« AnteriorContinuar »
LORD JOHN RUSSELL.
conference, the negotiations having failed, at least for the present. It was announced, however, that they were suspended, not absolutely closed.
On the 24th of May Mr. Disraeli brought forward a motion condemning the ambiguous language used by the government in reference to the continuance of the war. In opposing this motion, Lord J. Russell adopted a tone so warlike, he so strongly condemned the proposals that had been made at Vienna, that all his hearers imagined that the negotiations there had been broken off with his approval ; indeed, Mr. Roebuck afterwards declared that, having previously intended to vote against the government, he had been induced by this speech to support it. It therefore created no small astonishment when Count Buol, the Austrian plenipotentiary at the conference, alleged that Lord J. Russell had approved the very proposals which in his speech on Mr. Disraeli’s motion he had so strongly condemned. The consequence was, that on Friday, June 6th, Mr. M. Gibson questioned Lord J. Russell on the subject, and succeeded in eliciting from him the admission that he had been of opinion that the terms proposed at the conference, and to which Russia was willing to accede, were such as, in his opinion, would have afforded the basis of a satisfactory peace; but that not being authorised to agree to them, he had rejected them against his own judgment, though he had subsequently come over to the opinion entertained respecting them by the rest of his colleagues, that they were inadmissible, and had expressed that opinion in his speech on Mr. Disraeli's motion. This explanation, however, was received with great dissatisfaction both by the House and by the country. There was a strong feeling against having any one in the ministry who was half-hearted with regard to the war. It was thought that the administrative failures which had produced so profound and so painfnl an impression, had to a great extent arisen from the war being conducted by men who secretly abhorred it, and therefore did not prosecute it with vigour. And the revelations that had been made strengthened the suspicion that there were still men in the Cabinet who were more anxious to conclude a peace than to carry on the war with the thoroughness that the nation demanded of them. There was therefore a very strong determination in and
out of Parliament either to get rid of the ministry, or to drive Lord John Russell out of the ministry. The conservatives determined to take advantage of this feeling, and in accordance with this determination, Sir E. B. Lytton gave notice of the following motion : "That the conduct of Lord J. Russell at the recent negotiations at Vienna has in the opinion of the House shaken the confidence of the country in those to whom its affairs are intrusted.' Several subordinate members of the administration declared that they were determined to vote in favour of the motion, which in all probability would have been carried. Lord Palmerston, on the other hand, chivalrously assured Lord J. Russell of his readiness to stand or fall with him ; but Lord J. Russell prevented this sacrifice by withdrawing from the ministry before the motion was brought forward.
While the struggle was still going on, and was intensely exciting the legislature and the country, Prince Albert rightly judged that the time had arrived when it had become necessary that he should cast aside for the moment that reserve in speaking of public affairs which his position as consort of the Queen imposed on him, and should remonstrate publicly with the legislature and the people on the danger to which the country was being exposed by the unreasonable conduct pursued towards the government at this very
critical moment. He therefore took the opportunity of the annual Trinity-House dinner on the 9th of June to make a brief but statesmanlike appeal to the forbearance and patriotism of the nation, which admirably exhibited the state of feeling that existed, and the embarrassment and difficulty it caused to those who were charged with the administration of the country. In proposing the health of her Majesty's ministers he thus spoke: “If there ever was a time at which her Majesty's government, by whomsoever conducted, required the support-ay, not the support alone, but the confidence, goodwill, and sympathy -of their fellow-countrymen, it is surely the present. It is not the way to success in war to support it, however ardently and enthusiastically, and at the same time to tie down and weaken the hands of those who have to conduct it. We are engaged with a mighty enemy, who is using against us all those wonderful powers which have sprung up under the generating influence of our liberty and our
PRINCE ALBERT ON THE WAR.
civilisation. You find him with all that force which unity of purpose and action, impenetrable secrecy, and uncon. trolled despotic power have given; while we have met him under a state of things intended for peace, and for the promotion of that very civilisation, the offspring of public discussion, of the friction of parties, and of the popular control over the government and the state. The Queen has no power to levy troops, nor has she any at her command but such as offer their voluntary services. Her government can take no measure for the prosecution of the war which it has not before had to explain to parliament. Her armies and fleets can make no movements, nor even prepare for any, without their being publicly announced in the papers. No mistake, however trifling, can occur, no want or weakness exist, which is not at once denounced, and even sometimes exaggerated, with a kind of morbid satisfaction. The Queen's ambassador can enter into no negotiations without the government having to defend him, by laying bare all the arguments which that negotiator, in order to be successful, ought to be able to shut up in the innermost recesses of his heart. Nay, at the most critical position, when war and diplomatic relations may be at their height, an adverse vote in parliament may in a moment deprive the Queen of the whole of her confidential servants. Gentlemen, our constitutional government is undergoing a heavy trial, and we shall not get successfully through it, unless the country will grant its confidence-its patriotic, intelligent, and self-denying confidence-to her Majesty's government.
This appeal was not made altogether in vain. After Lord John Russell's resignation the government was treated by parliament, the press, and the people, with more consideration than had hitherto been displayed, showing that the wise remonstrances of the Prince had sunk into men's minds, and to a certain extent produced their intended effect. But this did not save their author from cruelly unjust imputations of sympathy towards Russia, at the very time when he was giving the people of this country wise counsels, and indicating the most effectual means of coping with that
power. We must now turn aside from the war, and from the feeling that it excited in this country, to other events of a
inuch less important character, but which nevertheless for the moment engaged the attention of the English people. In the course of the session Lord R. Grosvenor had in. troduced a bill into the House of Commons, having for its object the suppression of Sunday trading. The measure was framed in a manner which was calculated to call forth the indignant opposition of the classes with whose amusements, recreations, or profits it proposed to interfere. It was one of those one-sided pieces of legislation, which create a strong feeling of injustice in those who are the victims of it. Accordingly the plan called forth a kind of opposition which its proposer had not anticipated. On Sunday the 24th June, the persons who felt themselves aggrieved by the proposed measure displayed their feelings in a nlanner not a little disagreeable and even alarming to those who were unfortunate enough to be exposed to the manifestation of them. On that day Hyde-park presented a singular spectacle. Multitudes of the lower classes beset the various drives, and received every equestrian or carriage that appeared in the park with terrific bowls and outcries, which in many instances frightened the horses, and placed the lives of those who were conveyed by them in considerable jeopardy: The crowd afterwards proceeded to Bel. grave-square, Wilton-street, Grosvenor-square; doing much damage before a sufficient force of police could be collected. Nor was the mischief confined to these aristocratic locali. ties; for in Hampstead-road and Tottenham-court-road much violence was also committed. The mob mustered again on the following Sunday in still greater force. The police, on the other hand, were better prepared to meet them. The scene that occurred was thus described in the Times :
Carriages were admitted to the drive; and when the hooting began, the police rushed out from their ambuscades, and made unsparing use of their truncheons on every person within their reach. So vigorous was their onset, that the people were driven about in all directions, the constables pursuing and hitting away right and left. By a very clever manæuvre, for which the very highest credit is due to the gallant constable in command at that particular point, a portion of the crowd was driven into the Serpentine. To avoid the truncheons, some of the baffled foe, as is reported to us, absolutely took to the water, and endeavoured by
swimming to gain the opposite bank. But no resource is unknown to British valour. The police had boats at their service, and the fierce creatures were brought back in triumph to the shore. Need we say that the police were vic. torious in this hotly-contested affair?'
Lord R. Grosvenor was not the man to ride the storm he had raised. He withdrew his foolish bill, though by doing so he did not prevent another riot in the park on the following Sunday. The conduct of the police in regard to these disturbances was much complained of, and was the subject of reiterated discussion in the House of Commons, ending in the appointment of a commission of inquiry. In the course of the debates on these disturbances, Mr. Dundas thus gave vent to his mortification at the withdrawal of Lord R. Grosvenor's bill:
‘I never saw greater forbearance or moderation exercised on any occasion than was exercised on Sunday last by the police. The mob consisted chiefly of boys and young men under twenty; and fancy their leaning over the iron rails, and screeching at every carriage which went past, and then showing intense delight when they frightened a spirited horse, and endangered the lives of those in the carriage ! I saw the police endeavour to drive back this canaille from the rails; and they did so with the greatest moderation. No doubt with a few of them force might have been used; but these rascally boys ought, I believe, to have been more severely dealt with. We all know how very small a blow will bring blood, and how very little blood will make a great show. I regret extremely that the demonstration of last Sunday induced the noble lord who introduced the bill to withdraw it. I hardly think it was very dignified on the part of the House to yield to that popular clamour. So we are threatened with another disturbance next Sunday, and it is said men will come armed to oppose the police. I hope the honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Office will take the strongest measures to prevent such a collision. Prevention is at all times better than. cure ; and I would remind the right honourable baronet that nothing will frighten a mob more than the crash on the pavement of the trail of a six-pounder.' These last words called forth loud protests, and they were subsequently withdrawn