George Carslake Thompson.

Public opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 online

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the Executive to the injury of Parliament, to intrust all serious
business to a minute group of advisers, and to deprive Parliament
of its deliberative powers, though not of its power of veto. Liberals
who think thus say that Lord Beaconsfield is intent upon some
policy in the Eastern Question to which he desires to commit the
country in advance without consulting Parliament, and without,
it is strongly suspected, the full comprehension of his whole
Cabinet. . . . The whole evidence hangs together, and indicates
that on questions vitally affecting the future of the country,
England is now governed by a minute group of men whose chief
does not consider it either necessary or expedient to take Parlia-
ment into his confidence. That is, at all events, a bold innovation
on English practice, and the statesman who makes it should be
very sure that when the people awake to his plans they wil]
accord him either a formal or an informal act of indemnity. — Spec.
May 25th.

The settlement at Berlin and the defensive alliance with
Turkey brought the whole question of the ultimate control over
the destiny of the country, as it is affected by our relations with
foreign Powers, into prominence.

As these perilous responsibilities come home to the nation,
more and more attention will be given to the manner in which
they were incurred. We have had no such example of personal
government in modern times as these transactions supply. . . . The
new notions of prerogative have not only been preached, but in the
hands of Lord Beaconsfield have been put in practice. In the
abused name of the royal prerogative the Prime Minister has con-
trived to impose his own personal policy on the nation. . . . The

' See criticism on Mr. Hardy's speecli at Bradford {ante, p. 417). " Mr. Hardy-
was anxious to have it understood that we haye, or, as he preferred to put it, that
'We are an Empire.'"- — D. N. May 1st, 1878. Compare strictures on use of the
word " Imperial," ante, vol. 1. p. 65.



Crown is, of course, according to the letter of the Constitution,
the treaty-making power, but the power exists on the practical
understanding that it is cautiously and moderately used, and when
a Prime Minister stretches it to cover his own love of personal
government it is very likely to break in his hands. — D. N.
July 10 th.

Happily, all Conservatives are not of the new kind, in whose
nostrils the social and diplomatic successes of Lord Beaconsfield
are the breath of life. Many of the party still care for the theory
of the Constitution. . . . They do not care to see the country com-
mitted to a scheme of colossal " territorial aggrandisement " (for
that is what the Protectorate comes to), and to a thousand un-
weighed responsibilities. . . . Whether the weary Titan can or
cannot aSord to add to " the too vast orb of his fate," the country
should at least have been consulted on the matter. That the
country is not consulted is only part of the whole system of per-
sonal government, which has lately been patched up — partly after
German, partly after French, partly in imitation of Oriental
models.— Z). N. July 12th.

There is a story going about founded, we believe, on good
authority, that when some one quoted Tancred two or three
months ago in Lord Beaconsfield's presence, the Prime Minister
remarked, " Ah, I perceive you have been reading Tancred. That
is a work to which I refer more and more every year — not for
amusement, but for instruction." [Who can avoid seeing that
Lord Beaconsfield has recently so been referring to the passage in
which the Emir expounds to Tancred the combination which might
change the face of the world and bring back empire to the East ?] ^
These are all the ideas of his recent policy in germ — especially
the treatment of the British Empire as having its true centre of
gravity in the far East . . . and last, not least, the getting rid,
to a great extent at least, by the help of Indian leverage, of " the
embarrassment of the Chambers." For the last eight months at
least our policy has evidently been borrowed from Tancred. The
monarch, for anything we know, has been " magnetised." The
Cabinet assuredly have been magnetised. . . . From first to last
Parliament has been completely ignored, and the future deter-
mined for us without even sounding its wishes, much less asking
its will. . . . [The Government policy is one which, if effectually
carried out, might even restore Empire to the East. At the same
time it is one which if] merely flashed before the dazzled eyes of
the British populace without the slightest intention of giving
practical effect to it, may very well mark the point at which a
very rapid decline and fall of the British Empire is to commence.
... To speak of a people who are so treated as self-governed is
like speaking of a bride who finds herself pledged by others to a
life she has never experienced with a man she has never seen as

1 Tancred, book iv. chap. iii.


self-governed. . . . [An outrage to the spirit of the Constitution
has been inflicted by this coup de main], which promises to re-
volutionise from the foundation the very elements of British
policy without asking a word of sanction from the British people.
— Spec. July 13th.

The settlement at Berlin failed, as we shall see/ to bring the
Constitutional controversy to a close. Lord Beaconsfield's course in
relation to the troubles in Turkey had come to be regarded as only
one special manifesto of a general policy of which other and
perhaps more startling developments might shortly be looked for.

This it was which gave point and relevancy to the retrospective
criticisms which were so freely employed in view of the general
election of 1880, and which the Conservatives sought to brush
aside as so much ancient history. If an opinion may be expressed
on the point, it is that the circumstances of the interval ^ point to
the conclusion that the main question at issue in the election of
1880 was this very question of "Imperialism," though people
became a little apt to forget how real and important the question
had been, after the decisive answer which was then given by
the constituencies.

^ 9. The New Departure.

ft. Count ScJioiivaloff's Mission. — In glancing at the Constitutional
question raised by the bringing of the Indian troops to Malta we
have somewhat overshot the course of events. Matters took a new
turn, almost while the debate was proceeding on the calling out of
the reserves. Prince Gortschakoff's Reply to Lord Sahsbury's Cir-
cular consisted of a long memorandum annexed to a short despatch,^
of which the main point was that the English Government should
state what its wishes were. The substance of it was telegraphed
to London on April 9th and published by the Times in a third
edition, which was distributed in the House of Commons, It
was at once ' seen that the Russian communication opened a door
for further negotiations.

The Spectator notes that the debate in the Commons on Tuesday
was very much quieted by the distribution of this telegram. It
acted as a douche of cold water. — (April 13th.)

On receiving the intimation that Russia would be willing to
make concessions which would modify the Treaty of San Stefano

1 Fost, chap. xix. ^ Pod, chap. xix. ' Ttirkey, xxyii. 1878.

G G 2


in the sense they desired, the English Government took a new
departure, which is marked by a mission of the Eussian Ambassador
in England to his own Court.

To-day Count Schouvaloffi goes on a mission which may fairly
be called one of peace. He goes to lay the distinct conditions and
requirements of England before the Czar. He intends to return
in fourteen days, and will bring the answer direct to Lord
Salisbury.— i). T. May 8th.

6. Clearing off of " War in the Air." — Count Schouvaloff
arrived at St. Petersburg on Sunday night, May 12th, and re-
turned to London about ten days afterwards. From his return
may be dated the gradual dissipation of the feeling of apprehension
which had lain like a cloud over England, sometimes lifting a little,
but only to settle down more loweringly than ever, from the time
of the proposal of the Vote of Credit, or perhaps even from the
taking of Plevna and the announcement of the early meeting of

But now there was a general and growing feeling that the crisis
had been surmounted. Once and again, to be sure, in the course
of the subsequent proceedings it was said that negotiations were
within an ace of being broken off, and that concession had reached
its utmost limits. But each fluctuation left the ultimate result
less dubious than before.

With Count Schouvaloff's mission the contention which the
English Government had raised on the point of " submitting the
treaty " practically drops out. A " formula " was soon discovered
which removed the difficulty.^ On May 27th Lord Salisbury stated
in the House of Lords that the prospects of holding the Congress
had materially improved. Attention was once more directed to the
policies involved in the expected settlement ; but while there was
ample variety of criticism and conjecture, little was known of the
line which the English Government would take, and they had
completely escaped from any control.

I must say I am one of those who have great difficulty in
making out what are the differences between Russia and this
country. . . . Take, again, that which I beheve to be by far the
worst part of the proceedings of Russia ; I mean the proposal to
wrest the bit of Bessarabia which now belongs to Roumania away
from her. That I hold to he thoroughly bad, and I should rejoice
to see the influence of England used against it. But it is not a

1 Ante, p. 402.


difierence between Russia and this country ; it is a diiierence
between Russia and justice, a difference between Russia and
freedom, and it is not possible to suppose that it is in the power
of this country to take upon herself alone the responsibility of say-
ing to Russia, " That shall not be done." . . . We are told — I hope
with truth, but I am entirely in the dark, and I am afraid that
you are also — we are told that there is less probability of a new
breach of European peace than there was some time ago. I
heartily hope that may prove to be true. . . . However thankful
we may be for escaping a terrible and world-wide calamity, I cannot
overlook the mischiefs that have already been done. ... I hold it
to be a very serious evil that this country has been divided now
for two years past, more sharply, more passionately, more angrily,
more bitterly upon this Eastern Question than on any other
occasion that I can recollect for at least the last thirty years. . . .
In my opinion a very great misfortune has fallen upon us by the
manner and degree in which the seeds of future animosity have
been sown between two great countries. ... I am afraid that a
long time must elapse before those sentiments which three years
ago prevailed in this country towards Russia and which prevailed
in Russia towards England can be restored. — Mr. Gladstone,
May 23rd.i

The mood of the public mind induces too great a tendency to
rest and be thankful now that the prospect of a Congress has taken
the place for a time of apprehensions of war. No doubt this is a
great step in advance. ... It is, however, only the beginning of a
settlement, not the settlement itself. . . The object of the Congress
now to meet is to provide a good government for the populations of
Europe and Asia which have fallen into anarchy under Turkish
misrule. It must start therefore with the welfare of the popula-
tion in view ; and not with the idea of Turkish restoration. — D. N.
May 31st.

We have seen indications that the [contrary] doctrine, driven
from its strongholds in European Turkey, [is] about to take refuge
in the Ottoman camps of Asia. It is well therefore to raise a
decided voice against it. When England goes into a European Con-
gress it will be for the settlement of the Eastern Question, and not
for the rehabilitation of Turkey. — D. N. June 1st.

We need scarcely say that we should see with great regret the
retrocession of Bessax-abia to Russia. Yet we should certainly not
commit the folly of urging our countrymen to make the Bessabarian
question a casus belli between them and Russia. . . . This country,
while wishing well to everybody, and profoundly anxious that good
government and religious toleration should everywhere prevail, may
have to fall back upon the old narrow programme of seeing that its
own peculiar interests are not invaded. . . . We should like to
help the Roumanians, the Greeks, the Servians, the Montenegrins

' To the Scotch ministers, ante, p. 424.


— and we will endeavour to do so. But we cannot do this at the cost
of war either with Austria or with Russia. But we can and shall
stand by our own interests, at the cost of war with it matters not
whom. That is the difference between philanthropy and patriotism,
between a cosmopolitan and a national policy. This it is which
Mr. Gladstone and those whose minds he has thrown off their
balance have never understood. They will have to understand it
yet. We have a generous and sentimental interest in the races of
the Balkan peninsula ; and we will do all we can for them shoi-t of
fighting for them. We have a practical interest in Constantinople,
the Straits, and Asia Minor ; and we should fight to the death to
prevent Russia from becoming master at any of these points. It
is a matter of obligation for us to do so. If Turkey will allow us
to help to set that portion of her house in order of which we can-
not allow her to be dispossessed by Russia, we shall be ready to
undertake the task. But we cannot declare war against the Sultan
if he refuses to allow us to interfere, and prefers liis own mis-
government to our tutelage. . . . Diplomacy will have a busy time
of it for some months, perhaps for some years hence. England's
main duty, however, will have been performed, for the Eastern
Question will not have been settled in a Russian sense. That is
all it is in our power to prevent or to do with certainty. But it is
idle to suppose that, once having baffled Russian ambition, we
wish ill to any race, any religion, or any community on earth. —
iSi. June 1st.

The success of the Congress depends [Mr. Gladstone thinks^] on
its undertaking the work in a spirit of paramount regard for local
liberties and based upon their amplitude and solidity. Such a
policy, if adopted by the Government at the Congress, would, Mr.
Gladstone says, cause our past controversies to be forgotten like
the sorrows of a child. But the Government has as yet given no
grounds to hope that it will adopt this broad and liberal policy ;
and its noisiest supporters expect from it everything but this. Of
all the Powers who go into the Congress, England will, if her
representatives embody her real interests and purpose, show the
most disinterested desire for the welfare of the populations of the
East. But in order to do so. Lord Beacohsfield must give up all
ideas of the balance of power, and take up the policy which he has
hitherto resisted, and which the chief supporters of the Govern-
ment, in and out of Parliament, have constantly denounced. — B. N.
June 5th.

[The article by Midhat Pasha ^ indicates what the Congress
should not do with regard to Bulgaria.] He wants a small
tributary Bulgaria to be formed north of the Balkans, dominated
by the fortresses of the Quadrilateral, which are to remain in
Turkish hands.— D. N. June 6th.

^ The reference is to Mr. Gladstone's important article, " Liberty in the East and
"West," 19a Gent. June, 1878.

2 "The Past, Present, and Future of Turkey," 19ffi Cent. June, 1878.


c. The Secret Agreement. — The settlement which the English
Government had in view, or rather one term of it, was somewhat
prematurely disclosed.

On May 30th Lord Salisbury and Count Schouvaloff signed two
Memoranda. By these instruments it was arranged on the one
hand that the limits proposed for the " Big" Bulgaria should be
restricted, and that the province should be cut in two (the southern
half having a merely "administrative," and not a "political"
autonomy) ; while the question of the right of the Sultan (on
which the English Government insisted) to maintain a certain
military control of it, and to garrison the Balkan passes, was
reserved. It was arranged, on the other hand, that England
should not resist the cession to Kussia of the port of Batoum and
of Bessarabia.

The substance of this agreement became known to the editors
of the Glole, and a summary of it was published in that newspaper
on Friday afternoon, May 31st.i

At the next meeting of the House of Lords the publication in
the Globe was alluded to only to be discredited.

The Marquis of Salisbury : — The statement to which the noble
earl refers, and a great many other statements which I have seen,
are wholly unauthentic, and are not deserving of any confidence on
your lordships' parts.

jEarl Grey: — I referred especially to the statement that England
deplored, but would not oppose, the retrocession of Bessarabia,
which appeared to me so preposterous that I could not for a
moment believe it.^ — H. of L. June 3rd.

[It is useless] to discuss details of Eusso-English agreements
before we have some good ground for believing that any such
agreements exist. If they do exist — at least in the precise and
definite form ascribed to them in these rumours — so much the
worse. The English Government could not have concluded them
without entering upon a course of policy from which they stand
pledged to abstain. — P. M. G. June 3rd.

The Daily JS^ews, while accepting Lord Salisbury's reply as a
denial that any such agreement actually existed, speaks of the

^ "With regard to the question of the Turkish troops, the summary simply stated
they were to withdraw from the autonomous province soutli of the Balkans, and not
to re-enter it. See Lord Salisbury's reference to this point, post, p. 460.

^ See Earl Grey's letter in Times, June 18th, where he complains that the answer
was calculated to convey to his mind an entirely false impression, and had prevented
his calling the attention of the House, before the plenipotentiaries proceeded to the
Congress, to the loss of character this country must suiter from being a consenting
party to the spoliation of Eoumania.


statement in the Glohe as a significant guess, which perhaps shows
the way in which negotiations are tending. For its own part it
would be well content with some such solution as that pointed to.
— (June 6th.)

On June 14th, the Berlin Congress having assembled, the Glohe
said there was no longer any reason why the full text of the agree-
ment should be withheld, and published the following statement
and version of the text.''

The Agreement comprises two Memorandums. The title of the
first memorandum is : — " Project of a Memorandum determining
the points upon which an understanding has been established
between the Governments of Kussia and Great Britain, and
which will serve as a mutual engagement for the Russian and
English Plenipotentiaries at the Congress."

After a preamble expressing the desire of the Russian and
English Governments to establish an understanding that may
obviate the settlement of the Eastern Question by the sword,
the Memorandum goes on to state : —


1. England discards the longitudinal division of Bulgaria, but
the representative of Russia reserves to himself to point out the
advantages of it to the Congress, promising, nevertheless, not to
insist upon it against the definitive opinion of England.

2. The arrangement of the boundaries of Southern Bulgaria
should be modified in such a manner as to remove them from the
jEgean Sea, according to the southern delimitation of the Bulgarian
provinces, proposed by the Conference of Constantinople. This
does not concern the question of the frontiers so much as it refers
to the exclusion of the littoral of the ^Egean Sea, that is to say,
to the west of Lagos. Prom this point to the coast of the Black
Sea the discussion of the frontier will remain free.

3. The western frontiers of Bulgaria should be rectified upon
the base of nationalities, so as to exclude from that province the
non-Bulgarian populations. The western frontiers of Bulgaria
ought not to pass in principle a line traced from close to Novi-
Bazar to Koursha Balkan.

4. The Bulgaria replaced in the limits which are men-
tioned in the points 2 and 3 shall be divided into two provinces,
namely : —

The one to the north of the Balkans should be endowed with
political autonomy, under the government of a Prince, and the
other, to the south of the Balkans, should receive a large measure
of administrative self-government (autonomie administrative) —

1 The Globe also published the text in French. As the agreement is not'included
in the parliamentary papers, the English text, as it appeared in the Globe, is printed
here at full length.

The agreement is given in the Appendix to the Annual Scgister for 1878, under
the title of "The Secret Despatch."


for instance, like that which exists in English colonies —with a
Christian Governor named with the acquiescence of Europe for five
to ten years.

5. The Emperor of Russia attaches a peculiar importance
to the retreat of the Turkish army from Southern Bulgaria.
His Majesty does not see any security or guarantee for the
Bulgarian population in the future if the Ottoman troops are
maintained there.

Lord Salisbury accepts the retreat of the Turkish troops from
Southern Bulgaria, but Russia will not object to what is enacted
by the Congress respecting the mode and the cases where the
Turkish troops would be allowed to enter the southern province to
resist an insurrection or invasion, whether in a state of execution
or in a state of menace.

England, nevertheless, reserves to herself to insist at the
Congress on the right of the Sultan to be able to canton troops on
the frontiers of Southern Bulgaria.

The representative of Russia reserves to himself at the Congress
complete liberty in the discussion of this last proposition of Lord

6. The British Government demands that the superior officers
{chefs sujjerieurs) of the militia in Southern Bulgaria should be
named by the Porte with the consent of Europe.

7. The promises concerning Armenia stipulated by the
Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano should not be made exclu-
sively to Russia, but to England also.

8. The Government of Her Britannic Majesty taking, as well
as the Imperial Government, a warm interest in the future organ-
isation of the Greek jirovinces of the Balkan Peninsula, the
Article XY. of the Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano shall be
modified in such a manner that the other Powers, and notably
England, may have, hke Russia, a consulting voice in the future
organisation of Epirus, Thessaly, and the other Christian provinces
resting under the dominion of the Porte.

9. In so far as the war indemnity is concerned His Majesty
the Emperor has never had the intention of converting it into
territorial annexations, and he does not refuse to give assurances
in this respect.

It is understood that the war indemnity will not deprive the
English Government of their rights as creditor, and it will
in this respect remain in the same state that it stood before
the war.

Without contesting the final decision which Russia will take
with respect to the amount of the indemnity, England reserves to
herself to point out to the Congress the serious objections which
she sees to it.

10. As to the valley of Alashkert and the town of Bayazid,
that valley being the great transit loute for Persia, and having
an immense value in the eyes of the Turks, His Majesty the
Emperor consents to restore it to them, but he has demanded and


obtained in exchange the cession to Persia of the little territory
of Khotour, which the Commissioners of the two mediatory courts
have found just to restore to the Shah.

II. The Government of Her Britannic Majesty would have to
express its profound regret in the event of Russia insisting defini-
tively upon the retrocession of Bessarabia. As, however, it is
svifficiently established that the other signatories to the Treaty of

Online LibraryGeorge Carslake ThompsonPublic opinion and Lord Beaconsfield, 1875-1880 → online text (page 52 of 62)