Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

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 partyspirit, 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.

* Pinnigero, non armigero in corpore tela exercean tur.”-Accius, ap. Ciceron. lib. vii. ep. 33.

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 ledgeraccount 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, 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 1980 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 powersul 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 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 extremities, 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 Arcots's debts-a 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.

* 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 xul Taterwy. There is little doubt, indeed, that surprise must have considerable share in the pleasure which we derive from eloquence on such unpromising topics as have inspired three of the most masterly specches that can be selected from modern oratory-that of Burke on the Nabob of Arcot's debts, of Graltan on Tithes, and of Mr. Fox on the Westminster Scrutiny.

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 naturally 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

« ПредишнаНапред »