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You tell me in a note I have this moment received that “we have now a prospect, and as it appears to me a very good one, of setttling this matter amicably.’ I confess I see no such prospect. The very first preliminary to any arrangement must be in my view the removal of Lord Ponsonby from his post. If this is done, and the prospect you have of settling the matter clearly laid before me, I shall be ready to attend the Cabinet on the day you may appoint. But I cannot do so at present, and I have already explained to her Majesty that I cannot defend in the House of Commons measures which I think wrong. If I concurred in the measures, you may be sure I should not mind any offence to myself. But I think the answer to Austria should have been in a different spirit, and should not have laid the ground for her abandoning the Alliance.—I remain, yours very truly, J. Russell.
Lord Melbourne, in reply to this letter, told Lord John that his resignation would involve the dissolution of the Ministry, as he would not remain at the head of the Government with Lord Palmerston as its representative in the House of Commons. And, at the Prime Minister's suggestion, Lord Palmerston himself called on Lord John, and admitted that he had been wrong about the despatch."
Palmerston was here yesterday, and was very handsomely civil about the reply to Metternich. . . . He says Ponsonby will be entitled to his pension in December. Seeing this, and that Ponsonby has really done well in urging the Porte to vigorous measures in Syria, I have written to Palmerston to propose a special mission, leaving Ponsonby the rank and title of Ambassador. Surely that is not asking too great a concession from a colleague to whom both you and I have conceded and confided so much.”
My dear John Russell,— . . . It may in a general point of view be doubted whether special missions in addition to established ones are attended with advantage. The special envoy cannot at once form a correct judgment of men and things in a new scene of action, but yet will probably form some judgment, and, if that differs from that of the established envoy, mischief will ensue. . . . In fact, differences will constantly arise between the two, because it will be the interest of many persons to create such differences. Even if none exist they will be imagined, because other persons will watch every word that falls from each, and will endeavour to find differences of opinion in what may only be differences in the mode of expressing the same opinion. Then the established minister is necessarily wounded in his feelings by the want of confidence so publicly manifested by the special mission, and . . . his power of being useful must be diminished because he will fall in the estimation of the Government to which he is accredited : and yet the special envoy will not gain what the established minister loses in influence, because the special envoy has no root in the place. . . . But I am sure you will feel, from a knowledge of Ponsonby's character, and from a general knowledge of what any man of spirit would feel in such a case, that Ponsonby would look upon such a special mission as a public affront, and come away immediately ; and, if we meant to recall him, it would be a more direct course to do so distinctly, rather than do that which would goad him to come away. . . . But let us consider what Ponsonby's conduct has been, and what his merits or demerits. He certainly advised the deposal of Mehemet Ali without instructions: but . . . has not the result shown that the measure has been of great advantage to us? because it has given us something to go to market with to the French, and has created something for the French to insist upon, and for us to acquiesce in without touching the stipulations of the treaty. . . . It is true that Ponsonby has always declared his opinion that Mehemet Ali ought to be deposed or destroyed : and, to say the honest truth, I am much inclined to think he is right in this, and that it would not only be desirable but possible to do so : desirable, I mean, with reference solely to the interests of the Porte, and the securing the independence of the Ottoman Empire. But other considerations, which it belongs to the British Government rather than to our ambassador at Constantinople to judge of, may certainly render it on the whole inexpedient to carry matters so far. . . . On the other hand, it is fair to consider what Ponsonby may justly say he has done to deserve our favour instead of punishment. . . . It is admitted by all that he has gained the confidence of the Porte, and has established our influence more firmly at Constantinople than it ever was established before. He has stimulated the
' Greville, J/emoirs, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 345. * To Lord Melbourne, November 2, 1840.
Turkish Government to military and naval exertions of which they were thought incapable; he has persuaded them to place the naval force under an English Admiral (Walker); and their land force under the orders and direction of Sir Charles Smith ; . . . and, by his communications with the Syrian chiefs, he has prepared the whole population of Syria to rise, as it is doing, not only against Mehemet Ali, but in favour of the Sultan. I know not what more the ablest and most active ambassador could possibly have done in furtherance of the policy adopted by the Treaty of July.
The defeat of Ibrahim is a most important event, and we may fairly look upon the whole of Syria as virtually restored to the Sultan. Yours sincerely, PALMERSTON.
Mr. Greville says that this letter, which he had not seen, but the purport of which he evidently knew, ‘must have been a very good one, for it entirely brought over Lord John to his opinion, and even convinced Clarendon himself.'" But the fact was that the tide of events rolled decisively in Lord Palmerston's favour. Almost every mail brought tidings either of the reluctance of France to go to war, or of fresh successes on the coast of Syria; till at last the fall of Acre necessitated Ibrahim's retreat and practically terminated the crisis; while Lord Palmerston, with the good taste which disarmed an opponent, wound up the correspondence by giving Lord John the credit. C[arlton] Tserrace]: December 4, 1840. My dear John Russell,—It is quite true that our policy in the Levant has been more completely and more rapidly successful than the most sanguine of us could have ventured to hope ; and I think you must feel gratified that it was your support of the Treaty of July which chiefly induced the Cabinet to adopt it. . . .-Yours sincerely, PALMERSTON.
It would have required a rougher temperament than that with which Lord John was endowed, to quarrel with a colleague who bore his triumphs so well, and was so generous to others. Yet Lord John was undoubtedly in the right, both in his demands and in his complaints.
* Greville, Memoirs, pt. ii. vol. i. p. 347
Wilton Crescent: November 19, 1840.
My dear Melbourne,—. . . In the days of Lord Grey, every important note was carefully revised by him, and generally submitted to the Cabinet. As Paymaster of the Forces, I then had more information and more power of advising than I have now. At present I receive the most important despatches in a printed form some days after they are sent. . . Now it cannot, of course, be expected that I am to defend in the House of Commons acts which I have not advised, and of which the editors [of newspapers] are as cognisant as myself. . . . To this day I am not aware what was written to Lord Granville in consequence of our two Cabinet meetings. All this is very unpleasant, but I think it best to tell you what I feel. I beg, however, that you will not send this letter to Palmerston. Yours truly, J. RUSSELL.
But for the present Lord Palmerston had prevailed. Few indeed could have foreseen the full consequences of his success. His high-handed proceedings in 1840 were to prevent the formation of a Whig Government in 1845; repeated from 1846 to 1850, they were to lead to complaints on his sovereign's part which read like mere echoes of Lord John's letter of 1840; and they were eventually to occasion his own removal from office in 1851, and the disruption of the Whig party in I852.
THE FALL OF LORD MELBOURNE.
THE year 1841 opened favourably for the Whig Government. News arrived on January 6 that Dost Mahommed, the Afghan King whom Lord Auckland had dethroned, had surrendered to the British at Cabul; and that the Chinese had made terms with Admiral Elliot. The Duke of Bedford wrote from Woburn— I wish you joy of the good news from China. You and your colleagues may march into Parliament on the first day with colours flying and drums beating. Old Byng says he went to Brighton in the autumn with five wishes in his heart :— 1st. That there might be good news from Syria. 2nd. Good from India. 3rd. Good from China. 4th. A majority for Guizot. 5th. The safety of the Queen and her child. All have been realised ; and all are humane and benevolent wishes. Yet nothing is certain but the unforeseen. The year which commenced thus auspiciously witnessed a renewal of the Chinese war; a disaster, unprecedented in its magnitude, in Afghanistan ; and the crushing defeat of the Government. When Parliament met on January 26, 1841, the debate on the Address was rapidly disposed of Lord John, who had been staying at Broadlands with Lord Palmerston during the recess, was able to defend the policy of the Treaty of July. No outward sign was visible of the dissensions which had nearly wrecked the Ministry in the previous autumn, and the Whigs seemed more firmly seated in office than they had been since 1839. At the opening of the session, however, one or two bye