Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

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thropical despair. His farewell letter to Woodfall
bears date the nineteenth of January 1773. In that
letter, he declared that he must be an idiot to write
again ; that he had meant well by the cause and the
public ; thtt both were given up ; that there were not
ten men who would act steadily together on any ques-
tion. ^^ But it is all alike," he added, ^' vile and
contemptible. You have never flinched that I know
of; and I shall always rejoice to hear of your pros-
perity." These were the last words of Junius. In a
year from that time, Philip Francis was on his voyage
to Bengal.

With the three new Councillors came out the judges
of the Supreme Court. The chief justice was Sir
Elijah Impey, He was an old acquaintance of Has-
tings ; and it is probable that the GovemoivGeneral, if
he had searched through all the inns of court, could not
have found an equally serviceable tool. But the mem-
bere of Council were by no means in an obsequious
mood. Hastings greatly disliked the new form of gov-
ernment, and had no very high opinion of his coad-
jutors. They had heard of this, and were disposed to
*^ suspicious and punctilious. When men are in such
a frame of mind, any trifle is suffici^it to give occasion
tor dispute. The members of Council expected a sahite



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41) WARREN HASTINGS.

of twenty-one guns from the batteries of Fort William.
Hastings allowed them only seven tecjn. They landed
in ill humour. The first civilities were exchanged with
cold reserve. On the morrow commenced that long
quarrel which, after distracting British India, was re-
newed in England, and in which all the most eminent
statesmen and orators of the age took active part on
one or the other side.

Hastings was supported by Barwell. They had not
always been friends. But the arrival of the new mem-
bers of Council from England naturally had the effect
of uniting the old servants of the Company. Clavering,
Monson, and Francis formed the majority. They
instantly wrested the government out of the hands of
Hastings, condemned, certainly not without justice, his
late dealings with the Nabob Vizier, recalled the Eng-
lish agent from Oude, and sent thither a creature of
their own, ordered the brigade which had conquered
the unhappy Rohillas, to return to the Company's terri-
tories, and instituted a severe inquiry into the con-
duct of the war. Next, in spite of the Governor-Gen-
eral's remonstrances, they proceeded to exercise, in the
most indiscreet manner, their new authority over the
subordinate presidencies ; threw all the affairs of Bom-
bay into conftision ; and interfered, with an incredible
union of rashness and fJsebleness, in the intestine dis-
putes of the Mahratta government. At the same time,
they fell on the internal administration of Bengal, and
attacked the whole fiscal and judicial system, a system
which was undoubtedly defective, but which it was
very improbable that gentlemen fresh from England
would be competent to amend. The effect of their
reforms was that all protection to life and property was
withdrawn, and that gangs of robbers plundered and



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WARREN HASTINGS. 41

slaughtered with impunity in the very suburbs of Cal-
cutta. Hastings continued to live in the Government-
house, and to draw the salary of Govemoi>General.
He continued even to take the lead at the council-
board in the transaction of ordinary business ; for his
opponents could not but feel that he knew much of
which tliey were ignorant, and that he decided, both
surely and speedily, many questions which to them
would have been hopelessly puzzling. But the higher
powers of government and the most valuable patronage
had been taken from him.

The natives soon found this out. They considered
him as a fallen man ; and they acted after their kind.
Some of our readers may have seen, in India, a cloud
of crows pecking a sick vulture to death, no bad type
of what happens in that country, as often as fortune
deserts one who has been great and dreaded. In an
instant, all the sycophants who had lately been ready
to lie for him, to forge for him, to pander for him, to
poison for hun, hasten to purchase the fiivour of his
victorious enemies by accusing him. An Indian govern-
ment has only to let it be understood that it wishes a
particular man to be ruined ; and, in twenty-four hours,
it will be furnished with grave charges, supported by
depositions so full and circumstantial that any person
unaccustomed to Asiatic mendacity would regard them
as decisive. It is well if the signature of the destined
victim is not counterfeited at the foot of some illegal
compact, and if some treasonable paper is not slipp<;d
into a hiding-place in his house. Hastings was now re-
garded as helpless. The power to make or mar the for-
tune of every man in Bengal had passed, as it seemed,
into the hands of the new Councillors. Immediately
charges against the Governor-General began to pour in



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42 WARREN HASTINGS.

They were eagerly welcomed by the majority, who, to
do them justice, were men of too much honour know-
ingly to countenance false accusations, but who were
not sufficiently acquainted with the East to be aware
that, in that part of the world, a very little encourage-
ment from power will call forth, in a week, more Oateses,
and Bedloes, and Dangerfields, than Westminster Hall
sees in a century.

It would have been strange indeed if, at such a junc-
ture, Nuncomar had remained quiet. That bad man
was stimulated at once by malignity, by avarice, and by
ambition. Now was the time to be avenged on his old
enemy, to wreak a grudge of seventeen years, to estab-
lish himself in the favour of the majority of the Coun-
cil, to become the greatest native in Bengal. From the
time of the arrival of the new Councillors, he had paid
the most marked court to them, and had in consequence
been excluded, with all indignity, from the Government-
house. He now | ut into the hands of Francis, with
great ceremony, a )>aper, containing several charges of
the most serious description. By this document Has-
tings was accused of putting offices up to sale, and of
receiving bribes for differing offenders to escape. In
|)articular, it was alleged that Mahommed Reza Khan
had been dismissed with impunity, in consideration of a
great sum paid to the Governor-General.

Francis read the paper in Council. A violent alter-
cation followed. Hastings complained in bitter terms
of the way in wliich he was treated, spoke with con-
tempt of Nun :omar and of Nuncomar's accusation, and
denied the right of the Council to sit in judgment on
the Governor. At the next meeting of the Board, an-
other communication from Nuncomar was produced.
He requested tliat he might be permitted to attend the



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WARREN HASTINGS. 43

Council, and that he might be heard in support of his
assertions. Another tempestuous debate took place.
The Governor-General maintained that the council-
room was not a proper place for such an investigation ;
that from peraons who were heated by daily conflict
with him he could not expect the Durness of judges ;
and that he could not, without betraying the dignity of
his post, submit to be confronted with such a man as
Nuncomar. The majority, howevw, resolved to go
into the charges. Hastings rose, declared the sitting at
an end, and left the room, followed by Barwell. The
other members kept their seats, voted themselves a coun-
cil, put Clavering in the chair, and wdered Nuncomar
to be called in. Nuncomar not only adhered to the
original charges, but, after the fashion of the East, pro-
duced a large supplement. He stated that Hastings
had received a great sum for appointing Rajah Goordas
treasurer of the Nabob's household, and for committing
the care of his Highness's person to the Munny Be-
gum. He put in a letter purporting to bear the seal of
the Munny Begum, for the purpose of establishing the
truth of his story. The seal, whether forged, as Has-
tings affirmed, or genuine, as we are rather inclined to
believe, proved nothing. Nuncomar, as everybody
knows, who knows India, had only to tell the Munny
Begum that such a letter would give pleasure to the ma*
jority of the Council, in order to procure her attestation.
The majority, however, voted that the charge was made
out : that Hastings had corruptly received between thirty
and forty thousand pounds ; and that he ought to be
compelled to refund.

The general feeling among the English in Bengal
was strongly in favour of the Governor-General. In
talents for business, in knowledge of the country, in



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44 WARREN HASTINGS.

general courtesy of demeanour, he was decidedly su-
perior to his pei'secutors. The servants of the Com-
pany were naturally disposed to side witli the most dis-
tinguished member of their own body against a clerk
from the war-office, who, profovmdiy ignorant of the
^native languages and of the native character, took on
himself to regulate every department of the administra-
tion. Hastings, however, in spite of the general sym-
pathy of his countrymen, was in a most painful situa-
tion. There was still an appeal to higher authority in
England. If that authority took part with his enemies,
nothing was left to him but to throw up his office. He
accordingly placed his resignation in the hands of his
agent in London, Colonel Madeane. But Macleane
was instructed not to produce the resignation, unless it
should be fully ascertained that the feeling at the India
House was adverse to the Governor-General.

The triumph of Nuncomar seemed to be complete.
He held a daily levee, to which his countrymen resorted
in crowds, and to which, on one occasion, the majority
of the Council condescended to repair. His house was
an office for the purpose of receiving charges against
the Govemoi^General. It was said that, partly by
threats, and partly by wheedling, the villanous Brali-
min had induced many of the wealthiest men of the
province to send in complaints. But he was playing a
perilous game. It was not safe to drive to despair a
man of such resources and of such determination as
Hastings. Nuncomar, with all his acuteness, did not
understand the nature of the institutions under which
he lived. He saw that he had with him the majority
of the body which made treaties, gave places, raised
taxes. The separation between political and judicial
functions was a thing of which he had no conception.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 4fi

It had probably never occurred to him tliat there was
in Bengal an authority perfectly independent of the
Council, an authority which could protect one whom
the Council wished to destroy, and send to the gibbet
one whom the Council wished to protect. Yet sucli
was the feet. The supreme Court was, within tho
sphere of its own duties, altogether independent of the
Government. Hastings, witli liis usual sagacity, had
seen how much advantage he might derive from possess-
ing himself of tliis stronghold ; and he had acted ac-
coixiingly. The Judges, especially the Chief Justice,
were hostile to the majority of the Council. The time
had now come for putting this formidable machinery
into action.

On a sudden, Calcutta was astounded by the news
that Nuncomar had been taken up on a charge of fel-
ony, committed, and thrown into the common gaol.
The crime hnputed to him was that six years before he
had forged a bond. The ostensible prosecutor was a
native. But it was then, and still is, the opinion of
every body, idiots and biographers excepted, that Has-
tings was the real mover in the business.

The rage of the majority rose to the highest point.
They protested against the proceedings of the Supreme
Court, and sent several urgent messages to the Judges,
demanding that Nuncomar should be admitted to bail.
The Judges returned haughty and resolute answers.
All that the Council could do was to heap honours and
emoluments on the femily of Nuncomar; and this they
did. In the mean time the assizes commenced ; a true
bill was found ; and Nuncomar was brought before Sir
Elijah Impeyand a jury composed of Englishmen. A
great quantity of contradictory swearing, and the ne-
cessity of having every word of the evidence inter-



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46 WARREN HASTINGS.

preted, protracted the trial to a most unusual length.
At last a verdict of guilty was returned, and the Chief
Justice pronounced sentence of death on the prisoner.

That Impey ought to have respited Nunconiar we
liold to be perfectly clear. Whether the whole pro-
ceeding was not illegal, is a question. But it is certahi,
that whatever may have been, according to technical
I ules of construction, the effect of the statute under
which the trial took place, it was most unjust to hang a
Hindoo for forgery. The law which made forgery
capital in England was passed without the smallest
reference to the state of society in India. It was un-
known to the natives of India. It had never been put
in execution among them, certainly not for want of
delinquents. It was in the highest degree shocking to
all their notions. They were not accustomed to the
distinction which many circumstances, peculiar to our
o^vn state of society, have led us to make between
forgery and other kinds of cheating. The counterfeit-
ing of a seal was, in their estimation, a common act of
swindUng ; nor had it ever crossed their minds tliat it
was to be punished as severely as gang-robbery or as-
sassination. A just judge would, beyond all doubt,
have reserved the case for tlie consideration of the
sovereign. But Impey would not hear of mercy or
delay.

The excitement among all classes was great. Fran-
cis and Francis's few English adherents described the
Govemoi^General and the Chief Justice as the worst
of murderers. Clavering, it was said, swore that, even
at the foot of the gallows, Nuncomar should be rescued.
The bulk of the European society, though strongly
attached to the Governor-General, could not but feel
compassion for a man who, with all his crimes, had so



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WABREN HASTINGS. 47

long filled so large a space in their sight, who had been
great and powerfiil before the British emjnre in India
b^an to exist, and to whom, in the old times, gover-
nors and members of comicil, then mere commercial
factors, had paid comt for protection. The feehng of
the Hindoos was infinitely stronger. They were, in-
deed, not a people to strike one blow for their country-
man. But his sentence filled them with sorrow and
dismay. Tried even by their low standard of morality,
he was a bad man. But, bad as he was, he was the
head of their race and religion, a Brahmin of the
Brahmins. He had inherited the purest and highest
caste. He had practised with the greatest punctuality
all those ceremonies to which the superstitious Ben-
galees ascribe far more importance than to the correct
discharge of the social duties. They felt, therefore, as
a devout Catholic in the dark ages would have felt, at
seeing a prelate of the highest dignity sent to the gal-
lows by a secular tribunal. According to their old
national laws, a Bralmiin could not be put to death for
any crime whatever. And the crime for which Nun-
comar was about to die was regarded by them in much
the same light in which the selling of an unsound
horse, for a sound price, is regarded by a Yorkshire
jockey.

The Mussulmans alone appear to have seen with ex-
ultation the fate of the powerful Hindoo, who had
attempted to rise by means of the ruin of Mahommed
Reza Khan. The Mahommedan historian of those;
times takes deUght in aggravating the charge. He
assures us that in Nuncomar's house a casket was found
containing counterfeits of the seals of all the richest
men of the province. We have never fallen in with
any other authority for this story, which in itself is by
no means improbable.

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48 WARREN HASTINGS.

The day drew near ; and Nuncomur prepared him-
self to die with that quiet fortitude with which the
Bengalee, so effeminately timid in personal conflict,
oflen encounters calamities for which there is no rem-
edy. The sheriff, with the humanity which is seldom
wanting in an English gentleman, visited the prisoner
on the eve of the execution, and assured him that no
indulgence, consistent with the law, should be refused
to him. Nimcomar expressed his gratitude with great
politeness and unaltered composure. Not a muscle of
his face moved. Not a sigh broke fix)m him. He put
his finger to his forehead, and calmly said that fate
would have its way, and tliat tliere was no resisting the
pleasure of God. He sent liis compliments to Francis,
Clavering, and Monson,* and charged them to protect
Rajah Goordas, who was about to become the head
of the Brahmins ,of Bengal. The sheriff withdrew,
greatly agitated by what had passed, and Nimcomar
sat composedly down to write notes and examine ac-
counts.

The next morning, before the sun was in his power,
an immense concourse assembled round the place where
the gallows had been set up. Grief and horror were
on every face ; yet to the last tlie multitude could
hardly believe that the English really purposed to
take the Ufe of the great Brahmin. At lengtli the
mournful procession came through the crowd. Nun-
comar sat up in his palanquin, and looked round him
with unaltered serenity. He had just parted from
those who were most nearly connected with him.
Their cries and contortions had appalled the European
ministers of justice, but had not produced the smallest
eflect on the iron stoicism of the prisoner. The only
anxiety which he expressed was tliat men of his own



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WARREN HASTINGS. 49

priestly caste might be in att^idance to take charge erf
his corpse. He again desired to be remembered to his
friends in the Council, mounted the scafibld with firm^
ness, and gave the signal to the executioner. The
moment that the drop fell, a howl of sorrow and de-
spair rose from the innumerable spectators. Hundred?,
turned away their &ce9 from the polluting sight, fled
with loud wailings towards the Hoogley, and plunged
into its holy waters, as if to purify themselves from the
guilt of having looked oa such a crime. ^These feel-
ings were not confined to Calcutta. The whole prov-
ince was greatly excited ; and the population of Dacca,
in particular, gave strong signs of grief and dismay.

Of Impey's conduct it is impossible to speak too
severely. We have already said that, in our opinion,
he acted unjustly in refrising to respite Nuncomar. No
rational man can doubt that he took this course in
order to gratify the Governor-General. If we had
ever had any doubts on that point, they would have
been dispelled by a letter which Mr. Gleig has pub-
lished. Hastings, three or four years later, described
Impey as the man " to whose support he was at one
time indebted for the safety of his fortune, honour, and
reputation." These strong words can refer only to the
case of Nuncomar; and they must mean that Impey
hanged Nuncomar in order to support Hastings. It is,
therefore, our deliberate opinion that Impey, sitting as
a judge, put a man unjustly to death in order to serve
a political purpose.

But we look on the conduct of Hastings in a some-
what different light. He was struggling for fortune,
honour, liberty, all that makes life valuable* He was
beset by rancorous and imprincipled enemies. From
his colleagues he could expect no justice. He cannot



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50 WARREN HASTINGS.

be blamed for wishing to crush his accusers. He v^afl
indeed bound to use only legitimate means for that end.
But it was not strange that he should have thought any
means legitimate which were pronounced legitimate by
the sages of the law, by men whose peculiar duty ic
Avas to deal justly between adversaries, and whose ed\i-
cation might be supposed to have peculiarly qualific<!
them for the discharge of that duty. Nobody demand?
from a party the unbending equity of a judge. The
reason thaV judges are appointed is, that even a good
man cannot be tmsted to decide a cause in which he is
himself concerned. Not a day passes on which an hon-
est prosecutor does not ask for what none but a dishon-
est tribunal would grant. It is too much to expect that
any man, when his dearest interests are at stake, and
his strongest passions excited, will, as against himself, be
more just than the sworn dis])ensers of justice. To
take an analogous case from the history of our own
island ; suppose that Lord Stafford, when in the Tower
on suspicion of being concerned in the Popish plot, had
been apprised that Titus Gates had done something
which might, by a questionable construction, be brought
under the head of felony. Should we severely blame
Lord Stafford, in the supposed case, for causing a prose-
cution to be instituted, for furnishing funds, for using
all his influence to intercept the mercy of the Crown ?
We think not. If a judge, indeed, from favour to the
CathoHc lords, were to strain the law in order to hang
Gates, such a judge would richly deserve impeachment.
But it does not appear to us that the Catholic lord, by
bringing the case before the judge for decision, would
materially overstep the limits of a just self-defence.

While, therefore, we have not the least doubt that
tliis memorable execution is to be attributed to Has-



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WAKREN HASTINGS. 51

tings, we doubt whether it can with justice be reckoned
among his crimes. That his conduct was dictated by
a profound policy is evident. He was in a minority
in Council. It was possible that he might long be in
a minority. He knew the native character well. He
knew in what abundance accusations are certain to
How in against the most innocent inhabitant of India
who is under the frown of power. There was not in
the whole black population of Bengal, a place-holder,
a place-hunter, a government tenant, who did not
think that he might better himself by sending up a
deposition against the Governor-General. Under these
circumstances, the persecuted statesman resolved to
teach the whole crew of accusers and witnesses, that,
though in a minority at the council-board, he was still
to be feared. The lesson which he gave them was
indeed a lesson not to be forgotten. The head of the
combination which had been formed against him, the
richest, the most powerful, the most artful of the Hin-
doos, distinguished by the favour of those who then
held the government, fenced round by the superstitious
reverence of millions, was hanged in broad day before
many thousands of people. Every thing that could
make the warning impressive, dignity in the sufferer,
solemnity in the proceeding, was found in this case.
The helpless rage and vain struggles of the Council
made the triumph more signal. From that moment
tlie conviction of every native was that it was safer to
take the part of Hastings in a minority than that of
Francis in a majority, and that he who was so ventur-
ous as to join in running down the Govenior-General
might chance, in the phrase of the Eastern poet, to find
a tiger, while beating the jungle for a deer. The
voices of a thousand informers were silenced in aq



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fi2 WARREN EASTINGS.

instant. From that tinaie, whatever difficulties Has-
tings might have to encounter, he was never molested
by accusations from natives in India.

It is a remarkable circumstance that one of thi^
letters of Hastings to Dr. Johnson bears date a veiy
few hours after the death of Nuncomar. While tlic
whole settlement was in commotion, while a mighty
and ancient priesthood were weeping over the remauis
of their chief, the conqueror in that deadly grapple
sat down, with characteristic self-possession, to write
about the Tour to the Hebrides, Jones's Persian
Grammar, and the history, traditions, arts, and natural
productions of India.

In the mean time, intelligence of the Rohilla war,
and of the first disputes between Hastings and his col-
leagues, had reached London. The Directors took
part with the majority, and sent out a letter filled
with severe reflections on the conduct of Hastings.
They condemned, in strong but just terms, the iniquity
of undertaking offensive wars merely for the sake o(
pecuniary advantage. But they utterly forgot that, if
Hastings had by illicit means obtained pecuniary
advantages, he had done so, not for his own benefit^
but in order to meet their demands. To enjoin
honesty, and to insist on having what could not be



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