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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 5


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The impeachment of Impey had not interrupted that of Hastings. That gentleman had delivered in answers to the articles of impeachment shortly before the Christmas holidays, and the lords sent down a copy of them to the commons. On the motion of Burke they were referred to a committee on the 5th of December. On Burke naming this committee there was a strong opposition to Mr. Francis being a member, in consequence of his determined enmity to Hastings, and his name was accordingly excluded; the committee having, through Burke, two days afterwards, formally voted their averment that the charges were true, this answer was by him carried up to the lords, who appointed the 13th of February for the trial to take place in Westminster Hall A new committee of managers was then named, at the suggestion of Burke; they were the same who had been appointed to consider Hastings' answers. On this occasion Fox again moved for the insertion of the name of Francis, on the ground that though an objection might lie against him as a judge, none could lie against him as an accuser, in which character he would now appear. But the house showed the same repugnance, and though Francis declared that all his enmity against Hastings was on public and not on private grounds, the house voted against his appearing as one of the managers. We perfectly agree with lord Brougham, in his " Historical Sketches of Statesmen," that this was a proper exclusion; that it was due to the prosecution of this conspicuous delinquent by the nation, that it should appear wholly on public and not on personal grounds.

On the day appointed there was a wonderful crowding into the great hall at Westminster. The walls had been in preparation hung with scarlet, and galleries raised all round for the accommodation of spectators. The seats for the members of the house of commons were covered with green cloth, those for the lords and all the others with red. Galleries were set apart for distinguished persons, and for the members of the foreign embassies. When the lords, nearly one hundred and seventy in number, entered in procession, the vast hall presented a striking scene, being crowded, with the exception of the space in the centre for the peers, with all who were noted in the land, from the throne downwards. The lords were all in their robes of gold and ermine, marshalled by the king-at-arms and the heralds. First entered lord Heathfield, the brave old Elliott of Gibraltar, as the junior baron, and the splendid procession was closed by the earl marshal of England, the duke of Norfolk, and by the brothers and sons of the king, the prince of Wales last of all. The twelve judges attended to give their advice on difficult points of law, and the managers were attended also by their counsel, Drs. Scott and Lawrence, and Messrs. Mansfield, Pigot, Burke, and Douglas. The galleries blazed with the rich array of ladies and foreign costumes. There were seen the queen with her daughters, and the princesses Elizabeth, Augusta, and Mary, the duchess of Gloucester, Mrs. Fitzherbert, looking even more a queen than Charlotte, the beautiful duchess of Devonshire, with a bevy of brilliant women, Sheridan's handsome wife, and the great actress, Mrs. Siddons; Gibbon the historian was observed, Dr. Parr, James, afterwards Sir James Mackintosh, and numbers of distinguished artists, amongst them Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough, who, already in indifferent health, took cold there and soon afterwards died.

Warren Hastings was summoned to the bar, and there kneeling, the lord chancellor, Thurlow, intimated the charge against him, and assured him that, as a British subject, he would receive full justice from the highest British court. Hastings replied, in a clear and firm voice, that he had the highest confidence in the justice and integrity of that august court. The clerks of the court then commenced reading the charges against him, and the answers to them, and this reading occupied the whole of that day and the following one; and on the third, Burke rose to deliver his opening speech. This occupied the whole of four days, beginning on the 15th, and terminating on the 19th of February. The effect of that speech, notwithstanding its enormous length, was such as had scarcely ever been witnessed in a court of justice before. As he detailed the horrors practised by Hastings on the princes and people of India, especially those relating to the begums and their aged ministers, but still more those of the monster, Debi Sing, which we have briefly narrated., both the orator and his audience were convulsed with terror and agitation. Ladies fainted away in the galleries; Mrs. Sheridan, amongst others, had to be carried out insensible: the faces of the strongest men, as well as of the more sensitive women, were flushed with emotion, or bathed in tears. In his peroration Burke far exceeded even himself. He appeared raised, enlarged into something ethereal by his subject, and his voice seemed to shake the very walls and roof of that ancient court. Finally, he exclaimed: -

" I impeach Warren Hastings, esquire, of high crimes and misdemeanors. I impeach him in the name of all the commons of Great Britain in parliament assembled, whose parliamentary trust he has betrayed. I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose laws, rights, and liberties, he has subverted, whose properties he has destroyed, whose country he has laid waste and desolate. I impeach him in the name, and by virtue of those eternal laws of justice which he has violated. I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has cruelly outraged, injured, and oppressed, in both sexes, in every age, rank, situation, and condition of life. And I conjure this high and sacred court to let not these proceedings be heard in vain."

Such was the effect of this wonderful torrent of eloquence that Hastings himself said, " For half an hour I looked up at the orator in a reverie of wonder; and during that space I actually felt myself the most culpable man on earth.; but I recurred to my own bosom, and there found a consciousness that consoled me under all I heard and all I suffered."

When the intense agitation had in some degree subsided, Fox rose and proposed the mode in which the trial should be conducted, which was that the evidence on both sides should be gone through on each separate charge, and that charge immediately decided, whilst all the facts were fresh in the minds of the lords, who were the judges. But this was violently and pertinaciously opposed by the counsel of Hastings, who knew well the advantage of leaving the decision till the vivid impression of the events was worn off; till the long course of the trial, for it must necessarily be long, had dulled the memory of the enormities of the accused; till the judges and spectators were all weary of the business, and much more ready to listen to arguments founded on the national interests than to those based purely on justice and humanity. They succeeded in carrying their object, and the result we shall find when the trial terminated, nine years afterwards, was according to their hopes. The managers, well aware of the immense disadvantage of this mode to the ends of justice, complained loudly, but there was no remedy. Fox, therefore, proceeded to open the Benares case, which occupied five hours. Grey took it up, and completed it the next day. Several succeeding days were employed in reading papers and hearing witnesses, and then Anstruther summed up and commented on the charge, treating it as established; but let us only imagine that the lords were not called upon to decide on this charge till nine years afterwards, when many of them would be deceased, and that their sons, who had probably never heard the details of the case, were called on to decide upon it, and we must perceive what a triumph the lawyers of Hastings had obtained over the managers; how little likely it could be that the case should be decided on its proper merits.

The court then adjourned to the 15th of April. The case of the begums was opened by Mr. Adams, and concluded the next day by Mr. Pelham. Those sixteen days were occupied by the evidence, and on the 3rd of June Sheridan began to sum up the evidence, and, in a speech which lasted three days, he kept the court in the highest state of excitement. The place was crowded to suffocation during the whole time, and as much as fifty guineas are said to have been paid for a single seat. Greatly as this speech of Sheridan's was admired, it was felt to be too ornate and dramatic: there was not the deep and genuine feeling of Burke in it, and the effect was so evidently studied, that, on concluding, Sheridan fell back into the arms of Burke, as if overcome by his own sensations.

The prorogation of parliament was now at hand, and only two out of the twenty charges had been gone through: neither of them had yet been replied to, and yet other causes of engrossing interest arising, the trial was entirely suspended till the 20th of April of the following year! Then it was but languidly and at uncertain intervals taken up; and it was very clear that the lawyers of Hastings had, by their mode of deferring the judgment on any part of the case till the end, completely destroyed any reliance on its ultimate decision.

Before the prorogation, however, a brisk inquiry arose in the house of commons on the expenses of this trial. Mr. Burgess moved that an account of the money issued by the exchequer for the discharge of the expenses incurred in the impeachment should be laid before the house. The motion, though opposed by the managers, was carried, and it was found that, at this early stage, besides the cost of the erections in Westminster Hall, no less than four thousand three hundred pounds had been expended. Burgess then moved that the solicitors should lay before the house a specific account of these disbursements. The managers again vehemently opposed this, on the ground that a secret committee having been appointed to manage the prosecution, this publication of accounts was in direct violation of its privileges, and calculated to cripple its efficiency. But it was palpably the object of these inquiries to cripple and render the managers of the impeachment unpopular. Both Fox and Sheridan were notoriously poor, and not very particular in money matters, and the movement was clearly a plan of Hastings' lawyers to damage them and to restrict their resources for procuring and bringing up evidence. Burgess declared his opinion that the managers had no authority to employ counsel, and such counsel were wholly unnecessary, as there were several able lawyers on their committee. There is no doubt that this motion tended greatly to keep down the expenses, for there are always plenty of people hanging about such a prosecution by government ready to make capital jobs for themselves; at the same time, it is equally probable that, as it was intended, it materially limited the powers of the managers for convicting the delinquent.

But the public attention was now freely withdrawn from Warren Hastings to much more exalted personages. On the 11th of July the king in person prorogued parliament. He then appeared in his usual health, but very soon after it was whispered about he was far from well, and had gone to Cheltenham by the advice of his physicians. When he returned in the autumn, the opinion of his derangement had gained ground, and, to remove this, a drawing-room was held at St. James's on the 24th of October. Every means had been taken to secure the impression of his majesty's saneness, but they failed, and the contrary impression was confirmed. Still, the king returned to Windsor, and the endeavours were strenuously maintained by the queen to conceal the melancholy fact from the public; but this was too positive to be long suppressed. On the 5th of November he met his son, the duke of York, after he had been riding about Windsor Forest for five hours in a state of frenzy, and, bursting into tears, wished that he was dead, for that he felt he should go mad. No doubt he remembered his old sensations when he had a short but sharp fit of lunacy in 1764.

The time was hurrying on which must reveal the whole truth; the prorogation of parliament terminated on the 20th of November; the house would meet, and the king would not be able to attend and open the session. Pitt was in a state of indescribable anxiety. If the king was likely to be permanently deranged, the power must devolve on the prince of Wales, with whom he was no favourite; for, trusting to the health and long life of his majesty, Pitt always treated the prince with a singular hauteur; and, by coinciding with the king in keeping a tight hand on his income, had thrown him wholly into the arms of the whig leaders. Fox and Sheridan were his great friends. Burke, though not a boon companion, was equally in favour with the prince, on account of his great abilities; and this party, with which Pitt was at mortal feud, must at once succeed to his power and influence. It was a matter which required all his art to manage, so as to retain his position, if possible, and keep down the great expectant party of his enemies. He made anxious visits to Windsor, to ascertain, if possible, the probable chances of the permanence or temporary duration of the royal malady. There he paid particular court to the queen, assuring her that, in case of the necessity of appointing a regency, she should have a proper share of authority in it. Thurlow, the lord chancellor, also was equally assiduous, and equally complacent to the queen, but forming an early opinion that the king's complaint would be lasting, he was equally assiduous in secretly making court to the prince of Wales. It was discovered that he had privately visited Mrs. Fitzherbert, and had even been closeted with Sheridan. He knew that the chancellorship had been promised to his rival, lord Loughborough, but he did not despair, by good acting, of inducing the whigs, for the sake of his influence, and for the conversions that he might make, to postpone Loughborough's elevation, and continue him on the woolsack.

The 20th of November arrived; the two houses met, and lord Camden in the peers, and Pitt in the commons, were obliged to announce the incapacity of the king to open the session, and to move for an adjournment till the 4th of December, in order that the necessary measures for transferring the royal authority, temporarily, might be taken.

Fox, at this important crisis, was abroad, and had to hurry home with headlong speed, in order to join his party in their anxious deliberations preparatory to the great question of the regency. In the meantime, the king's physicians had been examined before the privy council, and had given their opinion that the royal malady would prove only temporary. From this moment Pitt appears to have taken his decision - namely, to carry matters with a high hand, and to admit the prince of Wales as regent only under such restrictions as should prevent him from either exercising much power himself, or conferring much benefit on his adherents. It was true that, by this course, he might confirm the dislike which the prince now entertained for him, but he was certain, on the recovery of the king's reason, to regain his former power, and, as the king was far from an old man - merely fifty years of age - he trusted to his yet reigning long, and the rest he left to the law of chances. When, therefore, parliament met, after the adjournment, and that in great strength - for men of all parties had hurried up to town - lord Camden moved in the lords, and Pitt in the commons, that, in consequence of the king's malady, the minutes of the privy council, containing the opinions of the royal physicians, should be read, and that this being done, these opinions should be taken into consideration on the 8th of December.

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