WARREN HASTINGS (1732-1818), the first governor-general of British India, was born on the 6th of December 17 3 2 in the little hamlet of Churchill in Oxfordshire.
His mother died a few days after giving him birth; his father, Pynaston Hastings, drifted away to perish obscurely in the West Indies.
Thus unfortunate in his birth, young Hastings received the elements of education at a charity school in his native village.
At the age of eight he was taken in charge by an elder brother of his father, Howard Hastings, who held a post in the customs. After spending two years at a private, school at Newington Butts, he was moved to Westminster, where among his contemporaries occur the names of Lord Thurlow and Lord Shelburne, Sir Elijah Impey, and the poets Cowper and Churchill.
When Hastings landed at Calcutta in October 1750 the affairs of the East India Company were at a low ebb.
At an early date Hastings was placed in charge of an aurang or factory in the interior, where his duties would be to superintend the weaving of silk and cotton goods under a system of money advances.
When that passionate young prince, in revenge for a fancied wrong, resolved to drive the English out of Bengal, his first step was to occupy the fortified factory at Cossimbazar, and make prisoners of Hastings and his companions.
Hastings was soon released at the intercession of the Dutch resident, and made use of his position at Murshidabad to open negotiations with the English fugitives at Falta, the site of a Dutch factory near the mouth of the Hugli.
When the relieving force arrived from Madras under Colonel Clive and Admiral Watson, Hastings enrolled himself as a volunteer, and took part in the action which led to the recovery of Calcutta.
Macaulay, in his celebrated essay, has said that "of the conduct of Hastings at this time little is known."
When war was actually begun, Hastings officially recorded his previous resolution to have resigned, in order to repudiate responsibility for measures which he had always opposed.
After fourteen years' residence in Bengal Hastings did not return home a rich man, estimated by the opportunities of his position.
While at home Hastings is said to have attached himself to literary society; and it may be inferred from his own letters that he now made the personal acquaintance of Samuel Johnson and Lord Mansfield.
In April 1772 Warren Hastings took his seat as president of the council at Fort William.
All the officers of administration were transferred from Murshidabad to Calcutta, which Hastings boasted at this early date that he would make the first city in Asia.
This reform involved the ruin of many native reputations, and for a second time brought Hastings into collision with the wily Brahman, Nuncomar.
Hastings was a man of immense industry, with an insatiable appetite for detail.
Macaulay imputes this reduction to Hastings as a characteristic act of financial immorality; but in truth it had been expressly enjoined by the court of directors, in a despatch dated six months before he took up office.
Hastings himself always regarded them as incidents in his general scheme of foreign policy.
Warren Hastings, as a deliberate measure of policy, withheld the tribute due to the emperor, and resold Allahabad and Kora to the wazir of Oudh.
After not a little hesitation, Hastings consented to allow the Company's troops to be used to further the ambitious designs of his Oudh ally, in consideration of a sum of money which relieved the ever-pressing wants of the Bengal treasury.
Some of them fled the country, and so far as possible Hastings obtained terms for those who remained.
Hastings was named in the act as governor-general for a term of five years.
The chief-justice was Sir Elijah Impey, already mentioned as a schoolfellow of Hastings at Westminster.
The new members of council disembarked at Calcutta on the 19th of October 1774; and on the following day commenced the long feud which scarcely terminated twentyone years later with the acquittal of Warren Hastings by the House of Lords.
Hastings was reduced to the position of a cipher at their meetings.
To charges from such a source, and brought in such a manner, Hastings disdained to reply, and referred his accuser to the supreme court.
Hastings always maintained that he did not cause the charge to be instituted, and the legality of Nuncomar's trial is thoroughly proved by Sir James Stephen.
While the strife was at its hottest, Hastings had sent an agent to England with a general authority to place his resignation in the hands of the Company under certain conditions.
But in the meantime Colonel Monson had died, and Hastings was thus restored, by virtue of his casting vote, to the supreme management of affairs.
From that time forth, though he could not always command an absolute majority in council, Hastings was never again subjected to gross insult, and his general policy was able to prevail.
A crisis was now approaching in foreign affairs which demanded all the experience and all the genius of Hastings for its solution.
Hastings did not hesitate to take upon his own shoulders the whole responsibility of military affairs.
But Hastings amply avenged the capitulation of Wargaon by the complete success of his own plan of operations.
The understanding between Hastings and Francis, originating in this state of affairs, was for a short period extended to general policy.
An agreement was come to by which Francis received patronage for his circle of friends, while Hastings was to be unimpeded in the control of foreign affairs.
Hastings recorded in an official minute that he had found Francis's private and public conduct to be "void of truth and honour."
In his case the ancestral hoards were under the control of his mother, the begum of Oudh, into whose hands they had been allowed to pass at the time when Hastings was powerless in council.
Hastings resolved to make a progress up country in order to arrange the affairs of both provinces, and bring back all the treasure that could be squeezed out of its holders by his personal intervention.
Hastings appears to have been not altogether satisfied with the incidents of this expedition, and to have anticipated the censure which it received in England.
Though Hastings was thus irremovable, his policy did not escape censure.
On one occasion Dundas carried a motion in the House of Commons, censuring Hastings and demanding his recall.
The directors of the Company were disposed to act upon this resolution; but in the court of proprietors, with whom the decision ultimately lay, Hastings always possessed a sufficient majority.
The act which Pitt successfully carried in the following year introduced a new constitution, in which Hastings felt that he had no place.
Francis, who had been the early friend of Burke, supplied him with the personal animus against Hastings, and with the knowledge of detail, which he might otherwise have lacked.
To meet the oratory of Burke and Sheridan and Fox, Hastings wrote an elaborate minute with which he wearied the ears of the House for two successive nights, and he subsidized a swarm of pamphleteers.
For seven long years Hastings was upon his defence on the charge of "high crimes and misdemeanours."
In physical appearance, Hastings "looked like a great man, and not like a bad man."
No Englishman ever understood the native character so well as Hastings; none ever devoted himself more heartily to the promotion of every scheme, great and small, that could advance the prosperity of India.
Malleson, Life of Warren Hastings (1894); G.