Amazing articles on just about every subject...

British History - The Franco-Prussian War - The new era in foreign affairs - Fall of Gladstone - Disraeli's Ministry, 1874 - 80 - Trade Union and social legislation - The Eastern Question - Disraeli, Gladstone and the Turk.

( Originally Published 1922 )

IN the summer of 1870 the irrepressible conflict broke out between the France of Napoleon III and the Germany of Bismarck. England was most afraid of France, but saw little reason to desire the success of either combatant. Both stood for a highly developed form of militarism, not likely to be improved in spirit by victory, and affording the world no prospect of future peace and goodwill.

Unlike his adversary, Bismarck knew what he wanted and how to get it. In foreign affairs the course of his realpolitik lay straight for the goal of Prussian power, and was never diverted by generosity, prejudice or passion. At home, he had invented a new type of despotism. It was no longer merely negative, like the system of Metternich, the ' dead hand ' stretched out to prohibit all change. Despotism under Bismarck had become an active principle in the van of progress. It was no longer timidly hostile to the mercantile class, the press, education and science, but harnessed them all to the car of government. Like the liberalism of Cavour's regime in Piedmont ten years before, Bismarck's despotism swept along with it on its path all the activities of the nation's life. It gave the lead to the patriotic spirit, which in 1849 had fought under the Liberal flag in Germany as elsewhere. If Bismarck were to win the war with France, his system would exert an attractive power all the world over, and would become a formidable rival to those liberal ideas, mainly derived from England and France, which had for half a century been the chief motive power in the intellectual life of Europe.

The French Emperor, on the other hand, no longer knew where he was going either at home or abroad. He had failed to reconcile in practice the theoretic contradictions always involved in his ` Napoleonic ideas.' On the one hand, he stood for the general principles of nationality and plebiscitary liberalism in Europe. On the other hand, he supported the Vatican against the desire of the Italian people for Rome as capital, and he was himself the voice of France, refusing to allow the Germans to complete the edifice of their national unity. More-over, his policy of thwarting Italian aspirations seriously damaged the best chance he had of thwarting German aspirations. All was confusion and weakness in the counsels of this man, who a dozen years before had been the arbiter of Europe.

In 1870 he entered the lists, with prestige already lowered by a decade of failure following on a decade of success. It was but one of his disappointments that England, to gain whose friendship he had in the past made great sacrifices, would at best be coldly neutral. Sick in body and mind, he knew, before the world proclaimed it, that his grasp on men and things was failing. Wherever he looked he saw irresistible forces rising to thwart every item of his policy, beyond the Alps, beyond the Rhine, and beyond the Atlantic.

Under cover of the American Civil War to protect him from the Monroe Doctrine, Napoleon had tried to establish a Latin Empire under French patronage in Mexico. But the North had won, had shortly afterwards served him with notice to quit, and he had not risked a war on the other side of the globe against the veterans of Sherman and Grant. When the French troops were withdrawn, the Emperor Maximilian, whom Napoleon had imported from Europe, was caught by his Mexican subjects and shot. It was a bitter humiliation to the 1867 man who had sent him.

At home Napoleon now desired to have Ministers responsible to Parliament, although his Empire was a despotism founded on the plebiscite, expressly as a substitute for government by Assembly. A change of ground so fundamental was not easy of accomplishment. The French Liberals of the rising generation, whose support was essential for the success of a ' Liberal Empire,' were most of them Republicans at heart, taught by Victor Hugo's example in exile, and by Gambetta's fiery eloquence, to look askance at ' the man of December ' and all his works.

Meanwhile his Spanish wife Eugénie, at the head of the more reactionary Imperialists, held that he was betraying his own cause by toying with Parliaments. They saw in a German war the means of reviving the glories of the French Empire, and of the Roman Church. And he, in the physical weakness and moral apathy that now disarmed his energies, had not the courage to say them nay.

Bismarck meanwhile was moving from strength to strength. He had half created the German Empire by successful war against Austria in 1866. Napoleon would neither accept the new Germany as inevitable, nor boldly oppose it while there was yet time. He protested, intrigued, demanded ' compensations,' in Belgium or on the Rhine, for the growing power of Prussia. Bismarck nicknamed such demands ' the policy of pourboires.' Napoleon had still a chance of bringing Austria and Italy together into the field on his side. But he would not pay Italy her price of Rome as capital. Nor had he the command over his nerves to wait even one year, till Austria should have recovered from her last defeat, and be ready to fight Prussia again. In July 1870, at the hour appointed by Bismarck, he allowed the French Imperialist party to hustle him into the war he dreaded.

The question which nominally gave rise to hostilities, the suggested Hohenzollern candidature for the throne of Spain, was so incompetently handled by Napoleon and his counsellors that, contrary to the real facts as Bismarck subsequently revealed them, France appeared to the world as the sole aggressor. Such was the impression produced in England on both Government and Opposition, although Gladstone said privately - ' On the face of the facts France is wrong, but as to personal trustworthiness the two moving spirits, Napoleon and Bismarck, are nearly on a par.' All British parties were in favour of a strict neutrality.

Indeed, when the war began it was not Germany we feared. Britons had sucked in fear of Napoleonic conquest with their mother's milk, while the idea of the dreamy Germans as a material danger to Europe was new and strange. Only a few years back their soldiers used to be represented by our comic artists as funny little men strutting about under the weight of enormous helmets.1 In 1870 these diminutive warriors shot up, in the English prints, into genial giants with bushy beards, singing Luther's hymns round Christmas-trees in the trenches before Paris. We were too ignorant of Germany to regard her as a serious rival. Only eccentric intellectuals like Matthew Arnold and George Meredith warned us that there was some-thing in German professors and their geist that was at once admirable and dangerous.2 Representative British thought of the day, whether Queen Victoria's or Thomas Carlyle's, was all for the German civilisation against the French. The small but influential group of Positivists, bred up in the school of French intellectual liberalism, were almost singular in their anti-German views.

Immediately after the outbreak of war, Bismarck produced a rod that he had been keeping in pickle for France, in the shape of the draft of a suggested treaty of 1866, written out in the handwriting of Benedetti, then French Ambassador at Berlin. This document had proposed the annexation of Belgium by France, as a pourboire in return for French consent to the union of Germany. British public opinion was deeply stirred. Gladstone wrote to Bright ' If the Belgian people desire, on their own account, to join France or any other country, I for one will be no party to taking up arms to prevent it. But that the Belgians whether they would or no, should go " plump " down the maw of another country to satisfy dynastic greed, is another matter.' Gladstone at once proposed a treaty to France and Germany, providing that if either combatant violated Belgian neutrality, Great Britain would co-operate with the other party in its defence, but without necessarily taking a share in the general operations of the war. By August 9, 1870, the signatures of Germany and France were obtained, and nothing more was heard of the Belgian question.

In the first week of September came the surrender of the main French army at Sedan, and the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. The next four months afforded the spectacle of the young Republic heroically attempting, under the inspiration of Gambetta, to make good the lost cause of France. Naturally British sympathies moved round not a little, but there was no question of interference. The German demand for the pre-dominantly French provinces of Alsace-Lorraine threw a shade over the innocent beauty of the German Christmas-trees, and aroused Gladstone's intense indignation. But England had no wish to fight and there was nothing to be done.'

To keep England's moral indignation engaged elsewhere, and to prevent joint action by England, Austria and Russia on behalf of beaten France, Bismarck had secretly stirred up Russia to denounce the ` Black Sea ' articles of the treaty of 1856. Palmerston had prolonged the Crimean War for half a year to obtain provisions which neutralised the Euxine, and prohibited Russia from keeping an arsenal on its shores or a navy in its waters. Such articles, denying Russia's sovereignty in her own ports, could wisely have been struck out of the treaty by consent. But this had never been done, and Russia now on her own account declared her intention of treating them as a ' scrap of paper.' We rightly protested against a manner and method of proceeding of such evil example, while Bismarck expressed pained surprise at Russia's precipitate action ! But we could not fight for an arrangement which we felt to be of doubtful justice. And so, after a due course of diplomatic conferences, we swallowed the Russian proposals and Bismarck swallowed Alsace-Lorraine.

These transactions, though the misfortune rather than the fault of the existing Ministry, left an uneasy sense that Glad-stone was not vigorous enough in foreign affairs. The Alabama claims award of the following year increased this impression at the time, although posterity feels gratitude to the states-men who avoided war with America. There was perhaps more substance for the suspicion that Gladstone's instinct for economy in taxation inclined him to shorten supplies for army and navy; at least it caused differences with some of his own colleagues, as well as furnishing Opposition with a text. Disraeli, with his keen eye for world movements and tendencies of the age, proclaimed the Conservative party as the champion of the external honour and safety of Britain, with a special interest in the Colonies and the Empire.

It was a new departure. During the middle years of the century, Palmerston as Whig Minister had voiced the nationalist sentiments of the country, while the Conservatives, alike under Aberdeen, Peel, Derby and Disraeli himself, had been distinctly a peace party, critical of Palmerston and his trumpetings. Neither had they shown any special interest in the Colonies, which were too democratic to arouse the enthusiasm of the territorial aristocracy. The shifting of party ground now observable in these matters was in the natural order of things, though the views and characters of Disraeli and Gladstone quickened the pace. So long as the professional and middle classes, who usually form the largest body of sensitive nationalist feeling, had been ranged under the Liberal banner, Palmerston had been their spokesman. They were now, for a variety of reasons, of which working-class enfranchisement was the chief, coming rapidly round to the new Conservatism. They brought with them their zeal for the honour and strength of Britain. And since an age of self-conscious Imperial expansion was at hand, this fact was destined to be of governing importance. Disraeli no longer spoke of the Colonies as 'a millstone round our neck.'

But the Conservative Imperialism which Disraeli adumbrated and which Salisbury and Chamberlain matured, each after his own fashion, was by none of them directed against Germany. During the remainder of the century British Imperialism more often came into conflict with France or Russia. Considering that Germany had become the dominant power in Europe this may seem remarkable, but the reason is clear. England was becoming less interested in Europe and more interested in colonies and in the world beyond the ocean. Now while Bismarck cared little for German colonial expansion, France after Sedan, as formerly after Waterloo, attempted to make good in Asia and Africa what she had lost on the Rhine. France, therefore, again and again appeared as our chief colonial competitor, while the huge bulk of Russia overshadowed India and the East.

But on one occasion Disraeli was compelled to interfere in Western European politics, and against the German power. In 1875 Bismarck, disappointed at the rapid recovery of France, was meditating either a fresh war to crush her to the ground for ever, or the extortion of a virtual surrender on her part of her rights to independent action. Disraeli was by that time in office. ' Bismarck,' he wrote, ' is really another old Bonaparte again, and must be bridled.' For this purpose he effected a temporary combination with Russia that gave pause to Germany, and maintained European peace without the humiliation of France.

The incident passed over, but it was ominous, and indicated the underlying forces and temper of the new age. After the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine all Europe ' breathed a harsher air.' The sense of international goodwill and the brotherhood of the human race, which had lent an ideal halo to the commercialism of the Great Exhibition of 1851, had faded into air. Abroad, the inculcation of race hatred was becoming one of the functions of modern government and of modern education. The ethical and liberal interpretation of history, which had held the field for many years, began to give way before doctrines of race war and class war as the secret of evolution. Power began to replace justice as the standard of intellectual appeal. Napoleon III had, gone, and with him went the last hopes of international Free Trade, for in Europe and America high protective tariffs were the legacy of war and the expression of international rivalry. And with the departure of Napoleon went his plebiscites, a form of respect for justice to which he had adhered even when he wished to annex Savoy and Nice to France. Polish liberty, Russian reform were made far more improbable by the material and intellectual primacy of the Germany that Bismarck had created.' This change of atmosphere in European thought and politics gradually and in milder forms had its reactions in our own island.

The years 1859 - 70 had seen three great revolutions accomplished the national union of Italy on a basis of freedom, the national union of Germany on the basis of a progressive military despotism, and the closer union of the United States on a basis of negro emancipation. The 'sixties were the most formative years in history between the era of Napoleon and the revolutionary convulsions following the great war of our own day. But after 1870 the period of political change came to an end. Bismarck, who had for his own purposes aided Italy in 1866, having got what he wanted, ceased to be a revolutionary, and the hour of enfranchisement passed by. The problems of liberation which were not solved before i 8 71 remained unsolved in 1914. The new Europe saw, indeed, an enormous increase of material prosperity, great educational progress, and a turbid intellectual activity of every kind, but it succeeded in solving no problem of the first order. Whereas in eleven years Italian unity, German unity, and American abolition and State rights were definitely settled, the next forty-six years failed to bring a solution of any one of the great problems still outstanding : Russian liberty, German liberty, the Polish question, the Turkish and Balkan questions, the race questions of Austria-Hungary and the Irish question. And to these old problems which it failed to solve, the spirit of the new age added the universal ruin and slavery of competitive armaments.

But the gradual darkening of the world's more distant prospects, and the hardening of the international tone, did not interfere with the flood-tide of British prosperity. The bettering of conditions of life for the majority of people was the material achievement of the Victorian age, parallel to its glories in literature, intellect and science.

In consequence of these improved conditions, Robert Owen's Socialism and all revolutionary tendencies, speculative or practical, were in abeyance in England between 1850 and 18 80. It was an era of relative content. The franchise was extended. The Wholesale Co-operative movement was helping to train the character and intelligence, as well as to assist the budgets, of countless working-class families.1 Trade Unionism grew steadily in the more highly organised industries, gradually put down the abuses of Truck payment, and secured as wages a large share of the increased profits of trade.

Between 1866 and 1875 this growing power of Trade Unionism, though still without a political organisation or programme, was brought into the arena of national politics over its own affairs.

In some of the old-fashioned Trade Unions, especially in Sheffield, terrorism accompanied by crime was resorted to against recalcitrant workmen. Many of these stories got about and added to the general antipathy towards Trade Unions which existed among the political classes of the day. This feeling was not peculiar to one party, nor was it confined to persons out of sympathy with the working classes. Lord Shaftesbury of Factory Act fame, wrote : 'All the single despots and all the aristocracies that ever were or ever will be, are as puffs of wind compared with those tornadoes, the Trade Unions,' while Bright, with more moderation of feeling and language, had deprecated combinations either of masters or men as injurious to both, and had spoken of most strikes as ` obstinate folly,' which he expected to see much diminished when ` the great labour interest ' was admitted to the citizen-ship of the franchise. But most of the upper and middle classes were much hotter against Trade Unions than Bright.

In 1866 the explosion of a can of gunpowder in a work-man's house in Sheffield brought public indignation on the subject to a head. Next year, a judicial decision in the Courts seemed to deprive the Unions of the freedom which they had enjoyed for over forty years, under the laws secured for them by Place and Hume.1

At this stage the larger and better organised societies of the New Model2 took the affair in hand. They detested the crimes of the badly managed Unions, which were to a large extent a legacy of the days when all combinations of workmen were illegal, when the kind of civil war described in Shirley was carried on by armed attacks on the houses of employers, by machine-breaking and violence to blacklegs. The big Unions now demanded an inquiry which they were sure would exculpate the movement as a whole in its more recent developments. They also demanded legislation to give them back the liberty of which the judge-made law was threatening to deprive them. Throughout the prolonged crisis that followed they were excellently advised by Tom Hughes, their champion in Parliament, and Mr. Frederic Harrison, the Positivist.

But the Trade Union world was not then organised for political action. Although in 1868 the Liberal majority had been largely returned by the votes of the newly enfranchised workmen of the towns, Gladstone was far from satisfying the Trade Unionists by the Act of 1871 that dealt with the legal status of their societies. They were bitterly resentful of their treatment by the Liberals, when the General Election of 1874 took place. Electioneering politicians had not then learnt to watch Trade-Union Congresses, or tap the barometer of working-class opinion. But it is not impossible that the feeling of the artisans on this question had almost as much to do with Gladstone's defeat as the very similar state of mind of the Nonconformists about education.

Disraeli had the acuteness to learn the new lesson. His sympathy with the working class, which in his youth he had expressed in his novels, was now becoming a factor in politics. In 1875 he passed a Combination Act which satisfied the Trade Unions and set the legal question at rest, until a later judicial decision, known as the Taff Vale judgment, aroused a later agitation which ended similarly in the more advanced Trades Dispute Act of 1906.

Another sectional interest, that now came into direct relation with politics under the new democratic system, was the drink trade, harassed by the rising power of the United Kingdom Alliance. Society was more benefited by the success of the ' blue ribbon ' crusade in promoting habits of sobriety than by the political tactics of some of its supporters. Glad-stone's Home Secretary, Bruce, introduced a Licensing Bill that would have drastically cut down the excessive number of public-houses and subjected the rest to fuller control. It was a golden opportunity for wise and effective legislation of this kind, as the drink traffic had not yet been fully organised for political purposes. But the Prohibition party would be content with nothing short of the right of the inhabitants of each district to prohibit the sale of liquor, and failed to give the measure the support requisite to counteract the opposition of the Trade. ' Bruce's Bill ' was accordingly withdrawn, and a much milder Bill passed in the following year. Temperance legislation failed to keep pace with other parts of the social progress of the period. At the General Election three years later, the great electoral influence of the public-houses was for the first time thrown almost solidly against the Liberal candidates. In the following generation, when brewery shares became one of the most popular forms of investment, the Trade struck wider and deeper roots in the community at large than it had in the days of ' Bruce's Bill.'

But the fundamental reason of the defeat of the Liberal Ministers in 1874 was that they had done their work. When Disraeli pointed to his opponents mustered on the Treasury bench as ' a range of exhausted volcanoes,' it was a jibe that contained a compliment. The Temperance arrow had gone astray, but Gladstone had shot away his quiverful mostly into the bull's-eye, and for the present had no more measures to propose, either for Great Britain or Ireland except, indeed, the abolition of the income-tax ! That he should actually have been able to prepare a Treasury plan for conducting the tax-payer into such a paradise, shows what an effective guardian he had been of the national finances, but indicates how little he foresaw the future either of armaments or of social reform. Disraeli was returned at the polls,' and the income-tax has yet to be repealed.

Disraeli first attained power as Prime Minister in his seventieth year. But ere he reached that eminence he had already achieved a great work, curiously similar to that of the statesman whose career he had destroyed a generation before. He had taught the Conservatives to accept the new democratic conditions, but unlike Peel he had ' educated his party ' with-out impairing its unity or cooling its devotion to himself. Alike in opposition and in office he proved himself a master in the handling of colleagues and followers and in the conduct of the party fortunes aspects of statesmanship in which Gladstone in later life was less successful.

Disraeli did not come to Downing Street, like Gladstone six years before, pledged to a long and contentious programme of domestic legislation. His promise was to give a rest to ` harassed interests.' But he also kept his other promise, not to forget social reform.

Apart from the laws in favour of Trade Unions, much useful work was done for housing, sanitation and the ever-growing factory code. Disraeli's able Home Secretary, Richard Cross, consolidated and improved the mass of existing legislation on these subjects. The Public Health Act of 1875 marked a stage in the battle against disease to which Chadwick had committed the State a generation before. ' Sanitas sanitatum, omnia sanitas,' said Disraeli, to enliven a subject more important than entertaining. The Artisans' Dwelling Act of the same year enabled local authorities to begin to deal with the horrors of the slum areas.

In these and other ways Cross added many new functions to local government. Such Acts were parts of a general process, by which the central government, by means of ' grants in aid of local rates and otherwise, encouraged municipal activity in innumerable departments of life. Drains, water, housing, public spaces, as well as education, were now being supplied or controlled by public authorities. The modern municipal system has been called ' an application of democracy to the supply of the wants of the household.' It is also an application of scientific bureaucracy to the task of rendering life under modern conditions possible in our crowded island. Ever since the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, government after government down to our own day has helped to build up and extend the system. Gladstone in 1871 had set up a new department called the Local Government Board, on to which the business of controlling and stimulating the action of local authorities has chiefly devolved. The work of Cross was merely the work of one Minister in a long series, but it was good work, and coming immediately after a great Conservative victory at the polls, it gave assurance of continuity in the national progress towards better conditions of life.

It was a sign of changing times that the tide had at last turned against enclosure of commons. The great enclosures which had added immensely to the area under proper cultivation, had been made largely at the expense of the old-fashioned type of peasantry, now practically vanished from the land.1 But since the middle of the century, enclosures of commons to obtain building-land and private grounds had begun seriously to affect the interests of the industrial population, who had more powerful friends than those whom the peasants had been able to muster. From 1864 onwards, a spirited agitation was conducted against the disappearance of public pleasure-grounds in the neighbourhood of great cities, and the ' lungs ' within their crowded areas. Epping Forest was saved for Londoners, and many successful fights had been put up in the Law Courts against illegal enclosures that in a former generation would have passed unchallenged. The Commons Preservation Society was led by such Liberals as Shaw Lefevre and Henry Fawcett, but its supporters were not confined to one party and its influence was strongly felt in the Conservative House of Commons of the 'seventies.

It was also characteristic of the new age that the warm-hearted Samuel Plimsoll, the sailor's friend, by force of public opinion, and by dint of losing his temper at a lucky moment on the floor of the House, shamed honourable members into passing the first measure aimed at protecting the lives of mariners in the 'coffin ships ' of the mercantile marine. But the Act of 1 876 was only the beginning of such legislation, and was not in itself very effective.

Throughout the nineteenth century Russia was striving to advance towards Constantinople over the ruins of the Turkish Empire. She was drawn forward by imperialist ambition, by interest in the oppressed Christians of her own communion, many of whom were Slav by language and race, and by the instinct to seek a warm-water port a window whence the imprisoned giantess could look out upon the world. The world, however, had no great wish to see her there.

Canning had planned to head off Russia's advance, not by direct opposition, but by associating her with England and France in a policy of emancipation, aimed at erecting national States out of the component parts of the Turkish Empire. Such States could be relied upon to withstand Russian encroachment on their independence, if once they were set free from the Turk. The creation of the kingdom of Greece was the immediate outcome of Canning's policy. A small Serbian State of the same national type had already begun to struggle for existence during the Napoleonic wars. The Bulgarian race was still wholly submerged. But Canning's policy gave hopes to them all.

Within a generation of the battle of Navarino, the WhigPeelite Ministry forgot the tradition of Byron, reversed the policy of Canning, and sought to restrain Russia by the opposite method, namely, by propping up the rotten body of Turkish rule in Europe. The Crimean War succeeded in keeping Russia back for just twenty years. She was now once more on the 1876 move, in consequence of the rising of Serbs and Bulgarians against ' the unspeakable Turk.' Would England meet the new situation by reviving the policy of Canning, or the policy of the Crimea ? It was long since our people had been interested in the Eastern question, and much had happened in our island since the siege of Sebastopol. It was therefore by no means certain what the British would on this occasion be pleased to think. In such circumstances all may depend upon a single man. The masterful lead given by Disraeli caused official England to revive the policy not of Canning but of Palmerston.

The pro-Turkish policy was again reversed in the following generation, when Lord Salisbury declared that we had ' put our money on the wrong horse.' It was Disraeli. who made the Conservatives for a few years identify the Turkish cause with the cause of our own Empire, and it was Gladstone who compelled the Liberal party to become the channel of a no less powerful anti-Turkish sentiment.

There were dissentients in both camps. Lord Derby, the son of Disraeli's old chief, now his Foreign Secretary, differed from him and resigned, whereas Lord Hartington and Forster, the nominal chiefs of the Liberal party after Gladstone's retirement, hesitated to oppose Disraeli at critical moments, as did many of the Liberal members. But Gladstone, still in Parliament though nominally in retirement, roused one-half of the country behind their backs, and resumed the unofficial lead of the Opposition over their embarrassed heads.

The British people, when left to themselves, neither knew nor cared who massacred whom between the Danube and the AEgean. Byron's Greece had appealed to their imagination and historical sense, but the Balkans were a battlefield of kites and crows. It took the combined genius of Disraeli and Glad-stone to arouse, on that obscure subject, passions as hot as any that Englishmen had felt about the doings of foreigners since the days of Burke and the French Revolution.

But on this occasion the rival factions were more evenly divided. On Disraeli's side was Clubland, the Services, the majority perhaps of the middle class with its nationalist susceptibilities, and, at the critical later stages of the affair, the mass of ordinary citizens whose instinct is to support their country in a quarrel to which Government has committed her. The London music-halls were hot against Russia, and a song that asserted our preparedness with a mild oath, first caused the war-party to be nicknamed ` Jingoes.' i On the other side was the great majority of the working class, the great majority of the religious world, and many who, like Ruskin and Carlyle, ordinarily cared little for party politics. Nonconformists and High Churchmen were for once agreed. Both were proud of Gladstone though for different reasons, and both were zealous for the martyrs of Christianity in the East.

When Gladstone said ` Five million of Bulgarians, cowed and beaten down to the ground, hardly venturing to look upwards, even to their Father in heaven, have extended their hands to you,' there were many who could not bear that we should fight Russia in order to give them back to the Turk. Gladstone's appeal was passionate and idealist. The most famous sentence of his diatribes on the Bulgarian atrocities supplied a cant term for the policy which he advocated :

'Let the Turks now carry away their abuses in the only possible manner, namely, by carrying off themselves. Their Zaptiehs and their Mudirs, their Bimbashis and their Zusbashis, their Kaimakams and their Pashas, one and all, bag and baggage, shall I hope clear out from the Province they have desolated and profaned.'

The successful idealism of his appeal, in an age moving fast towards materialism in politics, struck foreigners more than anything else in the incalculable conduct of our country-men over the whole affair, and made ' Gladstone's England ' popular among the Balkan Christians, in spite of the action of the British Government.

To Disraeli and to many others all this was foolishness. They saw danger in the Russian power, which they believed to threaten India already, and Europe in the long run. They feared to alienate our Mohammedan fellow-subjects by appearing to abandon the head of their religion to his Christian enemies. If Disraeli cared little about the Balkans, he cared much about India. He had proclaimed the Queen its Em-press. He had, by an able stroke, bought for England an interest in the Suez Canal shares as the key to our Eastern

0* possessions. It delighted him to bring Indian troops to Malta as a protection for the Porte and a warning to Russia.1 If he thought the Czardom an abomination he was not far wrong. And although his strong Jewish sympathies inclined him to look too leniently on the Turk by comparison, we now know by bitter experience that he was right in supposing the Turk to have no monopoly in Balkan atrocities.

But in one respect Gladstone, for all his idealism, was more realist than Disraeli. Gladstone believed in nationality and Disraeli did not. Disraeli believed in ' race,' but he did not see why every race should demand as of right to express its genius through national freedom and self-government. His own race, of which he was so proud, throve and was famous for its own distinctive qualities, without being a nation. And so, except in the case of old-established ' nations ' like England and France, Disraeli preferred cosmopolitan empires of the ancien régime. He had supported Austrian and papal claims against Italian aspirations. On the same principle he saw no reason why the Turk should not continue to rule over Serbs, Greeks and Bulgars. But national feeling was the great force of the century, and had become a motive power in all human affairs. Realpolitik could no longer leave it out of account. It was impossible, as events have since proved, permanently to subject Serbs, Greeks and Bulgars to the Turk.

For some ten years after the death of Palmerston, British intervention in the affairs of the Continent had been on principle reduced to a minimum. This state of things was now brought to an end. Disraeli was determined that England should be heard as a principal in the counsels of Europe. He would not consent that, because France was down and out, all great questions should be left to the decision of the three despotic Empires. There was much to be said for this policy in general ; and much in particular for preventing the control of the Balkans and the Straits by Russia although in 1914, under altered circumstances, we fought to place her in Constantinople itself. But Disraeli's vision, penetrating as it was, had limits in certain directions. He failed to see that England would have interfered with more powerful and lasting effect, and would have checked Russia more effectually, if she had supported instead of opposing the creation of independent Balkan States.

At the beginning of the affair, in May 1876, he declined to let England join the Concert of Europe in coercing the Porte into better government, because he feared, perhaps not unjustly, that such a course ' must end very soon in the disintegration of Turkey.' He refused to commit us to the difficult task of liquidating the Turkish problem in agreement with the other Powers. Having so refused, he could hardly be surprised that, in default of action by Europe, Russia went to war alone to save the Christian races from extirpation. After the liberation of Bulgaria in the protracted and obstinate campaign of Plevna, the Russian armies arrived under the walls of Constantinople, and there dictated the Treaty of San Stefano.

The crisis was now reached. Disraeli, now Lord Beacons-field, threatened Russia with instant war and brought Indian troops to Malta to show that he was in earnest. By his spirited action he compelled Russia to refer the Treaty of San Stefano to a European Congress. In view of the magnitude and variety of the interests touched, such a reference was only right.

Since Derby now resigned, Beaconsfield chose Lord Salisbury to succeed him at the Foreign Office. Salisbury had little enthusiasm for the pro-Turkish part of his chief's policy. He had written in September 1876 that the ' alliance and friendship ' with Turkey ' is a reproach to us, and that the Turk's teeth must be drawn, even if he be allowed to live.' Salisbury seems to have moved somewhat in the direction of Beacons-field's views, as the course of events in 1877 increased his fears of Russia. But his presence as the Premier's right-hand man during the final crisis undoubtedly helped to bring about the compromise by which war was avoided.

The essentials of this compromise were agreed to between England and Russia before the meeting of the European Congress, which took place at Berlin under the chairmanship of Bismarck, and formally substituted the Treaty of Berlin for the terms of San Stefano. Beaconsfield acted throughout with vigour, courage and success, and, if his point of view is accepted, with ultimate moderation. But the value in terms of human welfare which these great qualities had on this particular occasion in the world's history, can only be estimated by carefully contrasting the treaty he tore up with the settlement which he caused to be put in its place.

In the light of subsequent events, many students of Balkan politics think that the Treaty of San Stefano was open to grave objections, but scarcely to those objections on which Beacons-field laid most stress. At San Stefano Russia had decreed the setting up of Bulgaria as a large State, adding Macedonia with its mixed races to the territories that were indisputably Bulgarian. Beaconsfield's main objection to this big Bulgaria was grounded on the belief that it would prove the catspaw of Russia. No doubt it was meant to be so, but it never could have been so, owing to Bulgarian national feeling. That factor was overlooked by Beaconsfield, who saw nothing except Panslavism. Bulgaria, as events soon proved, turned against Russia, and she would probably have done so even more effectually if she had been more powerful, and had been put in direct contact with England and other countries through the Mediterranean seaboard assigned to her at San Stefano and taken away from her at Berlin. Beaconsfield made it his boast that he had kept Russia out of the Mediterranean. But in fact it was Bulgaria whom he had excluded. His identification of Bulgaria with Russia proved to be an error, however natural. The Russian authorities made themselves as odious to those whom they had just liberated, as they did to the races in the Czar's Empire. Bulgarian feeling was a strong barrier against Russia's advance to the Mediterranean.

To our modern eyes the real objection to San Stefano lies not in its alleged increase of Russian power, but in its sacrifice of the fair claims of Greeks and Serbians, who would not have remained long quiet under an arrangement which ignored their racial rights and gave all the points to Bulgaria. Lord Salisbury felt this strongly, especially on behalf of Greece. But the merit of San Stefano was that it reduced Turkish power in Europe to a point not very much larger than what it is today. As a glance at the map will show, the boundaries of San Stefano, by cutting the Turkish territory in Europe in two, would have made Albania and the Western Balkans very nearly independent of Turkey in fact, though not in name.

Beaconsfield's success, as he himself saw it, consisted in restoring the European power of Turkey. It was done by handing back Macedonia to the Porte, without guarantees for better government. That was the essence of the Treaty of Berlin as distinct from the Treaty of San Stefano. ` There is again a Turkey in Europe,' Bismarck said. He congratulated the British Prime Minister - ' You have made a present to the Sultan of the richest province in the world; 4000 square miles of the richest soil.' Unfortunately for themselves, the inhabitants went with the soil.

Since Beaconsfield decided, perhaps rightly, that Macedonia should not be Bulgarian, some arrangement ought to have been made for its proper administration under a Christian governor. Apart from all question of massacres, the deadening character of the Turkish rule is well known. Lord Salisbury seems to have wished for a Christian governor, but nothing was done in that direction.

A golden opportunity was thus let slip. The Balkans had been in the hands of the Congress of Powers. The Turkish claims had been shorn away by the knife of war, and no new claims had yet been made good by Greek, Serb or Bulgar. If, in-stead of deliberately restoring the plenary power of the Turk in Macedonia, they had divided up all the territory at their disposal among the appropriate races, putting ' mixed districts ' under Christian governors, a great step would have been taken towards ultimate solution. But none of the parties to the Congress of Berlin could see so far. The opportunity went by, and a succession of Balkan wars in the twentieth century was rendered inevitable.

British diplomacy also secured at Berlin that the new Bulgaria should be not only reduced in size but divided into two parts, the southern part to be called ` Eastern Rumelia.' This makeshift arrangement was abolished seven years later, with the active concurrence of Lord Salisbury, who came to acquiesce in the desire of the Bulgarians for union in one State.

Another important outcome of the Treaty of Berlin was that Bosnia and Herzegovina, though freed from Turkey, were subjected, much against their will, to Austro-Hungarian rule. England promoted the arrangement, partly to win the consent of the German Powers to the general settlement, partly to prevent a chain of Slav States from extending across the Balkan peninsula. It had not yet occurred to us that we might come to fear the Teuton more than the Slay. This transaction rendered inevitable the ultimate collision between Serbia as the champion of Jugo-Slav nationality and the Austro-Hungarian Empire that denied it. With the connivance of England, Austria was given a great accession of unwilling subjects, and launched as a principal actor into Balkan politics. From her new basis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she pursued her ambitions in Albania and Macedonia as representative of the Pan-German ' Drang nach Osten.''

At the same time, by the separate ` Cyprus Convention ' with the Porte, Beaconsfield obtained Cyprus from Turkey, and promised in return the protection of England for her Asiatic possessions, into which she once more promised to introduce reforms. But this alliance with Turkey practically went out of force on Gladstone's return to power in 1880, and was never renewed by any government, Conservative or Liberal. The Armenians therefore lost the benefits that they might have derived from the system contemplated by Beacons-field, by which we were to extend our protection and friendship to Turkey in a permanent form, and thereby, it was hoped, exert influence for the good on her conduct towards her Christian subjects, through the action of our Consuls in Asia Minor. The difficulty was that such friendship and alliance, in fact if not in name committed us to defending the European power of Turkey in Macedonia, which was certain to be challenged by the arms of Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece as soon as an opportunity offered. And neither Gladstone nor the Salisbury of later years would ever have asked England to fight in such a cause.

The Treaty of Berlin was received by the world with a sigh of relief, because a European war had been avoided. Even Gladstone thankfully admitted that Beaconsfield had so far failed that eleven millions of Christians had been released for ever from the Turk.

The country as a whole rejoiced to have secured peace and ' Peace with Honour' as Beaconsfield proclaimed it to the crowds who welcomed him back to Downing Street on the night of his return from Berlin. If a dissolution had taken place in 1878 he would perhaps have obtained another lease of power.

During the prolonged crisis of the Eastern question, the Queen had been the strongest of partisans, desiring rather than fearing a war with Russia. Her enthusiasm was embarrassing to her friend the Prime Minister, whom she sometimes up-braided as too lukewarm in his own cause. Colleagues who refused to support him, and open opponents of his policy she denounced in unmeasured terms. Disraeli had for years been flattering his royal mistress with a lavish skill of which no statesman of British race would have been capable. His rival, indeed, never lost that reverence for the monarchy which his high Tory upbringing had instilled, and felt a personal loyalty to the Queen which merited better treatment at her hands. But he alienated her not only by his views, but by his habit of industriously expounding them to her as if she were a public meeting. If the power of the Crown had still been what it was at the beginning of the century, Gladstone would never again have been in office.

Beaconsfield's loss of popularity during the year and a half that intervened between ' Peace with Honour ' and the General Election of i 880, was due in part to bad times at home, including the agricultural depression which at length, in an age too late, verified his ancient prophecy that without Protection British agriculture would decline.' People grew tired of his spirited foreign and Imperial policy, when they found themselves involved in prolonged operations against the Afghans and Zulus. Yet both these wars, after a period of reverses, ended successfully : the one in the capture of Cetewayo and the break-up of the Zulu military State after the battle of Ulundi; the other, thanks to the marches and victories of General Roberts, in the setting up of a friendly Amir in Afghanistan, pledged not to listen to the persuasions of Russia.

But people at home were no longer in a mood to be pleased. They said that the Afghan war, which was not over when Beaconsfield fell, would never have been necessary if his treatment of Russia in the Balkans had not provoked her to intrigue against us in the Middle East. It is probable that, in spite of the rejoicings in London over ' Peace with Honour,' Glad-stone's views on Turkey had made a more lasting impression in the provinces than many politicians knew.

The Liberals were at this time ahead of their rivals in democratic oratory and electoral organisation. Gladstone's ` pilgrimage of passion,' known as the Midlothian campaign, introduced new features into the methods of political propaganda. The Queen was shocked that a man, who aspired to be for a second time her Prime Minister, should address crowds from the window of a railway carriage on the mysteries of foreign policy. But times were changing, and Glad-stone with them. The National Liberal Federation, organised, partly by Joseph Chamberlain of Birmingham, on a basis of democratic local Associations, was popularly known by the American word ' caucus.' It gave to the humbler members of the party up and down the provinces more control over the policy of the chiefs than would have been tolerated twenty years before, when the country was still ruled from Brooks's Club. The ' caucus ' was undoubtedly a step away from aristocracy whether most in the direction of real democracy or most in the direction of wire-pulling was a matter of hot dispute.

For awhile the Conservatives were outdistanced in electoral machinery suited to the enlarged franchise. The ' Prim-rose League ' was still a few years in the future ; its assiduous courting of the democracy by the upper class would not have suited Conservatives of the older generation. But the world was gliding forward irresistibly into new fashions and new relationships of men and things. The Gladstonian victory at the polls in the spring of 1880, unexpected by the prophets of Pall Mall, did not lead to a period of Liberal legislation and government as successful as that of Gladstone's earlier Ministry, but it gave a great impulse to the democratising of political thought and method in all parties. Disraeli, too, had played his own part in that process. A year later he died in retirement.

Home | More Articles | Email: