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His reception in England satisfied for a time even bis own most sanguine anticipations. Everywhere he found himself courted and caressed. The smiles of royalty, the favour of ministers, the promise of a peerage, might have induced the late governor-general to think, with reason, that his future lot in life would prove as prosperous, as his past career had been brilliant and distinguished. But hostile influences were at work. The malignant spirit of Francis had been stealthily preparing for his old opponent a series of difficulties which eventually ruined his fortune, and might seriously have affected his reputation. The ex-member of council was in Parliament, and had connected himself with one of the greatest statesmen of that age, the eloquent Edmund Burke. Under his auspices a coalition arose, comprising nearly all the parliamentary talent of the day. Sheridan, with his versatile genius and brilliant powers of oratory; Fox, then in the zenith of his fame; the chivalrous and high-souled Windham, united themselves to the powerful party who stood arrayed against the governor-general. After some time had been spent in political skirmishing, Burke commenced the attack by laying on the table of the House a paper of charges, containing the formal accusation of Hastings. In this list appeared prominently as leading grievances and misdemeanours, the transactions connected with the Rohilla war, the attack upon Cheyte Sing, the spoliation of the Oude Begums, and the cruel treatment of their confidential servants.
In reply, Hastings, somewhat unwisely, read a prolix defence of his conduct, which was barely listened to. • Unused to extemporaneous speaking, he dared not venture to address the House, and thus, even at the commencement, he placed himself in most striking and disadvantageous contrast to the great orators who conducted the attack. His style, though elegant, as might have been expected from his classical attainments, was somewhat feeble, and better calculated to convince a
IMPEACHMENT OF HASTINGS.
statesman in the calm retirement of his cabinet, than to allay the excitement produced in a popular assemblage by the fervid eloquence of Burke. Yet, for some time, the issue of the contest appeared doubtful. A majority of fifty-two votes acquitted Hastings of all criminality with regard to the Rohilla war; and the governorgeneral even received the congratulations of his friends, that he had escaped from the most dangerous accusation of all.
The debate on the Benares charge terminated less fortunately for the party accused. Mr. Pitt had originally voted for Hastings, but upon this question he allied himself with the opposition, and a majority of forty finally gave the victory to the accusers. That part of the charge which related to the Begums called forth Sheridan, who delivered in support of it an oration, allowed by the ablest judges to be one of the finest ever uttered within the walls of the British Parliament. The cause of Hastings seemed now completely lost; twenty charges were agreed to by the House, and Burke was directed to impeach the late governor of high treason, and other misdemeanours, before the tribunal of the House of Lords.
On the 13th of February, 1788, Hastings knelt at the bar of the Peers, whose House then contained an assemblage composed of the most illustrious in birth, and distinguished in talent that then adorned the metropolis of England. The trial commenced, and the accusation and defence having been read, Burke rose. His lengthy, elaborately framed, but touching and brilliant oration, included almost every topic that could excite interest, or call forth sympathy. As he drew to a close, the feelings of his audience bore ample testimony to the power of the great orator. Tears, sobs, and screams, resounded from the ladies' gallery; some were carried out fainting, while the silence and subdued emotion of the male portion of the auditory testified, though in a less visible manner, to the effect produced upon their minds. Pausing for a moment, Burke delivered, in loud and energetic accents, his magnificent peroration, “ Therefore hath it with all confidence, been ordered by the Commons of Great Britain, that I impeach Warren Hastings of high crimes and misdemeanours. I impeach him in the name of the Commons' House of Parliament, whose trust he has betrayed. I impeach him in the name of the English nation, whose ancient honour he has sullied. I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose rights he has trodden under foot, and whose country he has turned into a desert. Lastly, in the name of human nature itself, in the name of both sexes, in the name of every age, in the name of every rank, I impeach the common enemy and oppressor of all !”
After a brief interval had elapsed, a discussion took place, with regard to the arrangements that should be made for the production of the varied and multifarious evidence. It was determined that the prosecutors should finish their case before the defendant brought forward his defence. Mr. Fox then took up the Benares charge, being followed by Sheridan, to whose care the cause of the Princesses of Oude had been specially committed.
For seven years this celebrated trial “ dragged its slow length along.” The excitement created by the opening orations subsided, under the influence of the numerous dull and uninteresting legal technicalities and matters of financial detail which succeeded to the eloquence of Sheridan, and the impassioned energy of Burke. The prejudices called forth against the accused were softened down by time, and more accurate information ; his opponents had been severed from each other by political feuds, while all felt that to pronounce a man guilty after his endurance of the anxieties and expense of so long a trial, would prove an ungenerous and ungracious task. Hastings was accordingly
ACQUITTAL OF HASTINGS.
called again to the bar of the House, to receive an official intimation that the House of Peers acquitted him of the misdemeanours laid to his charge.
The rest of his career may be related in a few words. Impoverished by the expenses of his long trial, and the loss of a large portion of his private property, Hastings was obliged to throw himself upon the liberality of the Court of Directors, who granted him a pension of 4,0001. a year. At the close of his life he received from the University of Oxford the degree of a Doctor of Laws, and was presented by the Prince Regent to the Emperor Alexander, and the King of Prussia, during their visit to England, after the fall of Buonaparte. A more touching compliment had been offered to him in 1813, when the affairs of the East India Company were discussed in the House of Commons. Hastings made his appearance on that occasion as a witness, and received from all present, except those who had put themselves prominently forward as his accusers, the most marked respect and attention. When he left, the majority rose simultaneously, and removed their hats, in token of respect.
The last years of Hastings' eventful life were passed at Daylesford, the scene of his boyish aspirations, and the spot to which he often turned a longing eye during the cares and storms of his chequered political existence. He retained to the last, the faculty of calling forth and retaining the warm personal attachment of his numerous friends, that had marked every period of his past career. In the cultivation of literary pursuits, and in those occupations which usually employ the leisure of an English country gentleman, the great governor-general enjoyed a tranquillity that he had rarely, perhaps, experienced in the high station from which he was now removed. He died in August, 1818, having attained to his eightysixth
year, and was buried behind the chancel of Daylesford Church, where, during many generations, had been laid the mortal remains of the heads of his ancient and
time-honoured race. Nor is the country which owed to his government so many benefits left entirely destitute of a memorial of that great man, whom posterity will ever reckon among
the wisest and most able of her chiefs. In the Council Chamber of Calcutta has been suspended the portrait of Warren Hastings, with the motto, æqua in arduis,”* inscribed beneath those calm, placid features, whose characteristics bear such striking testimony to the passionless and unruffled serenity of his thoughts and feelings, even under circumstances the most trying, and aggravations the most provocative of irritability and impatience.
* An even mind in difficult circumstances.