LIFE OF THE RT. HON.
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN
BY THOMAS MOORE
IN TWO VOLUMES
CONTENTS TO VOL. II.
Impeachment of Mr. Hastings.
Death of Mr. Sheridan's Father.—Verses by Mrs. Sheridan on the Death of her Sister, Mrs. Tickell.
Illness of the King.—Regency.—Private Life of Mr. Sheridan.
French Revolution.—Mr. Burke.—His Breach with Mr. Sheridan.—Dissolution of Parliament.—Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox.—Russian Armament.—Royal Scotch Boroughs.
Death of Mrs. Sheridan.
Drury-Lane Theatre.—Society of "The Friends of the People."—Madame de Genlis.—War with France.—Whig Seceders.—Speeches in Parliament—Death of Tickell.
Speech in Answer to Lord Mornington.—Coalition of the Whig Seceders with Mr. Pitt.—Mr. Canning.—Evidence on the Trial of Horne Tooke.—The "Glorious First of June."—Marriage of Mr. Sheridan.—Pamphlet of Mr. Reeves—Debts of the Prince of Wales.—Shakspeare Manuscripts.—Trial of Stone.—Mutiny at the Nore.—Secession of Mr. Fox from Parliament.
Play of "The Stranger."—Speeches in Parliament.—Pizarro.—Ministry of Mr. Addington.—French Institute.—Negotiations with Mr. Kemble.
State of Parties.—Offer of a Place to Mr. T. Sheridan.—Receivership of the Duchy of Cornwall bestowed upon Mr. Sheridan.—Return of Mr. Pitt to Power.—Catholic Question.—Administration of Lord Grenville and Mr. Fox.—Death of Mr. Fox.—Representation of Westminster.—Dismission of the Ministry.—Theatrical Negotiation.—Spanish Question.—Letter to the Prince.
Destruction of the Theatre of Drury-Lane by Fire.—Mr. Whitbread—Plan for a Third Theatre.—Illness of the King.—Regency.—Lord Grey and Lord Grenville.—Conduct of Mr. Sheridan.—His Vindication of himself.
Affairs of the new Theatre.—Mr. Whitbread.—Negotiations with Lord Grey and Lord Grenville.—Conduct of Mr. Sheridan relative to the Household.—His Last Words in Parliament.—Failure at Stafford. —Correspondence with Mr. Whitbread.—Lord Byron.—Distresses of Sheridan.—Illness.—Death and Funeral.—General Remarks.
MEMOIRS OF THE LIFE OF THE RIGHT HONORABLE RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
IMPEACHMENT OF MR. HASTINGS.
The motion of Mr. Burke on the 10th of May, 1787, "That Warren Hastings, Esq., be impeached," having been carried without a division, Mr. Sheridan was appointed one of the Managers, "to make good the Articles" of the Impeachment, and, on the 3d of June in the following year, brought forward the same Charge in Westminster Hall which he had already enforced with such wonderful talent in the House of Commons.
To be called upon for a second great effort of eloquence, on a subject of which all the facts and the bearings remained the same, was, it must be acknowledged, no ordinary trial to even the most fertile genius; and Mr. Fox, it is said, hopeless of any second flight ever rising to the grand elevation of the first, advised that the former Speech should be, with very little change, repeated. But such a plan, however welcome it might be to the indolence of his friend, would have looked too like an acknowledgment of exhaustion on the subject to be submitted to by one so justly confident in the resources both of his reason and fancy. Accordingly, he had the glory of again opening, in the very same field, a new and abundant spring of eloquence, which, during four days, diffused its enchantment among an assembly of the most illustrious persons of the land, and of which Mr. Burke pronounced at its conclusion, that "of all the various species of oratory, of every kind of eloquence that had been heard, either in ancient or modern times; whatever the acuteness of the bar, the dignity of the senate, or the morality of the pulpit could furnish, had not been equal to what that House had that day heard in Westminster Hall. No holy religionist, no man of any description as a literary character, could have come up, in the one instance, to the pure sentiments of morality, or in the other, to the variety of knowledge, force of imagination, propriety and vivacity of allusion, beauty and elegance of diction, and strength of expression, to which they had that day listened. From poetry up to eloquence there was not a species of composition of which a complete and perfect specimen might not have been culled, from one part or the other of the speech to which he alluded, and which, he was persuaded, had left too strong an impression on the minds of that House to be easily obliterated."
As some atonement to the world for the loss of the Speech in the House of Commons, this second master-piece of eloquence on the same subject has been preserved to us in a Report, from the short-hand notes of Mr. Gurney, which was for some time in the possession of the late Duke of Norfolk, but was afterwards restored to Mr. Sheridan, and is now in my hands.
In order to enable the reader fully to understand the extracts from this Report which I am about to give, it will be necessary to detail briefly the history of the transaction, on which the charge brought forward in the Speech was founded.
Among the native Princes who, on the transfer of the sceptre of Tamerlane to the East India Company, became tributaries or rather slaves to that Honorable body, none seems to have been treated with more capricious cruelty than Cheyte Sing, the Rajah of Benares. In defiance of a solemn treaty, entered into between him and the government of Mr. Hastings, by which it was stipulated that, besides his fixed tribute, no further demands, of any kind, should be made upon him, new exactions were every year enforced;—while the humble remonstrances of the Rajah against such gross injustice were not only treated with slight, but punished by arbitrary and enormous fines. Even the proffer of bribe succeeded only in being accepted [Footnote: This was the transaction that formed one of the principal grounds of the Seventh Charge brought forward in the House of Commons by Mr. Sheridan. The suspicious circumstances attending this present are thus summed up by Mr. Mill: "At first, perfect concealment of the transaction—such measures, however, taken as may, if afterwards necessary, appear to imply a design of future disclosure;—when concealment becomes difficult and hazardous, then disclosure made."—History of British India.]—the exactions which it was intended to avert being continued as rigorously as before. At length, in the year 1781, Mr. Hastings, who invariably, among the objects of his government, placed the interests of Leadenhall Street first on the list, and those of justice and humanity longo intervallo after,—finding the treasury of the Company in a very exhausted state, resolved to sacrifice this unlucky Rajah to their replenishment; and having as a preliminary step, imposed upon him a mulct of L500,000, set out immediately for his capital, Benares, to compel the payment of it. Here, after rejecting with insult the suppliant advances of the Prince, he put him under arrest, and imprisoned him in his own palace. This violation of the rights and the roof of their sovereign drove the people of the whole province into a sudden burst of rebellion, of which Mr. Hastings himself was near being the victim. The usual triumph, however, of might over right ensued; the Rajah's castle was plundered of all its treasures, and his mother, who had taken refuge in the fort, and only surrendered it on the express stipulation that she and the other princesses should pass out safe from the dishonor of search, was, in violation of this condition, and at the base suggestion of Mr. Hastings himself, [Footnote: In his letter to the Commanding Officer at Bidgegur. The following are the terms in which he conveys the hint: "I apprehend that she will contrive to defraud the captors of a considerable part of the booty, by being suffered to retire without examination. But this is your consideration, and not mine. I should be very sorry that your officers and soldiers lost any part of the reward to which they are so well entitled; but I cannot make any objection, as you must be the best judge of the expediency of the promised indulgence to the Rannee."] rudely examined and despoiled of all her effects. The Governor-General, however, in this one instance, incurred the full odium of iniquity without reaping any of its reward. The treasures found in the castle of the Rajah were inconsiderable, and the soldiers, who had shown themselves so docile in receiving the lessons of plunder, were found inflexibly obstinate in refusing to admit their instructor to a share. Disappointed, therefore, in the primary object of his expedition, the Governor-General looked round for some richer harvest of rapine, and the Begums of Oude presented themselves as the most convenient victims. These Princesses, the mother and grandmother of the reigning Nabob of Oude, had been left by the late sovereign in possession of certain government-estates, or jaghires, as well as of all the treasure that was in his hands at the time of his death, and which the orientalized imaginations of the English exaggerated to an enormous sum. The present Nabob had evidently looked with an eye of cupidity on this wealth, and had been guilty of some acts of extortion towards his female relatives, in consequence of which the English government had interfered between them,—and had even guaranteed to the mother of the Nabob the safe possession of her property, without any further encroachment whatever. Guarantees and treaties, however, were but cobwebs in the way of Mr. Hastings; and on his failure at Benares, he lost no time in concluding an agreement with the Nabob, by which (in consideration of certain measures of relief to his dominions) this Prince was bound to plunder his mother and grandmother of all their property, and place it at the disposal of the Governor-General. In order to give a color of justice to this proceeding, it was [Footnote: "It was the practice of Mr. Hastings (says Burke, in his fine speech on Mr. Pitt's India Bill, March 22, 1786) to examine the country, and wherever he found money to affix guilt. A more dreadful fault could not be alleged against a native than that he was rich."] pretended that these Princesses had taken advantage of the late insurrection at Benares, to excite a similar spirit of revolt in Oude against the reigning Nabob and the English government. As Law is but too often, in such cases, the ready accomplice of Tyranny, the services of the Chief Justice, Sir Elijah Impey, were called in to sustain the accusations; and the wretched mockery was exhibited of a Judge travelling about in search of evidence, [Footnote: This journey of the Chief Justice in search of evidence is thus happily described by Sheridan in the Speech:—"When, on the 28th of November, he was busied at Lucknow on that honorable business, and when, three days after, he was found at Chunar, at the distance of 200 miles, still searching for affidavits, and, like Hamlet's ghost, exclaiming, 'Swear,' his progress on that occasion was so whimsically rapid, compared with the gravity of his employ, that an observer would be tempted to quote again from the same scene, 'Ha! Old Truepenny, canst thou mole so fast i' the ground?' Here, however, the comparison ceased; for, when Sir Elijah made his visit to Lucknow 'to whet the almost blunted purpose' of the Nabob, his language was wholly different from that of the poet—for it would have been totally against his purpose to have said,
Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive Against thy mother aught."] for the express purpose of proving a charge, upon which judgment had been pronounced and punishment decreed already.
The Nabob himself, though sufficiently ready to make the wealth of those venerable ladies occasionally minister to his wants, yet shrunk back, with natural reluctance, from the summary task now imposed upon him; and it was not till after repeated and peremptory remonstrances from Mr. Hastings, that he could be induced to put himself at the head of a body of English troops, and take possession, by unresisted force, of the town and palace of these Princesses. As the treasure, however, was still secure in the apartments of the women,—that circle, within which even the spirit of English rapine did not venture,—an expedient was adopted to get over this inconvenient delicacy. Two aged eunuchs of high rank and distinction, the confidential agents of the Begums, were thrown into prison, and subjected to a course of starvation and torture, by which it was hoped that the feelings of their mistresses might be worked upon, and a more speedy surrender of their treasure wrung from them. The plan succeeded:—upwards of 500,000l. was procured to recruit the finances of the Company; and thus, according to the usual course of British power in India, rapacity but levied its contributions in one quarter, to enable war to pursue its desolating career in another.
To crown all, one of the chief articles of the treaty, by which the Nabob was reluctantly induced to concur in these atrocious measures, was, as soon as the object had been gained, infringed by Mr. Hastings, who, in a letter to his colleagues in the government, honestly confesses that the concession of that article was only a fraudulent artifice of diplomacy, and never intended to be carried into effect.
Such is an outline of the case, which, with all its aggravating details, Mr. Sheridan had to state in these two memorable Speeches; and it was certainly most fortunate for the display of his peculiar powers, that this should be the Charge confided to his management. For, not only was it the strongest, and susceptible of the highest charge of coloring, but it had also the advantage of grouping together all the principal delinquents of the trial, and affording a gradation of hue, from the showy and prominent enormities of the Governor-General and Sir Elijah Impey in the front of the picture, to the subordinate and half-tint iniquity of the Middletons and Bristows in the back-ground.
Mr. Burke, it appears, had at first reserved this grand part in the drama of the Impeachment for himself; but, finding that Sheridan had also fixed his mind upon it, he, without hesitation, resigned it into his hands; thus proving the sincerity of his zeal in the cause, [Footnote: Of the lengths to which this zeal could sometimes carry his fancy and language, rather, perhaps, than his actual feelings, the following anecdote is a remarkable proof. On one of the days of the trial, Lord ——, who was then a boy, having been introduced by a relative into the Manager's box, Burke said to him, "I am glad to see you here—I shall be still gladder to see you there—(pointing to the Peers' seats) I hope you will be in at the death—I should like to blood you."] by sacrificing even the vanity of talent to its success.
The following letters from him, relative to the Impeachment, will be read with interest. The first is addressed to Mrs. Sheridan, and was written, I think, early in the proceedings; the second is to Sheridan himself:—
"I am sure you will have the goodness to excuse the liberty I take with you, when you consider the interest which I have and which the Public have (the said Public being, at least, half an inch a taller person than I am) in the use of Mr. Sheridan's abilities. I know that his mind is seldom unemployed; but then, like all such great and vigorous minds, it takes an eagle flight by itself, and we can hardly bring it to rustle along the ground, with us birds of meaner wing, in coveys. I only beg that you will prevail on Mr. Sheridan to be with us this day, at half after three, in the Committee. Mr. Wombell, the Paymaster of Oude, is to be examined there to-day. Oude is Mr. Sheridan's particular province; and I do most seriously ask that he would favor us with his assistance. What will come of the examination I know not; but, without him, I do not expect a great deal from it; with him, I fancy we may get out something material. Once more let me entreat your interest with Mr. Sheridan and your forgiveness for being troublesome to you, and do me the justice to believe me, with the most sincere respect,
"Madam, your most obedient
"and faithful humble Servant,
"Thursday, 9 o'clock.
"MY DEAR SIR,
"You have only to wish to be excused to succeed in your wishes; for, indeed, he must be a great enemy to himself who can consent, on account of a momentary ill-humor, to keep himself at a distance from you.
"Well, all will turn out right,—and half of you, or a quarter, is worth five other men. I think that this cause, which was originally yours, will be recognized by you, and that you will again possess yourself of it. The owner's mark is on it, and all our docking and cropping cannot hinder its being known and cherished by its original master. My most humble respects to Mrs. Sheridan. I am happy to find that she takes in good part the liberty I presumed to take with her. Grey has done much and will do every thing. It is a pity that he is not always toned to the full extent of his talents.
"Most truly yours,
"I feel a little sickish at the approaching day. I have read much—too much, perhaps,—and, in truth, am but poorly prepared. Many things, too, have broken in upon me." [Footnote: For this letter, as well as some other valuable communications, I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. Burgess,—the Solicitor and friend of Sheridan during the last twenty years of his life.]
Though a Report, however accurate, must always do injustice to that effective kind of oratory which is intended rather to be heard than read, and, though frequently, the passages that most roused and interested the hearer, are those that seem afterwards the tritest and least animated to the reader, [Footnote: The converse assertion is almost equally true. Mr. Fox used to ask of a printed speech, "Does it read well?" and, if answered in the affirmative, said, "Then it was a bad speech."] yet, with all this disadvantage, the celebrated oration in question so well sustains its reputation in the perusal, that it would be injustice, having an authentic Report in my possession, not to produce some specimens of its style and spirit.
In the course of his exordium, after dwelling upon the great importance of the inquiry in which they were engaged, and disclaiming for himself and his brother-managers any feeling of personal malice against the defendant, or any motive but that of retrieving the honor of the British name in India, and bringing down punishment upon those whose inhumanity and injustice had disgraced it,—he thus proceeds to conciliate the Court by a warm tribute to the purity of English justice:—
"However, when I have said this, I trust Your Lordships will not believe that, because something is necessary to retrieve the British character, we call for an example to be made, without due and solid proof of the guilt of the person whom we pursue:—no, my Lords, we know well that it is the glory of this Constitution, that not the general fame or character of any man—not the weight or power of any prosecutor—no plea of moral or political expediencey—not even the secret consciousness of guilt, which may live in the bosom of the Judge, can justify any British Court in passing any sentence, to touch a hair of the head, or an atom in any respect, of the property, of the fame, of the liberty of the poorest or meanest subject that breathes the air of this just and free land. We know, my Lords, that there can be no legal guilt without legal proof, and that the rule which defines the evidence is as much the law of the land as that which creates the crime. It is upon that ground we mean to stand."
Among those ready equivocations and disavowals, to which Mr. Hastings had recourse upon every emergency, and in which practice seems to have rendered him as shameless as expert, the step which he took with regard to his own defence during the trial was not the least remarkable for promptness and audacity. He had, at the commencement of the prosecution, delivered at the bar of the House of Commons, as his own, a written refutation of the charges then pending against him in that House, declaring at the same time, that "if truth could tend to convict him, he was content to be, himself, the channel to convey it." Afterwards, however, on finding that he had committed himself rather imprudently in this defence, he came forward to disclaim it at the bar of the House of Lords, and brought his friend Major Scott to prove that it had been drawn up by Messrs. Shore, Middleton, &c. &c.—that he himself had not even seen it, and therefore ought not to be held accountable for its contents. In adverting to this extraordinary evasion, Mr. Sheridan thus shrewdly and playfully exposes all the persons concerned in it:—
"Major Scott comes to your bar—describes the shortness of time—represents Mr. Hastings as it were contracting for a character—putting his memory into commission—making departments for his conscience. A number of friends meet together, and he, knowing (no doubt) that the accusation of the Commons had been drawn up by a Committee, thought it necessary, as a point of punctilio, to answer it by a Committee also. One furnishes the raw material of fact, the second spins the argument, and the third twines up the conclusion; while Mr. Hastings, with a master's eye, is cheering and looking over this loom. He says to one, 'You have got my good faith in your hands—you, my veracity to manage. Mr. Shore, I hope you will make me a good financier—Mr. Middleton, you have my humanity in commission.'—When it is done, he brings it to the House of Commons, and says, 'I was equal to the task. I knew the difficulties, but I scorn them: here is the truth, and if the truth will convict me, I am content myself to be the channel of it.' His friends hold up their heads, and say, 'What noble magnanimity! This must be the effect of conscious and real innocence.' Well, it is so received, it is so argued upon,—but it fails of its effect.
"Then says Mr. Hastings,—'That my defence! no, mere journeyman-work,—good enough for the Commons, but not fit for Your Lordships' consideration.' He then calls upon his Counsel to save him:—'I fear none of my accusers' witnesses—I know some of them well—I know the weakness of their memory, and the strength of their attachment—I fear no testimony but my own—save me from the peril of my own panegyric—preserve me from that, and I shall be safe.' Then is this plea brought to Your Lordships' bar, and Major Scott gravely asserts,—that Mr. Hastings did, at the bar of the House of Commons, vouch for facts of which he was ignorant, and for arguments which he had never read.
"After such an attempt, we certainly are left in doubt to decide, to which set of his friends Mr. Hastings is least obliged, those who assisted him in making his defence, or those who advised him to deny it."
He thus describes the feelings of the people of the East with respect to the unapproachable sanctity of their Zenanas:—
"It is too much, I am afraid, the case, that persons, used to European manners, do not take up these sort of considerations at first with the seriousness that is necessary. For Your Lordships cannot even learn the right nature of those people's feelings and prejudices from any history of other Mahometan countries,—not even from that of the Turks, for they are a mean and degraded race in comparison with many of these great families, who, inheriting from their Persian ancestors, preserve a purer style of prejudice and a loftier superstition. Women there are not as in Turkey—they neither go to the mosque nor to the bath—it is not the thin veil alone that hides them—but in the inmost recesses of their Zenana they are kept from public view by those reverenced and protected walls, which, as Mr. Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey admit, are held sacred even by the ruffian hand of war or by the more uncourteous hand of the law. But, in this situation, they are not confined from a mean and selfish policy of man—not from a coarse and sensual jealousy—enshrined rather than immured, their habitation and retreat is a sanctuary, not a prison—their jealousy is their own—a jealousy of their own honor, that leads them to regard liberty as a degradation, and the gaze of even admiring eyes as inexpiable pollution to the purity of their fame and the sanctity of their honor.
"Such being the general opinion (or prejudices, let them be called) of this country, Your Lordships will find, that whatever treasures were given or lodged in a Zenana of this description must, upon the evidence of the thing itself, be placed beyond the reach of resumption. To dispute with the Counsel about the original right to those treasures—to talk of a title to them by the Mahometan law!—their title to them is the title of a Saint to the relics upon an altar, placed there by Piety, [Footnote: This metaphor was rather roughly handled afterwards (1794) by Mr. Law, one of the adverse Counsel, who asked, how could the Begum be considered as "a Saint," or how were the camels, which formed part of the treasure, to be "placed upon the altar?" Sheridan, in reply, said, "It was the first time in his life he had ever heard of special pleading on a metaphor, or a bill of indictment against a trope. But such was the turn of the learned Counsel's mind, that, when he attempted to be humorous, no jest could be found, and, when serious, no fact was visible."] guarded by holy Superstition, and to be snatched from thence only by Sacrilege."
In showing that the Nabob was driven to this robbery of his relatives by other considerations than those of the pretended rebellion, which was afterwards conjured up by Mr. Hastings to justify it, he says,—
"The fact is, that through all his defences—through all his various false suggestions—through all these various rebellions and disaffections, Mr. Hastings never once lets go this plea—of extinguishable right in the Nabob. He constantly represents the seizing the treasures as a resumption of a right which he could not part with;—as if there were literally something in the Koran, that made it criminal in a true Mussulman to keep his engagements with his relations, and impious in a son to abstain from plundering his mother. I do gravely assure your Lordships that there is no such doctrine in the Koran, and no such principle makes a part in the civil or municipal jurisprudence of that country. Even after these Princesses had been endeavoring to dethrone the Nabob and to extirpate the English, the only plea the Nabob ever makes, is his right under the Mahometan law; and the truth is, he appears never to have heard any other reason, and I pledge myself to make it appear to Your Lordships, however extraordinary it may be, that not only had the Nabob never heard of the rebellion till the moment of seizing the palace, but, still further, that he never heard of it at all—that this extraordinary rebellion, which was as notorious as the rebellion of 1745 in London, was carefully concealed from those two parties—the Begums who plotted it, and the Nabob who was to be the victim of it.
"The existence of this rebellion was not the secret, but the notoriety of it was the secret; it was a rebellion which had for its object the destruction of no human creature but those who planned it;—it was a rebellion which, according to Mr. Middleton's expression, no man, either horse or foot, ever marched to quell. The Chief Justice was the only man who took the field against it,—the force against which it was raised, instantly withdrew to give it elbow-room,—and, even then, it was a rebellion which perversely showed itself in acts of hospitality to the Nabob whom it was to dethrone, and to the English whom it was to extirpate;—it was a rebellion plotted by two feeble old women, headed by two eunuchs, and suppressed by an affidavit."
The acceptance, or rather exaction, of the private present of L100,000 is thus animadverted upon:
"My Lords, such was the distressed situation of the Nabob about a twelvemonth before Mr. Hastings met him at Chunar. It was a twelvemonth, I say, after this miserable scene—a mighty period in the progress of British rapacity—it was (if the Counsel will) after some natural calamities had aided the superior vigor of British violence and rapacity—it was after the country had felt other calamities besides the English—it was after the angry dispensations of Providence had, with a progressive severity of chastisement, visited the land with a famine one year, and with a Col. Hannay the next—it was after he, this Hannay, had returned to retrace the steps of his former ravages—it was after he and his voracious crew had come to plunder ruins which himself had made, and to glean from desolation the little that famine had spared, or rapine overlooked;—then it was that this miserable bankrupt prince marching through his country, besieged by the clamors of his starving subjects, who cried to him for protection through their cages—meeting the curses of some of his subjects, and the prayers of others—with famine at his heels, and reproach following him,—then it was that this Prince is represented as exercising this act of prodigal bounty to the very man whom he here reproaches—to the very man whose policy had extinguished his power, and whose creatures had desolated his country. To talk of a free-will gift! it is audacious and ridiculous to name the supposition. It was not a free-will gift. What was it then? was it a bribe? or was it extortion? I shall prove it was both—it was an act of gross bribery and of rank extortion."
Again he thus adverts to this present:—
"The first thing he does is, to leave Calcutta, in order to go to the relief of the distressed Nabob. The second thing, is to take 100,000l from that distressed Nabob on account of the distressed Company. And the third thing is to ask of the distressed Company this very same sum on account of the distresses of Mr. Hastings. There never were three distresses that seemed so little reconcilable with one another."
Anticipating the plea of state-necessity, which might possibly be set up in defence of the measures of the Governor-General, he breaks out into the following rhetorical passage:—
"State necessity! no, my Lords; that imperial tyrant, State Necessity, is yet a generous despot,—bold is his demeanor, rapid his decisions, and terrible his grasp. But what he does, my Lords, he dares avow, and avowing, scorns any other justification, than the great motives that placed the iron sceptre in his hand. But a quibbling, pilfering, prevaricating State-Necessity, that tries to skulk behind the skirts of Justice;—a State-Necessity that tries to steal a pitiful justification from whispered accusations and fabricated rumors. No, my Lords, that is no State Necessity;—tear off the mask, and you see coarse, vulgar avarice,—you see speculation, lurking under the gaudy disguise, and adding the guilt of libelling the public honor to its own private fraud.
"My Lords, I say this, because I am sure the Managers would make every allowance that state-necessity could claim upon any great emergency. If any great man in bearing the arms of this country;—if any Admiral, bearing the vengeance and the glory of Britain to distant coasts, should be compelled to some rash acts of violence, in order, perhaps, to give food to those who are shedding their blood for Britain;—if any great General, defending some fortress, barren itself, perhaps, but a pledge of the pride, and, with the pride, of the power of Britain; if such a man were to * * * while he himself was * * at the top, like an eagle besieged in its imperial nest; [Footnote: The Reporter, at many of these passages, seems to have thrown aside his pen in despair.]—would the Commons of England come to accuse or to arraign such acts of state-necessity? No."
In describing that swarm of English pensioners and placemen, who were still, in violation of the late purchased treaty, left to prey on the finances of the Nabob, he says,—
"Here we find they were left, as heavy a weight upon the Nabob as ever,—left there with as keen an appetite, though not so clamorous. They were reclining on the roots and shades of that spacious tree, which their predecessors had stripped branch and bough—watching with eager eyes the first budding of a future prosperity, and of the opening harvest which they considered as the prey of their perseverance and rapacity."
We have in the close of the following passage, a specimen of that lofty style, in which, as if under the influence of Eastern associations, almost all the Managers of this Trial occasionally indulged: [Footnote: Much of this, however, is to be set down to the gratuitous bombast of the Reporter. Mr. Fox, for instance, is made to say, "Yes, my Lords, happy is it for the world, that the penetrating gaze of Providence searches after man, and in the dark den where he has stifled the remonstrances of conscience darts his compulsatory ray, that, bursting the secrecy of guilt, drives the criminal frantic to confession and expiation." History of the Trial.—Even one of the Counsel, Mr. Dallas, is represented as having caught this Oriental contagion, to such a degree as to express himself in the following manner:—"We are now, however, (said the Counsel,) advancing from the star-light of Circumstance to the day-light of Discovery: the sun of Certainty is melting the darkness, and—we are arrived at facts admitted by both parties!"]—
"I do not mean to say that Mr. Middleton had direct instructions from Mr. Hastings,—that he told him to go and give that fallacious assurance to the Nabob,—that he had that order under his hand. No, but in looking attentively over Mr. Middleton's correspondence, you will find him say, upon a more important occasion, 'I don't expect your public authority for this;—it is enough if you but hint your pleasure.' He knew him well; he could interpret every nod and motion of that head; he understood the glances of that eye which sealed the perdition of nations, and at whose throne Princes waited, in pale expectation, for their fortune or their doom."
The following is one of those labored passages, of which the orator himself was perhaps most proud, but in which the effort to be eloquent is too visible, and the effect, accordingly, falls short of the pretension:—
"You see how Truth—empowered by that will which gives a giant's nerve to an infant's arm—has burst the monstrous mass of fraud that has endeavored to suppress it.—It calls now to Your Lordships, in the weak but clear tone of that Cherub, Innocence, whose voice is more persuasive than eloquence, more convincing than argument, whose look is supplication, whose tone is conviction,—it calls upon you for redress, it calls upon you for vengeance upon the oppressor, and points its heaven-directed hand to the detested, but unrepenting author of its wrongs!"
His description of the desolation brought upon some provinces of Oude by the misgovernment of Colonel Hannay, and of the insurrection at Goruckpore against that officer in consequence, is, perhaps, the most masterly portion of the whole speech:—
"If we could suppose a person to have come suddenly into the country unacquainted with any circumstances that had passed since the days of Sujah ul Dowlah, 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, civil rage, or frenzy of the inhabitants, had induced them to act in hostility to the words of God, and the beauteous works of man? He would ask what religious zeal or frenzy had added to the mad despair and horrors of war? The ruin is unlike any thing that appears recorded in any age; it looks like neither the barbarities of men, nor the judgments of vindictive heaven. There is a waste of desolation, as if caused by fell destroyers, never meaning to return and making 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 hearts and souls 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 Sujah ul Dowlah,—tyrant, 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 left by the embraces of British allies—more dreadful than the blows of the bitterest enemy. They would tell him that these allies had converted a prince into a slave, to make him the principal in the extortion upon his subjects;—that their rapacity increased in proportion as the means of supplying their avarice diminished; that they made the sovereign pay as if they had a right to an increased price, because the labor of extortion and plunder increased. To such causes, they would tell him, these calamities were owing.
"Need I refer Your Lordships to the strong testimony of Major Naylor when he rescued Colonel Hannay from their hands—where you see that this people, born to submission and bent to most abject subjection—that even 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 who suffered by his devastation and extortion. He says that, when he crossed the river, he found the poor wretches quivering upon the parched banks of the polluted river, encouraging their blood to flow, and consoling themselves with the thought, that it would not sink into the earth, but rise to the common God of humanity, and cry aloud for vengeance on their destroyers!—This warm description—which is no declamation of mine, but founded in actual fact, and in fair, clear proof before Your Lordships—speaks powerfully what the cause of these oppressions were, and the perfect justness of those feelings that were occasioned by them. And yet, my Lords, I am asked to prove why these people arose in such concert:—'there must have been machinations, forsooth, and the Begums' machinations, to produce all this!'—Why did they rise!—Because they were people in human shape; 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 rude man ever had any social feeling, or where corrupt refinement had subdued all feelings,—never was this one unextinguishable truth destroyed from the heart of man, placed, as it is, in the core and centre of it by his 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 becomes justice, if not the bounden duty of the injured! These, my Lords, were the causes why these people rose."
Another passage in the second day's speech is remarkable, as exhibiting a sort of tourney of intellect between Sheridan and Burke, and in that field of abstract speculation, which was the favorite arena of the latter. Mr. Burke had, in opening the prosecution, remarked, that prudence is a quality incompatible with vice, and can never be effectively enlisted in its cause:—"I never (said he) knew a man who was bad, fit for service that was good. There is always some disqualifying ingredient, mixing and spoiling the compound. The man seems paralytic on that side, his muscles there have lost their very tone and character—they cannot move. In short, the accomplishment of any thing good is a physical impossibility for such a man. There is decrepitude as well as distortion: he could not, if he would, is not more certain than that he would not, if he could." To this sentiment the allusions in the following passage refer:—
"I am perfectly convinced that there is one idea, which must arise in Your Lordships' minds as a subject of wonder,—how a person of Mr. Hastings' reputed abilities can furnish such matter of accusation against himself. For, it must be admitted that never was there a person who seems to go so rashly to work, with such an arrogant appearance of contempt for all conclusions, that may be deduced from what he advances upon the subject. When he seems most earnest and laborious to defend himself, it appears as if he had but one idea uppermost in his mind—a determination not to care what he says, provided he keeps clear of fact. He knows that truth must convict him, and concludes, a converso, that falsehood will acquit him; forgetting that there must be some connection, some system, some co-operation, or, otherwise, his host of falsities fall without an enemy, self-discomfited and destroyed. But of this he never seems to have had the slightest apprehension. He falls to work, an artificer of fraud, against all the rules of architecture;—he lays his ornamental work first, and his massy foundation at the top of it; and thus his whole building tumbles upon his head. Other people look well to their ground, choose their position, and watch whether they are likely to be surprised there; but he, as if in the ostentation of his heart, builds upon a precipice, and encamps upon a mine, from choice. He seems to have no one actuating principle, but a steady, persevering resolution not to speak the truth or to tell the fact.
"It is impossible almost to treat conduct of this kind with perfect seriousness; yet I am aware that it ought to be more seriously accounted for—because I am sure it has been a sort of paradox, which must have struck Your Lordships, how any person having so many motives to conceal—having so many reasons to dread detection—should yet go to work so clumsily upon the subject. It is possible, indeed, that it may raise this doubt—whether such a person is of sound mind enough to be a proper object of punishment; or at least it may give a kind of confused notion, that the guilt cannot be of so deep and black a grain, over which such a thin veil was thrown, and so little trouble taken to avoid detection. I am aware that, to account for this seeming paradox, historians, poets, and even philosophers—at least of ancient times—have adopted the superstitious solution of the vulgar, and said that the gods deprive men of reason whom they devote to destruction or to punishment. But to unassuming or unprejudiced reason, there is no need to resort to any supposed supernatural interference; for the solution will be found in the eternal rules that formed the mind of man, and gave a quality and nature to every passion that inhabits in it.
"An Honorable friend of mine, who is now, I believe, near me,—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 forgotten;—that Honorable 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 such a liberty, I should express a doubt, whether experience, observation, or history, will warrant us in fully assenting to this observation. It is a noble and a lovely sentiment, my Lords, worthy the mind of him who uttered it, worthy that proud disdain, that generous scorn of the means and instruments of vice, which virtue and genius must ever feel. But I should doubt whether we can read the history of a Philip of Macedon, a Caesar, or a Cromwell, 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. If, however, 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 this distraction of the brain.
"One master-passion, domineering in the breast, may win the faculties of the understanding to advance its purpose, and to direct to that object every thing 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 forbad the entrance of evil passions into man's mind, has, at least, forbad their union;—if they meet they defeat their object, and their conquest, or their attempt at it, is tumult. Turn to the Virtues—how different the decree! Formed to connect, to blend, to associate, and to cooperate; bearing the same course, with kindred energies and harmonious sympathy, each perfect in its own lovely sphere, each moving in its wider or more contracted orbit, with different, but concentering, powers, guided by the same influence of reason, and endeavoring at the same blessed end—the happiness of the individual, the harmony of the species, and the glory of the Creator. In the Vices, on the other hand, it is the discord that insures the defeat—each clamors to be heard in its own barbarous language; each claims the exclusive cunning of the brain; each thwarts and reproaches the other; and even while their fell rage assails with common hate the peace and virtue of the world, the civil war among their own tumultuous legions defeats the purpose of the foul conspiracy. These are the Furies of the mind, my Lords, that unsettle the understanding; these are the Furies, that destroy the virtue, Prudence,—while the distracted brain and shivered intellect proclaim the tumult that is within, and bear their testimonies, from the mouth of God himself, to the foul condition of the heart."
The part of the Speech which occupied the Third Day (and which was interrupted by the sudden indisposition of Mr. Sheridan) consists chiefly of comments upon the affidavits taken before Sir Elijah Impey,—in which the irrelevance and inconsistency of these documents is shrewdly exposed, and the dryness of detail, inseparable from such a task, enlivened by those light touches of conversational humor, and all that by-play of eloquence of which Mr. Sheridan was such a consummate master. But it was on the Fourth Day of the oration that he rose into his most ambitious flights, and produced some of those dazzling bursts of declamation, of which the traditional fame is most vividly preserved. Among the audience of that day was Gibbon, and the mention of his name in the following passage not only produced its effect at the moment, but, as connected with literary anecdote, will make the passage itself long memorable. Politics are of the day, but literature is of all time—and, though it was in the power of the orator, in his brief moment of triumph, to throw a lustre over the historian by a passing epithet, [Footnote: Gibbon himself thought it an event worthy of record in his Memoirs. "Before my departure from England (he says) I was present at the august spectacle of Mr. Hastings's Trial in Westminster Hall. It was not my province to absolve or condemn the Governor of India, but Mr. Sheridan's eloquence demanded my applause, nor could I hear without emotion the personal compliment which he paid me in the presence of the British nation. From this display of genius, which blazed four successive days," &c &c.] the name of the latter will, at the long run, pay back the honor with interest. Having reprobated the violence and perfidy of the Governor-General, in forcing the Nabob to plunder his own relatives and friends, he adds:—
"I do say, that if you search the history of the world, you will not find an act of tyranny and fraud to surpass this; if you read all past histories, peruse the Annals of Tacitus, read the luminous page of Gibbon, and all the ancient and modern writers, that have searched into the depravity of former ages to draw a lesson for the present, you will not find an act of treacherous, deliberate, cool cruelty that could exceed this."
On being asked by some honest brother Whig, at the conclusion of the Speech, how he came to compliment Gibbon with the epithet "luminous," Sheridan answered in a half whisper, "I said 'voluminous.'"
It is well known that the simile of the vulture and the lamb, which occurs in the address of Rolla to the Peruvians, had been previously employed by Mr. Sheridan, in this speech; and it showed a degree of indifference to criticism,—which criticism, it must be owned, not unfrequently deserves,—to reproduce before the public an image, so notorious both from its application and its success. But, called upon, as he was, to levy, for the use of that Drama, a hasty conscription of phrases and images, all of a certain altitude and pomp, this veteran simile, he thought, might be pressed into the service among the rest. The passage of the Speech in which it occurs is left imperfect in the Report:—
"This is the character of all the protection ever afforded to the allies of Britain under the government of Mr. Hastings. They send their troops to drain the produce of industry, to seize all the treasures, wealth, and prosperity of the country, and then they call it Protection!—it is the protection of the vulture to the lamb. * * *"
The following is his celebrated delineation of Filial Affection, to which reference is more frequently made than to any other part of the Speech;—though the gross inaccuracy of the printed Report has done its utmost to belie the reputation of the original passage, or rather has substituted a changeling to inherit its fame.
"When I see in many of these letters the infirmities of age made a subject of mockery and ridicule; when I see the feelings of a son treated by Mr. Middleton as puerile and contemptible; when I see an order given by Mr. Hastings to harden that son's heart, to choke the struggling nature in his bosom; when I see them pointing to the son's name, and to his standard while marching to oppress the mother, as to a banner that gives dignity, that gives a holy sanction and a reverence to their enterprise; when I see and hear these things done—when I hear them brought into three deliberate Defences set up against the Charges of the Commons—my Lords, I own I grow puzzled and confounded, and almost begin to doubt whether, where such a defence can be offered, it may not be tolerated.
"And yet, my Lords, how can I support the claim of filial love by argument—much less the affection of a son to a mother—where love loses its awe, and veneration is mixed with tenderness? What can I say upon such a subject, what can I do but repeat the ready truths which, with the quick impulse of the mind, must spring to the lips of every man on such a theme? Filial love! the morality of instinct, the sacrament of nature and duty—or rather let me say it is miscalled a duty, for it flows from the heart without effort, and is its delight, its indulgence, its enjoyment. It is guided, not by the slow dictates of reason; it awaits not encouragement from reflection or from thought; it asks no aid of memory; it is an innate, but active, consciousness of having been the object of a thousand tender solicitudes, a thousand waking watchful cares, of meek anxiety and patient sacrifices unremarked and unrequited by the object. It is a gratitude founded upon a conviction of obligations, not remembered, but the more binding because not remembered,—because conferred before the tender reason could acknowledge, or the infant memory record them—a gratitude and affection, which no circumstances should subdue, and which few can strengthen; a gratitude, in which even injury from the object, though it may blend regret, should never breed resentment; an affection which can be increased only by the decay of those to whom we owe it, and which is then most fervent when the tremulous voice of age, resistless in its feebleness, inquires for the natural protector of its cold decline.
"If these are the general sentiments of man, what must be their depravity, what must be their degeneracy, who can blot out and erase from the bosom the virtue that is deepest rooted in the human heart, and twined within the cords of life itself—aliens from nature, apostates from humanity! And yet, if there is a crime more fell, more foul—if there is any thing worse than a wilful persecutor of his mother—it is to see a deliberate, reasoning instigator and abettor to the deed:—this it is that shocks, disgusts, and appals the mind more than the other—to view, not a wilful parricide, but a parricide by compulsion, a miserable wretch, not actuated by the stubborn evils of his own worthless heart, not driven by the fury of his own distracted brain, but lending his sacrilegious hand, without any malice of his own, to answer the abandoned purposes of the human fiends that have subdued his will!—To condemn crimes like these, we need not talk of laws or of human rules—their foulness, their deformity does not depend upon local constitutions, upon human institutes or religious creeds:—they are crimes—and the persons who perpetrate them are monsters who violate the primitive condition, upon which the earth was given to man—they are guilty by the general verdict of human kind."
In some of the sarcasms we are reminded of the quaint contrasts of his dramatic style. Thus:—
"I must also do credit to them whenever I see any thing like lenity in Mr. Middleton or his agent:—they do seem to admit here, that it was not worth while to commit a massacre for the discount of a small note of hand, and to put two thousand women and children to death, in order to procure prompt payment."
Of the length to which the language of crimination was carried, as well by Mr. Sheridan as by Mr. Burke, one example, out of many, will suffice. It cannot fail, however, to be remarked that, while the denunciations and invectives of Burke are filled throughout with a passionate earnestness, which leaves no doubt as to the sincerity of the hate and anger professed by him,—in Sheridan, whose nature was of a much gentler cast, the vehemence is evidently more in the words than in the feeling, the tone of indignation is theatrical and assumed, and the brightness of the flash seems to be more considered than the destructiveness of the fire:—
"It is this circumstance of deliberation and consciousness of his guilt—it is this that inflames the minds of those who watch his transactions, and roots out all pity for a person who could act under such an influence. We conceive of such tyrants as Caligula and Nero, bred up to tyranny and oppression, having had no equals to control them—no moment for reflection—we conceive that, if it could have been possible to seize the guilty profligates for a moment, you might bring conviction to their hearts and repentance to their minds. But when you see a cool, reasoning, deliberate tyrant—one who was not born and bred to arrogance,—who has been nursed in a mercantile line—who has been used to look round among his fellow-subjects—to transact business with his equals—to account for conduct to his master, and, by that wise system of the Company, to detail all his transactions—who never could fly one moment from himself, but must be obliged every night to sit down and hold up a glass to his own soul—who could never be blind to his deformity, and who must have brought his conscience not only to connive at but to approve of it—this it is that distinguishes it from the worst cruelties, the worst enormities of those, who, born to tyranny, and finding no superior, no adviser, have gone to the last presumption that there were none above to control them hereafter. This is a circumstance that aggravates the whole of the guilt of the unfortunate gentleman we are now arraigning at your bar."
We now come to the Peroration, in which, skilfully and without appearance of design, it is contrived that the same sort of appeal to the purity of British justice, with which the oration opened, should, like the repetition of a solemn strain of music, recur at its close,—leaving in the minds of the Judges a composed and concentrated feeling of the great public duty they had to perform, in deciding upon the arraignment of guilt brought before them. The Court of Directors, it appeared, had ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the Begums, with a view to the restitution of their property, if it should appear that the charges against them were unfounded; but to this proceeding Mr. Hastings objected, on the ground that the Begums themselves had not called for such interference in their favor, and that it was inconsistent with the "Majesty of Justice" to condescend to volunteer her services. The pompous and Jesuitical style in which this singular doctrine [Footnote: "If nothing (says Mr. Mill) remained to stain the reputation of Mr. Hastings but the principles avowed in this singular pleading, his character, among the friends of justice, would be sufficiently determined."] is expressed, in a letter addressed by the Governor-general to Mr. Macpherson, is thus ingeniously turned to account by the orator, in winding up his masterly statement to a close:—
'And now before I come to the last magnificent paragraph, let me call the attention of those who, possibly, think themselves capable of judging of the dignity and character of justice in this country;—let me call the attention of those who, arrogantly perhaps, presume that they understand what the features, what the duties of justice are here and in India;—let them learn a lesson from this great statesman, this enlarged, this liberal philosopher:—'I hope I shall not depart from the simplicity of official language, in saying that the Majesty of Justice ought to be approached with solicitation, not descend to provoke or invite it, much less to debase itself by the suggestion of wrongs and the promise of redress, with the denunciation of punishment before trial, and even before accusation.' This is the exhortation which Mr. Hastings makes to his counsel. This is the character which he gives of British justice.
* * * * *
"But I will ask Your Lordships, do you approve this representation? Do you feel that this is the true image of Justice? Is this the character of British justice? Are these her features? Is this her countenance? Is this her gait or her mien? No, I think even now I hear you calling upon me to turn from this vile libel, this base caricature, this Indian pagod, formed by the hand of guilty and knavish tyranny, to dupe the heart of ignorance,—to turn from this deformed idol to the true Majesty of Justice here. Here, indeed, I see a different form, enthroned by the sovereign hand of Freedom,—awful without severity—commanding without pride—vigilant and active without restlessness or suspicion—searching and inquisitive without meanness or debasement—not arrogantly scorning to stoop to the voice of afflicted innocence, and in its loveliest attitude when bending to uplift the suppliant at its feet.
"It is by the majesty, by the form of that Justice, that I do conjure and implore Your Lordships to give your minds to this great business; that I exhort you to look, not so much to words, which may be denied or quibbled away, but to the plain facts,—to weigh and consider the testimony in your own minds: we know the result must be inevitable. Let the truth appear and our cause is gained. It is this, I conjure Your Lordships, for your own honor, for the honor of the nation, for the honor of human nature, now entrusted to your care,—it is this duty that the Commons of England, speaking through us, claims at your hands.
"They exhort you to it by every thing that calls sublimely upon the heart of man, by the Majesty of that Justice which this bold man has libelled, by the wide fame of your own tribunal, by the sacred pledge by which you swear in the solemn hour of decision, knowing that that decision will then bring you the highest reward that ever blessed the heart of man, the consciousness of having done the greatest act of mercy for the world, that the earth has ever yet received from any hand but Heaven.—My Lords, I have done."
Though I have selected some of the most remarkable passages of this Speech, [Footnote: I had selected many more, but must confess that they appeared to me, when in print, so little worthy of the reputation of the Speech, that I thought it would be, on the whole, more prudent to omit them. Even of the passages, here cited, I speak rather from my imagination of what they must have been, than from my actual feeling of what they are. The character, given of such Reports, by Lord Loughborough, is, no doubt, but too just. On a motion made by Lord Stanhope, (April 29, 1794), that the short-hand writers, employed on Hastings's trial, should be summoned to the bar of the House, to read their minutes, Lord Loughborough, in the course of his observations on the motion, said, "God forbid that ever their Lordships should call on the short-hand writers to publish their notes; for, of all people, short-hand writers were ever the farthest from correctness, and there were no man's words they ever heard that they again returned. They were in general ignorant, as acting mechanically; and by not considering the antecedent, and catching the sound, and not the sense, they perverted the sense of the speaker, and made him appear as ignorant as themselves."] it would be unfair to judge of it even from these specimens. A Report, verbatim, of any effective speech must always appear diffuse and ungraceful in the perusal. The very repetitions, the redundancy, the accumulation of epithets which gave force and momentum in the career of delivery, but weaken and encumber the march of the style, when read. There is, indeed, the same sort of difference between a faithful short-hand Report, and those abridged and polished records which Burke has left us of his speeches, as there is between a cast taken directly from the face, (where every line is accurately preserved, but all the blemishes and excrescences are in rigid preservation also,) and a model, over which the correcting hand has passed, and all that was minute or superfluous is generalized and softened away.
Neither was it in such rhetorical passages as abound, perhaps, rather lavishly, in this Speech, that the chief strength of Mr. Sheridan's talent lay. Good sense and wit were the great weapons of his oratory—shrewdness in detecting the weak points of an adversary, and infinite powers of raillery in exposing it. These were faculties which he possessed in a greater degree than any of his contemporaries; and so well did he himself know the stronghold of his powers, that it was but rarely, after this display in Westminster Hall, that he was tempted to leave it for the higher flights of oratory, or to wander after Sense into that region of metaphor, where too often, like Angelica in the enchanted palace of Atlante, she is sought for in vain. [Footnote: Curran used to say laughingly, "When I can't talk sense, I talk metaphor."] His attempts, indeed, at the florid or figurative style, whether in his speeches or his writings, were seldom very successful. That luxuriance of fancy, which in Burke was natural and indigenous, was in him rather a forced and exotic growth. It is a remarkable proof of this difference between them, that while, in the memorandums of speeches left behind by Burke, we find, that the points of argument and business were those which he prepared, trusting to the ever ready wardrobe of his fancy for their adornment,—in Mr. Sheridan's notes it is chiefly the decorative passages, that are worked up beforehand to their full polish; while on the resources of his good sense, ingenuity, and temper, he seems to have relied for the management of his reasonings and facts. Hence naturally it arises that the images of Burke, being called up on the instant, like spirits, to perform the bidding of his argument, minister to it throughout, with an almost coordinate agency; while the figurative fancies of Sheridan, already prepared for the occasion, and brought forth to adorn, not assist, the business of the discourse, resemble rather those sprites which the magicians used to keep inclosed in phials, to be produced for a momentary enchantment, and then shut up again.
In truth, the similes and illustrations of Burke form such an intimate, and often essential, part of his reasoning, that if the whole strength of the Samson does not lie in those luxuriant locks, it would at least be considerably diminished by their loss. Whereas, in the Speech of Mr. Sheridan, which we have just been considering, there is hardly one of the rhetorical ornaments that might not be detached, without, in any great degree, injuring the force of the general statement. Another consequence of this difference between them is observable in their respective modes of transition, from what may be called the business of a speech its more generalized and rhetorical parts. When Sheridan rises, his elevation is not sufficiently prepared; he starts abruptly and at once from the level of his statement, and sinks down into it again with the same suddenness. But Burke, whose imagination never allows even business to subside into mere prose, sustains a pitch throughout which accustoms the mind to wonder, and, while it prepares us to accompany him in his boldest flights, makes us, even when he walks, still feel that he has wings:—
"Meme quand l'oiseau marche, on sent qu'il a des ailes."
The sincerity of the praises bestowed by Burke on the Speech of his brother Manager has sometimes been questioned, but upon no sufficient grounds. His zeal for the success of the Impeachment, no doubt, had a considerable share in the enthusiasm, with which this great effort in its favor filled him. It may be granted, too, that, in admiring the apostrophes that variegate this speech, he was, in some degree, enamored of a reflection of himself;
"Cunctaque miratur, quibus est mirabilis ipse."
He sees reflected there, in fainter light. All that combines to make himself so bright.
But whatever mixture of other motives there may have been in the feeling, it is certain that his admiration of the Speech was real and unbounded. He is said to have exclaimed to Mr. Fox, during the delivery of some passages of it, "There,—that is the true style;—something between poetry and prose, and better than either." The severer taste of Mr. Fox dissented, as might be expected, from this remark. He replied, that "he thought such a mixture was for the advantage of neither—as producing poetic prose, or, still worse, prosaic poetry." It was, indeed, the opinion of Mr. Fox, that the impression made upon Burke by these somewhat too theatrical tirades is observable in the change that subsequently took place in his own style of writing; and that the florid and less chastened taste which some persons discover in his later productions, may all be traced to the example of this speech. However this may be, or whether there is really much difference, as to taste, between the youthful and sparkling vision of the Queen of France in 1792, and the interview between the Angel and Lord Bathurst in 1775, it is surely a most unjust disparagement of the eloquence of Burke, to apply to it, at any time of his life, the epithet "flowery,"—a designation only applicable to that ordinary ambition of style, whose chief display, by necessity, consists of ornament without thought, and pomp without substance. A succession of bright images, clothed in simple, transparent language,—even when, as in Burke, they "crowd upon the aching sense" too dazzlingly,—should never be confounded with that mere verbal opulence of style, which mistakes the glare of words for the glitter of ideas, and, like the Helen of the sculptor Lysippus, makes finery supply the place of beauty. The figurative definition of eloquence in the Book of Proverbs—"Apples of gold in a net-work of silver"—is peculiarly applicable to that enshrinement of rich, solid thoughts in clear and shining language, which is the triumph of the imaginative class of writers and orators,—while, perhaps, the net-work, without the gold inclosed, is a type equally significant of what is called "flowery" eloquence.
It is also, I think, a mistake, however flattering to my country, to call the School of Oratory, to which Burke belongs, Irish. That Irishmen are naturally more gifted with those stores of fancy, from which the illumination of this high order of the art must be supplied, the names of Burke, Grattan, Sheridan, Curran, Canning, and Plunkett, abundantly testify. Yet had Lord Chatham, before any of these great speakers were heard, led the way, in the same animated and figured strain of oratory; [Footnote: His few noble sentences on the privilege of the poor man's cottage are universally known. There is also his fanciful allusion to the confluence of the Saone and Rhone, the traditional reports of which vary, both as to the exact terms in which it was expressed, and the persons to whom he applied it. Even Lord Orford does not seem to have ascertained the latter point. To these may be added the following specimen:—"I don't inquire from what quarter the wind cometh, but whither it goeth; and, if any measure that comes from the Right Honorable Gentleman tends to the public good, my bark is ready." Of a different kind is that grand passage,—"America, they tell me, has resisted—I rejoice to hear it,"—which Mr. Grattan used to pronounce finer than anything in Demosthenes.] while another Englishman, Lord Bacon, by making Fancy the hand-maid of Philosophy, had long since set an example of that union of the imaginative and the solid, which, both in writing and in speaking, forms the characteristic distinction of this school.
The Speech of Mr. Sheridan in Westminster Hall, though so much inferior in the opinion of Mr. Fox and others, to that which he had delivered on the same subject in the House of Commons, seems to have produced, at the time, even a more lively and general sensation;—possibly from the nature and numerousness of the assembly before which it was spoken, and which counted among its multitude a number of that sex, whose lips are in general found to be the most rapid conductors of fame.
But there was one of this sex, more immediately interested in his glory, who seems to have felt it as women alone can feel. "I have delayed writing," says Mrs. Sheridan, in a letter to her sister-in-law, dated four days after the termination of the Speech, "till I could gratify myself and you by sending you the news of our dear Dick's triumph!—of our triumph I may call it; for surely, no one, in the slightest degree connected with him, but must feel proud and happy. It is impossible, my dear woman, to convey to you the delight, the astonishment, the adoration, he has excited in the breasts of every class of people! Every party-prejudice has been overcome by a display of genius, eloquence and goodness, which no one with any thing like a heart about them, could have listened to without being the wiser and the better for the rest of their lives. What must my feelings be!—you can only imagine. To tell you the truth, it is with some difficulty that I can 'let down my mind,' as Mr. Burke said afterwards, to talk or think on any other subject. But pleasure, too exquisite, becomes pain, and I am at this moment suffering for the delightful anxieties of last week."
It is a most happy combination when the wife of a man of genius unites intellect enough to appreciate the talents of her husband, with the quick, feminine sensibility, that can thus passionately feel his success. Pliny tells us, that his Calpurnia, whenever he pleaded an important cause, had messengers ready to report to her every murmur of applause that he received; and the poet Statius, in alluding to his own victories at the Albanian Games, mentions the "breathless kisses," with which his wife, Claudia, used to cover the triumphal garlands he brought home. Mrs. Sheridan may well take her place beside these Roman wives;—and she had another resemblance to one of them, which was no less womanly and attractive. Not only did Calpurnia sympathize with the glory of her husband abroad, but she could also, like Mrs. Sheridan, add a charm to his talents at home, by setting his verses to music and singing them to her harp,—"with no instructor," adds Pliny, "but Love, who is, after all, the best master."
This letter of Mrs. Sheridan thus proceeds:—"You were perhaps alarmed by the account of S.'s illness in the papers; but I have the pleasure to assure you he is now perfectly well, and I hope by next week we shall be quietly settled in the country, and suffered to repose, in every sense of the word; for indeed we have, both of us, been in a constant state of agitation, of one kind or other, for some time back.
"I am very glad to hear your father continues so well. Surely he must feel happy and proud of such a son. I take it for granted you see the newspapers: I assure you the accounts in them are not exaggerated, and only echo the exclamation of admiration that is in every body's mouth. I make no excuse for dwelling on this subject: I know you will not find it tedious. God bless you—I am an invalid at present, and not able to write long letters."
The agitation and want of repose, which Mrs. Sheridan here complains of, arose not only from the anxiety which she so deeply felt, for the success of this great public effort of her husband, but from the share which she herself had taken, in the labor and attention necessary to prepare him for it. The mind of Sheridan being, from the circumstances of his education and life, but scantily informed upon all subjects for which reading is necessary, required, of course, considerable training and feeding, before it could venture to grapple with any new or important task. He has been known to say frankly to his political friends, when invited to take part in some question that depended upon authorities, "You know I'm an ignoramus—but here I am—instruct me and I'll do my best." It is said that the stock of numerical lore, upon which he ventured to set up as the Aristarchus of Mr. Pitt's financial plans, was the result of three weeks' hard study of arithmetic, to which he doomed himself, in the early part of his Parliamentary career, on the chance of being appointed, some time or other, Chancellor of the Exchequer. For financial display it must be owned that this was rather a crude preparation. But there are other subjects of oratory, on which the outpourings of information, newly acquired, may have a freshness and vivacity which it would be vain to expect, in the communication of knowledge that has lain long in the mind, and lost in circumstantial spirit what it has gained in general mellowness. They, indeed, who have been regularly disciplined in learning, may be not only too familiar with what they know to communicate it with much liveliness to others, but too apt also to rely upon the resources of the memory, and upon those cold outlines which it retains of knowledge whose details are faded. The natural consequence of all this is that persons, the best furnished with general information, are often the most vague and unimpressive on particular subjects; while, on the contrary, an uninstructed man of genius, like Sheridan, who approaches a topic of importance for the first time, has not only the stimulus of ambition and curiosity to aid him in mastering its details, but the novelty of first impressions to brighten his general views of it—and, with a fancy thus freshly excited, himself, is most sure to touch and rouse the imaginations of others.
This was particularly the situation of Mr. Sheridan with respect to the history of Indian affairs; and there remain among his papers numerous proofs of the labor which his preparation for this arduous task cost not only himself but Mrs. Sheridan. Among others, there is a large pamphlet of Mr. Hastings, consisting of more than two hundred pages, copied out neatly in her writing, with some assistance from another female hand. The industry, indeed, of all around him was put in requisition for this great occasion—some, busy with the pen and scissors, making extracts—some pasting and stitching his scattered memorandums in their places. So that there was hardly a single member of the family that could not boast of having contributed his share, to the mechanical construction of this speech. The pride of its success was, of course, equally participated; and Edwards, a favorite servant of Mr. Sheridan, who lived with him many years, was long celebrated for his professed imitation of the manner in which his master delivered (what seems to have struck Edwards as the finest part of the speech) his closing words, "My Lords, I have done!"
The impeachment of Warren Hastings is one of those pageants in the drama of public life, which show how fleeting are the labors and triumphs of politicians—"what shadows they are, and what shadows they pursue." When we consider the importance which the great actors in that scene attached to it,—the grandeur with which their eloquence invested the cause, as one in which the liberties and rights of the whole human race were interested,—and then think how all that splendid array of Law and of talent has dwindled away, in the view of most persons at present, into an unworthy and harassing persecution of a meritorious and successful statesman;—how those passionate appeals to justice, those vehement denunciations of crime, which made the halls of Westminster and St. Stephen's ring with their echoes, are now coldly judged, through the medium of disfiguring Reports, and regarded, at the best, but as rhetorical effusions, indebted to temper for their warmth, and to fancy for their details;—while so little was the reputation of the delinquent himself even scorched by the bolts of eloquence thus launched at him, that a subsequent House of Commons thought themselves honored by his presence, and welcomed him with such cheers [Footnote: When called as a witness before the House, in 1813, on the subject of the renewal of the East India Company's Charter.] as should reward only the friends and benefactors of freedom;—when we reflect on this thankless result of so much labor and talent, it seems wonderful that there should still be found high and gifted spirits, to waste themselves away in such temporary struggles, and, like that spendthrift of genius, Sheridan, to discount their immortality, for the payment of fame in hand which these triumphs of the day secure to them.
For this direction, however, which the current of opinion has taken, with regard to Mr. Hastings and his eloquent accusers, there are many very obvious reasons to be assigned. Success, as I have already remarked, was the dazzling talisman, which he waved in the eyes of his adversaries from the first, and which his friends have made use of to throw a splendor over his tyranny and injustice ever since. [Footnote: In the important article of Finance, however, for which he made so many sacrifices of humanity, even the justification of success was wanting to his measures. The following is the account given by the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1810, of the state in which India was left by his administration:—"The revenues had been absorbed; the pay and allowances of both the civil and military branches of the service were greatly in arrear; the credit of the Company was extremely depressed; and, added to all, the whole system had fallen into such irregularity and confusion, that the real state of affairs could not be ascertained till the conclusion of the year 1785-6."—Third Report.] Too often in the moral logic of this world, it matters but little what the premises of conduct may be, so the conclusion but turns out showy and prosperous. There is also, it must be owned, among the English, (as perhaps, among all free people,) a strong taste for the arbitrary, when they themselves are not to be the victims of it, which invariably secures to such accomplished despotisms, as that of Lord Strafford in Ireland, and Hastings in India, even a larger share of their admiration than they are, themselves, always willing to allow.
The rhetorical exaggerations, in which the Managers of the prosecution indulged,—Mr. Sheridan, from imagination, luxuriating in its own display, and Burke from the same cause, added to his overpowering autocracy of temper—were but too much calculated to throw suspicion on the cause in which they were employed, and to produce a reaction in favor of the person whom they were meant to overwhelm. "Rogo vos, Judices,"—Mr. Hastings might well have said,—"si iste disertus est, ideo me damnari oportet?" [Footnote: Seneca, Controvers. lib. iii. c. 19.]
There are also, without doubt, considerable allowances to be made, for the difficult situations in which Mr. Hastings was placed, and those impulses to wrong which acted upon him from all sides—allowances which will have more or less weight with the judgment, according as it may be more or less fastidiously disposed, in letting excuses for rapine and oppression pass muster. The incessant and urgent demands of the Directors upon him for money may palliate, perhaps, the violence of those methods which he took to procure it for them; and the obstruction to his policy which would have arisen from a strict observance of Treaties, may be admitted, by the same gentle casuistry, as an apology for his frequent infractions of them.
Another consideration to be taken into account, in our estimate of the character of Mr. Hastings as a ruler, is that strong light of publicity, which the practice in India of carrying on the business of government by written documents threw on all the machinery of his measures, deliberative as well as executive. These Minutes, indeed, form a record of fluctuation and inconsistency—not only on the part of the Governor-General, but of all the members of the government—a sort of weather-cock diary of opinions and principles, shifting with the interests or convenience of the moment, [Footnote: Instances of this, on the part of Mr. Hastings, are numberless. In remarking upon his corrupt transfer of the management of the Nabob's household in 1778, the Directors say, "It is with equal surprise and concern that we observe this request introduced, and the Nabob's ostensible rights so solemnly asserted at this period by our Governor-General; because, on a late occasion, to serve a very different purpose, he has not scrupled to declare it as visible as the light of the sun, that the Nabob is a mere pageant, and without even the shadow of authority." On another transaction in 1781, Mr. Mill remarks:—"It is a curious moral spectacle to compare the minutes and letters of the Governor-General, when, at the beginning of the year 1780, maintaining the propriety of condemning the Nabob to sustain the whole of the burden imposed upon him, and his minutes and letters maintaining the propriety of relieving him from those burthens in 1781. The arguments and facts adduced on the one occasion, as well as the conclusion, are a flat contradiction to those exhibited on the other."] which entirely takes away our respect even for success, when issuing out of such a chaos of self-contradiction and shuffling. It cannot be denied, however, that such a system of exposure—submitted, as it was in this case, to a still further scrutiny, under the bold, denuding hands of a Burke and a Sheridan—was a test to which the councils of few rulers could with impunity be brought. Where, indeed, is the statesman that could bear to have his obliquities thus chronicled? or where is the Cabinet that would not shrink from such an inroad of light into its recesses?