« PreviousContinue »
other Peelites were worthy of their chief; and both Peelites and Whigs had been lavish in their abuse of the French Emperor. Nicholas therefore saw every reason to believe that his plans would succeed. But one element he left out of the calculation, and that was fatal to him. He did not sufficiently understand the British character and institutions, and thought that alliances were still the exclusive concern of courts and cabinets. He had not learned to appreciate the instincts of a free people, which soon drove the British Cabinet from its ignobly Russianised policy -nor yet the sagacious tolerance of the French Emperor, which led him to drop from mind the thousand scurrilities of the British press and Government, and unite in an alliance against the violator of European peace. In this way Russia's project miscarried, but it was within an ace of succeeding; and Great Britain would do well to consider how she would have been situated had the French Emperor accepted the secret overtures of the Czar-especially as the Russian fleet singly at that time exceeded our whole disposable navy by nearly two to one!
Although Russia has temporarily been beaten back from its prey, Turkey has suffered dreadfully in the strife. It is all very well to speak of the magnanimous spirit she has displayed-of the gallantry and heroic endurance of her soldiers --and of the benefits to be expected from the new Charter, or Hatti-Humayoun, every sentence of which is a revolution. The more significant facts remain, that her treasury is exhausted, her fleet annihilated, her true military population "used up ;" and though the breathing-time now allowed her will help to repair these evils, it is needless to expect that, with such an enemy without, and so large an alien population within, the Ottoman power in Europe will revive. Turkey is still the "sick man," and Europe will soon be fighting again over its dead body.
Alike in her military establishments,
and in the internal resources which serve to support them, Russia has suffered severely from the war. Of the havoc made in the agricultural resources of many of her interior provinces, striking evidence was borne in the authentic communications which we laid before the British public last autumn ;* and her direct military losses are patent to the world. Sebastopol, with its magnificent docks, has been captured and destroyed, her Black Sea fleet has been annihilated, and probably more than half a million of her soldiers have perished or been di abled, on the march, in bivouac, or in battle, since the war began. In military prestige, indeed, she has lost nothing. No one ever expected her to be able to bear up against the combined forces of so vast an Alliance; among the Germanic States her gigantic strength is acknowledged more than ever; and in our own isles the public now turn from the "crumpling-up" notions of Mr Cobden to appreciate the value of the long-despised warnings of Alison. But in the contest which has closed, Russia has felt keenly the undeveloped condition of he great resources, and especially the inefficiency of the means of communication which unite the various parts of her far-spreading dominions. Regiments perished on the march,the snows of winter and the droughts of summer alike slew them in their months of marching over the treeless plains and waterless steppes: while the convoys of food and warmaterial crept on at snail's pace, or broke down altogether for want of the means of transport. Russia then awoke to the consciousness that she had not the means of using her own strength, and that, whether for war or for peace, her first want is railways. Compelled to make peace, she now professes to desire only the development of her internal resources, and points to her already announced railway-schemes (for which she is offering such tempting terms to British capitalists!) as a proof that
Art.," Internal Sufferings of Russia from the War,” August 1855.
she has "turned over a new leaf," and means to convert her swords and spears into pruning-hooks and railway sleepers. Very good. Of her desire to develop her industrial resources we have no doubt; but that that is all that is contemplated in her new railway projects, no one need believe. The high terms she offers for money are such as must render the lines, in a poor and thinlypeopled country like Russia, unproductive for long years to come, and show that it is a State necessity, rather than the wants of commerce, which it is desired to supply. Like the military roads of the Romans, commerce will benefit greatly by the railways now projected in Russia; but assuredly the primary destination of the latter, as of the former, is to render more efficient the warlike strength of the State, and aid the march of her legions. It is absurd to suppose that the "hereditary policy" is abandoned-it is merely postponed.
Rendered prudent by her recent experience, it is not to be expected that Russia will be the first to break again the peace of Europe. And yet the tranquillity of Europe seems resting on a precarious base. It is impossible not to perceive that the war has given an impetus to the spirit of nationality and revolution slumbering in many parts of the Continent. In Italy especially, after the union of Sardinia with the Alliance, the hopes of the popular party waxed strong that something would be done to ameliorate their position, and lessen the thraldom in which they are held by Austria, and the Courts which are Austria's deputies. As a debt was clearly due to Sardinia by the Western Powers, whom she so bravely supported, the feeling became strong throughout Italy that they would requite her services by advancing the popular cause with which she is identified in the peninsula; and the interest be came intense when it was reported that the Sardinian project of reforms for Italy was to be discussed in the second series of Conferences. That such hopes have been disappointed, we entertain no doubt.
The report that the British Plenipotentiaries heartily sympathised with Sardinia is probable; but Austria, of course, would resolutely oppose the slightest allusion to Italian reforms. And so nothing will be done to solve a problem which ere long must solve itself. It is from such feelings of popular discontent and irritation that we apprehend the next rupture of the general tranquillity. When it will come, or in what part of the Continent the smouldering flames will first burst forth, no one can foresee. But this we know, that then again will we see our late foe Russia in the field; and amid the convulsions and bouleversement of alliances then probable, it will be well if England be ready to ride out the first burst of the storm alone, and oppose an invincible fleet to the temporary coalitions of the Continent.
England, then, must not relapse into the too deep lethargy from which this war awoke her. And assuredly she will profit by the experience of the last three years as a touchstone to the character of her statesmen. The Peelites were the evil genii of the war. They destroyed peace by inviting the onset of Russia-they first starved, and then fearfully mismanaged the war; and all last spring and summer they strove to save Russia by forcing upon us a dishonourable peace. Mr Gladstone, in 1854, showed the measure of his capacity, by fancying he could carry on a great war by means of merely adding to the taxes; and in 1855, he showed his patriotism by weeping over the losses of the enemy, and clamouring for a close of the war while Sebastopol still stood, and the Russian fleet still floated in its bay. Of Sir James Graham the war tells us only that he twice sent away a fleet to the Baltic with inadequate appliances for its formidable work; and, from repeated instances, it has become painfully apparent that the reputation of no servant of the British Crown is safe in his hands. Who has forgotten the court-martial he ordered to try the unfortunate Captain Christie; or the shameless course by which Sir James, when brought to task, sought to throw the blame of his conduct on
another, by declaring that he had ordered the court-martial in consequence of a statement of Mr Layard's, although it was subsequently established that the trial had been ordered before Mr Layard had ever opened his lips on the subject! The First Lord of the Admiralty's conduct towards the veteran Admiral of the Baltic fleet, is too fresh in the memory of the public to need to be particularised. Although Sir James's matchless skill in debate enabled him to parry the attack of the illused Admiral, when the latter complained of the mingled folly and malice to which he had been subjected, when in the Baltic, by his official superior, nothing could exceed the success of Sir Charles Napier in the more recent encounter, in which he repelled the cruel charge of inefficiency at Acre brought against him by his vindictive adversary, and the cheers of the House unanimously rewarded the brave old sailor at the expense of his bitter defamer. Truly we might despair of the service of the British Crown were there many Sir James Grahams among our statesmen !
The war, it has been said, has ruined many reputations, and made none. Peelites and Cobdenites have undergone a great fall in public estimation. The nation now understands what are the mammon-worshipping peace-crotchets of the one, and the Russianism à tout prix of the other. Lord John Russell himself has failed under the test. In July 1854, the country almost forgave him the fatal double-dealing and servility of the Coalition Cabinet, when it heard him so heartily demanding the destruction of Sebastopol as necessary to the tranquillity of Europe; but lo! ere a year came round, he appears as a discredited negotiator, and as an advocate for peace, although the "standing menace" still held at bay the forces of the Allies! Others in the Cabinet then sinned with him, though they took care not to fall with him. And in truth, in
that hour of peril to Britain's honour and to Europe's safety, the advocates of ignominy would have carried the day, and honour and safety would have kicked the beam, but for the massive strength of the Conservatives thrown unhesitatingly into the right scale. When Peelites and Cobdenites were rampant for peacewhen Lord John became recreant, and the whole Ministry wavered, then, without a faltering man, did the Conservative party come to the rescue, and actually drove back the faint-hearted Ministers into the path of noble duty. Bulwer and Disraeli in the Commons, Lyndhurst, Derby, and Ellenborough in the Lords, were the real orators of the war. Again and again did they urge on the Government to a more effectual outputting of the national strength; and often, when his own colleagues wavered, did the warlike Premier find his best support in the votes and speeches of the Opposition. Never was there nobler conduct than that of the Conservatives throughout the war. This is acknowledged even by their adversaries. "It is only just," says the Premier's organ, "to the large party who occupy the Opposition benches to say, that their political conduct throughout the late war has been of a much higher character than that which has heretofore been exhibited by Parliamentary parties in a like position. We have, thank Heaven, had none of that open advocacy of the cause of the enemies of the country, for the sake of discomfiting the Ministry, which distinguished the Opposition in the days of the Peninsular War. Nor have we been scandalised in this our day by avowed exultation, on the part of the politicians out of office, at failures resulting from the operations of administrators in office. It is but just to give Mr Disraeli and those who act with him credit for this."* Indeed, nothing could have been more fortunate for the country than that the Opposition, during these trying times, should have been the Con
Morning Post, April 17, 1856.
servatives, and not the Whigs. Great as was the misfortune which the country sustained from the discreditable manœuvres by which Lord Derby was prevented taking office fourteen months ago, we are almost reconciled to it by the reflection that, had he and his party then assumed the reins of Government, Whigs, Peelites, and Cobdenites would to a certainty have coalesced in active opposition, and would have seized on the crisis in May last as a good opportunity for discomfiting the Ministry and ignobly terminating the war. By their noble disregard of all party-interests, as well as by the wisdom and energy of their counsels throughout the war, the Conservative party have earned anew the gratitude of the country. The Peace now concluded may not, perhaps, be all that they desire, yet at least, but for them, it would have been tenfold worse; and the joint force of Peelites, Cobdenites, and Russellites would have steeped England in ignominy, and given Europe as a footstool for the Czar.
The War has ended, and its close finds Great Britain in a position a position worthy of her old renown. Tardily assumed it may have been,-but now she has gathered her mighty strength about her, and stands forth in dread panoply in the sight of Europe. There is something very impressive in this resurgence of the old Island-strength. Enemies and neutrals had alike been scoffing, and the lips even of friends had begun to whisper that British power was on the wane,-that the meteor-flag was drooping on the seas, and that the redcoats, though still heroic units, could no longer form an army. The despotic Courts of the Continent, which had so long stood in awe of free England, had begun to rejoice in her fall, and to chide themselves for ever trembling at what now seemed but an imposture of strength. Another campaign, they thought a year ago, and the imposture will be revealed, and England will be seen clinging helplessly like a puppet to her Continental allies. But it was not so to be. It was but a momentary weakness-an ill-timed lethargy-a constitutional
failing of that massive strength which requires calamities to rouse it, and then fears not to hold a world at bay. When neutral Powers looked and listened to hear the giant fall in his island-home, or waited to make sport of his failing strength, the old vigour revived-the locks of strength that had been shorn by the Delilah of ease grew again, and of a sudden the Samson stood in the midst of them, grasping the pillars of their house, and threatening to shake the unstable edifice into the dust. Yes-a regard for friends, more than a dread of foes, may stop England in the further fight for which she was ready; but the moral effect of her present attitude will be felt in every corner of the Continent. She has now a fleet fit to cope with the banded navies of Europe-and it is well she has, for the future may need it; recruiting was proceeding more successfully than ever; and while in the Crimea, the French and Russian armies are both decimated by bad food and disease, the British host is in the most perfect condition of comfort, bodily strength, and discipline.
Britain, then, retires from the contest, not oversated with war, and in an attitude of strength which must impress our friends with respect, and our enemies (whether secret or open) with surprise and apprehension. Our Allies now know they have not trusted in a broken reed. To them in return we give our gratitude, and trust the Alliance which has done so much for the safety of Europe may long outlive the war which called it into existence. To the gallant soldiers and sagacious monarch of France, and not less to those of the free and magnanimous Sardinia, who have fought by our side, Great Britain owes a debt of thanks and appreciation. Every alliance involves a compromise of interests. A State which avails itself of the co-operation of others, cannot expect to follow its own policy pure and simple. And if the Alliance have not led to a conclusion purely British, that is but a necessary result of the conditions of union. The Alliance itself is an event full of promise. France and England are
less likely to quarrel in future, now that their soldiers have fought and suffered and triumphed together on the same fields and in the same cause; while the union with Sweden and Sardinia has given an extension to the league in quarters peculiarly British, either by national character or political sympathies. Let it suf
fice, then-the Alliance has done its work, if not thoroughly, at least well. And if its triumphs be not destined to give a lasting peace to Europe, they have at least repelled the first outburst of the storm, and given a breathing-time to the nations which those who are wise will not fail to turn to account.
Printed by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh.