« AnteriorContinuar »
THE BALTIC FLEET.
his fleet, wrote to him to counsel prudence; and after advising him to feel his way, and to make good his hold on the Gulf of Finland, he thus proceeded : When I say this, I by no means contemplate an attack either on Sveaborg or on Cronstadt. I have a great respect for stone walls, and have no fancy for running even screw line-of-battle ships against them. Because the public here may be impatient, you must not be rash ; because they, at a distance from the danger, are foolhardy, you must not risk the loss of your fleet in an impossible enterprise.' He added much more to the same effect, expressing an opinion that Sveaborg and Cronstadt were impregnable. Eventually Bomarsund was taken, but nothing at all commensurate with the bighlyraised hopes of the nation was effected, and the public disappointment was strongly expressed. Then ensued a recriminatory correspondence between the First Lord of the Admiralty and Sir Charles Napier, in which each tried to throw on the other the blame of the failure with which they were reproached. The fact was, that neither the one nor the other was really blameworthy. The nation had expected impossibilities, and was mortified because these expectations were disappointed; but both the First Lord of the Admiralty and Sir Charles had helped to raise, by their speeches at the Reform Club dinner, these impossible hopes, which they were now censured for not having realised. The avenging Nemesis of these speeches had at length overtaken those who made them, and destroyed the friendship and confidence which they had so warmly expressed
While the war was being carried on, the British people were watchful and interested spectators of its chief events, and especially of those transacted outside Sebastopol. In spite of the objections urged by military men of the old school against the presence of reporters at the seat of war, they were sent by the principal journals in great numbers, and gave such detailed accounts of what was passing as would not have been permitted to have been sent in any previous war. Men of great abilities and high character were chosen for this purpose by the principal journals, and they discharged the duty assigned to them with fearlessness and impartiality. They gave the fullest details, and criticised with much freedom the conduct both of the civil and military anthorities under whose superintendence the expedition was placed ; and there can be no doubt that the fear of their criticisms had a very salutary effect in quick. ening the diligence and increasing the care of those who were or might be the objects of them. While these correspondents did full justice to the skill and courage displayed in the field, they also described in the most graphic manner the horrid carnage of the battle-field and the sufferings of the sick and wounded. Nor did they hesitate to expose the mismanagement of those who had the care of the various departments of the army in the Crimea, as well as of those whose duty it was to forward supplies from home. These letters were perused in England with very various and mingled feelings. Some gloated over the scenes of 'glory' and carnage which were so vividly depicted by their writers. Others regarded with feelings of unmingled abhorrence and disgust the horrid details of the butchery of so many brave men on both sides. Some, moved by compassion for those who had fallen in the conflict, were anxious to provide for their families. Others were stimulated to alleviate the tortures of those who had been wounded, or who were suffering from some of the terrible diseases which the rigour of the Crimean winter-exposure, or the want of sufficient food and clothing—had produced. The Queen took the lead in giving effect to these feelings of her subjects. She issued a commission, directed to Prince Albert and a large number of noblemen and gentlemen, authorising them to raise a ‘Patriotic Fund' for the relief of the orphans and widows of the soldiers, sailors, or marines who might fall in the war. The Times, which, by its correspondent at the seat of war, Dr. Russell, as well as by numerous articles it had published on the subject, had been very mainly instrumental in drawing public attention to the condition of our sick and wounded sol. diers in the Crimea, made an appeal on their behalf, which was responded to by a contribution amounting to 25,4001., and a central association in aid of the wives and families of soldiers ordered on foreign service raised upwards of 100,0001. towards the objects for which it had been established. While the ministry and the great majority of the nation were thus endeavouring to alleviate the miseries which were the foreseen and inevitable consequences of the
war in which they had embarked, there was still a small party which, having from the first protested against this war, now refused to contribute to the relief of sufferings which, if their counsels had been followed, would have been altogether avoided. Of their views Mr. Bright was the chief exponent. Being at that time member for Manchester, he was requested to take part in a meeting to be holden in that city on the 29th of October, for the purpose of raising money for the Patriotic Fund. In reply to this invitation, he wrote a letter, in which he thus stated his reasons for believing the war to be unnecessary, and for refusing to contribute to the removal of the evils which had resulted from it. My doctrine,' he wrote, 'would have been non-intervention in this case. The danger of the Russian power was a phantom; the necessity of permanently upholding the Mahometan rule in Europe an absurdity; our love for civilisation, when we subject the Greeks and Christians to the Turks, is a sham; and our sacrifices for freedom, when working out the behests of the emperor of the French, and coaxing Austria to help us, are pitiful imposture. The evils of non-intervention were remote and vague, and could neither be weighed nor described in
accurate terms. This bold and plain-spoken avowal afterwards cost Mr. Bright his seat. The opinions he expressed were such as he had all along professed. If he ceased to represent Manchester, it was not because he had changed, but because his constituents would no longer tolerate those peace-principles which they knew that he held when they first elected him to be their represen. tative.
Subsequently a meeting of many who were opposed to war upon principle was called, to consider whether they should contribute to the Patriotic Fund. After long and earnest deliberation, they came to the conclusion that they would withhold their contributions; and their organ, the Herald of Peace, thus stated the grounds which had led them to feel that they ought to hold aloof from it altogether: 'It does not seem to us possible to take part in this movement without directly contributing to feed and further the system by which these orphans and widows have been created, and which, the more it is encouraged, will only add the more to the numbers of such sufferers
day by day and year by year. For, in the first place, no one can have marked the tone of the meetings which have been held to promote this fund without perceiving that, with very few and rare exceptions, their whole tendency is to glorify the entire war-system, and to fan into a broader and hotter flame the sinister enthusiasm for the present war which already burns so fiercely among the people. They who ventured to give expression to opinions so little in harmony with the spirit which almost universally prevailed, were loaded with all kinds of objurgatory epithets; were accused of being guilty of 'immorality,' of mean. ness,' of 'hypocrisy;' were reviled as 'pitiless Quakers,' were told that 'they might keep their dirty money,' and reproached with refusing to consider the hard case of the widow and the orphan.
The continuance of the war rendered it necessary, in the opinion of the government, to assemble the legislature at a very unusual period. Tuesday, December 12th, was appointed for its meeting, and it was opened by the sovereign in person. The day was fine; an immense mul. titude lined the roads along which the procession passed on its way to the palace of the legislature, and greeted the Queen with unbounded enthusiasm. In fact, the loyal excitement on this occasion was so great that it was difficult to keep it within the bounds of safety and prudence; and if precautions bad not been taken beforehand, it is probable that some serious accidents would have occurred, through the inability of the police to prevent a general rush after the Queen's carriage. The royal speech was very brief. It announced that the two Houses had been called together at this unusual period in order that they might take such measures as might enable the Queen to carry on the great war in which the country was engaged with the utmost vigour and effect. It referred to the hearty and efficient coöperation which had been afforded by the brave troops of the emperor of the French, and to the alliances which had been concluded with the emperor of Austria and the United States of America. In the debates on the address no opposition was offered, but many complaints were uttered. Lord Derby attacked ministers on account of the tardiness and want of prescience they had displayed throughout all the proceedings that had led
SPEECH OF THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE.
to the war, as well as during the war itself. He charged them with being always too late ; too late with their fleets, too late in sending troops to Constantinople, too late in entering the Black Sea, too late in declaring the crossing of the Pruth to be a casus belli, too late in sending an army to Varna, too late in their preparations for the war, and, to crown all, too late in arriving in Sebastopol. He concluded by urging the necessity of prosecuting the war energetically, and stated his conviction that in doing so ministers would be sustained by the public opinion of the country.
To the attacks of Lord Derby, the Duke of Newcastle, who, as minister of war, was chiefly responsible for the neglects with which the government was reproached, made the following reply:
‘I will not attempt to make an out-and-out defence of all that has been done, nor will I deny that mistakes have been made at the commencement, which would be remedied now if the same things had to be done again. But I must remind your lordships that the first object in view was the protection of Constantinople. This being secured, other objects were desired, and efforts were made to accomplish them. With respect to the Baltic, it is true that Cronstadt is not taken, and that the Russian fleet is intact; but a great moral effect has been produced by the expedition. The trade of Russia has been destroyed, and its fleet cannot pat to sea—a circumstance which cannot fail to be humili. ating to the pride of a country like Russia. With regard to the Black-Sea expedition, the best defence of the government would be the production of the despatches which have passed between Lord Raglan and myself, if the present were a time when they could be produced without detriment to the service. The expedition to Sebastopol was not rashly undertaken. Lord Raglan had been instructed to make all necessary inquiries as to the strength of the place, and the force necessary for its capture. From the first the invasion of the Crimea was contemplated. The order for attacking Sebastopol was given from home, but not against the opinion of the generals. That order was issued on the 29th of June, seven days after the raising of the siege of Silistria.' After explaining the difficulties and delays that had occurred in the transport of troops on the