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qualify revenue officers for voting at elections; and on the 15th of April, Mr. BURKE brought in his great plan of reform in the civil expenditure, by which, according to his statement, an actual saving was to be effected of seventy-two thousand pounds a year, with a certain prospect of increase.
Some members objected to the bill, that it fell short of the original outline; but the author of it entered into the grounds of the alterations, stating, that they had been made in compliance with the opinions of others, or from a fuller consideration of the particular cases; at the same time pledging himself, that he would be ready at all times to obey the call for prosecuting a more complete and extensive system of Reform.
This bill was followed by another for the regulation of the framer's own office, but the lateness of the season, would not allow time for the completion of all the plans of regulation and retrenchment which he had projected, and these with the other designs of the new ministry, were entirely frustrated by the demise of the marquis of Rockingham, on the 1st of July, 1782. This unfortunate event discovered the feeble texture of the administration, of which that amiable noble man was the head; for lord Shelburne, afterwards marquis of Lansdowne, being appointed premier, without consulting the Rockingham division of the cabinet, the principals of that party immediately resigned their offices. These were, lord John Cavendish, chancellor of the exchequer, who was succeeded by Mr. Pitt; Mr. Fox, secretary of state, whose place was filled up by lord Sidney; and Mr. BURKE, who gave way to his old friend colonel Barrè.
After the conclusion of the general peace of 1783, a political manoeuvre was played, which, though it had the effect of restoring Mr. BURKE and his colleagues, for a short time, to the reins of power, brought upon them a torrent of abuse, and the double charge of duplicity and inconsistency. This was the famous coalition between them and lord North, the very statesman whose measures his new associates had for so many years reprobated with excessive violence and repeated threats of impeachment. Mr. BURKE, indeed, had not marked his hostility to that nobleman with the same virulence as Mr. Fox, but, still VOL. 1.-c
he came in for his share of obloquy for the part which he now acted. Attempts have been made to palliate and even to defend the conduct of these great men on this occasion; but no dispassionate mind has ever been yet able to reconcile it with the pure principle of political integrity. If the pertinacity of lord North, while in power, to carry on the American war, arose, as was said, from the influence of high authority, he was not a man worthy of the public confidence, and, therefore, a junction with him was a reproach to the party who had uniformly opposed him: and if, on the other hand, the line he pursued was on his part as voluntary and iniquitous, as Mr. Fox and his friends maintained it to be, then it is impossible to justify the alliance which they made with the man, who, according to their account was deserving of the block.
The truth is, and no sophistry can repel its force, that the project of a coalition sprung from the single motive of ambition, and the desire of place. Separately the two parties were unable to attain the object, which each had in view, and therefore, in defiance of all public principle, they had recourse to this measure of an union, in full confidence, that they should be able, without difficulty, to command a majority in the house. They did so, but their triumph was of short duration, and they found that the good sense of the people is not to be imposed upon, even by the most splendid talents, when those talents are palpably employed in reconciling gross contradictions. The views of the coalesced ministers were seen through, and though a temporary ascendancy in the house of commons was obtained by them, sufficient to give them assurance, the hollowness of the foundation was soon discovered. The celebrated bill, brought in and carried through the lower house by Mr. Fox, for the better government of British India, was thrown out by the peers, and in December of the same year, a new administration was formed under Mr. Pitt, who was then no more than twenty-four years of age. The majority of the house of commons, however, continued on the side of the dismissed ministers, who, on that account, made themselves sure of displacing their adversaries, that from day to day, they peremptorily called upon the young chancellor of the exchequer to resign a seat,
which, as they said, he presumptuously held in contempt of parliament. The situation of Mr. Pitt, under such peculiar circumstances, and opposed by so formidable an array of numbers and abilities, was arduous and unparalleled. But he remained inflexible at his post, and endured the pelting of the merciless storm with undaunted firmness, till the month of May in the following year, when a dissolution of parliament gave him a signal victory over his antagonists, who were now humbled in their turn to a minority. Thus, it was Mr. BURKE's fortune to be reduced again to the ranks of opposition, after taking a part in three administrations, neither of which lasted a year, and from all of which he retired without having secured either a reversionary grant or pension.
In relation to this portion of his life, we cannot avoid extracting a curious anecdote told by Dr. Priestley, who was at that time on terms of particular intimacy with Mr. BURKE. "It was early in the year 1783," says the doctor, "when I lived at Birmingham, that Mr. BURKE, accompanied by his son, called and spent a great part of the afternoon with me. After much general conversation, he took me aside to a small terrace in the garden in which the house stood, to tell me that lord Shelburne, who was then prime minister, finding his influence diminished, and of course his situation uncertain, had made proposals to join lord North. Having had a better opportunity of knowing the principles and character of his lordship than Mr. BURKE, I seemed (as he must have thought,) a little incredulous on the subject. But before I could make any reply, he said, 'I see you do not be lieve me, but you may depend upon it, he has made overtures to him, and in writing:' and without any reply, I believe, on my part, (for I did not give much credit to the information) we returned to the rest of the company. However, it was not much more than a month, or six weeks, after this, before he himself did the 'very thing, that whether right or wrong, expedient or inexpedient, (for there were various opinions on the subject,) 'he at that time mentioned, as a thing so atrocious, as hardly to be credible."
However inconsistent the conduct of Mr. BURKE may have been, there is no reason for calling in question his veracity
in this instance; on the contrary, the character of lord Shelburne, renders the story of his proposition for a coalition with lord North, extremely probable, and it is very likely that the latter nobleman, finding himself an object of equal interest to both parties, thought it his wisest way to join the strongest side, which certainly was the Rockingham division.
rity, does not appear, that Mr. BURKE It has been said, but upon what authoous nature of which he instantly perceivhesitated about taking a step, the hazarded, and freely represented to Mr. Fox, who exerted all his eloquence to dissipate his friend's apprehensions.
of Mr. BURKE, was the lengthened and The next great event in the public life laborious impeachment of Warren Hasprimary motive which gave rise to this tings, governor-general of Bengal. The extraordinary prosecution, has never been yet clearly developed, but that it origina ted with Mr. BURKE is certain, and that he entered upon the subject in a hostile spirit cannot possibly be doubted. Ho brought forward in parliament, charges against Mr. Hastings, a considerable time previous to the return of that gentleman from India; and immediately on his arrival in 1785, the pledge which had been made to bring him before the highest tribunal of the country, was redeemed by his accuser, and ultimately carried into effect by the house of commons. In the meantime, the governor and his friends were not inactive in repelling the accusations that were from day to day voluminously heaped up by the prosecutor: but, unfortunately for Mr. Hastings, the public mind had been already prejudiced by statements, which few men even in the senate, much less therefore in the nation at large, were qualified by information to comprehend and appreciate. This was a serious disadvantage to the accused party, who saw that under such circumstances, the most justifiable and even praisewor thy acts, were liable to be perverted into crimes, by the subtile power of rhetoric, appealing to the passions, and operating upon the credulity of ignorance. Such was the case in this instance, for at that period, when it might have been expected rably well informed on the subject of Inthat the people of this country were tole was less understood. The nation had dian history and politics, nothing in fact
but just emerged out of a disgraceful war, and the loss of the American colonies made the public very readily believe what was boldly asserted, that an iniquitous system of oppression and rapacity had been carried on in Hindostan, which not only stained the national character, but would have the effect of putting an end to our dominion in the East for ever.
To remove this impression was almost impossible, for the nature of the tenure on which our Oriental possessions were held, could not all at once be made intelligible to minds habituated to European laws, customs, and manners. Mr. Has tings had the whole weight of British India to sustain during the recent war, and while the attention of ministers was directed to the single object of subjugating the refractory states of America, the governor-general of Bengal was compelled to find resources there, for the security of the important charge with which he was intrusted. He was in reality abandoned to his fate by the government at home, but by virtue of his local knowledge, personal interest, and indefatigable exertions, he was enabled not only to preserve our Indian territories, but actually to strengthen them by further acquisitions; in consequence of which, all the attempts of the French to dispossess us on the eastern, as they did on the western, continent were completely frustrated. Mr. BURKE and his friends, however, chose to overlook all this splendid service, and having some cause to be displeased with the conduct of Mr. Has tings towards themselves, they were de
termined to immolate him at the shrine of party, by an impeachment for peculation, tyranny, and other high crimes and inisdemeanors. Even a condensed narrative of the proceedings that took place in the house of commons on this subject, would far exceed the limits of the present memoir; and of the trial itself, which began on the 12th of February, 1758, and terminated on the 23d of April, 1795, nothing like an abstract could possibly be given without running into details of an inordinate length.
During every stage of the business, Mr. BURKE, who of course was the leading manager, evinced an Herculean strength of mind, and an industry that must have had a serious effect upon his bodily health and constitution.
Yet it is painful to reflect upon the harsh manner in which he behaved towards the eminent person, against whom all these exertions were directed, and whose ruin was evidently sought. On one occasion during the trial, perceiving that Mr. Hastings had neglected the usual obeisance to the court at his entry, Mr. BURKE commanded him to kneel, in a tone of voice, and with a sternness of aspect, that made the whole assembly turn from him with disgust. Even some of his own party felt ashamed for him, and Fox whispered privately to one of his friends, in that critical moment, that he would rather have been Hastings than BURKE. As the trial proceeded, the oratorical attractions, which threw at the beginning a splendour around it, began to lose their effect: and many who had voted for the prosecution, now regretted their having done so, when they saw how little the evidence agreed with the charges. A year had scarcely expired, when the conduct of Mr. BURKE came under the consideration of the house of commons, and he was censured in a resolution, for going beyond the powers delegated to him, by charging Mr. Hastings with the murder of Nundcomar, though nothing of that kind was to be found among the articles of accusation.
Even when the trial drew towards a close. and every one anticipated what would be the result, the asperity of Mr. BURKE, instead of yielding, increased to a degree that confirmed many in the opinion which they had long formed, that the prosecution originated in private and not in public motives.
After the council for Mr. Hastings had gone through with the defence of their client, during which they were often interrupted by questions and objections, Mr. BURKE entered upon his reply, in the course of which, he alternately soared to the height of sublimity, and again sunk into the very depth of vulgar abuse. Of the latter he gave a proof in saying "That the insignificance of the prisoner ought not to induce their lordships to suppose him incapable of mischief; for though his origin was low, mean, and vulgar; though he was trained in the most base and sordid habits, yet when invested with a power to which his mind was not equal, he was capable of more complete, more extensive devastation, than any of the greatest con
querors and tyrants who have oppressed mankind." It is surprising that a man so well informed as BURKE, should have thought such scurrility necessary to his cause; but it is more surprising that he should venture to speak thus of Mr. Has tings, who was at least as well born and educated as himself, being a branch of an ancient stock, and brought up at Westminster school. Even had his origin been as low as his accuser represented it, the circumstance of his birth ought not to have been mentioned to his disparagement, and that too in the presence of many persons, among both the peers and the managers, who had no more right to boast of their lineage than Mr. Hastings. In the same bad taste Mr. BURKE compared the accused to the keeper of a pigstye, and in another part of his speech to the Devil. "Mr. Hastings," he said, "was worse than Satan, for the evil spirit showed the kingdoms of the world to the Great Author of our sacred religion, in order that he might enjoy them; but he, (turning to the prisoner at the bar) gave the provinces of Hindostan into the possession of men appointed by himself, for the purpose of destroying them."
Many other things in the same strain disgraced the speech and the orator, but in the conclusion BURKE rose to an elegance of language and dignity of spirit, worthy of his genius.
"My lords," said he, "the commons wait the issue of this cause with trembling solicitude. Twenty-two years have they been employed in it, seven of which have passed in this trial. They behold the dearest interests of their country deeply involved in it; they feel that the very existence of this constitution depends upon it. Your lordships' justice stands preeminent in the world, but it stands amidst a vast heap of ruins, which surround it in every corner of Europe. If you slacken justice, and thereby weaken the bonds of society, the well-tempered authority of this court, which I trust in God will continue to the end of time, must receive a fatal wound, that no balm can cure, that
ho time can restore.
"My lords, it is not the criminality of the prisoner, it is not the claims of the commons, to demand judgment to be passed upon him, it is not the honour and dignity of this court, and the welfare of millions of the human race, that alone
call upon you. When the devouring flames shall have destroyed this perishable globe, and it sinks into the abyss of Nature, from whence it was commanded into existence by the Great Author of it; then, my lords, when all nature, kings and judges themselves, must answer for their actions, there will be found what supersedes creation itself, namely, ETERNAL JUSTICE! It was the attribute of the great GOD OF NATURE before worlds were; it will reside with him when they perish; and the earthly portion of it committed to your care, is now solemnly deposited in your hands by the commons of England. I have done."
We must now turn to another prominent period in the political life of Mr. BURKE, but it is one which all his admirers and biographers hitherto have been desirous of throwing into shade, as though only the talents and virtues of a great man were to be noticed, and his failings were to be buried in oblivion. This would be to pervert the end of history, which is moral improvement, and no dependence could be placed on the delineation of any character, if the bright side of it alone were to be exhibited to public view. Such a course may be adopted properly enough, in regard to private persons, but the actions of statesmen are the materials of history; and, therefore, must be faithfully represented, to guard posterity from delusion.
At the latter end of the year 1788, the suspension of the royal functions rendered a meeting of parliament indispensable, to provide for the exigency of the case. Mr. Fox, the leader of the opposition, and the confidential friend of the prince of Wales, happened to be then in Italy, but him of the necessity of his presence, he a messenger being despatched to apprize hastened home without delay, and immediately began an active opposition to the minister. Mr. BURKE was equally zealous and enterprising on this occasion, but the conduct of the two leaders of the hostile ranks was so impetuous, that Mr. Pitt had soon an opportunity of throwing them into confusion, and of establishing an imperishable credit for himself, upon the very ground which they took to accomplish his overthrow. Mr. Fox claimed for the heir-apparent the indefeisible right of assuming the exercise of the regal authority, whenever there should be a suspension of moral power in the sove
reign to discharge the functions of his office. This was strange doctrine to come from a Whig, and, if admitted, would subvert at once the principles laid down at the Revolution, and those which settled the house of Brunswick on the throne. Yet preposterous as it was, Mr. BURKE defended it with his wonted energy, and assailed the minister in virulent language, for presuming to say, in opposition to it, that the prince of Wales had no more right to take upon himself the regency, without a previous call from parliament, than the humblest individual in the country. Had Mr. BURRE been satisfied with attacking the officers of the crown, some allowance might have been made for his intemperance; but when he ventured to speak of the afflicted monarch in the coarsest terms of disrespect, the members on both sides of the house of commons, who were accustomed to hear him with delight, felt a thrill of horror, and involuntarily uttered an expression of abhorrence. This, however, had not the salutary effect of restraining the passions of the orator within the bounds of moderation. On the contrary, he went on from day to day, as long as the question of the regency lasted, in the same imprudent manner, never mentioning the calamitous situation of the king, but with an air that carried the appearance of triumph, rather than of commiseration. At one time he spoke of the malady as a judgment, and said that "The Almighty had hurled the king from his throne," with an allusion not very delicately expressed to the case of Nebuchadnezzar. This conduct gave universal offence, and while it lowered the orator in the public opinion, did injury to the party with whom he acted, and to the cause which he so imprudently advocated. At length Mr. Fox took the alarm, and would have retraced his steps, by qualifying the language that had been used, and reducing the high claims which had been set up by himself and his friends. But it was too late, for the minister finding his strength, and probably irritated at the coarse manner in which he had been treated, was determined to bring the question of right to an issue. The opposition then endeavoured to make it out that the case of the king was irremediable, and to support this conclusion, they adduced the authority of Dr. Warren, who was the only one of the court physicians, that
ventured to pronounce the malady hopeless. This judgment was opposed by Dr. Willis, whose whole practice having been directed to mental diseases, gave superior weight to his opinion. Mr. BURKE, however strenuously contended that Willis was no better than an empiric, and that Dr. Warren was an oracle, upon whose decision the fullest reliance ought to be placed. One important benefit that resulted from these contentions, was, the delay which they necessarily occasioned.
In the mean time the state of the royal patient began to amend, and while his condition was represented as hopeless, by the eager politicians, who were anticipating the attainment of power, under the benignant rays of the rising sun, the sudden intelligence burst upon them, that no regency would take place, for that the king was sufficiently recovered to discharge his public duties. Thus terminated the expectations, but not the labours, of Mr. BURKE ; for a new and wonderful scene was now opening upon the great theatre of the world, to call his genius into a wider sphere of action, and a nobler display of his powers, than any in which he had hitherto been engaged. At the time when the British nation, and its dependencies, exhibited the most glowing spirit of loyalty towards their sovereign, a spectacle of quite an opposite description was going on in France. The seeds of a Revolution had long been sown there, and now the sanguinary harvest began in the degradation of the mildest monarch that ever sat on a throne; whose only fault lay in yielding too flexibly to the ever varying and turbulent passions of a capricious people. Mr. BURKE, from his acquaintance with the French character in general, and his observations on the mischievous tendency of metaphysical principles, when applied to the science of government, could not avoid seeing the consequences of this fermentation on its first appearance. While, therefore, numbers in England and elsewhere were looking with surprise to the mutations which the professors of the new philosophy were, with surprising dexterity, bringing about from day to day, at Paris, the penetrating mind of our illustrious statesman was engaged in examining the secret springs and practical influence of these marvellous changes. Instead of being dazzled by these false lights, and misled