Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHARACTER OF CHARLES, FIRST MARQUIS CORNWALLIS. * - The Miscellaneous Works
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CHARACTER OF CHARLES, FIRST MARQUIS CORNWALLIS. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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CHARACTER OF CHARLES, FIRST MARQUIS CORNWALLIS.*
Charles, Marquis Cornwallis, the representative of a family of ancient distinction, and of no modern nobility, had embraced in early youth the profession of arms. The sentiments which have descended to us from ancient times have almost required the sacrifice of personal ease, and the exposure of personal safety, from those who inherit distinction. All the superiority conferred by society must either be earned by previous services, or at least justified by subsequent merit. The most arduous exertions are therefore imposed on those who enjoy advantages which they have not earned. Noblemen are required to devote themselves to danger for the safety of their fellow-citizens, and to spill their blood more readily than others in the public cause. Their choice is almost limited to that profession which derives its dignity from the contempt of danger and death, and which is preserved from mercenary contamination by the severe but noble renunciation of every reward except honour.
In the early stages of his life there were no remarkable events. His sober and well-regulated mind probably submitted to that industry which is the excellence of a subordinate station, and the basis of higher usefulness in a more elevated sphere. The brilliant irregularities which are the ambiguous distinctions of the youth of others found no place in his. He first appeared in the eye of the public during the unhappy civil war between Great Britain and her Colonies, which terminated in the division of the empire. His share in that contest was merely military: in that, as well as in every subsequent part of his life, he was happily free from those conflicts of faction in which the hatred of one portion of our fellow-citizens is insured by those acts which are necessary to purchase the transient and capricious attachment of the other. A soldier, more fortunate, deserves, and generally receives, the unanimous thanks of his country.
It would be improper here to follow him through all the vicissitudes of that eventful war. There is one circumstance, however, which forms too important a part of his character to be omitted,—he was unfortunate. But the moment of misfortune was, perhaps, the most honourable moment of his life. So unshaken was the respect felt, that calamity did not lower him in the eyes of that public which is so prone to estimate men merely by the effect of their councils. He was not received with those frowns which often undeservedly await the return of the unsuccessful general: his country welcomed him with as much honour as if fortune had attended his virtue, and his sovereign bestowed on him new marks of confidence and favour. This was a most signal triumph. Chance mingles with genius and science in the most renowned victories; but merit and well-earned reputation alone can preserve an unfortunate general from sinking in popular estimation.
In 1786 his public life became more connected with that part of the British Empire which we now inhabit. This choice was made under circumstances which greatly increased the honour. No man can recollect the situation of India at that period, or the opinions concerning it in Great Britain, without remembering the necessity, universally felt and acknowledged, for committing the government of our Asiatic territories to a person peculiarly and conspicuously distinguished for prudence, moderation, integrity, and humility. On these grounds he was undoubtedly selected; and it will not be disputed, by any one acquainted with the history of India that his administration justified the choice.
Among the many wise and honest measures which did honour to his government, there are two which are of such importance that they cannot be passed over in silence. The first was, the establishment of a fixed land-rent throughout Bengal, instead of those annually varying, and often arbitrary, exactions to which the landholders of that great province had been for ages subject. This reformation, one of the greatest, perhaps, ever peaceably effected in an extensive and opulent country, has since been followed in the other British territories in the East; and it is the first certain example in India of a secure private property in land, which the extensive and undefined territorial claims of Indian Princes had, in former times, rendered a subject of great doubt and uncertainty. The other distinguishing measure of his government was that judicial system which was necessary to protect and secure the property thus ascertained, and the privileges thus bestowed. By the combined influence of these two great measures, he may confidently be said to have imparted to the subjects of Great Britain in the East a more perfect security of person and property, and a fuller measure of all the advantages of civil society, than had been enjoyed by the natives of India within the period of authentic history;—a portion of these inestimable benefits larger than appears to have been ever possessed by any people of Asia, and probably not much inferior to the share of many flourishing states of Europe in ancient and modern times. It has sometimes been objected to these arrangements, that the revenue of the sovereign was sacrificed to the comfort and prosperity of the subject. This would have been impossible: the interests of both are too closely and inseparably connected. The security of the subject will always enrich him; and his wealth will always overflow into the coffers of his sovereign. But if the objection were just in point of policy, it would be the highest tribute to the virtue of the governor. To sacrifice revenue to the well-being of a people is a blame of which Marcus Aurelius would have been proud!*
The war in which he was engaged during his Indian government it belongs to the historian to describe: in this place it is sufficient to say that it was founded in the just defence of an ally, that it was carried on with vigour, and closed with exemplary moderation.
In 1793 Lord Cornwallis returned to Europe, leaving behind him a greater and purer name than that of any foreigner who had ruled over India for centuries.
It is one of the most remarkable circumstances in the history of his life, that great offices were scarcely ever bestowed on him in times when they could be mere marks of favour, or very desirable objects of pursuit; but that he was always called upon to undertake them in those seasons of difficulty when the acceptance became a severe and painful duty. One of these unhappy occasions arose in the year 1798. A most dangerous rebellion had been suppressed in Ireland, without extinguishing the disaffection that threatened future rebellions. The prudence, the vigilance, the unspotted humanity, the inflexible moderation of Marquis Cornwallis, pointed him out as the most proper person to compose the dissensions of that generous and unfortunate people. He was accordingly chosen for that mission of benevolence, and he most amply justified the choice. Besides the applause of all good men and all lovers of their country, he received the still more unequivocal honour of the censure of violent, and the clamours of those whose ungovernable resentments he refused to gratify. He not only succeeded in allaying the animosities of a divided nation, but he was happy enough to be instrumental in a measure which, if it be followed by moderate and healing counsels, promises permanent quiet and prosperity: under his administration Ireland was united to Great Britain. A period was at length put to the long misgovernment and misfortunes of that noble island, and a new era of justice, happiness, and security opened for both the great members of the British Empire.
The times were too full of difficulty to suffer him long to enjoy the retirement which followed his Irish administration. A war, fortunate and brilliant in many of its separate operations, but unsuccessful in its grand objects, was closed by a treaty of peace, which at first was joyfully hailed by the feelings of the public, but which has since given rise to great diversity of judgment. It may be observed, without descending into political contests, that if the terms of the treaty* were necessarily not flattering to national pride, it was the more important to choose a negotiator who should inspire public confidence, and whose character might shield necessary concessions from unpopularity. Such was unquestionably the principle on which Lord Cornwallis was selected; and such (whatever judgment may be formed of the treaty) is the honourable testimony which it bears to his character.
The offices bestowed on him were not matters of grace: every preferment was a homage to his virtue. He was never invited to the luxuries of high station: he was always summoned to its most arduous and perilous duties. India once more needed, or was thought to need, the guardian care of him who had healed the wounds of conquest, and bestowed on her the blessings of equitable and paternal legislation. Whether the opinion held in England of the perils of our Eastern territories was correct or exaggerated, it is not for us in this place to inquire. It is enough to know that the alarm was great and extensive, and that the eyes of the nation were once more turned towards Lord Cornwallis. Whether the apprehensions were just or groundless, the tribute to his character was equal. He once more accepted the government of these extensive dominions, with a full knowledge of his danger, and with no obscure anticipation of the probability of his fate. He obeyed his sovereign, nobly declaring, “that if he could render service to his country, it was of small moment to him whether he died in India or in Europe;” and no doubt thoroughly convinced that it was far better to die in the discharge of great duties than to add a few feeble inactive years to life. Great Britain, divided on most public questions, was unanimous in her admiration of this signal sacrifice; and British India, however various might be the political opinions of her inhabitants, welcomed the Governor General with only one sentiment of personal gratitude and reverence.
Scarcely had he arrived when he felt the fatal influence of the climate which, with a a clear view of its terrors, he had resolved to brave. But he neither yielded to the languor of disease, nor to the infirmity of age. With all the ardour of youth, he flew to the post where he was either to conclude an equitable peace, or, if that were refused, to prosecute necessary hostilities with rigour. His malady became more grievous, and for some time stopped his progress. On the slightest alleviation of his symptoms he resumed his journey, though little hope of recovery remained, with an inflexible resolution to employ what was left of life, in the performance of his duty to his country. He declared to his surrounding friends, “that he knew no reason to fear death; and that if he could remain in the world but a short time longer to complete the plans of public service in which he was engaged, he should then cheerfully resign his life to the Almighty Giver;”—a noble and memorable declaration, expressive of the union of every private, and civil, and religious excellence, in which the consciousness of a blameless and meritorious life is combined with the affectionate zeal of a dying patriot, and the meek submission of a pious Christian. But it pleased God, “whose ways are not as our ways,” to withdraw him from this region of the universe before his honest wishes of usefulness could be accomplished, though doubtless not before the purposes of Providence were fulfilled. He expired at Gazeepore, in the province of Benares, on the 5th of October, 1805,—supported by the remembrance of his virtue, and by the sentiments of piety which had actuated his whole life.
His remains are interred on the spot where he died, on the banks of that famous river, which washes no country not either blessed by his government, or visited by his renown; and in the heart of that province so long the chosen seat of religion and learning in India, which under the influence of his beneficent system, and under the administration of good men whom he had chosen, had risen from a state of decline and confusion to one of prosperity probably unrivalled in the happiest times of its ancient princes. “His body is buried in peace, and his name liveth for evermore.”
The Christian religion is no vain superstition, which divides the worship of God from the service of man. Every social duty is a Christian grace. Public and private virtue is considered by Christianity as the purest and most acceptable incense which can ascend before the Divine Throne. Political duties are a most momentous part of morality, and morality is the most momentous part of religion. When the political life of a great man has been guided by the rules of morality and consecrated by the principles of religion, it may, and it ought to be commemorated, that the survivors may admire and attempt to copy, not only as men and citizens, but as Christians. It is due to the honour of Religion and Virtue,—it is fit for the confusion of the impious and the depraved, to show that these sacred principles are not to be hid in the darkness of humble life to lead the prejudiced and amuse the superstitious, but that they appear with their proper lustre at the head of councils, of armies, and of empires,—the supports of valour,—the sources of active and enlightened beneficence,—the companions of all real policy,—and the guides to solid and durable glory.
A distinction has been made in our times among statesmen, between Public and Private Virtue: they have been supposed to be separable. The neglect of every private obligation, has been supposed to be compatible with public virtue, and the violation of the most sacred public trust has been thought not inconsistent with private worth:—a deplorable distinction, the creature of corrupt sophistry, disavowed by Reason and Morals, and condemned by all the authority of Religion. No such disgraceful inconsistency, or flagrant hypocrisy, disgraced the character of the venerable person of whom I speak,—of whom we may, without suspicion of exaggeration, say, that he performed with equal strictness every office of public or private life; that his public virtue was not put on for parade, like a gaudy theatrical dress, but that it was the same integrity and benevolence which attended his most retired moments; that with a simple and modest character, alien to ostentation, and abhorrent from artifice,—with no pursuit of popularity, and no sacrifice to court favour,—by no other means than an universal reputation for good sense, humanity, and honesty, he gained universal confidence, and was summoned to the highest offices at every call of danger.
He has left us an useful example of the true dignity of these invaluable qualities, and has given us new reason to thank God that we are the natives of a country yet so uncorrupted as to prize them thus highly. He has left us an example of the pure statesman,—of a paternal governor,—of a warrior who loved peace,—of a hero without ambition,—of a conqueror who showed unfeigned moderation in the moment of victory,—and of a patriot who devoted himself to death for his country. May this example be as fruitful, as his memory will be immortal! May the last generations of Britain aspire to copy and rival so pure a model! And when the nations of India turn their eyes to his monument, rising amidst fields which his paternal care has restored to their ancient fertility, may they who have long suffered from the violence of those who are unjustly called ‘Great,’ at length learn to love and reverence the Good.
[* ] This character formed the chief part of a discourse delivered at Bombay soon after the decease of Lord Cornwallis.
[* ] The facility with which he applied his sound and strong understanding to subjects the most distant from those which usually employed it is proved in a very striking manner by a fact which ought not to be forgotten by those who wish to form an accurate estimate of this venerable nobleman. The Company’s extensive investment from Bengal depended in a great measure on manufactures, which had fallen into such a state of decay as to be almost hopeless. The Court of Directors warmly recommended this very important part of their interest to Marquis Cornwallis. He applied his mind to the subject with that conscientious zeal which always distinguished him as a servant of the public. He became as familiarly acquainted with its most minute details as most of those who had made it the business of their lives; and he has the undisputed merit of having retrieved these manufactures from a condition in which they were thought desperate.
[* ] Of Amiens.