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may be said to have been the occasion of the subsequent demand for fortifications on the English coast, which was regarded as a part of the so-called "invasion panic" of 1858.
On the 1st of January a letter came from the Emperor and Empress of the French in cordial reply to the Christmas greetings which the queen had sent them. In that letter the emperor said:
"The 1st of January is usually a day that is anything but pleasant to me, for it is taken up with very tiresome receptions, and this year seemed to me more disagreeable than usual, for it begins on a Friday, and with a fog that might be envied on the Thames. But your majesty has contrived to dissipate all the sad impressions of the day by deigning to send me a kind word, which I have just received, and which has touched me deeply. Believe me, madam, the wishes that I form for the happiness of your majesty, and for that of the prince and of your children, are most sincere. Our thoughts, too, are full of the 25th, and we share all the emotions which your majesty must feel on this occasion."
The 25th was fixed for the wedding of the Princess Royal, an event which was celebrated with loyal enthusiasm and rejoicing on the part of the people, who had a very true admiration and regard for the princess, and much sympathy with her majesty. Before that date, however, an event had happened which might have had a serious effect on the state of Europe but for the consistent regard of the emperor for his engagement to England, and one might almost say his loyalty to the queen. As it was, it indirectly effected the sudden expulsion of the ministry, and the temporary suspension of the policy which they had pursued. On the evening of the 14th of January, 1858, another and a more desperate attempt was made to assassinate the emperor as he was on his way with the empress to the opera. While the carriage conveying their majesties was being driven along the Rue Lepelletier, three successive explosions were heard, the gaslights were extinguished by the concussion of the air, and the street was left in total darkness. This was soon found to have been occasioned by hand-grenades, of a pear shape,
filled with some explosive substance, which had been thrown under the carriage, and the fragments of which flew in all directions, and inflicted fatal injuries on ten persons, 156 being more or less severely wounded.
Neither the emperor nor the empress was seriously hurt, but General Roguet, aide-decamp in waiting, who was sitting in the carriage, was wounded in the head, and the carriage itself was much shattered. Several of the soldiers in attendance were struck, and two of them mortally wounded. Their majesties, however, did not turn back, but entered the opera-house, where they were received with the warmest enthusiasm, and on their return to the Tuileries the streets were illuminated, and they were loudly cheered by the populace. Some arrests immediately took place, and it was soon discovered that the plot for assassinating the emperor had been concocted by an Italian refugee named Orsini, who had, in the previous year escaped from the fortress of Mantua, where he was confined as a state prisoner by the Austrian government, and that his associates in the diabolical attempt were three other conspirators named Rudio, Pierri, and Gomez. All four had been present in the Rue Lepelletier, and, with the exception of Pierri, were armed with the deadly shells, which had been manufactured by Orsini's orders in Birmingham, the assassins having set out from London.
People in England knew Felice Orsini. He had given lectures, or rather orations, in several places, describing the circumstances of his imprisonment and escape, and appealing on behalf of Italian freedom and against Austria. He was a dark, handsome man, with the deep shadowy eye, the coal-black beard and hair, the erect figure, that people regard as being typical of the true Italian. His lectures were listened to with applause and his appearance commanded attention; but there was then not sufficient enthusiasm in England to stimulate a hostile declaration against Austria. It was reserved for the man whom Orsini attempted to kill to make that declaration, and to do for Italy what probably no one else would at that time have undertaken. Orsini was warned that the English
FRENCH COMPLAINTS AGAINST ENGLAND.
would not be roused to do what he desired. At first he thought his orations had been applauded out of practical sympathy with his cause, but he found he was mistaken, and began to search for a reason for his want of Orsini attributed it to the influence of the Emperor of the French, whose visit to London occurred just at the time that the lecturer was disappointed and baffled. From that time he appears to have had a settled purpose to slay Napoleon III., and he found others ready to give him the aid he asked for. Had he known when he made his desperate attempt, that, the man he sought to kill had already pledged himself to Count Cavour to follow certain plans of policy, which had led that astute statesman to conclude that the power of France would soon be exercised on behalf, not of republican, but of national, free monarchical Italy, the bomb might never have fallen from his hand. But nobody, except those immediately concerned, had that knowledge. Orsini and his accomplices only succeeded in killing and seriously injuring a number of persons against whom he could have had no animosity, and in spattering the dress of the empress with blood. She had a narrow escape. It was said that a piece of glass from the shattered window of the carriage struck her forcibly on the temple near the eye, and that another fragment had grazed the emperor's
III. of a lack of personal courage--but it was said that after leaving the opera-house, when the imperial pair met at the cradle of the infant prince, the emperor gave way, and
could not refrain from tears. This was not to be wondered at. He was beset with many difficulties, and this new attempt to assassinate him was for a short time the occasion of fresh complications. Orsini and Pierri were executed, the former remaining unmoved to the last, and encouraging his agitated companion to be calm. The other two conspirators were imprisoned at the galleys for life.
It was to the friendly wishes of the royal family of England that the emperor's thoughts naturally reverted, and both he and the empress wrote to the queen two days afterwards. The emperor said: "In this the first moment of excitement the French are bent on finding accomplices in the crime everywhere, and I find it hard to resist all the extreme measures which people call on me to take. But this event will not make me deviate from my habitual calm, and, while seeking to strengthen the hands of the government, I will not be guilty of any injustice. I am very sorry to intrude a subject so serious and engrossing upon your majesty at a moment when I would fain speak only of the happiness I feel in the thought that your mother's heart will soon be satisfied. I would also venture to beg your majesty to present to the Princess Royal all my congratulations on her marriage. Our warmest good wishes will be with her and with you upon the 25th."
There was a serious underlying meaning in this letter. If Napoleon III. was disposed to take the attempt of Orsini calmly when speaking of it to the Queen of England, there were a large number of Frenchmen who were ready to use indignant and even violently abusive language in relation to the crime and the English protection of political criminals. England was accused of offering hospitality to assassins. Count Walewski, as minister of foreign affairs, wrote to Count Persigny, the French ambassador in London, a despatch which, though it was of course much less emphatic than menacing messages which had been forwarded to Sardinia, Switzerland, and
Orsini himself was wounded by a portion of one of the exploded shells, and left a track of blood by which his captors were able to follow him. He admitted that it was he who had committed the crime, and made no appeal for mercy or for a mitigation of his punishment, though he used every effort to avert the charge of complicity from a man who had been accused of being an accomplice. Singularly enough Orsini wrote from prison to Napoleon III. imploring him to support the Italian national cause. It was believed that the emperor would have spared his life but for the frightful recklessness of a crime which led to the death and injury of so many persous. During the horrible attempt both the emperor and the empress maintained their calm bearing-no one ever accused Napoleon
Belgium, was strong enough to be taken to imply an offensive imputation against this country for affording countenance and protection to men by whose writings "assassination was elevated into a doctrine, openly preached, and carried into practice by reiterated attacks" upon the person of the French sovereign.
"It is," said the despatch, "no longer the hostility of misguided parties manifesting itself by all the excesses of the press, and every violence of language; it is no longer even the labours of factions seeking to agitate opinion and to provoke disorder; it is assassination reduced to a doctrine, preached openly, practised in repeated attempts, the most recent of which has just struck Europe with stupefaction. Ought the English legislature to contribute to the designs of men who are not mere fugitives, but assassins, and continue to shelter persons who place themselves beyond the pale of common right and under the ban of humanity? Her Britannic majesty's government can assist us in averting a repetition of such guilty enterprises by affording us a guarantee of security which no state can refuse to a neighbouring state, and which we are authorized to expect from an ally. Fully relying, moreover, on the high principle (haute raison) of the English cabinet, we refrain from indicating in any way the measures which it may see fit to take in order to comply with this wish. We confidently leave to it to decide the course which it shall deem best fitted to attain the end in view."
M. Persigny himself made his contribution to the strong remonstrances from France. In reply to a deputation informing him that the corporation of the city of London had voted an address to the emperor, he said:-The true question "does not lie in the attempts at assassinations in themselves, nor even in the crime of the 14th of January, which your government would have hastened to warn us against if it could have known it beforehand; the whole question is the moral situation of France, which has become anxiously doubtful of the real sentiment of England. Reasoning by analogy, popular opinion declares that if there were in France men sufficiently infamous to recommend at their clubs, in their papers,
in their writings of every kind, the assassination of a foreign sovereign, and actually to prepare its execution, a French administration would not wait to receive the demands of a foreign government, nor to see the enterprise set on foot. . . To act against such conspiracies, to anticipate such crimes, public notoriety would be sufficient to set our law in motion, and measures of security would be taken immediately. Well, then, France is astonished that nothing of a like nature should have taken place in England, and Frenchmen say either the English law is sufficient, as certain lawyers declare-and why, then, is it not applied? or it is insufficient, which is the opinion of other lawyers, and in this case why does not a free country, which makes its own laws, remedy this omission? In one word, France does not understand, and cannot understand, this state of things, and in that resides the harm; for she may mistake the true sentiments of her ally, and no longer believe her sincerity."
There was little to be said against this language, and it showed how much more moderate Persigny was than the foreign minister. But Persigny was more truly loyal to the English alliance, and stronger representations than his, even those which were made by members of the French chambers, where Troplong and Morny uttered violent denunciations, could be excused by men like Lord Clarendon, who, writing to Prince Albert, said:
"Great allowance is to be made for men whose fortunes depend upon the life of the emperor, and who were speaking under the excitement and exasperation which the atrocious attempt on his life could not fail to produce. Nor is it to be expected that foreigners, who see that assassins go and come here as they please, and that conspiracies may be hatched in England with impunity, should think our laws and policy friendly to other countries, or appreciate the extreme difficulty of making any change in our system."
But what the calm deliberate judgment of a statesman might regard with equanimity, the people of England and some of those to whom they looked for the demonstration of national spirit, were not likely to pass by
THE "CONSPIRACY TO MURDER" BILL.
without a quick answer. Unfortunately, too, the offensive tone towards England, which could only be assumed to exist in Walewski's despatch, became obvious in the congratulatory addresses which were sent to the emperor from some of the regiments of the French army. Certain colonels of these regiments appeared to revel in invective against the English, and the numerous opponents of the alliance probably took the opportunity to foment this feeling of antagonism. The terms used in some of these addresses were so extravagantly offensive that they became ludicrous. Due allowance of course was needed for the excitability of the French temperament,and for the usually exaggerated phraseology of military officers of a certain class, which at that time displayed considerable strength of self-assertion. Even the milder of these addresses deplored that powerful friends, whose brave armies had lately fought by their sides, should under the name of hospitality protect conspirators and assassins, surpassing those who had gone before them in all that was odious. Others, however, demanded "an account from the land of impurity which contains the haunts of the monsters who are sheltered by its laws." "Give us the order, sire," said this address, "and we will pursue them even to their strongholds." Another division exclaimed, "Let the miserable assassins, the subordinate agents of such crimes, receive the chastisement due to their abominable attempts, but let also the infamous haunt in which machinations so infernal are planned be destroyed for ever." Of course "the infamous haunt" meant London, and this was the strain in which several of the addresses were couched. There was no bearing that. Who was to resent the insolence of these French colonels? There was, of course, a great deal of indignation expressed, and the defiant replies made in public speeches and newspapers in England sometimes almost rivalled in absurdity the menaces which had occasioned them. Punch appeared with a cartoon representing a French colonel in the character of a crowing cock, and with a few contemptuous words underneath. Some wiseacre thought it would be a capital thing to send the caricature to the colonel of the
French division at Rouen, who had been one of the foremost of those who inveighed against this country, and he sent it pretending that it was from the Army and Navy Club, the committee of which, hearing of the outrage, afterwards offered fifty pounds reward for the detection of the offender. Everybody was asking what was to be done, what was the reply to be made to the demands, or what appeared to be the demands of the French foreign minister? Where was Lord Palmerston? Lord Palmerston appeared to be in some respects more firmly seated than ever. He had recently, perhaps because of attacks of gout and advancing age, exhibited rather more brusquerie, and a little less bonhomie, when he had to reply to awkward or disagreeable questions, and a few acute politicians stroked their chins as they looked somewhat askance at him, but he had lost little if anything in the opinion of the country, and his government appeared to have in it the elements of lasting strength. He and Lord Clarendon and Lord Cowley were convinced of the good faith of the French emperor toward England. They had met him at Osborne, they had marked the frank deference with which he listened even to refutations of his own opinions. It was worth while to make some concessions, and to go out of the ordinary course to preserve the entente cordiale. These concessions had been made, the ordinary course had, in one sense, been departed from before the publication in the Moniteur of the addresses from the French army had aroused public temper here. In Walewski's communication there was not, after all, anything compromising to the honour of England, if, as Lord Clarendon had hinted, due regard were had to the mode of speaking and thinking in France.
There was no denying the fact that Orsini had gone direct from England, and that he, like the active agents in previous conspiracies against the emperor's life, had also lived for some time in England. Public feeling was revolted by the way the asylum we had afforded had been abused by men of this stamp, and it was prepared to sanction any reasonable measure to prevent English soil from
being used with impunity for the concoction of plots against the life of a foreign sovereign. On the 8th of February, 1858, Lord Palmerston brought forward, not a really effective measure, but one which, while it was calculated to allay the natural irritation of the French government, and to appease the expectations of the emperor, would, if it had passed into law, have been almost inoperative, unless by some straining of its provisions. It was, in short, a bill ostensibly intended to make conspiracy to murder a felony punishable with penal servitude for five years, or imprisonment with hard labour for three years-that offence being only a misdemeanour under the existing law.
It scarcely needs to be pointed out that the punishment, whether by short imprisonment or by penal servitude, of a detected conspiracy to murder, is quite a different thing to the refusal of an asylum to political refugees on the mere suspicion that they may contemplate assassination. Conspiracy to murder was never tolerated under the English law, but we had few secret means of discovering what might be the plots of political refugees who found an asylum in this country. Few men could have known this better than Napoleon III., who had himself lived and plotted in, and carried out his schemes from, London, and was well aware that political malcontents from all countries and the protestors against all tyrannies sought safety in England, beyond the reach of the despotisms, or it might sometimes be the reasonable laws, against which they preached revolt.
Palmerston's Conspiracy to Murder Bill had passed the first reading by 299 votes to 99, and there seemed to be little reason to doubt that it would become law. The India Bill No. 1 had just before passed its first reading with a triumphant majority, and Sir Richard Bethell, who was then attorney-general, walking home with Palmerston on the night of the division, said jocularly that his lordship ought, like the Roman consuls in a triumph, to have somebody beside him to remind him that he was mortal. The remark became significant.
It had been intended at first to introduce a
measure giving power to the secretary of state to send away any foreigner who was suspected by the government to be plotting a scheme against the life of a foreign sovereign, the government being bound to state the grounds on which the person was sent away, either to a secret committee of parliament, or to a committee composed of the three chiefs of the courts of law. This, however, was abandoned, partly perhaps because it was obvious that to gain the required information it would be necessary to employ a secret political police. The same objection appears to have been overlooked in the bill which was subsequently introduced.
But before that bill could be read a second time, the tone adopted in France had aroused popular indignation here. At a great meeting in Hyde Park the threats of the French colonels were quoted, and great excitement was shown; while the arrest, in his lodgings at Bayswater, of a Dr. Simon Bernard on a charge of complicity in the Orsini plot, and his subsequent committal on a charge of murder, and as accessory before the fact, increased the feeling of suspicion that the law of England was about to be wrested in compliance with the demands of a foreign government. At the same time public indignation, after it had become less unreasonable, gave rise to one of the most important events which ever occurred in the social or political history of the nation. The militia had already been strengthened and reorganized; but now came a steady and determined renewal of former proposals, by competent men, for the formation of volunteer regiments. It is a subject to which we may have to recur at greater length hereafter, and it is enough to say here that many thousands of volunteer riflemen, whose happily chosen motto was soon declared to be "Defence, not Defiance," were rapidly enrolled under officers who had at all events plenty of energy and enthusiasm, and were not deficient in ability.
When the Conspiracy Bill came up for the second reading, it had been discovered that no actual reply had been sent to the despatch of Count Walewski, though doubtless Lord Cowley had received instructions to discuss its terms