Isreal Smith Clare.

Library of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) online

. (page 25 of 60)
Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 25 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the Emperor Nicholas, Louis Napoleon, and Lord Palmerston.

In the case of the Emperor Nicholas, a long reign of absolute power
and uninterrupted success, acting on a strong and proud nature, had led
to a feeling of arrogance, which made him incapable of yielding an inch
in any pretensions which he had once put forward. He had posed too
long as the divinely appointed champion of conservatism and protector of
the Christian races and of Russian influence in the East, to let Lord
Palmerston and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe score a point against him in
the trumpery question of the holy places at Jerusalem, even when the


manifest interest of Russia was to play a waiting rather than a forward

Louis Napoleon was actuated by purely personal motives. His empire,
based on a coup d' etat and fusillades on the Boulevards, required the eclat
of a successful war and the prestige of an English alliance to give it per-
manence and respectability.

Lord Palmerston, again, was actuated by purely diplomatic motives.
He was the pupil of Canning, trained in the Foreign Office, and naturally
high-spirited and liberal. For years he had been the champion of all
liberal movements in the New and Old Worlds, and had everywhere found
the Emperor Nicholas his foremost opponent. France under Louis
Philippe had deserted him, and, as he thought, played him false, in the
matter of the Spanish marriages. He was determined to have his revenge,
and alone among English statesmen he hailed the accession of Louis
Napoleon as a means of obtaining it. He saw his opportunity in an
alliance between England, France, and Turkey to checkmate Nicholas in
the East; and, like a true diplomatist, thought more of winning the next
move, than of the real interests of the country and the permanent course
of events. By his personal popularity, and the popular feeling against
Nicholas as the champion of absolutism and destroyer of Polish and
Hungarian liberty, he dragged the Court, the Cabinet, and the country
with him, and involved us in the French alliance and the Crimean war.
He won the game for the moment, but what were the permanent results ?
He seated a political adventurer in the saddle, who for the next fifteen
years kept us and all Europe in hot water. He inaugurated the system of
great wars and excessive armaments, and destroyed the feeling of security
which had so long been the guarantee of peace. He raised the military
prestige of France to the foremost place in Europe, and lowered that of
England, for, notwithstanding the valor of our soldiers, their insufficient
numbers and the miserable failure of our arrangements for recruiting and
transport, made it palpable to the world that we were only playing second
fiddle to France. He lowered it indeed to a degree that was to a great
extent responsible for the Indian Mutiny, and for our ineffectual attempts
to prevent the outbreak of subsequent wars. England, in fact, remained
for many years almost a quantite negligeable in foreign politics; and Europe,
as a witty Frenchman said, for a long time stood in the attitude of a
poodle dog watching the eye of its master at the Tuileries.

On the other hand, the ostensible object of the war, the permanent
renovation of Turkey as a substantial barrier against Russian encroachment
failed utterly, as it was bound to fail, against the irresistible current of
events, which makes for decay of the Turkish Empire, and for the
emancipation of the Christian races, who are so much more apt for pro-
gress and civilization. The old Foreign Office policy of bolstering up the
Turkish rule over these races, and opposing Russia at every point in
Europe and Asia, was not only a short-sighted, but what is worse, a cynical


and immoral policy. It was a short-sighted policy, because it overlooked
the disproportion between means and ends, and made us the catspaw to
draw the chestnuts out of the fire for States like Austria, who had a far
larger interest in the Eastern question than ourselves. It was a policy
sure to fail in the long run, because the idea of regenerating Turkey was
purely fallacious. It was a policy which directed our attention from real
dangers nearer home from France, to remote, and to a great extent
imaginary dangers from Russia in Central Asia. And it was a cynical and
immoral policy, for even had it been possible, we had no right to say that
Roumanians, Servians, Bulgarians, and Greeks should continue to groan
forever under the desolating rule of Turkish pachas, in order to give
England some fancied better security against a remote danger of a Russian
attack on India.

If we trace the action of diplomacy farther, we find it responsible not
only for the first of the great modern wars, but for several of the succeed-
ing ones. By diplomacy, meaning the personal action of the man or
men who controlled foreign policy, as distinguished from great national
interests or currents of national sympathy. Thus the Franco-Austrian
war in Italy and the Franco-German war were distinctly due to the same
cause as had been the principal cause of the Crimean war viz., the neces-
sity felt by Louis Napoleon of giving France a sensational policy and
military glory, in order to reconcile it to the loss of liberty. In the case
of the Italian war, other motives may have conspired ; such as the sym-
pathy of Louis Napoleon with Italy from early recollections, and the fear
of assassination by conspirators of the Orsini type. But the motives were
purely personal. No one could say that, however desirable Italian inde-
pendence might be in itself, France had any such interest as to justify
spending French blood and treasure in promoting it On the contrary,
as the event has shown, the purely selfish interest of France was opposed
to the creation of a strong power on her Southern frontier, who might not
improbably become a rival or an enemy.

But if there may have been some mixture of motives on the part of
Louis Napoleon in commencing the Italian war, it remains certain that it
was worked up to by diplomatic means, and that diplomacy failed sig-
nally in averting it, though every effort was used, and the war was never
popular in France itself.

And there can be no question that the last and greatest of the great
wars, the Franco-German war, was simply and solely a diplomatic war.
The French Emperor had been for some time going down-hill. The
startling Prussian victories in the campaign of Sadowa had dimmed the
prestige of French military pre-eminence, and it had become apparent to
himself and the whole world, that he had been overreached and over-
mastered by the superior genius of Bismarck. With this decline of his
foreign prestige discontent at home had rapidly increased, Gambetta and


a host of the best orators and writers of France were daily thundering
philippics against his throne, and undermining it by sarcasms.

The Empress, who had acquired considerable ascendancy after the
Emperor's surrender to her in order to avert the scandal of her flight to
Edinburgh, saw clearly that victory alone could secure the dynasty, and
place the crown on the head of her son. She was therefore keen for war,
as indeed she had been for the Mexican war from religious motives, and
the frivolous entourage of the Court followed her example. The carpet-
generals, such as Lebouf, Frossard, and De Failly, were also all for war,
and full of the Chauvinistic idea of the invincibility of the French Army,
and the marvels of the mitrailleuse and chassepot Louis Napoleon
himself hestitated, for although he had grown lazy and lethargic with
advancing years, he was still too much of a statesman not to realize the
risks he ran in staking everything on the issue of a conflict with an army
which had crushed Austria in a seven weeks' campaign. But he had lost
his best adviser, the shrewd and cynical De Morny ; Marshal Niel was
also dead, and he had no military authority of sufficient weight to stem
the tide. MacMahon was his best general, a gallant gentleman and
good officer, but a man of no large views or force of character. Bazaine
was a mere fighting bull-dog, of no more capacity than a common

Yet with all these unfavorable surroundings, war would hardly have
been possible without the aid of the diplomatic machinery, which, in the
hands of Grammont and Benedetti, envenomed trifling incidents, and led
the Emperor step by step over the brink on the edge of which he was
hesitating. If the communications between the courts of Paris and Berlin
had been conducted through the Post Office by registered letter, instead
of through ambassadors, it would have been impossible to inflame the
Parisian populace by the invention of imaginary results.

One reflection from a review of these great wars is, that although they
originated in the purest personal motives of some three or four individ-
uals, they led to far-reaching results, which their authors were as far as
possible from contemplating. The Crimean war fixed Louis Napoleon on
the throne. Louis Napoleon's position led him into further wars, the
net result of which was to weld Germany and Italy into great nations.
The principle of nationality was the great undercurrent of the age, on the
surface of which Louis Napoleon, Palmerston, Cavour, and even Bismarck
himself, were but as straws showing the direction of the movement they
seemed to guide. Of Bismarck only can it be said that he foresaw the
movement, and to a considerable extent by his personal character and
action influenced the course of events. So true is it that there is a
' ' Providence which shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we may. "
The modern spirit of nationality is, in fact, the ruling factor in European
politics. The " School-master abroad," instead of inaugurating an era of
peace, has, in fact, been the principal cause of the modern eras of great


wars, and remains to the present day the chief element in the state of
unstable equilibrium which necessitates excessive armaments. The press
and education have taught all people who have a common race and lan-
guage, to rush by an irresistible impulse, towards a common nationality.
As in industrial enterprise railways tend to amalgamate, stores to super-
sede shops, and colossal companies to swallow up private undertakings,
so in politics, populations who go to school and read books and news-
papers, tend to rush together, according to affinities of race, language,
literature, and past history, and either form great empires, or, at any rate,
assert their independent nationalities. Even the smallest and most
remote nationalities feel the impulse, and Greeks, Roumanians, Bulgari-
ans, Servians, Magyars, Croats, and Czecks, agitate for greater independ-
ence or wider frontiers, introducing by their agitation an element of
risk and instability in all the relations of the Austrian Empire and of
Eastern Europe. Still more is the feeling of nationality paramount,
where great civilized races, like the Germans and Italians, with a glorious
common literature and great historical traditions, refuse to remain longer
under foreign rule, or cut up into petty states, in order to give colossal
neighbors the pleasure of bullying them with impunity, and insist on
taking their natural place among the foremost nations of the world.

Another important fact results from an examination of recent wars.
In three of the great wars the Crimean, the Franco-Austrian, and the
Franco-German France has been the originator and principal party,
while of the minor wars those of Mexico and Tonquin her aggression
was the sole cause. If we follow the course of history farther back, we
find this to be no isolated phenomenon, but that for more than two cen-
turies France has been the principal disturber of the peace of Europe;
and this in spite of repeated lessons, in opposition to the obvious interests
of the French people, and in many cases even to the popular feeling of a
majority of the nation, if it could have been fairly consulted. The whole
series of wars of Louis XIV., Louis XV., and Napoleon, were undertaken
without any rational object, to gratify the vanity or ambition of rulers
trading on the appetite of the French for military glory. In the recent
wars of Louis Napoleon this was even more conspicuously the case, for it
cannot be said of any one of them that it was necessary for any interest
of the French nation, or otherwise than unpopular with the mass of the
French people. The Crimean and Italian wars were never popular,
though they resulted in victories. The Mexican war was so unpopular
that it almost forced the Emperor into the last desperate risk of the war
with Germany in order to retrieve his position. The latest war, that of
Tonquin, was more than unpopular; it was so odious that it led to the
return of a formidable minority of Royalists, and has estranged from
power perhaps the ablest man of the Republican party, Jules Ferry, for
the sole reason that he was responsible for it.

Such a series of historical events, extending over two centuries ; cannot



have occurred without great underlying causes in the character and in-
stitutions of the French nation, which have enabled individual rulers, and
often mere court intriguers and courtesans, to lavish French blood and
treasure in such senseless and, in the long run, disastrous enterprises.
The causes are not far to seek. Since Cardinal Richelieu crushed the
aristocracy and local liberties, France has been a country in which Central
Administration was pushed to its extreme limits. The Revolution and
the empire of Napoleon carried the levelling process still farther, and
tightened the bands of centralization. Whoever gets hold of the War
and Foreign Offices, and of the Telegraph, is, for the time being, master
of France. Even this, however, would hardly suffice if there were not
something in the character of the French nation on which ambitious
rulers and aspiring adventurers could rely to give them, at any rate, a
temporary support.

The French character remains essentially as it was described by Julius
Caesar fickle, excitable, and vainglorious. Vanity, or the desire to shine,
is the fundamental trait both of the personal and national character.
Their emblem is still the Gallic cock.

" Qui chante bien haut quand il est vainqueur,
Plus haut encore quand il est vaincu."

I do not say this at all as a matter of reproach. Vanity is a quality
which is at the bottom of a great deal that is good. To be amiable,
polite, eager to shine and to excel, enthusiastic for ideas, open to novel-
ties, may, within certain limits, be contrasted favorably with the oppo-
site extreme into which we English, and other harder races like the Prus-
sians, are apt to fall, of a surly, arrogant pride, which disdains to please,
and looks down on all the world who are outside of their own limited set
or nation as inferior mortals. The contrast may be summed up by say-
ing, that France fights for ideas, England for interests.

But admitting that, as an abstract, ethical question, there may be
much to be said in favor of the French, as contrasted with the Teutonic
character, as a question of practical politics we must take things as we
find them, and recognize that these traits of French character, which have
been such a fruitful cause of wars in the past, remain so in the present
and the future. In the case of other nations, we can, to a great extent,
foresee and predict their course, if we understand rightly what are their
interests, and their great currents of national aspirations and feelings.
They are the planets of the European system revolving in more or less
settled orbits by calculable forces ; while France is a comet whose course
may be retrograde, and which may blaze out suddenly at some unex-
pected moment. Who can tell whether, five years hence, France will be
an Empire, a Monarchy, or a Republic, or whether she will be at peace
or war with Germany, Italy, or England ? This is a danger for all other
States, but especially for England, for it must never be forgotten that


France is the only enemy from whom we have anything serious to appre-
nend. Russia would in all probability let us alone in India if we let her
alone in Europe; and if the worst came to the worst, a war with Russia
would be, as Bismarck said, one between a whale and an elephant
Russia could not contest with us the empire of the seas, or threaten x>ur
coasts with invasion. All she could do would be to excite alarms on our
Indian frontier, and put us to the expense of maintaining in India one or
perhaps two army corps more than would otherwise be necessary.

But with France it would be a duel a la mart. In conceivable contin-
gencies, under the unknown conditions of modern naval warfare, she
might either command the Mediterranean and expel us from Egypt, or
the Channel, at any rate for a time, and invade us with a superior force
and capture London. In any case, she could inflict great injury on our
maritime commerce., and transfer a large portion of it to neutral flags.
She would certainly aim at one or all of these objects, and if possible at
an invasion, setting off a victory on British soil, and the capitulation of
London, as an offset against Waterloo and the occupations of Paris. In
such a war we could not safely reckon on allies. In the absence of posi-
tive engagements, Germany would have no great interest in risking the
bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier to defend England. On the contrary,
a war between France and England would divert the attention of France
from the recovery of her lost provinces. If adverse to France, the result
would be to cripple her for a long period; if successful to her, it would
lead to a scramble for naval and colonial supremacy, in which Germany
might find her account, and in any event would throw England into the
hostile camp, and ensure her seeking a German alliance on almost any
terms that Bismarck might choose to dictate. The accession of England
at once to the triple alliance would be a great security against these
dangers, but it is a question of terms. Bismarck would undoubtedly act
on his maxim, ' ' Do ut des, " and require positive engagements in ex-
change for those he gave. Lord Salisbury alone is in a position to know
what those terms would be, but it is to be apprehended that they would
be of such a nature that the British Parliament and public opinion would
decline to ratify them. We should certainly be very reluctant to take
engagements which obliged us to enter on a second Crimean war to
bolster up Turkey, or to risk being drawn into a great war by the conflict
of Austrian and Russian influences in the Balkan States. Moreover,
while these dangers from France and Russia remain in the background, it
is highly important for us to maintain friendly relations with those States
as long as possible.

Our wisest course probably will be to avoid entangling alliances, and
trust to our own strength ; but in this case it is indispensable to put our
naval and military defences and especially our navy on such a footing
as to remove any temptation to make a sudden attack on us, in the hope
that it might find us unprepared. But in the mean time, it remains a


primary factor in the European situation, that no general disarma-
ment is possible, unless France sets the example.

This could only be accomplished in one of two ways either by a
great war, in which France was so utterly defeated as to be completely
crippled, or by her being so isolated as to see that any attempt was hope-
less, and so exhausted by increasing debt and taxation as to make some
of the parties who, in the frequent vicissitudes of French politics, may
come into power, see that peace was a safer card to stake upon than la
revanche and military glory.

But this is hardly likely to come about as long as hopes remain of an
alliance with Russia to redress the balance of force, and enable French
armies to take the field with some reasonable chance of success. This,
again, depends very much on the relations between Austria and Russia.
If the natural desire of France to regain her prestige and her lost prov-
inces is one principal element in the European situation, the unstable
equilibrium of the Austrian Empire is another. It has been said that "if
Austria did not exist, it would be necessary to invent her." This is to a
great extent true. Nothing but the tradition of loyality to the Hapsburg
dynasty, and the esprit de corps of a powerful army, keep together the
heterogeneous elements of which Austria is composed. Half the popula-
tion are of Slavonic and other alien races, who dislike the German and
still more the Magyar elements, which are the dominant races in the dual
empire. In the Cis-Leithian, or western half, where the Germans pre-
ponderate, it is a question of the nicest statesmanship to reconcile this
German preponderance with the rival pretentious of the Czeks of Bohemia
and Poles of Gallicia. Concessions to these make the Germans look
towards Berlin, and concessions to the Germans make those look towards
St. Petersburg. Still the situation is possible, for the colossal power of
tne German Empire stands behind, and makes it certain that a Slavonic
Bohemia would not be tolerated in the heart of Germany. But in the
eastern, or Hungarian, half of the empire, the situation is greatly
aggravated. The Magyars are the ruling race, who, by their superior
statesmanship, valor, and tenacity, have fairly won the foremost place;
but they have one fatal defect they are not sufficiently numerous. They
are outnumbered by the Slavonic and Rouman races, alien to them by
language, past history, and religion; and who, with the spread of education,
and the rising feeling of nationality, resent more and more every day the
attempts of the Magyars to consider them as mere appanages of the king-
dom of St. Stephen. The great Croatian bishop, Strossmayer, is, as we
have seen lately, a political force, who can treat almost on equal terms
with popes and emperors. And well he may, for he represents the old
Slavonic nation, who form a majority, and in many cases nearly the whole
of the population in Croatia, Dalmatia, Carinthia, Southern Hungary,
Bosnia, Herzegovina, Montenegro, Servia, and the western half of
Macedonia. They are all of the same race, speak the same language,


read or are learning to read the same books and newspapers, and are
drawn together by so many affinities, that if all external pressure were
withdrawn, they would almost certainly rush together, and reform the
great Servian kingdom which was shattered by the Turks at the battle of
Kossova. And they are all animated by very much the same feeling, not
to be Germanized, and above all not to be Magyarized. This is Austria's
great difficulty, and, in case of a war, might readily become Russia's
opportunity. While this state of things lasts Austria cannot disarm, and
an armed Austria implies of necessity an armed Russia.

Is there any possible escape from this fatal circle, which compels all the
great Powers not only to maintain, but to increase and improve those
gigantic armies which have converted Europe into an armed camp, and
passed 15,000,000 of men through the hands of the drill-sergeant ? I can
see only one possible alternative to that of a great war, which should
definitely determine who was the strongest, and to a great extent remodel
the map of Europe and the conditions of its equilibrium. It is this. If
the "honest broker "at Berlin could negotiate such a compromise as
should satisfy Russia without unduly weakening Austria, and by satisfying
Russia should isolate France, and thus render a general disarmament
possible. Such a compromise would have to be based on a partition of
European Turkey.

A century ago the rivalries of Russia, Austria, and Prussia were settled
by the partition of Poland. That was felt to be a political crime, for it
extinguished the life of an historical nation, which however turbulent and
troublesome, had done signal service to Christendom under Sobieski at
the siege of Vienna. But no such moral considerations would apply to
the Turks, who have never been anything but a tribe of invading warriors,
encamped on the soil of Europe, desolating its fairest provinces, and
crushing out the civilization and progress of the conquered races. One
has only to compare the present state of Roumania, Bulgaria, Servia, and

Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 25 of 60)