Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

Though Lord John does not say so in this memorandum, it is evident that he must have become acquainted through Lord Cowley with the famous answer which Marshal Vaillant had given to the Emperor in Lord Cowley's presence:–

I am not a politician [said Vaillant], but I know the feelings of the army. I am sure that if, after having spent months in the siege of Sebastopol, we return unsuccessful, the army will not be satisfied."

Thenceforward Lord John ceased to press on his colleagues a policy which—if Marshal Vaillant was right—might have led to the disaffection of the army on which the Emperor's throne was dependent. He felt that, anxious as he had been at Vienna for terms which would have ranged Austria with the allies, he could not purchase the help of Austria by breaking up the alliance with France. In his own words—

From that moment it appeared to me that, unless Austria should offer terms more acceptable to the Emperor of the French . . . we had no course left but to pursue the war with the utmost vigour.

The decision at which Lord John had thus arrived was perfectly intelligible to those who had all the facts before them. But it had the fatal defect that it could not be defended without a complete knowledge of the surrounding circumstances: and that the chief of these circumstances—the reluctance of the Emperor of the French to risk the discontent of his army—could not by any possibility be explained to a popular assembly. And this impossibility, which Lord John ought undoubtedly to have foreseen, when, in an unfortunate hour for himself, he yielded to Lord Clarendon's and Lord Palmerston's counsels and withdrew his resignation, soon involved him in an inextricable dilemma. On the 24th of May Mr. Disraeli brought forward a resolution condemning both the language and the conduct of the Government, and pledging the House to the prosecution of the war. A large portion of his speech was occupied in commenting, with all the power of sarcasm at his command, on the conduct of Lord John both as Minister and Plenipotentiary; and, at the close of the evening, Lord John himself rose to defend his own action and the policy of the Government. He stated, as he was perfectly

Kinglake's Crimea, viii. 348.

entitled to state, the reasons for the securities which the allies had demanded. He omitted—he could not have avoided omitting—all reference to the proposal which he had himself brought home from Austria, and which had not been disclosed ; and he argued strongly for curbing the power of Russia, and going on with the war. The speech made a great effect in London, and is said to have swelled the majority by which Mr. Disraeli was defeated on the succeeding evening; and the House adjourned for a short Whitsuntide recess, relying on the warlike policy of the Government, and on the vigorous language of Lord John.

The speech, however, made a very different impression at Vienna. Count Buol determined to give his own version of the story, and, of course, in doing so was free from the considerations respecting the French Emperor which had influenced Lord John. He issued a circular to the representatives of Austria at foreign Courts, in which he disclosed for the first time the proposals which he had himself made for the termination of the dispute, and added—

The Ministers of France and England, in confidential interviews, showed themselves decidedly inclined towards our proposals, and undertook to recommend the same to their Governments with all their influence.

The publication of this despatch raised a storm of obloquy such as few public men have ever encountered. How, it was asked, could Lord John reconcile his conduct at Vienna with his language in Parliament? If it were true that Lord John thought that the terms of Austria were reasonable, why had he not redeemed his promise and advocated them in the Cabinet? Why, at any rate, was he still a member of the Government which had refused them 2 and why was he urging the vigorous prosecution of a war which he had himself thought ought to have been concluded ? Lord John had never been the favourite of the newspaper press. In the preceding February he had increased the animosity of journalists by expressing, in strong and indiscreet language, his “disgust' at the attacks which had been made on Lord Raglan ‘by a ribald press.’ The ‘ribald ' press had now the opportunity of avenging itself on its censor. It fell on him with a fury which

was both unprecedented and unrestrained. And the attack was not, of course, confined to the newspapers. On the 29th of June Lord John was asked in the House whether Count Buol's statements in his circular were accurate, and admitted that they were so. On the 6th of July Mr. Milner Gibson raised the whole issue in the House of Commons. But the debate, though it afforded Lord John an opportunity for explanation, only increased his difficulties and accentuated his embarrassment. For while, on the one hand, he could not avoid speaking, he could not, on the other, give the true reasons which had influenced him. Even for the sake of saving his own character, he could not say that the Emperor of the French was afraid that the acceptance of the Austrian terms would lead to the disaffection of his army, and the disaffection of his army to the fall of his dynasty, and that a generous nation could not force on a faithful ally terms involving such a sacrifice. He was forced, therefore, to leave unsaid the words which were necessary for his own defence. Thus his explanation fell flat and inadequate on his audience. And then, as if the embarrassment were not sufficient, Lord John's own unrivalled reputation as a debater rose up and bore witness against him. For this tame and ineffective apology was not emanating from an unpractised orator, but from the man of whom it had been truly said, ‘He always spoke well when a good speech was required of him.' Bad, indeed—so it was concluded—the case must be, if this was all that the most practised debater of the century could urge in support of his own character. Thus the storm of calumny, which had already burst on Lord John's head, was renewed with redoubled fury; and Sir E. Lytton Bulwer gave notice of a motion that Lord John's conduct at Vienna had shaken the confidence of the House in the Ministry. This notice gave rise to one of the most painful incidents in Lord John's career. For, while his colleagues in the Cabinet, who were acquainted with the facts of the case, were ready to stand by him, the subordinate members of the Government, who were ignorant of the circumstances which had influenced Lord John, refused to support him. It was to these men that Lord John, in the subsequent debate, applied the quotation—

Those you make friends
And give your hearts to, when they once perceive
The least rub in your fortunes, fall away
Like water from ye, never found again
But when they mean to sink ye.

Contrary to his own opinion, Lord John had remained in office for the sake of imparting strength to the Administration : he would not remain another hour when he found that his presence in the Cabinet had become a cause of weakness to it. On the 12th of July he told Lord Palmerston that he must retire ; and on the 13th sent in his written resignation in the following terms:— Chesham Place: July 13, 1855. My dear Palmerston, After our conversation last night you will not be surprised at receiving from me a request that you will be so good as to lay before her Majesty my resignation of the office I hold. It has become obvious that my continuance in office would only embarrass and endanger your Administration. It is for the advantage of the Queen's service, therefore, that I should retire. I beg you will assure her Majesty that, if I could be of any use in the present critical state of affairs by remaining in her service, I would readily devote myself to the performance of my duties as a Minister. But neither the Crown nor the country would derive any benefit from my resistance to the present clamour. I may wish to make a statement on Monday, but I have no desire to add anything to what I have already related of the decisions of the Cabinet. I wish you every success in the conduct of this great war, and remain, yours faithfully, J. RUSSELL. Lord Palmerston replied— Piccadilly : July 13, 1855. My dear John Russell,—I have received, I need not say with how much regret, your letter of this morning, and have sent it down to the Queen. But, whatever pain I may feel at the step you have taken, I must nevertheless own that as a public man, whose standing and position are matters of public interest and public property, you have judged rightly. The storm is too strong at this moment to be resisted, and an attempt to withstand it would, while unsuccessful, only increase irritation. But juster feelings will in due time prevail. In the meanwhile I must thank you for the very friendly and handsome terms in which you have announced to me your determination. —Yours sincerely, PALMERSTON.

Three days later, in the House of Commons, Lord John explained the circumstances of his resignation. He laboured still under the radical difficulty that he was unable to state the true reasons which had influenced him. All he could do was to allude in vague language to “circumstances quite independent of the merits of the propositions themselves, and which did not in the least alter my opinion of the merits of those propositions,' ' which made it appear to my mind impossible to urge [their] acceptance upon the Government. But his calm and dignified language made a deep impression on the House. His old friend Lord Enfield wrote to him—

Five-and-twenty years have passed since I first took my place behind you in the House of Commons, and nothing has ever occurred to weaken my allegiance or to shake my confidence in a leader so specially qualified to direct the Whig party. At no period during that quarter of a century have I felt more proud of our choice than I do now, or more indignant with the timidity of some and the malignity of others. . . . Believe me, my dear Lord John, that you have a numerous and staunch body of supporters, who respect and love you, and the warmth of whose attachment is only made more fervent by these unscrupulous attacks. While Sir G. C. Lewis wrote— The dignified and impressive speech which you made yesterday evening was listened to with respect and attention by an audience partly hostile and partly prejudiced. It will, in my opinion, go far to remove the imputations, founded on error and misrepresentation, under which you laboured, and I shall be much surprised if, after a little time and a little reflection, persons do not come to the conclusion that never was so small a matter magnified so far beyond its true proportions. On the following evening Mr. Roebuck drew attention to the report of the Sebastopol Committee, and founded on it a motion visiting ‘with severe reprobation every member of that Cabinet whose counsels led to such disastrous results.' A man less generous than Lord John might have seized the opportunity to sever himself from the responsibility attaching

« EdellinenJatka »