Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

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learning for new forms of intellectual enjoyment, and
for new views of government and society. Perhaps,
like most persons who have paid much attention to de-
partments of knowledge which lie out of the common
track, he was inclined to overrate the value of liis fa-
vourite studies. He conceived that the cultivation of
Persian literature might with advantage be made a part
of the liberal education of an English gentleman ; and
he drew up a plan with that view. It is said that tlie
University of Oxford, in which Oriental learning had
never, since the revival of letters, been wholly neglected,
was to be the seat of the institution which he contem-
plated. An endowment was expected from the muni-
ficence of the Company : and professors thoroughly
competent to interpret Hafiz and Ferdusi were to be
engaged in the East. Hastings called on Johnson,
with the hope, as it should seem, of interesting in this
project a man who enjoyed the highest literary reputa-
tion, and who was particularly connected with Oxford.
The interview appears to have left on Johnson's mind a
most favourable impression of the talents and attainments
of his visiter. Long after, when Hastings was ruling
the inunense population of British India, the old philos-
opher wrote to him, and referred in the most courtly
terms, though with great dignity, to their short but
agreeable intercourse.

Hastings soon began to look again towards India.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 13

He had little to attach him to England ; and his pecun-
iary embarrassments were great. He solicited his old
masters the Directors for employment. They acceded
to his request, with high compUments both to his abili-
ties and to his integrity, and appointed him a Member
of Council at Madras. It would be unjust not to men-
tion that, though forced to borrow money for his outfit,
he did not withdraw any portion of the sum which he
had appropriated to the relief of his distressed relations.
In the spring of 1769 he embarked on board of the
Duke of Grafton, . and commenced a voyage distin-
guished by incidents which might furnish matter for a
novel.

Among the passengers in the Duke of Grafton was
a German by the name of ImhofF. He called himself
a Baron ; but he was in distressed circumstances, and
was going out to Madras as a portrait-painter, in the
hope of picking up some of the pagodas which were
then lightly got and as lightly spent by the English
in India. The Baron was accompanied by his wife,
a native, we have somewhere read, of Archangel.
This young woman, who, bom under the Arctic circle,
was destined to play the part of a Queen imder the
tropic of Cancer, had an agreeable person, a cultivated
mind, and manners in the highest degree engaging.
She despised her husband heartily, and, as the story
which we have to tell sufficiently proves, not without
reason. She was interested by the conversation and
flattered by the attentions of Hastings. The situation
was indeed perilous. No place is so propitious to tlie
formation either of close fiiendships or of deadly en-
mities as an Indiaman. There are very few people
who do not find a voyage which lasts several months
insupportably dull. Any thing is welcome which may



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14 WARREN HASTINGS.

break that long monotony, a sail, a shark, an albatross,
a nian overboard. Most passengers find some resouit!C
in eating twice as many meals as on land. But the
great devices for killing die time are quarrelling and
flirting. The facilities for both these exciting pur-
suits are great. The inmates of the ship are tlirown
together far more than in any country-seat or board-
ing-house. None can escape from the rest except by
imprisoning himself in a cell in which he can hardly
turn. All food, all exercise, is taken in company.
Ceremony is to a great extent banished. It is every
day in the power of a mischievous person to inflict
innumerable annoyances. It is every day in the power
of an amiable person to confer little services. It not
seldom happens that serious distress an3 danger call
forth, in genuine beauty and defonnity, heroic virtues
and abject vices which, in the ordinary intercourse of
good society, might remain during many years un-
known even to intimate associates. Under such circum-
stances met Warren Hastings and the Baroness ImhofF,
two persons whose accomplishments would have at-
tracted notice in any court of Europe. The gentleman
had no domestic ties. The lady was tied to a husband
for whom she had no regard, and who had no regard
for his own honour. An attachment sprang up, which
was soon strengthened by events such as could hardly
liave occurred on land. Hastings fell ill. The Baron-
ess nursed him with womanly tenderness, gave him his
medicines with her own hand, and even sat up in his
cabin while he slept. Long before the Duke of Grafton
reached Madras, Hastings was in love. But his love
was of a most characteristic description. Like his
hatred, like his ambition, like all his passions, it was
strong but not impetuous. It was calm, deep, earnest.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 16

patient of delay, unconquerable by time. ImhofF was
called into council by bis wife and his wife's lover. It
was arranged that the Baroness should institute a suit
for a divorce in the courts of Franconia, that the Baron
should afford every facility to the proceeding, «nd that,
during the years which might elapse before the sentence
should be pronounced, they should continue to livp
together. It was also agreed that Hastings should
bestow some very substantial marks of gratitude on
the complaisant husband, and should, when the mar-
riage was dissolved, make the lady his wife, and adopt
the children whom she had already borne to Imlioff.

At Madras, Hastings found the trade of the Com-
pany in a very disorganised state. His own tastes
would have led him rather to political than to com-
mercial pursuits : but he knew that the favour of his
employers depended chiefly on their dividends, and
that their dividends depended chiefly on the invest-
ment. He, therefore, with great judgment, determined
to apply his vigorous mind for a time to this depart-
ment of business, which had been much neglected,
since the servants of the Company had ceased to be
clerks, and had become warriors and negotiators.

In a very few months he effected an important re-
form. The Directors notified to him their high ajv
probation, and were so much pleased with his conduct
that they determined to place him at the head of the
government of Bengal. Early in 1772 he quitted
Foit St. George for his new post. The Imhofls, who
were still man and ^dfe, accompanied him, and lived
at Calcutta on the same plan which they had already
followed during more than two years.

When Hastings took his seat at the head of thf.
council board, Bengal was still goveme<[ according to



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16 WARREN HASTIKG8.

the system which Clive had devised, a system wliioh
was, perhaps, skiifiilly contrived for the purpose of
facilitating and concealing a great revolution, but
which, when that revolution was complete and irrtv-
vocable, could produce nothing but inconvenience.
There were two governments, the real and the osten-
sible. The supreme power belonged to the Company,
and was in truth the most despotic power that can Imj
conceived. The only restraint on the English masters
of the country was that which their own justice and
humanity imposed on them. There was no constitu-
tional check on their will, and resistance to them was
utterly hopeless.

But though thus absolute in reality, the English had
not yet assumed the style of sovereignty. They held
their territories as vassals of the throne of Delhi ;
they raised their revenues as collectors appointed by
the imperial commission ; the public seal was inscribed
with the imperial titles ; and their mint struck only the
imperial coin.

There was still a nabob of Bengal, who stood to the
Enghsh rulers of his country in the same relation in
which Augustulus stood to Odoacer, or the last Mero-
vingians to Charles Martel and Pepin. He lived at
Moorshedabad, surrounded by princely magnificence.
He was approached with outward marks of reverence,
and his name was used in public instruments. But
in the government of the country he had less real share
than the youngest writer or cadet in the Company's
service.

The English Council which represented the Company
at Calcutta was constituted on a very diflferent plan from
that which has since been adopted. At present the
Governor is, as to all executive measure?), absolute. He



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WAKREN . HASTINGS. 17

cait declare war, conclude peace, appoint public func-
tionaries or remove them, in opposition to the unani-
mous sense of those who sit with him in council. They
are, indeed, entitled to know all that is done, to discuss
all that is done, to advise, to remonstrate, to send pro-
tests to England. But it is with the Governor that the
supreme power resides, and on him that the whole re-
sponsibility rests. This system, which was introduced
by Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas in spite of the strenuous
opposition of Mr. Burke, we conceive to be on the whole
the best that was ever devised for the government of a
country where no materials can be found for a represent-
ative constitution. In the time of Hastings the Gov-
ernor had only one vote in council, and, in case of an
equal division a casting vote. It therefore happened
not unfrequently that he was overruled on the gravest
questions ; and it was possible that he might be wholly
excluded, for years together, from the real direction ctf
public affairs.

The English functionaries at Fort William had as yet
paid little or no attention to the internal government of
Bengal. The only branch of politics about which they
much busied themselves was negotiation with the native
princes. The police, the administration of justice, the
details of the collection of revenue, were almost entirely
neglected. We may remark that the phraseology of the
l^ompany's servants still bears the traces of this state of
things. To this day they always use the word " politi-
cal" as synonymous with "diplomatic." We could
name a gentleman still living, who was described by the
highest authority as an invaluable public servant, emi-
nently fit to be at the head of the internal administration
of a whole presidency, but unfortunately quite ignorant
of all political business.



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18 WARREN HASTINGS.

The internal government of Bengal the English ndera
delegated to a great native uiuiister, who was stationed
at Mooi'shedabad. All military affairs, and with the
exception of what pertains to mere ceremonial, all for-
eign affairs, were withdrawn from his control ; but tlie
other departments of the administration were entirely
confided to him. His own stipend amounted to near a
hundred thousand pounds sterling a year. The personal
allowance of the nabob, amounting to more than tliree
hundred thousand pounds a year, passed through the
minister's hands, and was, to a great extent, at his dis-
posal. The collection of the revenue, the administra-
tion of justice, the maintenance of order, were left to
this high functionary ; and for the exercise of his im-
mense power he was responsible to none but the British
masters of the country.

A situation so important, lucrative, and splendid, was
naturally an object of ambition to the ablest and most
powerful natives. Clive had found it difficult to decide
between conflicting pretensions. Two candidates stood
out pix)minently from the crowd, each of them the rep-
resentative of a race and of a reUgion.

One of these was Mahommed Reza Khan, a Mussul-
man of Persian extraction, able, active, religious after
the &shion of his people, and highly esteemed by thei.u
In England he might perhaps have been regarded as a
corrupt and greedy politician. But, tried by the lower
standard of Indian morality, he might be considei*ed as
a man of integrity and honour.

His competitor was a Hindoo Brahmin whose name
has, by a terrible and melancholy event, been insepa-
rably associated with that of Warren Hastings, the
Mahanijah Nuncomar. This man had played an
important i)art in all the revolutions which, since the



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WARREN HASTINGS. 19

timf" of Surajah Dowlah, had taken place in Bengal.
To the consideration which in tliat country belongs to
high and pure caste, he added the weight which is
derived from wealth, talents, and experience. Of liis
moral character it is difficult to give a notion to those
who are acquainted with human nature only as it
appears in our island. What the Itahan is to the
Enghshman, what the Hindoo is to the Italian, what
the Bengalee is to other Hindoos, that was Nuncomar
to other Bengalees. The physical organization of the
Bengalee is feeble even to eflfeminacy. He lives in a
constant vapour bath. His pursuits are sedentary, his
limbs delicate, his movements languid. During many
ages he has been trampled upon by men of bolder and
more hardy breeds. Courage, independence, veracity,
are quaUties to which his constitution and his situation
are equally unfavourable. His mmd bears a singular
analogy to his body. It is weak even to helplessness
for purposes of manly resistance ; but its suppleness and
its tact move the children of sterner cUmates to admirar
tion not unmingled with contempt. All those arts
which are the natural defence of the weak are more
familiar to this subtle race than to the Ionian of the
time of Juvenal, or to the Jew of the dark ages.
What the horns are to the buffido, what the paw is to
the tiger, what the sting is to the bee, what beauty,
according to the old Greek song, is to woman, deceit is
to tlie Bengalee. Large promises, smooth excuses,
elaborate tissues of circumstantial falsehood, chicaneiy,
peijury, forgery, are tlie weapons, offensive and defen-
sive, of the people of the Lower Ganges. All those
miUions do not furnish one sepoy to the amfiies of the
Company. But as usurers, as money-changers, as
sharp legal practitioners, no class of human beings can



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20 WARR£N HASTINGS.

bear a comparison with them. With all his softness,
the Bengalee is by no means placable in his enmities or
prone to pity. The pertinacity with wliich he adlierea
to his purposes yields only to the immediate pressure of
fear. Nor does he lack a certain kind of coumge
*which is often wanting to his masters. To inevitable
evils he is sometimes found to oppose a passive forti-
tude, such as the Stoics attributed to their ideal sage.
An European warrior who rushes on a battery of can-
non with a loud hurrah, will sometimes shriek under
the surgeon's knife, and fall into an agony of despair at
the sentence of death. But the Bengalee, who would
see his country overrun, his house laid in ashes, his
children murdered or dishonoured, without having the
spirit to strike one blow, has yet been known to endure
torture with the firmness of Mucins, and to mount the
scaffold with the steady step and even pulse of Alger-
non Sidney.

In Nuncomar, the national character was strongly
and with exaggeration personified. The Company's
servants had repeatedly detected him in the most crim-
inal intrigues. On one occasion he brought a fiilse
charge against another Hindoo, and tried to substan-
tiate it by producing forged documents. On another
occasion it was discovered that, while professing the
strongest attachment to the English, he was engaged in
several conspiracies against them, and in particular that
he was the medium of a correspondence between the
court of Delhi and the French authorities in the Car-
natic. For these and similar practices he had been
long detained in confinement. But his talents and
influence had not only procured his liberation, but had
obtained for him a certain degree of consideration even
among the British rulers of his country.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 21

CUve was extremely unwilling to place a Mussul-
man at the head of the administi*ation of Bengal. On
the other hand, he could not bring himself to confer
immense power on a man to whom every sort of vil-
lainy had repeatedly been brought home. Therefore,
though the nabob, over whom Nuncomar had by
intrigue acquired gi-eat influence, begged that the art-
fiil Hindoo might be inti-usted with the government,
Chve, after some hesitation, decided honestly and wise-
ly in favour of Mahommed Reza Khan. When Has-
tings became Governor, Mahommed Reza Klian had
held power seven years. An infant son of Meer Jaffier
was now nabob; and the guardianship of the young
prince's person had been confided to the minister.

Nuncomar, stimulated at once by cupidity and malice,
had been constantly attempting to hurt the reputation
of his successful rival. This was not difficult. The
revenues of Bengal, under the administration estab-
lished by CUve, did not yield such a surplus as had been
anticipated by the Company ; for, at that tune, the
most absurd notions were entertained in England re-
specting the wealth of India. Palaces of porphyry,
hung with the richest brocade, heaps of pearls and dia-
monds, vaults from which pagodas and gold mohurs
were measured out by the bushel, filled the imagination
even of men of business. Nobody seemed to be aware
of what nevertheless was most undoubtedly the truth,
that India was a poorer country than countries which
in Europe are reckoned poor, than Ireland, for example,
or than Portugal. It was confidently believed by
Ix)rds of tlie Treasury, and members for the city that
Bengal would not only defray its own charges, but
would afford an increased dividend to the proprietors of
Tndia stock, and large relief to the English finances.



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22 WARREN HASTINGS.

These absurd expectations were disappointed ; and the
Directors, naturally enough, chose to attribute the dis-
a[)pointment rather to the mismanagement of Mahom-
mcd Heza Kahn than to their own ignorance -of the
country intrusted to their care. They were confirmed
in their error by the agents of Nuncomar ; for Nunco-
mar had agents even in Leadenhall Street. Soon after
Hastings reached Calcutta, he received a letter ad-
di*essed by the Court of Directors, not to tlie council
generally, but to himself in particular. He was di-
rected to remove Mahommed Reza Kahn, to arrest him
together with all his family and all his partisans, and to
institute a strict inquiry into the whole administration
of the province. It was added that the Governor
would do well to avail himself of the assistance of
Nuncomar in the investigation. The vices of Nunco-
mar were acknowledged. But even from his vices, it
was said, much advantage might at sudi a conjuncture
be derived ; and, though he could not safely be trusted,
it might still be proper to encourage him by hopes of
reward.

The Governor bore no good will to Nuncomar.
Many years before they had known each other at
Moorshedabad ; and then a quarrel had arisen between
them which all the authority of their superiora could
hardly compose. Widely as they differed in most
points, they resembled each other in this, that both were
men of unforgiving natures. To Mahommed Reza
Khan, on the other hand, Hastings had no feeUngs of
hostility. Nevertheless he proceeded to execute the in-
structions of the Com]>any with an alacrity which ho
never showed, exce|)t when instructions were in per-
fect conformity with his own views. He had, wisely as
we think, determined to got rid of the system of double



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WARREN HASTINGS. 28

government in Bengal. The oixlers of the Directoi-s
iomished him with the means of effecting his purpose,
and dispensed him from the necessity of discussing the
matter with his Council. He took his measures with his
usual vigour and dexterity. At midnight, the palace
of Mahommed Reza Khan at Moorehedabad was sur-
nmnded by a battalion of sepoys. The minister was
roused fii'om his slmnbers and informed that he was a
prisoner. With the Mussulman gravity, he bent his
liead and submitted himself to the will of God. He
fell not alone. A chief named Schitab Roy had been
intrusted with the government of Bahar. His valour
and his attachment to the English had more than once
l:een signally proved. On that memorable day on
which the people of Patna saw from their walls the
whole army of the Mogul scattered by the little band
of Captain Knox, the voice of the British conquerors
assigned the palm of gallantry to the brave Asiatic,
"I never," said Knox, when he introduced Schitab
Roy, covered with blood and dust, to the English func-
tionaries assembled in the factory, " I never saw a na-
tive fight so before." Schitab Roy was involved in the
ruin of Mahommed Reza Khan, was removed from of-
. fice, and was placed under arrest. The members of
the Council received no intimation of these measures
till the prisoners were on their road to Culcutta.

The inquiry into the conduct of the minister was
postponed on different pretences. He was detained in
an easy confinement during many months. In the
mean time, the great revolution which Hastings had
planned was carried into effect. The office of minister
was abolished. The internal administration was trans-
feiTed to the servants of the Company. A system, a
very imperfect system, it is tine, of civil and criniinul



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24 WARREN HASTINGS.

justice, under English superintendence, was established
The nabob was no longer to have even an ostensible
shai-e in the government ; but he was still to receive a
considerable annual allowance, and to be surrounded
with the state of sovereignty. As he was an infant, it
was necessary to provide guardians for his person and
])roperty. His person was intrusted to a lady of his
father's harem, known by the name of the Munny
Begum. The office of treasurer of the household was
bestowed on a son of Nuncomar, named Goordas.
Nuncomar's services were wanted ; yet he could not
safely be trusted with power ; and Hastings thought it
a masterstroke of policy to reward the able and unprin-
cipled parent by promoting the inoiFensive child.

The revolution completed, the double government
dissolved, the Company installed in the full sovereignty
of Bengal, Hastings had no motive to treat the late
ministers with rigour. Their trial had been put off on
various pleas till the new organization was complete.
They were then brought before a committee, over
wliich the Governor presided. Schitab Roy was
speedily acquitted with honour. A formal apology was
made to liim for the restraint to which he had been
subjected. All the Eastern marks of respect were*
bestowed on him. He was clothed in a robe of state,
presented with jewels and with a richly harnessed
elephant, and sent back to his government at Patna.
But his health had suffered from confinement ; his high
spirit had been cruelly wounded; and soon after his
liberation he died of a bix)ken heart.

The innocence of Mahommed Reza Khan was not
80 clearly established. But the Governor was not
disposed to deal harshly. After a long hearing, in
which Nuncomar appeared as the accuser, and dis-



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WARREN HASTINGS. 25

playetl both the art and the inveterate rancour whid
distuiguished him, Hastings pronounced that the charge
had not been made out, and ordered the fallen minister
to be set at liberty.

Nuncomar had purposed to destroy the Mussulman
administration, and to rise on its ruin. Botli his
malevolence and his cupidity had been disappointed.
Hastings had made him a tool, had used him for the
purpose of accomplishing the transfer of the governm^it
from Moorshedabad to Calcutta, from native to Euro-
pean hands. The rival, the enemy, so long envied, so
implacably persecuted, had been dismissed unhurt.
The situation so long and ardently desired had been
abolished. It was natural that the Governor should be
from that time an object of the most intense hatred to
the vindictive Brahmin. As yet, however, it was
necessary to suppress such feelings. The time was
coming when that long animosity was to end in a
desperate and deadly struggle.

In the mean time, Hastings was compelled to turn
his attention to foreign affairs. The object of his
di})lomacy was at this time simply to get money. The
finances of his government were in an embarrassed
state, and this embarrassment he was determined to
relieve by some means, fair or foul. The principle
which directed all his dealings with his neighbours is



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 2 of 84)