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We are now in the month of June—the same month in which, last year, the treaty was brought forward here and its ratification was considered—and we are now in the same state of doubt and uncertainty as we were when these questions were originally raised. Two reasons were urged against my persisting with the motion which I then made asking her Majesty not to ratify the treaty. It was said that the negotiations had gone too far, and the commissioners had acted too precisely in pursuance of their powers, to make it right to address her Majesty. . . . The treaty was ratified, and I conceive that it is your Lordships duty, and that of every subject of her Majesty, to carry that treaty into effect consistently with the honour of the Crown and the real meaning of the stipulations which it contains. . . . If that is the case— since her Majesty's Government cannot be called on to assist at the arbitration when the case put forward by the other side is not contained in the treaty—I ask what is their course to pursue. I confess it appears to me not to be doubtful. The British authorities—her Majesty herself, her Secretary of State, every person belonging to the Cabinet, and I may say the great majority of the whole nation—have stated that these claims form no part of the treaty. . . . It appears to me that the United States have said —and they are not apt to flinch from any claim they think it right to put forward—they have said they will go to the arbitrators with these indirect claims contained in the document now before the arbitrators. Her Majesty's Government [should] say as firmly and decidedly, “We shall never attend at Geneva, or before a tribunal to which these indirect claims are presented.’
This speech made a great impression. But the debate was ultimately adjourned; and, before it was resumed, Lord Granville was able to produce a letter from the American Minister in London stating that he was authorised by telegram to declare that the Government of the United States understood a supplemental article, which it was proposed should be added to the treaty, in the same sense as the British Government interpreted it, and that the new rule in the proposed article was ‘the consideration for, and to be accepted as, a final settlement of the . . . . indirect claims. With these assurances Lord Russell expressed himself satisfied, and consented to withdraw or postpone the motion for an address to the Crown.
Feeling at the time was largely with Lord Russell. It was usually agreed that his language had been worthy of a great statesman of a great country. One eminent man wrote to him a few days afterwards—
I should like so much to have the opportunity of saying to you what I have been saying in these last days to all within my reach, that Lord Russell’s speech in the Lords is the only language uttered in the wearisome and repulsive Alabama business that has been in the least degree worthy of the English past."
At the present day more difference of opinion may possibly exist. Many persons, anxious for the success of arbitration, imagine that it must have been a good thing to refer a vexatious dispute to arbitration; and either have forgotten, or perhaps never knew, the sacrifices which this country made to get the case before the arbiters. Yet the concessions were undoubtedly great. They seemed all the greater because, though the indirect claims were withdrawn, the arbiters proceeded to give a decision that they were inadmissible. They actually, in other words, decided the very point which Queen, Cabinet, Foreign Office, and the great majority of the whole nation, had decided should not come before them for decision.
During the whole of this prolonged controversy Lord Russell felt strongly the conduct of Mr. Gladstone's Government. He thought that its members had not sufficiently defended his own action as Secretary of State, or resented with adequate warmth the charges brought against him in official documents. His relations with the members of the Cabinet became, in consequence, strained; and, for the first and only time in his life, he found himself drawn into confidential communications with the leaders of the Conservative party. His ‘Recollections and Suggestions, which he passed through the press two years afterwards, contain ample evidence of his altered feelings. For instance:—
The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary took for their
model apparently the character of Donna Inez in the poem of ‘Don Juan’:–
* Mr. John Forster to Lord Russell, June 30, 1872.
Calmly they heard each calumny that rose,
And again :—
Candour, “If my character is attacked, I only beg of you not to undertake my defence.’"
Even these quotations, however, show that Lord Russell was gradually forgetting the grave annoyance which he had undoubtedly felt. Men do not seek their quotations in ‘The School for Scandal’ and ‘Don Juan’ till the first frown of anger is relaxing into something like a smile.
Lord Russell, moreover, derived some satisfaction from knowing that, if the arbiters as a body had decided against the Government of which he was the organ, the English arbitrator, in his elaborate dissent from the finding of the tribunal, had vindicated his conduct; while, a little later still, he had the satisfaction of reading the independent judgment which Mr. Grote expressed in a private letter to Sir G. C. Lewis :—
I quite agree in the remarks contained in your last note about the unreasonable and insane language of the Americans against England.
The perfect neutrality of England in this destructive war appears to me almost a phenomenon in political history.
No such forbearance has been shown during the political history of the last two centuries. It is the single case in which the English Government and public—generally so meddlesome—have displayed most prudent and commendable forbearance in spite of great temptations to the contrary.
* Lord Russell did not verify these quotations apparently. He purposely altered one word in the quotation from Don Juan. But the saying, which he attributes to Sir Peter Teazle, is little more than a paraphrase of the original.
THE period during which Lord Russell held the seals of Foreign Secretary was one of abnormal activity. The affairs of Italy, and the civil war in America, were only two of the subjects which occupied the attention of the Minister. A new war in China, a war between Spain and Morocco, the occupation of Mexico by France with all its fatal consequences, and the provision of a new King with a new title for the little Kingdom of Greece, were simultaneously demanding anxious attention. Lord Russell's treatment, however, of these and other questions is a subject rather for the historian than for the biographer; and these memoirs must pass on to two other matters which, in the event, were partially linked together— the Polish insurrection of 1862, and the German-Danish War of 1864. The early history of the Polish insurrection may be given in Lord Russell’s own words:—
In 1862 fresh discontent, fresh conspiracies, and fresh preparations for insurrection existed in Poland. The Russian Government took what they considered effectual means to suppress these discontents. The mode was rather a singular one. Not satisfied with arresting the individuals who were supposed to be the leaders of the conspiracy, they made the conscription of January 1863 an engine for seizing upon their supposed enemies. The intelligent acting Consul-General at Warsaw, Mr. White, wrote, on January 14, that the list of persons intended to be taken as recruits had been made out, that the utmost pains had been taken to include in these lists all able-bodied men suspected of revolutionary tendencies, and who had been marked out as such by the police
during the last two years. Thus the so-called conscription was turned into a proscription. The lists of persons, usually made by lot, were made to comprehend all such persons as Octavius, Mark Antony, and Crassus might have deemed fit objects of suspicion; and all these persons were to be condemned for life to be soldiers in the Russian army.
This act was naturally the prelude to resistance and civil war.
In Western Europe the cause of the Poles had always attracted sympathy. But the geographical situation of Poland —surrounded by the three great military Empires of Eastern Europe—made it difficult for any country, and impossible for a country whose strength was on the seas, to render them effectual assistance. This circumstance was expressed by Lord Russell himself, on March 25, 1862, in a speech in which he expressed his strong sympathy with a struggling people, but dwelt on the impossibility of affording them active help.
No statesman who has held the office which I have the honour to occupy, no Prime Minister of this country has, at any time, held out the prospect of material assistance to the Poles.
But, though Lord Russell was of opinion that the circumstances of this country made it impossible for it to render material aid to the Poles, he was prepared, in concert with other nations, to afford them moral support. It was originally the wish of the Western powers that a collective note of remonstrance should be presented at St. Petersburg by the four Courts of Austria, France, Great Britain, and Prussia. But it was ultimately decided that separate despatches on the subject of Poland should be simultaneously addressed to Russia by the Courts of Austria, France, and England. The despatch which was written by Lord Russell in accordance with this arrangement began by expressing the interest with which the British Government regarded, and the sympathy which it felt for, Poland; it went on to vindicate its right, under the Treaties of Vienna, to express its opinions on the subject; it declined to acquiesce in the doctrine that the provisions of those treaties in favour of the Poles had been cancelled by the insurrection of 1830; it argued that the