Page images

Europe, would not that practically be an act of moral bankruptcy, just as dishonourable as the repudiation of a national debt?

It was at the Eighty Club on the 13th of April that Sir William made his most vehement appeal to the memory and example of Canning, recommending the rising generation, almost with tears in his voice, to take that great man for their model. Now Sir William was quite right in saying that Canning refused to join the great Powers in forming a kind of committee of supervision for settling the affairs of Europe generally. This is a totally different thing from an agreement between the same Powers to act together for one particular purpose; to avert one special and practical danger which concerns them all; and to protect and uphold arrangements in which they have a common interest, and to which they are all pledged. The Concert which Canning recoiled from-not the Holy Alliance, which was a harmless fadwas nothing of this kind. It was, as we have said, nothing less than a permanent Vigilance Committee or Mutual Insurance Society; and this would have been enough to make any English Minister, from Chatham to Salisbury, decline the honour of belonging to it.

But there is a still wider difference than this between the two alliances, which Sir William had apparently forgotten. No Power can be expected to join in a compact of which it disapproves the objects. This goes without saying: and it was less because he wished to stand aloof from such connections, than because he was hostile to the purposes for the sake of which he knew them to be established, that Canning acted as he did. The league between the great Continental monarchies from 1820 to

1830 meant a war upon opinion: the suppression of political principles to which the monarchies were opposed. It was not formed to resist breaches of international law, to prevent territorial aggression, and to keep other countries within their assigned limits. It was directed against domestic revolution, against forms of government, and national institutions, with which no Foreign Power has any right to interfere. This was the European Concert from which Canning stood aloof, and it had little more in common with that now existing than the Inquisitor who burns a heretic has with the magistrate who quells a riot.

This distinction was unfortunately overlooked by Sir William Harcourt. There is nothing in the career of Mr Canning to lead us to suppose that he would have refused to join any European coalition of which he thoroughly approved the object: which was directed to the maintenance of peace, and the settlement of a quarrel between two minor States, so as to prevent the risk of its leading to a general war.

But if Sir William's reference to Canning in regard to the European Concert is plausible at first sight, and until the analogy is pricked, he cannot get even this superficial and short-lived support from him on the question of treaties. As he is so fond of Mr Pitt's pupil, let him lay his case before him, and see what answer he will get. When Canning was appealed to by the Greeks to do something to help them against Turkey, he replied to their ambassador as follows:

"They forgot that there existed between England and Turkey treaties of very ancient date, and of uninterrupted obligation, which the Turks

faithfully observed, and to the protection of which British interests, to a vast amount, were confided within the domains of the Sultan; and that

all these interests must at once

be put in jeopardy, and the obligation of the treaties which protect them be at once advisedly broken, by the first blow which Great Britain should strike, as the ally of Greece, in hostility to Turkey."

Mr Canning then suggested the idea of compromise with the Porte, but the deputies declared that the Greeks must be either "entirely independent or perish."

"Mr Canning, then, having thus explained to the deputies all that the Greeks had to expect from the British Government, endeavoured to impress upon their minds that the efforts to induce Great Britain to take part in their favour had not only no favourable result, but were always attended by consequences prejudicial to their

cause." 1

This is the language of Lord Salisbury and the language of Mr Chamberlain. "We observe treaties ourselves, and don't intend that others shall break them to our prejudice." Our difficulties in South Africa only arise from what is our bounden duty, our demand, namely, that treaty engagements shall be faithfully observed. Sir William Harcourt thinks that this is unnecessary. But how he can reconcile such a theory with the advice which he gave to the youth of England at the Eighty Clubnamely, that all who looked forward to political life should make Canning their study night and daywe are not in a position to explain.

We next come to Sir William Harcourt's mode of speaking as to the motives and characters of the European Governments: and we hope that on this subject young

England will follow his advice, and read for themselves what Mr

Canning said on this very point. The words used by Sir William Harcourt on the 12th of April would be quite sufficient for our purpose; but they are not the most abusive ones that he has thought proper to employ :

"The cause of humanity and the claims of freedom are sacrificed to the jealousies and selfish interests of the Powers, who declare that they to listen to these claims of humanity will go to war if they are called upon for which they appear to care so little, and to these claims of freedom for which they certainly care a little less."

Elsewhere he has accused the great Powers, graciously excepting England, of supporting Turkey better hereafter, when their turn now, that she may cut up all the comes for dividing the spoil. Speaking in Monmouthshire fortnight later, he stated that the great Powers looked on the Ottoman empire with the eye of a gamekeeper:


"They used the integrity of the Ottoman empire as an excuse in Armenia, they use it as a pretext in Crete. It is not because they really respect this integrity; they regard it just as a gamekeeper regards a covey of pheasants. One of these days they mean themselves to have a great

shooting, when they can agree upon

the terms of the battue."

Mr Balfour told the leader of the Opposition what he thought of him, in words reminding us very much of the rebuke addressed by Canning to the Opposition of his own day for their abuse of the Continental Governments.

"The right hon. gentleman," said Mr Balfour, "openly said that the Powers of Europe for their own selfish

1 Stapleton's Life of Canning, vol. ii. p. 444.

ends wanted to keep the peace, but cared nothing at all for freedom and good government. I do not know whether it is consistent with the

position of the leader of a great party to fling these accusations wholesale against Powers friendly to this country-Powers with whom he has had to deal in a responsible position, and with whom he may again have to deal in an equally responsible position."

These are almost the very words of Mr Canning, in commenting on the disgraceful epithets bestowed on the great Powers by the Whig Opposition.

"I doubt," he said, "whether it is wise even in this House to indulge in such a strain of rhetoric: to call by a hundred hard names Powers with whom, after all, if the map of Europe cannot be altogether cancelled, we must, according to the admission of the most anti-Continental politicians, maintain some international intercourse."

It is pretty clear what Sir William Harcourt would have had to expect had Mr Canning been sitting opposite to him in the House of Commons. To be a friend to freedom is a totally different thing from deriding treaty obligations, from insulting in the coarsest terms the allies with whom we are engaged, and from endeavouring to thwart all the efforts of a Government directed to the attainment of confessedly desirable objects, by declaring that it does not possess the confidence of the country, and that the national sympathies are all with those who refuse to listen to our advice. Mr Canning is Sir William Harcourt's ideal of a Foreign Secretary. He was enemy of absolutism, and a friend to popular institutions, yet no one has protested more strongly against that very course of conduct which


we have just described, and which the leader of the Opposition considers it his duty to pursue, than the consummate assurance to call the very statesman of whom he has himself a disciple.

Mr Canning knew, as every man of sense does, that we must take things as we find them that being compelled at times to have communication with the absolute

Powers, to consult with them, negotiate with them, and sometimes to act with them, it was idle to expect to have everything our own way or to think ourselves justified in breaking off any connection with them formed for a specific purpose, because on some particular points they did not see through English spectacles. The business of the world could not be con

ducted on such a principle as this. And if we not only thought ourselves entitled to insist on their ways being our ways, but also fell foul of them at once, and set to reviling them like pickpockets, because they refused to. abandon their own traditionary methods, we could only expect of course that they would cast us adrift, and that the whole influence we had a right to exercise in the affairs of Europe would at once be lost. Canning knew this, and pursued a very different line of policy. He was particularly cautious of doing anything to wound the susceptibilities of friendly Powers, and was firmly resolved to maintain the comity of diplomacy.

How does any one suppose that the Emperors like being called by such names as Liberal statesmen now apply to them, especially when they hear that these are the men who represent the public sentiment of England? Is that the way to smooth matters and render it easier to transact business with them; or is it the way to

make them view with suspicion and distrust whatever proposals emanate from this country, and turn a deaf ear to suggestions which otherwise they might have been willing to entertain? Sir William's Gamaliel answers this

question in one way, and Sir William himself in another. The pupil throws over the master, thinking it will not be found out. We leave the public to choose between them. Sir William may be quite right, but let him cease in future to defend himself by the example of Mr Canning.

We have omitted all reference to the parliamentary proceedings of last month, in order to draw attention to the use which has been made of Mr Canning's name by one who evidently presumed on the public ignorance of the subject. Even Sir Charles Dilke made a blunder about the Holy Alliance which we should not have expected from him. But Sir William invokes the name of Canning as a shield that will cover the whole extent of his attack from end to end. Starting from the postulate that Canning would have sympathised with Greece in the present war, and slily slipping in the entirely false suggestion that the present Government does not, he thus contrives to place Canning and Lord Salisbury in apparent opposition to each other. This done, he makes Canning's presumed agreement with the Radicals as to the main end of the present war serve to justify their conduct in every particular relating to it. The cause of Greece is the cause of liberty. The cause of liberty was the cause of Canning. Therefore we are at liberty, with the sanction of that illustrious statesman, to sneer at treaties, to hamper our own Government, and insult our allies, if

only these things are done in the interest, or supposed interest, of Greece! Such is the grotesque and truncated form of syllogism to which Sir William's argument is reducible. Those who have the same end in view may differ widely as to means; and we hope we have shown that every one of these methods of testifying our friendship for a nation in the predicament of Greece would have been as severely condemned by Mr Canning as they are by Lord Salisbury. The same charges were brought against the former as are brought against the latter. He was accused of want of sympathy with the Spanish Liberals, of want of sympathy with the Greek insurgents an indictment quite as false as those which are levelled at the present Prime Minister; and it is quite possible that some future Sir William Harcourt, fifty years hence, may be found appealing to the Foreign Secretary of 1897 as our own Sir William appeals to the Foreign Secretary of 1823, and exclaiming with a deep sigh, "Ah! if we had but a Lord Salisbury among us now!"

We had thought of recalling some earlier instances of the ill effects which are produced by an Opposition anxious only to make party capital out of foreign politics. We might refer to the conduct of the Coalition during the last years of Walpole's Administration; to the conduct of the Whigs in 1797 on the subject of the currency, when the nation was only saved from imminent bankruptcy by the wisdom and courage of Mr Pitt; and again to their attitude during the Peninsular war. But we feel that we have said enough, and with one parting observation we may dismiss the subject. Bad as was the party spirit displayed by the Whig-Tory

Opposition in 1738, and afterwards by the Whigs on the several occasions we have mentioned, they never went so far as to urge on the Government of the day the duty of tearing up treaties, repudiating engagements, and snapping their fingers at the other parties to the contract. It was reserved for the Liberals or the Radicals of to-day to take this great step in advance, and place it to the credit of democracy. Canning would have said, as indeed he does say, in the passage we have quoted, "However good your cause, and however bad your adversary's, treaties must be observed until they are repealed, or modified with the consent of all who were parties to them." This is the political canon which Mr Canning has left us, clothed in words of great power and precision, elicited from him by the same kind of pressure which has been placed

upon the present Government. This is the dictum of the great statesman whom the rising generation are recommended by Sir William Harcourt to adopt as their guide. It is a pity Sir William had not some one in his youth to do the same kind office for himself; for perhaps had he studied Canning's policy attentively while his intellect was still pliant, and before he had entangled himself in the meshes of party, he might really have been able to act on the maxims conveyed by it. As it is, he is unable to digest them. A name, however, by itself goes a long way, if it is continually quoted in favour of any given course of action, without remark. We were determined that the deception thus practised on the public should not go unexposed, as far as our humble efforts could avail to unmask it; and with that object alone has this article been written.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »