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RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN.
FEBRUARY 11, 1788.
PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ELIJAH IMPEY. The order of the day, for the house to resolve itself into a committee to hear witnesses on charges exhibited against Sir Elijah Impey, having been read, Sir Gilbert Elliot moved—“ That Mr. Farrer, a member of the house, be examined in his place.” Mr. Farrer said, he felt no objection to be examined, provided it was at the desire of both parties and of the committee, but that he would, on no account, consent to be considered as the witness either of the accusers or of the accused. It was then proposed to call Sir Elijah to the bar, and ask whether he had any objection to having Mr. Farrer examined ; but
MR. SHERIDAN observed, that if such a measure was adopted, it would put the house into a most embarrassing situation, as it would be difficult for them to proceed, in case Sir Elijah Impey should refuse to consent. Mr. Sheridan added, that the honorable gentleman had already informed the committee that he had it in his power to throw more light upon the subject of the first charge, than any man living; and if it was declared to be the sense of that committee, he had no objection, he would therefore move to declare that it was the sense of that committee that Mr. Farrer be examined.
The motion was carried.-Mr. Farrer then proceeded to give his evidence, and began a regular detail of all the circumstances of Nundcomar's case, tracing them from the first time of their agitation, before Sir Elijah Impey's arrival in India, down to the arraignment of Nundcomar, on an indictment for perjury in the Supreme Court of Judicature. In the early part of the narration, Mr. Farrer stated that he had in his hand a warrant, on the back of which was written, by an attorney, an account of the conversation of the judges, upon application to them to grant a writ of habeas corpus to Nundcomar. Mr. Farrer said, the gentleman who wrote the account was gone to India, but that he knew it to be his handwriting. Having said this, he read the account, and it was taken down by the clerk at the table. Mr. John Scott then rose, and seriously declared his conviction that this former objection was right, and that the witness ought not to have been suffered to give his testimony in any other way but in answer to such questions as might have been put to him. Mr. Scott declared the paper just read would not have been received in any court in the kingdom, since it was not evidence, but a mere hear-say account of a conversation. Mr. Scott enlarged upon the established law of evidence, and upon the necessity of strictly adhering to it in all proceedings in any sort leading to a judicial determination. This gave rise to various remarks concerning the nature of the proceeding upon which the committee were then engaged. Mr. Fox maintained that the paper just read was a proper paper to be upon the table, considering the nature of the present proceeding ; and declared it was not a proceeding at all analagous to any legal measures in the courts of Westminster Hall; nor was the house at all bound by the rules of legal evidencee. He also observed, that he felt it impossible to speak of lawyers in the highest terms of praise, when he saw them coming down in a body, to puzzle and confound the members of that house, by advancing rules of law practice, in cases where they did not apply ; and he reminded the committee that the house had, on various occasions, exerted its authority, and even gone so far as to punish the judges by impeaching them for misconstruction of the laws of the land. Mr. Bearcroft observed, that he could not avoid expressing his astonishment at the illiberal obloquy with which the right honourable gentleman opposite to him had treated a whole profession. He added, that if he was to lay his finger upon the particular point that had raised the practice of law in this country so high in the estimation of all the world, it would be upon the law of evidence. He took notice of Mr. Fox having said he was bred in that house, and declared, if his late speech was to be taken as a proof of that breeding, he desired no more of it. He next entered into a justification of the gentlemen of his profession from the charge of being actuated, on the present occasion, by an esprit du corps. Was it, he said, to be wondered at that lawyers should appear anxious to attend the agitation of a charge against a -lawyer of long standing, and unsullied character; and that charge as black a one as ever was imputed to any man, or even any lawyer?
Mr. Sheridan remarked, that the honorable and learned gentleman, he perceived, was desirous of not only teaching that house the law, but breeding, and he wished still farther to teach them French. He could not but admire the comical sort of argument which the honorable and learned gentleman had used in justification of his profession. He had said every thing handsome of them, and followed his encomium, by adding, whimsically, that the charge against Sir Elijah Impey was as black as could be brought against any man; nay, against any lawyer. Mr. Sheridan declared that he could not pass over in silence the reflections on his right honorable friend (by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Bearcroft) for a speech, which, he thought, did his right honorable friend infinite honor. He was sure his right honorable friend had meant nothing personal; but was it to be wondered at, if, in his zeal to defend the privileges of that house, he should reprobate the attempt to mix the practice of the law courts in their proceedings, to which they were utterly inapplicable? The paper in question Mr. Sheridan declared to be, in the true sense of the words, good evidence; for what was good evidence, but that which was applicable to the end to which it was applied, and which the court, before whom it was exhibited, was competent to receive. Different courts, it was well known, had different powers; and what would be evidence in one court, would not be evidence in another. Thus, what was evidence in the Court of Chancery, would not be evidence in the Court of King's Bench, nor would that testimony that was good evidence on a trial for felony be admissible on a trial for high treason. Mr. Sheridan took notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had, with all that wonderful power of words 'for which he was so celebrated, pronounced a swelling panegyric on the honorable and learned gentleman near him (Major Scott), but he had given his argument and his conviction to his right honorable friend, declaring he adopted the principles which his right honorable friend had laid down. Upon such conditions he was persuaded his right honorable friend would gladly compromise for the future with the right honorable gentleman.
At length Mr. Farrer was desired to proceed ; and at eleven o'clock the committee adjourned.
LIBEL ON THE COMMITTEE APPOINTED BY THE
HOUSE TO MANAGE THE PROSECUTION OF MR. HASTINGS.
Mr. Fox moved—“ That a pamphlet, entitled, 'A review of the principal charges against Warren Hastings, Esq. contains matter disrespectful to His Majesty, and scandalous and indecent paragraphs, reflecting on the motives which had induced this house to impeach Warren Hastings, Esq. of high crimes and misdemeanors.” The principal passages from which this charge was deduced, ran thus :-" Such an exertion of public virtue, (the impeachment of Mr. Hastings), if to public virtue it shall be referred, is indeed
“ Aboye all Greek, above all Roman fame;" and will furnish a memorable example to future times, that no sta. tion, however elevated; no abilities, however splendid ; no services, however beneficial or meritorious; that not even the smile of the sovereign, nor the voice of the people, can protect a British subject from impeachment, and a public delinquent from punishment if found guilty.”
" For the future when any officer should return home from a situation of responsibility, his only hope must be in joining a powerful faction; for his services, let them be ever so high, or his loyalty, be it ever so exemplary, would be insufficient for his security.”
Mr. Pitt moved an amendment that the words, “His Majesty," be left out of the resolution.
Mr. SHERIDAN maintained, that the last sentence of the passage “ and a public delinquent from punishment,” was a clear and convincing proof, that the whole referred to Mr. Hastings's present enjoyment of the smiles of the Sovereign; and insinuated, that an impeachment was a mode of prosecution that did not leave the Sovereign his power of granting mercy after conviction. Mr. Sheridan, in the course of his speech, answered the Chancellor of the Exchequer's observations, that the present station of Mr. Hastings, as a person impeached by the Commons of England of high crimes and misdemeanors, was not a very exalted one, by remarking, that till Mr. Hastings should be convicted of the charges, of which he stood impeached, his station was not, in the eye of the law, reason, or common sense, to be considered as a station of degradation.
Upon the question being put, the house divided; ayes (for the original question) 66; noes 132. The amended question was then put and agreed to.
Mr. Fox immediately rose, and declared that he still entertained his opinion, that unless in cases of public libel, or of a libel on the government at large, or legislature collectively, he did not think it becoming in that house to resort to the crown lawyers, as the instruments of prosecuting libels affecting themselves, interfering with their proceedings, or implicating a breach of the privileges, he moved,
“ That an address be presented to His Majesty, most humbly to desire, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions to His Majesty's attorney general to prosecute. The motion was agreed to nemine contradicente. *
DECLARATORY EAST INDIA BILL.
During the apprehensions, which had existed in the course of last year, of a rupture with the Court of France, Government had taken a resolution of sending our four additional regiments to India, on board the company's ships, for the protection of our possessions in that quarter, and the proposition had been ree ceived with equal approbation by the court of directors. But in the mean time the storm having blown over, and government still adhering to their resolution of sending out four regiments with a view to form a permanent establishment of His Majesty's troops in India, a question had arisen respecting the expense of sending them out, and of their future payment. By un act which passed in 1781, it was stipulated that the company should be bound to pay for such troops only as were sent to India upon their requisition, und upon this act the directors had refused to
* Mr. John Stockdale, the publisher of the pamphlet was tried the 9th of December, 1789, and found not guilty.