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GLEIG'S "MEMOIRS OF WARREN HASTINGS."
WE have already adverted to the secret object of the Regulating Act of 1773, which was passed for the ostensible administration of the Indian territories, and to the private designs which the majority of the Council of the Governor-General had been instructed to promote. Mr. Gleig does not scruple to take this view of the transaction, and we think he is justified by the facts and circumstances.
Mr. Hastings was, and had been from the commencement of his administration, a great thorn in the side of the minister. His measures, however bold, had all been crowned with success, and there seemed every prospect, provided he were left to follow out his own projects to the end, that the affairs of the Company might right themselves. But the minister had no desire to witness this consummation. His wishes all pointed in a contrary direction, and he therefore determined, while changing the constitution of a body which he was not yet strong enough immediately to overthrow, so to manage matters as that the act of its own representatives might be received by the people of England as evidence against itself. The first thing to be done, in order to effect this, was, so to arrange the machinery of the new Government, as that Mr. Hastings might be at the mercy of those with whom he should be associated. The next, to make choice of men, to fill office as councillors under him, who, understanding the minister's views, and ready to work for their accomplishment, should not be troubled with many scruples as to the best means of doing so. Both schemes the minister had the good fortune to carry out without exciting the suspicion at least of the Legislature. On Mr. Hastings, of course, whom it would have injured himself to recall, the nominal powers of governorgeneral were conferred; but these powers the subsequent appointments at once annulled, for out of the four gentlemen who were associated with him, there was only one, Mr. Barwell, who, either from previous habits, or from knowledge of the subject, could be expected to support his measures. The remaining three, namely, Lieutenant-General Clavering, the Honourable George Monson, and Philip Francis, Esq., were remarkable for nothing so much as their subserviency to the will of the existing cabinet, unless, indeed, it were in the parade which they had been accustomed to make, of a righteous horror at the atrocities which had been practised by the Company's servants on the defenceless people of India.
The three councillors last named arrived and took their seats in October, 1774. Mr. Hastings showed these gentlemen the utmost courtesy and attention, which seems to have been returned by a cold phlegmatic show of dignity, and a reserve which was the token of a "foregone conclusion" with respect to him and his government. Within six days from the arrival of the new members, "that struggle of parties began, which, throughout four long years, continued to make its baneful influence felt to the remotest corners of the Company's possessions."
We have glanced at the difficulties which beset Mr. Hastings at the outset of his government, and we have indicated some of his views with regard to his foreign policy. His domestic measures of administration were of far
greater difficulty. The most prominent and most arduous was the collection of the revenue. Even our present improved system of revenue collection, the result of long experience, repeated experiments, minute acquaintance with the country and its institutions, and a well-constructed machinery of control, is pregnant with practical evils, which it is, perhaps, impossible entirely to cure. But in Mr. Hastings' time, we possessed none of the means whereby a system even theoretically excellent could be carried into effect. European collectors became petty tyrants, who practised on the timidity and patience of the natives, restraining them even from complaining. The chicanery and falsehood, for which the natives of Bengal were notorious, on the other hand, discredited every complaint they preferred. Native officers, again, of whatever grade, and however supervised, were knavish, corrupt, treacherous; and such a "faultless monster" as an honest native revenue functionary would have fallen a speedy sacrifice to the scorn and indignation of his fellows. Mr. Hastings, though aware that there was a tendency in the European to tyrannize, dreaded still more the cupidity of the natives, and in his plan of revenue collection, which was to supersede a complicated tissue of chicanery, under which the revenues diminished every year, he introduced European collectors. This system, however, failed to realize the revenues he expected; but before it had experienced a fair trial, the Court sent positive orders for the introduction of a plan of their own, for a system of native management, which Mr. Hastings was compelled to adopt. In all those branches of finance wherein reforms were practicable, he introduced them with an unsparing hand. A saving of twenty-four, lacs was effected in the military expenses, and of twenty-five lacs in the civil, making about £500,000 sterling, which went towards the reduction of "the inheritance left him by his predecessors' -a debt of nearly £1,500,000, entailing an encumbrance of £100,000 a year as interest. In his Memoir on the State of Bengal, Mr. Hastings states that, when he took charge of the Government in April, 1772, it was loaded with a heavy debt, which in two years he completely discharged, and had accumulated a sum, in ready cash, in the public treasuries, of the same amount. The trade of the presidency had increased, and the infusion of a proper spirit into the superintending departments checked many of the vices inherent in the investment system. The rudiments of a police establishment were devised, under which the bands of robbers-dacoits and suniassies or faquirs-who prowled over the country, were put down. District courts of justice were formed; offensive imposts upon the people were abolished-especially a tax on marriage, which produced immoral effects— and a tone of mildness and conciliation towards the natives was imparted to the measures of Government, which has left a durable impression upon the minds of succeeding generations. Bishop Heber remarked the feelings of gratitude and of admiration with which the natives of Bengal still cherish the name of "Warren Husteen." All these measures of Mr. Hastings,
A very clear and comprehensive view of the revenue and judicial systems in Bengal, as well as the police, at this period (1772-1774), may be seen in Mr. Auber's Rise and Progress of the British Power in India, vol. 1, c. viii.
which, as Mr. Gleig says, "bear upon them the stamp both of an expansive intellect and a solid discretion," were accomplished, as he also observes, not by violence, for his powers were limited, but by conciliation and the sacrifice of private interests, and especially by a perseverance and disregard of toil, which no obstacle could daunt, no labour break down. Even objects of science and geographical inquiry were not neglected amidst the demands of foreign politics and the distractions of domestic policy; he took advantage, with statesmanlike promptitude, of an opportunity to form relations with Bootan, and despatched a gentleman to L'hassa, to explore the country, and open a trade, if possible, between Tibet and Bengal. The letters from Mr. Hastings to Mr. Bogle, the agent, indicate the sagacity of his mind upon these subjects, and the soundness of his views. Moreover, a translation of Hindu law was made by Mr. Halhed, of the civil service, in whose dedication of the work to Mr. Hastings, he ascribes to that gentleman both the result of the execution and the entire merit of the original plan.
We now proceed to the painful task of reviewing the vexations by which Mr. Hastings was harassed by men who seem to have felt no compunction at sacrificing not only him, but even the interests of the country, to the selfish dictates of party interest.
The Court's letter of instructions to the new Government of Bengal contained a recommendation of an inquiry into past abuses and oppressions, as well as the enactment of regulations to prevent their recurrence. The new members proposed to begin with this inquiry; indeed, Mr. Hastings could scarcely prevail upon them to pause even for a single day, by representing that Mr. Barwell, one of their own body, was absent; and they refused to defer the matter longer than the exact number of days in which he could reach Calcutta. At the next meeting, Mr. Hastings laid before the Council a minute, drawn up with his usual ability and perspicuity, of the whole tenour of his policy. The attack upon him commenced by the new members condemning the treaty of Benares and the Rohilla war. They denounced the treaty as impolitic and unjust, and formally demanded the production of Mr. Hastings' private and confidential correspondence with the resident, Mr. Middleton. Mr. Hastings offered to furnish all those parts of the correspondence which threw any light upon the subject, but stated that Mr. Middleton's letters contained unreserved and strictly private communications upon other topics. The new members took fire at this, and resolved (being a majority) that the letters should be produced. Mr. Hastings recorded the reasons of his refusal; whereupon, they resolved that Mr. Middleton should be recalled from Lucknow, and undergo a personal examination; and in spite of the representations of the Governor-General of the injury which the public service would sustain from such a proceeding, and although Mr. Barwell took part with him, the order for Mr. Middleton's recall passed.
Mr. Gleig has refrained, upon this as well as upon other occasions, from setting forth the grounds upon which Mr. Hastings' antagonists acted, in which respect, we think, these Memoirs are chargeable with unfairness Asiat.Journ.N.S.VOL.35.No.137.
and partiality. There is enough, even under the most lenient construction of their conduct, to afford ground for censuring the new councillors; but Mr. Gleig is not satisfied unless they appear repentè turpissimi. Mr. Mill has stated their case plausibly enough; but, conceding the utmost to him, and admitting that the Directors did subsequently condemn the retention of the correspondence, the sudden, fierce, and untiring hostility of the new councillors can only be explained on the hypothesis adopted by Mr. Gleig. According to Mr. Mill, Mr. Hastings, upon the first appearance of his colleagues, behaved, or was suspected of behaving, coldly; "and, with jealous feelings, this coldness was construed into studied and humiliating neglect." We see nothing whatsoever in the letters of Mr. Hastings which wears even the appearance of coldness, a sentiment contrary to his habit, to the course of his policy towards those with whom he acted, and, in this casc, directly opposed to his interests. The plea seems, indeed, intended to excuse, not justify, proceedings which were indefensible on public grounds, by referring them to personal motives. The argument of Mr. Mill is, that the declaration of Mr. Hastings, that the communications called for were confidential, "could satisfy none but men who had the most unbounded confidence in his probity and wisdom," and as the new councillors had not that confidence, they were bound in duty to demand a full disclosure; that the plea of Mr. Hastings, if extended into a general rule, would destroy one great source of the evidence by which the guilt of public men can be proved," and it was calculated to rouse a suspicion of his improbity in any breast not fortified against it by the strongest evidence of his habitual virtue." We do not think it necessary to point out the disingenuousness of this mode of reasoning; it is sufficient to remind the reader that Mr. Mill entertained peculiar notions respecting rules of evidence, and that he regarded the doctrine of the English law, that no man should be asked a question that would criminate himself, as absurd.
The order for the recall of Mr. Middleton was followed up by instructions for the return of the Company's brigade in the Rohilla country within the ancient limits of Oude. In short-for it is impossible here to enumerate the freaks in which the councillors indulged-in spite of the entreaties and remonstrances of Mr. Hastings, who pointed out the mischiefs which such a systematic opposition would produce, and the discredit which the measures of the Council would bring upon the English name, in every question of importance, the respective parties-three on one hand and two on the other-drew up minutes, statements, and appeals, full of acrimonious personal reflections, with which the packets were loaded, and which ought to have opened the eyes of the home authorities, and induced them to put an immediate stop to a state of things which could not but be pregnant with formidable evils.
In his letter to Lord North, Mr. Hastings distinctly imputes these unhappy differences to Clavering, Monson, and Francis, and observes that, although he had looked for praise rather than blame from his measures in
Hist. of Brit. India, b. v. c. ii.
the Rohilla war, yet if these gentlemen disapproved of the war, had they been disposed to promote harmony and to maintain the credit of Government, they ought to have afforded him the means of decently receding, without fixing a mark of reprobation on his past conduct, wounding his personal consequence, and placing even the interests of the Company in jeopardy. Had they acted upon these conciliatory principles, he says, he would have cheerfully joined in whatever course of policy they might adopt, as the majority. With regard to the correspondence, he says he had encouraged Mr. Middleton to speak his sentiments freely to him (the immemorial usage of the service having left the whole correspondence with the country powers in the hands of the Governor), under an assurance that they should not become the subject of public record, and he could not, without a breach of honour and good faith, violate that assurance. He declares that he had submitted to his colleagues every part of the letters that was necessary for their information on public affairs, and that he intended to send the whole. correspondence (with the consent of Mr. Middleton) to his lordship, which he subsequently did. The real ground of Mr. Hastings' repugnance to produce the letters appeared to be this-that he had authorized Mr. Middleton to sound the nawaub respecting a direct intercourse with the Crown of England, in pursuance of a policy of which he thought favourably, of establishing political relations between the country powers and the King's Government a policy not likely to have been palatable to the Court of Directors.
The three councillors, having somewhat indiscreetly avowed, in one of their despatches, that "the justification of their conduct could only be supported by a strong and deliberate censure of the preceding administration," lost no opportunity, not merely of censuring the public measures, but of blackening the private character, of Mr. Hastings. They had opened their ears greedily, from their first landing, to every tale against him, and after they believed their budget complete, they brought charges of bribery to an enormous extent, of corruption in the distribution of public employments, of chicanery and malversation; nay, he was not only accused to the Directors at home, but was required by his own Council to answer before them for crimes alleged to have been committed long before they came into office. An important part of their scheme was to court accusations from natives. Mahomed Reza Khan was sounded; but, although this personage had suffered much through the innocent instrumentality of Mr. Hastings, he proved too honourable to become a weapon of his accusers. Nuncomar, however, whose character we have developed, was less scrupulous, though he had less provocation to revenge.
This man waited formally upon Mr. Francis, and presented him with a letter, which he requested might be laid before the Council, charging the Governor-General with oppression, and fraud to a large extent, with having connived at the embezzlements of Mahomed Reza Khan, receiving a bribe of ten lacs to let him escape, and selling appointments for money. Hastings, when this letter was read at the Board, indignantly asked