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GLADSTONE ON THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN 1855.
trolled his actions and influenced opinions | tion of the country; and the prince consort, which he has never relinquished.
In a review of the Life of the Prince Consort, Mr. Gladstone in 1877 gave an account of the political situation in 1855, and of the place necessarily occupied by the small section to which he belonged. In this lucid reference to the conditions of affairs we are reminded that the retirement of Lord Aberdeen was a subject of grief to the court and to his friends; but he was so far fortunate that, having been made the victim of a cry partly popular and partly due to political feeling, he was saved, as was the Duke of Newcastle, from the responsibility of an act of difficult and doubtful choice. Their friends, Sir James Graham, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Sidney Herbert, were less happy. It was their fate to join the cabinet of Lord Palmerston, formed at a critical juncture, after some delay and difficulty, and then to quit it within a fortnight or three weeks. The Aberdeen government had resisted unanimously and strongly the appointment of what was termed the Sebastopol Committee. The Palmerston government set out with the intention of continuing that resistance. Its head and the majority of its members arrived at the conclusion that the resistance would be ineffectual, and they determined to succumb. The Peelites adhered to their text; and, as the minority, they in form resigned, but in fact, and of necessity, they were driven from their offices. Into the rights of the question Mr. Gladstone does not enter, but he admits that undoubtedly they were condemned by the general opinion out of doors. Moreover, as in the letting out of water, the breach once made was soon and considerably widened. They had been parties in the cabinet, not only to the war, but to the extension, after the outbreak had taken place, of the conditions required from Russia. But when it appeared that those demands were to be still further extended, or were to be interpreted with an unexpected rigour, and that the practical object of the ministerial policy appeared to be a great military success in prosecuting the siege of Sebastopol to a triumphant issue, they declined to accompany the ministry in their course. Again they met with the condemna
while expressing his high opinion of the men, recorded his adverse judgment. One admission may perhaps be made in their favour. "In the innumerable combinations of the political chessboard," says Mr. Gladstone, "there is none more difficult for an upright man, than to discern the exact path of duty, when he has shared in bringing his country into war, and when in the midst of that war he finds, or believes himself to find, that it is being waged for purposes in excess of those which he had approved."
"The course of the Sebastopol inquiries likewise tended to show that the high constitutional doctrine which they had set up could not be infringed with impunity. They had held that the inquiry was an executive duty, and could only be conducted aright by a commission under the authority of the crown. The country felt, or thought, it had obtained a triumph by the appointment of a parliamentary committee, which was capped by a commission, this in its turn being traversed by a board of officers. The committee censured the ministers, though it was plain that, in the business of supply, they, and Mr. Sidney Herbert in particular, with an indefatigable diligence, had run far ahead of any demands received from the camp. The commission censured the executive departments of the army on the spot. The board of officers acquitted the military and censured the commissariat at home. No attempt was permitted to try the question to its core, as between these conflicting judgments Mr. Roebuck very properly made a motion to bring the report of his committee under the consideration of the house, when the other two competing verdicts would have been compared with it, and with one another. The Peelites supported his motion. But he was defeated by a large majority; so that the question which broke up one cabinet, and formidably rent another, which agitated England and sorely stained her military reputation in the eyes of Europe, remained then, and remains now, untried by any court of final appeal. Nor did this determined smothering of so great a matter cause public displeasure."
Mr. Gladstone remarks that a survey of these years, conducted in a historic spirit, will leave on the mind, among other impressions, a sense of the great incidental evils which accompany the breaking up of those singularly but finely and strongly organized wholes, our known political parties. "Together with Sir Robert Peel, nearly the whole official corps of the Conservatives was discharged in 1846; and the discharge proved to be a final one. The Tories, when brought into office, had to supply the highest places with raw, that is to say, fresh, recruits. This could not be without some detriment to the public service; but justice requires the admission that the body of English gentry, trained in the English fashion, affords material of great aptitude for public life. There were evils on the other side much more serious than this. It took no less than thirteen years to effect the final incorporation of the Peelites into the Liberal party. When they took their places among its leaders the official staff on one side was doubled, as on the other side it was almost annihilated. It is possible that to this duplication ought greatly to be attributed those personal discontents and political cross-purposes for which the Liberal party has of late years been disastrously remarkable.1 Moreover, for eleven out of these thirteen years of disembodied existence the Peelites were independent members. They were like roving icebergs, on which men could not land with safety, but with which ships might come into perilous collision. Their weight was too great not to count, but it counted first this way and then that. It is not alleged against them that their conduct was dishonourable, but their political action was attended with much public inconvenience; and even those who think they were enlightened statesmen may feel that the existence of these sensibly large segments of a representative chamber, in a state of detachment from all the organization of party, acts upon the parliamentary vessel as a cargo of corn in bulk acts in foul weather on the trim of a ship at sea. Again, as a party, they had been, like their leader, pacific and
1 Mr. Gladstone wrote this at the end of 1876.
economical. The effects of their separation from official Liberalism during the first government of Lord Palmerston were easily traceable in the policy of that government as to various matters of importance. From this time onwards Lord Aberdeen was in retirement, and Peelism ceased to be, as such, in contact with the court, at which it had certainly weighed as an important factor of political opinion."
On the debate on Mr. Lowe's amendment being resumed, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, who had long been regarded as one of the most elegant, though he was by no means one of the most frequent speakers in the house, made another strong appeal for continuing the war with energy. "Let me suppose," he said, "that when the future philanthropist shall ask what service on the human race did we in our generation signally confer, some one trained perhaps in the schools of Oxford or the Institute of Manchester shall answer: 'A power that commanded myriads-as many as those that under Xerxes exhausted rivers in their march-embodied all the forces of barbarism on the outskirts of civilization; left these to develop its own natural resources; no state molested, though all apprehended its growth. But long pent by merciful nature in its own legitimate domains, this power schemed for the outlet to its instinctive ambition; to that outlet it crept by dissimulating guile-by successive treaties that, promising peace, graduated spoliation to the opportunities of fraud. At length, under pretexts too gross to deceive the common sense of mankind, it proposed to seize that outlet, to storm the feeble gates between itself and the world beyond.' Then the historian shall say, that we in our generation, the united families of England and France, made ourselves the vanguard of alarmed and shrinking Europe, and did not sheathe the sword until we had redeemed the pledge to humanity, made on the faith of two Christian sovereigns, and ratified at those distant graves which liberty and justice shall revere for ever." This will be sufficient as an example of the style of the famous novelist when he made a special effort in parliament.
REPORT OF THE CRIMEAN COMMITTEE.
It is a style which can scarcely be said to have survived to our own day, and perhaps if it had, it would not be often patiently accepted by modern political assemblies of persons with differing and opposite opinions.
The debate was closed by a long speech from Lord Palmerston, in which, as we have noticed in a previous page, he sharply attacked the "peace-at-any-price" party, and gave a shrewd hit at Mr. Bright by saying that, "judging from their speeches, their manner, and their language, they would do much better for leaders of a party for war at all hazards." Mr. Baring's amendment was then accepted without a division, a conclusion which Mr. Disraeli opposed but in which Mr. Gladstone
that the great powers should distinctly agree to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire, and should bind themselves to consider every act or event of a nature to infringe upon it as a question of European interest. Secondly, that the plenipotentiaries of Russia and Turkey should propose by common agreement to the conference the equal amount of the effective naval forces to be kept up by them in the Black Sea, such amount not to exceed the number of Russian ships now afloat in that sea, and that this agreement should form an integral part of the general treaty; the straits to remain closed, but each of the other powers to be authorized by firman to station two frigates in the Black Sea, and in case of attack, the sultan to open the passage to all the naval forces of his allies.
A considerable amount of diplomatic contention ensued, the result of which was that Prince Gortschakoff admitted that he found in the general principles of Count Buol's project the basis of a possible solution of the third guarantee. The English and French ambassadors both declared that their instructions were exhausted, and thus the matter ended for the time, though it was renewed earlier than had been expected.
The last of the Vienna conferences had already taken place, and was attended for Austria by Count Buol-Schauenstein and Baron Prokesch-Osten; for France, by Baron Bourqueney; for Great Britain, by the Earl of Westmoreland; for Russia, by Prince Gortschakoff and M. de Titoff; for Turkey, by Aali Pasha and Aariff Effendi. Count Buol stated that, as a last resource, Austria was prepared to make another proposition intended to settle by way of compromise the disputed point of the limitation of the naval forces of Russia in the Black Sea. In the eleventh conference, held on the 19th of April, M. Drouyn de Lhuys had suggested that, as Russia peremptorily objected to treat with the other great powers on the limitation of her own naval forces, an expedient might be found to meet this difficulty, by bringing about a direct arrangement between Russia and the Porte to adjust the balance of their respective forces, which arrangement should have the same validity and effect as the general acts of the conference. To this was added Lord John Russell's very inopportune declaration of the 19th of March, that the best and most admissible conditions of peace would be those which should be most consistent with the honour of Russia, as well as with the security of Europe. Upon these hints the Austrian cabinet set to work to construct its final scheme, to the following effect:-It proposed, in the first place,
The Crimean committee of inquiry, which had been largely attended, and to obtain admission to which crowds were daily in waiting, had brought its sittings to a close. The evidence was, as we have seen, conclusive as to the incapacity of the former administration of affairs in some of the departments most essential to the maintenance of the army and the prosecution of the war. The Duke of Cambridge had perhaps given the most damaging particulars, for he stated that while a cabinet minister was assuring the House of Commons that the number of men fit for duty amounted to thirty thousand, the real number was only twelve thousand. It will be remembered, however, that little information was obtained from the reports and despatches of Lord Raglan, and, as we have seen, the evidence related rather to what had been done under another administration, than by that in existence at the time of the inquiry. This may have been the reason that the report of the commission,
when it was presented, on the 18th of June, seemed to have little force in it. If it did not exhibit a "lame and impotent conclusion," it at all events appeared to reassert, without any immediately practical application, what had been said in far more forcible language a hundred times before. Indeed it rather provided excuse for previous failures, and wound up with a couple of patriotic platitudes. After describing the condition of the army, and reviewing the evidence given before the committee, it ended as follows:
"Your committee report that the sufferings of the army resulted mainly from the circumstances under which the expedition to the Crimea was undertaken and executed. The administration which ordered that expedition had no adequate information as to the amount of forces in the Crimea. They were not acquainted with the strength of the forces to be attacked, or with the resources of the country to be invaded. They hoped and expected the expedition to be immediately successful, and as they did not foresee the probability of a protracted struggle, they made no provision for a winter campaign. The patience and fortitude of the army demand the admiration and gratitude of the nation on whose behalf they have fought, bled, and suffered. Their heroic valour and equally heroic patience under sufferings and privations have given them claims on the country which will doubtless be gratefully acknowledged. Your committee will now close their report with a hope that every British army may in future display the valour which this noble army has displayed, and that none may hereafter be exposed to such sufferings as have been recorded in these pages"
That Mr. Roebuck considered the result not quite in accordance with the threats which had originated and accompanied the inquiry, may be inferred from the terms of the motion that he almost immediately brought forward, "that this house, deeply lamenting the sufferings of our army during the late winter campaign in the Crimea, and coinciding with the resolution of their committee, that the conduct of the administration was the first and chief cause of those misfortunes, hereby visits with
its severe reprehension every member of the cabinet whose counsels led to such disastrous results." This resolution was discussed on the 17th and 18th of July, and dawdled along until it was got rid of by the usual expedient of moving and carrying "the previous question." Thus the inquiry was after all extinguished. It had done little or nothing more, after causing the retirement of three able ministers, than confirm the reports which had been published in the newspapers, and with which the country was already familiar.
The censure upon the government, and much depreciation of the manner in which the war was conducted, had to some extent been mitigated, however, and this result was partly attributed to a speech made by Prince Albert at the annual banquet at the Trinity House on the day after the closing of the debate on Mr. Lowe's amendment, when crimination and recrimination had run so high. The speech had been well thought out beforehand, and it was certainly telling, not only on account of the gravity with which it was spoken, but because of the serious representations which it contained-representations, the truth of which was afterwards largely acknowledged. It was in proposing the toast of her majesty's ministers that the prince said:
"If there ever was a time when the queen's government, by whomsoever conducted, required the support-ay, not the support alone, but the confidence, good-will, and sympathy of their fellow-countrymen, it is the present. It is not the way to success in war to support it, however ardently and energetically, and to run down and weaken those who have to conduct it. We are engaged with a mighty adversary, who uses against us all those wonderful powers which have sprung up under the generating influence of our liberty and our civilization, and employs them with all the force which unity of purpose and action, impenetrable secresy, and uncontrolled despotic power give him; whilst we have to meet him under a state of things intended for peace and the promotion of that very civilization-a civilization the offspring of public discussion, the friction of parties, and popular
ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM-CHARLES DICKENS.
control over the government of the state. The queen has no power to levy troops, and none at her command, except such as voluntarily offer their services. Her government can entertain no measures for the prosecution of the war without having to explain them publicly in parliament; her armies and fleets can make no movement, nor even prepare for any, without its being proclaimed by the press; and no mistake, however trifling, can occur, no weakness exist, which it may be of the utmost importance to conceal from the world, without its being publicly denounced, and even frequently exaggerated, with a morbid satisfaction. The queen's ambassadors can carry on no negotiation which has not to be publicly defended by entering into all the arguments which a negotiator, to have success, must be able to shut up in the innermost recesses of his heart-nay, at the most critical moment, when the complications of military measures and diplomatic negotiations may be at their height, an adverse vote in parliament may of a sudden deprive her of all her confidential servants.
"Gentlemen, constitutional government is under a heavy trial, and can only pass triumphantly through it, if the country will grant its confidence-a patriotic, indulgent, and selfdenying confidence-to her majesty's government. Without this, all their labours must be in vain."
There was for a time a great outcry against the declaration that constitutional government was under a heavy trial-and the words had been distorted into an assertion that constitutional government was "on its trial;" but nobody, except those who were either ignorantly misled or were wilfully perverse attributed to it any but its real meaning, and the intentions of the speaker were not only understood, but appreciated, by the leading newspapers of the country, as well as by its most intelligent politicians.
The allusion made by the prince consort to the effects of information conveyed to the enemy by means of unrestrained reports and comments which appeared in the English newspapers, was not without considerable foundation; but it would have been extremely dif
ficult to preserve the freedom, which had long been claimed, for open discussion and complete examination of public affairs in the press of the country, and yet to impose a limit of discretion. The leading newspapers had already exposed our mismanagement in the Crimea, and the result had been an amendment of administration, without which we might never have succeeded in maintaining a position in the Crimea at all. It was not likely, therefore, that details of the movements of our troops and of the operations before Sebastopol would be suppressed, although they were said to have given the Russians information which generals seek for with eagerness, but under great difficulties through the medium of spies and deserters. In a private despatch from Lord Cowley it was stated that the young Emperor of Russia had said to a French prisoner, General Lagardie, "We do not learn much from you (the French); it is the English press which gives us information, and certes it has been most valuable to us.”
General Simpson, too, wrote to Lord Panmure complaining of the particulars published in the papers. "There is a paragraph in the Morning Post," he said, "giving the exact strength of our guards at the trenches, lines of relief, &c. It is very disgusting to read. these things, which are read at Sebastopol some days before they reach us here." The success of the expedition to Kertch was mainly due to the fact, that the English press had no chance of divulging the point on which it was to be directed.
The charges against the administration in their prosecution of the war were, however, not permitted to sleep. Before the dismissal of Mr. Roebuck's motion of censure Mr. Layard had introduced into the house the subject of administrative reform, which was being discussed outside with increasing interest and vigour, Mr. Charles Dickens having been amongst the foremost speakers at one of the large meetings. The resolution by which Mr. Layard endeavoured to claim attention to his declarations was, that the house "views with deep and increasing concern the state of the nation, and is of opinion that the manner in which merit and efficiency have been sacrificed,