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My Lords, they began by winding cords round the fingers of the unhappy freeholders of those provinces, until they clung to and were almost incorporated with one another; and then they hammered wedges of iron between them, until, regardless of the cries of the sufferers, they had bruised to pieces and for ever crippled those poor, honest, innocent, laborious hands, which had never been raised to their mouths but with a penurious and scanty proportion of the fruits of their own soil: but those fruits (denied to the wants of their own children) have furnished the investment of our trade with China, and been sent annually out, and without recompense, to purchase for us that delicate meal with which your Lordships, and all this auditory, and all this country, have begun every day for these fifteen years at their expense. To those beneficent hands that labour for our benefit the return of the British government has been cords and hammers and wedges. But there is a place where these crippled and disabled hands will act with resistless power. What is it that they will not pull down, when they are lifted to Heaven against their oppressors? Then what can withstand such hands? Can the power that crushed and destroyed them? Powerful in prayer, let us at least deprecate, and thus endeavour to secure ourselves from, the vengeance which these mashed and disabled hands may pull down upon us. My Lords, it is an awful consideration I let us think of it.
But, to pursue this melancholy but necessary detail. I am next to open to your Lordships, that the most substantial and leading yeomen, the responsible farmers, the parochial magistrates and chiefs of villages, were tied two and two by the legs together; and their tormentors, throwing them with their heads downwards, over a bar, beat them on the soles of the feet with rattans, until the nails fell from the toes; and then attacking them at their heads, as they hung downward, as before at their feet, they beat them with sticks and other instruments of blind fury, until the blood gushed out at their eyes, mouths, and noses. Not thinking that the ordinary whips and cudgels, even so administered, were sufficient, to others (and often also to the same who had suffered as I have stated) they applied, instead of rattan and bamboo, whips made of the branches of the bale-tree,_a tree full of sharp and strong thorns, which tear the skin and lacerate the flesh far worse than ordinary scourges. For others, exploring with a searching and inquisitive malice, stimulated by an insatiate rapacity, all the devious paths of Nature for whatever is most unfriendly to man, they made rods of a plant highly caustic and poisonous, called Bechettea, every wound of which festers and gangrenes, adds double and treble to the present torture, leaves a crust of leprous sores upon the body, and often ends in the destruction of life itself. At night, these poor innocent sufferers, these martyrs of avarice and extortion, were brought into dungeons; and, in the season when nature takes refuge in insensibility from all the miseries and cares which wait on life, they were three times scourged, and made to reckon the watches of the night by periods and intervals of torment. They were then led out, in the severe depth of Winter, which there at certain seasons would be severe to any, to the Indians is most severe and almost intolerable, they were led out before break of day, and, stiff and sore as they were with the bruises and wounds of the night, were plunged into water; and, whilst their jaws clung together with the cold, and their bodies were rendered infinitely more sensible, the blows and stripes were renewed upon their backs; and then, delivering them over to soldiers, they were sent into their farms and villages to discover where the few handfuls of grain might be found concealed, or to extract some loan from the remnants of compassion and courage not subdued in those who had reason to fear that their own turn of torment would be next, and that their very humanity, being taken as a proof of their wealth, would subject them (as it did in many cases subject them) to the same inhuman tortures. After this circuit of the day through their plundered and ruined villages, they were remanded at night to the same prison, whipped, as before, at their return to the dungeon, and at morning whipped at their leaving it, and then sent, as before, to purchase, by begging in the day, the reiteration of the torture in the night. Days of menace, insult, and extortion, nights of bolts, fetters, and flagellation, succeeded to each other in the same round, and for a long time made up all the vicissitudes of life to those miserable people. But there are persons whose fortitude could bear their own suffering ; there are men who are hardened by their very pains, and the mind, strengthened even by the torments of the body, rises with a strong defiance against its oppressor. They were assaulted on the side of their sympathy. Children were scourged almost to death in the presence of their parents. This was not enough. The son and father were bound close together, face to face and body to body, and in that situation cruelly lashed together, so that the blow which escaped the father fell upon the son, and the blow which missed the son wound over the back of the parent. The circumstances were combined with so subtle a cruelty, that every stroke which did not excruciate the sense should wound and lacerate the sentiments and affections of nature. On the same principle, and for the same ends, virgins, who had never seen the Sun, were dragged from the inmost sanctuaries of their houses, and in the open court of justice, in the very place where security was to be sought against all wrong and all violence, (but where no judge or lawful magistrate had long sat, but, in their place, the ruffians and hangmen of Warren Hastings occupied the bench,) these virgins, vainly invoking IIeaven and Earth in the presence of their parents, and whilst their shrieks were mingled with the indignant cries and groans of all the people, publicly were violated by the lowest and wickedest of the human race. Wives were torn from the arms of their husbands, and suffered the same flagitious wrongs, which were indeed hid in the bottoms of the dungeons in which their honour and their liberty were buried together. Often they were taken out of the refuge of this consoling gloom, stripped naked, and thus exposed to the world, and then cruelly scourged ; and, in order that cruelty might riot in all the circumstances that melt into tenderness the fiercest natures, the nipples of their breasts were put between the sharp and elastic sides of cleft bamboos. Here in my hand is my authority; for otherwise one would think it incredible. But it did not end there. Growing from crime to crime, ripened by cruelty for cruelty, these fiends, at length outraging sex, decency, nature, applied lighted torches and slow fire—(I cannot proceed for shame and horror l)—these infernal furies planted death in the source of life ; and where that modesty which, more than reason, distinguishes men from beasts retires from the view, and even shrinks from the expression, there they exercised and glutted their unnatural, monstrous and nefarious cruelty,+there where the reverence of nature and the sanctity of justice dares not to pursue, nor venture to describe their practices.”
1. During the delivery of this speech, the House of Lords was packed to its utmost capacity with whatever was most illustrious in the kingdom. It is said that, while giving utterance to this appalling description, Burke's cyes were literally streaming and his whole frame quivering with emotion; and that the vast audience, their feelings having been gradually wrought up to the climax, could not restrain themselves. I quote from Macknight's Life and Times of Burke: “The whole assembly were deeply affected. Mrs. Siddons confessed that all the illusions of the stage sank into insignificance before the scene she then beheld; and the great actress did homage to the great orator. Mrs. Sheridan fainted. Even the stern Lord Chancellor Thurlow, who was deeply preju(liced both against 13urke and the cause he advocated, could not keep up his sullen hostility, and sor the sirst time in his life a tear was observed to be in his eye. ISut the most wonderful effect was produced on IIastings himself. IIe hated Burke, and had despised him, until he had by stern experience been compelled to fear him. As he listened to the harrowing recital of crimes which, if he had not authorized, he most certainly had not censured, even his callous heart seemed to feel the pangs of sorrow and remorse, and for the moment he thought himself the most wicked of mankind. The orator at length was over
These, my Lords, were sufferings which we feel all in common, in India and in England, by the general sympathy of our common nature. But there were in that province (sold to the tormentors by Mr. Hastings) things done, which, from the peculiar manners of India, were even worse than all I have laid before you ; as the dominion of manners and the law of opinion contribute more to human happiness and misery than anything in mere sensitive nature can do.
The women thus treated lost their caste. My Lords, we are not here to commend or blame the institutions and prejudices of a whole race of people, radicated in them by a long succession of ages, on which no reason or argument, on which no vicissitudes of things, no mixtures of men, or foreign conquest, have been able to make the smallest impression. The aboriginal Gentoo inhabitants are all dispersed into tribes or castes,— each caste born to an invariable rank, rights, and descriptions of employment, so that one caste cannot by any means pass into another. With the Gentoos, certain impurities or disgraces, though without any guilt of the party, infer loss of caste; and when the highest caste, that of Brahmin, which is not only noble, but sacred, is lost, the person who loses it does not slide down into one lower, but reputable, he is wholly driven from all honest society. All the relations of life are at once dissolved. His parents are no longer his parents; his wife is no longer his wife ; his children, no longer his, are no longer to regard him as their father. It is something far worse than complete outlawry, complete attainder, and universal excommunication. It is a pollution even to touch him ; and if he touches any of his old caste, they are justified in putting him to death. Contagion, leprosy, plague are not so much shunned. No honest occupation can be followed. He becomes an halicore, if (which is rare) he survives that miserable degradation.
IMPEACHMENT OF HASTINGS.2
MY LORDS, what is it that we want here to a great act of national justice? Lowe want a cause, my Lords? You have
come by his own feelings; his tongue seemed to be paralyzed by his emotion; while scorn and horror were depicted upon his brow, and the lightning of indignation flashed from his eye.” 2 This piece makes the conclusion of Burke's opening speech. The speaker had held his audience undiminished through the whole four days of his speaking; al-d when he came to the close his powerful voice rose and swelled to its the cause of oppressed princes, of undone women of the first rank, of desolated provinces, and of wasted kingdoms. Do you want a criminal, my Lords? When was there so much iniquity ever laid to the charge of any one? No, my Lords, you must not look to punish any other such delinquent from India. Warren IIastings has not left substance enough in India to nourish such another delinquent. My Lords, is it a prosecutor you want? You have before you the Commons of Great Britain as prosecutors: and I believe, my Lords, that the Sun, in his beneficent progress round the world, does not behold a more glorious sight than that of men, separated from a remote people by the material bounds and barriers of Nature, united by the bond of a social and moral community; all the Commons of England resenting, as their own, the indignities and cruelties that are offered to all the people of India. Do we want a tribunal 2 My Lords, no example of antiquity, nothing in the modern world, nothing in the range of human imagination, can supply us with a tribunal like this. My Lords, here we see virtually, in the mind's eye, that sacred majesty of the Crown, under whose authority you sit, and whose power you exercise. We see in that invisible authority, what we all feel in reality and life, the beneficent powers and protecting justice of his Majesty. We have here the heir-apparent to the crown, such as the fond wishes of the people of England wish an heir-apparent of the crown to be. We have here all the branches of the royal family, in a situation between majesty and subjection, between the sovereign and the subject, offering a pledge in that situation for the support of the rights of the Crown and the liberties of the people, both which extremities they touch. My Lords, we have the great hereditary peerage here,—those who have their own honour, the honour of their ancestors, and of their posterity, to guard, and who will justify, as they have always justified, that provision in the Constitution by which justice is made an hereditary office. My Lords, we have here a new nobility, who have risen and exalted themselves by various merits, by great military services which
utmost compass, rolling and reverberating through the lofty arches of the house, and bowing the hearts of his audience in the deepest solemnity. William Windham, a sirst-rate judge of oratory, and himself no mean orator, who was associated with Burke, as Fox and Sheridan also were, in the management of the trial, pronounced this peroration “the noblest cver uttered by man.” The whole speech, indeed, taken all together, is unrivalled in British eloquence, perhaps in all eloquence. Iłut the most astonishing feature of the speech is the perfect intellectual mastery it displays of the entire subject, both as a whole and in all its minutest details, — that subject the largest too ever attempted to be handled in any effort of the kind.