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Speech on the fourth charge against Warren Hastings, Esq.,
late Governor-General of Bengal, as the ground of his impeachment in respect to his conduct towards the Begun Princesses of Oude, 7th February, 1787.
Mr. Sheridan rose, and for the space of five hours and forty minutes, commanded the attention and admiration of the House, by an oration of almost unexampled excellence, uniting the most convincirag closeness and accuracy of argument, with the most luminous precision and perspicuity of language; and, alternately giving force by substantial reasoning, and enlightening the most extensive and involved subjects with the purest clearness of logic, and the brightest splendour of rhetoric.
Every prejudice, every prepossesion, was gradually overcome by the force of this extraordinary combination of keen but liberal discrimination, of brilliant but argumentative wit. It will be a permanent record of Mr. Sheridan's unrivalled abilities, that on this trying occasion, which, of all others, had divided not only the House of Commons, but the nation at large into a variety of parties, this memorable speech produced almost universal union. It is utterly impossible to attempt more than an outline of this unprecedented exertion of talents and judgment. We have endeavoured to prepare a faithful miniature of an unequalled original. He commenced his speech by observing
That, had it been possible to have received, without a viola. tion of the established rules of Parliament, the paper which the hon. member (Mr. Dempster) had just now read, he should 'willingly have receded from any forms of the House, for the
purpose of obtaining new lights and further illustration on the important subject then before them : not, indeed, that on the present occasion he found himself so ill-prepared as merely, for this reason, to be prevented from proceeding to the discharge of his duty ; neither, to speak freely, was he inclined to consider any explanatory additions to the evidence of Sir Elijah Impey so much framed to elucidate as to perplex and contradict.
Needless was it to his present purpose to require Sir Elijah Impey legally to recognize what had been read in his name by the hon. gentleman. In fact, neither the informality of any subsisting evidence nor the adducement of any new explanations from Sir Elijah Impey could make the slightest impression upon the vast and strong body of proof which he should now bring forward against Warren Hastings.
Yet, if any motive could have so far operated upon him as to make him industriously seek for a renewed opportunity of questioning Sir Elijah, it would resul: from his fresh and indig. nant recollection of the low and artful stratagem of delivering to the members and others, in this last period of parliamentary inquiry, printed handbills of defence, the contents of which bespoke a presumptuous and empty boast of completely refuting all which at any time had or could be advanced against Mr. Hastings, on the subject of the fourth article in the general charge of a right hon..member: (Mr. Burke). But even this was far beneath his notice. The rectitude and strength of his cause was not to be prejudiced by such pitiful expedients ; nor should he waste a moment in counteracting measures which, though insidious, were proportionately frivolous and unavailing ; nor would he take up the time of the committee with any general argument to prove that the subject of the charge which it fell to his lot to bring forward was of great moment and magnitude.
The attention which Parliament had paid to the affairs of India for many sessions past, the voluminous productions of their committees on that subject, the various proceedings in that House respecting it, their own strong and pointed resolutions, the repeated recommendations of his Majesty, and their reiterated assurance of paying due regard to those recommendations, as well as various acts of the Legislature,—were all of them undeniable proofs of the moment and magnitude of the consideration, and incontrovertibly established this plain broad fact, that Parliament directly acknowledges that the British name and character had been dishonoured and rendered
detestable throughout India by the malversation and crimes of the principal servant of the East India Company. The fact having been established beyond all question by themselves, and by their own acts, there needed no argument on his part to induce the committee to see the importance of the subject about to be discussed upon that day, in a more striking point of view than they themselves had held it up to public observation.
There were, he knew, persons without doors, who affected to ridicule the idea of prosecuting Mr. Hastings, and who, not inconsistently, redoubled their exertions in proportion as the prosecution became more serious, to increase their sarcasms upon the subject by asserting that Parliament might be more usefully employed, that there were matters of more immediate moment to engage their attention, that a commercial treaty with France had just been concluded, and that it was of a vast and comprehensive nature, and of itself sufficient io engross their attention.
To all this he would oppose these questions : Was Parliament misspending its time by inquiring into the oppressions practised on millions of unfortunate persons in India, and endeavouring to bring the daring delinquent who had been guilty of the most flagrant acts of enormous tyranny and rapacious peculation to exemplary and condign punishment? Was it a misuse of their functions to be diligent in attempting by the most effectual means to wipe off the disgrace affixed to the British name in India, and to rescue the national character from lasting infamy ? Surely no man who felt for one or the other would think a business of greater moment or magnitude could occupy his attention; or that the House could with too much steadiness, too ardent a zeal, or too industrious a perseverance, pursue its object.
Their conduct in this respect during the course of the preceding year had done them immortal honour, and proved to all the world that however degenerate an example of Englishmen some of the British subjects had exhibited in India, the people of England, collectively speaking, and acting by their representatives, felt--as men should feel on such an occasion—that they were anxious to do justice by redressing injuries and punishing offenders, however high their rank, however elevated their station.
Their indefatigable exertions in committees appointed to inquire concerning the affairs of India; their numerous elaborate and clear reports; their long and interesting debates; their solemn addresses to the throne ; their rigorous legislative acts;