Thomas Babington Macaulay Macaulay.

Critical, historical, and miscellaneous essays online

. (page 7 of 84)
Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 7 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


exacted. In 1780, the demand was renewed. Cheyte
Sing, in the hope of obtaining some indulgence, secretly
offered the Governor-General a bribe of twenty thou-
sand pounds. Hastings took the money, and his ene-
mies have maintained that he took it intending to



Digitized



byGoogk



80 WARREN HASTINGS.

keep it. He certainly concealed the transaction, for a
dme, both from the Council in Bengal and from the
Directors at home ; nor did he ever give any satisfac-
tory reason for the concealment. PubUc spirit, or
the fear of detection, at last determined him to Avitli-
stand the temptation. He paid over the bribe to the
Company's treasury, and insisted that the Rajah should
instantly comply with the demands of the English
government. The Rajah, after the fashion of liis
countrymen, shuffled, solicited, and pleaded poverty.
The grasp of Hastings was not to be so eluded. He
added to the requisition another ten thousand pounds
as a fine for delay, and sent troops to exact the
money.

The money was paid. But this was not enough.
The late events in the south of India had increased
the financial embarrassments of the Company. Has-
tings was determined to plunder Cheyte Sing, and, for
that end, to festen a quarrel on him. Accordmgly, the
Rajah was now required to keep a body of cavalry for
the service of the British government. He objected
and evaded. This was exactly what the Governor-
General wanted. He had now a pretext for treating
the wealthiest of his vassals as a criminal. ^^ I re-
solved," — these are the words of Hastings himself, —
**to draw from his guilt the means of relief of the
Comjmny's distresses, to make him pay largely for bin
pardon, or to exact a severe vengeance for past delin-
quency." The plan was simply this, to demand larger
and larger contributions till the Rajah should be driven
to remonstrate, then to call his remonstrance a crime,
and to punish him by confiscating all his possessions.

Cheyte Sing was in the greatest dismay. He offered
two hundred thousand pounds to propitiate the British



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 81

government. But Hastings replied that nothing less
than lialf a million would be accepted. Nay, he began
to think of selling Benares to Oude, as he had formerly
sold Allahabad and Rohilcund. The matter was one
which could not be well managed at a distance ; and
Hastings resolved to visit Benares.

Cheyte Sing received his liege lord with every
mark of reverence, came near sixty miles, with his
gnards, to meet and escort the illustrious visiter, and
expressed his deep concern at the displeasure of the
English. He even took off his turban, and laid it in
the lap of Hastings, a gesture which in India marks the
most profound submission and devotion. Hastings
behaved with cold and repulsive severity. Having
arrived at Benares, he sent to the Rajah a paper con-
taining the demands of the government of Bengal.
The Rajah, in reply, attempted to clear himself from
the accusations brought against him. Hastings, who
wanted money and not excuses, was not to be put off
by the ordinary artifices of Eastern negotiation. He
instantly ordered the Rajali to be arrested and placed
under the custody of two companies of sepoys.

In taking these strong measures, Hastings scarcely
showed his usual judgment. It is possible that, having
had little opportunity of personally observing any part
of the population of India, except the Bengalees, he
was not fully aware of the difference between their
character and that of the tribes which inhabit the
upper provinces. He was now in a land far more
favourable to the vigour of the human frame than the
Delta of the Ganges; in a land fruitful of soldiers,
who have been found worthy to follow English bat«
talions to the charge and into the breach. The Rajah
was popular among his subjects. His administration



Digitized



byGoogk



82 WARKEN HASTINGS.

had been mild; and the prosperity of the district
which he governed presented a striking contrast to the
depressed state of Bahar under our rule, and a still
more striking contrast to the misery of the provinces
which were cursed by the tyranny of the Nabob Vizier.
The national and religious prejudices with which the
English were regarded throughout India were pecidiarly
intense in the metropolis of the Brahminical supci*sti-
tion. It can therefore scarcely be doubted that the
Governor-General, before he outraged the dignity of
Cheyte Sing by an arrest, ought to have assemUed a
force capable of bearing down all opposition. This
had not been done. The handful of Sepoys who at-
tended Hastings would probably have been sufficient to
overawe Moorshedabad, or the Black Town of Calcutta.
But they were unequal to a conflict with the hardy
rabble of Benares. The streets surrounding the palace
were filled by an immense multitude, of whom a lai^
proportion, as is usual in Upper India, wore arms.
The tumult became a fight, and the fight a massacre.
The English officers defended themselves with desperate
courage against overwhelming numbers, and fell, as
became them, sword in hand. The sepoys were butch-
ered. The gates were forced. The captive prince,
neglected by his gaolers during the confusion, discovered
an outlet which opened on the precipitous bank of the
Ganges, let himself down to the water by a string
made of the turbans of his attendants, found a boat,
and escaped to the opposite shore.

If Hastings had, by indiscreet violence, brought him-
self into a difficult and perilous situation, it is only just
to acknowledge that he extricated himself with even
more than his usual ability and presence of mind. He
had only fifty men with him. The building in which



Digitized



byGoogk



WARRRN HASTINGS. 83

he had taken up his residence was on every side block-
aded by the insurgents. But his fortitude remained
unshaken. The Rajah from the other side of the river
Bent apologies and liberal offers. They were not even
answered. Some subtle and enterprising men were
found who undertook to pass through tlie throng of
eni^es, and to convey the intelligence of the late
events to the English cantonments. It is the &shion
of the natives of India to wear large earrings of gold.
When they travel, the rings are laid aside, lest the
precious metal should tempt some gang of robbers ;
and, in place of the ring, a quill or a roll of paper is
inserted in the orifice to prevent it from closing. Has-
tings placed in the ears of his messengers letters rolled
up in the smallest compass. Some of these letters were
addressed to the commanders of English troops. One
was written to assure his wife of his safety. One was
to the envoy whom he had sent to negotiate with
the Mahrattas. Instructions for the negotiation were
needed; and the Governor-General framed them in
that situation of extreme danger, with as much com^
posure as if he had been writing in his palace at Cal-
cutta.

Things, however, were not yet at the worst. An
English officer of more spirit than judgment, eager to
dktinguish himself, made a premature attack on the
insurgents beyond the river. His troops were entangled
in narrow streets, and assailed by a furious population.
He fell, with many of his men ; and the survivors were
forced to retire.

This event produced the effect which has never failed
to follow every check, however slight, sustained in India
by the English arms. For hiuidreds of miles round, tlie
whole countiy was in commotion. The entire popular



Digitized by CjOOQI^

-2 k



S'l WARREN HASTINGS.

tion of the district of Benares took arms. The fields
were abandoned by the husbandmen, who thronged to
defend their prince. The infection spread to Oude.
The oppressed people of that province rose up against
the Nabob Vizier, refased to pay their imposts, and put
the revenue officers to flight. Even Bahar was ripe
for revolt. The hopes of Cheyte Sing began to rise.
Instead of imploring mercy in the humble style of a
vassal, he began to talk the language of a conqueror, and
threatened, it was said, to sweep the white usurpers out
of the land. But the English troops were now assem-
bling fiist. The officers, and even the private men,
regarded the Governor-General with enthusiastic at-
tachment, and flew to his aid with an alacrity which,
as he boasted, had never been shown on any other
occasion. Major Popham, a brave and skilful soldier,
who had highly distinguished himself in the Mahratta
war, and in whom the Governor-General reposed the
greatest confidence, took the command. The tumult-
uary army of the Rajah ^vas put to rout. His fast-
nesses vfere stormed. In a few hours, above thirty
thousand men lefl; his standard, and returned to their
ordinary avocations. The unhappy prince fled firom
his country for ever. His fair domain was added to
the British dominions. One of his relations indeed
was appointed rajah; but the Rajah of Benares was
henceforth to be, like the Nabob of Bengal, a mere
pensioner.

By this revolution, an addition of two hundred tliou-
sand pounds a year was made to the revenues of the
Company. But the immediate reUef was not as great
as had been expected. The treasure laid up by Cheyte
Shig had been popularly estimated at a million sterling.
It turned out to be about a fourth part of that sum ;



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 86

and, such as it was, it was seized by the army, and di-
vided as prize-money.

Disappointed in his expectations from Benares, Has-
tings was more violent than he would otherwise have
been, in his dealings with Onde. Sujah Dowlah had
long been dead. His son and successor, Asaph-ul-
Dowlah, was one of the weakest and most vicious even
of Eastern princes. His life was divided between tor-
pid repose and the most odious forms of sensuality. In
his court there was boundless waste, throughout his do-
minions wretchedness and disorder. He had been, un-
der the skilful management of the English government,
gradually sinking from the rank of an independent
prince to that of a vassal of the Company. It was only
by the help of a British brigade that he could be secure
firom the aggressions of neighbours who despised his
weakness, and from tlie vengeance of subjects who de-
tested his tyranny. A brigade was furnished ; and he
engaged to defray the charge of paying and maintain-
ing it. From that time his independence was at an
end. Hastings was not a man to lose the advantage
which he had thus gained. The Nabob soon began to
complain of the burden which he had undertaken to
bear. His revenues, he said, were falling off ; his ser-
vants were unpaid ; he could no longer support the ex-
pense of the arrangement which he had sanctioned.
Hastings would not listen to these representations.
The Vizier, he said, had invited the government of
Bengal to send him troops, and had promised to pay
for them. The troops had been sent. How long the
troojw were to remain in Oude was a matter not settled
by tlie treaty. It remained, therefore, to be settled
between the contracting parties. But the contracting
parties differed. Who then must decide? The
stronger.



Digitized



byGoogk



86 WAKUKN HASTINGS

Hastings also argued that, if die English force was
withdrawn, Oude would certainly become a prey to
anarchy, and would probably be overrun by a Mah-
ratta army. That the finances of Oude were embar-
rassed he admitted. But he contended, not without
reason, that the embarrassment was to be attribute<I to
the incapacity and vices of Asaph-ul-Dowlah himself,
and that, if less were spent on the troops, the only ef-
fect would be that more would be squandered on worth-
less favourites.

Hastings had intended, after settling the aflkirs of
Benares, to ^nsit Lucknow, and there to confer with
Asaph-ul-Dowlah, But the obsequious courtesy of
the Nabob Vizier prevented this visit. With a small
train he hastened to meet the Governor-General. An
interview took place in the fortress which, from the
crest of the precipitous rock of Chunar, looks down on
the waters of the Ganges.

At first sight it might appear impossible that the
negotiation should come to an amicable close. Has-
tings wanted an extraordinary supply of money. Asaph-
ul-Dowlah wanted to obtain a remission of what he
already owed. Such a difierence seemed to admit of
no compromise. There was, however, one course sat-
isfactory to both sides, one course by which it was pos-
sible to reheve the finances both of Oude and Bengal ;
and that course was adopted. It was amply this, that
the Governor-General and the Nabob Vizier should
join to rob a third party ; and the tliird party whom
they determined to rob was the parent of one of the
robbers.

The mother of the late Nabob, and his wife, who
was the mother of the present Nabob, were known as
the Begums or Princesses of Oude. They had pos-



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 87

scssed great influence over Sujah Dowlali, and had,
at his death, been left in possession of a splendid tlota-
lion. The domains of which tliey received the rents
and administered the government were of wide extent.
The treasure hoarded by the late Nabob, a treasure
wliich was popularly estimated at near three millions
sterling, was in their hands. They continued to oc-
cupy his favourite palace at Fyzabad, the Beautiful
Dwelling; while Asaph-ul-Dowlah held his court in
the stately Luctnow, which he had built for himself
on the shores of the Goomti, and had adorned with
noble mosques and colleges.

Asaph-ul-Dowlah had already extorted considerable
sums from his mother. She had at length appealed to
the English ; and the English had interfered. A sol-
emn compact had been made, by which she consented
to give her son some pecuniary assistance, and he in his
turn, promised never to commit any further invasion of
her rights. This compact was formally guaranteed by
the government <^ Bengal. But times had changed ;
money was wanted ; and the power which had given
the guarantee was not ashamed to instigate the spoiler
to excesses such that even he shrank from them.

It was necessary to find some pretext for a confiscar
tion inconsistent, not merely with plighted faith, not
merely with the ordinary rules of humanity and justice,
but also with that great law of filial piety which, even
in the wildest tribes of savages, even in those more de-
giaded communities which wither under the influence
of a corrupt half-civilisation, retains a certain authority
over the human mind. A pretext was the last thing
that Hastings was likely to want. The insurrection at
Benares had produced disturbances in Oude. These
disturbances it was convenient to impule to the Prin-



Digitized



byGoogk



88 WARREN HASTINGS.

cesses. Evidence for the imputation there was scarcely
any ; unless reports wandering from one raoutli to an-
other, and gaining something by every transmission,
may be called evidence. The accused were furnished
with no charge ; they were permitted to make no de-
fence ; for the Governor-General wisely considered that,
if he tried them, he might not be able to find a ground
ibr plundering them. It was agreed between him %nd
the Nabob Vizier that the noble ladies should, b^' a
sweeping act of confiscaticm, be strip{)ed of their do-
mains and treasures for the benefit of the Company,
and that the sums thus obtained should be accepted by
the government of Bengal in satisfaction of its claims
on the government of Oude.

While Asaph-ul-Dowlah was at Chunar, he was com •
pletely subjugated by the clear and commanding intel-
lect of the English statesman. But, when they had
separated, the Vizier began to reflect with uneasiness
on the engagements into which he had entered. His
mother and grandmother protested and implored. His
heart, deeply corrupted by absolute power and licen-
tious pleasures, yet not naturally unfeeling, failed him
in this crisis. Even the English resident at Lucknow,
though hitherto devoted to Hastings, shrank from ex-
treme measures. But the Governor-General was inex-
orable. He wrote to the resident in terms of the gi'eat-
mt severity, and declared that, if the spoliation wliich
had l)een agreed upon were net instantly canned
into eiFect, he would himself go to Lucknow, and do
that from which feebler minds recoil with dismay. The
resident, thus menaced, waited on his Highness, and
insisted that the treaty of Chunar should be carried
into full and immediate efiect. Asaph-ul-Dowlah
yielded, niaking at the same time a solemn protestation



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 89

that he yielded to compulsion. The lands were re-
sumed ; but tlie treasure was not so easily obtained. It
was necessary to use violence. A body of the Com-
pany's troops marched to Fyzabad, and forced the gates
of the palace. The Princesses were confined to their
own apartments. But still tiiey refused to submit.
Some more stringent mode of coercion was to be found.
A mode was found of which, even at this distance of
time, we cannot speak without shame and sorrow.

There were at Fyzabad two ancient men, belonging
to that unhappy class which a practice, of immemorial
antiquity in the East, has excluded from the pleasures
of love and from the hope of posterity. It has always
been held in Asiatic courts that beings thus estranged
from sympathy witli their kind are those whom princes
may most safely trust. Sujah Dowlah had been of
this opinion. He had given his entire confidence to
the two eunuchs ; and afler his death they remained at
the head <^ the household of his widow.

These men were, by the orders of the British gov-
ernment, seized, imprisoned, ironed, starved almost to
death, in order to extort money from the Princesses.
After they had been two months in confinement, their
health gave way. They implored permission to take a
Uttle exercise in the garden of their prison. The offi-
cer who was in charge of them stated that, if they
were allowed this indulgence, tliei'e was not the small-
est chance of their escaping, and that their irons really
added nothing to the security of the custody in which
they were kept. He did not understand the plan of
his superiors. Their object in these inflictions was not
security but torture ; and all naitigation was refused.
Yet this was not the worst. It was resolved by an
English government that these two infirm old men



Digitized



by Google



90 WARRKN HASTINGS.

should be delivered to the tormentors. For that jmr-
pose they were removed to Lucknow. What horrors
their dungeon there witnessed can only be guessed.
But there remains on the records of Parliament, this
letter, written by a British resident to a British soldier.

" Sir, the Nabob having determined to inflict corpo-
ittl punishment upon the prisoners under your guard,
this is to desire that his officers, wlien tliey shall come,
may have free access to the prisoners, and be permitted
to do with them as they shall see proper."

While these barbarities were perpetrated at Luck-
now, tlie Princesses were still under duress at Fyzabad.
Food was allowed to enter then* apartments only in
such scanty quantities that their female attendants
were in danger of perishing with hunger. Month
after month tliis cruelty continued, till at length, after
twelve hundred thousand pounds had been wrung out
of the Princesses, Hastings began to think that he
had really got to the bottom of their coffers, and
that no rigour could extort more. Then at length
the wretched men who were detained at Lucknow
regained their liberty. When their irons were knocked
off^, and the doors of their prison opened, their quiver-
ing lips, the tears which ran down tlieir cheeks, and
the thanksgivings which they poured forth to the com-
mon Father of Mussulmans and Christians, melted even
the stout hearts of the EngUsIi warriors who stood by.

But >^e must not forget to do justice to Sir Elijah
Impey's conduct on this occasion. It was not indeed
easy for him to intnide himself into a business so en-
tirely alien from all his official duties. But thei'e m as
something inexpressibly alluring, we must suppose, in
the pecuhar rankness of the infamy wliich was then to
be got at Lucknow. He hurried thither as fast as



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 91

relays of palanquhi-bearers could can'y him. A crowd
of people came before him with affidavits against tlie
Bourns, ready drawn in their hands. Those affidavits
he did not read. Some of them, indeed, he could not
read ; for they were in the dialects of Northern India,
and no interpreter was employed. He administered
the oath to the deponents with all possible expedition,
and asked not a single question, not even whether tliey
had perused the statements to which they swore. This
work performed, he got again into his palanquin, and
posted back to Calcutta, to be in time for the opening
of term. The cause was one which, by his own con-
fession, lay altogether out (^ his jurisdiction. Under
the charter of justice, he had no more right to inquire
into crimes committed by Asiatics in Oude, than the
Lord President of the Court of Sessions of Scotland to
hold an assize at Exeter. He had no right to try the
Begums, nor did he pretend to try them. With what
object, then, did he undertake so long a journey?
Evidently in order that he might give, in an irregular
manner, that sanction which in a re^lar manner he
could not give, to the crimes of those who had recently
hired him ; and in order that a confused mass of testir
mony which he did not sift, which he did not even
read, might acquire an authority not properly belong-
ing to it, from the signature of the highest judicial fuiio*
tionary in India.

The time was approaching, however, when he was
to be stripped of that robe which has never, since the
Revolution, been disgraced so foully as by him. The
state of India had for some time occupied much a£ the
attention of the British Parliament. Towards the close
of the American war, two committees of the Commons
6at on Eastern affitirs. In one Edmund Burke took



Digitized



byGoogk



92 WARREN HASTINGS.

the lead. The other was under the presidency of the
able and versatile Henry Dundas, then Lord Advocate
of Scotland. Great as are the changes wliich during
the last sixty years liave taken place in our Asiatic
dominions, the reports which those committees laid on
the table of the House wiU still be found most inter-
esting and instructive.

There was as yet no connection between the Com-
|)any and either of the great parties in the state. The
ministers had no motive to defend Indian abuses. On
the contrary, it was for thdr interest to show, if possi-
ble, that the government and patronage of our Oriental
empire might, with advantage, be transferred to tliem-
selves. The votes therefore, which, in consequence of
the reports made by the two conunittees, were passed
by the Commons, breathed the spirit of stem and indig-
nant justice. The severest epithets were applied to
several of the measures of Hastings, especially to the
Rohilla war ; and it was resolved, on the moticm of Mr.
Dundas, that the Company ought to recall a Governor-
General who had brought such calamities on the Indian
pec^le, and such dishonour on the British name. An
aot was passed for limiting the jurisdicti<m of the Su-
preme Court. The bargain which Hastings had made
with the Chief Justice was condemned in die strongest
terms ; and an address \vas presented to the king, pray-
ing that Impey might be sununoned home to answer
for 1 is misdeeds.

Impey was recalled by a letter frcMU the Secretaiy of
State. But the proprietors of India Stock resolutely
refused to dismiss Hastings from their service, and
passed a resolution, afBnning, what was undeniably
true, tliat they were intrusted by law with the right of
naming and removing their Governor-General, and



Digitized



byGoogk



WARREN HASTINGS. 93

that they were not bound to obey the directions of a
angle branch of the legislature with respect to such
nomination or removal.

Thus supported by his employers, Hastings remained
at the head of the government of Bengal till the spring
of 1785. His administration, so eventful and stormy,
closed in almost perfect quiet. In the Council there
was no regular opposition to his measures. Peace was
restored to India. The Mahratta war had ceased.
Hyder was no more. A treaty had been concluded
with his son, Tippoo ; and the Carnatic had been evac-
uated by the armies of Mysore. Since the termination
of the American war, England had no European enr
emy or rival in the Eastern seas.



Online LibraryThomas Babington Macaulay MacaulayCritical, historical, and miscellaneous essays → online text (page 7 of 84)