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COBDEN AS A FASHIONABLE LION-REFUSAL OF OFFICE.
"But finding me still firm in my objections, he observed laughingly, 'Why are you in the House of Commons?' I answered also with a laugh, Upon my word I hardly know.' 'But why did you enter public life?' said he. 'I hardly know,' was my answer; 'it was by mere accident, and for a special purpose, and probably it would have been better for me and my family if I had kept my private station.' Upon which he threw out both his hands, and, with a laugh louder than before, he exclaimed, 'Well, but being in it why not go on?' He added, 'Recollect I don't offer you the seat from any desire of my own to change my colleagues. If left to me, I would rather, of course, have gone on as before with my old friends. I offer you the seat because you have a right to it.'
"In answer to my remark that perhaps others might be found quite as much entitled as myself to represent the advanced Liberals in his government, he replied quickly, 'Will you be good enough to mention the name of any one excepting Bright, Gibson, and yourself that I could bring into the cabinet as the representative of the Radicals?' I urged that Bright had been unfairly judged, and that his speeches at Birmingham, &c., were not of a kind to exclude him from an offer of a seat, and I remarked that he had very carefully avoided personalities in those speeches. 'It is not personalities that are complained of; a public man,' said he, 'is right in attacking persons. But it is his attacks on classes that have given offence to powerful bodies, who can make their resentment felt.'
"In the course of his remarks he gave me a full explanation of his views on the present war, and expressed his determination to prepreserve a strict neutrality, observing that, as the people of England would as soon think of 'evacuating these islands' as to go to war in behalf of Austria, and as France did not ask us to help her, he could not see any possibility of our being mixed up in the fray. On this point he remarked: 'If you are afraid of our abandoning our neutral ground, why don't you come into the citadel of power, where you could have a voice in preventing it?'
"On his remarking upon the difficulty there
would be in carrying on the government unless all parties were united, and how impossible it was for him to do so if the natural representatives of the Liberals would not take office, I replied that the very fact of his having offered me office was, so far as I was concerned, his justification; and that I should be blamed, and not he, in the matter. And I added, 'I shall give just the same support to your government whilst Mr. Gibson is in it, who represents identically my views, as I should if I were one of your government; for I should be certain to run away if you were to do anything very contrary to my strong convictions.' I added that at present there were only two subjects on which we could have any serious difference, and that if he kept out of the war, and gave us a fair reform measure, I did not see any other point on which I should be found opposing him. He returned to the argument that my presence in the government was the important step required; and I then told him that having run the gauntlet of my friends in Lancashire, who had kindly pressed the matter on me, and having resolved to act in opposition to their views, which nothing but the strongest convictions of the propriety of my course could have induced me to do, my mind was irrevocably made up. And so I rose to depart, expressing the hope that our personal and political relations might be in future the same as if I were in his government.
"As I left the room he said, 'Lady Palmerston receives to-morrow evening at ten." To which I instantly replied, 'I shall be happy to be allowed to present myself to her.' 'I shall be very glad if you will,' was his answer, and so we parted.
"The next evening I was at Cambridge House for the first time, and found myself among a crowd of fashionables and politicians and was the lion of the party. The women came and stared with their glasses at me, and then brought their friends to stare also. As I came away, Jacob Omnium and I were squeezed into a corner together, and he remarked, 'You are the greatest political monster that ever was seen in this house. There never was before seen such a curiosity as a man who
refused a cabinet office from Lord Palmerston, and then came to visit him here. Why, there are not half-a-dozen men in all that crowd that would not jump at the offer, and believe themselves quite as fit as you to be president of the Board of Trade.""
Cobden did not and would not jump at it. Many of his friends were hurt and disappointed, and their disappointment affected him greatly, even to the extent of impairing his physical health; still he remained firm. One man, however, commended him. Bright saw that he could not take office in Palmerston's ministry without undergoing some depreciation of influence if not of self-respect. How could it be possible, he would probably have argued, that a man professing the views that Cobden and I have always held, could take office in a ministry where one of the first measures might be to entail fresh financial burdens upon the country on what we believe to be immoral grounds. Bright's own views were well known, and he had recently given new expression to them in an address delivered at Glasgow in December, 1858, when he was advocating a new measure of parliamentary reform, and had drawn up the sketch of such a bill as he believed might be effective.
"It is a curious thing," he had said to the Glasgow electors, "to observe the evils which nations live under, and the submissive spirit with which they yield to them. I have often compared, in my own mind, the people of England with the people of ancient Egypt, and the foreign office of this country with the temples of the Egyptians. We are told by those who pass up and down the Nile that on its banks are grand temples, with stately statues and massive and lofty columns, statues each one of which would have appeared almost to have exhausted a quarry in its production. You have, further, vast chambers and gloomy passages; and some innermost access, some holy of holies, in which, when you arrive at it, you find some loathsome reptile, which a nation reverenced and revered, and bowed itself down to worship. In our foreign office we have no massive columns; we have no statues; but we have a mystery as profound; and in the innermost recesses of it we find
some miserable intrigue, in defence of which your fleets are traversing every ocean, your armies are perishing in every clime, and the precious blood of our country's children is squandered as though it had no price. I hope that an improved representation will change all this; that the great portion of our expenditure which is incurred in carrying out the secret and irresponsible doings of our foreign office will be placed directly under the free control of a parliament elected by the great body of the people of the United Kingdom. And then, and not till then, will your industry be secured from that gigantic taxation to which it has been subjected during the last hundred and fifty years.
"There is much in this country, notwithstanding, of which we may be proud. We can write freely, we can meet as we are met now, and we can speak freely of our political wishes and our grievances. The ruling classes, with a wise sagacity, have yielded these points without further struggle; but we are so delighted with our personal freedom, we are so pleased that we can move about without passports, and speak, write, and act as freely as a free man requires to do; we are so delighted with all this that we are unconscious of the fact that our rulers extract from our industry a far larger amount than any other government does, or ever did, from an equal number of people. Dr. Livingstone, the African traveller, if I am not mistaken, is a native of this neighbourhood, and you no doubt identify his reputation in some degree with your own. He gives, in his interesting and charming book, many anecdotes of the various creatures which he saw and heard of during his travels. He describes in one place, I remember, a bird, which he calls a dull, stupid bird, a kind of pelican, which occupies itself with its own affairs on the river side. This pelican catches fish, and when it has secured them it puts them into a pouch or purse under its bill, instead of the ordinary accommodation which anglers have in Scotland for their prizes. Dr. Livingstone tells of another bird which is neither dull nor stupid, which he calls the fish-hawk. This hawk hovers over the pelican, and, waiting patiently until the latter has
BEGINNING OF THE COMMERCIAL TREATY WITH FRANCE.
secured the fish, he comes down upon him with a swoop and takes the fish from the purse, leaving the pelican delighted that the hawk has not taken him bodily away, and setting to work at once to catch another fish.
"I ask of you whether you can apply this anecdote to your own case? You are told that your government is a government which allows you to meet, and that it lets every man say anything short of absolute treason, at least in times of tranquillity; it permits your leading-article writers to denounce, at will, every member of the government; and, like the pelican, you are so delighted that you are not absolutely eaten up by it, that you allow it to extract from your pockets an incalculable amount of your industry, and you go to work just as the pelican does, until this great government fish-hawk comes down again upon you. What I want is, that all the people should examine the question thoroughly for themselves. Rely upon it, your present and future welfare as a nation is bound up with it. Many persons suppose that because some people pay but little in the shape of taxation that it matters nothing to them what taxes the government imposes upon the nation. Every man who drinks tea, or consumes any excisable articles, pays taxes; but apart from this view of the question, I would have you to understand that everything which the government expends, supposing it was all to come from the employers' pocket, would be a diminution of that great fund of capital out of which wages were paid. Every man, therefore, whether he pays taxes or not- -more so, of course, if he does-every man, if he is not mainly living upon the taxes, has a most direct interest in establishing that representation of the people that will give the nation a firm control over the expenditure of its money.
"I have devoted many years of my life, I have spent much labour in advocating a greater freedom of the soil. I believe that it would work better and prove more profitable to the landed proprietors themselves. I think that free land, greater economy in the public expenditure, with the growing intelligence which we see all around us, and the improve
ment which is taking place in the most temperate habits of the people,-all these things together fill me with the hope that, whatever we have in the annals of the past of which we can boast, there is still a brighter future in store for this country."
But if Cobden could not take office-perhaps because he did not take office-he was able to effect vast and important changes in our commercial relations. Already the idea of international commercial negotiations was in the air. Count Persigny, in conversation with Lord John Russell, had referred to a commercial treaty between France and England as an earnest of the emperor's desire for peace. Mr. Bright had asked in parliament why, instead of lavishing the national resources in armaments, the government did not persuade the French emperor to induce his people to trade freely with us. It seemed only to want an interview of three men-Michel Chevalier, the great free-trade theorist of France; Richard Cobden, the practical political economist and free-trader of England; and William Ewart Gladstone, the foremost financial minister in Europe--to inaugurate a scheme which should result in a definite and mutually beneficial treaty that would ally the two nations in trade as well as in arts and arms. This interview virtually took place. Chevalier, after reading Bright's views, had written to Cobden on the subject of a possible commercial treaty, and coming to England in the summer of 1859 found that the English free-trader had intended to spend part of the winter in Paris. Here was the opportunity for endeavouring to convert the emperor to free-trade views, and Chevalier urged it with no little force and address. Cobden was deeply impressed with the idea. He believed that such a treaty would be possible, for in 1860 terminable annuities for upwards of two millions would fall in, and the chancellor of the exchequer would have that amount of money to deal with. If he could apply it to the reduction of duties on French goods so as to secure similar concessions on the other side, here would be a basis on which to proceed with something like security. In September Cobden was at Hawarden, deeply discussing the
pressions left upon the mind of his present visitor was that he was a person of no great ability. In this Cobden was mistaken. The emperor had been only imperfectly informed, his knowledge was defective on many subjects; but he possessed remarkable power of apprehension, and the invaluable gift of being able to receive instruction without any apparent desire to assert himself, or to lose his temper under contradiction.
whole question with Gladstone, who, in spite | days after escaping from Ham; and the imof the abandonment of the perfect rules of a free-trade policy which only a partial reciprocal remission of duties must involve, believed that abstract principles must give way to an approximate benefit when that alone is practicable, and may lead to complete liberty of commerce by the gradual removal of restrictions. At all events it was settled that Cobden should make use of his forthcoming visit to Paris to introduce the subject in a manner which, while he had the countenance of his own government without actual official authority, might enable him to make way for some more definite arrangement for working out, with them, a scheme for a treaty which would be of mutual advantage. Cobden came to London not over sanguine, for he had a poor opinion of the ability of any one to move governments in a direction not immediately and obviously in accordance with their own interests. His interviews with Russell and Palmerston were not particularly reassuring. They did not appear to think very much of the scheme or of M. Chevalier's theories. They did not dissuade him or forbid his going to Paris, however, and perhaps they reflected that if anybody possessed the art of persuading the emperor and his advisers to make a free-trade experiment it would be Cobden, whose manner, no less than his great reputation, was calculated to bring about such a result.
Under these circumstances he set out for Paris, where on the 23d October he went to see Lord Cowley. On the 25th Cobden, Chevalier, and Rouher dined together, and Mr. Morley, in his life of Cobden, says he has heard that the dinner was planned with as much secrecy and discretion as if they had been three housebreakers under the surveillance of the police.
Rouher was already a strong free-trader, but he was obliged to act under the orders of the emperor, and if only he could be convinced a great deal might be done. This must be the next step, and Rouher undertook to procure an invitation to St. Cloud. Cobden had once before met Napoleon III., but that was when he was called Louis Napoleon, and was at breakfast with Mr. Monckton Milnes three
The restoration of Mr. Gladstone to the office of chancellor of the exchequer may well have revived the hopes of those who looked forward to an advance in free-trade policy and in economical government; but though the former was to be quickly realized, so far as the mutual concessions of the commercial treaty with France were concerned, events had made it impossible to reduce taxation. On the contrary, an increased expenditure on the army and navy which had been thought necessary because of the threatening attitude of France and Austria in the affairs of Italy, and the possibility of hostilities in Europe, as well as in consequence of the suspicion which had been created by the augmented armaments ordered by the French emperor, had created a deficiency which not only perpetuated but increased the income-tax. Since his return from Corfu Mr. Gladstone had enjoyed a brief season of retirement, during which he had been occupied in those studies which enabled him to contribute a valuable addition to what may be called Homeric literature. Of his Studies of Homer and the Homeric Age, published in 1858, we cannot here enter into any description, nor would it be in place to discuss the indirect historical relation of the Homeric poems and the Sacred Scriptures which is there referred to. The address which Mr. Gladstone delivered, as chancellor of the University of Edinburgh in 1865, on the "Place of Ancient Greece in the Providential Order of the World," may be said to have been a subsequent incidental outcome of the studies which enabled the author to produce a work so full of thoughtful investigation. It should be remembered, too, that when
GLADSTONE AND THE GREEKS.
the book was passing through the press, Mr. Gladstone had but just returned from his mission to the Ionian Islands. That mission was not immediately successful, but the occasion as well as the result of it is exceedingly suggestive. In 1800 the seven united islands of Cephalonia, Cerigo, Corfu, Ithaca, Paxo, Santa Maura, and Zante had been formed into a republic, and in 1815 they had been placed under the protection of Great Britain; but the people were anxious to be released from that protectorate, that the islands might form part of the kingdom of Greece, and many disturbances took place. In the Derby administration Sir Edward Lytton Bulwer, or as he afterwards entitled himself Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, was secretary for the colonies, and among other evidences of energy and ability succeeded in founding the colony of British Columbia, with which (in 1866) Vancouver's Island was afterwards incorporated. To a man like Bulwer the appointment of Mr. Gladstone as plenipotentiary for settling the affairs of the Ionian Islands was sure to commend itself. The cause of Greece, and also the cause of freedom and independence in general, had a supporter in the statesman who had exposed the abominable cruelties of the Neapolitan government, and by scholarship, sympathy, and sagacity he was well suited to go on a mission of inquiry to Corfu, where the inhabitants might well be reassured by the appointment of a man whose sympathies were known to be at all events in favour of an unbiassed examination of their claims. Mr. Gladstone was willing to undertake the duties of such a commission, and though the appointment met with much adverse criticism from people who would not admit that there could be any reason for preferring to be a part of a national kingdom instead of remaining a nominal republic under British protection, his nomination appeared to have but one drawback. It was so acceptable to the Greek islanders themselves that they persisted in misunderstanding its real intention. Lytton, in his despatch introducing the lord high commissioner, referred to the scholarship which had interpreted Homer, and for some time those fa
cetious opponents of the appointment who were not scholars, dwelt with delight on a poor jest which represented Mr. Gladstone as attending assemblies of Greeks at Corfu, and addressing them in a classical tongue of which they could not understand more than a few words. What the Greeks really would not understand, was that the commissioner extraordinary had no authority to promise a withdrawal of the British protectorate for the purpose of uniting the islands to the Greek kingdom, but was only empowered to inquire into the best manner of securing the claims of the people under that protectorate. His was an exceedingly difficult and delicate position, for the Greeks insisted on receiving him as a liberator. His journey resembled a triumphal progress, and he was unable to stem the tide of misapprehension in which he found himself. He had gone out to accommodate the protectorate to their demands, and they hailed him as a deliverer from its exactions. He had hoped to arouse them to maintain their independence as a state separate from the monarchy, and they emphasized his arrival by welcoming him as the messenger of their union with the kingdom of which they earnestly desired to form a part. When reports of his reception reached England there was no little commotion among his opponents, who took care to represent that he had gone out with a determination to instigate the people of the islands to demand exemption from British influence unless that influence supported their claims to union with the Kingdom of Greece. However absurd it may have seemed to Britons at home for the Ionian people to desire to exchange a modified form of self-government under powerful foreign protection to an amalgamation with the rest of their countrymen under an uncertain and imperfect constitution, that desire was inextinguishable. Mr. Gladstone deprecated it; he tried to convince them that he had come for no such purpose as that of heralding their union with the Greek kingdom; but the national assembly refused to listen, and passed a resolution declaring for that union. It was with much difficulty that he induced them to appoint a regular committee who would draw