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He can individualise, without exaggeration. He can catch the likeness of each--can fill every portrait with charactercan distinguish and contrast; and yet not strengthen one line, or deepen one tint, beyond the warrant of his original. Nay, it is the pride of the real artist that he can soften what is harsh, and subdue what is obtrusive, without sacrificing the fidelity of his portrait.
History has, indeed, been written, for the most part, in a too literal spirit-or rather in a too literal no-spirit. There is no want of picturesqueness in the real; if the artist had only eyes to see it and faculties to comprehend. There is no want of romance in the real, if he had only imagination to carry him beyond the barren regions of official formality. Invention is but one of the functions of the imagination; and not one of the most exalted. It is easy to invent a character or a situation. It demands higher powers to see into the inner life of things; to draw forth the romantic elements of the real; to eliminate the poetry that lies hidden in the actual, as the fire in the hard cold flint. The mere craftsman overlays the truth -or at most dresses it up in a garb of fiction. The master conceals nothing of the truth; adds nothing to the truth. It is his triumph to render the truth more interesting than any fiction.
India owes little to her historians. Our historians of India are so many dull monuments of opportunities neglected-of purposes unaccomplished. We write now only of historical portraiture, else would it be easy to show how all of romantic incident, of glowing scenery, of picturesque costume, has been lost by those hard dry utilitarians, who have seen only one side, and that the least attractive, of the truth. Of these failures we may write hereafter. Now we would only speak of the efforts, which have been made to individualise the most conspicuous characters of the great historical drama. There is no want of individuality in the portraits, which have been handed down to us. But what sort of individuality is it? The individuality of lineal exaggeration ; of the hump and the proboscis. Our painters have taken care that there shall be no mistake about the matter. They have, too, saved themselves and their readers a world of trouble. Excessive deformity is easy to depict ; easy to understand and to remember. Every child can tell you what sort of a person was Richard the III. of England. It is not every adult that can tell you off-hand what sort of a person was Henry the VII.
The painter of the hump-and-proboscis school is sure of a certain amount of success. People do not readily forget his portraits. Let him stamp hard enough and the impression will not easily be effaced. The world is used to have its ogres ; and the historian does not find it difficult to suit the popular taste.
For more than half a century Sir Elijah Impey has been one of the ogres of Indian history. Warren Hastings, for some time, shared with him-perhaps had the larger share of-the execration of an unenquiring world. But Hastings contrived to outlive his unpopularity. After long years of persecution -persecution which consumed his fortune, destroyed his health, and broke his spirit—the tide turned suddenly in his favor. Public sympathy set in strongly towards the injured statesman. All acknowledged that he had done great things; all knew that he had suffered greatly. When the eloquence of Burke and Sheridan, which for a while rendered even Hastings himself mistrustful of his own innocence, ceased to vibrate in the ears, to touch the hearts, and to warp the judgments of the community, men began to bethink themselves of the great services he had rendered to his country, to see something noble in his daring, something admirable in the fertility of his resources, and to ask themselves whether these were not extraordinary occasions to palliate or justify his departure from ordinary rules of conduct. But for Impey there were no such pleas to be put forth in extenuation of his alleged errors. He had not saved a great empire. Services he had rendered, but they were not of the brilliant-of the dazzling kind. If evil had been done by Hastings and Impey combined, the former might have acted, nay, doubtless did act, in the heat of a fierce gladiatorial conflict, reputation for reputation, life for life, and he seemingly on the weaker side. But Impey was not a gladiator, but a judge: with the strife of parties he had nothing to do. If he erred in conjunction with Hastings, he erred not in passion, but in deliberation. He was not the originator ; but the instrument. If great crimes were committed by the two, Impey must have been the passionless, calculating, sordid tool-a bravo, and yet a judge !
And all this was Impey declared to be. History set its seal on the verdict, nay, rather, history fraudulently endorsed the reckless assertions of the prosecution, for the verdict was on the other side. The denunciations of Sir Gilbert Elliot became history—the history of the Annual Register, under the conduct of the master-prosecutor, Burke. From the Annual Register, Mill exhumed the libels, which had lain there some thirty years. He adopted, with little stint, the charges of Sir Gilbert Elliot. For any use made of it by the Historian of
India, Impey's defence might as well have been never spoken and never published. Other writers, without investigation, followed in the footsteps of Mill; and, in the words of the work before us, “ by this most obstinate and wonderful credu
lity, by the untiring malice of faction, and by the careless
ness, indolence, presumption, and averseness to research of · public writers-journalists, annalists, reviewers and essayists
—the exploded calumny of sixty years ago has been kept alive, and outrages and indignities have at intervals of time, continued to be hea ed upon Sir Elijah's memory."*
And never did calumny run a more successful career. то the unreflecting and unenquiring public Sir Elijah Impey has during more than half a century been known only as a corrupt and cruel Judge-one, who stained the Judicial ermine by acts of almost unparalleled turpitude. It was so easy to describe such a character-so easy to understand it. The crimes of the first Chief Justice of Bengal were both in India and in England traditionary. People for the most part knew as much about him as they knew about Blue Beard. He was rather the embodiment of certain qualities than an actual historical personage—the incarnation of judicial baseness as Blue Beard of marital cruelty. It is so pleasant to take things for granted -to adopt a faith without the trouble of enquiry. The criminality of Sir Elijah Impey was a belief, which few people knew how they came by, though all clung to it as tenaciously as to Gospel truth : and when at last Mr. Macaulay emphatically declared, that "no other such Judge had dishonored the English ermine since Jefferies drank himself to death in the tower,” he only gave utterance to an opinion which had been for sixty years rooted in the public mind. In that one crushing sentence was embodied the creed of the million, handed down from sire to son. Its enunciation in such unmistakeable terms, brought matters to a crisis. This was the turning point of the fortune of Sir Elijah's reputation. Thousands had gone down to the grave with a rooted faith in his official turpitude—thousands had grown up from youth to manhood, and declined from manhood into grey-haired age clinging to the same convictions. It has been said that every lie has sentence of death written down against it from the day of its birth. A lie can not live for ever.
The sentence may be long before it is put in execution ;
Mr. Impey says, in his Memoirs of Sir Elijah Impcy, that Mill “ seems never so much as to have known of my faiher's printed defence." This is a mistake. The historian refers to it in a note at page 382, Vol. II. first (1to.) edition.
it was very long in the case now before us—but the lie was destroyed at last.
In the year 1841, there appeared in the Edinburgh Review one of the most brilliant articles that had ever adorned that celebrated publication. The subject of this paper was the career of Warren Hastings. Its author, as all the world knew, was Mr. Thomas Babington Macaulay. A short time before, an article from the same fascinating pen, had been devoted to the kindred history of Lord Clive. În India, these glowing articles were perused with even greater avidity than in England. Accustomed as we were to study Indian history in the erudite, but somewhat sterile volumes of Mill, it was refreshing indeed to dwell upon such graphic sketches as these, rife with all the accessories of romance ;-vivid, picturesque, heart-stirring; full of incident and of character; in matter most suggestive, in manner most eloquent. Suddenly, as by the wand of the enchanter, the dry branches of history were clothed with leafy verdure—the barren plain became a flowering garden. Nothing so life-like—so gorgeous-so, all in all, characteristic of the “ shining orient,” had ever before been written. It was impossible not to recognise the hand of the master in these sketches-impossible not to discern those touches of nature, with which even the master-hand, not guided by the experience of the senses, would have been powerless to impart life and reality to the whole.
Mr. Macaulay had seen at least something of the scenes that he described. He had resided some years amongst us. It is true that he had not travelled far; that the actual range of his observation had not been very extensive. A dull man would have made little of such opportunities. But Mr. Macaulay being the very reverse of a dull man, saw as much, one morning, from the verandah of his house in Chowringhi, as an ordinary person would have seen in a year. A drive through the Chitpore bazar was as suggestive in such a case, as under ordinary circumstances a journey to Delhi or Lucknow. If Macaulay had spent only a week in Calcutta, he would have returned to England better qualified to write a history of India, than when his ship left the London docks.
Nay, this much may be said of any man with ordinary powers of observation. The gain may not be much; but it will be something. To such a man as Macaulay, the gain would have been immense. It is the faculty of genius to crowd into a week the experience of years.
And this glowing article,-read, admired, commented upon, quoted in all the public journals, and studied even by men who cared little about any graver literature than that of the Pichwick Papers, albeit with the blue and yellow party-stamp upon it,- was received as genuine history. The statements it contained were not questioned. The graces of the stylethe vivid word-painting—the graphic portraiture, bringing past scenes before us distinctly, as in a moving panorama, and historical personages with all the fidelity of actual life,-led the imagination captive and defied the criticism of documentary research. Men read the memoir of Warren Hastings as eagerly as though it were a new and brilliant romance. If they pondered at all it were only to assure themselves that statements put forth with such a dashing air of truth, with such a semblance of a whole-hearted reliance upon the justice of the denunciations they contained, and the general soundness of the views they enunciated, could not be otherwise than in strict accordance with clearly ascertained fact.
It is not to be denied that this gorgeous chapter of Indian History, or Indian Romance, added much to Mr. Macaulay's reputation, as an eloquent, a vigorous, a graphic chronicler of the past. The article was read by thousands upon thousands, in the pages of the Edinburgh Review, whence in a short time it was elevated into the upper air of recognized history, to become part and parcel of the essayist's collected works, and in that form to attract to itself new thousands of admiring readers. Four large impressions of the “ Historical and Critical Essays, by Thomas Babington Macaulay,” have now found their way into circulation. The work has taken its place in almost every library in Great Britain ; and it is precisely one of those books, which are never permitted to rest long on the library shelves. The dust never accumulates about them. Hundreds and thousands of books are purchased every year, as furniture, like chairs and tables. But no man ever purchased Macaulay's essays without reading them ; and few 'who purchase and read these captivating volumes do not retain them to read again and again. They never find their way to the book-stalls; but the place of all others where you are most sure to chance upon them is the table of the library or the drawing-room.
And of these charming volumes, it is not to be questioned that the memoir of Warren Hastings has long constituted the main charm. No similar essay has ever achieved so extensive a popularity ; and yet it would have been better for Mr. Macaulay's reputation if that article had never been written. Six years have passed away since it was first published. The graces of the diction, the picturesque sketches, the