Abbildungen der Seite


February 7.

N the first day of the session Mr. Burke gave notice that he

should renew the proceedings against Mr. Hastings on the ist of February. That and the following day were spent in lexamining Mr. Middleton and Sir Elijah Impey; and on Wednesday, the 7th, Mr. Sheridan opened the third charge against Mr. Hastings, viz, the resumption of the jaghires, and the confiscation of the treasures of the princesses of Oude, the mother and grandmother of the reigning nabob. The subject of this charge was peculiarly fitted for displaying all the pathetic powers of eloquence; and never were they displayed with greater skill, force, and elegance, than upon this occasion. For five hours and a half Mr. Sheridan kept the attention of the house (which from the expectation of the day was uncommonly crowded) fascinated by his eloquence; and when he sat down, the whole house, the members, peers, and strangers, involuntarily joined in a tumult of applause, and adopted a mode of expressing their approbation, new and irregular in that house, by loudly and repeatedly clapping with their hands. Mr. Burke declared it to be the most astonishing effort of eloquence, argument, and wit united, of which there is any record or tradition. Sir William Dolben said, that the speech of Mr. Sheridan had stated in so able a manner such a variety of facts and arguments, as entirely to have exhausted the spirits, as well as the attention of the Committee; he therefore thought it would be most proper to adjourn the debate. This would give gentlemen time to recruit their spirits, and to collect their exhausted attention. It was now a very late hour. It would be impossible, should they prosecute the business, to come to any vote without adjourning. And indeed, he confessed, that in the present state of his mind it would be impossible for him to give a determinate opinion. Mr. Stanhope said, that when he entered the House, he was not ashamed to acknowledge that his opinion inclined rather to the side of Mr. Hastings; but such had been the wonderful effect of the honourable gentleman's convincing statement of facts, and irresistible eloquence, that he now with as much freedom acknowledged, that he could not say but his sentiments were materially changed. Nothing, indeed, but information almost equal to a miracle, could, he thought, determine him not to vote against the accused : but, however, as he found such had been the effect of what he had heard, he could not by any means then determine to give his vote. He wished to collect his reason, and calmly to consider the truth and justice of what had been stated with such apparent aid of truth, as to render it beyond the power of contradiction.

brillicient reasonsigned, merelyomtend, that wile o'clock; and

Mr. Fox said, he could by no means consent to an adjournment, standing as the question in debate then stood. As to the lateness of the night, it was but twelve o'clock; and surely no gentleman would contend, that without any other reason being assigned, merely the lateness of the hour was a sufficient reason. At present the committee had heard a very brilliant speech from his honourable friend; a speech, every word of which carried conviction to his mind; and, it was pretty obvious, it had made no small impression on the minds of the House in general. He flattered himself, therefore, that there was likely to be very little difference of opinion in the House; and, in that case, he saw no reason why they could not proceed, and come to the question. If any of the friends of Mr. Hastings wished to rise, and offer any thing, that they might think likely to efface or lessen the impression made by what had fallen from his honourable friend, that was the fit moment for offering it: but as nothing had yet been said that was likely to have that effect, unless gentlemen had any doubts to state, and would be so good as to open them, he must oppose the motion for adjourning under such circumstances, as improper and unprecedented.

Mr. Pitt said, that on a question of so complicated a nature, it was scarcely to be supposed that there would not be some difference of opinion; possibly therefore, although the hour was not so far advanced as it sometimes had been on former occasions, it might be advisable to adjourn then. For his part, he would not then declare in which way he had made up his mind to vote ; yet he meant to deliver his sentiments at large on the motion, and should unavoidably be obliged to take up a good deal of the time of the committee. With regard to the honourable gentleman, all the impression that genius and talents could command, his speech certainly would make: but surely the honourable gentleman's friends paid him an ill compliment in supposing, that four and twenty hours would obliterate the effect, or blunt the pressure of his arguments. An abler speech had, perhaps, never been delivered ; but though he was willing to pay that tribute to the honourable gentleman which his abilities deserved, he by no means could agree, that because one dazzling speech had been delivered, other gentlemen ought not to be permitted to deliver their sentiments..

Mr. Fox said that so alarming a precedent as that of ad-, journing merely because one fine speech had been delivered, was what he never could consent to; and he was sure the right honourable gentleman was not aware of the badness of the precedent such a proceeding would establish when he proposed it. Would the right honourable gentleman, for instance, on days when he had a motion to make, and there was occasion,

vol. III.

as there often had been, for him to introduce it with a very long speech, choose, that, as soon as he had done speaking, the House should adjourn, in order to afford gentlemen time to consider of that speech, and to find out in what manner they could best answer it? He was sure that was a mode of doing business that the right honourable gentleman by no means wished to grow into custom. With regard to the compliment paid to his honourable friend, he knew his honourable friend too well, to think he wished for that sort of compliment conveyed by delay. His honourable friend had the cause and the justice of it, in which he had pleaded so powerfully as to flash conviction on almost every man's mind, too much at heart, to desire to postpone the decision that ought to follow his argument. His honourable friend had spoken ably, and indeed almost miraculously, as an honourable gentleman had expressed it; but why had he done so ? Not merely because he had the gift of singular and superior talents, but because he had spoken in a right cause because he had a heart susceptible of feeling, and capable of sympathising with the woes of those who claimed protection on account of their innocence and their defenceless condition, and on account of the unparalleled oppressions they had endured. His honourable friend's speech had been called, and justly called, an eloquent one. Eloquent, indeed, it was — so much so, that all he had ever heard, all he had ever read, when compared with it dwindled into nothing, and vanished like vapour before the sun. Having paid this debt of justice to his honourable friend, Mr. Fox again urged his argument against adjourning, unless some better reason was assigned than the mere lateness of the hour. If any gentleman thought he could answer the strong argument that had been that day delivered, or if gentlemen had any doubts upon their mind, let them state those doubts, or let them give the answer they meant to offer ; but why adjourn without so doing, unless it was from a sense that what had been that day said was unanswerable, and from a wish to gain time, and by negociation and manoeuvre accomplish that, which could not be done by fair argument. He said, he hoped to God, for the sake of the right honourable gentleman's character, and for the sake of what was still more important, the character of that House, the right honourable gentleman did not mean to vote against the question : if he did, he would doubtless support his vote by arguments, that, in the right honourable gentleman's mind at least, appeared likely to have some weight with the House: if so, why not deliver those arguments then, and oppose their impression, whatever it might be, to the impression which had been made by his honoura

Snegociationfair arcu honourab more importema

ble friend's speech ? What could be the object of delay, but merely an opportunity of preventing the operation which the truth and eloquence of his honourable friend's speech would otherwise have in convicting the delinquent, and redeeming the injured character of the nation ? With respect to the pretence of adjourning for the sake of deliberation, he could not admit its propriety. If gentlemen had not come with party prepossessions and personal partialities, they would not hesitate to vote when their minds were most alive to the cause of individual justice and national honour. The delay, he conceived, to be unexampled; for he never knew of any debate being adjourned, without some strong reason of necessity being given; but in the present instance nothing of this nature had been stated as an excuse.

The motion of adjournment was then carried.

April 2.

The report from the committee appointed to consider of the several articles of charge against Mr. Hastings was brought up by their chairman, Mr. St. John; and upon the question that it be now read a first time, Mr. Pitt observed, that in a business of such consequence as that in which they were engaged, he felt every successive stage become more and more important, and could not therefore repress his anxiety to preserve that degree of formality and regularity in the proceeding, which should leave him and other members at full liberty to deliver their votes, without hesitation, singly and exclusively, on the merits of the grand decisive question of impeachment, and free from any objections that might be made to the form in which that question should come forward. He therefore wished to know how Mr. Burke intended to proceed. For his part, having in some of the articles gone only a certain length in his assent, and by no means admitted a degree of guilt equal to that imputed in the charges, he could not think himself justified in joining in a general vote of impeachment, which might seem to countenance the whole of each several charge, those parts which he thought really criminal, as well as those which were of an exculpatory nature. The method which it was most adviseable, in his opinion, to pursue, was to refer the charges to a committee, in order to select out of them the criminal matter, and frame it into articles of impeachment; and then, on those articles, when reported to the House, to move the question of impeachment. If, on the contrary, the mode adopted was, to move the impeachment immediately, he should find himself under a necessity of moving, on the report from the committee, which had already sat on the charges, several amendments, confining the effects of each charge to that degree of real guilt, which he thought appeared in it.

Mr. Fox observed, that when he had the pleasure of seeing those gentlemen whose principles so often militated against his own, seriously adopting, the sentiments which he entertained upon a great and important question, no man was more willing to bend to their wishes as to the mode of best carrying those sentiments into effect. It was therefore with great concern that he felt it impossible for him to agree with the right honourable gentleman in the proposition which he had just stated : but he really could not do so without betraying, as he conceived, the great business in hand, and weakening even to the dangerous risk of losing it ultimately, the great question naturally consequent on all the investigations of the committee they had just come out of, namely, That Warren Hastings, esq. be impeached. That question was, he thought, the next and immediate step to be taken by the House, after agreeing (if they should agree) to the report then on the table, and they would in that case follow it up by sending word to the House of Lords, that the House of Commons had resolved to impeach Mr. Hastings, and declaring that they were preparing articles, and would present them with all convenient dispatch, reserving to themselves the constitutional right of supplying more articles, after they had gone through the whole, whether they should have occasion at all to exercise that right or not. Mr. Fox enlarged on the necessity of this mode of proceeding, comparing it with the other mode proposed by the chancellor of the exchequer, and contending that it was the true constitutional mode, and the best, of carrying the views of the great majority of the House into complete execution. If the House proceeded in the manner which he conceived to be the proper, and, indeed, the only proper mode of proceeding, they would, by coming imme diately to the great question, afford those gentlemen who meant to urge the argument of a set-off, a full opportunity of putting their favourite reasoning to the test; they would give every gentleman an equal degree of indulgence, and the matter, as to the question of impeachment, would rest on its true inerits, the sense of the majority, grounded on the votes of the committee, and then the House would decide upon the great question fairly; and, having once decided upon it, they would run no risk of losing it in any subsequent stage, by entertaining altered opinions under the influence of reasoning on the particular form and shape of different articles of the impeachment, or, what was still more to be dreaded, and guarded against in a proceeding of that kind, by the influence of improper interference, to which the other mode of pro-, ceeding was particularly obnoxious. That mode was also liable to other objections. If the House went into a com

at kiother mode was com

« ZurückWeiter »