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Public opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 online

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intelligence, of some of tlieir champions who still argue that
their policy of to-day is the same as their policy of June, and
that the Government are consistent in refusing to do a thing and
in doing it. — D. N. circa Dec. 9th.

On the 9th of November the Prime IMinister defied Russia to
any number of campaigns not less than three. On the 9th of
December it became known with some certainty in this country
that we were very likely indeed to concur in the recommendations
for preparing which l-lussia was thus threatened. How did so
sudden a change come about % Simply, we presume, because in
the meantime less eager and fantastic spirits than our Prime
Minister had finally become satisfied that he was entirely out of
tune with the feeling and the resolve of the country. It is
alarming even still to think of what might have happened if the
country had gone to sleep in full confidence in the wisdom of its
rulers. It is painful to think of the time, the opportunities, the
lives that have been lost while unofficial Englishmen were trying
to educate their Government. There is no reason whatever why
we should not have made in last June the attempt we are making
now. Nothing has been gained by this delay ; we need not dwell
on all that has been lost by it. Certainly the Government deserve
some credit for having completely abandoned the unfortunate
position which they occvipied a short time ago. But the general
principle of our system does not gain much in strength or credit
from the manifestations of the fact that only what Mr. Gladstone
called the " vituperated public meetings " prevented our rulers
from leading the country utterly astray. A somnambuHst ought
to be awakened gently, if possible. But if he is going to throw
himself out of window, it may be necessary to seize him, and
drag him back. We have had thus somewhat rudely to arouse
our Government, and pluck it from its perilous sleep-walking.
That of course is something of which all must approve under the
circumstances. But it leaves, too, the uncomfortable conviction
that public opinion will have to keep broadly awake lest our
Ministers should take to dreaming again. Parliament has just
been prorogued to the 8th of February. There are two months,
therefore, during which volunteer watchers must faithfully keep
guard.— Z>, i\'. Dec. 11th.

Lord Salisbury has not gone to Constantinople to maintain that
Turkey may be trusted to put her house in order without help or
pressure from abroad, and he can have had no debate with General
Ignatieff as to the necessity of some guarantees. The real question
is, what the guarantees shall be ; and the answer must be framed
with a due regard to the particular nature of the misrule and to
the general interests of England. . . . Russia naturally thinks
that the best security would be found in an occupying army
furnished by herself ; but she may be ready to set aside so bold a
scheme now that she sees what jealousies and fears it has excited.
.... We should not be smprised, therefore, if General Ignatieff


were to propose that during the introduction of a reformed system
of rule order should be kept iu Bosnia and Bulgaria by an armed
foreign gendarmerie [contributed by several of tlie Great Powers,
or drawn from one of the smaller European States.] But Turkey
would doubtless object to the intrusion of even the mildest kind
of a foreign police. . . . The diplomatists will not make the mis-
take of drawing up a scheme which the Porte would certainly
reject, unless at least one of them intends that such a plan shall,
if necessary, be enforced by war. But it is possible that even a
proposal to appoint a foreign police may not exhaust the concilia-
tory spirit of General Ignatieif. He may surprise and please his
fellow diplomatists by agreeing that little visible change shall be
made in the local fabric of Ottoman authority ; but we may rest
assured that he will insist on the establishment of some real
guarantees. Whatever form they may take, they must mean
some transfer of authority, and therefore they will be vehemently
opposed by Turkey. The slightest encouragement from England,
in fact, would make her peremptorily reject every suggestion made
by Kussia. But this country would be heinously culpable if, in
view of enormous and inveterate misrule, it were simply to object
to every real guarantee. — T. Dec. 15th.

It was in the mood of those who believe that they have sub-
stantially carried their |Doiut, that men watched Lord SaUsbury's
progress to Constantinople by way of Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and


' Comi)are Punch, Deo. 16th.

"Lift up thy brow, rcuownfej Salisbury,
And with a great heart lieave away this storm.'



§ 1. Cessation of Agitation.

With the mature reconciliation, the attitude of Public Opinion
underwent a marked change. It passed from an imperative into
au observant mood. It allowed its extra-constitutional action to
fall into abeyance. This observant attitude was maintained through
the two periods which followed, viz. the Conference period on which
we now enter, and the Parliamentary period which extends from
the opening of the session on February 8th, to the Five Nights'
Debate on Mr. Gladstone's resolutions in May.

The reason why Public Opinion at the opening of the Conference
period should desist from efforts to press directly upon the Executive
Government is obvious enough. It believed that the effort had
already succeeded. Besides, the question had passed into the hands
of the professed diplomatists. Just as some twelve months before,
at the time of the Andrassy Note, the behef that matters were under
care had calmed the anxieties of Public Opinion, so it was now.
Tlie situation of a year ago seemed to have recurred. It was not
to be doubted that the English Cabinet had learnt by experience
the absolute necessity of applying a remedy which should go to the
root of the evil, or to be supposed that the mistakes of a year ago
would recur also.

It is true that as the Constantinople Conference dragged on,
people gradually became more and more doubtful of the intentions
of the English Government to insist that the Porte should really
give up their sovereignty ; but by this time the meeting of Parlia-
ment was in sight, and day by day the time was coming closer when
the constitutional organ of Public Opinion would again spring into


activity.^ People looked to Parliament to enforce their wishes
better than they conld themselves, and it was not till they
recognised the failure of Parliament to give effect to what they
regarded as the preponderating opinion out of doors, that agitation,
as we shall see, was renewed. Thus as compared with the Reconcil-
iation period the differentia of the Conference period was the cessa-
tion of agitation, at least of agitation intended to act directly upon
the Government. There were still meetings when members met
their constituents, and speeches in plenty; the interest excited in
the whole matter was too keen for this not to be the case ; but these
meetings were rather of the nature of a marshalling of the forces
and a blowing of the trumpets preliminary to the parliamentary
campaign, than of agitation in the proper sense.

§ 2. The Si. James's Hall Conference.

The St. James's Hall Conference — .so was called the demonstra-
tion of the newly-formed Association for influencing the course of
the Eastern Question ^ — marks the transition of Public Opinion
from the mandatory to the observant attitude.

By a coincidence which will no doubt be placed in a ridiculous
light by those unfriendly to the proceedings, this first sitting of
the Conference will be held just as the Diplomatists have met at
Constantinople. — T. Dec. 8th.

The Conference, said the Daily News,

will find its work half done before it assembles. — (Dec. 8th.)

The key-note was struck by Mr. Gladstone in his speech.

We want to cut [Lord Salisbury] adrift from that Guildhall
speech. — Mr. Gladstone at St. James's Hall.

The Conference, in its inception, was meant as a ^jrotest that
the sentiments which had inspired the September agitation were
not to be lightly brushed aside by the Premier as a mere passing
aberration of the public mind. By the time the day fixed for the
meeting had arrived, it had passed into something like a demon-
stration of satisfaction that at last there was some prospect that
those sentiments were to regulate the national policy.

Although for the present the Eastern Question has passed into
the region of diplomacy, it has been thought desirable that English

' Parliament was summonod for Feb. Sth. See T. Dec. lltli.
" Ante, p. 110.



seatiment should continue to make itself heard and felt on the
subject. In some quarters it is supposed that the public meetings
which were provoked by the horrors of Turkish repression in
Bulgaria were a mere temporary ebullition of national feeling ;
and certain orators addressing select audiences have boldly
declared that what they are pleased to describe as an aberration
of the popular mind has now entirely passed away. The National
Conference on the Eastern Question which is to be held in London
on Friday, December 8th, will, we hope, open the eyes of the
Government to the fact that the people of this country are as
determined now as they were in the heat of a generous excitement
) to secure substantial justice for the Christian populations of
European Turkey. Unless we are greatly mistaken, it will be
seen on that occasion that Public Opinion is far from being that
thing of caprice and instability which the friends of the Turk
desire that it should be, and endeavour to persuade themselves
that it is.— Z). N. Nov. 29th.

We publish this morning, in our advertising columns, the list,
complete up to the moment at which it was prepared, of the
Conveners of the National Conference on the Eastern Question
which is to be held on Friday next in St. James's Hall. Probably
so many names distinguished in literature, in art, in philosophy,
in theology, in science, and in scholarship of various orders, have
never been brought together for any political or social purpose.
The cultivated intelligence of England is more than merely repre-
sented in this list ; it is present there in great force ; and in each
department the greatest names lead the rest. Intellectual
England, that select portion of the nation whose business it is to
cultivate the higher faculties of research, of speculation, and
of creative art, whether with the pen, the brush, or the chisel,
and the men most eminent in the several Churches as religious
teachers, are there. The list answers in the completest way the
shallow criticism which, when the manifestation was over, and its
censors had presence of mind and courage enough to speak, dis-
paraged the display of national feeling in the months of August
and September. That was set down as a momentary outburst of
generous but extravagant sentiment on the part of the more
impulsive portions of the English people, in indignation meetings
assembled. After an interval of weeks, the deliberate judgment
of the most cultivated and trained classes is recorded in the same
sense. That the nation is behind these classes, and supports them,
as it was before them in the popular movements of the early
autumn, the meetings held in Manchester yesterday afternoon
and in Birmingham yesterday evening — meetings which are but
the pioneers of others — help to show. — D. N. Dec. 5th.

It is a most significant fact that at such a crisis and after so long
a period of controversy a great movement should manifest itself in
the direction which this Conference indicates. It may tell the
public little that is new ; it may draw up no efficient scheme for


Bosnian or Bulgarian tax-gathering ; but as a demonstration of
opinion it is remarkable and powerful. It shows the deliberate
judgment of a most influential class. In spite of continuous
appeals to national jealousy, in spite of the authority of the
Government and of the compact Party which has hitherto followed
it, in spite of international traditions supported by great names
past and present, a body of men representing the most cultivated
as well as the most sober-minded and conscientious sections of the
community have associated themselves to protest against an alliance
with the Turkish Power. If nothing comes of the " National
Conference " except the publication of the list of " Conveners " it
will still have been successful. The names are those of men dis-
tinguished in every department of intellectual exertion, of men
eminent by position or by service to the State, of men who may be
fairly taken to represent the various interests or associations of the
country. It would be simple presumption in any one to affect
contempt for a movement thus supported. Let those who would
disparage the Conference try whether they can obtain any similar
list of names in favour of their own Eastern policy. We have
never known any association for a political object which has
obtained support over so large a part of the scale of English
society.' We have never known men combine who represented
such diversities of opinion, or such traditional antagonisms. — T.
Dec. 8th.

The names of the Conveners, the list of gentlemen who were
present, and the crowd of delegates from provincial towns, suffice
to show that it was a representative meeting in a very broad sense.
. . . Peers who usually keep themselves free from the entangle-
ments of Party, men of letters, men of science, professors, clergy-
men belonging both to the Church and to Dissenting bodies, speak
for classes which, although they generally avoid the rougher strifes
of the hustings, represent a great force of public opinion. Turk-
ish rule has shocked elementary feelings of right and wrong. The
Conference may help to show that the determination to free our-
selves from all responsibility for the crimes of Turkey is not con-
fined to what may be called the impulsive classes. The Duke of
Westminster and the Bishop of Oxford had some right to say
that it represented the intellectual culture of this country. — T.
Dec. 9th.

The Daxly Telegraph says that if the meeting to be held on
Friday in St. James's Hall fails in political fruit it must be because
there is almost every tree of knowledge represented in it, except
that of public affairs. . . Among the Liberal members of Parliament
strongly pressed to attend was Mr. Joseph Cowen, of Newcastle,
who has made so favourable a mark in the House of Commons as
an independent and fearless advocate of advanced views. Mr.
Cowen declined to be present, on the grounds, plainly but tem-
perately put, that he regarded the convening of such a gathering
as inimical to the national interest and as calculated to endangei'

K i


the desirable settlement of affairs on the Continent. Now this is
real patriotism. — (Dec. 6th.)

The Standard objects that the promoters of the meeting —
(literary persons, doctrinaires, and so on) cannot make a gather-
ing " National " whose whole object and aim is to promote a policy
contrary to the interests of the nation. — (Dec. 8th.)

The Pall Mall Gazette, after having been at some pains to
analyse the list of " Conveners," says the effort to make the
demonstration a national one, must be pronounced a failure. —
(Dec. 9th.)

Priests, pi-ofessors, poets, painters, politicians — all save fools —
Why leave your desks and easels, church or chapel pulpits, schools ?
What are you to the Eastern Question — what the Question unto you — ■
That you must have your Conference, and make all this ado ?
Have yon no fear of morning douche, or evening shower-bath chill,
From Jupiter Junior's mud-squirt, or the Fall Mall's keener quill 1
No dread of club-room quizzing, or Society's slow sneer.
That in protest against Moslem rule you dare to muster here 1

You don't believe in Elliot — believer in the Turk t

You do believe in Salisbury — if free his will to work 1

You want to let Lord Derby know what his "' employers " feel,

A.nd to convince the Turk he must not count on England's steel 1

You want to give the Conference at Stamboul a good lead 1

You wish the Northern Emperors — yes. Bear and all — good speed 1

Such common wish, and common cause, jowr various sections links 1

I see — 'tis Bull 'gainst Iteaconsfield — 'tis Lion against Sphinx !

— Punch, Dec. 16th.

The Conference at St. James's Hall was held on Dec. 8th at
two sittings. The first was presided over by the Duke of West-
minster, and the second by the Earl of Shaftesbury.^

Numerous and important speeches were delivered denouncing
the " red " policy, and expounding the " violet " notions.

The following utterances may be more particularly noted.

I should beg to ask deferentially why, if these reforms cannot
be brought about without actual military occupation, the fleets
and the armies of England should not be sent to Constanti-
nople, not to oppose Russia, but to coerce the Turk? (Loud
cheers.) God grant that it may not be so ! Every man will hope
and pray that such an emergency will not arise, but should it come,

1 The assembly was convened by circulars. Among those applying for admission
preference was given to special delegates and to official persons ; of these two kinds
more than twelve hundred having a distinctly representative character were present.
One hundred and seventeen places are mentioned as "some of the towns " which
were represented at the Conference in addition to the metropolis and its suburbs. See
Riiport of the Proceedings of the National Conference, published by direction of the
Committee of the Eastern Question Association by James Clarke and Co.


as it possibly may, I do not think we should act honourably in not -
sending our armies and fleets to accomplish these great objects. —
Buke of Westminster.

We are not come together — at least I am sure that I am not
— to oppose or embarrass Her Majesty's Government, nay, we
come to support it, to give it all the influence we can command,
for the attainment of this great purpose. Let us set aside a while
all but Lord Derby, and let his despatch of October last to Sir
H. Elliot be the test to proceed upon. His language is vigorous,
emphatic and unmistakable. . . . Nothing can be better as stated
on paper. It is for us to see that they become realities. We
cannot attempt — it would be folly to do so — to prescribe mode.«,
measures, and details. But these principles and these conditions
we accept, and we openly declare that we will not relax our efforts,
that we will give him no rest, until these principles and these
conditions shall be as firm and unalterable as human laws can
make them. Lord Derby cannot recede from his own despatch,
nor do I believe that he desires it. I have a high oj)inion of Lord
Derby, he is a man of intelligence, a man of honour, a man with
a strong sense of duty. . . . Let us say that we are prepared to
forget and to forgive. (Cries of " No " and " Hear, hear.") I am
not going to be over ready, I assure you, but hear what I say.
Will you not leave open a place of repentance for all ? Let us
condone the past in the glories of the future. (Cheers.) All is
in the hands of Her Majesty's Ministers. One real, unmistakable
announcement will disabuse the Turkish rulers of their vain
confidence and make them as compliant as children. (Cheers.) —
Lwd Shaftesbury.

Perish the interests of England, perish our dominion in
India,! rather than that we should strike one blow or speak one
word on behalf of the wrong against the right. — Mr. E. A.

Forgive ! There was one Minister at least who never ought to
be forgiven. (Cheers.) He liked to speak plainly, and he said
that that Minister was the Prime Minister. (Renewed cheers.) — ■
Professor Fawcett.

It is my opinion that in all this I have been reading the
Cabinet generally had little or no concern. I cannot acquit them;
they ought to have concern ; but I do believe and am firmly con-
vinced that operations down to a recent period on most important
and practical points have been really directed by the mind, the
firm — I must give him this credit — and very tenacious mind of
the Prime Minister, acting through the unhappily too yielding

mind of the Foreign Secretary We are not here to lay

down plans for the government of those provinces, and to teach

Ante, vol. i, p. 301, note.


a policy to Lord Salisbury or to anybody else ; but I will venture
to place a model before bis eyes, and that is the model supplied
by Mv. Canning in the case of Greece.^— ifr. Gladstone.

If we turn to the comments of the newspapers after the
meeting, we find on the one hand that it is regarded as a weighty
expression of the national opinion, calralated to strengthen the
hands of the Government in their new departure, and on the other
liand we find efforts to minimise the weight of the demonstration,
and a tendency to bring against it the old charges objected to the

Most of the speakers displayed a studious wish to refrain, so
far as they could, from directly attacking the Ministry, and there
was a general desire, not to embarrass, but to strengthen the
hands of Lord Salisbury. He has certainly no reason to complain
of the way in which he himself was treated. But, of course, it
-was assumed that he would truly and unflinchingly express

the real mind of England to the Porte To all save the

wilfully blind it must now be clear that the agitation of
August and September last was no transient flash of emotion,
but that it expressed a profound and fixed determination. The
lull after the storm was supposed to express the fear of the
country that it had gone too far in its denunciations of Turkish
rule. When Russia unveiled her plans of intervention the
natural suspicion of her designs revived the hopes of some, and
the dread of others, that a little careful diplomatic management
would make England " drift " into another Russian War. But
the Conference is one of many signs that this country will not
help the Turks to resist the only measures by which a just system
of rule can be established in Bosnia and Bulgaria. Our own

Government must be fully aware of that resolve But

there is too much reason to believe that the ruling Turks still
rely on the aid of England. If so, they cannot be too soon
or emphatically warned that they are under a profound delusion,
for, if it should continue to mislead them, it would put an end to
all hopes of peace. Were Parliament sitting, the real situation
of the Porte would be made clear to it in twenty-four hours by
an unequivocal display of national opinion. In the absence of
Parliament, public meetings may do the same kind of service in
an imperfect way, and that is, perhaps, the best plea for the
Conference. Some of the speeches were not free from wild
proposals ; but, on the whole, tbe meeting will not embarrass
Lord Salisbury if he truly expresses the feeling of the nation. . .
.... The feeling of the Conference was that to define the exact
nature of those guarantees lay beyond its province ; but it also
indicated a belief that some kind of foreign occupation would be

' "Policy" used here in tlie sense in whicli the word " Solution " is n.sed in
Tart II. See vol. i. p. 180.


necessary. One speaker after another declared that if England
and Russia were united, they could still prevent war, and no words
were more loudly cheered than the protests against unworthy
suspicions of the Czar. — T. Dec. 9th.

Professions of a determination not to make war are not
usually the declarations which wake the thunders of popular
applause. Crowds have commonly a good deal of the war spirit

in them Therefore, when a great crowd of Englishmen

are heard cheering to the echo every protest against the drawing
of the sword in a certain quarrel, it may be taken for granted
that the motive for those cheers is not merely the doctrine which
the Peace Society so earnestly teach. The quarrel is detestable,
the cause is odious ; that is the explanation. The most heedless
Minister must have learned some caution if he had heard the
peals of applause which followed every declaration yesterday that

Online LibraryGeorge Carslake ThompsonPublic opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 → online text (page 15 of 62)