Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

" Yet the Noble Duke deserved the warmest panegyrics for the striking proofs he had given of his genius as an engineer; which appeared even in the planning and construction of the paper in his hand! The professional ability of the Master-general shone as conspicuously there, as it could upon our coasts. He had made it an argument of posts ; and conducted his reasoning upon principles of trigonometry, as well as logic. There were certain detached data, like advanced works, to keep the enemy at a distance from the main object in debate. Strong provisions covered the flanks of his assertions. His very queries were in casements, No impression, therefore, was to be made on this fortress of sophistry by desultory observations; and it was necessary to sit down before it, and assail it by regular approaches. It was fortunate, however, to observe, that notwithstanding all the skill employed by the noble and literary engineer, his mode of defence on paper was open to the same objection which had been urged against his other fortifications; that if his adversary got possession of one of his posts, it became strength against him, and the means of subduing the whole line of his argument."

He also spoke at considerable length, upon the Plan brought forward by Mr. Pitt for the Redemption of the National Debt-that grand object of the calculator and the financier, and equally likely, it should seem to be attained by the dreams of the one as by the experiments of the other. Mr. Pitt himself seemed to dread the suspicion of such a partnership, by the care with which he avoided any acknowledgment to Dr. Price, whom he had nevertheless personally consulted on the subject, and upon whose visions of compound interest this fabric of finance was founded.

In opening the Plan of his new Sinking Fund to the House, Mr. Pitt, it is well known, pronounced it to be “ firm column, upon which he was proud to flatter himself his name might be inscribed.” Tycho Brahe would have said the same of his Astronomy, and Des Cartes of his Physics ; --but these baseless columns have long passed away, and the Plan of paying debt with borrowed money well deserves to follow them. The delusion, indeed, of which this Fund was made the instrument, during the war with France, is now pretty generally acknowledged ; and the only question is, whether Mr. Pitt was so much the dupe of his own juggle, as to persuade himself that thus playing with a debt, from one hand to the other, was paying it-or whether, aware of

a

the inefficacy of his Plan for any other purpose than that of keeping up a blind confidence in the money-market, he yet. gravely went on, as a sort of High Priest of Finance, profiting by a miracle in which he did not himself believe, and, in addition to the responsibility of the uses to which he applied the money, incurring that of the fiscal imposture by which he raised it.

Though, from the prosperous state of the revenue at the time of the institution of this Fund, the absurdity was not yet committed of borrowing money to maintain it, we may perceive by the following acute pleasantry of Mr. Sheridan, (who denied the existence of the alleged surplus of income,) that he already had a keen insight into the fallacy of that Plan of Redemption afterwards followed :-“ At present,” he said, “it was clear there was no surplus; and the only means which suggested themselves to him were, a loan of a million for the especial purpose--for the Right Honourable gentleman might say, with the person in the comedy, “ If you won't lend me the money, how can I pay you?

CHAPTER X.

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

* Pinnigero, non armigero in corpore tela exerceantur.”Accius, ap. Ciceron. lib. vij. ep. 33.

[graphic]

the Grahams and Rolles of the Treasury bench. But a subject now presented itself—the Impeachment of Warren Has. tings--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 opportuni. ties, 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 Zenanus violated by searchwarrants, 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, its 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 lights and shadows, of which her most animated pictures are composed.

It is not wonderful, therefore, that the warm fancy of Mr. Burke 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 naturally happen, where this faculty is restrained by a sense of truth-was 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 itself” 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 Billl 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

[ocr errors]

speech on the Nabob of Arcot's debts*ma speech, whose only rivals perhaps in all the records of oratory, 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 in ions of an intention to take the cause of the Gover

under his protection. Mr. Dundas, too, bo'

of those convenient changes of opinior

iatesmen can accommodate

of the Treasury-bench, as naturally as

.ct does to the colour of the leaf on wbi

i svugh one of the earliest and most active

rudian mis-government, and even the mover of og Resolutions in 17827. on which some of the charges of the present prosecution were founded, he wow, 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

themselves trios

from eloquence

* 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-περι των φαυλων και ταπεινων:

There is little doubt, indeed, that surprise must have considerable share in the pleasure, which we derive

on such unpromising topics as have inspired three of the most masterly speeches that can be selected from modern oratory—that of Burke 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 urged 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."

« AnteriorContinuar »