Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXXI.: the tariff—the fortification scheme. - The Life of Richard Cobden
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CHAPTER XXXI.: the tariff—the fortification scheme. - John Morley, The Life of Richard Cobden 
The Life of Richard Cobden (London: T. Fisher Unwiin, 1903).
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the tariff—the fortification scheme.
It is not necessary for us to follow the fortunes of the Treaty1860.
The leader of the Opposition did not fall far behind in civil words, while conveying in his compliment to Cobden a characteristic sneer at the hated Whigs? Mr. Disraeli (Feb. 20) took credit for having recognized the great ability and the honourable and eminent position of the secret agent of the Treaty, long before they had been recognized by those “sympathizing statesmen of whom he was somehow doomed 1860.
Then the parliamentary battle began according to the well-known rules. Private secretaries rapidly hunted up the circumstances of Pitt’s Commercial Treaty of 1786, and their chiefs set to work to show that the precedent had been accurately followed, or else, if they happened to sit on the other side of the House, that it had been most unreasonably departed from . Men whose intellectual position was so strong as that of Sir James Graham and Earl Grey, protested against the policy of commercial treaties. One member, as I have already mentioned, still happily alive and vocal, asked if it had come to this—that the free Parliament of England sat to register the decrees of the despot of France. There was the usual abundance of predictions, in which the barely possible was raised to the degree of probable or certain, and to which the only answer was that men were not bound to believe them. The great authority from the city prophesied that there would be no permanent enlargement of our trade with France as a consequence of the Treaty. Mr. Disraelie declared that he had always strongly desired an improvement of our commercial relations with France, and even if that improvement took the form of a commercial treaty he could endure it: but this was a bad treaty; it was calculated to sow the seeds of discord and dissension between the two countries. Mr. Disraeli’s chief in the House of Lords argued that the time was inopportune for a reduction of the sources of revenue; and he pointed out that the Treaty admitted to France articles of vital importance for purposes of war, and the Government itself acted in other respects as if war were not improbable. Here Lord Derby1860.
After much skirmishing, the real debate came on in the House of Commons, on a motion that it was not expedient to diminish the sources of revenue, nor to re-impose the income tax at a needlessly high rate. The discussion extended over three nights, and at the end of it the division gave to the Government a majority of 116. Mr. Gladstone had met happily enough the serious objections, as distinguished from those which were invented in the usual way of party business. Nothing, he said, was given to France which was of any value to us. On the other hand, nothing was received from France except a measure by which that country conferred a benefit upon itself. At a small loss of revenue we had gained a great extension of trade. These propositions told with great weight against the theoretic objection that a commercial treaty tends to mislead nations as to the true nature of the transaction. In any case this was an objection which was very little calculated to affect a body endowed with the rough and blunt intellectual temper of the House of Commons.
On his arrival in London, meanwhile, at the beginning of April, Cobden found that the Government had determined to send out a Commission to arrange the details of the tariff. The Commission was to consist of a chief and two official subordinates. The subordinates had already been named: one from the Board of Trade, and another from the Cus 1860.
In fact, it was clear that though the diplomatic or political part of the work had been effectually done, the more difficult commercial part still remained. The Treaty was hardly more than a rough and provisional sketch. When it reached the Board of Trade the amazement of that office was not altogether pleasurable, for a department is capable of self-love, and the officials privately felt that they had been made rather light of. It was soon perceived that from the point of view of their office the Treaty did not carry things far. In the first article the Emperor had engaged that in no case should the duties on a long list of articles of British production and manufacturer exceed thirty per cent. This was to be the limit. But a duty of thirty per cent. was nearly as bad as prohibition. All depended on the results of the thirteenth1860.
Cobden arrived in Paris on April 20th, and it was the 5th of November before his labours were concluded. They1860.
Apart from the monotony of these proceedings, what to Cobden was harder to bear than tedium, was the dishonesty and bad faith of some of those with whom he had to deal. The more unscrupulous among the protectionists falsified the facts of their various trades, and played dishonest tricks with returns of cost, wages, and prices. On one occasion, a French commissioner, who had made himself1860.
The strain of the conflict and its preparation, both on Cobden and his colleagues, was very great. The discussions at the Foreign Office usually lasted from two until six o’clock, when they went to dine. Later in the evening came laborious interviews with commercial experts from England, who brought tables, returns, extracts from ledgers. Commercial friends at home were apt to be impatient, and Cobden was obliged to write long letters of encouragement and exhortation. In the morning, after two or three hours devoted to correspondence and further interviews, soon after eleven Cobden proceeded to the offices of the English commissioners in the Rue de l’Université, where his colleagues had already arranged the matter acquired in the previous evening. This they examined and discussed and prepared for the meeting at two o’clock when the encounter was once more opened.
Occasional relief was enjoyed in varied social intercourse. There were great official banquets with ministers of state, 1860.
Cobden was more than once a guest at the house of the Marquis de Boissy, and the more famous Marquise, better known as the Countess Guiccioli. Cobden’s simple mind was surprised at the fact that, so far from having lost caste by the notoriety of her relations with Lord Byron, the lady moved in the highest circles in Paris and was much sought after. The Marquis was a strong old Tory, vigorously opposed to Free Trade and every other reform; he predicted that the Emperor’s concessions to England would be his ruin; confidently foretold a reign of terror for Italy, the death of Victor Emmanuel on the scaffold, and “many other equally pleasant and probable events.” Cobden listened to all this nonsense with unruffled humour, as was his wont; few men have ever been better1860.
There was one group with whom after a very short experience Cobden found it impossible to carry on any intercourse. “I have ceased to go among the Orleanist party,” he told Mr. Bright; “they are hardly rational or civil.” Whatever we may think of the Empire, there can only be one opinion of its Orleanist foes, that eyeless, impotent, shifty faction, who dreamed and dream on that kingdoms can be governed by literary style, and that the mighty agitations of a newly revolutionized society can be ruled by the petty combinations and infantile tactics of drawing-room intrigue.
A break in the tedium of his work, but perhaps a break of doubtful refreshment, is mentioned in a letter to his friend Mr. Hargreaves:—“For the last three days,” he says, “I have been attending the debates in the Corps Législatif on 1860.
Of one or two of the most important of Cobden’s conversations, it is worth while to transcribe the reports from his own journal. On March 25 he met Court Persigny, who was then on one of his frequent visits from Albert Gate to Paris.
“He expressed himself,” says Cobden, “in strong terms to me upon the subject of the present system of government in France; says the Emperor has no independent responsible ministers; that he governs, himself, in the minutest details of administration; that he has been gradually more and more assuming to himself all the powers of the State; that for two years after the formation of the Imperial government there men in his Cabinet, such as Drouyn de l’Huys, St. Arnaud, and himself (Persigny), who exercised an independent judgment on his projects, and that he was then willing to yield to the advice and arguments of his council, but that latterly he had been accustomed to act upon his own impulse, or only to consult one of his Minister; that his Cabinet frequently found decrees in the Moniteur of which they had never heard, and that this habit of secret and personal management opened the door to all kinds of intrigues, and gave the opportunity for unworthy individuals, male and female, to exercise an irre sponsible and improper influence over the acts of the Emperor.1860.
“April 26.—Called on M. Herbet, the Chairman of French commission for arranging the details of the Treaty. M. Herbet had been six years Consul at London. In the course of conversation he remarked good-humouredly upon the aristocratic manners of the English people. When he went first to London he was a junior attaché to the Embassy, and he was then a welcome guest at the tables of the great; but when he was appointed Consul-general, with important duties and 40,000 francs per annum, he was no longer comme il fault, and found himself hardly worthy to be the guest of our principal merchants.
“May 20.—Breakfasted with Emile de Girardin, and afterwards sat with him in his garden whilst he gave me the Bonaparte programme of foreign policy, which in brief amounted to this:—that France must extend her frontier to the Rhine, after which the Emperor could afford to grant 1860.
“June 8.—Called on Prince Napoleon, who in the course of conversation described the state of the relations between the governments of England and France as being very unsatisfactory; ‘les choses vont mal.’ He alluded to the danger of our constantly arming in England, the uneasiness which it gave to the people, and the tendency which it had by the burden of taxation that it laid on them, to reconcile the English to a war as the only means of getting rid of the evil. He complained of the vacillating conduct of our Government in its foreign relations; that it never seemed to know its own mind, which was constantly liable to be influenced by the state of opinion in England and by the majority of the House of Commons. He alluded to the question of the annexation of Savoy, and remarked that our Government knew that it was inevitable; that he had him self told Lord Cowley that it was absolutely necessary for1860.
“June 10.—In consequence of a letter which I received from Prince Napoleon’s Secretary, I called at the Palais Royal to-day, and had a conversation with the Prince. He said that the political relations of the two countries were very far from being in a satisfactory state; that he feared the Austrians were going to interfere in Naples; that he suspected they were encouraged by the confidence they had in the support of our Court and the Prince Consort, and that the English Government would not join France in preventing it. The consequence might be that the Piedmontese would interfere also, and a war would be the consequence which would compel France to take a part, or else allow the Austrians to march to Turin, which they would certainly do if they had not a French army to oppose them; that England might avert this by undertaking with her fleet to prevent an expedition from leaving Trieste; that no bloodshed could arise; and that the least England could do would be to assist France in maintaining the principle of non-intervention. He dreaded the complications that would arise, and feared that it might lead to a rupture between France and England.
“He then said he was about to mention a delicate matter, and he suggested that I ought to be appointed Ambassador to France; that this would do more than 1860.
“June 14.—To-day a fête-day at Paris, a holday, a review, flags, and illuminations. The Emperor was well received by the populace on his way from the railway to the Tuileries, and in going and coming from the Champs de Mars, where he passed in review upwards of 50,000 troops and national guards. The occasion of these demonstrations was the celebration of the annexation of Savoy and Nice to France. An acquisition of more territory is as popular with the masses here and in the United States (and would be in England if we had anything but the sea for our frontier), as in ancient times it was with despots and conquerors. The world is governed by the force of traditions, after they have lost by the change of time and circumstances all relation to the existing state of human affairs. It is only by the greater diffusion of knowledge in the science of political1860.
“July 16.—Called on Lord Cowley, and referring to a suggestion which he and M. Rouher had made that I should seek an audience with the Emperor, in order to strengthen his free-trade tendencies by my conversation with him, I alluded to the warlike preparations which had lately been going on in England, and confessed a repugnance to meeting the Emperor, to whom I had promised last November that if he entered on the path of Free-trade without reserve, it would be accepted by the English people as a proof that he meditated a policy of peace. Yet in the midst of my labours upon the details of the French tariff, in which I had every day found greater proofs of the honest intentions of the French Government, I observed a constant increase in the military preparations in England, which completely falsified my promises to the Emperor. And now we were daily threatened with a proposal for a large outlay for fortifications. I added that, if the latter scheme were announced, I should feel disinclined again to see the Emperor.”
It was not long before the proposal was launched, and Cobden was perfectly prepared for it. The momentous subject of military expenditure had in truth divided Cobden’s active interest with the Treaty since the beginning of the year. It had been incessantly in his mind, harassing and afflicting him. If he had been capable of faltering or despondency, it would have unnerved him for the difficult 1860.
In the spring and summer, the feeling in England against France had become more and more deeply coloured with suspicion and alarm. It had approached what an eminent correspondent of Cobden’s called a “maniacal alarm.” There was in this country, he was told, “such a resolute and one-sided determination to throw all responsibility on our neighbours, to presume the worst, to construe everything in that sense, to take credit for perfect blamelessness, as mere argument cannot surmount.” It was observed by one who was himself a churchman, that among the most active promoters of the panic and the necessity for immediate preparation were the country clergy. A famous bishop went about telling a story of a Frenchman who had told him that he knew the Emperor’s mind to be quite undecided whether to work with England for liberty, or to work against England for absolutism, beginning the work with an invasion. The annexation of Savoy had kindled a fire in England which a breath of air might blow into a con1860.
The experts in foreign politics surpassed themselves in the elaborateness of their ignorance. One peer who had actually been minister for foreign affairs, gravely argued that if the annexation of Savoy should take place, the formation of a strong kingdom in the north of Italy would not be feasible, as that kingdom would be open at both extremities, by the Alps to France, and by the Mincio to Austria. The newspapers and debates teemed with foolish jargon of this kind. It is like a return to the light of day to come upon that short but most pithy speech (Mar. 2, 1860), in which the orator said that he did not want the Government to give the slightest countenance of the project of annexation, but, he exclaimed in a memorable phrase, “Perish Savoy—though Savoy will not perish and will not suffer—rather than the Government of England should be involved in enmity with the Government and people of France in a matter in which we have no concern whatever.”
Unfortunatley, Ministers shared the common panic. Lord Palmerston had, until the winter of 1859, been the partisan of the French Empire. He had been so ready to recognize it, that his haste involved him in a quarrel with his colleagues and the Court. He was the minister of that generation who, more than any other, had shown penetration and courage enough firmly to withstand the Germanism which Prince Albert, in natural accordance with his education and earliest sympathies, had brought into the palace. He had come into power in 1859, mainly because the people expected him to stand by the Emperor in the Emancipation of Italy. But in the winter of 1859 he wrote a letter to lord John Russell, then the Foreign Secretary, saying that though until lately he had strong confidence in the fair intentions of the Emperor towards England, yet he now began to suspect that the 1860.
Lord John Russell wrote a characteristic note a Cobden (July 3), announcing a formal notification of an article which prolonged the labours of the commission until November 1. “I hope,” Lord John Russell proceeds, “that long before that time arrives, you will have completed your glorious work, and laid the foundations of such an intertwining of relations between England and France that it will not be easy to separate them. It is curious and amusing to me, who remember how Huskisson was run down for proposing a duty on silk good so low as 30 per cent., to hear the protectionists abuse France for not having a much lower duty. My belief is that 15 per cent. will protect their chief manufactures. In the meantime I wish to see this tight tittle island made almost impregnable. It is the sole seat of freedom in Europe which can resist a powerful despot, and I am for ‘civil and religious liberty all over the1860.
There was one powerful man in the Cabinet who did his best to stem the dangerous tide. But though in the session of 1860 Mr. Gladstone had delighted the House and the country by the eloquence and the mastery of his budget speech of February, and by the consummate skill with which he conducted his case in the debates that followed, yet he was a long way from the commanding eminence at which he arrived afterwards when Lord Palmerston’s place in the popular imagination became empty. If he had left Lord Palmerston’s Government, the effect would perhaps hardly have been greater than it was when he left the Government of Sir Robert Peel in 1845, or that of Lord Palmerston himself in 1855. But the struggle in the forum of his own conscience was long and severe. He felt all the weakness of the evidence by which his colleagues justified the urgency of their suspicions and the necessity for preparation. He revolted from the frank irrationality of the common panicmonger of the street and the newspaper. As a thrifty steward he groaned over the foolish profusion with which he saw his masters flinging money out of the window. He was in very frequent correspondence with Cobden, and Cobden brought to bear upon him all his powers of persuasion, supported by a strong and accurate knowledge of all that the French government had to show in defence of their own innocence. It is hardly too much to say that Cobden at this time subjected Mr. Gladstone to the same intense intellectual and moral pressure to which he had subjected Peel fifteen years before. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the spirit of Lord Palmerston’s appeal to Cobden himself to come within the citadel, decided that he could do more good by remaining in the Government than by leaving it. At the close of the session, marked as it had 1860.
Cobden at least was no harsh judge. At the beginning of the year, when writing to Mr. Bright about the Treaty, he had said, “I have told you before that Gladstone has shown much heart in this business..... He has a strong aversion to the waste of money on our armaments. He has no class feeling about the Services. He has much more of our sympathies. It is a pity you cannot avoid hurting his convictions by such sallies as [—sally not now worth reproducing].. He has more in common with you and me than any other man of his power in Britain.” And later in the year, “I agree with you that Gladstone overworks himself. But I suspect that he has a conscience which is at times a troublesome partner for a cabinet minister. I make allowances for him, for I have never yet been able to define to my own satisfaction how far a man with a view to utility ought to allow himself to be merged in a body of men called a government, or how far he should preserve his individuality. If he goes into a government at all, he must make up his mind sometimes to compromise with his own convictions for a time, and at all events to be overborne by a majority of his colleagues.”
Meanwhile, the Government insisted on what they regarded as the policy of security. On July 10, Cobden wrote to Lord Palmerston a long letter, calmly and earnestly urging reasons against a new scheme of defensive armaments. He began with a few words about the Treaty, and the date at which they might expect to end their labours. The Treaty, he said, had been the engrossing task of the French Government for the last eight months, and M. Rouher was then foregoing his autumn holidays in order to complete the work. Cobden then goes1860.
“The systematic and resolute manner in which these reforms have been entered upon leave me no reason to doubt that the Government contemplate a complete revolution in their economical policy, which will lead to an early and large increase in the commercial intercourse of the two countries, and to an amelioration of their social and political relations. Now it is evident that this is a very different prospect from that which is generally entertained in England, where the public mind has been systematically misled, apparently with the design of effecting some temporary and sinister object. The extraordinary military and warlike displays of the last few months in England have also tended to diminish the hopes which were at first entertained in connexion with the Treaty. And this state of discouragement in the public mind has been increased by the rumour that it is the intention of the Government to propose a large increase to our permanent defences. For as this will be to commit ourselves to a future and somewhat remote expenditure, rather than to provide against a present danger, it would be tantamount to a declaration on the part of the government that they have no faith in any ultimate advantages from the Treaty.
“It is on this point that I am more immediately led to address you. It seems to me that the two questions are intimately connected; and I venture to suggest that in fairness to the public and to Parliament, as well as to the government itself, the result of our negotiations here should be known, before the country is pledged to a further large outlay for defensive armaments. Let it be understood that I ask merely for the delay of a few months; and I ask this on the ground that there is not only a general ignorance in England as to what the value of 1860.
“There is another reason why I am induced to press this subject on your attention. It has been evident to me from the first that political considerations entered more largely than those of an economical kind into the motives which induced the Emperor to embark at this time on the career of Commercial Reform. Doubtless he was satisfied that this new policy would be ultimately advantageous to his people; but there was no necessity for immediate action, and, considering the great derangement of powerful interests, and the large amount of opposition and unpopularity involved in the change, there was nothing which invited one even so bold as himself to enter prematurely upon the task. His immediate objects were to strengthen the friendly relations of the French and English peoples, and to give the world an assurance that he did not contemplate a career of war and conquest. And I did not hesitate to assure him and his most influential advisers that nothing would be so cordially1860.
“It will be readily perceived that if, in addition to all that has been done, the Government should announce a great scheme of defensive armaments, and thus before my labours are completed, discredit by anticipation the political value of the Treaty, it will considerably weaken my position here. Bear in mind that the duties are not yet finally settled on any of the articles of the French tariff, every item of which has to be discussed and arranged by the plenipotentiaries, between the extreme rates of five and twenty per cent. I do not allege that the French Government will be led by the hostile bearing of England to adopt a system of retaliation in the terms of the Treaty. But in the important discussions on the details of the French tariff (and it is wholly a question of details), I shall be placed in a very disadvantageous position, and shall find myself deprived of those arguments with which I most successfully urged the adoption of the Free Trade policy, if in the meantime the present Government commits itself, and, what is still more important in the sight of France, if it be allowed to commit the Free Trade and popular party in England, to a permanent attitude of hostility and mistrust.”
The answer to this weighty remonstrance was forthcoming a week after Cobden wrote it, and it came through the House of Commons. On July 23 Lord Palmerston made his speech. He introduced a resolution for constructing works for the defence of certain royal dockyards and arsenals, Dover and Portland, and for erecting a central arsenal. After speaking in general language of the horizon being darkened by clouds that betokened the possibility of a tempest, Lord Palmerston proceeded:—“The Committee of 1860.
Cobden’s plea in reply to all this had been given by anticipation, in a postscript to the letter from which I have already quoted. “I am of course writing,” he had said, “with the conviction that France has done nothing in the way of warlike preparations to justify our demonstrations in England. I have had good opportunities of satisfying myself that the most monstrous exaggerations have been current in England respecting the naval strength of this country.” And this was quite true. Cobden had taken as much trouble as the responsible head of a department, or much more perhaps, to find out from visits to Nantes and elsewhere, as well as from constant conversations with the French authorities and the English naval attaché, whether any real change in the proportion between the imperial navy1860.
Lord Palmerston seems to have handed Cobden’s letter to Lord John Russell, who wrote in reply:—
“July 31, 1860.
“My dear Mr. Cobden,—I infer from your last letter that you think the plan for fortifications will interfere with the arrangements of the Commercial Treaty. I cannot understand this. The Emperor wishes to defend France; he completes Cherbourg; he adopts a peace army of 600,000 men. Not a word of complaint. We add to our navy, and propose to fortify the arsenals where they are built and repaired. We are accused immediately of warlike intentions. Is it to be deliberately said that France may be armed, but that we should be unarmed? Belgium, Antwerp, Dover, Portsmouth, would in that case soon fall into French possession.
“I am anxious for the completion of the Commercial Treaty. But I cannot consent to place my country at the mercy of France.—I remain, yours very truly,
To this Cobden replied (Aug. 2, 1860) with an emphatic statement, which he often repeated in various forms, but which those who accuse him of wishing for peace at any price carefully overlook:—
“My dear Lord John Russell,—So far am I from wishing that ‘we should be unarmed,’ and so little am I disposed to ‘place my country at the mercy of France’ (to quote the language of your note), that I would, if necessary, spend one hundred millions sterling to maintain an irresistible superiority over France at sea. I had satisfied myself 1860.
On the same day on which Cobden wrote in this way, Mr. Bright, in a speech of the highest power and sagacity, had shown equally clearly that it was not the policy of security which he opposed, but the mistaken means of carrying it out. After illustrating the almost daily advances that were taking place in the engines of war, Mr. Bright said:—“I am one of those who believe that at a time like this, when these remarkable changes are taking place,.... The course of an honest and economic government should be to go on slowly, cautiously, and inquiringly, and not commit themselves to a vast expenditure which twelve months’ experience may show to be of no value at all.”
If it was answered that the occasion was urgent, then Cobden’s rejoinder by anticipation in his letter to Lord Palmerston was perfectly good, namely, that the expenditure on fortifications was remote and spread over a number of years, and therefore could hardly be designed to meet an immediate and pressing danger. Lord Palmerston’s speech we now see, at the distance of a score of years, to have been a dangerous provocation to Napoleon instantly to make the very descent for which we declared ourselves to be unprepared. If Napoleon had really cherished the bitter design of avenging Waterloo, of which Lord Palmerston suspected him, he would not have waited for the completion of the1860.
“July 25.—Called on Lord Cowley, and in the course of conversation expressed my disapproval of Lord Palmerston’s project for fortifying the British coasts at the expense of ten or twelve millions sterling. I also censured the tone of his speech in alluding to France as the probable aggressor upon England. The scheme and the speech were a mockery and insult to me, whilst engaged in framing the Treaty of Commerce; and I frankly avowed that if I had not my heard in the business in which I was engaged here, I would return home and do the utmost in my power to destroy the Ministry, and thus prevent it from committing the popular party to the policy of the present Government. He admitted that Lord Palmerston’s speech was injudicious in having alluded so exclusively to the danger to be apprehended from France.
“July 26.—Lord Palmerston’s speech in the House of Commons has produced considerable emotion in the political circles of Paris. The proposal to spend nine millions on fortifications has occasioned less offence than the speech which accompanied it, wherein he directed the apprehensions of the country towards France exclusively as the source of our danger of attack and invasion. People speak of it as an indication that our Court and aristocracy are inclined to renew the policy of 1792, by forming another coalition in opposition to France. They say that the inspiration of our policy in arming and fortifying comes from Berlin and Brussels through the British Court.
“July 28.—Dined with Mr. P—— and a party at the restaurant of Philippe. M. Chevalier, one of the company, told me a curious story about a recent interview between M. Thouvenel, the French Foreign Minister, and Lord 1860.
“August 2.—In a conversation with M. Rouher, the Minister of Commerce, he related to me the incident, mentioned previously by M. Chevalier, of Lord Cowley having called on M. Thouvenel, the Foreign Minister, to ask for an explanation respecting a secret treaty alleged to have been entered into by France and Sardinia, by which the latter was to be allowed to annex the whole of the Italian States on the condition of ceding to the French Emperor another slice of territory. He described in a graphic way the embarrassment of the British envoy in disclosing the delicate object of his visit; how, after many shrugs and wry faces, and sundry exhortations from the French Minister, he at last revealed the secret; how this was followed by an earnest disavowal, on the personal honour of M. Thouvenel, upon which, after many fresh protestations of regret and perplexity, Lord Cowley produced from his pocket a copy of the Treaty, which he handed to the French Minister, who thereupon laughed heartily, and assured him that it was not worth the paper on which it was written, and that in fact the English Government had been the victim of a very clumsy hoax.
“M. Rouher spoke in indignant terms of the speech1860.
“August 27.—Called on M. Rouher in the morning and had some conversation on the subject of our proposed arrangements for completing the French tariff. He mentioned that he had been speaking to Lord Clarendon upon the language used by Lord Palmerston in the House of 1860.
“August 31.—Called on Prince Napoleon, who informed me he was going shortly on a visit to England, where he would study our agriculture, and travel into Scotland as far as Inverness. I hoped he would visit Manchester and Liverpool, and make a speech on the commercial Treaty. He complained of the language of Lord Palmerston in the House towards France, and intimated that it would be well for the peace of the world that he were removed from the political stage, if not from the stage of life. He said the great danger to be dreaded from these attacks upon France, made by our leading statesmen from political motives, was lest the Germans, and particularly Austria, should infer that they would be supported in a war with France by England, and thus be encouraged to make a rupture with this country. He attributed our present hostile attitude towards France to the influence exercised at our Court by the royal families of Prussia, Belgium, etc. The English Court, he said, in the present equally balanced state of parties, exercised a great sway over the rival aristocratic candidates for office.
“September 4.—Lord Granville called, and I took the opportunity of commenting on the conduct of the Govern ment during the late session of Parliament, particularly with1860.
“September 5.—M. de Persigny (French Ambassador to London) dined with me, and we had a long conversation upon the politics of the two countries. I referred to the report that the Emperor had ordered eight more frégates blindées to the built, which he seemed to admit to be true, and I expressed an opinion that it would only lead to our building double as many iron-cased line-of-battle ships in England. I added that this could only lead to an indefinite expense on both sides, and that unless an end could be put to this insane rivalry it would lead to a war. I said I blamed the French Government for taking the initiative in these matters, which he did not appear able to meet. He agreed that it would be necessary to endeavour to bring the two governments to an understanding by which some limit could be put to this warlike rivalry. He expressed an opinion that it would be left to a Tory government to carry out this policy. He complained of the levity with which Lord Palmerston trifled with the peace of the two countries; and he spoke of the difficulties which he encountered in his relations with our Government, owing to the want of a consistent and reliable policy on the part of the Ministry, who altered their course to suit the caprice of the House of Commons from day to day.”
Meanwhile, the fabric of a tariff was slowly rising out of space. In September, a storm ruffled the surface of Cobden’s diplomacy. The new rates of duty on iron and other metal 1860.
Cobden suggested to M. Rouher that if they could only sign such a portion of the tariff as was to come into operation on the 1st of October, they might at least publish the whole tariff, on the ground that the first portion was likely to be the least satisfactory to the English manufacturers, and it was unadvisable therefore to expose it to hostile criticism for a week or ten days before the rest could be published. When this was explained at the next meeting of the plenipotentiaries, a rather disagreeable scene took place. “Lord Cowley,” says Cobden, “jumped up from his chair and, seizing his hat, declared with considerable excitement that he would leave the room, throw up all responsibility, and leave the matter in my hands; that I had undertaken to act without his consent, and in opposition to his instructions, etcetera. In vain M. Rouher explained that he had acted on my personal assurance, and that what I had said did not bind me as a plenipotentiary, and still less Lord 1860.
The continued delay as to the text of the Convention chafed Cobden almost beyond endurance. “When the post of plenipotentiary was conferred on me, without my solicitation,” he writes in his diary, “I little thought that it would subject me to feelings of humiliation. Yet this has been the case during the last weeks; for I find that I am paraded at meetings of the plenipotentiaries with my hands tied, without the power of solving the merest question of detail. When I filled the post of commercial traveller at the age of twenty, I was entrusted with more discretionary power than is now shared by Lord Cowley and myself while filling the office of H.M.’s plenipotentiaries. The name might more appropriately be changed to that of nullipotentiary. The points on which this delay is created by the Foreign Office, are so trivial and unimportant as almost to defy comprehension. It fairly raises the suspicion whether there be not an occult influence at work at home, unfavourable to my success, and which would not grieve even if I were to fail in my Treaty altogether, or to abandon the undertaking in weariness and disgust.”
The suspicion that his labours were not popular with the Cabinet was undoubtedly well founded, but in this particular instance Cobden was probably only suffering from that jealous and surly spirit which the Foreign Office thinks businesslike. Lord Cowley wrote to him good-naturedly:— “You will not bless the day when you made1860.
It was October 12 before the first supplementary convention was signed, fixing the duty on work in metals. The second supplementary convention, embracing the remainder of the French tariff, was signed on November 16. On this day the labours of the Treaty came to an end. Cobden summed up his grievances in the following passage in his journal, referring immediately to the earlier of the two conventions, but substantially conveying his impressions of the performance as a whole:—
“This convention was ready for signature, so far as the negotiation here was concerned, on the 18th September, and 1860.
In November Mr. Bright came to Paris to pay his friend a short visit. “I cannot allow you to leave Paris,” he had written, “to go south to Algiers, or Egypt, or even to Cannes or Nice, without trying to have an evening or two with you.” The day after his arrival they called on Prince Napoleon, who told them that the English Government ought to invite the Emperor to bring away his troops from Rome. According to Prince Napoleon, England could not do the French Government a greater service. On the following day they saw the Emperor himself.
“Nov. 27.—Mr. Bright and I had an audience of the Emperor. He asked if I was satisfied with the Treaty, and I replied that, with the exception of the article of iron, I did not complain. I told him that if iron had been taken last instead of the first item in the tariff, it would have been dealt with more boldly. He intimated that greater reductions would follow. He expressed to Mr. Bright his high sense of the course he had taken in always trying to preserve a good understanding between the two countries. He again complained (as he had done before to me) that his 1860.
This interview had been sought by the Emperor’s visitors from no idle motives. Most of the hour was taken up with the subject of passports. The two Englishmen had come there to bring arguments to bear which should induce the Emperor to abolish this troublesome restraint on the intercourse of nations. It naturally followed as a part of the policy on which France had entered in the Treaty; and the Emperor felt that the persuasion of his visitors could not be logically resisted. This proved to be another instance of the value of the informal diplomacy of reasonable and enlightened men. Mr. Bright was struck by the great confidence which Napoleon seemed to feel in Cobden, and by the degree in which his mind was open to argument. After Mr. Bright returned to England, Cobden persevered with1860.
“December 6.—Dined at M. Chevalier’s. Met Count de Persigny, who has just returned from the embassy to England and entered on the duties of Home Minister. We spoke upon the subject of passports. I mentioned to him the conversation I had had with the Emperor when Mr. Bright and I had an audience with him. He (Count P.) seemed inclined to put an end to the present system of passports between France and England, and to substitute a mere visiting card, which should receive the stamp from the consular agent at the port of embarkation, and which should serve as a ticket of admission into France. Although admitting that this would be an improvement on the present system, I advised him to make a clean sweep of all travelling permits, and to content himself with a police surveillance when a person became settled; I said that a billet de séjour might be required to be taken out by all Englishmen who took up their abode in any part of France.”
Two days later Cobden wrote a letter to Persigny, now become Minister of the Interior, urging many reasons why he ought to abolish passports without substituting any other precaution in their place. The abolition of passports with regard to British subjects was passed a week later (December 16). Some of the English newspapers chose to say that the change had been made at the intercession of the Empress, who was delighted at the manner in which she had been treated in England. “The passport reform,” Cobden wrote to Mr. Bright, “is capital. To-day, Chevalier writes to say that the French postmaster is prepared to increase the weight of letters, and I am writing by this post to Rowland Hill to say that he has only to make the proposal. Thus in the same year we have the tariff, abolition of passports, and a 1860.
This letter to Persigny was Cobden’s last act before leaving Paris. On the 9th of December, accompanied by his wife and eldest daughter, he left Paris on his way to Algiers. He had never quite shaken off the effects of the illness which had attacked him in the previous winter. He used to say of himself that he was wholly the creature of atmosphere and temperature. His throat was constantly troublesome, and when cold and damp weather came, his hoarseness returned with growing severity. He had a nervous dread of the London fog, from which he had suffered the autumn before, and from which he was suffering even now, and he had an irresistible craving for the sunshine of the warm south. His doctor warned him that a single speech to a large audience might destroy his voice for ever; and he was beset with invitations to public meetings and congratulatory banquets. We cannot wonder at his eagerness for rest. “When I began last winter,” he wrote to a friend, “as a volunteer in the corps of diplomacy, I little dreamed what a year’s work I was preparing for myself. Certainly mine has not been an idle life, but I never had so tough a task in hand as that which I have just finished. And much as my heart was in the work, I feel intensely satisfied that it is at an end. Nor do I think, if I must confess so much, that I could again go through the ordeal. It would not be easy to explain to you what it has been, but if I should again have the pleasure of toasting my knees by your fire, I could explain it in a few sittings.”6
He remained in Algiers until the following May. While he was absent, his friends began to talk about some1861.
4 Feb., 1861.
“If there be the slightest whisper in any quarter of proposing to vote me any money for the work I did in Paris, I 1861.
“Besides, if there were no other motive, I do not wish to allow the Government to be my paymaster, for a totally different reason. The conduct of the head of the Government during my negotiations was so outrageously inconsistent so insulting to myself in the position in which I was placed, so calculated to impede the work I had in hand, and to render it almost impossible for the French Government to fulfil its intentions, that, as I told Lord Cowley, if my heart had not been in my work, I should have thrown up my powers and gone home. I allude, of course, to Lord Palmerston’s speech on the fortification scheme, and to his still worse one, if possible, just before the close of Parliament. If I had done justice to myself, I should have put on public record in a formal despatch my opinion of this conduct, which threw ridicule and mockery on my whole proceedings. But I was restrained solely by a regard for the cause in which I was engaged. I was afraid that the real motive was to prevent my completing the work, and was cautious therefore not to give any good ground for quarrelling with me and recalling me.
“To form a fair judgment of this reckless levity and utter want of dignity or decency on the part of the Prime Minister, just turn to the volumes of the Life of the first Lord Auckland, who was sent by Pitt to negotiate the Commercial Treaty with France in 1786. I have not seen the book, but1861.
The Government proposed no vote of money, but they did not intend to leave the negotiator of the Treaty without honourable recognition. While he was in Algiers, Cobden received the following letter from the Prime Minister:—
26 March, 1861.
“My dear Mr. Cobden,—The Queen being desirous of marking the sense she entertains of the public service rendered by you during the long and laborious negotiations in which you were engaged on the subject of the Commercial Treaty with France, her Majesty has authorized me to offer to you either to be created a Baronet, or to be made a Privy Councillor, whichever of the two would be most agreeable to you.
“I am aware that you might not perhaps attach any great intrinsic value to distinctions of this kind, but as an acknowledgment of public services they would not fail to be appreciated.
“My dear Mr. Cobden, yours sincerely,
“I hope your health has derived all the benefit you desired1861.
To this Cobden made the reply that might have been, and probably was, anticipated:—
13th April, 1861.
“My dear Lord Palmerston,—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 26th March, which reached me yesterday only, on my return after an absence of ten days from Algiers. Whilst entertaining the same sentiment of gratitude towards the Queen which I could have felt if I had accepted the offer you have been so good as to make me in her name, I must beg permission most respectfully to deny myself the honour which her Majesty has graciously proposed to confer on me. An indisposition to accept a title being in my case rather an affair of feeling than of reason, I will not dwell further on the subject.
“With respect, however, to the particular occasion for which it is proposed to confer on me this distinction, I may say that it would not be agreeable to me to accept a recompense in any form for my recent labours in Paris. The only reward I desire is to live to witness an improvement in the relations of the two great neighbouring nations which have been brought into more intimate connexion by the Treaty of Commerce.
“I remain, my dear Lord Palmerston,
“In reply to your kind inquiry, I may say that my health has derived much benefit from the beautiful summer weather which I have had the good fortune to experience 1861.
No other course could have been reconcilable with Cobden’s pure and simple type of citizenship. To him the service was its own reward. The whole system of decoration was alien to the antique and homely spirit of his patriotism. He never used great words about such things, nor spoke bitterly of those who coveted and prized them. On one occasion Mr. Gladstone, not long after the conclusion of the Treaty, invited him to one of his official state dinners. “To tell you the truth,” Cobden replied, “I have never had the courage to get a court costume; and as I do not like being singular by coming in ordinary dress, I will beg you to excuse me.” There were no heroics about him in encountering these trifling symbols of a social ordering with which he did not sympathize. He merely practiced, almost without claiming it, the right of living his own plain life, and satisfying his own ideals of civic self-respect.
To M. Chevalier. April 14, 1860.
It may be convenient here to reproduce the description of the terms of the Treaty, from Mr. Gladstone’s speech explaining it to the House of Commons:—“First,” he said, “I will take the engagements of France. France engages to reduce the duty on English coal and coke, from the 1st of July,1860; on bar and pig iron and steel, from the 1st of October, 1860; on tools and machinery, from the 1st of December, 1860; and on yarns and goods in flax and hemp, including, I believe, jute—this last an article comparatively new in commerce, but one in which a great and very just interest is felt in some great trading districts,—from the 1st of June, 1861. That is the first important engagement into which France enters. Her second and greater engagement is postponed to the 1st of October, 1861. I think it is probably in the knowledge of the Committee that this postponement is stipulated under a pledge given by the Government of France to the classes who there, as here, have supposed themselves to be interested in the maintenance of prohibition. On the 1st of October, then, in the year 1861, France engages to reduce the duties and to take away the prohibitions on all the articles of British production mentioned in a certain list, in such a manner that no duty upon any one of those articles shall thereafter exceed thirty per cent. ad valorem. I do not speak of articles of food, which do not materially enter into the treaty; but the list to which I refer, includes all the staples of British manufacture, whether of yarns, flax, hemp, hair, wool, silk, or cotton,—all manufactures of skins, leather, bark, wood; iron, and all other metals; glass, stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain. I will not go through the whole list; it is indeed needless, for I am not aware of any great or material article that is omitted. France also engages to commute those ad valorem duties into rated duties by a separate convention, to be framed for the purpose of giving effect to the terms I have described. But if there should be a disagreement as to the terms on which they should be rated under the convention, then the maximum chargeable on every class at thirty per cent. ad valorem will be levied at the proper period, not in the form of a rated duty, but upon the value; and the value will be determined by the process now in use in the English customs.
To William Hargreaves, May 2, 1860.
Ashley’s Life of Lord Palmerston.
Mr. Bright does not recollect that the Emperor said he had bought the Chronicle, but that he had secured an influence in it or over it.
To William Hargreaves. Nov. 16, 1860.
Cobden was justified in the contrast on which he insisted between Pitt’s relations with Eden, and Lord Palmerston’s treatment under similar circumstances. The Auckland correspondence (i. 86–122) shows that Pitt entered into the details of the project which he had initiated, with the liveliest zeal and interest. Oddly enough, in the course of the negotiations, suspicious arose in England of the sincerity of the French Government on the same grounds as were discovered in 1860—the alleged increase of the French navy, and a royal visit to Cherbourg, which was supposed to mean mischief to Portsmouth and Plymouth. Eden, however, like Cobden, insisted that at Versailles there was every appearance of a belief that Great Britain and France ought to unite in some solid plan of permanent peace—though Eden, unlike Cobden, laid down the general proposition that “it is difficult to feel confident in the sincerity of any foreign court.” The English papers embarrassed the Government by their demand for the destruction of Cherbourg, but Pitt kept a cool head, along with his firm hand, in the difficult negotiations which followed the Commercial Treaty.