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CHAPTER VII.
The Trial of Warren Hastings—Westminster Hall—Description of it on the Opening Day of the Trial—Edmund Burke—The other Managers—Procession of the Peers—Entrance of the Defendant—The Arraignment—Speech of Lord Chancellor Thurlow—Reply of Warren Hastings—Opening of the Trial—Mr. Windham—His Admiration of Dr. Johnson—His Reflections on the Spectacle—Bearing of the Lord Chancellor—Windham on Hastings—William Pitt—Major Scott—Conversation with Windham—Partisanship—Close of the First Day’s Proceedings—Conference on it with the Queen—Another Day at the Trial—Burke’s Great Speech—Resemblance between Hastings and Windham—Fox’s Eloquence—Death of Mrs. Delany.

On the 13th of February, 1788, began the trial of Warren Hastings. Miss Burney was furnished by the Queen with two tickets for the opening ceremony. She went accordingly, accompanied by her brother Charles, and also by a Miss Gomme, of whom she was commanded to undertake the charge. We abridge her description of this great spectacle. It should be premised that the zeal with which she espoused the side of the defence was due not solely to the favour shown to Mr. and Mrs. Hastings by the Court, but in an equal degree, at least, to her own personal friendship for the accused statesman and his wife, with whom she had become acquainted before she joined the royal service:

“We got to Westminster Hall between nine and ten o’clock....

“The Grand Chamberlain’s Box is in the centre of the upper end of the Hall: there we sat, Miss Gomme and 190myself, immediately behind the chair placed for Sir Peter Burrell. To the left, on the same level, were the green benches for the House of Commons, which occupied a third of the upper end of the Hall, and the whole of the left side: to the right of us, on the same level, was the Grand Chamberlain’s Gallery....

“The bottom of the Hall contained the Royal Family’s Box and the Lord High Steward’s....

“A gallery also was run along the left side of the Hall, above the green benches, which is called the Duke of Newcastle’s Box, the centre of which was railed off into a separate apartment for the reception of the Queen and four eldest Princesses, who were then incog., not choosing to appear in state, and in their own Box.

“In the middle of the floor was placed a large table, and at the head of it the seat for the Chancellor, and round it seats for the Judges, the Masters in Chancery, the Clerks, and all who belonged to the Law; the upper end, and the right side of the room, was allotted to the Peers in their robes; the left side to the Bishops and Archbishops.

“Immediately below the Great Chamberlain’s Box was the place allotted for the Prisoner. On his right side was a box for his own Counsel, on his left the Box for the Managers, or Committee, for the Prosecution; and these three most important of all the divisions in the Hall were all directly adjoining to where I was seated....

“The business did not begin till near twelve o’clock. The opening to the whole then took place, by the entrance of the Managers of the Prosecution; all the company were already long in their boxes or galleries.

“I shuddered, and drew involuntarily back, when, as the doors were flung open, I saw Mr. Burke, as Head of the Committee, make his solemn entry. He held a scroll 191in his hand, and walked alone, his brow knit with corroding care and deep labouring thought—a brow how different to that which had proved so alluring to my warmest admiration when first I met him! so highly as he had been my favourite, so captivating as I had found his manners and conversation in our first acquaintance, and so much as I owed to his zeal and kindness to me and my affairs in its progress! How did I grieve to behold him now the cruel Prosecutor (such to me he appeared) of an injured and innocent man!

“Mr. Fox followed next, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Windham, Messrs. Anstruther, Grey, Adam, Michael Angelo Taylor, Pelham, Colonel North, Mr. Frederick Montagu, Sir Gilbert Elliot, General Burgoyne, Dudley Long, etc....

“When the Committee Box was filled, the House of Commons at large took their seats on their green benches....

“Then began the procession, the Clerks entering first, then the Lawyers according to their rank, and the Peers, Bishops, and Officers, all in their coronation robes; concluding with the Princes of the Blood,—Prince William, son to the Duke of Gloucester, coming first, then the Dukes of Cumberland, Gloucester, and York, then the Prince of Wales; and the whole ending by the Chancellor, with his train borne.

“They then all took their seats.

“A Serjeant-at-Arms arose, and commanded silence....

“Then some other officer, in a loud voice, called out, as well as I can recollect, words to this purpose:—‘Warren Hastings, Esquire, come forth! Answer to the charges brought against you; save your bail, or forfeit your recognizance!’

“Indeed I trembled at these words, and hardly could keep my place when I found Mr. Hastings was being 192brought to the bar. He came forth from some place immediately under the Great Chamberlain’s Box, and was preceded by Sir Francis Molyneux, Usher of the Black Rod; and at each side of him walked his Bails, Messrs. Sullivan and Sumner.

“The moment he came in sight, which was not for full ten minutes after his awful summons, he made a low bow to the Chancellor and Court facing him. I saw not his face, as he was directly under me. He moved on slowly, and, I think, supported between his two Bails, to the opening of his own Box; there, lower still, he bowed again; and then, advancing to the bar, he leant his hands upon it, and dropped on his knees; but a voice in the same moment proclaiming he had leave to rise, he stood up almost instantaneously, and a third time profoundly bowed to the Court.

“What an awful moment this for such a man!—a man fallen from such a height of power to a situation so humiliating—from the almost unlimited command of so large a part of the Eastern World to be cast at the feet of his enemies, of the great tribunal of his country, and of the nation at large, assembled thus in a body to try and to judge him! Could even his prosecutors at that moment look on—and not shudder at least, if they did not blush?

“The crier, I think it was, made, in a loud and hollow voice, a public proclamation, ‘That Warren Hastings, Esquire, late Governor-General of Bengal, was now on his trial for high crimes and misdemeanours, with which he was charged by the Commons of Great Britain; and that all persons whatsoever who had aught to allege against him were now to stand forth.’

“A general silence followed, and the Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, now made his speech....

“Again Mr. Hastings made the lowest reverence to the 193Court, and, leaning over the bar, answered, with much agitation, through evident efforts to suppress it, ‘My Lords—impressed—deeply impressed—I come before your Lordships, equally confident in my own integrity, and in the justice of the Court before which I am to clear it.’...

“A general silence again ensued, and then one of the lawyers opened the cause. He began by reading from an immense roll of parchment the general charges against Mr. Hastings, but he read in so monotonous a chant that nothing else could I hear or understand than now and then the name of Warren Hastings.

“During this reading, to which I vainly lent all my attention, Mr. Hastings, finding it, I presume, equally impossible to hear a word, began to cast his eyes around the House, and having taken a survey of all in front and at the sides, he turned about and looked up; pale looked his face—pale, ill, and altered. I was much affected by the sight of that dreadful harass which was written on his countenance. Had I looked at him without restraint, it could not have been without tears. I felt shocked, too, shocked and ashamed, to be seen by him in that place. I had wished to be present from an earnest interest in the business, joined to firm confidence in his powers of defence; but his eyes were not those I wished to meet in Westminster Hall....

“Another lawyer now arose, and read so exactly in the same manner, that it was utterly impossible to discover even whether it was a charge or an answer.

“Such reading as this, you may well suppose, set everybody pretty much at their ease; and but for the interest I took in looking from time to time at Mr. Hastings, and watching his countenance, I might as well have been away. He seemed composed after the first half-hour, and 194calm; but he looked with a species of indignant contempt towards his accusers, that could not, I think, have been worn had his defence been doubtful. Many there are who fear for him; for me, I own myself wholly confident in his acquittal....

“At length I was called by a ‘How d’ye do, Miss Burney?’ from the Committee Box! And then I saw young Mr. Burke, who had jumped up on the nearest form to speak to me. Pleasant enough! I checked my vexation as well as I was able, since the least shyness on my part to those with whom formerly I had been social must instantly have been attributed to Court influence; and therefore, since I could not avoid the notice, I did what I could to talk with him as heretofore. He is, besides, so amiable a young man, that I could not be sorry to see him again, though I regretted it should be just in that place, and at this time....

“The moment I was able to withdraw from young Mr. Burke, Charles, who sat behind me, leant down and told me a gentleman had just desired to be presented to me.

“‘Who?’ quoth I.

“‘Mr. Windham,’ he answered.

“‘I really thought he was laughing, and answered accordingly; but he assured me he was in earnest, and that Mr. Windham had begged him to make the proposition. What could I do? There was no refusing: yet a planned meeting with another of the Committee, and one deep in the prosecution, and from whom one of the hardest charges has come—could anything be less pleasant as I was then situated?

“The Great Chamberlain’s Box is the only part of the hall that has any communication with either the Committee Box or the House of Commons, and it is also the very nearest to the prisoner. Mr. Windham I had seen 195twice before—both times at Miss Monckton’s; and anywhere else I should have been much gratified by his desire of a third meeting, as he is one of the most agreeable, spirited, well-bred, and brilliant conversers I have ever spoken with. He is a neighbour, too, now, of Charlotte’s. He is member for Norwich, and a man of family and fortune, with a very pleasing, though not handsome face, a very elegant figure, and an air of fashion and vivacity....

“I was sorry to see him make one of a set that appeared so inveterate against a man I believe so injuriously treated; and my concern was founded upon the good thoughts I had conceived of him, not merely from his social talents, which are yet very uncommon, but from a reason dearer to my remembrance. He loved Dr. Johnson—and Dr. Johnson returned his affection. Their political principles and connexions were opposite, but Mr. Windham respected his venerable friend too highly to discuss any points that could offend him; and showed for him so true a regard, that, during all his late illnesses, for the latter part of his life, his carriage and himself were alike at his service, to air, visit, or go out, whenever he was disposed to accept them.

“Nor was this all; one tender proof he gave of warm and generous regard, that I can never forget, and that rose instantly to my mind when I heard his name, and gave him a welcome in my eyes when they met his face. It is this: Dr. Johnson, in his last visit to Lichfield, was taken ill, and waited to recover strength for travelling back to town in his usual vehicle, a stage-coach. As soon as this reached the ears of Mr. Windham, he set off for Lichfield in his own carriage, to offer to bring him back to town in it, and at his own time....

“Charles soon told me he was at my elbow....

196“After the first compliments he looked around him, and exclaimed, ‘What an assembly is this! How striking a spectacle! I had not seen half its splendour down there. You have it here to great advantage; you lose some of the Lords, but you gain all the Ladies. You have a very good place here.’

“‘Yes; and I may safely say I make a very impartial use of it: for since here I have sat, I have never discovered to which side I have been listening!’

“He laughed, but told me they were then running through the charges.

“‘And is it essential,’ cried I, ‘that they should so run them through that nobody can understand them? Is that a form of law?’

“He agreed to the absurdity; and then, looking still at the spectacle, which indeed is the most splendid I ever saw, arrested his eyes upon the Chancellor. ‘He looks very well from hence,’ cried he; ‘and how well he acquits himself on these solemn occasions! With what dignity, what loftiness, what high propriety, he comports himself!’...

“Suddenly, his eye dropped down upon poor Mr. Hastings: the expression of his face instantly lost the gaiety and ease with which it had addressed me; he stopped short in his remarks; he fixed his eyes steadfastly on this new, and but too interesting object, and after viewing him some time in a sort of earnest silence, he suddenly exclaimed, as if speaking to himself, and from an impulse irresistible—‘What a sight is that! to see that man, that small portion of human clay, that poor feeble machine of earth, enclosed now in that little space, brought to that Bar, a prisoner in a spot six foot square—and to reflect on his late power! Nations at his command! Princes prostrate at his feet!—What a change! how must he feel it!——’

197“He stopped, and I said not a word. I was glad to see him thus impressed; I hoped it might soften his enmity. I found, by his manner, that he had never, from the Committee Box, looked at him....

“Recovering, now, from the strong emotion with which the sight of Mr. Hastings had filled him, he looked again around the Court, and pointed out several of the principal characters present, with arch and striking remarks upon each of them, all uttered with high spirit, but none with ill-nature.

“‘Pitt,’ cried he, ‘is not here!—a noble stroke that for the annals of his administration! A trial is brought on by the whole House of Commons in a body, and he is absent at the very opening! However,’ added he, with a very meaning laugh, ‘I’m glad of it, for ’tis to his eternal disgrace!’

“Mercy! thought I, what a friend to kindness is party!

“‘Do you see Scott?’ cried he.

“‘No, I never saw him; pray show him me.’

“‘There he is, in green; just now by the Speaker, now moved by the Committee; in two minutes more he will be somewhere else, skipping backwards and forwards; what a grasshopper it is!’

“‘I cannot look at him,’ cried I, ‘without recollecting a very extraordinary letter from him, that I read last summer in the newspaper, where he answers some attack that he says has been made upon him, because the term is used of “a very insignificant fellow;” and he printed two or three letters in the Public Advertiser, in following days, to prove, with great care and pains, that he knew it was all meant as an abuse of himself, from those words!’

“‘And what,’ cried he, laughing, ‘do you say to that notion now you see him?’

198“‘That no one,’ cried I, examining him with my glass, ‘can possibly dispute his claim!’

“What pity that Mr. Hastings should have trusted his cause to so frivolous an agent! I believe, and indeed it is the general belief, both of foes and friends, that to his officious and injudicious zeal the present prosecution is wholly owing.”

A long conversation—or rather several conversations, for the talk was interrupted more than once—ensued, in the course of which Miss Burney, much to the astonishment of Windham, who knew her friendship for Burke, declared herself a partisan of Hastings, while at the same time she admitted that she knew nothing of the merits of the case—had not even read the charges against the late Governor-General. “I had afterwards,” she writes, “to relate a great part of this to the Queen herself. She saw me engaged in such close discourse, and with such apparent interest on both sides, with Mr. Windham, that I knew she must else form conjectures innumerable. So candid, so liberal is the mind of the Queen, that she not only heard me with the most favourable attention towards Mr. Windham, but was herself touched even to tears by the relation. We stayed but a short time after this last conference; for nothing more was attempted than reading over the charges and answers, in the same useless manner.”

Miss Burney went again to Westminster Hall on the second day of Burke’s opening speech:

“All I had heard of his eloquence, and all I had conceived of his great abilities, was more than answered by his performance. Nervous, clear, and striking was almost all that he uttered: the main business, indeed, of his coming forth was frequently neglected, and not seldom 199wholly lost; but his excursions were so fanciful, so entertaining, and so ingenious, that no miscellaneous hearer, like myself, could blame them. It is true he was unequal, but his inequality produced an effect which, in so long a speech, was perhaps preferable to greater consistency, since, though it lost attention in its falling off, it recovered it with additional energy by some ascent unexpected and wonderful. When he narrated, he was easy, flowing, and natural; when he declaimed, energetic, warm, and brilliant. The sentiments he interspersed were as nobly conceived as they were highly coloured; his satire had a poignancy of wit that made it as entertaining as it was penetrating; his allusions and quotations, as far as they were English and within my reach, were apt and ingenious; and the wild and sudden flights of his fancy, bursting forth from his creative imagination in language fluent, forcible, and varied, had a charm for my ear and my attention wholly new and perfectly irresistible.”

She was again visited in her box by Windham, who, on Hastings happening to look up, remarked that he did not like his countenance. “I could have told him,” says Fanny, “that he is reckoned extremely like himself; but after such an observation I would not venture, and only said: ‘Indeed, he is extremely altered: it was not so he looked when I conceived for him that prepossession I have owned to you.’” The Queen’s reporter, for such she was, attended a third time on the day after the Lords had enraged the Managers by deciding that they must complete their case upon all the charges before the accused was called on for any defence. She heard Mr. Fox speak for five hours with a violence that did not make her forget what she was told of his being in a fury. His eloquence was not nearly so much 200to her taste as Burke’s. Fox’s countenance struck her as hard and callous; his violence, she thought, had that sort of monotony that seemed to result from its being factitious, and she felt less pardon for that than for any extravagance in Mr. Burke, whose excesses seemed at least to be unaffected and sincere. Mr. Fox appeared to her to have no such excuse; ‘he looked all good-humour and negligent ease the instant before he began a speech of uninterrupted passion and vehemence, and he wore the same careless and disengaged air the very instant he had finished.’ After other attendances at the trial, Miss Burney’s mind was withdrawn from the subject in which she took so much interest by the last illness and death of Mrs. Delany. The old lady, who died on the 15th of April, 1788, left some small remembrances to the friend whose companionship had soothed her latter days.


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