Charles Sproxton.

Palmerston and the Hungarian revolution, a dissertation which was awarded the Prince Consort prize, 1914 online

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The Prince Consort Prize (founded in 1883
from the Prince Consort Memorial Fund) was
awarded in 1914 to Arthur Wilham Tedder, B.A.
of Magdalene, and Charles Sproxton, B.A. of
Peterhouse. Charles Sproxton's.Dissertation, which
follows, has been printed, in accordance with the
Regulations, at the expense of the University.
But the Syndics of the Press have kindly allowed
a Memoir of Captain Sproxton, contributed to The
Cambridge Review by his tutor and friend. Captain
H. W. V. Temperley, Fellow of his College, to be
prefixed to the Essay, and I have added a few
biographical data. The Syndics have, also, allowed
the reproduction of an excellent photograph of
our late Junior Fellow, found among his books,
which have been placed as a memorial of him in
our College Library. We have to thank the Editor
of The Cambridge Review for allowing the reprint
of the Memoir. And I desire also to express my
gratitude to Dr J. Holland Rose, University
Reader in Modern History, who a'cted as Examiner
for the Prince Consort Prize in 1914, for allowing
me, in looking through the Dissertation for the
Press, to refer to the valuable MS notes made by
him in the course of his reading it. No attempt
has been made to introduce any alteration into



text or footnotes, except where there could be no
doubt that it would have had the immediate assent
of the writer of the Essay. Even his invariable use
of 'English' and 'England' — where 'British' and
'Great Britain' would have been more correct —
has not been changed. The German quotations I
have thought it advisable to translate into English.
More important alterations or enlargements it
seemed best to forego, so that this essay might
remain entirely the work of the historical scholar
whom we have lost and of whom it must form the
only memorial in print. His friends had reason for
hoping that he might have a share in the writing
of the history of the present war ; but he has died
as one of its heroes.

A. W. W.

All Souls' Day, 1918.


Charles, the son of Mr Arthur Sproxton, now of
Lee Street, Holderness Road, Hull; and formerly of
Salt End, Medon, was born in 1890, and educated
at the Municipal (Boulevard) School, Hull, where
he twice won the Royal Geographical Society's
Medal. He entered into residence at Peterhouse in
October, 1909, with an East Riding Major Scholarship,
and obtained, soon after, a College Exhibition in
History, to which study he had from the first
resolved to devote himself. His Tutor in History
was Mr H. W. V. Temperley, Fellow and Assistant
Tutor of the College. In 1911 he gained a Foundation
Scholarship, and, having in the same year obtained
a First Class in Part I of the Historical Tripos and
followed this up with another First Class in Part II
of the same Tripos in 1912, graduated B.A. and was
appointed a Hugo de Balsham (Research) Student
of the College. He had carried off the Gladstone
Memorial Prize, and in 1914 he obtained one of the
Prince Consort Memorial prizes.

Charles Sproxton, who was in the O.T.C. at
Cambridge, received his first commission within a
month after the declaration of war. He was promoted
Lieutenant in Alexandra and Princess of Wales's
Own Yorkshire Regiment in April, 1915, and Captain
in June, 1916. He was twice wounded — in May, 1915
and in June, 1916 — and was mentioned in despatches
in November, 1915, having previously received the
Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and resource,


in July and August of that year, at Walverghem and
near Armentieres. He came home on sick leave in
the summer of 1916, and returned to active service
as Adjutant of his Battalion. He fell on July 19th,
1917, at the Western Front.

The younger historians have suffered as much as
or more than almost any other branch of learning at
Cambridge. At least it is striking to think that a
small society of twelve resident members is now
reduced by one half. It were an invidious task to
say which of these is most missed, but certainly there
was an end to bright promise of achievement when
Charles Sproxton died.

He was interesting because he passed through hfe
with a sort of mild serenity, always wondering but
never astonished at what it brought him. Born and
bred in Yorkshire, accustomed from birth to the wild
moors round his native home and to the stern
objectivity of northern character, he was suddenly
translated to Cambridge. He came up with a County
Council Scholarship and very soon developed his-
torical gifts of remarkable power. The word
'developed' is perhaps misleading; for his mind
resembled a cave, which revealed something that
was hidden, if you penetrated it in the right way.
He did not give the teacher the idea of developing
intellect or imagination, but of revealing it. His
power of observation was not trained or expanded
by his study — study simply enabled scales to fall
from his eyes. He obtained a first in both parts of
the Historical Tripos, and was Hugo de Balsham
Research Scholar at Peterhouse, Gladstone and
Prince Consort Prizeman and finally Fellow of his
College. There was a sort of mild inevitability about


his success which surprised those who did not know
him well, but which his friends perfectly understood.

His characteristics were those of a nature shy and
retiring to outward view, but intense and imaginative
within. The freedom and joy of college Hfe appealed
to him, for he breathed an air and a hfe which he
had not hitherto known and to which his nature
instinctively responded. In pure historical work he
made his mark by a fellowship dissertation on the
Hungarian Revolution of 1848, on its diplomatic
side, to write which he delved deep in the records;
among other things, he discovered that a German
book professedly based on the British records, which
had deceived at least one distinguished British
historian, was a forgery. His forecast was afterwards
verified and accepted by the Record Office, and
characteristically he neither claimed nor received
any credit for the discovery. His essay was marked
by sound research, historic grasp and a real eye for
diplomatic motive. Like all young men's work it
offered itself to criticism on some sides, but it was
a study of extraordinary promise and undoubted
originality. It deserves to be pubhshed and, if it is,
will fill a gap in our knowledge of the Palmerstonian

Yet, though he possessed rare historical attain-
ments, I beheve that the chief influences upon him
were literary and rehgious. His imagination was
almost medieval in its wealth and in its simphcity.
Francis Thompson was his King of Poets, who had
said the last word in imagery and style. Indeed this,
writer appealed to him in his moods of mysticism, as
well as by his manner. Unquestionably his own
style and thought were thus greatly influenced, and
a series of sonnets which he wrote, though full of


originality, bears unmistakable traces of Thompson.
In the same way the Anglican Church, with its
medieval and mystic traditions, appealed to him
as did the Catholic to Thompson. Father Figgis was
one of those who, both by writings and personal
intercourse, had the deepest influence upon him.
He was one who loved mysticism for its own sake,
just as he loved style. Words which flushed and
glowed or fell like music, a faith which burned and
thrilled, these were part of his emotional nature.

His dreamy temperament led him to pensiveness
and reflection, and one hardly thought of him as
capable of action. Yet those who knew him best
could again have told a tale. When on a visit to the
Lakes he astonished all his companions by his
physical endurance, as afterwards in the trenches he
bore hardships without a murmur, perhaps almost
without realising that they were such. There were
those, too, who heard him speak in the college
societies, who knew that his nature contained un-
expected fires. Those who heard it will never forget
one speech, in which he spoke of Mohammedanism
as "the religion I reverence most after my own,"
or a meeting at the Historical Society in which he
poured scorn on the doctrine that " nothing succeeds
like success." Thus it was that, when the war came,
he had no doubt about his choice. He did not enHst,
as some did, because it was a duty, but because he
considered it a privilege. In his eyes the war was a
holy one because a crusade against evil. Germany
must be made to abandon for ever the unblest doc-
trine that Right was Might.

There is Uttle more to tell, for the rest is, alas,
already an old story among our young men, a story
of hardships cheerfully borne and bravery modestly


concealed. Though he was mentioned in despatches
for gallantry and received the Mihtary Cross, one
could never get any account of the incident from
him. There was still plenty of humour left in him;
for instance, after he had been in hospital with
jaundice, he wrote: "Trench warfare, after the
Cambridge chmate, is the most enervating thing I
know." Yet there was always the impatience to do
something. "England is a dreary place now, and I
was really pleased when my sick leave ended. I spent
two happy nights in Peterhouse, but Cambridge is
no more than a melancholy haunt." It was again
the old story — the overpowering emotion had made
one whose natural bent was towards thought im-
patient to distinguish himself by action. The Cam-
bridge and the England which he loved now stood
between him and France. It was in France that he
wished to be, and it is France which holds him now.

H. W. V. T.

The Essay Palmerston and the Hungarian Revolution is
based, for the most part, on the Foreign Office records
in Chancery Lane; and in every case where use has been
made of these records, either in paraphrase or quotation,
the source is indicated in footnotes. Not a few have
appeared in print before, chiefly in Government pubUca-
tions. In such cases, reference has been made to the
relevant Blue or White Books; but, where the printed
copy differs materially from the MS original, I have used
the latter, and as a rule noted the variation in my foot-
notes. Secondary authorities have been freely employed,
but not without an attempt to appraise their worth as
'sources,' and never without sufficient indication of the
use made of them either in the text or in the footnotes.
I have had no opportunity of working in the archives
either at Vienna or Buda-Pest.

C. Sproxton.




' En fait d'histoire contemporaine il tiy a de
vrai que ce qu'on necrit point."

Van de Weyer.

S. P.




THE men who guided the larger destinies of
Europe during the "storm-years" 1848 and
1849, w^^^ scarcely equal to the tasks which they
were called upon, voluntarily or involuntarily, to
accompHsh ; for these years do not merely bisect the
century, they are its watershed. On the far side He
benevolent despotism and the state-system; on this
side, democracy and nationalities. The period from
the Congress of Vienna to the Civic Guard of Pius IX
and the Hungarian Diet of 1847 is, in a very real
sense, the fine flower of the eighteenth century.
Territorial frontiers may have been shifted some-
what, old institutions rebaptised; but the spirit is
the same : Joseph H would never have dared to do all
that the Congresses did, and Guizot always speaks like
a minister of Louis XV. The first French Revolution
was only perceptible through the completeness of
the reaction; so efficaciously had the body poHtic
been purged that, outwardly at any rate, it appeared
more immune from the revolutionary taint than it
had in 1788. Then, with incredible swiftness, the
house of reaction collapsed, and long flames of


rebellion shot across Europe from the Atlantic to
Bessarabia, from Posen to the shores of Sicily, almost
outrunning the telegraph which announced their
approach. And this, to use an outworn term, is the
"foundation" of modern Europe. The actors, with
a few exceptions (and these chiefly south of the Alps),
are not cast in a heroic mould: Viennese schoolboys,
preferring a Katzenmusik by night to carefully pruned
lectures on political science at more seasonable hours;
older, but scarcely more erudite, students, proclaim-
ing the divine right of a people whose histor}^ and
culture they had just manufactured; the degenerate
'48 breed of sansculottes, and Magyar honveds, magni-
fying some slight skirmish between outposts into a
Cannae or Waterloo. This is one of the reasons why
the European Revolution of 1848 will never be so
well known as the French Revolution of sixty years
earlier, although the judgment passed by the cautious
Springer upon the March-days of Vienna holds good
for the greater part of Europe, in spite of the fact
that he was speaking of Austria only :

We may take various views about the vitality of the
new Austria which they tried to set up on the ruins of
the old ; but there can be no conflict of opinion that in the
March-days the old Austria fell completely, justly, and
for ever, and that all who have held power since 1848,
without distinction, take their stand upon the Revolution 1.

^ " Ueber die Lebensfahigkcit des neuen Oesterreich, welches
auf den Triimmern des alten zu errichten versucht wurde,
kann man vcrschiedencr Ansicht sein; dass aber in den
Marztagen das alte Oesterreich vollstdndig, mit Recht und fiir
immer zu Grunde ging, allc Machthaber seit 1848 ohne Unter-


During such momentous times, Palmerston, alone of
those who were at the head of affairs, reahsed fully
what the contemporary phenomena meant, whence
they were derived, and to what profitable ends they
might be utiHsed; he alone perceived that after the
Volkerfruhling the political harvesting would not be
as those that had gone before. This is not chauvin-
istic over-estimation; Palmerston is indeed the out-
standing figure of 1848-9, a giant among his fellows,
not because his proportions are in truth gigantic
when measured by the tape of world-history, but
because the Ficquelmonts and Drouyn de Lhuys are
so very dwarfish. The space which divides him from
Pitt, the disciple from the master, is the whole dis-
tance between the high-water mark of common-sense
and the snow-Hne of genius. But the times were
crying out for a httle undiluted common-sense, which,
as Lamartine discovered, may well be more fitted
than genius to cope with revolution. Genius would
never have made such gross miscalculations about
the future as did Palmerston ; but it would doubtless
have dealt less vigorously with the present: short-
sightedness is a virtue in some crises.

Palmerston, then, was not a great man; but he
was the right man. Sir Stratford Canning, had he
had any gifts of oratory, would have made a better
Foreign Secretary ; Schwarzenberg and Czar Nicholas
were his equals as statesmen, while Lamartine and

schied auf die Revolution als ihre Basis fussen, dariiber herrscht
kein Zwiespalt der Meinungen." Springer, Geschichte Oester-
reichs seit dem Wiener Frieden, vol. 11. pp. 194-6, and footnote.
(Leipzig, 1865.)


Mazzini were incomparably greater as men. And, if
Palmerston judged the phenomena of his time accur-
ately, and proceeded to take the steps he actually
took, he was indebted to his country's geographical
position no less than to his own innate common-
sense. Not seldom has the Channel proved itself
more potent than the personal element as a maker
of history, and but for it many a Downing Street
transgressor might have died repentant. Palmerston
was on the right side of the Channel for the role he
chose to play during the Revolution; and, standing
outside the universal ferment, he got a better view of
it. It is a comfortable pastime to read the Mene Tekel
on a neighbour's wall, to "rain homihes" at Vienna
and point the moral of governmental misdeeds in
Athens, when one has nothing worse to face at home
than potato famines in Ireland and Chartist signa-
tories who have only a parchment existence. For
his interference abroad Palmerston has been censured
everywhere; at home, he frightened his colleagues
and was found intolerable in exalted circles, while
subsequent historians, such as Spencer Walpole and
Sir Theodore Martin, cannot condemn too plainly
his insolence and effrontery. Abroad, of course, he
is still Lord Feuerhrand, and the European " umpire."
In the Enghsh universities we are apologetic and
indignant by turns, when speaking of the Enghsh
Foreign Secretary who appointed himself tutor in
Weltpolitik and lecturer in international ethics. The
accusation is on the whole unjust, and the worst
that can be said of Palmerston is that he was no


diplomat in the nicer shades of the term. "In
diplomacy," said de Tocqueville, "you must always
write, even when you know nothing and wish to say
nothing"; and he might have added that in nine
cases out of ten you must take good care that you
do not say anything. That was not Palmerston's
way, and, except in rare moments of supremely
correct behaviour, he usually did say something very
unambiguously. Poor Lord Ponsonby, our ambas-
sador at Vienna, the friend of Metternich and disciple
of Talleyrand, told Lord John Russell that "he had
received from Palmerston letters which are not to
be submitted to by any man^" ; and Palmerston was
usually more brusque and less pohte with foreign
Courts than with his own servants, in spite of the
watchful eye and ready pencil of Queen Victoria. To
be impohte and insulting in diplomacy is a mistake ;
but it was Palmerston's only mistake. Impartial
readers must admit that the kings and princes whom
Palmerston called fools and knaves were not far from
being such. A large section of the country— including
the Queen and the Prince Consort— complained in
1849-50 that his brusquerie and habit of straight
talking had left us without an ally in Europe.
Palmerston rephed that right and justice were
stronger than troops of armed men 2, and his admirers
may assert that the alhances were worthless, especi-
ally at the price at which they were to be purchased.

1 Spencer Walpole, Life of Lord John Russell, vol. 11. p. 48


2 speech of July 21st, 1849, Debate on Russian Invasion of j^x
Hungary, House of Commons. Hansard, cvii. pp. 786-817. \y


Palmerston, it has been said, judged the move-
ments of 1848 at their proper value. He did not fall
into panic fear at what was happening, and many of
his despatches are filled with the undisguised note of
jubilation of a prophet justified in his prophesying
at the last. He knew that the end of social order
had not come in England, and, in spite of barricades
and fugitive royalty, believed that the same was
true of Europe. There was probably only one man,
apart from himself, on whose judgment he placed
any reliance, and that man strongly corroborated
this behef. Before he took up his fifth residence in
Constantinople in 1848, Sir Stratford Canning had
been sent as itinerant ambassador to most of the
Courts which lay between Ostend and the Golden
Horn. He saw shivering burghers relieve the guard
with white-gloved students in a deserted Berlin,
and witnessed nocturnal disturbances at Vienna;
and yet he wrote home his firm belief that Central
Europe was sound at heart. What was true of
Germany was true of the rest of Europe; and, if
there was trouble ahead, it was the fault not of the
peoples, but of the Courts. Napoleon had been
finally overthrown, not by princes and statesmen,
but by the citizen, the student and the artisan; not
by diplomacy, but by the nascent force of nationaUty.
And what had been the reward for the generation
which lay between Waterloo and the Smoke-riots at
Milan? There had been no reward: the novel sensa-
tion of a national self-consciousness, and all the
hundred forms of a better life that it meant, had


been protocoUed out of existence at Troppau and
Carlsbad. Not only had the doors of government
been banged in the face of the citizen and artisan
who had fought at Leipzig, but a despotism more
brutal, and a delation more searching, than any that
characterised the empire of Napoleon, intruded upon
the innermost recesses of their private hfe. " Do you
think," asked the Prince of Prussia, afterwards King
and Kaiser Wilhelm, "that if the nations had known
in 1813 that of all their strugghng no reahty, but
only the remembrance, would remain — do you think
anybody would have made sacrifices so great? " All
the time social conditions were improving ; inventors
were never more active; banks were multiplying in
great and small cities; commercial companies were
being floated everywhere. The excluded classes were
now something more than ilHterate, half-starved
peasants; they were travelled, prosperous, and had
some sort of education. Whatever they might think
at the Hofburg, humanity no longer began with
barons. Such a state of things could not last for ever ;
apathy became discontent, discontent grew into
disorder, and unless the Governments yielded, dis-
order would convert itself into revolution. In England
the Government had yielded as early as 1832, and, in
addition to the Reform Bill, there was a widely-read
Press, and, for the artisans, some trades-union
activity. Institutions which had been so beneficial
in England would have similar salutary effects if
apphed to the European Continent — that is the whole
statement of Palmerston's position, both before and
after the outbreak.


He once told the Master of Trinity that no man
ought to be doctored against his will : half his official
life was spent in doctoring governments against their
will. The student of the Foreign Office records for the
later 'forties grows weary, in spite of Palmerston's_
crisp logic and sharply-etched metaphors, of the
eternal prescription to the ailing but recalcitrant
foreigner-: " If you would but turn constitutional and
copy our institutions, you might be as happy and
prosperous, and sleep as soundly in your bed, as we
in England." The advice was perfectly sound, and,
had it been taken and acted upon in the spirit in
which it was given, much disaster would certainly
have been avoided. It is quite obvious from the
Memoirs of Metternich that he, too, diagnosed the
disease correctly and knew the remedy that should be
applied. It would have been as well for his reputation
had he never disclosed the fact. Thus Palmerston
was no revolutionary, but honestly believed that
political institutions which had proved themselves of
sterhng worth in the United Kingdom might with
advantage be imported into Europe, and that, in
any case, the old forms of government, as they had
been fashioned under the auspices of the Holy
AlHance, were no longer possible.

But however liberal and humane he might be,
however frankly his sympathies might be enlisted on
the side of oppressed nationalities, Palmerston was
still Foreign Secretary, and in that capacity his chief
duty was the maintenance of the Balance of Power.
It might happen that humane considerations and
the maintenance of the Balance of Power did not

.-^y o'^


always go hand in hand. In that case, the duty of a
British statesman clearly was to look to the latter
first. Charity and diplomacy, indeed, usually seemed
identical while Palmerston was at the Foreign Office;
and a despatch protesting against "Bomba's" latest
piece of cruelty, or the annexation of Cracow, or
arguing in favour of the asylum extended by the
Swiss to poHtical refugees, was equally justified by
the doctrine of the Evangehsts and by the doctrine
of the Balance of Power. To this rule there was one

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Online LibraryCharles SproxtonPalmerston and the Hungarian revolution, a dissertation which was awarded the Prince Consort prize, 1914 → online text (page 1 of 11)