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

He made the extraordinary mistake of despising Burke


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is clear that Hastings himself on his return had little idea of the serious danger with which he was menaced. He seems to have become convinced that his services to the State must inevitably outweigh any accidents or errors in the execution of those services. He honestly believed himself to have been a valuable and estimable servant of his country and his Crown. We may very well take his repeated declarations of his own integrity and uprightness, not, indeed, as proof of his possession of those qualities, but as proof of his profound belief that he did possess them. When he landed in England he appears to have expected only honors, only acclamation, admiration, and applause. He returned to accept a triumph; he did not dream that he should have to face a trial.

The long years in India had served to confuse his perception of the conduct of affairs at home. He did not in the least appreciate the men with whom he had to deal. If he gauged pretty closely the malignity of Francis, he may have fancied that the malignity was not very likely to prove dangerous. But he wholly misunderstood the character of the other foes, as important as Francis was unimportant, who were ranged against him. He made the extraordinary mistake of despising Burke.

Hastings had certain anxieties on his return to England, His first was caused by his disappointment at not finding his wife in London to greet him on his arrival, a {276}

disappointment that was consoled two days later when, as he was journeying post-haste to the country to join her, he met her on Maidenhead Bridge driving in to join him. His second was the pleasurable anxiety of negotiating for the purchase of Daylesford, the realization of his youthful dream. He was made a little anxious too, later on, by the delay in the awarding to him of those honors which he so confidently expected. But he does not seem to have been disturbed in any appreciable degree by the formidable preparations which were being made against him by Burke and Fox and the followers of Burke and Fox.

It is just possible that those preparations might have come to little or nothing but for the folly of Major Scott. Major Scott was mad enough to try and force the hand of the enemies of Hastings by calling upon Burke and Fox to fix a day for the charges that they were understood to be prepared to bring against him. Fox immediately rose to assure Major Scott that the matter was not forgotten. Burke, with grave composure, added that a general did not take choice of time and place of battle from his adversaries. It has been suggested that but for Major Scott's ill-advised zeal the attack might never have come to a head. But the conclusion is one which it would be rash to draw. Burke was not the man to forego his long-cherished hope of bringing a criminal to justice. If he had been inclined to forego it, he was not the kind of man to be goaded into unwilling resumption of his purpose by the taunts of Major Scott. It may surely be assumed that the impeachment of Warren Hastings would have been made even if Major Scott had been as wise and discreet as he proved himself to be unwise and indiscreet.

Even when the attack was formally begun, Hastings failed to grasp its gravity or guess the best mode of meeting it. He insisted upon being heard at the Bar of the House in his own defence. A man of rare oratorical ability, gifted with special skill in the selection of his material and the adjustment of his arguments, might have done himself a good turn by such a decision. But Hastings was not so endowed, and he would have done far better in {277} following the example of Clive and of Rumbold. He committed the one fault which the House of Commons never forgives, he wearied it. Such dramatic effect as he might have got out of his position as a proconsul arraigned before a senate he spoiled by the length and tedium of his harangue. He took two days to read a long and wordy defence, two days which he considered all too short, and which the House of Commons found all too long. It yawned while Hastings prosed. Accustomed to an average of eloquence of which the art has long been lost, it found Hastings's paper insufferably wearisome.


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