Previous Index Next
Page 109
(previous) (Page 000109) (next)
 
WARREN HASTINGS. 9

and second administration, an interval which has left on the
fame of the East India Company a stain, not wholly effaced by
many years of just and humane government. Mr. Vansittart,
the Governor, was at the head of a new and anomalous em-
pire. On one side was a band of English functionaries, daring,
intelligent, eager to be rich. On the other side was a great
native population, helpless, timid, accustomed to crouch under
oppression. To keep the stronger race from preying on the
weaker, was an undertaking which tasked to the utmost the talents
and energy of Clive. Vansittart, with fair intentions, was a
feeble and ineflicient ruler. The master caste, as was natural,
broke loose from all restraint; and then was seen what we believe
to be the most frightful of all spectacles, the strength of civilisation
without its mercy. To all other despotism there is a check, im-
perfect indeed, and liable to gross abuse, but still suflicient to pre-
serve society from the last extreme of misery. A time comes when
the evils of submission are obviously greater than those of resist-
ance, when fear itself begets a sort of courage, when a convulsive
burst of popular rage and despair warns tyrants not to presume
too far on the patience of mankind. But against misgovernment
such as then afflicted Bengal it was impossible to struggle. The
superior intelligence and energy of the dominant class made their
power irresistible. A war of Bengalees against Englishmen
was like a war of sheep against wolves, of men against daemons.
The only protection which the conquered could find was in the
moderation, the clemency, the enlarged policy of the conquerors.

That protection, at a later period, they found. But at first Eng-_

lish power came among them unaccompanied by English morality.
There was an interval between the time at which they became
our subjects, and the time at which we began to reflect that
we were bound to discharge towards them the duties of rulers.
During that interval the business of a servant of the Company
was simply to wring out of the natives a hundred or two hundred
thousand pounds as speedily as possible, that he might return home
before his constitution had suffered from the heat, to marry a peer’s
daughter, to buy rotten boroughs in Cornwall, and to give balls in
St. James’s Square. Of the conduct of Hastings at this time
little is known ; but the little that is known, and the circumstance
that little is known, must be considered as honourable to him. Ile
could not protect the natives : all that he could do was to abstain

Previous Index Next