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CHAPTER XXIX.: the french treaty. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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the french treaty.
In the summer of 1859 M. Michel Chevalier paid a visit to1859.
In the session of 1859 Mr. Bright in a speech in the House of Commons incidentally asked why, instead of lavishing the national substance in armaments, they did not go to the French Emperor and attempt to persuade him to allow his people to trade freely with ours.2 M. Chevalier, after reading this speech, was inspired by the idea of a Commercial Treaty between England and France, and he wrote to Cobden in this sense. Coming to England shortly afterwards, he found that Cobden had arranged, for family reasons, to pass a portion of the winter in Paris. He immediately saw an opening, and urged Cobden to seize the opportunity for converting the Emperor, as fifteen years earlier he had so powerfully aided in converting the English public, to the policy of Free Trade, and to as near an execution of that policy as the circumstances of a country still in the stage of prohibition could permit.
These ideas made so strong an impression on Cobden that he grew eager to discuss them with the only statesman in the high official world with whom he felt conscious of deep moral and political sympathy. What made the idea of a Treaty possible, moreover, was that in the following1859.
Mr. Gladstone discerned both the opportunity which such a movement would afford for continuing the great work of 1859.
Cobden’s first suggestion had been that as he was about to spend a part of the winter in Paris, he might1859.
This was the plan with which Cobden quitted Hawarden. He was not confident of success, for he knew that he would have to deal with governments, and he had little faith in either the courage or the disinterestedness of governments. When he started on the expedition, he had written in no sanguine vein to Mr. Bright:—“Governments seem as a rule to be standing conspiracies to rob and bamboozle people, and why should that of Louis Napoleon be an exception? The more I see of the rulers of the world,” he added, in amplification of a famous saying, “the less of wisdom or greatness do I find necessary for the government of mankind.”
When he reached London he found that the Ministers had been summoned for a Cabinet Council. He called upon Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell, and discussed M. Chevalier’s notions with them. “It is not easy,” he wrote to Mr. Bright, “to interest men whose foreign policy has been running in such different grooves, in questions of political economy and tariffs. But I spoke frankly to both of them as to the state of our relations with France, and disparaged the value of an alliance in China, or any other pretended entente cordiale, whilst we were keeping up 1859.
“From what I hear,” he continued, “the Cabinet is concerned with the mighty question whether France is to take a bit of territory from Morocco. We are, I suppose, to protest from Gibraltar against anything so shocking to us as picking and stealing our neighbour’s territory going on within view of that reputable possession of ours. We have taken a whole empire from a Mahometan sovereign in Asia, and we are horrified at France taking a province in the same latitude from a Mahometan sovereign in Africa. For my part, if France took the whole of Africa, I do not see what harm she would do us or anybody else save herself.”4
It will one day seem incredible that two keen and patriotic statesmen of the eminence which Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell held in the public esteem, should at this stage of our history have so misconceived the relative importance of things, as to think the very remotest doings of any foreign government a matter of real and primary importance, and an extension of our trade, however vast it might promise to be, a matter so purely secondary as hardly to be worth an hour’s serious attention. At a Lord Mayor’s dinner, or at a meeting at Manchester, each of them often uttered the stereotyped sentences about commercial prosperity being the basis of British greatness. But neither of them had what religious writers call a living sense of the extent to which such words were true. They were really thinking all the time of strong despatches and spirited representa tions. The commercial and industrial movements of our1859.
Although, however, he received no cheerful encouragement from either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, Cobden was not forbidden to proceed on the mission that he had volunteered. On October 18, he arrived in Paris, and on the 23rd he went to see Lord Cowley at Chantilly. They had a long conversation, in the course of which the English Ambassador gave the Emperor a high character for straightforwardness, and a strict adherence to his word in all his engagements with Lord Cowley himself. Two days later Cobden, M. Chevalier, and M. Rouher dined together. The Minister had been very uneasy lest the fact of his interview with Cobden should get abroad, and I have heard that the dinner was planned with as much secrecy and discretion as if they had been three housebreakers under the surveillance of the police.
M. Rouher, who was then Minister of Commerce, professed strong Free-trade views, and was thoroughly won round by cobden’s exposition of the well-known list of Protectionist subterfuges. He made no secret that it was the Emperor only who on every question gave the initiative to his Minister. If he could be induced to reform his customs duties, M. Rouher would be a very willing instrument in promoting his plans. The next step, and the 1859.
“After a few remarks upon the subject of the improvements in Paris, and in the Bois de Boulogne, and after he had expressed his regret at my not having entered the Ministry of Lord Palmerston, the Emperor alluded to the state of feeling in England, and expressed his regret that notwithstanding he had for ten years given every possible proof of his desire to preserve the friendship of the British people, the press had at last defeated his purpose, and now the relations of the two countries seemed to be worse than ever. He appealed to me if he had ever done one act to justify the manner in which he was assailed by our press? I candidly told him that I thought the Governments of both countries were to blame. He asked what he could do more than he had already done to promote the friendly relations of the two countries.5 This led to the question of Free Trade, and I urged many arguments in favour of1859.
“The Emperor is short in stature and very undignified; I never saw a person with fewer heroic traits in his appearance and manner. But there is nothing harsh or even cold in the expression of his countenance. His eye is not pleasant at first, but it warms and moistens with conversation, and gives you the impression that he is capable of generous emotions.
“The approach to the Palace of Saint Cloud was thronged with military, both horse and foot. I entered the building, and passed through an avenue of liveried lacqueys in the hall, from which I ascended the grand staircase, guarded at the top by sentries, and I passed through a series of apartments hung with gorgeous tapestry, each room being in charge of servants higher in rank as they come nearer to the person of the Sovereign. As I surveyed this gorgeous spectacle, I found my thoughts busy with the recollection of a very different scene which I had looked upon a few months before at Washington, when I was the guest of the President of the United States, a plain man in a black suit, 1859.
In writing of this important interview to Mr. Bright, Cobden says (Nov. 17, 1859):—
“I had a full hour’s private talk at St. Cloud with Louis Napoleon. He knew I had taken the unpopular line in opposing the invasion cry. He is not unmindful of such acts of fairness, and I felt myself not only tolerated but encouraged to talk, with just as much frankness as I could to you or any other equal. In reply to his strong complaints against the English press, I told him that the course he had taken in beginning the Italian war suddenly, and without publishing a manifesto of his grievances to the world, had alarmed the public mind of Europe; that not only England but Germany was arming to the teeth; and that this was all in reference to himself, and from the fear that he contemplated repeating the career of his uncle. I told him that there was but one way of removing this impression, and that was by a bold measure of commercial reform; that there was only a choice between the policy of Napoleon I. and the policy of Sir Robert Peel. On this point, I used every argument, to make it appear that it was his interest to begin the work at once; quoted the complete success of our experiment; and pointed to the fame of Sir Robert Peel, and the veneration in which his memory was held, as stimulants for his honourable ambition. I found his sympathies strongly with us, but he is ignorant of practical details, and he has consequently a great dread of the protectionists. You may be sure I spared no pains to take the latter gentry down in his estimation. I never had a better private pupil. He is a good listener, and put some very pertinent questions. The most remarkable fact respecting this man is, that, whilst the press and the popular sentiment attribute to him the most tortuous and deceptive policy, allwho have business with him, without exception, give him the cha1859.
The Emperor afterwards expressed himself to M. Fould as highly satisfied with the interview. Cobden, he said, had given him a little courage. In describing this interview to Lord Palmerston, Cobden expressed a strong opinion that the Emperor was more afraid than he need have been, of the protected interests. “I have no doubt that as you say,” Lord Palmerston wrote in reply, “the Emperor and his advisers greatly exaggerate the resisting power of the protectionist classes. But the want of moral courage in Frenchmen which you advert to, is confessed even by Frenchmen themselves, and it is probably one cause of the frequency of political convulsions in France.” Napoleon was open to the impressions of political fervour. Cobden produced upon his mind the same reinspiriting effect which had followed in relation to his Italian policy from the memorable interview with Cavour in the previous spring.
M. Fould was the person next to be converted, and Cobden succeeded in persuading him that instead of the timid course of replacing a policy of prohibition by a policy of extensive protection, the Government would do better boldly to embrace a large reform. The protectionists, he 1859.
A day or two afterwards he received from the Emperor an invitation for himself and his wife to spend four days at Compiègne. He declined it on the plea of Mrs. Cobden’s health. M. Chevalier was very anxious that he should go, and Cobden wrote to Mr. Bright that he was sorely tempted to accept the invitation, because it would have given him a good opportunity of talking to the Emperor unreservedly, and without the risk of his audiences being reported. It was the Emperor’s custom to walk about with his guests, and chat with them over his interminable cigarettes. “If I had been sure,” Cobden says, “of converting my pupil into a practical Free-trader, I would have gone. But if I failed, the fact of my having taken part in those gay festivities would have furnished a ready taunt of my having been bought and seduced, if I had over said a word against a French invasion afterwards. So it is better as it is.”6
Ten days were passed in discussions with M Fould, and conversations with M. Chevalier. There were many vacillations, and each day brought its new rumour, for hope or discouragement. Cobden’s record of some of his interviews with the Minister is worth reproducing, because they show the mind of the French Government in listening to his arguments, and they show also how entirely the French Ministers depended on him for inspiration and guidance in their new policy.
Nov. 2.—“M. Fould called; he seemed preoccupied with1859.
“He saw great difficulties in the way. How, when, and where could a negotiation be carried on, and with whom? He was afraid that if a meeting between himself, the Minister of Commerce, M. Rouher, and myself, were to take place, it could not be kept a secret; that at present they 1859.
“Before parting, I alluded to the state of uneasiness, not only in England but on the Continent, and reminded him of the great increase of warlike preparation which had been going on; and I expressed an opinion that a Bonaparte being on the throne of France, who had last spring invaded Italy and fought great battles, was the cause of the present feeling of mistrust, and that to this fact alone was to be attributed an augmentation of the expenditure for defensive armaments in Europe at this moment to the amount of twenty millions sterling per annum. He said that nothing was farther from the Emperor’s thoughts than to pursue a warlike policy. I remarked, as he was leaving the room, that, so far as I was acquainted with the state of public opinion in England, nothing would so instantaneously convince the people there of the Emperor’s pacific intentions, as his entering boldly upon a policy of commercial reform, by which he would enable those, who, like myself, took the unpopular side in opposing the current of prejudice and hatred which was1859.
The next day Cobden started for London, where he remained for a week, partly engaged in some private business connected with the Illinois Railway. He saw Mr. Gladstone, who entered as heartily as before into the matter. “Glad-stone,” he said in a letter to his trusted friend at Rochdale, “is really almost the only Cabinet Minister of five years’ standing who is not afraid to let his heart guide his head a little at times.” He tried to see the Foreign Secretary, but failed. “I doubt,” he says, “whether Lord John is not just now attaching more value to the spirited turn of a phrase about Morocco, than to my efforts to lay down a commercial cable that shall bind these two great countries together.” He called on Lord Palmerston, and had a conversation on the state of public feeling in France and England. Lord Palmerston admitted that the Government of this country had no complaint against the Emperor, and no reason to be dissatisfied with his conduct, and that there was no unsettled question or ground of quarrel between the two countries. But one man had told him of a French order for ten thousand tons of iron plating for ships of war, and another man had told him of a large order for rifled cannons, and a third had talked of some flat-bottomed boats at Nantes. All these tendencies to increase his means of aggression in case of a desire to attack England, made it necessary, said Lord Palmerston, to increase our means of defence. Would it not 1859.
On his way back to France, M. de Persigny, the French ambassador, came over from Hastings to Newhaven to discuss with him the prospects of commercial reform in France. Cobden thought highly of Persigny, spoke of him as “an honest and warm-hearted” creature, and recognized, as some of the bitterest enemies of the group who helped Louis Napoleon of the throne have always recognized, that Persigny’s devotion to the Emperor would have stood the test of adverse fortune. However this may be, there can be no doubt of the French ambassador’s zeal and sincerity on behalf of the new cause.
On the 17th of November, Cobden returned to Paris, so ill that he at once took to his bed, and was confined to his room for some days. Illness, however, did not quench his zeal, and he carried on the endless argument with the Ministers in his bedroom. It is not necessary to recount the course of negotiations from day to day, nor the busy and laborious discussions with M. Fould and M . Rouher. On December 9th, M. Chevalier informed Cobden that M. Rouher had prepared his plan for a commercial treaty, which would be submitted for the Emperor’s approval on the next day. “There is but one man in the Government,” M. Rouher had said, “the Emperor, and but one will, that of the Emperor.” The will of this one man still remained uncertain. Lord Cowley who had been staying at Compiègne three weeks1859.
“Lord Cowley,” he says in another place, “who knows the Emperor so well, smiled at the idea which so generally prevails of his being always actuated by some clever Machiavellian scheme, when he is often only committing indiscretions from too much simplicity, and want to states-manlike forethought. He repeated the opinion which he had expressed before, that ‘it is not in him’ to have any great plan for a political combination, extending into the future, and embracing all Europe.”
Better ideas prevailed at last. M. de Persigny had come over from London, to tell his master how hostile and dangerous was the state of opinion in England. For the first time in his experience, he said, he believed war to be possible, unless the Emperor took some step to remove the profound mistrust that agitated the English public. The security of the throne, he went on to urge, depended on the English alliance being a reality. So long as there was a solid friendship between England and France, they need not care what might be in the mind of Russia, Austria, or 1859.
M. Rouher presented his plan of a commercial treaty, together with sixty pages of illustrative reasoning upon it. The whole was read to the Emperor; he listened attentively through every page, approved it, and declared his intention of carrying it out. He then produced a letter which he had prepared, addressed to M. Fould, and intended for publication, in which he announced his determination to enter upon a course of pacific improvement, to promote the industry of the country by cheapening transport, and so forth.
The project was now disclosed to Count Walewski, the Minister for foreign affairs, and Cobden was invited to have an interview with him. Once more he went over the ground along which he had already led Fould, Rouher, and the Emperor. “I endeavoured,” says Cobden, “to remove his doubts and difficulties, and to fortify his courage against the protectionist party, whose insignificance and powerlessness I demonstrated by comparing their small body with the immense population which was interested in the removal of commercial restrictions.” The discussion with M. Walewski was followed by a second interview with the Emperor.
Dec. 21.—“Had an interview with the Emperor at the Tuileries. I explained to him that Mr. Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was anxious to prepare his Budget for the ensuing session of Parliament, and that it would be a convenience to him to be informed as soon as possible whether the French Government was decided to agree to a commercial treaty, as in that case he would make arrangements accordingly; that he did not wish to be in1859.
“Whilst we were in the midst of this familiar conversation, during which he smoked several cigarettes, the Empress entered the room, to whom I was introduced. She is a tall and graceful person, very amiable and gracious, but her features were not entirely free from an expression of thoughtfulness, if not melancholy. The1859.
Cobden gives some further particulars in a letter to Mr. Bright (Dec. 29, 1859):—
“I saw the Emperor again for a full hour last week, as you would learn from your brother. Of course, I tried to employ every minute on my own topic, but he was in a talkative mood, and sometimes ran off an other subject. It was at four o’clock; he had been busy all day, and I was surprised at the gaiety of his manner. He smoked cigarettes all the time, but talked and listened admirably. ... On this occasion my private lesson was chiefly taken up with answering the arguments with which M. Magne, his Minister of Finance, who is a furious protectionist, had been trying of frighten him. Here was one of them, which he repeated word for word to me: ’sire, if you do not make a sensible reduction in your duties, the measure will be charged on you as an attempted delusion. If you do make a serious reduction, then for every piece of foreign manufacture admitted into France, you will displace a piece of domestic fabrication.’ I of course laughed, and held up both hands, and exclaimed what an old friend that argument was; how we had been told the same thing a thousand times of corn; and how we answered it a thousand times by showing that a fourth part of the people were not properly fed. And then I showed how we had imported many millions of quarters of corn annually since the repeal of our corn law, whilst our own agriculture was more prosperous 1859.
After this interview the negotiation reached the stage of formal diplomacy. Cobden’s position had hitherto been wholly unofficial. He had been a private person, representing to the French Emperor that he believed the English Government would not be indisposed to entertain the question of a commercial treaty. The matter came officially before Lord Cowley in the form of a request from Count Walewski that he would ascertain the views and intentions of his Government. Lord Cowley applied to Lord John Russell for official instructions to act, and in the course of the next month Cobden received his own instructions and powers. Meanwhile not a day was lost, and he brought the1860.
“Jan. 4.—Dined at M. Emile de Girardin’s, and met Prince Napoleon, the son of Jerome, whose face bears a strong resemblance to the first Napoleon. After dinner I conversed apart with him for nearly an hour upon the subject of the proposed Treaty, to which he was strongly favourable. He verified the opinion I had heard of him as being favourable to Free Trade, and he spoke with much fluency and considerable knowledge on economical questions. He gives one the impression of great cleverness in a first interview. In the course of our conversation, in speaking of the relations between France and England, he said that he knew, from frequent conversations with the Emperor, that he desired, du fond de son cœur, to be at peace with England, and that he was led to this feeling by the perusal of the life of his uncle, whose fall was attributable to the hostility of England, whose wealth furnished the sinews of war to the 1860.
“He informed me that M. Walewski had retired from the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.8 This led to a long conversation upon the foreign policy of France. The Prince said that as there was to be no congress on Italian affairs, the only way in which they could be arranged was by a thorough alliance between France, England, and Sardinia, by whom the Italian territory must be held inviolate against foreign intervention, and that England must be prepared, in case Austria should violate this rule, to send a fleet into the Adriatic to co-operate with France against that Power. I told him that such an alliance with the present state of public opinion in England to hostile to, or so fearful of, the designs of the Emperor, was out of the question; that the only way to alter this state of doubt and suspicion was a declaration of views by the French Government favourable to a greater commercial intercourse between the two countries; that letters or phrases would have no effect; that acts alone, as displayed in a reform of the tariff, would inspire the English people with confidence in the pacific intentions of the Emperor. The Prince professed a perfect agreement, repeating my words that there had been enough and too many phrases and letters. He said that he feared the Employer might not be firm in the affair of the Treaty; that he would be deterred from his purpose by reports which M. Billault, the Minister of the Interior, would give him of the hostile feelings of the protectionists, and their work-people at Rouen, Lille, etc.; that he had twice abandoned his purpose, and thrown over M. Rouher, whom he had previously encouraged to proceed with the reform of the tariff; that the1860.
There were frequent interruptions, for, as Lord Palmerton once said, Napoleon’s mind was as full of schemes as a warren is full of rabbits. Cobden was alarmed one day, for instance, by a story that the treaty of commerce was to be thrown aside in favour of a treaty of alliance for settling the affairs of Italy. Then the treaty of commerce was not to be thrown aside, but a political treaty was to be tacked on to it. “It is possible,” Cobden wrote to Mr. Gladstone (Jan. 7, 1860), “that the Emperor may think we attach so much importance to the Treaty, that he can make it a bribe to make us agree to something else. Much as I am interested in the success of the good work, I would not allow such a stipulation to be made. The Emperor has more necessity for our alliance than we have for his just now.” When this disquieting project vanished, the Emperor wished to submit the draft of the Treaty to the Legislative Body, notwithstanding the fact that he had himself assured Cobden that the Legislative Body was irreconcilably hostile to every manner of Free Trade.
After this there was one more fierce struggle at the council-table. M. Magne—a cannon-ball protectionist, as Cobden described him—and M. Troplong, insisted that at any rate the Emperor was bound by his word of honour to have an inquiry before he abolished the prohibitive system. The Emperor yielded, and held a formal inquiry, which was limited to two days. Meanwhile, to show that he had no intention of drawing back, he sent to the Moniteur, what was for nine days a memorable document, the Letter to M. Fould. This letter was an announcement, in shadowy general terms, of the coming change; it had previously 1860.
In France the Emperor’s letter excited intense excitement. An eminent member of the English Parliament happened to be at the house of M. Thiers on the evening when the news of the Treaty was brought in, and he has described the sparkling fury of the great man at the Emperor’s new card. The protectionists hastened to Paris and appointed a strong committee to sit en permanence. The feeling was so violent that the greatest industrial personage in France told Cobden that his own nephew had refused to shake hands because he, the uncle, was a free trader. The Orleanists were disgusted that Emperor should have the credit of doing a good thing, and Cobden heard one of the party declare, with much vehemence, at a dinner of the Political Economy Club, that to establish Free Trade in a country where public opinion was not ripe for it, was neither more nor less than gross oppression. Friends and foes, however, amid the hubbub of criticism, agreed in admiring the Emperor’s courage. “You may form some idea of the position.” Cobden wrote to Mr. Gladstone, “if you will imagine yourself in England in 1820, before Mr. Huskisson began his innovations in our tariff, with this serious disadvantage on the side of the French Government, that while the protectionists have all the selfishness and timidity which characterized our ‘interests’ at that time, they arrogate to themselves an amount of social and political importance which our manu1860.
The resistance to the Treaty grew stronger every hour. A hundred and twenty cotton-spinners assembled in the courtyard of the Minister of the Interior, tumultuously crying for an immediate interview. M. Thiers was said to be calling for an audience with the Emperor. The press teemed with articles and pamphlets, whose logic and temper betrayed the high pressure under which they had been composed. In Manchester, meanwhile, the Emperor’s letter had created an exultant excitement which had never been equalled since the day when Sir Robert Peel announced that he was about to repeal the Corn Laws. The letter had appeared on a Sunday (January 15th), and at the great market which used to draw men from every part of that thriving district on Tuesdays, the French Emperor was everywhere hailed as the best man in Europe. This intense satisfaction was due less to a desire for extended trade, than to the confidence that the Emperor intended peace, and had taken the most effectual means to make it permanent. The English newspapers, which every morning for months past had been accusing the Emperor of every sinister quality in statesmanship, now turned round so handsomely that M. Baroche told 1860.
A week after the publication of the letter, the Treaty was ready for execution, and the happy day arrived. The following is Cobden’s entry in his journal:—
“Jan. 23.—Went to the Embassy at eight this morning, to revise for the last time the list of articles in the Treaty. At two o’clock the plenipotentiaries met at the Foreign Office, where the Treaty was read over by a clerk in French and English, after which it was duly signed and sealed.9 It is wanting four days only of three months since I had my first interview with the Emperor at St. Cloud. The interval has been a period of almost incessant nervous irritation and excitement, owing to the delays and uncertainties which have constantly arisen. I can now understand not only the wisdom, but the benevolence, of Talleyrand, when he counselled a young diplomatist not to be in earnest. However, the work is at last at an end, and I hope it will pave the way for a change in the relations between these two great neighbours by placing England and France in mutual commercial dependence on each other.”
Cobden’s health had been so bad since his return to Paris in the middle of November, that the end of his business came none too soon. His throat and chest gave him incessant trouble, and the doctor urged a speedy flight to the lands of the sun. Lord Palmerston had written to him that “the climate of Paris is perhaps better than that of London, but then the French physicians are less in the habit of curing their patients than ours are.” From climate and physicians alike Cobden was eager to escape. As it happened, the work was not even yet quite at an end. Some small verbal loosenesses were discovered in the1860.
Surprise has often been expressed that a man of Cobden’s strong Liberalism should have been not only so willing to co-operate with Louis Napoleon, but so unable to enter into the feelings, of Frenchmen towards a government which, besides being lawless and violent in its origin, persisted in stifling the press, corrupting the administration, silencing the popular voice, and from time to time sending great batches of untried and often innocent men to obscure and miserable death at Cayenne. A story is told of an Englishman of reputation at this time saying to a group which surrounded him in a Parisian drawing-room:—“But surely under your present Government France is prosperous; and surely you can do as you please.” “Oh, dear, yes,” said a bystander, “if we wish only to eat, drink, and make money, we can do exactly as we please.” It was said that Cobden thought too lightly of all those things, besides eating, drinking, and making money, which the best Frenchman might wish to do an ought to be esteemed and praised for wishing to do. One or two remarks may be made upon this interesting point.
In the first place, economists have often been apt to treat the political side of affairs as secondary to the material side. Turgot, and the whole school of which he is the greatest name, systematically assumed that the reforms which they sought should proceed from an absolute central power. It was one of the distinctions of the Saint Simonians, to whom Cobden’s friend chevalier belonged, that they held strongly that government is good for something, and that authority is 1860.
Our second remark, however, is that Cobden was probably as well aware as others of the evils and perils of the Empire. He was no blind believer in the Emperor, as his letters testify. It was not his tendency to believe blindly in any governments. But he always revolted from the pharisaical censoriousness and most unseemly licence with which English journalists and others are accustomed to write about the rulers and the affairs of foreign nations. He always inclined to moral, no less than to a material, non-intervention in the domestic doings of other countries, and thought it right to observe and counsel a language of scrupulous decency towards a government in which the bulk of the French nation formally and deliberately acquiesced.
Apart from such considerations as these, Cobden would probably have defended himself for acting with such a government as that of Louis Napoleon, by the plain argu ment that in politics it is wise not to throw away any oppor1860.
This was in fact Cobden’s own case. He knew as well as any one else that the position of the Emperor was that of a gambler, who might be driven by the chances of fortune to acts of desperation. But he insisted that, so far as England was concerned, the Emperor nursed no criminal designs, but, on the contrary, made friendship with England the keystone of his system. He insisted, moreover, that even if it were otherwise, still the most solid and durable check to the development of hostile purpose would be found in the promotion of close and deeply interested commercial intercourse between the people of the two countries. The change in the relations between the governments of France and England for the last twenty years, in the language of the French and English press, in the mutual sentiments of the two peoples, is the verification of Cobden’s hope and foresight.
See Mr. A. J. Booth’s Saint Simon and Saint Simonism (Longman, 1876), p. 169—an excellent account of an extraordinary movement.
The idea was in the air. In a conversation with Lord John Russell, Count Persigny expressed a wish, as an earnest of the sincerity of the Emperor’s desire for peace, for a Commercial Treaty between Great Britain and France, by which France might be enabled to lower her protective duties.—Martin’s Life of the Prince Consort, iv. 470.
Feb. 17, 1843.
The source of the uneasiness in Downing Street was the dispute between Spain and Morocco, as to the boundaries of the Spanish territory round Ceuta. “It is plain,” Lord Palmerston wrote to Lord John Russell, “that France aims through Spain at getting fortified points on each side of the Gut of Gibraltar”—with the ultimate view of “shutting us out of the Mediterranean” (Ashley’s Life, ii. 374). The inference as to the designs of France is a masterpiece of the perverse ingenuity of the Palmerstonian policy of alarm.
In the letter which he wrote on the occasion to Lord Palmerston (Oct. 29, 1859) Cobden gave a rather fuller account of this preliminary part of the conversation—“The Emperor began the conversation after a few introductory remarks, by complaining of the English Press. I told him that I had myself been accused of every crime almost by the Press (including an attempt at murder), and that I had learnt to laugh at it. He continued this topic by asking me to point out a single act during the ten years he had been in power, which had not been dictated by a desire to stand well with England, and to keep the two countries in a state of harmony and friendship; but the Press had completely defeated his object. After reminding him that I had blamed, both in Parliament and in public meetings, the attacks made in England on the Government of France, I said that he should bear in mind that his name, which had such a charm in the cottages of France, had still a sound which carried a traditional alarm into our houses, and that this feeling was worked upon by those who for their own ends persuaded the people that he intended to repeat the career of his uncle. With some excuses, I ventured to add that the way in which he had entered on the war in Italy, without a previous exposé des motifs, had given great force to their persuasion. He interrupted me by saying that he had explained his reasons. I told him that what I meant was that he had not appealed to the world with a manifesto of his grievances and objects, and that if he had done so, from what I knew of the opinion in England and America, where the Austrian Government had hardly a friend, the feeling would have been so universally in his favour that a war would not have been necessary. But the suddenness and secrecy with which this great war was entered upon alarmed people lest the same thing should be repeated. After some further conversation about the state of feeling, which I admitted was very bad, if not perilous, in England, and which he said was brought to such a state in France that he seemed to be almost the only man friendly to England left, I expressed an opinion, very frankly, that the Governments of both countries, professing as they did to be friendly, would be responsible, if not blamable, were nothing done to try to put an end to this state to things”
To J. Bright, Nov. 20. 1859.
By the Treaty of 1858 the European signatories had the right of sending ambassadors to Pekin. In June, 1859, the English fleet conveying the envoy was resisted at the mouth of the Pei-Ho. Without giving the Chinese an opportunity of making reparation, the English and French Government proceeded to organize a joint expedition. It was in the course of this (Oct. 6, 1860) that the European troops committed the infamy of pillaging and burning the Summer Palace.
Walewski’s retirement was due to his disagreement with the Emperor on the subject of an Italian Confederation. He was succeeded by M. Thouvenel.
Lord Cowley and Cobden signed on behalf of England, and M. Baroche—then Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs—and M. Rouher for France.