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Almas Ali Khan was a renter of Oude-that is, farmer of the revenue of a large portion of the nawaub's country He was one of that class of persons common in oriental seraglios, and had formerly been attached to Soojah ul Dowlah's zenanah. Hitherto the great friend and supporter of Vizier Ali, and second only to himself in the kingdom of Oude, he had been sedulously watching the progress of things, and, when the house showed symptoms of falling, he prepared to quit it, with the sagacity of that small but astute animal which has given a name to this species of desertion. He called upon the minister, and surprised him with strong complaints of the conduct of the nawaub, whom he loaded with opprobrious invectives. He spoke of him as being at once spurious and profligate, and as calculated to ruin the country by his vices and profusion. He expressed his alarm lest a knowledge of his conduct should reach the governor-general and force him into violent measures. He mentioned the entire approbation of the Begum as to his conduct, and her earnest wish, as well as his own, that Vizier Ali should be deposed, and some one of the sons of Soojah
ul Dowlah placed on the musnud.
The same was successively repeated by Almas to the governor-general, both alone and in company with the commander-in-chief. He declared that the power of the Begum would be sufficient, in the presence of the English troops, to depose Vizier Ali, and promised a considerable sum in compensation of the acquiescence and aid of the British authorities.
The opinion of Almas as to the defective title of Vizier Ali was consistent with his declarations immediately subsequent to his elevation; and the joint admission of both himself and the Begum, as to his spurious origin, left them without the shadow of a pretext for objecting to the claim of Saadut Ali on the ground of right.
It was at this period that the governorgeneral deemed it necessary to prepare for the accomplishment of the event, by writing to the resident at Benares, Mr. Cherry, who, as chief judge of the Court of Appeal, was the channel of communication with the foreigners of rank at that city. As Benares was destined to be the scene of the final catastrophe, it
becomes necessary to give some account of that ancient Hindoo city.
The district in which it is situated was ceded by the subsidiary treaty of 1775 to the British power by the Nawaub of Oude, Asoph ul Dowlah, in compensation (as was alleged at the time) of the aid which he had received in reducing to subjection one of his tributary chiefs.* The city is built on the north or left bank of the Ganges, as that great river flows eastward, and presents a fine appearance when viewed from the water. The eye rests on a variety of noble buildings, some of them highly ornamented, and with terraces on their summits; while the view is improved by the numerous flights of stone steps which lead from the banks of the river to Hindoo temples, or serve the crowds of devotees in the performance of their frequent ablutions.
Mr. Macaulay has given the following graphic description of “Benares, a city which in wealth, population, dignity, and sanctity, was among the foremost of Asia. It was commonly believed that half a million of human beings
* The compact in question was in reality a general treaty for furnishing a force to protect him against all enemies.
was crowded into that labyrinth of lofty alleys, rich with shrines, and minarets, and balconies, and carved oriels, to which the sacred apes clung by hundreds. The traveller could scarcely make his way through the press of holy mendicants, and not less holy bulls. 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 Brahminical faith was known.
Hundreds of devotees came thither
every month to die; for it was believed that a peculiarly happy fate awaited the man who should pass from the sacred city into the sacred river. Nor was superstition the only motive which allured strangers to that great metropolis. Commerce had as many pilgrims as religion. All along the shores of the venerable stream lay great fleets of vessels 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 the
* Appendix A.
Petit Trianon; and in the bazaars, 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 surrounding tract, had long been under the immediate rule of a Hindoo prince (the Rajah of Benares) 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 neighbour, they invoked the protection of the English. The English protection was given ; and at length the 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, acknowledged its supremacy, and engaged to send an annual tribute to Fort William.'
Benares was of old renowned as the principal seat of Brahminical learning. Robertson, in his History of India, speaks of it as the Athens of the East, the residence of the most learned Brahmins, and the centre of their