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Charges against Mr. Hastings.-Commercial treaty with France.
Debts of the Prince of Wales.
THE calm security into which Mr. Pitt's administration had settled, after the victory which the Tory alliance of King and people had gained for him, left but little to excite the activity of party-spirit, or to call forth those grand explosions of eloquence, which a more electric state of the political world produces. The orators of Opposition might soon have been reduced, like Philoctetes wasting his arrows upon geese at Lemnos', to expend the armoury of their wit upon the Grahams and Rolles of the Treasury bench. But a subject now presented itself - the Impeachment of Warren Hastings which , by embodying the cause of a whole country in one individual, and thus combining the extent and grandeur of a national question with the direct aim and singleness of a personal attack, opened as wide a field for display as the most versatile talents could require, and to Mr. Sheridan, in particular, afforded one of those precious opportunities, of which, if Fortune but rarely offers them to genius, it is genius alone that can fully and triumphantly avail itself.
The history of the rise and progress of British power in India-of that strange and rapid vicissitude, by which the ancient Empire of the Moguls was transferred into the hands of a Company of Merchants in Leadenhall Street-furnishes matter, perhaps, more than any other that could be mentioned, for those strong contrasts and startling associations, to which eloquence and wit often owe their most striking effects. The descendants of a Throne, once the loftiest in the world, reduced to stipulate with the servants of traders for subsistence the dethronement of Princes converted into a commercial transaction, and a ledger-account kept of the profits of Revolutions—the sanctity of Zenanas violated by search-warrants, and the chicaneries of English Law transplanted , in their most mischievous luxuriance, into the holy and peaceful shades of the Bramins, -such events as these, in which the poetry and the prose of life, ils pompous illusions and mean realities, are mingled up so sadly and fantastically together, were of a nature, particularly when recent, to lay hold of the imagination as well as the feelings, and to furnish eloquence with those strong lighls and shadows, of which her most animated pictures are composed.
It is not wonderful, therefore, that the warm fancy of Mr. Burke
Pinnigero, non armigero in corpore tela excrceantur." — Accius, ap. Ciceron, lib. vii. ep. 33.
should have been early and strongly excited by the scenes of which India was the theatre, or that they should have (to use his own words) “ constantly preyed upon his peace, and by night and day dwelt on his imagination." His imagination, indeed, -as will nalurally happen, where this faculty is restrained by a sense of truthwas always most livelily called into play by events of which he had not himself been a witness; and, accordingly, the sufferings of India and the horrors of revolutionary France were the two subjects upon which it has most unrestrainedly indulged itself. In the year 1780 he had been a member of the Select Committee, which was appointed by the House of Commons to take the affairs of India into consideration, and through some of whose luminous Reports we trace that powerful intellect, which “ stamped an image of itsell" on every subject that it embraced. Though the reign of Clive had been sufficiently fertile in enormities, and the treachery practised towards Omichund seemed hardly to admit of any parallel , yet the loftier and more prominent iniquities of Mr. Hastings's government were supposed to have thrown even these into shadow. Against him, therefore,- now rendered a still nobler object of attack by the haughty spirit with which he defied his accusers, – the whole studies and energies of Mr. Burke's mind were directed.
It has already been remarked that to the impetuous zeal with which Burke at this period rushed into Indian politics, and to that ascendancy over his party by which he so often compelled them to “swell with their tributary urns his flood,” the ill-fated East India Bill of Mr. Fox in a considerable degree owed its origin. In truth, the disposition and talents of this extraordinary man made him at least as dangerous as useful to any party with which he connected himself. Liable as he was to be hurried into unsafe extremes , impatient of contradiction, and with a sort of feudal turn of mind, which exacted the unconditional service of his followers, it required, even at that time, but little penetration to foresee the violent schism that ensued some years after, or to pronounce that, whenever he should be unable to command his party, he would desert it.
The materials which he had been collecting on the subject of India, and the indignation with which these details of delinquency had filled him, at length burst forth (like that mighty cloud, described by himself as pouring its whole contents over the plains of the Carnatic”) in his wonderful speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts)—a speech, whose only rivals perhaps in all the
'Isocrates, in his Encomium upon Helen, dwells much on the advantage to an orator of speaking upon subjects from which but little eloquence is expected - TW v paua wv Xd6 TOT EIVw. There is little doubt, indeed, that surprise must have considerable sbare in the pleasure which we derive from eloquence on such
records of oralory, are to be found among three or four others of his own, which , like those poems of Petrarch called Sorelle from their kindred excellence, may be regarded as sisters in beauty, and equalled only by each other.
Though the charges against Mr. Hastings had long been threatened, it was not till the present year that Mr. Burke brought them formally forward. He had been, indeed , defied to this issue by the friends of the Governor General, whose reliance, however, upon the sympathy and support of the ministry (accorded, as a matter of course, to most State delinquents,) was, in this instance, contrary to all calculation, disappointed. Mr. Pitt, at the commencement of the proceedings, had shown strong indications of an intention to take the cause of the Governor General under his protection. Mr. Dundas, too, had exhibited one of those convenient changes of opinion, by which such statesmen can accommodate themselves to the passing hue of the Treasury-bench, as nalurally as the Eastern insect does to the colour of the leaf on which it feeds. Though one of the earliest and most active denouncers of Indian mis-government, and even the mover of those strong Resolutions in 1782 on which some of the chief charges of the present prosecution were founded, he now, throughout the whole of the opening scenes of the Impeachment, did not scruple to stand forth as the warm eulogist of Mr. Hastings, and to endeavour by a display of the successes of his administration to dazzle away attention from its violence and injustice.
This tone, however, did not long continue :--in the midst, of the anticipated triumph of Mr. Hastings, the Minister suddenly "changed his mind, and checked his pride.” On the occasion of the Benares Charge, brought forward in the House of Commons by Mr. Fox, a majority was, for the first time, thrown into the scale of the accusation; and the abuse that was in consequence showered upon Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas, through every channel of the press , by the friends of Mr. Hastings, showed how wholly unexpected, as well as mortifying, was the desertion.
As but little credit was allowed to conviction in this change, -it being difficult to believe that a Minister should come to the discussion of such a question so lightly ballasted 'with opinions of his own as to be thrown from his equilibrium by the first wave of argument he encountered, — various statements and conjectures were ,
unpromising topics as have inspired three of the most masterly speeches that can be selected from modern oratory—that of Barke on the Nabob of Arcot's debts, of Grattan on Tithes, and of Mr. Fox on the Westminster Scrutiny.
' In introducing the Resolutions, he said, that “he was arged to take this step by an account, which had lately arrived from India, of an act of the most flagrant violence and oppression, and of the grossest breach of faith, committed by Mr. Hastings against Cheyt Sing, the Raja of Benares.”
at the time, brought forward to account for it. Jealousy of the great and increasing influence of Mr. Hastings at court was, in general, the motive assigned for the conduct of the Minister. It was even believed that a wish expressed by the King, to have his new favourite appointed President of the Board of Control, was what decided Mr. Pilt to extinguish, by co-operating with the Opposition, every chance of a rivalry, which might prove troublesome, if not dangerous , to his power. There is no doubt that the arraigned ruler of India was honoured at this period with the distinguished notice of the Court, - partly, perhaps, from admiration of his proficiency in that mode of governing, to which all Courts are, more or less, instinctively inclined; and partly from a strong distaste to those who were his accusers; which would have been sufficient to recommend any person or measure to which they were opposed.
But whether Mr. Pitt, in the part which he now took, was actualed merely by personal motives, or (as his eulogists represent) by a strong sense of impartiality and justice, he must at all, events have considered the whole proceeding, at this moment, as a most seasonable diversion of the attacks of the Opposition, from his own person and government to an object so little connected with either. The many restless and powerful spirits now opposed to him would soon have found, or made, some vent for their energies, more likely to endanger the stability of his power ;-and, as an expedient for drawing off some of that perilous lightning, which flashed around him from the lips of a Burke, a Fox, and a Sheridan, the prosecution of a great criminal like Mr. Hastings furnished as efficient a conductor as could be desired.
Still, however, notwithstanding the accession of the Minister, and the impulse given by the majorities which he commanded, the projected Impeachment was but tardy and feeble in its movements, and neither the House nor the public went cordially along with it, Great talents, united to great power—even when, as in the instance of Mr. Hastings, abused—is a combination before which men are inclined to bow implicitly. The iniquities, too, of Indian rulers were of that gigantic kind, which seemed to outgrow censure, and even, in some degree, challenge admiration. In addition to all this, Mr. Hastings had been successful ; and success but too often. throws a charm round injustice, like the dazzle of the necromancer's shield in Ariosto, before which every one falls
“ Con gli occhi abbacinali, e senza mente."
The feelings, therefore, of the public were, at the outset of the prosecution , rather for than against the supposed delinquent. Nor was this tendency counteracted by any very partial leaning towards his accusers. Mr. Fox had hardly yet recovered his defeat on the India Bill, or-what had been still more fatal to him-his victory in the Coalition. Mr. Burke, in spite of his great talents and zeal , was by no means popular. There was a tone of dictatorship in his public demeanour against which men naturally rebelled ; and the impetuosity and passion with which he flung himself into every favourite subject, showed a want of self-government but little calculated to inspire respect. Even his eloquence , various and splendid as it was , failed in general to win or command the attention of his hearers, and, in this great essential of public speaking, must be considered inferior to that ordinary, but practical, kind of oratory', which reaps its harvest at the moment of delivery, and is afterwards remembered less for itself than its effects. There was a somethingwhich those who have but read him can wilh difficulty conceivethat marred the impression of his most sublime and glowing displays. In vain did his genius put forth its superb plumage, glittering all over with the hundred eyes of fancy-the gait of the bird was heavy and awkward, and its voice seemed rather to scare than attract. Accordingly, many of those masterly discourses, which , their present form, may proudly challenge comparison with all the written eloquence upon record, were, at the time when they were pronounced, either coldly listened to, or only welcomed as a signal and excuse for not listening at all. To such a length was this indifference carried, that, on the evening when he delivered his great Speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts, so faint was the impression it produced upon the House, that Mr. Pilt and Lord Grenville, as I have heard, not only consulted with each other as to whether it was necessary they should take the trouble of answering it , but decided in the negative. Yet doubtless, at the present moment, if Lord Grenville—master as he is of all the knowledge that belongs to a statesman and a scholar-were asked to point out from the stores of his reading the few models of oratorical composition, to the perusal of which he could most frequently, and with unwearied admiration, return, this slighted and unanswered speech would be among the number.
From all these combining circumstances it arose that the prosecution of Mr. Hastings, even after the accession of the Minister, excited but a slight and wavering interest; and, without some ex
Whoevei, upon comparison, is deemed by a common audience the greatest oralor, ought most certainly to be pronounced such by men of science and eradi. tion."- Hume, Essay 13.