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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Now better known as Nand Kumar


Warren

Hastings was never for one moment shaken. In a very short space of time he had greatly bettered the administrative system, had fostered the trade of the country by the adoption of a uniform and low Customs duty, and had greatly furthered the establishment of civilized rule in the province conquered by Clive. He accomplished this in the face of difficulties and all dissensions in his own Council, against subtle native intrigues, against opposition open and covert of the most persistent kind. Every creature who throve out of the disorganization of India naturally worked, in the daylight or in the dark, against Hastings's efforts at organization. In 1771, when he was made Governor of Bengal, he had attempted much and succeeded in much. He fought hard with the secret terror of dacoity. Having given Bengal a judicial system, he proceeded to increase its usefulness by drawing up a code of Mohammedan and Hindu law. For the former he used the digest made by command of Aurungzebe; for the {258} second he employed ten learned Pundits, the result of whose labors was afterwards translated into English by Halhed, who had been the friend of Sheridan and his rival for the hand of Miss Linley.

The work which Warren Hastings accomplished in India must be called gigantic. He created organization out of chaos; he marched straightforward upon the course which Clive had already marked out as the path of the East India Company's glory. The East India Company

was not very eager to advance along that path. Hastings spurred its sluggish spirit, and, though he was not able to do all that his daring nature dreamed of, he left behind him a long record of great achievements. The annexation of Benares, the practical subjection of Oude, the extension of British dominion, the triumphs of British arms, must be remembered to the credit of Warren Hastings when his career as a great English adventurer is being summed up. That British Empire in India for which Clive unconsciously labored owes its existence to-day in no small degree to the genius, to the patience, and to the untiring energy of Warren Hastings.

[Sidenote: 1773--Hastings and the Rohilla War]

The two heaviest charges levelled against Warren Hastings are in connection with the Rohilla war and with the trial of Nuncomar, now better known as Nand Kumar. The genius of Burke and the genius of Macaulay have served not merely to intensify the feeling against Hastings, but in some degree to form the judgments and bias the opinions of later writers. But it is only due to the memory of a great man to remember that both in the case of the Rohilla war and in the case of Nand Kumar there were two sides to the question, and that Hastings's side has not always been investigated with the care it deserves. The adversary who denounced him in the House of Commons and impeached him in Westminster Hall, the adversary who assailed him with a splendid prose, were alike inspired by a longing for justice and a hatred of oppression. But it should be possible now, when more than a century has passed since the indictment of the one and well-nigh half a century since the indictment of the other, to remember {259} that if Hastings cannot be exculpated there is at least a measure of excuse to be offered for his action.

There is much to be said from a certain point of view in defence of Warren Hastings's action with regard to the Rohilla war. The Rohilla chiefs were no doubt a danger to the Nawab of Oude, whom Hastings regarded as a useful ally of the Company. By the conquest of Rohilkhand Hastings hoped to obtain for that ally a compact State shut in effectually from foreign invasion by the Ganges all the way from the frontiers of Behar to the mountains of Thibet, while at the same time this useful ally would remain equally accessible to the British forces either for hostilities or protection. Put in this way the case seemed, no doubt, plausible enough to Hastings, and to all who thought with Hastings that Indian chiefs and princes were but pieces on a board, to be pushed this way or that way, advanced or removed altogether at the pleasure and for the advantage of the English resident and ruler. But what actually happened was that Hastings, in defiance of the whole principle of the Company's administration in India, interfered in the contests of native races and lent the force of English arms to aid a despot in the extirpation of his enemies. It is not to the point to urge that the Rohillas were not undeserving of their fate. Even if the Rohillas were little other than robber chiefs, even if their existence constituted a weak point in the lines of defence against the ever-terrible Mahrattas, all this did not in the eyes of Burke and of those who thought with Burke justify Hastings in lending English arms for their extermination and receiving Indian money for the loan. They saw an act of hideous injustice and corruption where Hastings saw merely a piece of ingenious state policy. He gave the troops, he got the money. The Rohillas were destroyed as an independent power, and the Company was richer than it had been before the transaction by some four hundred thousand pounds.


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