Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 7. Indian Speeches

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

I. Edmund Burke

§ 7. Indian Speeches

If Ireland were a subordinate though a very real interest to Burke, India was the centre of his activity from 1780 until the French revolution came, not to supersede India but to share with it and Ireland his thoughts and labours. From the problem of the government of colonies peopled by Englishmen, habituated to freedom and jealous of authority, he turned to the other problem with which Chatham’s wars had also embarrassed England, the problem of governing a great empire of peoples who had never known any other rule than an absolute despotism, a despotism which, through an era of anarchy, was passing, or had passed, to a trading company and its ill-controlled and ill-remunerated servants. “The proud day of Asia is passed.” The relaxation and dissolution of the Mogul government had made the Indian company what the Roman law had supposed “irreconcilable to reason and property—eundem Negotiatorem et Dominum; the same power became the general trader, the same power became the supreme lord.”

The Indian speeches are distinguished from the American not alone by the greater passion that inspires them but by partaking more of the nature of forensic and, occasionally, epideictic or panegyric, than of deliberative oratory. Each of them is an indictment—that On Mr. Fox’s East-India Bill (1783) of the East India Company and its administration; that On the Nabob of Arcot’s Debts (1785) of Dundas’s India board for its protection of the nabob’s creditors; and the series of speeches with which Burke opened and closed the trial of Warren Hastings, an impeachment which, for variety and vehemence of oratory, has no parallel except in Cicero’s Verrines. And they are not only indictments—like the speech on the employment of Indians in the American war—but legal indictments, in which proof is interwoven with narrative and exposition.