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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 5


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As the trial of Hastings continued still to linger on for four years, yet presenting no new features, we shall here rapidly close our account of it, to prevent its continually breaking up the narrative of more important events.

The defence was begun by Hastings's counsel on the 14th of February, 1792. The opening speech of Law, afterwards lord Ellenborough, occupied three days; that of Plumer five days - eight days of hard, continuous talking before they came to the evidence on the Benares case alone. Then followed the evidence - a formidable mass of print in folio, twice the amount of the evidence of the managers. To this evidence the managers made many and great objections; and, when all the disputation thus occasioned was finished, Dallas took three more days to sum up the evidence. This was all that was got through this year. On the 15th of February, 1793, Law opened the defence on the begum of Oude's charge, which occupied two days; the evidence was gone through with abundant objections and disputes, and then Plumer and Dallas occupied seven whole days in their speeches. The trial had now reached its hundred and fourth day, and Hastings again read another of his addresses, complaining of the intolerable delays and drawings out of the proceedings; and it was clear that he had not any persons so much to thank for it as his own lawyers. Of this he appears to have been pretty well aware, and he took the effective mode of dealing with the evidence summarily himself. He declared that it should be all sweepingly condensed - and he kept his word. At the same time, he lauded his own services to the state highly, and upbraided the parliament with giving him, in return, only injustice and ingratitude. Burke very properly censured in strong language this accusation of the house of commons. From this point the proceedings were hurried on; evidence and testimonial letters and addresses were piled on the table to show in what esteem Hastings was held by men in India. No set of men had, indeed, more to thank an individual for than men in India owed to Hastings; for he had made extortion so common that all after him looked mild. Instead of allowing his counsel to spin out the proceedings by long speeches, Hastings read a concluding address himself. He protested before God that all his actions, much as they had startled the public, had been done for the good of his country, which, to a certain extent, we may admit, without accepting this as a sufficient excuse; for monstrous crimes and cruelties - and those of Hastings were very monstrous - can never be justified on the plea of patriotism. To do evil that good may come of it, is a system of morals which Christianity disowns, and which cannot be practised without loading a country with infamy, at the same time that it does not at all whiten the soul of the perpetrator. He protested also he had come from India with only the moderate sum of a hundred thousand pounds; and, though avarice was by no means the ruling passion of Hastings, we may well doubt the accuracy of this statement. Such a sum, after such a process, continued through nine years, would have left him a beggar. Burke asserted that the press had been bribed to the extent of twenty thousand pounds; major Scott, his great agent in these affairs, received another twenty thousand pounds; and the costs of the impeachment, besides, were estimated at seventy-one thousand and eighty pounds; which items of themselves amount to more than eleven thousand pounds in excess of that sum. Yet Hastings remained a comparatively rich man, and his natural son, Imhoff Hastings, was distinguished on the continent for the lavish style of his expenditure. In fact, two hundred and thirty-eight thousand seven hundred and fifty-seven pounds had been remitted home by Hastings.

Hastings took care to share the odium of his deeds liberally with the directors of the India House, and with the ministry; for he declared in his address that he kept all these gentlemen fully apprised of his proceedings, and he contended that as they might have censured them, and did not, the blame was truly theirs; in himself, they could be only considered errors of judgment. He did not conclude without charging the managers with the design to prolong the trial another year; an accusation which excited the just indignation of Burke and Fox, who challenged him to produce the slightest proof not only of such design, but of their having caused a single moment of unnecessary delay. In fact, none were more heartily tired of the business than the managers.

The defence terminated on the 28th of May, 1793; and the lords, on retiring to their own house, agreed to allow only a fortnight to the managers to make their reply. Burke, in the commons, declared that this would be far from sufficient time, and he complained greatly of the language of Hastings in his concluding address. He complained that opprobrium had been cast on the managers, not only by Hastings, but by others, in the course of the trial, and instanced a most unseemly outbreak of Markham, archbishop of York, on himself whilst examining a witness in Westminster Hall. The archbishop's son had held a high post under Hastings in India, and the archbishop had declared that Burke had treated witnesses with all the savage liberality of a Marat or a Robespierre. Burke demanded a committee to examine into the conduct of the managers, which was granted. Much time was then spent in endeavouring to procure more delay from the house of lords for the preparation of the reply, which Hastings as earnestly resisted. Mr. Grey requested to be allowed to resign his post as a manager, finding it impossible to be ready with the part of the reply confided to him. This further time was, at length, conceded, and the lords met next on the 13th of February, 1794, in Westminster Hall; but the counsel of Hastings then requested a week's delay to enable them to have the advantage of the testimony of lord Cornwallis, who had just arrived from India. A further delay of five days was added, on account of his lordship's illness; and, after all, the counsel agreed to go on without his evidence.

The managers then commenced giving evidence to rebut the defence on the Benares case, and proposed to call Sir Philip Francis, but this was strenuously resisted on the ground of the notorious enmity of Francis towards Hastings, and the lords decided not to admit Francis as evidence. The managers then offered to put in sundry censures passed by the court of directors on Hastings in 1783, to neutralise a vote of thanks by the court of directors passed in 1785, and put in by the counsel for Hastings. This, also, Hastings objected to, because, at the time that the directors censured him, they did not, he contended, understand all the bearings of the circumstances, and yet Hastings had just asserted that he kept them fully informed of all the circumstances. It was clear that Hastings and the court of directors bad come to an understanding in 1785, after his return to England, and when it appeared that his case and theirs must stand or fall together. The lords, however, decided that this evidence, too, should be rejected. During the struggle on this point, Hastings grew so excited that he bluntly gave Burke the lie. The lords then refused to proceed with the case whilst the judges were on circuit, and therefore could not be consulted by them, and adjourned till the 7th of April.

Burke made use of this interval, and obtained from the house of commons authority for the managers to constitute a committee to examine the journals of the house of lords, as to the mode of procedure on the trial, and also that the managers should lay before the commons a statement of the real causes of the impediments to the progress of the trial.

On the re-assembling of the lords in Westminster Hall, earl Cornwallis was examined on behalf of Hastings, but his evidence was of very little service to him. He was not in India during the perpetration of the worst actions of Hastings, especially those regarding the rajah of Benares and the begums of Oude; he could, therefore, say nothing to them, and he candidly admitted that Hastings had no right to call on any of the tributary princes to furnish sums of money beyond their stipulated quotas, and that he had himself never made such demands, much less compelled their payment by force and menaces. This was, in fact, condemning Hastings on the main charges; and yet Hastings had said boldly in his self-defence that lord Cornwallis could neither make the income of India suffice in time of war, nor could he borrow. It was clear, therefore, that lord Cornwallis, though, by Hastings' own showing, placed in similar straits with himself, had not resorted to the same means of robbery and compulsion as he had done. This was also practical condemnation.

A Mr. Larkins was next called in to prove the disinterestedness of Hastings in money matters, which was of little consequence, as extortion for personal purposes was scarcely laid to the charge of the ex-governor. This, the last evidence produced in this interminable trial, was, however, spun out several days, till Hastings declared that no human patience could longer endure the delays. On the 6th of May, being the hundred and twenty-ninth day of the trial, the evidence closed; but then the managers had to sum up the evidence in reply, and this occupied no less than sixteen days. Grey took the Benares charge, Sheridan the begum charge, Fox the charge regarding presents, Taylor that on contracts, loans, &c., and Burke summed up the whole in a speech which of itself consumed nine out of the sixteen days. In the very midst of Burke's speech, Hastings interrupted him, to implore the lords to expedite the business, and to implore Iiis majesty to continue the session of parliament till the managers had concluded. The speech of Burke terminated on the 16th of June.

On the 20th Pitt moved a vote of thanks in the commons to the managers, for the faithful discharge of the important trust reposed in them. He was seconded by Dundas. Both Dundas and Pitt declared that they were entitled to the gratitude of their country for what they had done, and if vexatious delays had occurred, it was by no fault of theirs. Indeed, these were so notoriously the work of Hastings' own counsel, that there could be no mistake about it; yet the money of Hastings was scattered liberally amongst the press, and the common feeling of the large class of Indian corruptionists and their families in England, and of the equally large class which was looking forward to the enriching of their children in India, had roused a perfectly venomous and fanatic animosity against the managers, and pre-eminently against Burke, the most honest and determined of them all. Accordingly, an angry opposition was made to this vote of thanks. Messrs. Sumner, Wigley, Law (the brother of the afterwards Lord Ellenborough), and others, declared that they would vote for the thanks, if Burke were left out of it.

Law complained of the coarseness of Burke, and abused him in some of the coarsest and most unmannerly language ever heard in parliament. He sneered at Burke's Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful, and declared his speeches, if they could be called at all sublime and beautiful, were but sublime and beautiful nonsense. To his mind, they were vulgar and illiberal, and the lowest blackguard in a beargarden would have been ashamed to use them. He expressed his astonishment that Fox, a gentleman, should have condescended to act with such a man. But, though Fox and Burke had now quarrelled, Fox nobly stood forward and defended Burke warmly, and the whole of the managers disclaimed any distinction being made betwixt themselves and Burke as regarded the conduct of this case, for they said there was no language of Mr. Burke's, however strong and indignant, which was not justified by the atrocities of the case.

Pitt's motion was carried, and the proceedings terminating with the session, were resumed on the 13th of January, 1795. The lords went into committee upon the evidence produced on the trial, and having decided in their own house, proceeded to Westminster-hall on the 23rd of April, where the votes appeared considerably in favour of Hastings, and he was acquitted. It was well for him, after all the delays that he complained of, that his lawyers had deferred the final judgment to the last, by which time they had tired out everybody, and have had time to corrupt the press by lavish bribes, and to bring into play all those interests which the proceedings of Hastings had favoured. Whoever consults the history of his deeds in India will draw a very different verdict from the house of lords; but his crimes had materially benefited the East India Company and the nation, and in such cases the cruelties and injustice towards the oppressed peoples of other countries are, by the world, lightly passed over. Had Hastings been tried and judged on each case separately, he would have been heavily condemned on the Benares and Oude cases, for the spirit of the people was then in the freshness of its astonishment and indignation at his acts, and time had not been allowed to tamper with public opinion through a venal and purchased press. As it was, he may truly be said to have been tried by one generation and judged by another. Of the hundred and sixty peers who walked in procession on the first day of trial, sixty were now deceased, and numbers of others so wearied out that they were absent. The young spectators were now middle-aged, the middle-aged were old, and the old - gone. Only twenty-nine peers attended to vote; Burke, the leading manager, was almost worn out - his eyes were failing and he was grey-headed.

Hastings made strong demands on parliament for payment of the costs of his prosecution, seeing that he was acquitted, and therefore, legally, an innocent man; but in this he failed. The India-house, however, settled on him a pension of four thousand pounds a-year for twenty-eight years, and lent him fifty thousand pounds for eighteen years without interest; for, besides that the costs of the trial and the forty thousand pounds expended by him to buy up the press and engage partisans, he had expended about fifty thousand on the estate which he purchased at Daylesford, where he continued to live in an expensive way, keeping much and high company.

In private life, Hastings showed to most advantage. He devoted himself to agricultural and horticultural pursuits. He was fond of fine horses and equestrian exercise, and of rearing cattle, and cultivating flowers. He imported seeds and plants from India, for the advantage of our conservatories, and he recommended improvements of useful kinds in the management of horses and elephants in India. He was fond of poetry, and wrote a good deal of that sort of verse of the time which depended more on art than nature. Had he always passed only as a country gentleman, he would have figured as an amiable and intelligent one; but power had put him in the way of enormous crimes, which he never seemed to have the moral sense to discern as crimes. The same lack of a fine moral sense made him to the last vengeful and unforgiving. To the last he retained his hatred of Burke, and still more of Pitt and Dundas, whom he regarded as traitors to his cause. He showed lingering traces of the old ambition, by endeavouring to get into the house of commons, and to procure a peerage; in both of which objects, however, he failed. Still he received, in various quarters, high honours, as the able ruler of India in a difficult crisis, from parties who were willing to forget his crimes, if they had the Christianity to think them such. In 1813, when the charter of the East India Company was under discussion, and he came up to give evidence, he was received with much eclat by both houses. When he was eighty-one years of age, the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of doctor of law, amid much acclamation. In 1814 he was made a privy-councillor, and was presented to the allied sovereigns when in London. The East India Company continued his pension for the term of his life and that of his wife, and raised it to five thousand pounds. He died on the 22nd of August, 1818, at the age of eighty-six. To the last, Burke never altered his opinion of Warren Hastings. When others turned round, he remained unmoved. He had, indeed, gone too deep into the inquiry to be able to change. He knew the mass of native evidence which had been suppressed in the trial by the lords, and, in his last years, on hearing a friend speak in favourable terms of Hastings, he said: - " I am surprised at hearing you speak of such a man as Hastings with any degree of respect. At present, I say nothing of those who chose to take his guilt upon themselves. I do not say I am not deeply concerned: God forbid that I should speak any other language. Others may be content to prevaricate in judgment; it is not my taste; but they who attack me for my fourteen years' labours on that subject, ought not to forget that I always acted under public authority, and not of my own fancy; and that, in condemning me, they asperse the whole house of commons for conduct continued for the greater part of three parliaments."

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