Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

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faint-hearted Bengalee, who had crouched at the feet
of Surajah Dowlah, who had been mute during the ad-
ministration of Vansittart, would at length find courage
in despair. No Mahratta invasion had ever spread
through the province such dismay as this inroad of Eng-
lish lawyers. All the injustice of former oppressors,
Asiatic and Eurc»pean, appeared as a blessing when com-
pared with the Justice of the Supreme Court.

Every class of the population, English and native,
with the exception of the ravenous pettifoggers who
fattened on the misery and terror of an immense com-
munity, cried out loudly against this fearful oppression.
But the judges were immovable. If a bailiff was re-
sisted, they ordered the soldiers to be called out. If a
servant of the Company, in conformity with the oi'ders
of the govemment, withstood the miserable catchpoles
who, with Impey's writs in their liands, exceeded the
insolence and mpacity of gang-robbers, he was flung
into prison for a contempt. The lapse of sixty years,
the virtue and Avisdom of many eminent magistrates
who have during that time administered justice in tlie
Supreme Court, have not effaced from the minds of the
people of Bengal the recollection of those evil days.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 67

Tlie membere of the government were, on this sub-
ject, united as one man. Hastings had courted the
judges ; he had found them useful instruments ; but he
was not disposed to make them his own masters, or the
masters of India. His mind was large ; his knowledge
of the native character most accurate. He saw that the
system pursued by the Supreme Court was degrading
to the government and ruinous to the people ; and he
resolved to oppose it manfully. The consequence was,
that the friendship, if that be the proper word for such
a connection, which had existed between him and
Impey, was for a time completely dissolved. The gov-
ernment placed itself firmly between the tyrannical
tribunal and the people. The Chief Justice proceeded
to the wildest excesses. The Governor-General and
all the members of Council were served with writs,
calling on them to appear before the King's justices,
and to answer for their pubhc acts. This was too
much. Hastings, with just scorn, refused to obey the
call, set at liberty the persons wrongfully detained by
the Court, and took measures for resisting the out-
rageous proceedings of the sheriflfe' officers, if necessary,
by the sword. But he had in view another device,
which might prev^it the necessity of an appeal to
arms. He was seldom at a loss for an expedient ; and
he knew Impey well. The expedient, in this case, was
a very simple one, neither more nor less than a bribe.
Impey was, by act of parliament, a judge, independent
of the' government of Bengal, and entitled to a salary
of eight thousand a year. Hastings proposed to make
him also a judge in the Company's service, removable
at the pleasure of the government of Bengal ; and to
give him, in that capacity, about eight thousand a year
more. It was understood that, in consideration of this



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68 WARREN HASTINGS.

new salary, Impey would desist fix)m urging the high
pretensions of liis court. If he did urge these preten-
sions, the government could, at a moment's notice,
eject him from the new place which had been created
for him. The bargain was struck ; Bengal was saved ;
^dn appeal to force was averted ; and the Chief Justice
was rich, quiet, and infamous.

Of Impey's conduct it is unnecessary to speak. It
was of a piece with almost every part of his conduct
that comes under the notice of history. No other such
judge has dishonoured the English ermine, since Jef-
feries drank himself to death in the Tower.' But we
cannot agree with those who have blamed Hastings for
this transaction. The case stood thus. The negligent
manner in which the Regulating Act had been framed
put it in the power of the Chief Justice to throw a
great country into the most dreadfril coniiision. He
was determined to use his power to the utmost, unless
he was paid to be still ; uid Hastings consented to pay
him. The necessity was to be deplored. It is also to
be deplored that pirates should be able to exact ransom,
by threatening to make their captives walk a plank.
But to ransom a captive from pirates has always been
held a humane and Christian act ; and it would be ab-
surd to charge the payer of the ransom with corrupting
the virtue of the corsair. This, we seriously think, is
a not imfair illustration of the relative position of
Impey, Hastings, and the people of India. Whether
it was right in Impey to demand or to accept a price
for powers which, if they really belonged to him, he
could not abdicate, which, if they did not belong to
him, he ought never to have usurped, and wliich in
neither case he could honestly sell, is one question. It
b quite another question, whether Hastings was not



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WARREN HASTINGS. 69

right to give any sum, however large, to any man,
however worthless, rather than either surrender mill-
ions of human beings to pillage, or rescue them by
dvil war.

Francis strongly opposed this arrangement. It may,
indeed, be suspected that personal aversion to Impey
vms as strong a motive with Francis as regard for the
weHkre of the province. To a mind burning with
resentment, it might seem better to leave Bengal to the
oppressors than to redeem it by enriching them. It is
not improbable, on the other hand, that Hastings may
have been the more willing to resort to an expedient
agreeable to the Chief Justice, because that high func-
tionary had already been so serviceable, and might,
when existing dissensions were composed, be serviceable
again.

But it was not on this point alone that Francis was
now opposed to Hastings. The peace between them
proved to be only a short and hollow truce, during
which their mutual aversion was constantly becoming
stronger. At length an explosion took place. Hastings
publicly charged Francis with having deceived him,
and with having induced Barwell to quit the service
by insincere promises. Then came a dispute, such as
frequently arises even between honourable men, when
they may make important agreements by mere verbal
conmiunication. An impartial historian will probably
be of opinion that they had misunderstood each other ;
but their minds were so much embittered that they
imp^itai to each other nothing less than deliberate vil-
lany. ' I do not," said Hastings, in a minute recorded
on the Consultations of the Government, "I do not
trust to Mr. Francis's promises of candor, convinced
that he is incapable of it. I judge of his public conduct



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70 WARREN HASTINGS.

by his private, which I have found to be void of truth
and lionour." After the Council had iisen, Francis
put a challenge into the Governor-General's hand. It
was instantly accepted. They met and fired. Francis
was shot through the body. He was carried to a
neighboiu-ing house, where it appeared that the woiuid,
though severe, was not mortal. Hastings inquired
repeatedly after his enemy's health, and propose<l to
call on him ; but Francis coldly declined the visit. He
had a proper sense, he said, of the Governor-General's
politeness, but could not consent to any private inter-
view. They could meet only at the council-board.

In a veiy short time it was made signally manifest
to how great a danger the Governor-General had, on
this occasion, exposed his country. A crisis arrived
with with which he, and he alone, was competent to
deal. It IS not too much to say that, if he had been
taken from the head of afeirs, the years 1780 and 1781
would have been as fatal to our power in Asia as to our
power in America.

The Mahrattas had been the chief objects of appre-
hension to Hastings. The measures which he had
adopted for the purpose of breaking their power, had at
first been frustrated by the errors of those whom he was
compelled to employ ; but his perseverance and ability
seemed likely to be crowned with success, when a
far more formidable danger showed itself in another
quarter.

About thirty years before this time, a Mahom-
medan soldier had begun to distinguish himself in tlie
wars of Southern India. His education had been neg-
lected ; his extraction was humble. His father had
been a petty officer of revenue ; liis grandfather a wan-
dering dervise. But though thus meanly descended.



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WARREN HASTINGS. 71

though ignorant even of the alphabet, the adventurer
had no sooner been placed at the head of a body o '
troops than he approved himself a man bom for con-
quest and command. Among the crowd of chiefs who
were struggling for a share of India, none could com-
pare with him in the qualities of the captain and the
statesman. He became a general ; he became a sover-
eign. Out of the fragments of old principalities, which
had gone to pieces in the general wreck, he formed for
himself a great, compact, and vigorous empire. That
empire he ruled with the ability, severity, and vigilance
of Lewis the Eleventh. Licentious in his pleasures,
implacable in liis revenge, he had yet enlargement of
mind enough to perceive how much the prosperity of
subjects adds to the strength of governments. He was
an oppressor ; but he had at least the merit of protect-
ing his people against all oppression except his own.
He was now in extreme old age ; but his intellect was
&s clear, and his spirit as high, as in the prime of man-
hood. Such was the great Hyder Ali, the founder of
the Mahommedan kingdom of Mysore, and the most
formidable enemy with whom the English conquerors
of India have ever had to contend.

Had Hastings been governor of Madras, Hyder
would have been either "made a friend, or vigorously
encountered as an enemy. Unhappily the English
authorities in the south provoked their powerful neigh-
bimr's hostility, without being prepared to repel it. On
a sudden, an army of ninety thousand men, fur supe-
rior in discipline and efficiency to any other native
force that could be found in India, came pouring
through those wild passes which, worn by mountain
torrents, and dark with jungle, lead down from the
table land of Mysore to the plains of the Camatic.



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72 WARKEN HASTINGS.

This great army was accompanied by a hundred pieces
of cannon ; and its movements were guided by many
French officers, trained in the best military schools of
Europe.

Hyder was everywhere triumphant. The sepoys in
many British garrisons flung down their arms. Some
forts were surrendered by treachery, and some by
despair. In a few days the whole open country north
of the Coleroon had submitted. The EngUsh inhabi-
tants of Madras could already see by night, from the
top of Mount St. Thomas, the eastern sky reddened by
a vast semicircle of blazing villages. The white villas,
to which our coimtrymen retire after the daily labours of
government and of trade, when the cool evening breeze
springs up from the baj^ were now \e^ without inhabi-
tants ; for bands of the fierce horsemen of Mysore had
already been seen prowUng among the tulip-trees, and
near the gay verandas. Even the town was not
thought secure, and the British merchants and public
fimctionaries made haste to crowd themselves behind
the cannon of Fort St. George.

There were the means, indeed, of assembling an army
which might have defended the presidency, and even
driven the invader back to his mountains. Sir Hector
Munro was at the head of one considerable force ;
Baillie was advancing with another. United, thej'
might have presented a formidable front even to such
an enemy as Hyder. But the Enghsh commanders,
neglecting those fundamental rules of the military art
of which die propriety is obvious even to men who had
never received a military education, deferred their junc-
tion, and were separately attacked. BailUe's detach-
ment was destroyed. Munro was forced to abandon
his baggage, to fling his gims into the tanks, and to



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WAKREN HASTINGS. 73

JWYe himself by a ntreat which might be called a flight.
In three weeks from the commencement of the war,
the British empire in Southern India had been brought
to the A^erge of ruin. Only a few fortified places
remained to us. The glory of our arms had departed.
It was known that a great French expedition might
soon be expected on the coast of Coromandel. Eng-
land, beset by enemies on every side, was ui no condi-
tion to ])rotect such remote dependencies.

Then it was that the fertile genius and serene
courage of Hastings achieved their most signal tnumph.
A swift ship, flying before *tlie south-west monsoon,
brought the evil tidings in a few days to Calcutta. In
twenty-four hovu*s tlie Governor-General had framed a
complete plan of pohcy adapted to the altered state of
afiairs. The struggle with Hyder was a struggle for
life and death. All minor objects must be sacrificed to
the preservation o£ the Camatic. The disputes with
the Mahrattas must be accommodated. A large military
force and a supply of money must be instantly sent to
Madras. But even these measures would be insuffi*
cient, unless the war, hitherto so grossly mismanaged,
were placed under the direction of a vigorous mind.
It was no time for trifling. Hastings determined to
resort to an extreme exercise of |>ower, to suspend the
incapable governor of Fort St. George, to send Sir
Eyre Coote to oppose Hyder, and to intrust that
distinguished genei^ with the whole administration
of the war.

In spite of the sullen opposition of Francis, who
bad now recovered from his wound, and had returned
to the Council, the Governor-General's wise and firm
policy was approved by the majority of the board.
The reinforcements were sent off with great expedi*



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74 WARREN HASTINGS.

tion, and reached Madras before the French armament
arrived in the Indian seas. Coote, broken by age and
disease, was no longer the Coote of Wandewash ; but
he was still a resolute and skilful commander. Tho
progress of Hyder was arrested; and in a few months
the great victory of Porto Novo retrieved the honour
of the English arms.

In the mean time Francis had I'etumed to England,
and Hastings was now left perfectly unfettered. Whelei-
had gradually been relaxing in his opposition, and,
after the departure of his vehement and implacable
colleague, co-operated heaVtily with the Governor-Gen-
eral, whose influence over the British in India, always
great, had, by the vigour and success of his recent
measures, been considerably increased.

But, though the difficulties arising from factions
within the Council were at an end, another class of
difficulties had become more pressing than ever. The
financial embarrassment was extreme. Hastings had
to find the means, not only of carrying on the govern-
ment of Bengal, but of maintaining a most costly war
against both Indian and European enemies in the
Camatic, and of making remittances to England. A
few years before this time he had obtained relief by
plundering the Mogul and enslaving the Rohillas;
nor were the resources of his fruitful mind by any
means exhausted.

His first design was on Benares, a city which in
wealth, population, dignity, and sanctity, was among
the foremost in Asia. It was commonly believed that
half a million of human beings was crowded into that
labyrinth of lofty alleys, rich with shrines, and mina-
rets, and balconies, and carved oriels, to which the
sacred apes clung by hundreds. The traveller could



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WARRi:X HASTINGS. 76

scarcely make his way through the press of holy men-
dicants and not less holy hulls. The broad and stately
flights of steps which descended from these swarming
haunts to the bathing-places along the Ganges were
worn every day by the footsteps of an innumerable
multitude of worshippers. The schools and temples
drew crowds of pious Hindoos from every province
where the Braliminical faith was known. Hnndreda
of devotees came thither every month to die ; for it
was believed that a peculiarly happy fete awaited the
man who should pass from the sacred city into the
sacred river. Nor was supei-stition the only motive
which allured strangers to that great metropolis. Com-
merce had as many pilgrims as religion. All along the
shores of the venerable stream lay great fleets of ves-
sels laden with rich merchandise. From the looms of
Benares went forth the most delicate silks that adorned
the balls of St. James's and of Versailles ; and in the
bazars, the muslins of Bengal and the sabres of Oude
were mingled with the jewels of Golconda and the
shawls of Cashmere. This rich capital, and the sui*^
rounding tract, had long been under the immediate rule
of a Hindoo prince, who rendered homage to the Mogul
emperors. During the great anarchy of India, the lords
of Benares became independent of the court of Delhi,
but were compelled to submit to the authority of the
Nabob of Oude. Oppressed by this formidable neigh-
bour, they invoked the protection of the English. The
English protection was given ; and at length tlie Nabob
Vizier, by a solemn treaty, ceded all his rights over
Benares to the Company. From that time the Rajah
was the vassal of the government of Bengal, acknowl-
edged its supremacy, and engaged to send an annual
tribute to Fort William. This tribute Cheyte Sing, the
reijxning prince, had paid with strict punctuality.



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76 WARREN HASTINGS.

About the precise nature of the legal relation be-
tween the Company and the Rajah of Benares, there
has been much warm and acute controversy. On the
one side it has been maintained that Cheyte Sing was
merely a great subject on whom the superior power
liad a right to call for aid in the necessities of the em-
pire. On the other side, it has been contended that
he was an independent prince, that the only claim which
the Company had upon him was for a fixed tribute,
and that, wliile the fixed tribute was regularly paid,
as it assuredly was, the EngUsh had no more right to
exact any further contribution from him than to demand
subsidies from Holland or Denmark. Nothing is easier
than to find precedents and analogies in favour of either
view.

Our own impression is that neither view is correct.
It was too much the habit of English politicians to take
it for granted that there was in India a known and defi-
nite constitution by which questions of this kind were
to be decided. The truth is that, during the interval
which elapsed between the fall of the house of Tamer^
lane and the establishment of the British ascendency,
there was no such constitution. The old order of things
had passed away ; the new order of things was not yet
formed. All was transition, confusion, obscurity. Ev-
erybody kept his head as he best might, and scrambled
for whatever he could get. There have been similar sea-
sons in Europe. The time of the dissolution of the
Carlovingian empire is an instance. Who would think
of seriously discussing the question, what extent of pe-
cuniary aid and of obedience Hugh Capet had a consti-
tutional right to demand from the Duke of Britanny
or the Duke of Normandy ? The words " constitutional
right " had, in that state of society, no meaning. If



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WARREN HASTINGS. 77

Hugh Capet laid hands on all the possessions of the Duke
of Normandy, this might be unjust and immoral ; but
it would not be illegal, in the sense in which the ordi-
nances of Charles the Tenth were illegal. If, on the
other hand, the Duke of Normandy made war on Hugh
Capet, this might be unjust andimm<»*al ; but it would
not be ill^al, in the sense in which the expedition of
Prince Louis Bonaparte was illegal.

Very similar to this was the state of India sixty yeara
ago. Of the existing governments not a single one
could lay claim to legitimacy, or could plead any other
title than recent occupation. There was scarcely a
province in which the real sovereignty and the nominal
sovereignty were not digoined. Titles and forms were
still retained which implied that the heir of Tamerlane
was an absolute ruler, and that the Nabobs of the
provinces were his lieutenants. In reahty, he was a
captive. The Nabobs were in some places independent
princes. In other places, as in Bengal and the Car-
natic, they had, Kke their master, become mere phan-
toms, and the Company was supreme. Among the
Mahrattas, again, the heir of Sevajee still kept the title
of Rajali ; but he was a prisoner, and his prime minis-
ter, the Peshwa, had become the hereditary chief of the
state. The Peshwa, in his turn, was fast sinking into
the same degraded situation into which he had reduced
the Rajah. It was, we believe, impossible to find, from
the Himalayas to Mysore, a single government which
was at once a government de facto, and a government
(kjurCy which possessed the physical means of making
itself feared by its neighbours and subjects, and which
had at the same time the authority derived from law and
long prescription.

Hastings clearly discerned what was hidden from



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78 WARREN HASTINGS.

most of his contemporaries, that such a state of things
gave immense advantages to a ruler of great talents
and few scruples. In every international question that
could arise, he had his option between the de facto
ground and the de jure ground ; and the probability-
was that one of those grounds would sustain any claim
that it might be convenient for him to make, and ena-
ble him to resist any claim made by others. In every
controversy, accordingly, he resorted to the plea wliich
suited his immediate purpose, without troubling himself
in the least about consistency ; and thus he scarcely
ever failed to find what, to persons of short memories
and scanty information, seemed to be a justification for
what he wanted to do. Sometimes the Nabob of Ben-
gal is a shadow, scnnetimes a monarch. Sometimes the
Vizier is a mere deputy, sometimes an independent
potentate. K it is expedient for the Company to show
some legal title to the revenues of Bengal, the grant
under the seal of the Mogul is brought forward as an
instrument of the highest authority. When the Mogul
asks for the rents which were reserved to him by that
very grant, he is told that he is a mere pageant, that
the English power rests on a very different foundation
from a charter given by him, that he is welcome to play
at royalty as long as he likes, but that he must expect
no tribute from the real masters of India.

It is true that it was in the power of otliers, as well
as of Hastings, to practise this legerdemain ; but in the
controversies of governments, sophistry is of little use
imless it be backed by power. There is a i)rinciple
which Hastings was fond of asserting in the strongest
terms, and on which he acted with imdeviating steadi-
ness. It is a principle which, we must own, though it
may be grossly abused, can hardly be disputed in the



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WARREN HASTINGS. 79

present state of public law. It is this, that where an
ambiguous question arises between two governments,
there is, if tliey cannot agree, no apjieal except to force,
and that the opinion of the stronger must prevail. Al-
most every question was ambiguous in India. The
English government was the sti'ongest in India. The
consequences are obvious. The English govenunent
might do exactly what it chose.

The English government now chose to wring money
out of Cheyte Sing. It had formerly been convenient
to treat him as a sovereign prince ; it was now conven-
ient to treat him as a subject. Dext^ty inferior to
that of Hastings could easily find, in the general chaos
of laws and customs, argument<i for either course, Has-
tings wanted a great supply. It was known that
Cheyte Sing had a large revenue, and it was suspected
tliat he had accumulated a treasure. Nor was he a ^
vourite at Calcutta. He had, when the Governor-
General was in great difficulties, courted the favour of
Francis and Clavering. Hastings, who, less perhaps
from evil passions than from policy, seldom lefl an in-
jury unpunished, was not sorry that the fate of Cheyte
Sing should teach neighbouring princes the same lesson
which the fate of Nuncomar had already impressed on
the inhabitants of Bengal.

In 1778, on the first breaking out of the war with
France, Cheyte Sing was called upon to pay, in addi-
tion to his fixed tribute, an extraordinary contribution
of fifty thousand pounds. In 1779, an equal sum was



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 6 of 84)