« AnteriorContinuar »
to produce a re-action in favour of the person whom they were meant to overwhelm. “Rogo vos, Judices," - Mr. Hastings might well have said ,- < si iste disertus est , ideo damnari oportet")"
There are also, without doubt, considerable allowances to be made, for the difficult situations in which Mr. Hastings was placed, and those impulses to wrong which acted upon him from all sides -allowances which will have more or less weight with the judgment, according as it may be more or less fastidiously disposed, in letting excuses for rapine and oppression pass muster. The incessant and urgent demands of the Directors upon him for money may palliate , perhaps, the violence of those methods which he took to procure it for them; and the obstruction to his policy which would have arisen from a strict observance of Treaties, may be admitted, by the same gentle casuistry, as an apology for his frequent infractions of them.
Another consideration to be taken into account, in our estimate of the character of Mr. Hastings as a ruler, is that strong light of publicity, which the practice in India of carrying on the business of government by written documents threw on all the machinery of his measures , deliberative as well as executive. These Minutes, indeed , form a record of fluctuation and inconsistency--not only on the part of the Governor-General, but of all the members of the government-a sort of weather-cock diary of opinions and principles, shifting with the interests or convenience of the moment”, which entirely takes away our respect even for success, when issuing out of such a chaos of self-contradiction and shuffling. It cannot be denied, however, that such a system of exposure-submitted , as it was in this case, to still further scrutiny, under the bold , denuding hands of a Burke and a Sheridan--was a test to which the councils of few rulers could with impunity be brought. Where , indeed ,
'Seneca, Controvers. lib. iii. c. 19.
* Instances of this, on the part of Mr. Hastings, are numberless. In remarking upon his corrupt transfer of the management of the Nabob's household in 1778, the Directors say, “ It is with equal surprise and concern that we observe this request introduced, and the Nabob's ostensible rights so solemnly asserted at this period by our Governor-General; because, on a late occasion, to serve a very different purpose, he has not scrupled to declare it as visible as the light of the sun, that the Nabob is a mere pageant, and without even the shadow of authority.” On another transaction in 1781, Mr. Mill remarks ;—“It is a curious moral spectacle to compare the minutes and letters of the Governor-General, when , at the beginning of the year 1780, maintaining the propriety of condemning the Nabob to sustain the whole of the burden imposed upon him, and his minutes and letters maintaining the propriety of relieving him from those barthens in 1781. The arguments and facts addnced on the one occasion, as well as the conclusion, are a flat contradiction to those exhibited on the other.”
the stalesman that could bear to have his obliquities thus chronicled ? or where is the Cabinet that would not shrink from such an inroad of light into its recesses ?
The undefined nature, too, of that power which the Company exercised in India, and the uncertain state of Law vibrating between the English and Hindoo codes , left such tempting openings for injustice as it was hardly possible to resist. With no public opinion to warn off authority from encroachment, and with the precedents set up by former rulers, all pointing the wrong way, it would have been difficult, perhaps, for even more moderate men than Hastings, not occasionally to break bounds and go continually astray.
To all these considerations in his favour is to be added the apparently triumphant fact, that his government was popular among the natives of India, and that his name is still remembered by them with gratitude and respect.
Allowing Mr. Hastings, however, the full advantage of these and other strong pleas in his defence, it is yet impossible, for any real lover of justice and humanity, to read the plainest and least exaggerated history of his government, without feeling deep indignation excited at almost every page of it. His predecessors had, it is true, been guilty of wrongs as glaring-the treachery of Lord Clive to Omichund in 1757, and the abandonment of Ramnarain to Meer Causim under the administration of Mr. Vansittart, are stains upon the British character which no talents or glory can do away. There are precedents, indeed, to be found, through the annals of our Indian empire, for the formation of the most perfect code of tyranny, in every department, legislative , judicial, and executive, that ever entered into the dreams of intoxicated power. But, while the practice of Mr. Hastings was, at least, as tyrannical as that of his predecessors , the principles upon which he founded that practice were still more odious and unpardonable. In his manner, indeed, of defending himself he is his own worst accuser-as there is no outrage of power, no violation of faith, that might not be justified by the versatile and ambidextrous doctrines, the lessons of deceit and rules
· Nothing can be more partial and misleading than the colouring given to these transactions by Mr. Nicholls and other apologists of Hastings. For the view which I have nyself taken of the whole case I am chiefly indebted to the able History of British India by Mr. Mill-whose industrious research and clear analytical statements make him the most valuable authority that can be consulted on the subject.
The mood of mind in which Mr. Nicholls listened to the proceedings of the Impeachment may be judged from the following declaration, which he has had the courage to promulgate to the public :-“On this Charge (the um Charge) Mr. Sheridan made a speech which both sides of the House professed greatly to admire-for Mr. Pitt now openly approved of the Impeachment. I will acknowledge , that I did not admire this speech of Mr. Sheridan.”
of rapine, which he so ably illustrated by his measures, and has so shamelessly recorded with his pen.
Nothing but an early and deep initialion in the corrupting school of Indian politics could have produced the facility with which , as occasion required, he could belie his own recorded assertions, turn hostilely round upon his own expressed opinions, disclaim the proxies which he himself had delegated, and, in short, get rid of all the inconveniences of personal identity, by never acknowledging himself to be bound by any engagement or opinion which himself had formed. To select the worst features of his Administration is no very easy task; but the calculating cruelty with which he abetted the extermination of the Rohillas - his unjust and precipitate execution of Nuncomar, who had stood forth as bis accuser, and, therefore, became his victim, - his violent aggression upon the Rajah of Benares, and that combination of public and private rapacity, which is exhibited in the details of his conduct to the royal family of Oude ;these are acts, proved by the testimony of himself and his accomplices, from the disgrace of which no formal acquittal upon points of law can absolve him, and whose guilt the allowances of charity may extenuate, but never can remove. That the perpetrator of such deeds should have been popular among the natives of India only proves how low was the standard of justice, to which the entire tenor of our policy had accustomed them ;- but that a ruler of this character should be held up to admiration in England, is one of those anomalies with which England, more than any other nation , abounds, and only inclines us to wonder that the true worship of Liberty should so long have continued to flourish in a country, where such heresies to her sacred cause are found.
I have dwelt so long upon the circumstances and nalure of this Trial, not only on account of the conspicuous place which it occupies in the fore-ground of Mr. Sheridan's life, but because of that general interest which an observer of our Institulions must take in il, from the clearness with which it brought into view some of their best and worst features. While, on one side, we perceive the weight of the popular scale, in the lead taken, upon an occasion of such solemnity and importance, by two persons brought forward from the middle ranks of society into the very van of political distinction and influence, on the other hand, in the sympathy and favour extended by the Court to the practical assertor of despotic principles, we trace the prevalence of that feeling which , since the commencement of the late King's reign, has made the Throne the rallying point of all that are unfriendly to the cause of freedom. Again, in considering the conduct of the Crown Lawyers during the Trial—the narrow and irrational rules of evidence which they sought lo establish-the unconstitutional control assumed by the Judges, over the decisions of the tribunal before which the cause was tried, and the refusal to communicate the reasons upon which those decisions were founded-above all, too, the legal opinions expressed on the great question relative to the abatement of an Impeachment by Dissolu-, tion , in which almost the whole body of lawyers' took the wrong, the pedantic, and the unstatesman-like side of the question ;while in all these indications of the spirit of that profession, and of its propensity to tie down the giant, Truth, with its small threads of technicality and precedent, we perceive the danger to be apprehended from the interference of such a spirit in politics; on the other side, arrayed against these petty tactics of the Forum, we see the broad banner of Constitutional Law, upheld alike by a Fox and a Pilt, a Sheridan and a Dundas, and find truth and good sense taking refuge from the equivocations of lawyers, in such consoling documents as the Report upon the Abuses of the Trial by Burke-a document which, if ever a reform of the English law should be attempted, will stand as a great guiding light to the adventurers in that heroic entreprise.
It has been frequently asserted, that on the evening of Mr. Sheridan's grand display in the House of Commons , The School for Scandal and The Duenna were acted at Covent-Garden and DruryLane, and thus three great audiences were at the same moment amused , agitated , and, as it were, wielded by the intellect of one man. As this triple triumph of talent—this manifestation of the power of Genius to multiply itself, like an Indian god—was, in the instance of Sheridan, not only possible, but within the scope of a very easy arrangement, it is to be lamented that no such coincidence did actually take place, and that the ability to have achieved the miracle is all that can be with truth attributed to him. From a careful examination of the play-bills of the different theatres during this period, I have ascertained, with regret, that neither on the evening of the speech in the House of Commons, nor on any of the days of the oration in Westminster Hall, was there either at Covent-Garden , Drury-Lane, or Haymarket theatres, any piece whatever of Mr. Sheridan's acled.
The following passages of a letter from Miss Sheridan to her sister in Ireland, written while on a visit with her brother in London,
Among the rest, Lord Erskine, who allowed his profession, on this occasion, 10 stand in the light of his judgment. “As to a Nisi-prius lawyer (said Burke) giving an opinion on the duration of an Impeachment-as well might a rabbit, That breeds six times a year, pretend to know any thing of the gestation of an clephant!"
though referring to a later period of the Trial, may without impropriely be inserted here :
“Just as I received your letter yesterday, I was setting out for the trial with Mrs. Crewe and Mrs. Dixon. I was fortunate in my day, as I heard all the principal speakers--Mr. Burke I admired the least-Mr. Fox very much indeed. The subject, in itself, was not particularly interesting, as the debate turned merely on a point of law, but the earnestness of his manner and the amazing precision with which he conveys his ideas is truly delightful. And last, not least, I heard my brother! I cannot express to you the sensation of pleasure and pride that filled my heart at the moment he rose. Had I never seen him or heard his name before, I should have conceived him the first man among them at once. There is a dignity and grace in his countenance and deportment, very striking-at the same time that one cannot trace the smallest degree of conscious superiority in his manner. His voice, too, appeared to me extremely fine. The speech itself was not much calculated to display the talents of an orator, as of course it related only to dry matter. You may suppose I am not so lavish of praises before indifferent persons, but I am sure you will acquit me of partiality in what I have said. When they left the Hall we walked about some time, and were joined by several of the managers-among the rest by Mr. Burke, whom we set down at his own house. They seem now to have better hopes of the business than they have had for some time; as the point urged with so much force and apparent success relates to very material evidence which the Lords have refused to hear, but which, once produced, must prove strongly against Mr. Hastings; and from what passed yesterday they think their Lordships must yield.-We sat in the King's box,” etc.
CHAPTER XII. Death of Mr. Sheridan's Father.–Verses by Mrs. Sheridan on the death
of her sister, Mrs. Tickell.
In the summer of this year the father of Mr. Sheridan died. He had been recommended to try the air of Lisbon for his health, and had left Dublin for that purpose, accompanied by his younger daughter. But the rapid increase of his malady prevented him from proceeding farther than Margate, where he died about the beginning of August, attended in his last moments by his son Richard.
We have seen with what harshness, to use no stronger term, Mr. Sheridan was for many years treated by his father, and how persevering and affectionate were the efforts, in spite of many capricious repulses, that he made to be restored to forgiveness and favour. In his happiest moments, both of love and fame, the thought of being excluded from the paternal roof came across him with a chill that seemed to sadden all his triumph '. When it is
See the letter written by him immediately after his inarriage, page 56, and ibe anecdote in page 78.