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leading principle of his government, and that those possessions and revenues, amidst unexampled dangers, have been secured and preserved; then a question may be unaccountably mixed with your consideration, much beyond the consequence of the present prosecution, involving, perhaps, the merit of the impeachment itself, which gave it birth; a question which the commons, as prosecutors or Mr. Hastings, should, in common prudence, have avoided; unless, regretting the unwieldy length of their proceedings against him, they wished to afford him the oppor
tunity of this strange, anomalous defence.
For, although I am neither his counsel, nor desire to have any thing to do with his guilt or innocence, yet, in the collateral defence of my client, I am driven to state matter which may be considered by many as hostile to the impeachment. For if our dependencies have been secured, and their interests promoted, I am driven, in the defence of my client, to remark, that it is mad and preposterous to bring to the standard of justice and humanity, the exercise of a dominion, founded upon violence and terrour. It may, and must be true, that Mr. Hastings has repeatedly offended against the rights and privileges of Asiatick government, if he was the faithful deputy of a power which could not maintain itself for an hour, without trampling upon both. He may and must have offended against the laws of God and nature, if he was the faithful viceroy of an empire wrested in blood, from the people to whom God and nature had given it. He may and must have preserved that unjust dominion over timorous and abject nations, by a terrifying, overbearing, insulting superiority, if he was the faithful administrator of your government, which, having no root in consent or affection; no foundation in similarity of interests; nor support from any one principle which cements men together in sociey, could only be upheld by alternate stratagem, and force. The unhappy people of India, feeble and effeminate as they are from the softness of their climate, and subdued and broken as they have been, by the knavery and strength of civilisation, still occasionally start up in all the vigour and intelligence of insulted nature. To be governed it all, they must be governed with a rod of iron; and our empire in the east would, long since, have been lost to Great Britain, if civil skill and military prowess had not united their efforts to support an authority, which heaven never gave, by means which it never can sanction. “Gentlemen—I think I can observe that together, by recalling our troops and our merchants, and abandoning our oriental empire. Until this be done, neither reli- #. nor philosophy can be pressed very r into the aid of reformation and punishment. If England, from a lust of ambition and dominion, will insist on maintaining despotick rule over distant and hostile mations, beyond all comparison more numerous and extended than herself, and give commission to her viceroys to govern them with no other instructions than to preserve them, and to secure permanently their revenues; with what colour of consistency or reason can she place herselfin the moral chair, and affect to be shocked at the execution of her own orders; adverting to the exact measure of wickedness and injustice necessary to their execution, and complaining only of the earcess as the immorality, considering her authority as a dispensation for breaking the commands of God, and the breach of them as only punishable when contrary to the ordinances of man “Such a proceeding, gentlemen, begets serious reflections. It would be better, perhaps, for the masters and the servants of all such governments, to join in supplication, that the great Author of violated humanity may not confound them together in one common judgment.” II 260–265.
you are touched with this way of considering the subject; and I can account for it. I have not been considering it through the cold medium of books, but have been speaking of man and his nature, and of human dominion, from what I have seen of them myself amongst reluctant nations submitting to our authority. I know what they feel, and how such feelings can alone be repressed. I have heard them in my youth from a naked savage, in the indignant character of a prince, surrounded by his subjects, addressing the governour of a British colony, holding a bundle of sticks in his hand, as the notes of his unlettered eloquence: “Who is it,” said the jealous ruler over the desert, encroached upon by the restless foot of English adventure, “who is it that causes this river to rise in the high mountains, and to empty itself into the ocean? Who is it that causes to blow the loud winds of winter, and that calms them again in the summer ? Who is it that rears up the shade of those lofty forests, and blasts them with the quick lightning at his pleasure? The same Being, who gave to you a country on the other side of the waters, and gave ours to us; and by this title we will defend it!” said the warriour, throwing down histomohawk upon the ground, and raising the warsound of his nation—These are the feelings of subjugated man all round the globe; and, depend upon it, nothing but fear will control where it is vain to look for affection. “These reflections are the only antidotes to those anathemas of superhuman eloquence, which have lately shaken these walls that surround us; but which it unaccountably falls to my province, whether I will or no, a little to stem the torrent of, by reminding you, that you have a mighty sway in Asia, which cannot be maintained by the finer sympathies of life, or the practice of its charities and affections. What will they do for you, when surrounded by two hundred thousand men with artillery, cavalry, and elephants, calling upon you for their dominions which you have robbed them of Justice may, no doubt, in such a case forbid the levying of a fine to pay a revolting soldiery; a treaty may stand in the way of increasing a tribute to keep up the very existence of the government; and delicacy for women may forbid all entrance into a Zenana for money, whatever may be the necessity for taking it. All these things must ever be occurring. But, under the pressure of such constant difficulties, so dangerous to national honour, it might be better, perhaps, to think of effectually securing it al
In , considering this passage, we earnestly entreat the reader, whoever he may be, to reflect on the moral of it, as it bears on the great questions of East Indian policy; but, as far as relates to the character of Mr. Erskine’s eloquence, we would point out, as the most remarkable feature in it, that in no one sentence is the subject, the business in hand, the case, the client, the verdict, lost sight of; and that the fire of that oratory, or rather that rhetorick (for it was quite under discipline) which was melting the hearts, and dazzling the understandings of his hearers, had not the power to touch for an instant the hard head of the nisi firius Aawyer, from which it radiated; or to make him swerve, by one hairbreadth even, from the minuter details most befitting his purpose, and the alternate admissions and disavowals best adapted to put his case in the safest fiosition. This, indeed, was the grand secret of Mr. ErWoo?... IV.
After the passage just quoted, he contends (always taking care to protest against the inuendoes in every particular) that though a man in the situation of the author should happen, in a long work, to use one or two intemperate expressions, he must not, on this account, be “subjected to infamy.” “If,” says he, “this severe duty were binding on your consciences, the liberty of the press would be but an empty sound; and no man could venture to write on any subject, however pure his purpose, without an attorney at one elbow, and a counsel at the other.” This leads to another of those highly-wrought, and yet argumentative passages, which so eminently distinguish this oration.
“From minds thus subdued by the terrours of punishment, there could issue no works of genius to expand the empire of human reason, nor any masterly compositions on the general nature of government, by the help of which, the great commonwealths of mankind have founded their establishments; much less any of those useful applications of them to critical conjunctures, by which, from time to time, our own constitution, by the exertion of patriot citizens, has been brought back to its standard. Under such terrours, all the great lights of science and civilisation must be extinguished, for men cannot communicate their free theughts to one another with a lash held over their heads. It is the nature of every thing that is great and useful, both in the animate and inanimate world, to be wild and irregular; and we must be contented to take them with the alloys which belong to them, or live without them. Genius breaks from the 2 a.
fetters of criticism, but its wanderings are sanctioned by its majesty and wisdom, when it advances in its path—subject it to the critick, and you tame it into dulness. Mighty rivers break down their banks in the winter, sweeping away to death the flocks which are fattened on the soil that they fertilize in the summer; the few may be saved by embankments from drowning, but the flock must perish for hunger.— Tempests occasionally shake our dwellings, and dissipate our commerce; but they scourge before them the lazy elements, which without them would stagnate into pestilence. In like manner, Liberty herself, the last and best gift of God to his creatures, must be taken just as she is—you might pare her down into bashful regularity, and shape her into a perfect model of severe scrupulous law; but she would then be Liberty no longer; and you must be content to die under the lash of this inexorable justice which you had exchanged for the banners of Freedom.” II. 266–268.
repentance blot them out for ever.” II. 269-271.
The speech for Mr. Perry (the editor of the Morning Chronicle, who has distinguished himself too, on a late occasion, as the successful advocate of a free press) is, though much less brilliant, almost equal in skill and argument; and it produced, like the defence of Stockdale, a clear acquittal. We shall, however, rather direct the attention of our readers to the speech in Frost's case, who was accused, by the very comfortable loyalty of some good men in those days, of uttering seditious words,They turned out to be a few random expressions used in passing through a coffeehouse, where he had been dining, and drinking pretty freely, at an agricultural meeting.
At the present day, or at any time since the mild and conciliatory administration of Mr. Addington (to whom, on this, as well as on other accounts, we gladly pay the tribute of our humble gratitude) no man would be found base enough to denounce such offences, because the government would be ashamed to employ even professional spies on such eavesdropping errands. But in that day of alarm, it was far otherwise. We were then reaping the bitter first-fruits of the penitence of Mr. Pitt—a new convert from the damnable heresy of reform, and performing his rigorous noviciate among the associated enemies of popular rights. In the fervour of that new sprung zeal, an experiment was made on the temper and character of the nation, which nothing but the alarms transplanted from France could have made any mortal bold enough to have attempted;— which the conversions of Oliver Cromwell did not surpass, except in success; which Buonaparte himself, in the antijacobin part of his life— in his third manner (to use the language of painters) has scarcely excelled, unless in the greater boldness of the design, and brilliancy of the execution; and which the integrity of British courts of justice, and the genius of Mr. Erskine, alone prevented from dying the canvas with as deep a shade among ourselves. The trade of a spy was then not merely lucrative; it had almost ceased to be degrading. Friends of the constitution, as they were called, conveyed the dark hint, and carried the careless words of the supposed “ democrat” from house to house, till, at last, his person was watched, his temper tried, the accents of discontent registered, as they were wrung from his lips by every indignity which the fiersecution of society (if we may so speak) can inflict; and then his company shunned by the base and the cowardly; or only resorted to by the loyal who had not #. fattened upon him, and had their ortune still to make out of his life and conversation. We speak not from hearsay, or from fancy, but from distinct and personal recollection; for fifteen years have not passed over our heads, since every part of the island, from the metropolis to the meanest village that supports an attorney or a curate, teemed with the wretched vermin whom we are in vain at
tempting to describe. We speak, indeed, from notes that are still fresh and legible; for, turn which way we will, we now see almost all the places of profit and trust in this island filled with persons, for whose elevation we should find it hard to account, if we did not look back to their apprenticeships in 1794 and 1795. We speak from a feeling recollection; for, where did this unutterable baseness; this infinite misery; this most humiliating curse, fall so heavily as in the very city where we now write : And for no other reason, but because Scotland has no popular spirit, from having no popular elections—and because her courts of justice were, at that time, considerably behind the courts of Westminster. In London, the evil was less severely felt; but it was no fault of Mr. Pitt’s that it stopt where it did. He had committed in his youth the sin of reform; he had his atonement to make for an offence only pardonable on the score of that heedless and tender age—only to be expiated by the most glaring proofs of amendment. Mr. Frost had been a reformer, too; and had even held a high office among the members of Mr. Pitt's society. In this capacity he had constant communications with that distinguished personage; and, at his trial, could even produce the most cordial and respectful letters, on the interests of their “great and common cause.” The canting visage of Harrison, or the steady virtue of Hutchison, were not more hateful to Cromwell; Danton and Brissot were not more formidable to Robespierre; Syeyes is less odious to Buonaparte; a catholick petition to lord Castlereagh; or, to come nearer to the point, the question of the abolition, to the same Mr. Pitt himself, after his periods had been turned on the slave traffick—than such men as Frost, Hardy, Thelwall and Holcroft were to that, converted reformer of the parliament. After he had once said to corruption, “thou art my brother,” and called power, or rather place, his god (for he truckled too much for the sake of merely keeping in—he was too mean in his official propensities, to deserve the name of ambitious) the sight of a reformer was a spectre to his eyes; he detested it as the wicked do the light; as tyrants do the history of their own times, which haunts their repose even after the conscience has ceased to sting their souls. We must be pardoned for using this language. We know of no epithet too harsh for him who was profligate enough to thirst for the blood of his former associates in reform; of the very men whom his own eloquence, and the protection of his high station, had seduced into popular courses; and, not content with deserting them, to use the power into which he had mounted on their backs, for the purpose of their destruction! When the wars and the taxes which we owe to the lamentable policy of this rash statesman shall be forgotten, and the turmoils of this factious age shall live only in historical record; when those venal crowds shall be no more, who now subsist on the spoil of the myriads whom he has undone, the passage of this great orator's life, which will excite the most lively emotions, will be that where his apostacies are enrolled; where the case of the African slave, and of the Irish catholick, stand black in the sight; but most of all will the heart shudder at his persecutions of the reformers, and his attempt to naturalize into England a system of proscriptions, which nothing but the trial by jury, and by English judges, could have prevented from sinking the whole land in infamy and blood,
The speech for Mr. Frost is the first of those almost miraculous exertions which, in that momentous crisis, Mr. Erskine made for the liberties of his country, We shall give
forsworn the errours of his way, and
our readers only a short specimen of it, as descriptive of the proceedings which we have been alluding to; and more especially of the conduct of the government and their agents, in Scotland. Could evidence be brought from Ireland, we apprehend the Scottish persecutions would sink out of sight.
* Gentlemen—it is impossible for me to form any other judgment of the impression which such a proceeding, altogether, is likely to make upon your minds, but from that which it makes upon my own. In the first place, is society to be protected by the breach of those confidences, and in the destruction of that security and tranquillity, which constitute its very essence every where, but which, till of late, most emphatically characterized the life of an Englishman Is government to derive dignity and safety by means which render it impossible for any man who has the least spark of honour to step forward to serve it Is the time come, when obedience to the law and correctness of conduct are not a sufficient protection to the subject, but that he must measure his steps, select his expressions, and adjust his very looks in the most common and private intercourses of life? Must an English gentleman, in future, fill his wine by a measure, lest, in the openness of his soul, and whilst believing his neighbours are joining with him in that happy relaxation and freedom of thought, which is the prime blessing of life, he should find his character blasted, and his person in a prison 2 Does any man put such constraint upon himself in the most private moment of his life, that he would be contented to have his loosest and lightest words recorded, and set in array against him in a court of justice Thank God, the world lives very differently, or it would not be worth living in. There are moments when jarring opinions may be given without inconsistency; when Truth herself may be sported with without the breach of veracity; and where well-imagined nonsense is not only superiour to, but is the very index to wit and wisdom. I might safely assert, taking, too, for the standard of my assertion, the most honourably correct and enlightened societies in the kingdom, that if malignant spies were properly posted, scarcely a dinner would end without a duel and an indictment.
“When I came down this morning, and found, contrary to my expectation, that we were to be stuffed into this miserable hole