Speech on the Eastern Question,
Hodder and Stoughton London 27, Paternoster Row, E.C.MDCCCLXXII.
The Eastern Question
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,—We are met tonight,—I hope we all feel that we are met under circumstances of some anxiety, and it may be even of some public danger. We have great authorities—authorities to be found amongst leading public men, and authorities many in the public press, who tell us that we are, for some cause hardly fully explained, upon the brink of that great calamity which men call war; and some of these authorities beseech us not to say much about it. They tell us that ill-advised words may precipitate the danger we would shun. They say we must only speak in whispers, if we speak at all. They remind one of the advice that is given by guides to climbers amids the snowy solitudes of the Alps. They are told not to speak above a whisper, or the avalanche of snow which is above them may descend, and overwhelm, not them alone, but the village that lies in apparent security far below. And now, Sir, we are advised to leave everything in the hands of Her Majesty's Government, who will take care, first of all, and above all, if they can, of the peace of Europe, and of what is of not page 4 less consequence, the interests and the honour of this kingdom. I sometimes have thought during the past year that Her Majesty's Government were rather too much in favour of peace. They are in favour of peace—if not at any price, at least at a price which some of us would scarcely wish to pay for it. They are willing to sacrifice the interests, the happiness, and the freedom of millions of the Christian population of the Turkish provinces; and I am afraid they would make another great sacrifice—namely, they would sacrifice the fair fame and the honour of this country, in binding us in perpetual partnership with the worst and the foulest Government known upon earth. But if our Government is so much for peace, what is to be said of other Governments? All the other Governments are also for peace. At this moment we have no subject of dispute with the United States of America; the justice and the magnanimity of this country have settled every question of difference between our free colonies of America and the mother country. If we come to Europe, we find that we have no quarrel with our next neighbour, the French nation. From the year 1860, when that great commercial treaty was negotiated, we have had a constantly diminished feeling of antagonism to France; and at this moment I believe there exists between the French people and the English people a more durable friendship than we have known in any former period of the history of the two nations; and if the gentlemen in the middle of the hall will page 5 allow me, I will give them in one sentence one fact that will show how great is the importance of that treaty to which I have just referred. You have seen to-day in the papers a letter addressed by the Chamber of Commerce of Manchester to the Chambers of Commerce of France, and from that letter you will find that whereas before the treaty the imports from France into this country were only thirteen millions sterling per annum, they now amount to over forty-six millions sterling, and that the exports from this country to France, which before the treaty were only nine millions, amount now to twenty-seven millions. Well, it is this increased trade and communication that have been so advantageous in promoting friendship between the French and the English peoples. Now, gentlemen, if every one will try to be quiet we shall get on perfectly well. I was saying what was the state of things with France. I have no doubt if you go to the other countries of Europe—to Italy, to Germany, and to Austria—you will find the most perfect friendly feeling to this country; and if we come to Russia, we know that only lately the Ministers have told us how friendly were the relations even with that Power, and we have within the last fortnight a declaration from the lips of the Emperor of Russia which shows at least that he is as anxious to be friends with us as we are to be friends with him.
But now the question arises. Our Government is in favour of peace; I ask you then, how comes it, if our Government is so deeply anxious for peace,— page 6 how comes it that we meet here to-night under the apprehension that we may be on the brink of war? Let us for a moment consider that question. The difficulty has arisen, as you know, from differences between the Turk—(when I mention the Turk I mean the Government at Constantinople)—differences between the Turk and the victims, or the children of the victims, of four centimes of oppression in the Turkish European provinces, and afterwards between Russia and Turkey, because Russia sympathises with the Christian population of these provinces. You know that the Christians of these provinces are mainly of the same Church and the same faith with the Russians. The Russians are near them, much nearer than we are; they sympathise with them, they have sympathised with them for generations, and when those Christians rise in revolt, it is contrary to human nature that the people of Russia should not sympathise with their coreligionists suffering from the oppressions of the Turks. Well, then, we are afraid of what Russia may do to the Turk on behalf of these Christians, and we back the Turk in opposition to the supposed designs of Russia. Now, before the Crimean war, which very many of you remember, the Government of Russia had power under treaties to have watchful guard over the condition of these Christian provinces, and to remonstrate if injury was done to them, and oppression beyond a certain point was committed upon them. By the Crimean war Russia was no longer permitted to have that power, and it was page 7 supposed to have been transferred to all the Powers of Europe, but in point of fact it was not transferred to anybody. If you would allow me to read to you one of the clauses of the treaty of 1856, which has not been nearly so much commented upon as it ought to have been in the public press, you will see that we struck down Russia as a protector of the Christians in Turkey; but we put nobody in the place of Russia, and from that time to this there has been no protection whatsoever over all that unhappy population. Now, in the treaty is this clause—clause 9,—it says, "His Imperial Majesty the Sultan, having in his constant solicitude for the welfare of his subjects issued a firman"—that is, a decree—"which, while ameliorating their condition, without distinction of religion or race, records his generous intentions towards the Christian population of his empire, and wishing to give a further proof of his sentiments in that respect, has resolved to communicate to the contracting parties"—that is, the other European Powers—"the same firman emanating spontaneously from his sovereign will." And then the treaty goes on to say: "The contracting Powers recognise the high value of this communication. It is clearly understood that it cannot in any case give to the said Powers the right to interfere, either collectively or separately, in the relations of His Majesty the Sultan with his subjects, nor in the internal administration of his empire." And, therefore, Russia being put aside by force of that war, and nobody being put in the place of Russia, you will page 8 see that there has been no one to take cognizance of the oppression of these unfortunate populations, and no one to remonstrate with the Porte, and to insist upon a better treatment of them. And then comes the insurrection spreading from one province to another. Then comes the excited sympathy of the Russian people. Then comes the fear of England that something is about to be done unpleasant to its ally, and to its great friend the Turk. And then comes the difficulty in which we find ourselves; and we are not supposed to be about to enter into war, or in any danger of it, with regard to any power except Russia; and with regard to Russia only on this ground, that Russia insists henceforth, spite of the treaty of 1856, spite of the supposed interests of England, that the Christian population shall have a friend, and if the concerted and united Powers of Europe will not be that friend, then Russia itself will take the guardianship of these people as it did before the year 1853.
But why is it we are so alarmed about Russia,—because, as you know, Russia is a long way from us? Round by sea, Russia, by the Black Sea, from us I suppose is fully 3,000 miles. Why should we be so anxious about Russia, and care so much about Turkey? And that is the point upon which I would wish specially to speak to you. Probably all of you have not examined the map of these countries, but many of you know that the capital of Turkey—Constantinople—stands on the shores or banks of a strait called the Bosphorus, and that the page 9 Bosphorus is a narrow passage which leads from the Black Sea into a small sea called the Sea of Marmora, and then another strait called the Dardanelles leads from the Sea of Marmora into the Mediterranean Sea; and Constantinople, standing there upon that narrow strait, has the power, if it chooses, and if it has forts sufficient, and guns sufficient, and people sufficient to man them,—it has command of those straits, and the Russian navy, the Russian ships of war, although they are now free in the Black Sea—and Russia may have as many as she chooses in the Black Sea, as England may have as many as she chooses in any sea, the Russian navy is not allowed to pass those straits, nor to enter the Mediterranean. Now, that is just the point upon which all this difficulty arises. England imagines that some great danger will happen to her, that she will lose her predominence in the Mediterranean, or that her route to India will be in some degree molested if a Russian ship of war should come through these straits, and therefore England is anxious to maintain Turkey in its present position, holding the keys of these straits and forbidding any portion of the Russian navy to pass from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. You see that England—I speak now of England as it has been, and England as represented by the present Administration—England is afraid that if the Turk went out the Russian would come in; and therefore we are driven to this dreadful alternative—that we must support the Turk, with all his crimes, and with all page 10 his cruelty; and we must support, as we do practically support, the Mohammedan religion through the whole of that portion of the world. Seven hundred years ago the people of this country, with one of their—as history tells us—one of their heroic kings, joined the Crusades, and went to Palestine for the purpose of liberating the Holy Places from the possession of the infidel and the Mohammedan. Well, now, what do we do? We give the blood and the treasure of England to support this Turkish Government. We place Bethlehem and Calvary and Olivet, through the blood and the treasure of England, and the power over all those vast countries, which are almost a wilderness and a desert, under the Turkish sceptre. We do all this for this simple purpose—to prevent Russia passing by any ships of war from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean.
Now that was the policy which brought about the Crimean war in the year 1854. I will not tell you of the cost of that war. You have heard it often. There is one point of this cost, however, that I observe has not recently been referred to, except in one or two papers where I have seen it noticed. But let every working man remember, if he is old enough, that whilst a loaf of a given size was worth 4d. in the year 1852, before the war, and before any probability of war appeared, during the two years of the war it rose to 7¼d. or more. Your supplies, of course, from Russia were cut off, and your bread was scarce and dear. Now, gentlemen, let not it be charged upon me that I am asking you to shrink page 11 from some public duty because your bread will be dearer. But when you are counting the cost and deliberating what has been done, and what should be done in future, I say that you are bound to take into consideration all the enormous price that you are called upon to pay for any given policy that may be suggested to you.
But then there comes the consideration of the failure of the results of the war. Nobody, I believe, now is of opinion that Turkey was permanently strengthened by it. Her decay has proceeded constantly and rapidly. You have seen occasionally unhappy men whom we have known who have been afflicted with what is called creeping paralysis—the malady which seizes a foot or seizes a hand, which resists all the advice of medicine, which gradually extends itself, laying hold of more and more of the body, until at last the end of these desperate maladies comes, and that is attended by the death of the patient. Turkey has been suffering under this creeping paralysis for a century past. During the last twenty years it has made rapid progress. There is only one thing in which it does not affect the strength of Turkey at all, and that is in the power of Turkey to oppress and to do evil.
I say the policy of the war of 1854, looked back upon from this time, was a policy of misfortune, and of error. And I should like to ask you whether you conceive that it would be consistent with wisdom and justice, or would it be consistent only with ignorance and panic or presumption, that we should page 12 turn back to that policy, accept it as if it were good, and re-establish it in the acts of England and her Government in the year 1876. Now, let us examine for a moment the basis from whence this policy springs. I observed the other day—some day, I think, only last week—a paragraph in the leading article of the Times, which I should like to read to you. There have been others of the same kind, but this has just occurred to me. It was on November 30th. The Times says : "The interest we take in the integrity of the Ottoman Empire has its origin and end in our desire that the balance of power in South-Eastern Europe should not be disarranged." Now, it is supposed that if Russia had ships of war in the Black Sea, as she has, and if they could come to the Mediterranean, as they might do but for the closing of these straits,—that Russia would be more powerful in the Mediterranean—which of course she would, nobody denies that—and that there would be another naval power added to those whose ships are now found in that sea. If the Black Sea fleet came into the Mediterranean there would be one fleet more in the Mediterranean—that is simple and clear. At present Spain has ships of war in the Mediterranean; France has a fleet there whenever she likes; she has a great naval port at Toulon, as you know. Italy has a fleet there. She is building now—very foolishly, to my mind—an enormous ironclad, with a gun which is called a hundred-ton gun, and which is to fire a shot of nearly a ton weight. I say nothing of the wisdom or folly of such ventures. But Italy has a page 13 fleet in the Mediterranean, Austria has ships of war there, Turkey has her ships of war there. I ask what would happen—would the sky fall—or would the British flag be lowered and dishonoured for ever—if half-a-dozen, or ten, or two or three, as the case might be, Russian ships of war were permitted freely to navigate these straits—not straits made by Turkey, or made by England, but made by nature—and intended, of course, to be a passage open to all the world between these two great seas, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Now, it is a very curious thing, and it is worth considering as a fact, that we who live here, so far off, and who have the biggest fleet in the world—a rather bigger fleet, I believe, than all the rest of the world put together—that we are the only alarmists upon this matter. Nobody cares about it except the English Government. No people believe it has the smallest interest in it except the English people. And I think it may be shown that we have no real interest in it. Other nations have no panic about it, and have no idea of going to war to support the Turks for any such purpose as keeping the Russians blockaded in the Black Sea.
You see in the papers—and it is wonderful how well newspaper writers write about things which they do not understand, or which, if they do understand, they never attempt to explain. It is not so unreasonable as you may think it to be, that men should write well upon what they do not understand. I know there is a clever and amusing American, who was lecturing in this country not long ago, and he page 14 said that by-and-by he intended to come back and deliver another series of lectures upon subjects that he knew least about. And, therefore, if he could do that, and be amusing, and get people to pay five shillings a-piece to go and hear him, I do not think it is to the discredit of the newspapers to say they can write about what they do not well understand. Well, the newspapers have been telling you—some of them—that our route to India is greatly concerned in this matter. Our principal route to India now is, as you know, through Egypt. Passengers go by the railway; ships of commerce and of war go by that wonderful canal which the energy of M. Lesseps and the money of Frenchmen made. I should like anybody to tell me how the route to India will be interfered with at all. I don't know exactly how many hundred miles it is from Constantinople to the mouth of the canal, but I should think it must be six or seven hundred miles at least. But it is not very far from Toulon to the mouth of the canal—from the great French naval port—and it is not very far from Spezzia, the Italian naval port; and, of course, if the Turkish people were not a people in a state of decay, I suppose the Turks would put in jeopardy our route to India; and it would appear as if nobody ought to live or move or have his being anywhere within that portion of the globe who has the smallest chance of lifting a finger or uttering a word against anything which the English Government may choose to do in the Levant. There is one way of securing our route to India, and that is the page 15 way that M. Lesseps offered to Europe many years ago—that the canal should be in the possession of the leading Powers of Europe, and should by them by solemn treaty be kept in first-rate order and always open, and open to the ships of all nations who should choose to pass through it. Instead of England buying the canal with the idea of its being a route over which we had some special right, let all the nations of Europe have their interest in it. It would be a bond of union between them, and it might, in fact, in time to come be the cause of a more strict, and generous, and peaceable political union among the nations of Europe than we have seen to exist at any time in the past. Would the English fleet be any less powerful in the Levant if the Russians could come that way? You know that the Russian fleet can come now from the Baltic round through the English Channel and into the Mediterranean by the Straits of Gibraltar, but that is a very long route indeed, exposed to the perils of the sea. It is much more likely that they should wish to have—and perfectly just in my mind they should have—their natural right of passage through these straits, and that they should be open to all the navies of all the nations of the world.
There are some persons who now hear me who read newspapers forty years ago. Carry your minds back to the year 1836, and you may remember that at that time a number of half lunatic and half designing people in this country got up a panic about an invasion of our northern shores page 16 from Russia. Russia was to send a fleet from the Baltic through the Sound and to invade this country, and I suppose they had a design in those days of conquering Scotland, and annexing it, no doubt, to the Russian Empire. The Baltic is shut for about half the year by frost. And what happened during the Russian war, when the English fleet went into the Baltic? The Russian fleet did not go out of it, because it could not; but the Russian fleet took shelter behind the fortifications which have been erected at Sweaborg and Cronstadt. They did not come out to meet the English ships, and the English ships dared not attack them within those formidable defences. And yet forty years ago we were told that we were to have an invasion of this country by Russia, and the Government of that day actually added, on the strength of that panic, five thousand men to the roll of the English navy; and so they always add men to the roll of the English navy whenever there is the slightest panic on any matter of this kind. We can make allowance for children in the dark who are afraid, but for a great nation like this, without doubt, in some respects, at this moment the most powerful in the world,—for us to be shaken by these childish and unreasoning panics is a discredit and a humiliation which we have to bear, unfortunately, before the honest but astonished opinion of all other nations.
I have referred to the particular position of Turkey and of Constantinople upon the shores of the Bosphorus. Let me ask you now to look at the page 17 peculiar position of Russia on the shores of the Baltic. Russia is a country that for its magnitude, for the breadth and the length of it, as you see it on the map, is more without navigable rivers running to the sea than any other country in the world. Almost all its great rivers run into the Caspian or into the Black Sea, and at present the Black Sea is a sea from which they are not allowed to emerge through the straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. If you go to the Baltic you find another great sea perhaps nearly as large—I don't know whether it is as large as or larger than the Black Sea, but another great sea, and the only way out of it is through a narrow passage called the Sound, at least the principal way out of it—a passage where the Danes only a few years ago levied a toll upon all ships passing—and the different nations agreed to pay them a sum of three or four millions to abolish that toll and to make the passage free. But the Russians, as you see, are shut by frost in the Baltic nearly half a year, and when the ships come out they have to come out through this narrow passage. I should like to know whether, with that state of things, it is likely that Russia will perpetually consent, as she is blockaded by the frost in the north, to be blockaded by England through the hands of the Turk in the south, and that from no portion of her vast empire should one of her ships be able to pass during half a year on account of the frost, nor any portion of the year from the south at the command of the Government of this country. The thing seems to me intolerable and impossible, and it cannot long be sustained. If we were in that page 18 position, what should we do? I have no doubt whatever that there would be an unanimous discovery on the part of all people in England that we had a just claim to go through that only passage; and though I for one should be very much in favour of negotiation, I am afraid that not a small minority—perhaps a large majority—of my countrymen would be determined to enforce that claim by such means as came first to their hands.
Now, I have come to this conclusion long ago—and I say it before this meeting, and before such as may read the proceedings of this meeting—that the Eastern Question, as it is called, is not worth one single farthing to us more than that we should be glad to see freedom everywhere and peace everywhere. It is of no consequence whatever to us as a great political question except just as it affects the admission of Russian ships of war through the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. It is not the possession of Constantinople. If you had ever been at Constantinople, you would know that was not a very formidable business as it is at present. Constantinople is not a city on wheels, like a multitude of caravans, that can be brought down to the mouth of the Suez Canal. Constantinople is where it has long been, and where it will long remain. It is not territory that can do us any harm, if Russia had any portion of that territory. There is not an intelligent man in Russia, or in Europe, who does not know that the accession of territory to the Russian empire during the last fifty page 19 years has, for military purposes, greatly weakened that empire. At this moment, it may be when Russia is about to enter into a war with Turkey upon this question of the Christian populations, are we not all sensible if we look at the map and see the advances of Russia in the direction of the Himalaya mountains and our possessions in India—is it not clear that every soldier she has in all that vast territory—and there are many thousands of them—is so much a weakness to her now when she comes, as she may unfortunately perhaps come, to have a prolonged struggle with the Government at Constantinople? Therefore, we have no interest whatever in the question of Constantinople; none whatever in the question of territory. It is supposed we have an interest in the exclusion of Russian ships of war from the Mediterranean, and that is the pith and kernel of the whole question, and the soul of the dispute which is constantly disturbing the peace of this country. I shall be told—I have been told very often of things I have said on this platform—that "this man is speaking things that are not English and are not patriotic." If I can show, and I believe I am entitled to try to show,—if I can show that there is nothing in this question which affects the interests of England, as your Government and some of your press would persuade you there is, I say I can do no more patriotic act in the face of my countrymen than to save them from these constantly recurring panics, and from the perils which they bring with them, and which surround them; because if I can page 20 dispel this terror, if I can so strengthen your nerves that you will no longer tremble at this hobgoblin—well then, I shall have done my little part towards settling what is called this perilous Eastern Question for ever.
Now, I should ask you whether what I suggest is just and reasonable? "Oh!" but many men will say, "we have nothing to do with what is just or reasonable." I had a pamphlet sent me the other day printed in the most elaborate type, and evidently from a man who considers himself a great authority, and it said it had gone through three editions. He says what you call national right is national force. There is no such thing, he says, as national right. It is a question purely of force—of mere men.
A London newspaper editor commenting on the speech I made the other day at Llandudno, said, in effect, "It is all very well for the moralist, but it has very little to do with statesmanship." For my share, I have no wish to be a partner in statesmanship which is dissociated from morals. But I should like to ask you whether, if this thing be just and reasonable in the eye of morals, it is likely that we can long sustain the existing state of things. If Turkey has suffered from this advancing paralysis for twenty years past, do you think she will recover from it in twenty years to come? Does not every man know that Russia is continually advancing in the field of civilization? There are glimpses even in that country of the approaches page 21 of freedom to which Russia has heretofore been unaccustomed; and we may rely upon it that while Turkey is constantly diminishing in force Russia is constantly advancing, and that the time may come, the time will come—it may be ten years hence, or it may be twenty years hence,—you may have a war now and a war then—but it is written in the book of fate, and no man can reverse it—when these passages will ultimately and not remotely be open to all nations of the world.
And now let me ask you what other nations think of our conduct in this matter. At this moment we have no promise of assistance in any course we take that leads us to war from our next neighbours the French. In 1854 France went into the war with this country, not because France cared one farthing about the question, but Louis Napoleon thought it of great importance to his dynasty to associate himself with England in the great political transactions of Europe. At this moment, or up to this day—I don't know whether I should say at this moment, for I see it is announced to us there is a resignation of the French Ministry, but I speak of it as if it still existed,—at this moment perhaps France has, at least it has to my mind, the most intelligent and the most honourable Government that I have known since I have been accustomed to political life. They have at the head of affairs a man whom all men trust, and that is a great thing for the head of the State. I will not draw any comparison between the head of the French Government and the page 22 head of the administration of this country. Our true head of the State I need not say is as trustworthy as the head of the French Republic, or the head of any Government or State of which we have any record in history. But the Duc Decazes, the French Foreign Minister, since he has been in office has conducted his department with moderation and a wisdom and a sense of justice, I think, that could not be excelled. But the French Government will take no part with us in the pretensions which we make with regard to this great question. Italy in 1854—then the kingdom of Sardinia, which was before united Italy existed—Italy went into the same war with us. But why? For a reason, I will not say that it was the same, and I will not say it was not something better in its result, but I had it from the lips of Count Cavour, who was then the Minister of the Sardinian kingdom, that they went into the war because it was greatly to their interest to associate themselves with England and France, from whom they expected in the future some corresponding advantages. Germany, as you know from the papers within the last day or two, is neutral in this matter. We are one of the historic allies and friends of Germany. Germany is Protestant, as we are, and that has something to do with our sympathy with Germany; and though we are all, I hope, in favour of as much religious freedom as we can get, and as we can bear, still, I believe that the fact of the Protestantism of Germany makes the alliance between England and Germany more likely and more permanently secure. Then there is Austria. Austria has great diffi- page 23 culties of her own. I have a great sympathy with Austria, because for some years past she has made rapid and remarkable strides in an improved and constitutional Government. But Austria has no intention whatsoever of going into this war in the direction which we have been supposed to be likely to go into it.
The fact is, these nations and their Governments have no interest in our pretensions, and they do not feel sympathy with our demands, and what I shall call our presumption with regard to the Mediterranean; they have no interest in the perpetual blockade of Russia in the Black Sea; they have no interest in dooming vast regions under Turkish rule to a perpetual desolation; and I believe they have none whatever in the question now disturbing Europe which would induce them to go to war in connection with it. Now, I believe that our true interest is no greater than theirs; and we have only to examine this question, to take the map of Europe, to look at the Black Sea, to look at the position of Constantinople, to look at the mouth of the Canal, to look at the state of the Baltic, to count how many fleets there are already in the Mediterranean, in order to convince us that the addition of one fleet more can make very little difference. It seems to me we shall come to the conclusion that we have no interest whatsoever in the turmoil which has been created, and that unless we can in conjunction with Russia urge upon Turkey such reforms as are necessary, our duty is to stand aside, and to page 24 leave the nations which are the near neighbours of Turkey, and to Russia especially, to do whatever seems possible, and whatever they and she may think best to do.
I don't, as you know, in any case stand forward as the defender of these sanguinary struggles which continually, or at times, take place amongst the nations; but I know not how in some cases they are to be avoided. There can be no arbitration unless the parties to the dispute are willing; there can be no arbitration between such a Government as that which reigns in Constantinople, and that suffering people of whom we have lately heard so much. I only take consolation in the fact, viewing all these tremendous scenes and tremendous sufferings—
"That God from evil still educes good,
Sublime events are rushing to their birth;
Lo! tyrants by their victims are withstood,
And freedom's seed still grows, tho' steeped in blood."
Let us hope, let us pray, that the efforts that are being made—efforts, I believe, that are being made as sincerely by the Emperor of Russia as by the Government of this country—let us hope that these efforts may be crowned with success, and that the storm which has been created, and which threatens to rage around us, may be put an end to, and that tranquility may again speedily prevail. We have sent, as you know—our Government has sent—a special ambassador to Constantinople. Lord Salisbury is a man of whom a good deal may be said page 25 against him; and a good deal might honestly he said in his favour. Perhaps that is true of most of us. But with regard to his policy at home, I think I have observed it for many years—and I have watched him and sat opposite to him for many years in the House of Commons—what I should call a haughty un-wisdom that was unfortunate and mischievous. On the other hand, I have seen in his conduct as Minister for India a great liberality and a disposition to do that which he believes to be just. I can only hope that he leaves his un wisdom for home consumption, and that when he arrives in Constantinople his liberality, and his justice, and his strong intellect will have fair play. And I hope he will do his country the highest service and himself the highest honour by the duty which he has undertaken.
But the special Ambassador has been to Paris, to Berlin, to Vienna, and to Rome. He has seen the Duke Decazes, he has seen Prince Bismark, he has seen Count Andrassy, he has seen Signor Melegari at Rome. He has heard what they have to say—if he has been touting for allies and sympathisers, I suspect by this time he knows he has greatly failed to find them. If he will act upon his own strong sense he may do great good. If he acts as the subservient representative of his chief—judging his chief by his own language—then, I think, he may do us a very serious ill.
Conferences are not always certain to lead to peace. In 1853, before the Crimean war, there was a Conference at Vienna, held in August, and page 26 the Powers assembled were England, and France, and Austria, and Prussia, to settle the dispute between Russia and Turkey. And they agreed to a note, to an award, to a piece of advice which became historic and celebrated as the Vienna Note. Well, the Vienna Note was sent to Russia, and the Emperor accepted it pure and simple. It was sent to Turkey, and the Turk refused it. It was said—I believe most untruly—that the Emperor accepted the note in a sense not intended by those who had drawn it up; but it was submitted to our Cabinet at that time, which contained no less than five members who had filled the office of Foreign Secretary, and who therefore ought to have been well acquainted with diplomatic language of that kind. And what happened after all? Turkey had been so inflated and so excited by the fact that two big brothers, France and England, were ready to come to her assistance, that Turkey declared war against Russia, and then England and France went into the war, fighting on the side of Turkey, who had rejected their advice and award, and against the Emperor of Russia, who had distinctly and simply accepted it. Well, this Conference does not mean certainly peace; I wish it did; but if the Conference be not absolutely to be relied upon, what have we to rely upon?
We have two things that are very important to consider, and they are the only two other points to which I will ask your attention for a few moments. England in this matter has no ally. She page 27 had France and Sardinia in 1854, and, of course, Turkey, and now if she went to war on behalf of Turkey, of course Turkey would be our ally; but we have no other ally, and I do not see how England is to carry on a continental war without an ally. We have been to France, and France says "No" we have been to Italy, and Italy says "No;" we have been to Germany and to Austria, and they say "No." Our cause, in their eyes, is not so just and so important; or it is not one in which they have so great an interest as to induce them to lend us their sympathy, or to give us their support. Therefore, I look upon it that boasting at the Guildhall how many campaigns we can bear before we are exhausted—before the working men of England are in the condition that they were during the great wars in past times—all that sort of boasting is greatly out of place. The Prime Minister may be a great actor, but somehow or other he seems to me as if he always played rather to the galleries. But we have a better reliance than this, and that is, on the better knowledge of our people. The policy of 1854, as I have described it, is the policy now—the policy which would lead us into war on behalf of Turkey and against the empire of Russia. We have had experience—shall we profit by it or not?
I think I once quoted in this hall, or in some public speech, a passage from the writings of an eminent Frenchman, historian and statesman, the late M. Guizot, which struck me as worth remembering. He says, "A people who can understand and act page 28 upon the counsels which God has given it in the past events of its history is safe in the most dangerous crises of its fate." Well, are we not now full of the experience of the war of 1854? If it were necessary I could quote authorities one after another strongly in favour of the view I am taking. The late Lord Aberdeen was Prime Minister when that war was undertaken, and to the last hour of his life, the last hour of his memory, probably there was no other event of his life which he so greatly regretted. Sir James Graham, one of the most capable men in that Ministry, the First Lord of the Admiralty during that war,—he himself, in the most frank manner, said to me, "You were entirely right, and we were entirely wrong." I might quote you the opinions, in his later years, of Lord Russell, who was a member of that Government, and he, in writing since, has endeavoured to show how impolitic the war was, and how it might have been avoided. I might quote Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, who was minister at Constantinople at that time, and himself then, unless he is very much belied, filled with enthusiasm for the Turk. You have read some of his letters, probably, in the Times during the last few months; you see how entirely he gives up the whole of the policy which he supported at that time. I might take you to the opinion of one—whose opinion the more I reflect upon it the more I value it—the opinion of my lamented friend, Mr. Cobden. You know that he was at one with me in our objection to that war; but if you want to know how he came to that opinion, page 29 how he argued it, and what reason he had for it, I must recommend you to turn back to two at least of the remarkable pamphlets which he wrote and published about forty years ago. In a pamphlet which he published in the year 1836, entitled "England, Ireland, and America," there is this passage. He says : "We have no hesitation in avowing it as our deliberate conviction that not merely Great Britain, but the entire civilized world, will have reason to congratulate itself the moment when that territory again falls beneath the sceptre of any European power whatever. Ages must elapse before its favoured region will become, as it is by nature destined to become, the seat and centre of commerce, civilisation, and true religion; but the first step towards this consummation must be to convert Constantinople again into that which every lover of humanity and peace longs to behold it—the capital of a Christian people." I have been so impressed during the last few weeks by reading over again those pamphlets—pamphlets published when Mr. Cobden was to the public unknown, when he was carrying on his business in Manchester, when he was only about thirty or thirty-two years of age—pamphlets which, I venture to say, have nothing to surpass them in the whole political pamphlet literature of this country—I have been so impressed with them, that, acting with some of my friends who have taken the same view, steps have been taken to have the pamphlet of 1836, entitled "Russia, Turkey, and England," reprinted, and I believe that in the course of some days this week it page 30 will be offered for sale, probably at the railway bookstalls and elsewhere. I cannot advise the people of England now, with the experience of the past forty years—with the experience of the war in the Crimea—I cannot point to anything in our whole political literature that will be, at this moment, so healthful and so useful for them to read as the pamphlet to which I have referred.
But one other appeal I must make to you. We have in this country—thanks to what our forefathers have done, and thanks to some things that we have done—we enjoy a large measure of freedom. There is room for it to grow and become still larger; but it is large, and we enjoy it, and I trust we are thankful for it. We are also, as I have aforetime said, in some sense the mother of other free nations. We have planted great nations, free as ourselves, on the continent of North America. There they have grown and become great. We have planted them in Australia, and there they are gradually becoming great. We are planting them in South Africa. Our language, which has become the language of freedom in all the world, is gradually making its way amongst all the educated classes in India; and the time will come—and I trust it is not very remote—when there may be some kind of free institutions established in that country. The lovers of freedom everywhere look to us. The oppressed everywhere turn their eyes to us, and ask for sympathy and wish for help. They feel that they may make this claim upon us; and we, a free people, page 31 not only do not deny it, but we freely acknowledge it. Well, then, I put to you a solemn question—a question which you must answer to Heaven, and which you must answer to your children and your posterity—Shall England, shall the might of England again be put forth to sustain so foul a tyranny as that which rules in Constantinople—a tyranny which has dried up realms to deserts—a tyranny which throughout all the wide range of its influence has blasted for centimes past with its withering breath all that is lovely and beautiful in nature, and all that is noble and exalted in man? I ask you, Mr. Chairman—I ask this meeting of my countrymen—I ask every man in the three kingdoms—and, in this case, may I not ask every woman?—what shall be the answer given to this question? And I dare undertake to say there can be only one universal answer from the generous heart of the English people.
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