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literary excellence. Even of Burke that is not true in the same sense. For Burke never hesitated to sacrifice elegance of style when it was necessary to clinch an argument by facts or statistics. Sheridan was too thorough an artist to separate matter from form.
In that way he became the prince of those speakers who could amuse without irritating, and persuade without fatiguing, the House of Commons. His speeches are remarkable not so much for arrangement as for fluency, lucidity, polish, and
It was said of Pitt that he never paused for a word, that he never repeated a word, and that he never misplaced a word. Sheridan had not the same regular greatness. But he proceeded with exquisite ease and grace from one point to another while at the same time he never forgot the main point of his case, or allowed it to be supposed that he was merely displaying his talents in the best available arena.
The Trial of Warren Hastings Passages from the Speech in Summing up the Evidence on the Second Article of Charge, relating to the Begums
June 3rd, 6th, 10th, 13th, 1788 PREFATORY NOTE.—This speech is generally considered to have been
the most powerful statement of the case against Hastings. IF your Lordships look over the evidence, you will see a country that, even in the time of Suja-ud-Dowla, is represented as populous—desolated. A person looking at this shocking picture of calamity would have been inclined to ask, if he had been a stranger to what had passed in India—if we could suppose a person to have come suddenly into the country, unacquainted with any circumstances that had passed since the days of Suja-ud-Dowla-he would naturally ask, “What cruel hand has wrought this wide desolation ? · What barbarian foe has invaded the country, has desolated its fields, depopulated its villages ? ” He would ask, “What disputed succession, what civil rage, what mad frenzy of the inhabitants, ha induced them to act in hostility to the beneficent works of God and the beauteous works of man?” He would ask, "What
religious zeal or frenzy has added to the mad despair and horrors of war? The ruin is unlike anything that appears recorded in any age. It looks like neither the barbarities of men nor the judgment of vindictive Heaven. There is a waste of desolation, as if caused by fell destroyers never meaning to return, and who make but a short period of their rapacity. It looks as if some fabled monster had made its passage through the country, whose pestiferous breath had blasted more than its voracious appetite could devour.”
If there had been any men in the country who had not their heart and soul so subdued by fear as to refuse to speak the truth at all upon such a subject, they would have told him there had been no war since the time of Suja-ud-Dowlatyrant indeed as he was, but then deeply regretted by his subjects; that no hostile blow of any enemy had been struck in that land; that there had been no disputed succession, no civil war, no religious frenzy; but that these were the tokens of British friendship, the marks of the embraces of British alliance
-more dreadful than the blows of the bitterest enemy. That they had made a Prince a slave, to make himself the principal in the extortion upon his subjects. They would tell him that their rapacity increased in proportion as the means of supplying their avarice diminished. They made the Sovereign pay as if they had a right to an increased price, because the labour of extortion and plunder increased. They would tell him it was to these causes these calamities were owing. Need I refer your Lordships to this strong testimony of Major Naylor, when he rescued Colonel Hannay from their hands, when you see that this people, born to submission, bred to most abject subjection, yet that they, in whose meek hearts injury had never yet begot resentment nor even despair bred courage—that their hatred, their abhorrence of Colonel Hannay was such that they clung round him by thousands and thousands; that when Major Naylor rescued him they refused life from the hand that could rescue Hannay; that they nourished this desperate consolation that by their death they should at least thin the number of wretches that should suffer by his devastation and extortion ? He says, when he crossed the river he found the poor wretches quivering on the parched banks of the polluted river, encouraging their blood to flow-encouraging the thought that their blood would not sink into the earth, but rise to the
common God of humanity, and cry aloud for vengeance on their cursed destroyers.
This warm description, which is no declamation of mine, but founded in actual fact, is a fair, clear proof before your Lordships. I say it speaks powerfully what the cause of these oppressions was and the justness of those feelings that were occasioned by them. And then I am asked to prove why these people arose in such concert! “ There must have been machinations, and the Begums' machinations, to produce this; there was concert. Why did they rise ?” Because they were people in human shape : the poor souls had human feelings. Because patience under the detested tyranny of man is rebellion to the sovereignty of God. Because allegiance to that power that gives us the forms of men commands us to maintain the rights of men. And never yet was this truth dismissed from the human heart-never, in any time, in any age-never in any clime where nude man ever had any social feeling, or when corrupt refinement had subdued all feeling ---never was this one unextinguishable truth destroyed from the heart of man, placed in the core and centre of it by its Maker, that man was not made the property of man ; that human power is a trust for human benefit, and that, when it is abused, revenge is justice if not the duty of the injured. These, my Lords, were the reasons why these people rose.
But, believe Mr. Hastings' account, and no one of these causes produced this effect; no one cause could produce its natural inevitable consequence. Breach of faith did not create distrust; want of pay did not create mutiny. Famine did not pinch. Drought did not parch. No; it was the machinations of these wonderful women, who sat as it were dealing in incantations within the sacred wall of their zenana, and disturbing the country which would otherwise remain in peace and gratitude to its protectors. No; it was an audacious falsity.
I call upon Mr. Hastings himself to sum up my evidence upon this subject. I appeal again to his testimony. When he states that the rapacity, the peculation, the fraud, of those British persons in India had excited the rage of the whole country, he sums up, he clinches, my evidence; and then, with bold, frontless mockery, attempts to turn to your Lordships, and to account for this by fictitious causes—by causes too inadequate ever since corruption composed a part of the wickedness, or credulity a part of the weakness, of human nature.
My Lords, wishing to put everything I say to the test of the evidence before your Lordships, I feel no presumption in saying that I think I have proved the innocence of the Begums respecting these three accusations : and now your Lordships will judge whether I pursue the argument fairly, when I say that I am ready to admit to the Counsel that, because I have cleared them, I do not mean to say that I have condemned Mr. Hastings. I do not mean to say that a proof of their innocence is necessarily a proof of his guilt. I will admit that, because it is possible that, being rash and involved in various difficulties at the time, a person might have been imposed upon with respect to the grounds upon which he acted, and, though no real guilt did then exist in the Begums' conduct, yet that he might in his conscience have been persuaded that there did. But, in order to prove this, it must first appear that, from the moment he cherished and had that persuasion in his mind, it continued in force in his breast till the moment when he carried his vindictive measures against them into execution. If he took up a hasty prejudice, which he afterwards had the means to see the error of and to dismiss from his mind—if after that he persevered with criminal obstinacy in the persecution of these women, then I say he is guilty.
But I will show your Lordships that he never could have been deceived for a single moment upon the subject ; that no man knew better than he—indeed, no man had better reason to know—the true source and origin of these rumours and accusations ; because he himself was the source and origin of them. In order to see whether Mr. Hastings believed these accusations, we must look a little into his conduct at the time that this belief must have come into his mind. What were the communications that he made upon it ? And what were his accounts of the whole transaction afterwards ? If we here find one uniform, consistent, story, although we know it to have been taken up and founded upon a false base, yet still there is a presumption—a possibility at least—of his being innocent. But if we find nothing but suppression of letters, nothing but equivocation, prevarication, direct falsehoods, concealments and false reasons for that concealment,
and at last false and contradictory accounts to every person to whom he relates the transactions of the whole, in such a case there cannot be innocence—it is impossible.
An honourable friend of mine, who is now, I believe, near me, in opening this business—a gentleman to whom I never can on any occasion refer without feelings of respect, and on this subject without feelings of the most grateful homage-a gentleman whose abilities upon this occasion, as upon some former ones, happily for the glory of the age in which we live, are not entrusted merely to the perishable eloquence of the day, but will live to be the admiration of that hour when all of us are mute and most of us are forgotten—that honourable gentleman has told you that prudence, the first of virtues, never can be used in the cause of vice. If, reluctant and diffident, I might take the liberty, I should express a doubt whether experience, observation or history, will warrant us in fully assenting to that. It is a noble and lovely sentiment, my Lords—worthy the mind of him that uttered it-worthy that proud disdain—that generous scorn of the means and instruments of vice—which virtue and genius must feel. But I should doubt whether we can read the history of a Philip of Macedon, of Cæsar or of Cromwell, if we apprehend prudence to be discreetly and successfully conducing some purpose to its end, without confessing that there have been evil purposes, baneful to the peace and to the rights of men, conducted, if I may not say with prudence or with wisdom, yet with awful craft and most successful and commanding subtlety. But, if I might make a distinction, I should say that it is the proud attempt to mix a variety of lordly crimes that unsettles the prudence of the mind and breeds the distraction of the brain ; that one master passion domineering in the breast may win the faculties of the understanding to advance its purpose, and to direct to that object everything that thought or human knowledge can effect. But, to succeed, it must maintain a solitary despotism in the mind : each rival profligacy must stand aloof or wait in abject vassalage upon its throne. For the power that has not forbade the entrance of evil passions into man's mind has at least forbade their union : if they meet they defeat their object—their conquest or their attempt-and it is tumult. Turn to the virtues. How different the decree! Formed