Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

it should be fully ascertained that the biographers excepted, that Hastings feeling at the India House was adverse was the real mover in the business. to the Governor-General.

The rage of the majority rose to the The triumph of Nuncomar seemed to highest point. They protested against be complete. He held a daily levee, to the proceedings of the Supreme Court, which his countrymen resorted in and sent several urgent messages to the crowds, and to which, on one occasion, Judges, demanding that Nuncomar the majority of the Council conde- should be admitted to bail. The Judges scended to repair. His house was an returned haughty and resolute answers. office for the purpose of receiving All that the Council could do was to charges against the Governor-General. heap honours and emoluments on the It was said that, partly by threats, and family of Nuncomar; and this they did. partly by wheedling, the villanous In the mean time the assizes comBrahmin had induced many of the menced; a true bill was found; and wealthiest men of the province to send Nuncomar was brought before Sir in complaints. But he was playing a Elijah Impey and a jury composed of perilous game. It was not safe to drive Englishmen. A great quantity of conto despair a man of such resources and tradictory swearing, and the necessity of such determination as Hastings. of having every word of the evidence Nuncomar, with all his acuteness, did interpreted, protracted the trial to a not understand the nature of the insti- most unusual length. At last a verdict tutions under which he lived. He saw of guilty was returned, and the Chief that he had with him the majority of Justice pronounced sentence of death the body which made treaties, gave on the prisoner. places, raised taxes. The separation That Impey ought to have respited between political and judicial functions Nuncomar we hold to be perfectly was a thing of which he had no con- clear. Whether the whole proceeding ception. It had probably never occurred was not illegal, is a question. But it is to him that there was in Bengal an certain, that whatever may have been, authority perfectly independent of the according to technical rules of conCouncil, an authority which could pro-struction, the effect of the statute under tect one whom the Council wished which the trial took place, it was most to destroy, and send to the gibbet unjust to hang a Hindoo for forgery. one whom the Council wished to the law which made forgery capital in protect. Yet such was the fact. The England was passed without the smallSupreme Court was, within the sphere est reference to the state of society in of its own duties, altogether indepen- India. It was unknown to the natives dent of the Government. Hastings, of India. It had never been put in exewith his usual sagacity, had seen how cution among them, certainly not for much advantage he might derive from want of delinquents. It was in the possessing himself of this stronghold ; highest degree shocking to all their noand he had acted accordingly. The tions. They were not accustomed to Judges, especially the Chief Justice, the distinction which many circumwere hostile to the majority of the stances, peculiar to our own state of Council. The time had now come for society, have led us to make between putting this formidable machinery into forgery and others kinds of cheating. action.

The counterfeiting of a seal was, in On a sudden, Calcutta was astounded their estimation, a common act of swinby the news that Nuncomar had been dling; nor had it ever crossed their taken up on a charge of felony, com- minds that it was to be punished as mitted, and thrown into the common severely as gang-robbery or assassinagaol. The crime imputed to him was tion. A just judge would, beyond all that six years before he had forged a doubt, have reserved the case for the bond. The ostensible prosecutor was a consideration of the sovereign. But Imnative. But it was then, and still is, pey would not hear of mercy or delay. the opinion of every body, idiots and The excitement among all classes was great. Francis and Francis's few story, which in itself is by no means English adherents described the Go-improbable. vernor-General and the Chief Justice The day drew near; and Nuncomar as the worst of murderers. Clavering, prepared himself to die with that quiet it was said, swore that even at the foot fortitude with which the Bengalee, so of the gallows, Nuncomar should be effeminately timid in personal conflict, rescued. The bulk of the European often encounters calamities for which society, though strongly attached to the there is no remedy. The sheriff, with Governor-General, could not but feel the humanity which is seldom wanting compassion for a man who, with all his in an English gentleman, visited the crimes, had so long filled so large a prisoner on the eve of the execution, space in their sight, who had been great and assured him that no indulgence, and powerful before the British empire consistent with the law, should be rein India began to exist, and to whom, fused to him. Nuncomar expressed his in the old times, governors and members gratitude with great politeness and unof council, then mere commercial fac- altered composure. Not a muscle of tors, had paid court for protection. The his face moved. Not a sigh broke from feeling of the Hindoos was infinitely him. He put his finger to his forehead, stronger. They were, indeed, not a and calmly said that fate would have people to strike one blow for their its way, and that there was no resisting countryman. But his sentence filled the pleasure of God. He sent his comthem with sorrow and dismay. Tried pliments to Francis, Clavering, and even by their low standard of morality, Monson, and charged them to protect he was a bad man. But, bad as he was, Rajah Goordas, who was about to behe was the head of their race and reli- come the head of the Brahmins of gion, a Brahmin of the Brahmins. He Bengal. The sheriff withdrew, greatly had inherited the purest and highest agitated by what had passed, and Nuncaste. He had practised with the comar sat composedly down to write greatest punctuality all those ceremo- notes and examine accounts. nies to which the superstitious Ben- The next morning, before the sun galees ascribe far more importance was in his power, an immense conthan to the correct discharge of the course assembled round the place where social duties. They felt, therefore, as a the gallows had been set up. Grief and devout Catholic in the dark ages would horror were on every face; yet to the have felt, at seeing a prelate of the high- last the multitude could hardly believe est dignity sent to the gallows by a se- that the English really purposed to take cular tribunal. According to their old the life of the great Brahmin. At length national laws, a Brahmin could not be the mournful procession came through put to death for any crime whatever. the crowd. Nuncomar sat up in his And the crime for which Nuncomar palanquin, and looked round him with was about to die was regarded by them unaltered serenity. He had just parted in much the same light in which the from those who were most nearly conselling of an unsound horse, for a sound nected with him. Their cries and conprice, is regarded by a Yorkshire jockey. tortions had appalled the European

The Mussulmans alone appear to ministers of justice, but had not prohave seen with exultation the fate of duced the smallest effect on the iron the powerful Hindoo, who had at- stoicism of the prisoner. The only tempted to rise by means of the ruin of anxiety which he expressed was that Mahommed Reza Khan. The Mahom- men of his own priestly caste might be medan historian of those times takes in attendance to take charge of his delight in aggravating the charge. He corpse. He again desired to be rememassures us that in Nuncomar's house a bered to his friends in the Council, casket was found containing counter- mounted the scaffold with firmness, feits of the seals of all the richest men and gave the signal to the executioner. of the province. We have never fallen The moment that the drop fell, a howl in with any other authority for this of sorrow and despair rose from the innumerable spectators. Hundreds turned | cerned. Not a day passes on which an away their faces from the polluting honest prosecutor does not ask for what sight, fled with loud wailings towards none but a dishonest tribunal would the Hoogley, and plunged into its holy grant. It is too much to expect that waters, as if to purify themselves from any man, when his dearest interests are the guilt of having looked on such a at stake, and his strongest passions excrime. These feelings were not confined cited, will, as against himself, be more to Calcutta. The whole province was just than the sworn dispensers of jusgreatly excited; and the population of tice. To take an analogous case from Dacca, in particular, gave strong signs the history of our own island; suppose of grief and dismay.

that Lord Stafford, when in the Tower Of Impey's conduct it is impossible on suspicion of being concerned in the to speak too severely. We have already Popish plot, had been apprised that said that, in our opinion, he acted un- Titus Oates had done something which justly in refusing to respite Nuncomar. might, by a questionable construction, No rational man can doubt that he took be brought under the head of felony. this course in order to gratify the Go- Should we severely blame Lord Stafvernor-General. If we had ever had ford, in the supposed case, for causing any doubts on that point, they would | a prosecution to be instituted, for furhave been dispelled by a letter which nishing funds, for using all his influence Mr. Gleig has published. Hastings, to intercept the mercy of the Crown ? three or four years later, described We think not. If a judge, indeed, from Impey as the man “to whose support favour to the Catholic lords, were to he was at one time indebted for the strain the law in order to hang Oates, safety of his fortune, honour, and repu- such a judge would richly deserve imtation.” These strong words can refer peachment. But it does not appear to only to the case of Nuncomar; and they us that the Catholic lord, by bringing must mean that Impey hanged Nun- the case before the judge for decision, comar in order to support Hastings. It would materially overstep the limits of is, therefore, our deliberate opinion that a just self-defence. Impey, sitting as a judge, put a man While, therefore, we have not the unjustly to death in order to serve a least doubt that this memorable execupolitical purpose.

|tion is to be attributed to Hastings, we But we look on the conduct of Hast-doubt whether it can with justice be ings in a somewhat different light. He reckoned among his crimes. That his was struggling for fortune, honour, li- conduct was dictated by a profound berty, all that makes life valuable. He policy is evident. He was in a miwas beset by rancorous and unprin- nority in Council. It was possible that cipled enemies. From his colleagues he might long be in a minority. He he could expect no justice. He cannot knew the native character well. He be blamed for wishing to crush his knew in what abundance accusations accusers. He was indeed bound to use are certain to flow in against the most only legitimate means for that end. But innocent inhabitant of India who is it was not strange that he should have under the frown of power. There was thought any means legitimate which not in the whole black population of were pronounced legitimate by the sages Bengal a place-holder, a place-hunter, of the law, by men whose peculiar duty a government tenant, who did not it was to deal justly between adver- think that he might better himself by saries, and whose education might be sending up a deposition against the supposed to have peculiarly qualified Governor-General. Under these cirthem for the discharge of that duty. cumstances, the persecuted statesman Nobody demands from a party the un- resolved to teach the whole crew of bending equity of a judge. The reason accusers and witnesses, that, though that judges are appointed is, that even in a minority at the council-board, he a good man cannot be trusted to decide was still to be feared. The lesson a cause in which he is himself con- which he gave them was indeed a les.

son not to be forgotten. The head of means obtained pecuniary advantages, the combination which had been he had done so, not for his own benefit, formed against him, the richest, the but in order to meet their demands. most powerful, the most artful of the To enjoin honesty, and to insist on Hindoos, distinguished by the favour having what could not be honestly of those who then held the govern- got, was then the constant practice of ment, fenced round by the supersti- the Company. As Lady Macbeth says tious reverence of millions, was hanged of her husband, they would not play in broad day before many thousands false, and yet would wrongly win." of people. Every thing that could The Regulating Act, by which Hastmake the warning impressive, dignity ings had been appointed Governorin the sufferer, solemnity in the pro- General for five years, empowered the ceeding, was found in this case. The Crown to remove him on an address helpless rage and vain struggles of the from the Company. Lord North was Council made the triumph more signal. desirous to procure such an address. From that moment the conviction of The three members of Council who every native was that it was safer to had been sent out from England were take the part of Hastings in a minority men of his own choice. General Clathan that of Francis in a majority, and vering, in particular, was supported by that he who was so venturous as to a large parliamentary connection, such join in running down the Governor- as no cabinet could be inclined to disGeneral might chance, in the phrase of oblige. The wish of the minister was the Eastern poet, to find a tiger, while to displace Hastings, and to put Clabeating the jungle for a deer. The vering at the head of the government. voices of a thousand informers were in the Court of Directors parties were silenced in an instant. From that very nearly balanced. Eleven voted time, whatever difficulties Hastings against Hastings; ten for him. The might have to encounter, he was never Court of Proprietors was then conmolested by accusations from natives vened. The great sale-room presented of India.

a singular appearance. Letters had It is a remarkable circumstance that been sent by the Secretary of the Treaone of the letters of Hastings to Dr. sury, exhorting all the supporters of Johnson bears date a very few hours government who held India stock to after the death of Nuncomar. While be in attendance. Lord Sandwich the whole settlement was in commo- marshalled the friends of the administion, while a mighty and ancient priest-tration with his usual dexterity and hood were weeping over the remains alertness. Fifty peers and privy counof their chief, the conqueror in that cillors, seldom seen so far eastward, deadly grapple sat down, with charac- were counted in the crowd. The deteristic self-possession, to write about bate lasted till midnight. The oppothe Tour to the Hebrides, Jones's Per- nents of Hastings had a small supesian Grammar, and the history, tradi- riority on the division ; but a ballot tions, arts, and natural productions of was demanded ; and the result was India.

that the Governor-General triumphed In the mean time, intelligence of the by a majority of above a hundred Rohilla war, and of the first disputes votes over the combined efforts of between Hastings and his colleagues, the Directors and the Cabinet. The had reached London. The Directors ministers were greatly exasperated by took part with the majority, and sent this defeat. Even Lord North lost his out a letter filled with severe reflec- temper, no ordinary occurrence with tions on the conduct of Hastings. him, and threatened to convoke parlia

They condemned, in strong but just ment before Christmas, and to bring in terms, the iniquity of undertaking of- a bill for depriving the Company of all fensive wars merely for the sake of political power, and for restricting it pecuniary advantage. But they utterly to its old business of trading in silks forgot that, if Hastings had by illicit and teas.

Colonel Macleane, who through all he had ceased to be Governor-General, this conflict had zealously supported that his resignation had been accepted, the cause of Hastings, now thought that Wheler was coming out immethat his employer was in imminent diately, and that, till Wheler arrived, danger of being turned out, branded the chair was to be filled by Clavering. with parliamentary censure, perhaps Had Hastings still been in a miprosecuted. The opinion of the crown nority, he would probably have relawyers had already been taken re- tired without a struggle; but he was specting some parts of the Governor- now the real master of British India, General's conduct. It seemed to be and he was not disposed to quit his high time to think of securing an | high place. He asserted that he had honourable retreat. Under these cir- never given any instructions which cumstances, Macleane thought himself could warrant the steps taken at home. justified in producing the resignation What his instructions had been, he with which he had been intrusted. owned he had forgotten. If he had The instrument was not in very accu- kept a copy of them he had mislaid it. rate form; but the Directors were too But he was certain that he had repeateager to be scrupulous. They ac-edly declared to the Directors that he cepted the resignation, fixed on Mr. would not resign. He could not see how Wheler, one of their own body, to suc- the court possessed of that declaration ceed Hastings, and sent out orders from himself, could receive his resignathat General Clavering, as senior tion from the doubtful hands of an member of Council, should exercise agent. If the resignation were inthe functions of Governor-General till valid, all the proceedings which were Mr. Wheler should arrive.

founded on that resignation were null, But, while these things were passing and Hastings was still Governor-Gein England, a great change had taken neral. place in Bengal. Monson was no He afterwards affirmed that, though more. Only four members of the go- his agents had not acted in conformity vernment were left. Clavering and with his instructions, he would neverFrancis were on one side, Barwell and theless have held himself bound by the Governor-General on the other; their acts, if Clavering had not atand the Governor-General had the tempted to seize the supreme power casting vote. Hastings, who had been by violence. Whether this assertion during two years destitute of all power were or were not true, it cannot be and patronage, became at once abso- doubted that the imprudence of Clalute. He instantly proceeded to re-vering gave Hastings an advantage. taliate on his adversaries. Their mea- The General sent for the keys of the sures were reversed: their creatures fort and of the treasury, took posseswere displaced. A new valuation of sion of the records, and held a council the lands of Bengal, for the purposes at which Francis attended. Hastings of taxation, was ordered : and it was took the chair in another apartment, provided that the whole inquiry should and Barwell sat with him. Each of be conducted by the Governor-Gene- the two parties had a plausible show ral, and that all the letters relating to of right. There was no authority enit should run in his name. He began, titled to their obedience within fifteen at the same time, to revolve vast plans thousand miles. It seemed that there of conquest and dominion, plans which remained no way of settling the dishe lived to see realised, though not by pute except an appeal to arms; and himself. His project was to form from such an appeal Hastings, confisubsidiary alliances with the native dent of his influence over his countryprinces, particularly with those of men in India, was not inclined to Oude and Berar, and thus to make shrink. He directed the officers of the Britain the paramount power in India. garrison at Fort William and of all While he was meditating these great the neighbouring stations to obey no designs, arrived the intelligence that I orders but his. At the same time,

« ElőzőTovább »