George Carslake Thompson.

Public opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 online

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clubs. For years I have been in the habit of looking up to Mr.
Gladstone as the honoured leader of our party. But latterly
things are changed, and I believe millions of honest Liberals
would now support the present Government in preference to
seeing a Gladstonian anti-Turkish Ministry in office." . . " An
Englishman" writes as follows: "As an Englishman and a
Liberal I shall be glad to know whether the experience of other
people on the Eastern Question tallies with my own. Erom the
beginning of the agitation last autumn I have been in the habit
weekly of speaking to some twenty to fifty comparative strangers,
and from first to last during that period — say twelve months, I
speak by the card — I have met with but one individual who
would not on this question have given his vote most unequivocally
in support of the present Government ; and what is more, I have
been unable to find even the one single individual whose experience
in that respect differs from my own. In the exceptional instance
first referred to, the gentleman, a solicitor, had the candour to
confess that he knew no other of his way of thinking." — (Aug.

On August 14th, the Daily Telegraph reports an anti-Russian

meeting held at the Westminster Palace Hotel, and presided over

by Lord Stratheden and Campbell. On the 22nd it pubhshed

seven letters, four of them bearing the writers' signatures at length.

Sir P. Qolqulwun thought that without taking Constantinople,

ftussia might pass on into Albania and, seizing Corfu, thus obtain

an impregnable position in the Mediterranean. — In D. T. Aug.


The heart of the English people is not now influenced by the
wild though eloquent speeches of hysterical statesmen, who have
so well preached this " ghastly gospel of coercion " that it is bear-
ing its bitter fruits of carnage, cruelty, desolation, and woe ; but
responds to your noble efEorts on behalf of that Turkish nation,
which is fighting for very existence against the lust and greed of
Holy Eussia.— r/te Rev. G. Brock?- in D. T. Aug. 22nd.
There can be no doubt that an extreme "red" section of
opinion was now gathering some strength ; but whatever may be
the value to be attached to the correspondence published by the
Daily Telegraph, there need not be the least hesitation in pro-
nouncing that the diagnosis of the Telegraph was untrustworthy,
Avhen it represented this extreme "red" section as the prepon-
derating opinion of the country at large.^

1 Dean of Guernsey.

2 See ante, chap. xii. § 7, as to the course and niHuence of the Daily lelegraiili

generally. ^ ^


§ 7. The Conditional Neutrality draws to its close.

The great Turkish defeat in Asia on October loth and the fall
of Kars were the beginning of the end.

The Standard observed that any signal reverses to the Turkish
arms in Bulgaria, following upon the Armenian disaster, must
recall us to those duties and responsibilities which for some months
past have been suspended. — (Got. 24th.)

The Government have taken credit, and very justly taken
credit, for preserving a policy of neutrality. T would only say
that it would be reassuring to the country to know upon wJiat
ground the policy of neutrality rests, and what grounds there are
for believing that it will be maintained. I hope it does not rest
upon the successes which were gained by the Turkish army a few
months ago. — Marquis of Hartington at Glasgow, Nov. 7th.

It was to be expected that with the fall of Kars we should
hear a renewal of those outcries from the more excitable admirers
of Turkish domination which have been partially suspended since
the reverses at Zevin and Plevna. . . . At present there is no
controversy between the people of this country and the Govern-
ment on the Eastern Question. But if the advice so freely given
to Ministers by a small but noisy fraction of their supporters were
adopted, there would soon be one of a most formidable character.
Mr. Gladstone put the case succinctly in his address delivered at
Hawarden last night. He said that as long as the Government
observed its " conditional neutrality," the Liberal party would
observe a " conditional quietude ; " but if the Government
departed from its conditional neutrality, the Liberal party would
abandon its political quietude, fight like Englishmen, and leave
the nation to decide between them. We see no reason, however,
why the Government should not be satisfied with a policy which
at least meets with general acquiescence. — Z>. JV. ISTov. 24th.

Meanwhile the expected pretensions of Russia began to be more
earnestly canvassed. It was stated that Russia would demand the
free passage of the Straits for her ships of war.^

We have all known that this claim would be advanced. . . .
Our apprehensions, perhaps, exaggerate the imijortance of the
change ; but we are ready to admit that we should not be quite so
comfortable in the Levant if Russian ships could cruise about in
it as German, French, and Italian ships do, with a power of
running up into the Black Sea to refit when necessary. We
might for a year or two keep our Mediterranean Squadron in full
commission. No civilised Power, however, cculd make a casus belli
out of merely possible dangers like this. [The most serious
objection we could raise would be that the existing arrangement

^ T. Nov. 5th, St. Petersburg correspondent.


ought not to be altered without the concurrence of the signatory
Powers. If we knew beforehand that we should be entirely alone in
putting such an objection forward, we should not serve our own
interests by insisting upon it. Instead of resisting in principle
the free navigation of the Straits, we should direct our attention
to the conditions under which it may be safely conceded.] — T. Nov.

If Russia should be allowed to send her fleet from the Black
Sea to the Mediterranean, England, France, and Germany must
equally be permitted to send their fleets from the Mediterranean
to the Black Sea. It does not follow that this country, at all
events, would be a loser by an arrangement which would enable
it in certain conditions to blockade the chief ports and arsenals of
Russia.— y. ISTov. 1 4th.

The abolition of the restriction would affect our interests to
the extent that it would admit the navy of another Power into
the Mediterranean, and that that Power is the only other European
State having, like ourselves, a great Asiatic dominion. . . . We
must not, of course, act upon the balmy assumption that we and
all the world are always to be friends ; and if another navy were
to have access to the Mediterranean we should have to make our
knowledge of the fact an element of our calculations in providing
for our own naval resources. We confess that we have but little
faith in artificial and ingenious plans for restricting the belligerent
power of growing nations by means of diplomatic documents. —
D. N. Nov. 21st.

It is not too soon to ask what terms Russia is likely to put for-
ward as those on which she is ready to make pea cio with Turkey.
That her Government is bound to ask for no accession of territory
in Europe has long been known.^ It will, however, be free to
insist upon a degree of self-government which will be practically the
independence of Bulgaria. The Emperor will also most likely
insist on keeping what he is acquiring in Armenia. Further, he
will ask for some modification of the Treaty which at present
forbids the passage of his ships of war from the Black Sea to the
Mediterranean. It is on these last two points that English
opinion will be most divided. [As to Armenia, the Turkish
Government by letting loose hordes of Kurds and Circassians upon
the Christians of Armenia] has made it simply impossible for
the friends of the Porte to urge that the voice of this country
should be raised for the restoration of Ottoman authority in those
parts of Asia where it has been overthrown. Were England able
and willing to make such a demand, we should be responsible
as a community for every massacre of the Christians which
would certainly follow such a step. There remains the question
of the free navigation of the Bosphorus and the Straits of the
Dardanelles. [According to a proposition advanced by a Russian

1 It will be remembered that the despatches communicating the Eussiaii_ terms
had not yet been made public. See ante, chap. xv. § 7. J, p. 209.


writer of no special authority, Prince Wassiltchikoff,] the Black
Sea beloQgs exclusively to Russia and Turkey, and therefore they
alone should have the right of entrance for ships of war. " The
navies of Powers which have no possessions in the Black Sea can
have no reason to pass through the Straits except for the purpose
of attack and invasion." [No one will hold the Kiissian
Government responsible for nonsense of this kind.] If Paiasia
proposes any change in existing treaties which would give her the
right to send war ships from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean
she must be prepared to admit the right of othei' Powers to send
their ships into the Black Sea. No other conditions could be
listened to for a moment. It may be that such an arrangement
would not suit the Russian Government, but if so, the subject
cannot be worth mooting. . . . The Russian Government will
have to consider all sides of this question, and when it has done
so may possibly care less about the change spoken of than it has
hitherto seemed to do. — D. N. Nov. 26th.

Day by day it became more unlikely tbat tbe resistance to the
Kussian advance would be much longer protracted ; and as the
crisis visibly approached, indications as to the attitude in which it
would iind the English Government were eagerly sought for in the
speeches which were made from time to time by various Ministers.
One of the occasions most anxiously looked for was the Premier's
appearance at the Lord Mayor's banquet. The tone of his speech,
and his avowal that regard for Turkish interests was a principal
reason for England's conditional neutrality, were not calculated to
allay anxiety. But the effect was to a great extent counteracted
by other Ministerial utterances.

[The policy which the Government have unanimously adopted,
and from which they have never swerved, is the policy of conditional
neutrality. But that neutrality must cease if British interests are
assailed or menaced.] Cosmopolitan critics, men who are the friends
of every country save their own, have denounced this policy as a
selfish policy. My Lord Mayor, it is as selfish as patriotism. But
it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government — a policy which they
adopted from the first and which they have all along maintained.
. . . My Lord Mayor, there may have been many reasons which
may have induced us to adopt that policy ; but there was one, and
a principal one, to which I will refer. I believe the policy of
neutrality on the part of this country was not more for the benefit
of England than it was for the benefit of Turkey. For some years
it has been a dogma of diplomacy that Turkey was a phrase and
not a fact — that its Government was a phantom, that its people
was effete. [If that were so, to repeat what occurred in the
Crimea would be the greatest error; but Turkey had shown a
vigour and resource which proved her right to be recognised


among the Sovereign Powers of Europe.] The independence of
Turkey was a subject of ridicule a year ago. The independence
of Turkey, whatever may be the fortunes of war — and war
changes like the moon — the independence of Turkey is not doubted
now. It has been proved by half a million of warriors, who have
devoted their lives to their country without pay and without
reward. [As to the prospects of peace, he was encouraged not to
take a desponding view.] I cannot forget that the Emperor of
Russia, with a magnanimity characteristic of his truly elevated
character, announced on the eve of commencing this war that his
only object was to secure the safety and happiness of the Christian
subjects of the Porte (cheers and laughter) ; and that he
pledged his Imperial word of honour on one occasion that he
sought no increase of territory.^ [As the Sultan has declared his
readiness to secure the changes which will give to the Christian
subjects that safety and that welfare which the Emperor of
Russia desires, peace ought not to be an impossible achievement.]
— Lord Beaconsfield at the Guildhall.

It was noticed that the representative of Turkey was the only
ambassador present. The Lord Mayor in proposing the toast of
the Foreign Ministers adverted to the absence of many gentlemen
who on former occasions had favoured the City of London with
their presence, saying that the reason for their absence could be
conjectured, but he was certain that in that hall they would have
received a very hearty welcome.

[The Premier's] ironical tribute to the heroic and unparalleled
disinterestedness of the invaders of Turkey would have had more
force if he had recognised some element of good in their enterprise.
But Lord Salisbury and Lord Derby, as they listened to their
chief, can scarcely have forgotten that the justice of these charges
against Turkey was admitted by all the European Powers, includ-
ing England herself. ... As the Home Secretary's speech months
ago was eminently pacific, so, we are bound to assume, is
yesterday's speech of the Prime Minister. If here and there
it is somewhat enigmatical, that is merely the result of a I'ich
style, oftener seen in romance than in political discussion. — T.
Nov. 10th.

[It is a fatal omission that there] is not one word to show that
he is making it a prime object of his policy to establish a satis-
factory administration in the Provinces of the Turkish Empire ;
but without this any peace will be hollow, if not iniquitous. _As to
the interference of this country on behalf of Turkey, it is incon-
ceivable, except on the supposition that we could make ourselves
responsible for the future conduct of the Porte and the good
government of its subject races. — T. Nov. 14th.

1 Ante, p. 211.


The Prime Minister struck the leading note of yesterday's
address by emphasising the fact that the neutrality adopted by the
Government, and approved by the nation, was and is " con-
ditional." [He avowed] that England has refrained from inter-
ference for Turkey's good, as well as from other considerations.
... It was a generous eulogy of the heroic people who have so
stoutly vindicated their right to exist ; a wise and meaning
admonition to Russia to bear her own professions in mind ; and
a fearless renewal of the warning that the neutrality of Great
Britain is " conditional " towards the aggressor, and sympathetic
towards the assailed and persecuted nation of the Sultan, We
believe that the ringing cheers with which these words were
leceived, and the equally hearty approbation which greeted the
manly language of the Minister of War, will to-day find their echo
near and far throughout the country. — D. T. Nov. lOth.

The danger which on the last Lord Mayor's Day was only
hypothetical, is now incurred. Russia has embarked in an
undertaking which may, even without her intention, involve her in
conflict with England. It is idle to deny that the course of the
war has brought us nearer to the contingency which was hinted at
last year by Lord Beaconsfield. — St. ISTov. 1 0th.

On November 28th a deputation comprising, among others,
representatives of "the Society for the Protection of British
Interests against Russian Aggression in the East," visited the
Foreign Office to press the Government "to take active measures
on behalf of the Turks to bring about peace between the belli-
gerents." Lord Stratheden and Campbell presented a memorial
which contended that Constantinople was in danger.

Lord Derby in his reply vindicated the conduct of the Govern-
ment in adhering up to that time to their conditional neutrality.
He promised due consideration of the remarks of the memorialists
on the part of the Government. As to the danger to Constanti-
nople he did not think it imminent. He referred the deputation
to what was said in the despatch published at the opening of the
war. The Government had spoken in as strong terms as diplomatic
usage permits, of the necessity of not allowing Constantinople to
pass into other hands than those that now hold it.

Other Ministerial utterances followed : — ^

Sir Stafford Northcote spoke in general terms of the policy of
the Government as aiming at preserving the peace of the country,
lestoring the peace of Europe, and protecting our interests, and
claimed for the Government, if it enjoyed the general confidence
of the country, that it should be allowed to exercise a certain
amount of reserve. — [A t Bournemouth, Dec. 4th.)

' Lord Carnarvon touched on the matter in a speech at a public dinner at
Dulverton, saying it was no loss of power at certain times to remain quiet. — T
Nor. 26th.


The inevitable fall of Plevna has taken place after a defence of
unparalleled gallantry (loud applause). ... I have had no op-
portunity, since that great event was made known to me, of
speaking with anybody, but I hope and trust the time has come
when a peace may be made in this great and terrible war. . . .
England is a double nation. She is a Western nation, and also, I
may say, an Eastern nation. ... I cannot imagine that such a
thing as anything like a useful peace connected with Eastern
affairs can be made without a proper and due intervention of
England. — Mr. Gatkonie Hardy}-

But no doubt the longer the war goes on the more difficult it
will become to maintain that position, conditional neutrality, and
certainly the more anxious does the country become. ... I trust,
as I have said, that peace may be maintained, and that it may be
maintained within the conditions laid down by Lord Derby's
despatch of May 6th. But, gentlemen, if from the cause to which
T have referred, or any other cause, these conditions should not be
respected ; if, unfortunately, in spite of all the earnest efforts of
Her Majesty's Government to keep this country out of war, it
should be necessary for the vindication of imperial interests and
national honour to unsheath the sword, then, gentlemen, I express,
not only my individual feelings, but the feeUngs of a united people,
when I say that, once unsheathed in such a cause, that sword must
not be returned to its scabbard until it be entwined with the laurels
of unquestioned victory and the lily of lasting peace. — Lord John
Manners at Grantham, Dec. i2th.

The Daily News severely criticised Mr. Gathorne Hardy's
reference to "intervention." — (Dec. 13th.)

The Spectator lays no stress on Mr. Hardy's use of the word
" intervention," because from the context it thinks that he
meant the use of moral influence ; but it says both speeches will be
read by all English politicians with anxiety, and by many with a
displeasure which is only not dismay because it is well aware that
Mr. Hardy and Lord John Manners do not constitute the whole
Cabinet, but only a part of it. The speeches are full of pointed
and exclusive praise of Turkish heroism and emphatic invective
against Russia for declaring war ; moreover, they are the language
of somewhat combative menace. — (Dec. 13th.)

The Ministry was speaking with two voices. Keassurance
breathed in the words of Lord Derby, Sir Stafford Northcote,
and Lord Carnarvon. But yet again. Lord Beaconsfield's clarion
tones seemed echoed by Mr. Gathorne Hardy and Lord John

What was the guiding impulse by which England's diplomacy
would be ruled in the momentous crisis on which the country was
about to enter, this was an enigma which no one could surely read.

' Addressing the Edinburgh Conservative "Working Men's Association (Dec. 12tli).



§ 1. The English Quasi- Mediation.

a. The effort of English diplomacy. — With the fall of Plevna we
enter upon a new phase. The lull of the conditional neutrality
was over. Almost simultaneously with the announcement of the
early meeting of Parliament/ the news was published that the Porte
had addressed a circular note to the Powers asking for mediation;
but it was noted that the Porte only offered substantially the
terms which had been rejected as totally inadequate by the Powers
assembled in Conference a year before.

The Daily Telegraph spoke of the Turkish circular as the
solemn application of a great and persecuted people for justice. —
{about Dec. 19th.)

Evirope refused to accept these assurances at the time, as we
think, unfairly ; and we are noi surprised that now, when Russia
has opened the floodgates of war, the Great Powers should deem
it impossible to go back to the position deliberately abandoned at
the beginning of the year.— P. M. G. Dec. 18th.

However, a day or two before the close of the year, the state-
ment was made "with i-ather unusual pomp,"^ that the English
Government had accepted the mission of approaching the Czar
with a view to negotiations for peace. According to one account,
this was done at the instance of the Sultan, according to another
account the mission was self-sought. It was not till Parliament
met, and the Blue Books were presented, that exactly what had
happened was known.

' See next § p. 277. ^ Spec. Jan. 5th, 1878.


The Turkish circular was dated December 12th, two days after
the fall of Plevna.i The result, said Sir Stafford Northcote,

was not encouraging, for the Powers seemed to think it would
not be possible to do anything, and were not inclined to do
anything.—^, of C. Jan. 17th, 1878.

On December 14th the Turkish ambassador communicated
this circular to Lord Derby, and on the same day he thanked him

for the assurance which [Loi-d Derby] had given his Excellency
some days ago that whenever negotiations for peace were set on
foot. Her Majesty's Government would do what lay in their power
to obtain favourable conditions for Turkey. — Derby to Lavard,
Dec. 14th.=

It is evident that the Turkish Embassy in London was now
doing its best to engage the English Government to interfere in
the struggle on behalf of the Sultan.

The Turkish ambassador called upon me this afternoon

As his Excellency referred more than once to the possibility of
English intervention, I thought it right to repeat the warning
which I had frequently before given, namely, that no such
intervention was to be expected. — Derby to Layard, Dec. 21st.*

In a day or two, Lord Derby writes, instructing the English

to ask the Porte whether the Sultan is willing that Her
Majesty's Government shall inquire of the Russian Government
if the Emperor will entertain overtures for peace. — Derby to
Layard, Dec. 24th.*

On the same day the Porte, through its ambassador, asked for
the mediation of our Government. Her Majesty's Government
thought it utterly out of the question to attempt mediation, but
informed the Porte that they were ready to make the inquiry
suggested. The Porte did wish it, and requested us to make it. — ■
Sir Stafford Northcote, H. of C. Jan. 17th.

On December 29th Lord Derby received Prince Gortschakoff's


that Russia desired nothing better than to arrive at peace ;
but that for this purpose the Porte must address itself to the
Imperial commanders-in-chief in Europe and Asia, who will state
the conditions upon which an armistice can be granted.^

The tenor of the Russian reply was communicated to the Porte

1 Turkey, ii. 1878, No. 1. 2 /jj^ j^^, 2.

3 Ibid. No. 4. 4 Ibixl. No. 6.

= md. No. 16. 6 Ihid. No. 17.


The Turkish diplomatists were eager to malce England tlie
vehicle of their acceptance of what they Avere astute to treat as
the proposal of an armistice by Russia, and pressed Lord Derby
to ask the Russian Government to send orders to their commanders
to abstain from further military operations, and to come to an
understanding as to the basis of the armistice. Lord Derby
pointed out that England had not accepted the position of a medi-
ator,i and again warned them against indulging false hopes of
English assistance. However, in a day or two. Lord Derby
instructed his ambassador to suggest to the Porte that delegates
should be sent to the Russian head-quarters.^ Acting on the
advice of England (as the Turkish diplomatists were careful to

Online LibraryGeorge Carslake ThompsonPublic opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 → online text (page 30 of 62)