished, was
not sorry that the fate of Cheyte Sing should teach neighbouring
princes the same lesson which the fate of Nuncomar had already
impressed on the inhabitants of Bengal.

In 1778, on the first breaking out of the war with France, Cheyte
Sing was called upon to pay, in addition to his fixed tribute, an
extraordinary contribution of fifty thousand pounds. In 1779, an
equal sum was exacted. In 1780, the demand was renewed. Cheyte
Sing, in the hope of obtaining some indulgence, secretly offered
the Governor-General a bribe of twenty thousand pounds. Hastings
took the money, and his enemies have maintained that he took it
intending to keep it. He certainly concealed the transaction, for
a time, both from the Council in Bengal and from the Directors at
home; nor did he ever give any satisfactory reason for the
concealment. Public spirit, or the fear of detection, at last
determined him to withstand the temptation. He paid over the
bribe to the Company's treasury, and insisted that the Rajah
should instantly comply with the demands of the English
Government. The Rajah, after the fashion of his countrymen,
shuffled, solicited, and pleaded poverty. The grasp of Hastings
was not to be so eluded. He added to the requisition another ten
thousand pounds as a fine for delay, and sent troops to exact the

The money was paid. But this was not enough. The late events in
the south of India had increased the financial embarrassments of
the Company. Hastings was determined to plunder Cheyte Sing, and,
for that end, to fasten a quarrel on him. Accordingly, the Rajah
was now required to keep a body of cavalry for the service of the
British Government. He objected and evaded. This was exactly what
the Governor-General wanted. He had now a pretext for treating
the wealthiest of his vassals as a criminal. "I resolved,"--these
were the words of Hastings himself,--"to draw from his guilt the
means of relief of the Company's distresses, to make him pay
largely for his pardon, or to exact a severe vengeance for past
delinquency." The plan was simply this, to demand
larger and larger contributions till the Rajah should be driven
to remonstrate, then to call his remonstrance a crime, and to
punish him by confiscating all his possessions.

Cheyte Sing was in the greatest dismay. He offered two hundred
thousand pounds to propitiate the British Government. But
Hastings replied that nothing less than half a million would be
accepted. Nay, he began to think of selling Benares to Oude, as
he had formerly sold Allahabad and Rohilcund. The matter was one
which could not be well managed at a distance; and Hastings
resolved to visit Benares.

Cheyte Sing received his liege lord with every mark of reverence,
came near sixty miles, with his guards, to meet and escort the
illustrious visitor, and expressed his deep concern at the
displeasure of the English. He even took off his turban, and laid
it in the lap of Hastings, a gesture which in India marks the
most profound submission and devotion. Hastings behaved with cold
and repulsive severity. Having arrived at Benares, he sent to the
Rajah a paper containing the demands of the Government of Bengal.
The Rajah, in reply, attempted to clear himself from the
accusations brought against him. Hastings, who wanted money and
not excuses, was not to be put off by the ordinary artifices of
Eastern negotiation. He instantly ordered the Rajah to be
arrested and placed under the custody of two companies of sepoys.

In taking these strong measures, Hastings scarcely showed his
usual judgment. It is possible that, having had little
opportunity of personally observing any part of the population of
India, except the Bengalees, he was not fully aware of the
difference between their character and that of the tribes which
inhabit the upper provinces. He was now in a land far more
favourable to the vigour of the human frame than the Delta of the
Ganges; in a land fruitful of soldiers, who have been found
worthy to follow English battalions to the charge and into the
breach. The Rajah was popular among his subjects. His
administration had been mild; and the prosperity of the district
which he governed presented a striking contrast to the depressed
state of Bahar under our rule, and a still more striking contrast
to the misery of the provinces which were cursed by the tyranny
of the Nabob Vizier. The national and religious prejudices with
which the English were regarded throughout India were peculiarly
intense in the metropolis of the Brahminical superstition. It can
therefore scarcely he doubted that the Governor-General, before
he outraged the dignity of Cheyte Sing by an arrest, ought to
have assembled a force capable of bearing down all opposition.
This had not been done. The handful of sepoys who attended
Hastings would probably have been sufficient to overawe
Moorshedabad, or the Black Town of Calcutta. But they were
unequal to a conflict with the hardy rabble of Benares. The
streets surrounding the palace were filled by an immense
multitude, of whom a large proportion, as is usual in Upper
India, wore arms. The tumult became a fight, and the fight a
massacre. The English officers defended themselves with desperate
courage against overwhelming numbers, and fell, as became them,
sword in hand. The sepoys were butchered. The gates were forced.
The captive prince, neglected by his gaolers, during the
confusion, discovered an outlet which opened on the precipitous
bank of the Ganges, let himself down to the water by a string
made of the turbans of his attendants, found a boat, and escaped
to the opposite shore.

If Hastings had, by indiscreet violence, brought himself into a
difficult and perilous situation, it is only just to acknowledge
that he extricated himself with even more than his usual ability
and presence of mind. He had only fifty men with him. The
building in which he had taken up his residence was on every side
blockaded by the insurgents, But his fortitude remained unshaken.
The Rajah from the other side of the river sent apologies and
liberal offers. They were not even answered. Some subtle and
enterprising men were found who undertook to pass through the
throng of enemies, and to convey the intelligence of the late
events to the English cantonments. It is the fashion of the
natives of India to wear large earrings of gold. When they
travel, the rings are laid aside, lest the precious metal should
tempt some gang of robbers; and, in place of the ring, a quill or
a roll of paper is inserted in the orifice to prevent it from
closing. Hastings placed in the cars of his messengers letters
rolled up in the smallest compass. Some of these letters were
addressed to the commanders of English troops. One was written to
assure his wife of his safety. One was to the envoy whom he had
sent to negotiate with the Mahrattas. Instructions for the
negotiation were needed; and the Governor-General framed them in
that situation of extreme danger, with as much composure as if he
had been writing in his palace at Calcutta.

Things, however, were not yet at the worst. An English officer of
more spirit than judgment, eager to distinguish himself, made a
premature attack on the insurgents beyond the river. His troops
were entangled in narrow streets, and assailed by a furious
population. He fell, with many of his men; and the survivors were
forced to retire.

This event produced the effect which has never failed to follow
every check, however slight, sustained in India by the English
arms. For hundreds of miles round, the whole country was in
commotion. The entire population of the district of Benares took
arms. The fields were abandoned by the husbandmen, who thronged
to defend their prince. The infection spread to Oude. The
oppressed people of that province rose up against the Nabob
Vizier, refused to pay their imposts, and put the revenue
officers to flight. Even Bahar was ripe for revolt. The hopes of
Cheyte Sing began to rise. Instead of imploring mercy in the
humble style of a vassal, he began to talk the language of a
conqueror, and threatened, it was said, to sweep the white
usurpers out of the land. But the English troops were now
assembling fast. The officers, and even the private men, regarded
the Governor-General with enthusiastic attachment, and flew to
his aid with an alacrity which, as he boasted, had never been
shown on any other occasion. Major Popham, a brave and skilful
soldier, who had highly distinguished himself in the Mahratta
war, and in whom the Governor-General reposed the greatest
confidence, took the command. The tumultuary army of the Rajah
was put to rout. His fastnesses were stormed. In a few hours,
above thirty thousand men left his standard, and returned to
their ordinary avocations. The unhappy prince fled from his
country for ever. His fair domain was added to the British
dominions. One of his relations indeed was appointed rajah; but
the Rajah of Benares was henceforth to be, like the Nabob of
Bengal, a mere pensioner.

By this revolution, an addition of two hundred thousand pounds a
year was made to the revenues of the Company. But the immediate
relief was not as great as had been expected. The treasure laid
up by Cheyte Sing had been popularly estimated at a million
sterling. It turned out to be about a fourth part of that sum;
and, such as it was, it was seized by the army, and divided as

Disappointed in his expectations from Benares, Hastings was more
violent than he would otherwise have been, in his dealings with
Oude. Sujah Dowlah had long been dead. His son and successor,
Asaph-ul-Dowlah, was one of the weakest and most vicious even of
Eastern princes. His life was divided between torpid repose and
the most odious forms of sensuality. In his court there was
boundless waste, throughout his dominions wretchedness and
disorder. He had been, under the skilful management of the
English Government, gradually sinking from the rank of an
independent prince to that of a vassal of the Company. It was
only by the help of a British brigade that he could he secure
from the aggressions of neighbours who despised his weakness, and
from the vengeance of subjects who detested his tyranny. A
brigade was furnished, and he engaged to defray the charge of
paying and maintaining it. From that time his independence was at
an end. Hastings was not a man to lose the advantage which he had
thus gained. The Nabob soon began to complain of the burden which
he had undertaken to bear. His revenues, he said, were falling
off; his servants were unpaid; he could no longer support the
expense of the arrangement which he had sanctioned. Hastings
would not listen to these representations. The Vizier, he said,
had invited the Government of Bengal to send him troops, and had
promised to pay for them. The troops had been sent. How long the
troops were to remain in Oude was a matter not settled by the
treaty. It remained, therefore, to be settled between the
contracting parties. But the contracting parties differed. Who
then must decide? The stronger.

Hastings also argued that, if the English force was withdrawn,
Oude would certainly become a prey to anarchy, and would probably
be overrun by a Mahratta army. That the finances of Oude were
embarrassed he admitted, But he contended, not without reason,
that the embarrassment was to be attributed to the incapacity and
vices of Asaph-ul-Dowlah himself, and that if less were spent on
the troops, the only effect would be that more would be
squandered on worthless favourites.

Hastings, had intended, after settling the affairs of Benares, to
visit Lucknow, and there to confer with Asaph-ul-Dowlah. But the
obsequious courtesy of the Nabob Vizier prevented this visit.
With a small train he hastened to meet the Governor-General. An
interview took place in the fortress which, from the crest of the
precipitous rock of Chunar, looks down on the waters of the

At first sight it might appear impossible that the negotiation
should come to an amicable close. Hastings wanted an
extraordinary supply of money. Asaph-ul-Dowlah wanted to obtain a
remission of what he already owed. Such a difference seemed to
admit of no compromise. There was, however, one course
satisfactory to both sides, one course by which it wan possible
to relieve the finances both of Oude and of Bengal; and that
course was adopted. It was simply this, that the Governor-General
and the Nabob Vizier should join to rob a third party; and the
third party whom they determined to rob was the parent of one of
the robbers.

The mother of the late Nabob and his wife, who was the mother of
the present Nabob, were known as the Begums or Princesses of
Oude. They had possessed great influence over Sujah Dowlah, and
had, at his death, been left in possession of a splendid
dotation. The domains of which they received the rents and
administered the government were of wide extent. The treasure
hoarded by the late Nabob, a treasure which was popularly
estimated at near three millions sterling, was in their hands.
They continued to occupy his favourite palace at Fyzabad, the
Beautiful Dwelling; while Asaph-ul-Dowlah held his court in the
stately Lucknow, which he had built for himself on the shores of
the Goomti, and had adorned with noble mosques and colleges.

Asaph-ul-Dowlah had already extorted considerable sums from his
mother. She had at length appealed to the English; and the
English had interfered. A solemn compact had been made, by which
she consented to give her son some pecuniary assistance, and he
in his turn promised never to commit any further invasion of her
rights. This compact was formally guaranteed by the Government of
Bengal. But times had changed; money was wanted; and the power
which had given the guarantee was not ashamed to instigate the
spoiler to excesses such that even he shrank from them.

It was necessary to find some pretext for a confiscation
inconsistent, not merely with plighted faith, not merely with the
ordinary rules of humanity and justice, but also with that great
law of filial piety which, even in the wildest tribes of savages,
even in those more degraded communities which wither under the
influence of a corrupt half-civilisation, retains a certain
authority over the human mind. A pretext was the last thing that
Hastings was likely to want. The insurrection at Benares had
produced disturbances in Oude. These disturbances it was
convenient to impute to the Princesses. Evidence for the
imputation there was scarcely any; unless reports wandering from
one mouth to another, and gaining something by every
transmission, may be called evidence. The accused were furnished
with no charge; they were permitted to make no defence for the
Governor-General wisely considered that, if he tried them, he
might not be able to find a ground for plundering them. It was
agreed between him and the Nabob Vizier that the noble ladies
should, by a sweeping act of confiscation, be stripped of their
domains and treasures for the benefit of the Company, and that
the sums thus obtained should be accepted by the Government of
Bengal in satisfaction of its claims on the Government of Oude.

While Asaph-ul-Dowlah was at Chunar, he was completely subjugated
by the clear and commanding intellect of the English statesman.
But, when they had separated, the Vizier began to reflect with
uneasiness on the engagements into which he had entered. His
mother and grandmother protested and implored. His heart, deeply
corrupted by absolute power and licentious pleasures, yet not
naturally unfeeling, failed him in this crisis. Even the English
resident at Lucknow, though hitherto devoted to Hastings, shrank
from extreme measures. But the Governor-General was inexorable.
He wrote to the resident in terms of the greatest severity, and
declared that, if the spoliation which had been agreed upon were
not instantly carried into effect, he would himself go to
Lucknow, and do that from which feebler minds recoil with dismay.
The resident, thus menaced, waited on his Highness, and insisted
that the treaty of Chunar should be carried into full and
immediate effect. Asaph-ul-Dowlah yielded making at the same time
a solemn protestation that he yielded to compulsion. The lands
were resumed; but the treasure was not so easily obtained. It was
necessary to use violence. A body of the Company's troops marched
to Fyzabad, and forced the gates of the palace. The Princesses
were confined to their own apartments. But still they refused to
submit. Some more stringent mode of coercion was to be found. A
mode was found of which, even at this distance of time, we cannot
speak without shame and sorrow.

There were at Fyzabad two ancient men, belonging to that unhappy
class which a practice, of immemorial antiquity in the East, has
excluded from the pleasures of love and from the hope of
posterity. It has always been held in Asiatic courts that beings
thus estranged from sympathy with their kind are those whom
princes may most safely trust. Sujah Dowlah had been of this
opinion. He had given his entire confidence to the two eunuchs;
and after his death they remained at the head of the household of
his widow.

These men were, by the orders of the British Government, seized,
imprisoned, ironed, starved almost to death, in order to extort
money from the Princesses. After they had been two months in
confinement, their health gave way. They implored permission to
take a little exercise in the garden of their prison. The officer
who was in charge of them stated that, if they were allowed this
indulgence, there was not the smallest chance of their escaping,
and that their irons really added nothing to the security of the
custody in which they were kept. He did not understand the plan
of his superiors. Their object in these inflictions was not
security but torture; and all mitigation was refused. Yet this
was not the worst. It was resolved by an English government that
these two infirm old men should be delivered to the tormentors.
For that purpose they were removed to Lucknow. What horrors their
dungeon there witnessed can only be guessed. But there remains on
the records of Parliament, this letter, written by a British
resident to a British soldier:

"Sir, the Nabob having determined to inflict corporal punishment
upon the prisoners under your guard, this is to desire that his
officers, when they shall come, may have free access to the
prisoners, and be permitted to do with them as they shall see

While these barbarities were perpetrated at Lucknow, the
Princesses were still under duress at Fyzabad. Food was allowed
to enter their apartments only in such scanty quantities that
their female attendants were in danger of perishing with hunger.
Month after month this cruelty continued, till at length, after
twelve hundred thousand pounds had been wrung out of the
Princesses, Hastings began to think that he had really got to the
bottom of their coffers, arid that no rigour could extort more.
Then at length the wretched men who were detained at Lucknow
regained their liberty. When their irons were knocked off, and
the doors of their prison opened, their quivering lips, the tears
which ran down their cheeks, and the thanksgivings which they
poured forth to the common Father of Mussulmans and Christians,
melted even the stout hearts of the English warriors who stood

But we must not forget to do justice to Sir Elijah Impey's
conduct on this occasion. It was not indeed easy for him to
intrude himself into a business so entirely alien from all his
official duties. But there was something inexpressibly alluring,
we must suppose, in the peculiar rankness of the infamy which was
then to be got at Lucknow. He hurried thither as fast as relays
of palanquin-bearers could carry him. A crowd of people came
before him with affidavits against the Begums, ready drawn in
their hands. Those affidavits he did not read. Some of them,
indeed, he could not read; for they were in the dialects of
Northern India, and no interpreter was employed. He administered
the oath to the deponents with all possible expedition, and asked
not a single question, not even whether they had perused the
statements to which they swore. This work performed, he got
again into his palanquin, and posted back to Calcutta, to be
in time for the opening of term. The cause was one which, by
his own confession, lay altogether out of his jurisdiction.
Under the charter of justice, he had no more right to inquire
into crimes committed by Asiatics in Oude than the Lord
President of the Court of Session of Scotland to hold an
assize at Exeter. He had no right to try the Begums, nor did he
pretend to try them. With what object, then, did he undertake so
long a journey? Evidently in order that he might give, in an
irregular manner, that sanction which in a regular manner he
could not give, to the crimes of those who had recently hired
him; and in order that a confused mass of testimony which he did
not sift, which he did not even read, might acquire an authority
not properly belonging to it, from the signature of the highest
judicial functionary in India.

The time was approaching, however, when he was to be stripped of
that robe which has never, since the Revolution, been disgraced
so foully as by him. The state of India had for some time
occupied much of the attention of the British Parliament. Towards
the close of the American war, two committees of the Commons sat
on Eastern affairs. In one Edmund Burke took the lead. The other
was under the presidency of the able and versatile Henry Dundas,
then Lord Advocate of Scotland. Great as are the changes which,
during the last sixty years, have taken place in our Asiatic
dominions, the reports which those committees laid on the table
of the House will still be found most interesting and

There was as yet no connection between the Company and either of
the great parties in the State. The ministers had no motive to
defend Indian abuses. On the contrary, it was for their interest
to show, if possible, that the government and patronage of our
Oriental empire might, with advantage, be transferred to
themselves, The votes, therefore, which, in consequence of the
reports made by the two committees, were passed by the Commons,
breathed the spirit of stern and indignant justice. The severest
epithets were applied to several of the measures of Hastings,
especially to the Rohilla war; and it was resolved, on the
motion of Mr. Dundas, that the Company ought to recall a
Governor-General who had brought such calamities on the Indian
people, and such dishonour on the British name. An act was passed
for limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The bargain
which Hastings had made with the Chief Justice was condemned in
the strongest terms; and an address was presented to the King,
praying that Impey might be summoned home to answer for his

Impey was recalled by a letter from the Secretary of State. But
the proprietors of India Stock resolutely refused to dismiss
Hastings from their service, and passed a resolution affirming,
what was undeniably true, that they were intrusted by law with
the right of naming and removing their Governor-General, and that
they were not bound to obey the directions of a single branch of
the legislature with respect to such nomination or removal.

Thus supported by his employers, Hastings remained at the head of
the Government of Bengal till the spring of 1785. His
administration, so eventful and stormy, closed in almost perfect
quiet. In the Council there was no regular opposition to his
measures. Peace was restored to India. The Mahratta war had
ceased. Hyder was no more. A treaty had been concluded with his
son, Tippoo; and the Carnatic had been evacuated by the armies of
Mysore. Since the termination of the American war, England had no
European enemy or rival in the Eastern seas.

On a general review of the long administration of Hastings, it is
impossible to deny that, against the great crimes by which it is
blemished, we have to set off great public services. England had
passed through a perilous crisis. She still, indeed, maintained
her place in the foremost rank of European powers; and the manner
in which she had defended herself against fearful odds had
inspired surrounding nations with a high opinion both of her
spirit and of her strength. Nevertheless, in every part of the
world, except one, she had been a loser. Not only had she been
compelled to acknowledge the independence of thirteen colonies
peopled by her children, and to conciliate the Irish by giving up
the right of legislating for them; but, in the Mediterranean, in
the Gulf of Mexico, on the coast of Africa, on the continent of
America, she had been compelled to cede the fruits of her
victories in former wars. Spain regained Minorca and Florida;
France regained Senegal, Goree, and several West Indian Islands.
The only quarter of the world in which Britain had lost nothing
was the quarter in which her interests had been committed to the
care of Hastings. In spite of the utmost exertions both of
European and Asiatic enemies, the power of our country in the
East had been greatly augmented. Benares was subjected. the Nabob
Vizier reduced to vassalage. That our influence had been thus
extented, nay, that Fort William and Fort St. George had not been
occupied by hostile armies, was owing, if we may trust the
general voice of the English in India, to the skill and
resolution of Hastings.

His internal administration, with all its blemishes, gives him a
title to be considered as one of the most remarkable men in our
history. He dissolved the double government. He transferred the
direction of affairs to English hands. Out of a frightful
anarchy, he educed at least a rude and imperfect order. The whole
organisation by which justice was dispensed, revenue collected,
peace maintained throughout a territory not inferior in
population to the dominions of Lewis the Sixteenth or the Emperor
Joseph, was formed and superintended by him. He boasted that
every public office, without exception, which existed when he
left Bengal, was his creation. It is quite true that this system,
after all the improvements suggested by the experience of sixty
years, still needs improvement, and that it was at first far more
defective than it now is. But whoever seriously considers what it
is to construct from the beginning the whole of a machine so vast
and complex as a government, will allow that what Hastings
effected deserves high admiration. To compare the most celebrated
European ministers to him seems to us as unjust as it would be to
compare the best baker in London with Robinson Crusoe, who,
before he could bake a single loaf, had to make his plough and
his harrow, his fences and his scarecrows, his sickle and his
flail, his mill and his oven.

The just fame of Hastings rises still higher, when we reflect
that he was not bred a statesman; that he was sent from school to
a counting-house; and that he was employed during the prime of
his manhood as a commercial agent, far from all intellectual

Nor must we forget that all, or almost all, to whom, when placed
at the head of affairs, he could apply for assistance, were
persons who owed as little as himself, or less than himself, to
education. A minister in Europe finds himself, on the first day
on which he commences his functions, surrounded by experienced
public servants, the depositaries of official traditions.
Hastings had no such help. His own reflection, his own energy,
were to supply the place of all Downing Street and Somerset
House. Having had no facilities for learning, he was forced to
teach. He had first to form himself, and then to form his
instruments; and this not in a single department, but in all the
departments of the administration.

It must be added that, while engaged in this most arduous task,
he was constantly trammelled by orders from home, and frequently
borne down by a majority in Council. The preservation of an
Empire from a formidable combination of foreign enemies, the
construction of a government in all its parts, were accomplished
by him, while every ship brought out bales of censure from his
employers, and while the records of every consultation were
filled with acrimonious minutes by his colleagues. We believe
that there never was a public man whose temper was so severely
tried; not Marlborough, when thwarted by the Dutch Deputies; not
Wellington, when he had to deal at once with the Portuguese
Regency, the Spanish juntas, and Mr. Percival. But the temper of
Hastings was equal to almost any trial. It was not sweet; but it
was calm. Quick and vigorous as his intellect was, the patience
with which he endured the most cruel vexations, till a remedy
could be found, resembled the patience of stupidity. He seems to
have been capable of resentment, bitter and long enduring; yet
his resentment so seldom hurried him into any blunder, that it
may be doubted whether what appeared to be revenge was anything
but policy.

The effect of this singular equanimity was that he always had the
full command of all the resources of one of the most fertile
minds that ever existed. Accordingly no complication of perils
and embarrassments could perplex him. For every difficulty he had
a contrivance ready; and, whatever may be thought of the justice
and humanity of some of his contrivances, it is certain that they
seldom failed to serve the purpose for which they were designed.

Together with this extraordinary talent for devising expedients,
Hastings possessed, in a very high degree, another talent
scarcely less necessary to a man in his situation; we mean the
talent for conducting political controversy. It is as necessary
to an English statesman in the East that he should be able to
write, as it is to a minister in this country that he should be
able to speak. It is chiefly by the oratory of a public man here
that the nation judges of his powers. It is from the letters and
reports of a public man in India that the dispensers of patronage
form their estimate of him. In each case, the talent which
receives peculiar encouragement is developed, perhaps at the
expense of the other powers. In this country, we sometimes hear
men speak above their abilities. It is not very unusual to find
gentlemen in the Indian service who write above their abilities.
The English politician is a little too much of a debater; the
Indian politician a little too much of an essayist.

Of the numerous servants of the Company who have distinguished
themselves as framers of minutes and despatches, Hastings stands
at the head. He was indeed the person who gave to the official
writing of the Indian governments the character which it still
retains. He was matched against no common antagonist. But even
Francis was forced to acknowledge, with sullen and resentful
candour, that there was no contending against the pen of
Hastings. And, in truth, the Governor-General's power of making
out a case, of perplexing what it was inconvenient that people
should understand, and of setting in the clearest point of view
whatever would bear the light, was incomparable. His style must
be praised with some reservation. It was in general forcible,
pure, and polished; but it was sometimes, though not often,
turgid, and, on one or two occasions, even bombastic. Perhaps the
fondness of Hastings for Persian literature may have tended to
corrupt his taste.

And, since we have referred to his literary tastes, it would be
most unjust not to praise the judicious encouragement which, as a
ruler, he gave to liberal studies and curious researches. His
patronage was extended, with prudent generosity, to voyages,
travels, experiments, publications. He did little, it is true,
towards introducing into India the learning of the West. To make
the young natives of Bengal familiar with Milton and Adam Smith,
to substitute the geography, astronomy, and surgery of Europe for
the dotages of the Brahminical superstition, or for the imperfect
science of ancient Greece transfused through Arabian expositions,
this was a scheme reserved to crown the beneficent administration
of a far more virtuous ruler. Still it is impossible to refuse
high commendation to a man who, taken from a ledger to govern an
empire, overwhelmed by public business, surrounded by people as
busy as himself and separated by thousands of leagues from almost
all literary society, gave, both by his example and by his
munificence, a great impulse to learning. In Persian and Arabic
literature he was deeply skilled. With the Sanscrit he was not
himself acquainted; but those who first brought that language to
the knowledge of European students owed much to his
encouragement. It was under his protection that the Asiatic
Society commenced its honourable career. That distinguished body
selected him to be its first president; but, with excellent taste
and feeling, he declined the honour in favour of Sir William
Jones. But the chief advantage which the students of Oriental
letters derived from his patronage remains to be mentioned. The
Pundits of Bengal had always looked with great jealousy on the
attempts of foreigners to pry into those mysteries which were
locked up in the sacred dialect. The Brahminical religion had
been persecuted by the Mahommedans. What the Hindoos knew of the
spirit of the Portuguese Government might warrant them in
apprehending persecution from Christians. That apprehension, the
wisdom and moderation of Hastings removed. He was the first
foreign ruler who succeeded in gaining the confidence of the
hereditary priests of India, and who induced them to lay open to
English scholars the secrets of the old Brahminical theology and

It is indeed impossible to deny that, in the great art of
inspiring large masses of human beings with confidence and
attachment, no ruler ever surpassed Hastings. If he had made
himself popular with the English by giving up the Bengalees to
extortion and oppression, or if, on the other hand, he had
conciliated the Bengalees and alienated the English, there would
have been no cause for wonder. What is peculiar to him is that,
being the chief of a small band of strangers, who exercised
boundless power over a great indigenous population, he made
himself beloved both by the subject many and by the dominant few.
The affection felt for him by the civil service was singularly
ardent and constant. Through all his disasters and perils, his
brethren stood by him with steadfast loyalty. The army, at the
same time, loved him as armies have seldom loved any but the
greatest chiefs who have led them to victory. Even in his
disputes with distinguished military men, he could always count
on the support of the military profession. While such was his
empire over the hearts of his countrymen, he enjoyed among the
natives a popularity, such as other governors have perhaps better
merited, but such as no other governor has been able to attain.
He spoke their vernacular dialects with facility and precision.
He was intimately acquainted with their feelings and usages. On
one or two occasions, for great ends, he deliberately acted in
defiance of their opinion; but on such occasions he gained more
in their respect than he lost in their love, In general, he
carefully avoided all that could shock their national or
religious prejudices. His administration was indeed in many
respects faulty; but the Bengalee standard of good government was
not high. Under the Nabobs, the hurricane of Mahratta cavalry had
passed annually over the rich alluvial plain. But even the
Mahratta shrank from a conflict with the mighty children of the
sea; and the immense rich harvests of the Lower Ganges were
safely gathered in under the protection of the English sword. The
first English conquerors had been more rapacious and merciless
even than the Mahrattas--but that generation had passed away.
Defective as was the police, heavy as were the public burdens, it
is probable that the oldest man in Bengal could not recollect a
season of equal security and prosperity. For the first time
within living memory, the province was placed under a government
strong enough to prevent others from robbing, and not inclined to
play the robber itself. These things inspired goodwill. At the
same time, the constant success of Hastings and the manner in
which he extricated himself from every difficulty made him an
object of superstitious admiration; and the more than regal
splendour which he sometimes displayed dazzled a people who have
much in common with children. Even now, after the lapse of more
than fifty years, the natives of India still talk of him as the
greatest of the English; and nurses sing children to sleep with
a jingling ballad about the fleet horses and richly caparisoned
elephants of Sahib Warren Hostein.

The gravest offence of which Hastings was guilty did not affect
his popularity with the people of Bengal; for those offences were
committed against neighbouring states. Those offences, as our
readers must have perceived, we are not disposed to vindicate;
yet, in order that the censure may be justly apportioned to the
transgression, it is fit that the motive of the criminal should
be taken into consideration. The motive which prompted the worst
acts of Hastings was misdirected and ill-regulated public spirit.
The rules of justice, the sentiments of humanity, the plighted
faith of treaties, were in his view as nothing, when opposed to
the immediate interest of the State. This is no justification,
according to the principles either of morality, or of what we
believe to be identical with morality, namely, far-sighted
policy. Nevertheless the common sense of mankind, which in
questions of this sort seldom goes far wrong, will always
recognise a distinction between crimes which originate in an
inordinate zeal for the commonwealth, and crimes which originate
in selfish cupidity. To the benefit of this distinction Hastings
is fairly entitled. There is, we conceive, no reason to suspect
that the Rohilla war, the revolution of Benares, or the
spoliation of the Princesses of Oude, added a rupee to his
fortune. We will not affirm that, in all pecuniary dealings, he
showed that punctilious integrity, that dread of the faintest
appearance of evil, which is now the glory of the Indian civil
service. But when the school in which he had been trained, and
the temptations to which he was exposed are considered, we are
more inclined to praise him for his general uprightness with
respect to money, than rigidly to blame him for a few
transactions which would now be called indelicate and irregular,
but which even now would hardly be designated as corrupt. A
rapacious man he certainly was not. Had he been so, he would
infallibly have returned to his country the richest subject in
Europe. We speak within compass, when we say that, without
applying any extraordinary pressure, he might easily have
obtained from the zemindars of the Company's provinces and from
neighbouring princes, in the course of thirteen years, more than
three millions sterling, and might have outshone the splendour of
Carlton House and of the Palais Royal. He brought home a fortune
such as a Governor-General, fond of state, and careless of
thrift, might easily, during so long a tenure of office, save out
of his legal salary. Mrs. Hastings, we are afraid, was less
scrupulous. It was generally believed that she accepted presents
with great alacrity, and that she thus formed, without the
connivance of her husband, a private hoard amounting to several
lacs of rupees. We are the more inclined to give credit to this
story, because Mr. Gleig, who cannot but have heard it, does not,
as far as we have observed, notice or contradict it.

The influence of Mrs. Hastings over her husband was indeed such
that she might easily have obtained much larger sums than she was
ever accused of receiving. At length her health began to give
way; and the Governor-General, much against his will, was
compelled to send her to England. He seems to have loved her with
that love which is peculiar to men of strong minds, to men whose
affection is not easily won or widely diffused. The talk of
Calcutta ran for some time on the luxurious manner in which he
fitted up the round-house of an Indiaman for her accommodation,
on the profusion of sandal-wood and carved ivory which adorned
her cabin, and on the thousands of rupees which had been expended
in order to procure for her the society of an agreeable female
companion during the voyage. We may remark here that the letters
of Hastings to his wife are exceedingly characteristic. They are
tender, and full of indications of esteem and confidence; but, at
the same time, a little more ceremonious than is usual in so
intimate a relation. The solemn courtesy with which he
compliments "his elegant Marian" reminds us now and then of the
dignified air with which Sir Charles Grandison bowed over Miss
Byron's hand in the cedar parlour.

After some months, Hastings prepared to follow his wife to
England. When it was announced that he was about to quit his
office, the feeling of the society which he had so long governed
manifested itself by many signs. Addresses poured in from
Europeans and Asiatics, from civil functionaries, soldiers, and
traders. On the day on which he delivered up the keys of office,
a crowd of friends and admirers formed a lane to the quay where
he embarked. Several barges escorted him far down the river; and
some attached friends refused to quit him till the low coast of
Bengal was fading from the view, and till the pilot was leaving
the ship.

Of his voyage little is known, except that he amused himself with
books and with his pen; and that, among the compositions by which
he beguiled the tediousness of that long leisure, was a pleasing
imitation of Horace's Otium Divos rogat. This little poem was
inscribed to Mr. Shore, afterwards Lord Teignmouth, a man of
whose integrity, humanity, and honour, it is impossible to speak
too highly, but who, like some other excellent members of the
civil service, extended to the conduct of his friend Hastings an
indulgence of which his own conduct never stood in need.

The voyage was, for those times, very speedy. Hastings was little
more than four months on the sea. In June 1785, he landed at
Plymouth, posted to London, appeared at Court, paid his respects
in Leadenhall Street, and then retired with his wife to

He was greatly pleased with his reception. The King treated him
with marked distinction. The Queen, who had already incurred much
censure on account of the favour which, in spite of the ordinary
severity of her virtue, she had shown to the "elegant Marian,"
was not less gracious to Hastings. The Directors received him in
a solemn sitting; and their chairman read to him a vote of thanks
which they had passed without one dissentient voice. "I find
myself," said Hastings, in a letter written about a quarter of a
year after his arrival in England, "I find myself everywhere, and
universally, treated with evidences, apparent even to my own
observation, that I possess the good opinion of my country."

The confident and exulting tone of his correspondence about this
time is the more remarkable, because he had already received
ample notice of the attack which was in preparation. Within a
week after he landed at Plymouth, Burke gave notice in the House
of Commons of a motion seriously affecting a gentleman lately
returned from India. The Session, however, was then so far
advanced, that it was impossible to enter on so extensive and
important a subject.

Hastings, it is clear, was not sensible of the danger of his
position. Indeed that sagacity, that judgment, that readiness m
devising expedients, which had distinguished him in the East,
seemed now to have forsaken him; not that his abilities were at
all impaired; not that he was not still the same man who had
triumphed over Francis and Nuncomar, who had made the Chief
justice and the Nabob Vizier his tools, who had deposed Cheyte
Sing, and repelled Hyder Ali. But an oak, as Mr. Grattan finely
said, should not be transplanted at fifty. A man who having left
England when a boy, returns to it after thirty or forty years
passed in India, will find, be his talents what they may, that he
has much both to learn and to unlearn before he can take a place
among English statesmen. The working of a representative system,
the war of parties, the arts of debate, the influence of the
press, are startling novelties to him. Surrounded on every side
by new machines and new tactics, he is as much bewildered as
Hannibal would have been at Waterloo, or Themistocles at
Trafalgar. His very acuteness deludes him. His very vigour causes
him to stumble. The more correct his maxims, when applied to the
state of society to which he is accustomed, the more certain they
are to lead him astray. This was strikingly the case with
Hastings. In India he had a bad hand; but he was master of the
game, and he won every stake. In England he held excellent cards,
if he had known how to play them; and it was chiefly by his own
errors that he was brought to the verge of ruin.

Of all his errors the most serious was perhaps the choice of a
champion. Clive, in similar circumstances, had made a singularly
happy selection. He put himself into the hands of Wedderburn,
afterwards Lord Loughborough, one of the few great advocates who
have also been great in the House of Commons. To the defence of
Clive, therefore, nothing was wanting, neither learning nor
knowledge of the world, neither forensic acuteness nor that
eloquence which charms political assemblies. Hastings intrusted
his interests to a very different person, a Major in the Bengal
army, named Scott. This gentleman had been sent over from India
some time before as the agent of the Governor-General. It was
rumoured that his services were rewarded with Oriental
munificence; and we believe that he received much more than
Hastings could conveniently spare. The Major obtained a seat in
Parliament, and was there regarded as the organ of his employer.
It was evidently impossible that a gentleman so situated could
speak with the authority which belongs to an independent
position. Nor had the agent of Hastings the talents necessary for
obtaining the ear of an assembly which, accustomed to listen to
great orators, had naturally become fastidious. He was always on
his legs; he was very tedious; and he had only one topic, the
merits and wrongs of Hastings. Everybody who knows the House of
Commons will easily guess what followed. The Major was soon
considered as the greatest bore of his time. His exertions were
not confined to Parliament. There was hardly a day on which the
newspapers did not contain some puff upon Hastings, signed
Asiaticus or Bengalensis, but known to be written by the
indefatigable Scott; and hardly a month in which some bulky
pamphlet on the same subject, and from the same pen, did not pass
to the trunkmakers and the pastry-cooks. As to this gentleman's
capacity for conducting a delicate question through Parliament,
our readers will want no evidence beyond that which they will
find in letters preserved in these volumes. We will give a single
specimen of his temper and judgment. He designated the greatest
man then living as "that reptile Mr. Burke."

In spite, however, of this unfortunate choice, the general aspect
of affairs was favourable to Hastings. The King was on his side.
The Company and its servants were zealous in his cause. Among
public men he had many ardent friends. Such were Lord Mansfield,
who had outlived the vigour of his body, but not that of his
mind; and Lord Lansdowne, who, though unconnected with any party,
retained the importance which belongs to great talents and
knowledge. The ministers were generally believed to be favourable
to the late Governor-General. They owed their power to the
clamour which had been raised against Mr. Fox's East India Bill.
The authors of that bill, when accused of invading vested rights,
and of setting up powers unknown to the constitution, had
defended themselves by pointing to the crimes of Hastings, and by
arguing that abuses so extraordinary justified extraordinary
measures. Those who, by opposing that bill, had raised themselves
to the head of affairs, would naturally be inclined to extenuate
the evils which had been made the plea for administering so
violent a remedy; and such, in fact, was their general
disposition. The Lord Chancellor Thurlow, in particular, whose
great place and force of intellect gave him a weight in the
Government inferior only to that of Mr. Pitt, espoused the cause
of Hastings with indecorous violence. Mr. Pitt, though he had
censured many parts of the Indian system, had studiously
abstained from saying a word against the late chief of the Indian
Government. To Major Scott, indeed, the young minister had in
private extolled Hastings as a great, a wonderful man, who had
the highest claims on the Government. There was only one
objection to granting all that so eminent a servant of the public
could ask. The resolution of censure still remained on the
journals of the House of Commons. That resolution was, indeed,
unjust; but, till it was rescinded, could the minister advise the
King to bestow any mark of approbation on the person censured? If
Major Scott is to be trusted, Mr. Pitt declared that this was the
only reason which prevented the advisers of the Crown from
conferring a peerage on the late Governor-General. Mr. Dundas was
the only important member of the administration who was deeply
committed to a different view of the subject. He had moved the
resolution which created the difficulty; but even from him little
was to be apprehended. Since he had presided over the committee
on Eastern affairs, great changes had taken place. He was
surrounded by new allies; he had fixed his hopes on new objects;
and whatever may have been his good qualities,--and he had many,-
-flattery itself never reckoned rigid consistency in the number.

From the Ministry, therefore, Hastings had every reason to expect
support; and the Ministry was very powerful. The Opposition was
loud and vehement against him. But the Opposition, though
formidable from the wealth and influence of some of its members,
and from the admirable talents and eloquence of others, was
outnumbered in Parliament, and odious throughout the country.
Nor, as far as we can judge, was the Opposition generally
desirous to engage in so serious an undertaking as the
impeachment of an Indian Governor. Such an impeachment must last
for years. It must impose on the chiefs of the party an immense
load of labour. Yet it could scarcely, in any manner, affect the
event of the great political game. The followers of the coalition
were therefore more inclined to revile Hastings than to prosecute
him. They lost no opportunity of coupling his name with the names
of the most hateful tyrants of whom history makes mention. The
wits of Brooks's aimed their keenest sarcasms both at his public
and at his domestic life. Some fine diamonds which he had
presented, as it was rumoured, to the royal family, and a certain
richly-carved ivory bed which the Queen had done him the honour
to accept from him, were favourite subjects of ridicule. One
lively poet proposed, that the great acts of the fair Marian's
present husband should be immortalised by the pencil of his
predecessor; and that Imhoff should be employed to embellish the
House of Commons with paintings of the bleeding Rohillas, of
Nuncomar swinging, of Cheyte Sing letting himself down to the
Ganges. Another, in an exquisitely humorous parody of Virgil's
third eclogue, propounded the question, what that mineral could
be of which the rays had power to make the most austere of
princesses the friend of a wanton. A third described, with gay
malevolence, the gorgeous appearance of Mrs. Hastings at St.
James's, the galaxy of jewels, torn from Indian Begums, which
adorned her head-dress, her necklace gleaming with future votes,
and the depending questions that shone upon her ears. Satirical
attacks of this description, and perhaps a motion for a vote of
censure, would have satisfied the great body of the Opposition.
But there were two men whose indignation was not to be so
appeased, Philip Francis and Edmund Burke.

Francis had recently entered the House of Commons, and had
already established a character there for industry and ability.
He laboured indeed under one most unfortunate defect, want of
fluency. But he occasionally expressed himself with a dignity and
energy worthy of the greatest orators, Before he had been many
days in Parliament, he incurred the bitter dislike of Pitt, who
constantly treated him with as much asperity as the laws of
debate would allow. Neither lapse of years nor change of scene
had mitigated the enmities which Francis had brought back from
the East. After his usual fashion, he mistook his malevolence for
virtue, nursed it, as preachers tell us that we ought to nurse
our good dispositions, and paraded it, on all occasions, with
Pharisaical ostentation.

The zeal of Burke was still fiercer; but it was far purer. Men
unable to understand the elevation of his mind, have tried to
find out some discreditable motive for the vehemence and
pertinacity which he showed on this occasion. But they have
altogether failed. The idle story that he had some private
slight to revenge has long been given up, even by the advocates
of Hastings. Mr. Gleig supposes that Burke was actuated by party
spirit, that he retained a bitter remembrance of the fall of the
coalition, that he attributed that fall to the exertions of the
East India interest, and that he considered Hastings as the head
and the representative of that interest. This explanation seems
to be sufficiently refuted by a reference to dates. The hostility
of Burke to Hastings commenced long before the coalition; and
lasted long after Burke had become a strenuous supporter of those
by whom the coalition had been defeated. It began when Burke and
Fox, closely allied together, were attacking the influence of the
Crown, and calling for peace with the American republic. It
continued till Burke, alienated from Fox, and loaded with the
favours of the Crown, died, preaching a crusade against the
French republic. We surely cannot attribute to the events of 1784
an enmity which began in 1781, and which retained undiminished
force long after persons far more deeply implicated than Hastings
in the events of 1784 had been cordially forgiven. And why should
we look for any other explanation of Burke's conduct than that
which we find on the surface? The plain truth is that Hastings
had committed some great crimes, and that the thought of those
crimes made the blood of Burke boil in his veins. For Burke was a
man in whom compassion for suffering, and hatred of injustice and
tyranny, were as strong as in Las Casas or Clarkson. And although
in him, as in Las Casas and in Clarkson, these noble feelings
were alloyed with the infirmity which belongs to human nature, he
is, like them, entitled to this great praise, that he devoted
years of intense labour to the service of a people with whom he
had neither blood nor language, neither religion nor manners in
common, and from whom no requital, no thanks, no applause could
be expected.

His knowledge of India was such as few, even of those Europeans
who have passed many years in that country have attained, and
such as certainly was never attained by any public man who had
not quitted Europe. He had studied the history, the laws, and the
usages of the East with an industry, such as is seldom found
united to so much genius and so much sensibility. Others have
perhaps been equally laborious, and have collected an equal mass
of materials. But the manner in which Burke brought his higher
powers of intellect to work on statements of facts, and on tables
of figures, was peculiar to himself. In every part of those huge
bales of Indian information which repelled almost all other
readers, his mind, at once philosophical and poetical, found
something to instruct or to delight. His reason analysed and
digested those vast and shapeless masses; his imagination
animated and coloured them. Out of darkness, and dulness, and
confusion, he formed a multitude of ingenious theories and vivid
pictures. He had, in the highest degree, that noble faculty
whereby man is able to live in the past and in the future, in the
distant and in the unreal. India and its inhabitants were not to
him, as to most Englishmen, mere names and abstractions, but a
real country and a real people. The burning sun, the strange
vegetation of the palm and the cocoa-tree, the rice-field, the
tank, the huge trees, older than the Mogul empire, under which
the village crowds assemble, the thatched roof of the peasant's
hut, the rich tracery of the mosque where the imaum prays with
his face to Mecca, the drums, and banners, and gaudy idols, the
devotee swinging in the air, the graceful maiden, with the
pitcher on her head, descending the steps to the riverside, the
black faces, the long beards, the yellow streaks of sect, the
turbans and the flowing robes, the spears and the silver maces,
the elephants with their canopies of state, the gorgeous
palanquin of the prince, and the close litter of the noble lady,
all these things were to him as the objects amidst which his own
life had been passed, as the objects which lay on the road
between Beaconsfield and St. James's Street. All India was
present to the eye of his mind, from the hall where suitors laid
gold and perfumes at the feet of sovereigns to the wild moor
where the gipsy camp was pitched, from the bazar, humming like a
bee-hive with the crowd of buyers and sellers, to the jungle
where the lonely courier shakes his bunch of iron rings to scare
away the hyaenas. He had just as lively an idea of the
insurrection at Benares as of Lord George Gordon's riots, and of
the execution of Nuncomar as of the execution of Dr. Dodd.
Oppression in Bengal was to him the same thing as oppression in
the streets of London.

He saw that Hastings had been guilty of some most unjustifiable
acts. All that followed was natural and necessary in a mind like
Burke's. His imagination and his passions, once excited, hurried
him beyond the bounds of justice and good sense. His reason,
powerful as it was, became the slave of feelings which it should
have controlled. His indignation, virtuous in its origin,
acquired too much of the character of personal aversion. He could
see no mitigating circumstance, no redeeming merit. His temper,
which, though generous and affectionate, had always been
irritable, had now been made almost savage by bodily infirmities
and mental vexations, Conscious of great powers and great
virtues, he found himself, in age and poverty, a mark for the
hatred of a perfidious Court and a deluded people. In Parliament
his eloquence was out of date. A young generation, which knew him
not, had filled the House. Whenever he rose to speak, his voice
was drowned by the unseemly interruption of lads who were in
their cradles when his orations on the Stamp Act called forth the
applause of the great Earl of Chatham. These things had produced
on his proud and sensitive spirit an effect at which we cannot
wonder. He could no longer discuss any question with calmness, or
make allowance for honest differences of opinion. Those who think
that he was more violent and acrimonious in debates about India
than on other occasions, are ill-informed respecting the last
years of his life. In the discussions on the Commercial Treaty
with the Court of Versailles, on the Regency, on the French
Revolution, he showed even more virulence than in conducting the
impeachment. Indeed it may be remarked that the very persons who
called him a mischievous maniac, for condemning in burning words
the Rohilla war and the spoliation of the Begums, exalted him
into a prophet as soon as he began to declaim, with greater
vehemence, and not with greater reason, against the taking of the
Bastile and the insults offered to Marie Antoinette. To us he
appears to have been neither a maniac in the former case, nor a
prophet in the latter, but in both cases a great and good man,
led into extravagance by a sensibility which domineered over all
his faculties.

It may be doubted whether the personal antipathy of Francis, or
the nobler indignation of Burke, would have led their party to
adopt extreme measures against Hastings, if his own conduct had
been judicious. He should have felt that, great as his public
services had been, he was not faultless, and should have been
content to make his escape, without aspiring to the honours of a
triumph. He and his agent took a different view. They were
impatient for the rewards which, as they conceived, it were
deferred only till Burke's attack should be over. They
accordingly resolved to force on a decisive action with an enemy
for whom, if they had been wise, they would have made a bridge of
gold. On the first day of the session of 1786, Major Scott
reminded Burke of the notice given in the preceding year, and
asked whether it was seriously intended to bring any charge
against the late Governor-General. This challenge left no course
open to the Opposition, except to come forward as accusers, or to
acknowledge themselves calumniators. The administration of
Hastings had not been so blameless, nor was the great party of
Fox and North so feeble, that it could be prudent to venture on
so bold a defiance. The leaders of the Opposition instantly
returned the only answer which they could with honour return; and
the whole party was irrevocably pledged to a prosecution.

Burke began his operations by applying for Papers. Some of the
documents for which he asked were refused by, the ministers, who,
in the debate, held language such as strongly confirmed the
prevailing opinion, that they intended to support Hastings. In
April, the charges were laid on the table. They had been drawn by
Burke with great ability, though in a form too much resembling
that of a pamphlet. Hastings was furnished with a copy of the
accusation; and it was intimated to him that he might, if he
thought fit, be heard in his own defence at the bar of the

Here again Hastings was pursued by the same fatality which had
attended him ever since the day when he set foot on English
ground. It seemed to be decreed that this man, so politic and so
successful in the East, should commit nothing but blunders in
Europe. Any judicious adviser would have told him that the best
thing which he could do would be to make an eloquent, forcible,
and affecting oration at the bar of the House; but that, if he
could not trust himself to speak, and found it necessary to read,
he ought to be as concise as possible. Audiences accustomed to
extemporaneous debating of the highest excellence are always
impatient of long written compositions. Hastings, however, sat
down as he would have done at the Government-house in Bengal, and
prepared a paper of immense length. That paper, if recorded on
the consultations of an Indian administration, would have been
justly praised as a very able minute. But it was now out of
place. It fell flat, as the best written defence must have fallen
flat, on an assembly accustomed to the animated and strenuous
conflicts of Pitt and Fox. The members, as soon as their
curiosity about the face and demeanour of so eminent a stranger
was satisfied, walked away to dinner, and left Hastings to tell
his story till midnight to the clerks and the Serjeant-at-Arms.

All preliminary steps having been duly taken, Burke, in the
beginning of June, brought forward the charge relating to the
Rohilla war. He acted discreetly in placing this accusation in
the van; for Dundas had formerly moved, and the House had
adopted, a resolution condemning, in the most severe terms,
the policy followed by Hastings with regard to Rohilcund, Dundas
had little, or rather nothing, to say in defence of his own
consistency; but he put a bold face on the matter, and opposed
the motion. Among other things, he declared that, though he still
thought the Rohilla war unjustifiable, he considered the services
which Hastings had subsequently rendered to the State as
sufficient to atone even for so great an offence Pitt did not
speak, but voted with Dundas; and Hastings was absolved by a
hundred and nineteen votes against sixty-seven.

Hastings was now confident of victory. It seemed, indeed, that he
had reason to be so. The Rohilla war was, of all his measures,
that which his accusers might with greatest advantage assail. It
had been condemned by the Court of Directors. It had been
condemned by the House of Commons. It had been condemned by Mr.
Dundas, who had since become the chief minister of the Crown for
Indian affairs. Yet Burke, having chosen this strong ground, had
been completely defeated on it. That, having failed here, he
should succeed on any point, was generally thought impossible. It
was rumoured at the clubs and coffee-houses that one or perhaps
two more charges would be brought forward, that if, on those
charges, the sense of the House of Commons should be against
impeachment, the Opposition would let the matter drop, that
Hastings would be immediately raised to the peerage, decorated
with the star of the Bath, sworn of the Privy Council, and
invited to lend the assistance of his talents and experience to
the India Board. Lord Thurlow, indeed, some months before, had
spoken with contempt of the scruples which prevented Pitt from
calling Hastings to the House of Lords; and had even said that,
if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was afraid of the Commons,
there was nothing to prevent the Keeper of the Great Seal from
taking the royal pleasure about a patent of peerage. The very
title was chosen. Hastings was to be Lord Daylesford. For,
through all changes of scene and changes of fortune, remained
unchanged his attachment to the spot which had witnessed the
greatness and the fall of his family, and which had borne so
great a part in the first dreams of his young ambition.

But in a very few days these fair prospects were overcast. On the
thirteenth of June, Mr. Fox brought forward, with great ability
and eloquence, the charge respecting the treatment of Cheyte
Sing. Francis followed on the same side. The friends of Hastings
were in high spirits when Pitt rose. With his usual abundance and
felicity of language, the Minister gave his opinion on the case.
He maintained that the Governor-General was justified in calling
on the Rajah of Benares for pecuniary assistance, and in imposing
a fine when that assistance was contumaciously withheld. He also
thought that the conduct of the Governor-General during the
insurrection had been distinguished by ability and presence of
mind. He censured, with great bitterness, the conduct of Francis,
both in India and in Parliament, as most dishonest and malignant.
The necessary inference from Pitt's arguments seemed to be that
Hastings ought to be honourably acquitted; and both the friends
and the opponents of the Minister expected from him a declaration
to that effect. To the astonishment of all parties, he concluded
by saying that, though he thought it right in Hastings to fine
Cheyte Sing for contumacy, yet the amount of the fine was too
great for the occasion. On this ground, and on this ground alone,
did Mr. Pitt, applauding every other part of the conduct of
Hastings with regard to Benares, declare that he should vote in
favour of Mr. Fox's motion.

The House was thunderstruck; and it well might be so. For the
wrong done to Cheyte Sing, even had it been as flagitious as Fox
and Francis contended, was a trifle when compared with the
horrors which had been inflicted on Rohilcund. But if Mr. Pitt's
view of the case of Cheyte Sing were correct, there was no ground
for an impeachment, or even for a vote of censure. If the offence
of Hastings was really no more than this, that, having a right to
impose a mulct, the amount of which mulct was not defined, but
was left to he settled by his discretion, he had, not for his own
advantage, but for that of the State, demanded too much, was
this an offence which required a criminal proceeding of the
highest solemnity, a criminal proceeding, to which during sixty
years, no public functionary had been subjected? We can see, we
think, in what way a man of sense and integrity might have been
induced to take any course respecting Hastings, except the course
which Mr. Pitt took. Such a man might have thought a great
example necessary, for the preventing of injustice, and for the
vindicating of the national honour, and might, on that ground,
have voted for impeachment both on the Rohilla charge, and on the
Benares charge. Such a man might have thought that the offences
of Hastings had been atoned for by great services, and might, on
that ground, have voted against the impeachment, on both charges.
With great diffidence, we give it as our opinion that the most
correct course would, on the whole, have been to impeach on the
Rohilla charge, and to acquit on the Benares charge. Had the
Benares charge appeared to us in the same light in which it
appeared to Mr. Pitt, we should, without hesitation, have voted
for acquittal on that charge. The one course which it is
inconceivable that any man of a tenth part of Mr. Pitt's
abilities can have honestly taken was the course which he took.
He acquitted Hastings on the Rohilla charge. He softened down the
Benares charge till it became no charge at all; and then he
pronounced that it contained matter for impeachment.

Nor must it be forgotten that the principal reason assigned by
the ministry for not impeaching Hastings on account of the
Rohilla war was this, that the delinquencies of the early part of
his administration had been atoned for by the excellence of the
later part. Was it not most extraordinary that men who had held
this language could afterwards vote that the later part of his
administration furnished matter for no less than twenty articles
of impeachment? They first represented the conduct of Hastings in
1780 and 1781 as so highly meritorious that, like works of
supererogation in the Catholic theology, it ought to be
efficacious for the cancelling of former offences; and they then
prosecuted him for his conduct in 1780 and 1781.

The general astonishment was the greater, because, only twenty-
four hours before, the members on whom the minister could depend
had received the usual notes from the Treasury, begging them to
be in their places and to vote against Mr. Fox's motion. It was
asserted by Mr. Hastings, that, early on the morning of the very
day on which the debate took place, Dundas called on Pitt, woke
him, and was, closeted with him many hours. The result of this
conference was a determination to give up the late Governor-
General to the vengeance of the Opposition. It was impossible
even for the most powerful minister to carry all his followers
with him in so strange a course. Several persons high in office,
the Attorney-General, Mr. Grenville, and Lord Mulgrave, divided
against Mr. Pitt. But the devoted adherents who stood by the head
of the Government without asking questions, were sufficiently
numerous to turn the scale. A hundred and nineteen members voted
for Mr. Fox's motion; seventy-nine against it. Dundas silently
followed Pitt.

That good and great man, the late William Wilberforce, often
related the events of this remarkable night. He described the
amazement of the House, and the bitter reflections which were
muttered against the Prime Minister by some of the habitual
supporters of Government. Pitt himself appeared to feel that his
conduct required some explanation. He left the treasury bench,
sat for some time next to Mr. Wilberforce, and very earnestly
declared that he had found it impossible, as a man of conscience,
to stand any longer by Hastings. The business, he said, was too
bad. Mr. Wilberforce, we are bound to add, fully believed that
his friend was sincere, and that the suspicions to which this
mysterious affair gave rise were altogether unfounded.

Those suspicions, indeed, were such as it is painful to mention.
The friends of Hastings, most of whom, it is to be observed,
generally supported the administration, affirmed that the motive
of Pitt and Dundas was jealousy. Hastings was personally a
favourite with the King. He was the idol of the East India
Company and of its servants. If he were absolved by the Commons,
seated among the Lords, admitted to the Board of Control, closely
allied with the strong-minded and imperious Thurlow, was it not
almost certain that he would soon draw to himself the entire
management of Eastern affairs?

Was it not possible that he might become a formidable rival in
the Cabinet? It had probably got abroad that very singular
communications had taken place between Thurlow and Major Scott,
and that, if the First Lord of the Treasury was afraid to
recommend Hastings for a peerage, the Chancellor was ready to
take the responsibility of that step on himself. Of all
ministers, Pitt was the least likely to submit with patience to
such an encroachment on his functions. If the Commons impeached
Hastings, all danger was at an end. The proceeding, however it
might terminate, would probably last some years. In the meantime,
the accused person would be excluded from honours and public
employments, and could scarcely venture even to pay his duty at
Court. Such were the motives attributed by a great part of the
public to the young minister, whose ruling passion was generally
believed to be avarice of power.

The prorogation soon interrupted the discussions respecting
Hastings. In the following year, those discussions were resumed.
The charge touching the spoliation of the Begums was brought
forward by Sheridan, in a speech which was so imperfectly
reported that it may be said to be wholly lost, but which was
without doubt, the most elaborately brilliant of all the
productions of his ingenious mind. The impression which it
produced was such as has never been equalled. He sat down, not
merely amidst cheering, but amidst the loud clapping of hands,
in which the Lords below the bar and the strangers in the
gallery joined. The excitement of the House was such that no
other speaker could obtain a hearing; and the debate was
adjourned. The ferment spread fast through the town. Within
four and twenty hours, Sheridan was offered a thousand pounds for
the copyright of the speech, if he would himself correct it for
the press. The impression made by this remarkable display of
eloquence on severe and experienced critics, whose discernment
may be supposed to have been quickened by emulation, was deep and
permanent. Mr. Windham, twenty years later, said that the speech
deserved all its fame, and was, in spite of some faults of taste,
such as were seldom wanting either in the literary or in the
parliamentary performances of Sheridan, the finest that had been
delivered within the memory of man. Mr. Fox, about the same time,
being asked by the late Lord Holland what was the best speech
ever made in the House of Commons, assigned the first place,
without hesitation, to the great oration of Sheridan on the Oude

When the debate was resumed, the tide ran so strongly against the
accused that his friends were coughed and scraped down. Pitt
declared himself for Sheridan's motion; and the question was
carried by a hundred and seventy-five votes against sixty-eight.

The Opposition, flushed with victory and strongly supported by
the public sympathy, proceeded to bring forward a succession of
charges relating chiefly to pecuniary transactions. The friends
of Hastings were discouraged, and, having now no hope of being
able to avert an impeachment, were not very strenuous in their
exertions. At length the House, having agreed to twenty articles
of charge, directed Burke to go before the Lords, and to impeach
the late Governor-General of High Crimes and Misdemeanours.
Hastings was at the same time arrested by the Serjeant-at-Arms,
and carried to the bar of the Peers.

The session was now within ten days of its close. It was,
therefore, impossible that any progress could be made in the
trial till the next year. Hastings was admitted to bail; and
further proceedings were postponed till the Houses should re-

When Parliament met in the following winter, the Commons
proceeded to elect a Committee for managing the impeachment. Burke
stood at the head; and with him were associated most of the
leading members of the Opposition. But when the name of Francis
was read a fierce contention arose. It was said that Francis and
Hastings were notoriously on bad terms, that they had been at
feud during many years, that on one occasion their mutual
aversion had impelled them to seek each other's lives, and that
it would be improper and indelicate to select a private enemy to
be a public accuser. It was urged on the other side with great
force, particularly by Mr. Windham, that impartiality, though the
first duty of a judge, had never been reckoned among the
qualities of an advocate; that in the ordinary administration of
criminal justice among the English, the aggrieved party, the very
last person who ought to be admitted into the jury-box, is the
prosecutor; that what was wanted in a manager was, not that he
should be free from bias, but that he should he able, well
informed, energetic, and active. The ability and information of
Francis were admitted; and the very animosity with which he was
reproached, whether a virtue or a vice, was at least a pledge for
his energy and activity. It seems difficult to refute these
arguments. But the inveterate hatred borne by Francis to Hastings
had excited general disgust. The House decided that Francis
should not be a manager. Pitt voted with the majority, Dundas
with the minority.

In the meantime, the preparations for the trial had proceeded
rapidly; and on the thirteenth of February, 1788, the sittings of
the Court commenced. There have been spectacles more dazzling to
the eye, more gorgeous with jewellery and cloth of gold, more
attractive to grown-up children, than that which was then
exhibited at Westminster; but, perhaps, there never was a
spectacle so well calculated to strike a highly cultivated, a
reflecting, and imaginative mind. All the various kinds of
interest which belong to the near and to the distant, to the
present and to the past, were collected on one spot and in one
hour. All the talents and all the accomplishments which are
developed by liberty and civilisation were now displayed, with
every advantage that could be derived both from cooperation and
from contrast Every step in the proceedings carried the mind
either backward, through many troubled centuries, to the days
when the foundations of our constitution were laid; or far away,
over boundless seas and deserts, to dusky nations living under
strange stars, worshipping strange gods, and writing strange
characters from right to left. The High Court of Parliament was
to sit, according to forms handed down from the days of the
Plantagenets, on an Englishman accused of exercising tyranny over
the lord of the holy city of Benares, and over the ladies of the
princely house of Oude.

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