Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTERS OF ANTI-MACHIAVEL TO THE PUBLIC ADVERTISER. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
LETTERS OF ANTI-MACHIAVEL TO THE PUBLIC ADVERTISER. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 10 (Memoirs Part I and Correspondence) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 10.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
LETTERS OF ANTI-MACHIAVEL TO THE PUBLIC ADVERTISER.
Observations on the Declaration presented to the Court of Denmark by Mr Elliott, British Minister at that Court, April 23d, 1789, showing the causes of the unjust and useless war into which the ministry are endeavouring to plunge us.
Text of the Declaration.
“I willingly acquiesce to (in) the desire your Excellency has expressed of receiving, in writing, the summary of those representations I had the honour to make you by word of mouth, by the order of the (my) court.”
Observations on Par. 1.
Verbal discourses being capable of being avowed in one moment, and denied the next, avowed to one person, and denied to another, it was equally natural and prudent in the Danish Minister to desire to receive, in a form unsusceptible of falsification, a menace which exposes its own injustice to the eyes of Europe, particularly of the British nation, who may now see themselves upon the point of being plunged into a war, without object or pretence, for the purpose of carrying the menace into effect. The injustice and violence stamped upon the face of the composition of the British Court, are features which the minister of the insulted nation was sure to find in it, as being inseparable from the measure. The hypocritical grimace and affectation of gratuitous falsehood, with which it is so unnecessarily adorned, is so much more than he could have promised himself.
Text. Par. 2.
“Your Excellency will be pleased to remember, that at the instant that the King of Denmark yielded up a great part of his land and sea forces, as auxiliaries to Russia, his Danish Majesty applied for the intervention of his Britannic Majesty, to reëstablish tranquillity between Sweden and Russia.”
Observations on Par. 2.
The King of Denmark yielded up for that purpose not a man nor a ship more than he was bound to yield up, by an already subsisting and strictly defensive treaty; our great and good ally having attacked Russia, for the avowed purpose of compelling her to make a present of a few of her provinces to him, and a few more to the Porte.* Denmark, after employing entreaties and remonstrances without effect, unwillingly, and without any interest but that of peace, granted the stipulated succours. Those who had set him on, could, if they thought proper, take him off. Decency required that they should be applied to for that purpose, manifest as it was that the application would have been ineffectual. This application not having been made public, the purport and design of it can be spoken of only by conjecture. It was made not to Britain only, but to Prussia. The intrigues of the Court of London at that of Berlin not having been as yet consummated, justice from the lesser quarter seemed at first not altogether hopeless. The known connexion between Prussia and Great Britain, furnished an ostensible reason for extending to the latter, communications that had been made to the former; and frankness and publicity were suitable accompaniments to the upright and generous conduct of the Prince of Denmark.
Text. Par. 3.
“It is also with the liveliest sorrow, that I must recall to your Excellency’s memory, that the Empress of Russia thought proper to avoid the mediation of the king and his allies; and that this refusal was the only cause of the continuation of hostilities, since his Majesty the King of Sweden had accepted, in the freest and most amicable manner, that offer from the three Courts, which were animated with the only desire of stopping the shedding of blood, and maintaining the northern balance.”
Observations on Par. 3.
If two or more incendiaries were to enter into a conspiracy, and set a man’s house on fire, it is natural enough that the owner of the house would not think proper to employ any of them to put out the fire, or to sit as judges, for the purpose of assessing the damages; and it is equally natural, that any of them should be ready to accept that office in the fairest and most amioable manner.
What purpose, but that of a wanton insult, could it answer to the contrivers or abettors of a plan of assassination, to profess themselves animated by the sole desire of stopping bloodshed in the face of those who knew them to be the authors of it?
Setting one power to conquer provinces from another without pretence of title, at the time that other is labouring under the pressure of an unprovoked and unexpected war,† and then fettering the hands of those who owe her assistance; such, it seems, is to be the British mode of maintaining the political balance. If this is the way to maintain it, what would be the way to disturb it?
Text. Par. 4.
“Your Excellency has afterwards been witness that the king and his allies have acted with energy, to give the most undoubted proofs that they thought the preservation of Sweden was of the utmost importance, and that these courts mutually endeavoured to maintain a cessation of hostilities from the land and sea forces of his Swedish Majesty, which had acted in the military operations of the last campaign, and their endeavours had the most salutary effects.”
Observation on Par. 4.
An Englishman who knows the facts alluded to, beholds the insolence, sees himself made a party to it, and does not burn with generous indignation against the authors of it, deserves to bear the impending consequence of it. Yes—with energy enough they did act: proofs, the most undoubted, of their thinking the preservation of Sweden of importance, they undoubtedly did give. The King of Sweden plunges his poor and thinly-peopled nation into a war, the most notoriously void of pretence of any upon record, in the teeth of the plain and positive letter of a constitutional law of his own framing, and to which he had sworn observance. His own army, faithful to the constitution, refused to be made the tools of tyranny and injustice. A memorable example, and may it never be forgotten in any country, and least of all in Britain! At this crisis, the Danish body of auxiliaries enters Sweden in a defenceless quarter, taking nothing, damaging nothing, hurting nobody, friends to the country, adverse only to its oppressors, and that only during the continuance of the oppression. The Swedish monarch, thinly accompanied, shuts himself up in Gottenburg, which the Danish auxiliaries prepare to invest. A few days more would have brought him to reason, and the peace of the north would have been restored. Alarmed at the danger, Prussia threatens with her armies, Britain with her fleets, and Mr Elliott, running backward and forward between the fugitive tyrant and the deliverers of his country, interposes what, in the language of Mr Elliott’s court, is called a mediation. The hands of the Prince of Denmark, the common friend of Sweden and Russia, are tied up from keeping the peace; and the hands of the pensioner of the Turks are let loose to prosecute his plan of unprovoked hostility and conquest.
As to the preservation of Sweden, had that been an object, no great exertion would have been necessary:—not to have destroyed her liberty;—not to have plunged her into a pretenceless war against a superior enemy. If such be preservation, Heaven grant that Britain may never be preserved!
As to cessation of hostilities, a sovereign, whose only fleet has been disabled in an engagement, will readily enough cease from hostilities at sea; a sovereign, whose only army has mutinied, and made peace for itself, will readily enough cease from hostilities by land. Such were the cessations on which the British mediator blushes not to found his pretenxions to neutrality and impartial justice. After the Turk had been spirited up to attack Russia in the south, the Swede was spirited up to attack her in the north, to prevent her sending a flest to the Mediterranean to retaliate on the aggressor. For accomplishing this object, the bare show of hostility on the part of Sweden was sufficient: and Britain, long before she pretended mediation, had consummated her injustice.
Everywhere, out of England, these facts are as notorious as the existence of the powers to which they relate; and would be so in England, if the only sources of information, accessible to the bulk of readers, were not poisoned by ignorance or corruption, or national partiality, or party prejudice.
Text. Par. 5.
“The King, my master, still sees with sorrow that, since that epoch, the offers of mediation and services from the King and his allies, have not produced the desired effect: nor could they incline the Empress to agree to a mediation for restoring peace to the east, nor to the north of Europe.”
Observations on Par. 5.
The sorrow may be admitted, as it is not pretended to be accompanied by surprise.
Text. Par. 6.
“Under these circumstances, when Russia refuses to accept every mediation, and the continuation of hostilities proceeds from this refusal only, his Britannic Majesty and his allies think, they should strongly represent to the Court of Denmark, that this Court appears to them entirely freed from every stipulation of a treaty merely defensive; and even add, that, in the present case, the joining the Danish forces, either by land or sea, to those of Russia, would even cause Denmark to be considered as one of the powers at war, and could (not) but justify the King of Sweden in asking for a speedy and efficacious assistance from his Britannic Majesty, and his allies, from which his Swedish Majesty has accepted a pure and unlimited mediation.”
Observations on Par. 6.
In this paragraph we see promulgated an article of a new complexion in the law of nations:—That if two powers engage in a defensive treaty, and the oasus fœderis occurs, it depends upon any third power whatever to dissolve the engagement at pleasure. Upon nonsense like this, argument would be thrown away. But surely, if this country is not irrecoverably fasoinated by the charms of war and taxation, as well as of wanton oppression and injustice, such pretensions on the part of its servants has some claim to notice. Pope of Denmark, master of dispensing power, Defender not of Faith, but of the breach of it; such are the titles which the head of the British church has been advised to arrogate, and of which British blood and treasure are to be poured forth in the defence.
As to his Swedish Majesty’s being justified in asking for a speedy and efficacious assistance from Britain, it is well enough known, that he is not a man to lose anything for want of asking, nor wait for justifications. The material question is, whether his Britannic Majesty means to gratify him in such a request? And to this, we shall immediately see an answer in the affirmative, in terms sufficiently explicit.
Text. Par. 7.
“From the principles of sincerity which I have ever observed towards a Court in alliance, and a friend to Great Britain, I must assure you, sir, that neither the King of England, nor his allies, can give up the system they have adopted, with the design only of maintaining the equal balance of the north; (a) balance no less necessary to Denmark, than to all maritime and trading nations.”
Observations on Par. 7.
What is curious in this business is, to see the ease and unconcern with which the minister undertakes, not only for the King of Prussia, but for the Dutch, whose task it is to make a perpetual sacrifice of their country’s welfare to the capricious and mischievous politics of a British Ministry. Such is the degraded state to which a people, once so highspirited and free, have seen themselves reduced by a confederacy of tyrants.
As to political balances, how clear and how just the notions entertained, or pretended to be entertained, of such matters by this negotiator and his employers are, has been already seen.
Text. Par. 8.
“I doubt not your Excellency perceives how little the most favourable interpretation of your treaty could assist the Empress, if it occarioned a vigorous coöperation, by land and by sea, of the three Powers in defence of Sweden; nor that the Council of Copenhagen is too wise and too moderate to expose either Russia or Denmark to an increase of hostilities from Courts which, in other respects, wish but for peace, and who desire to establish it on the most solid foundation, and on conditions the most advantageous to every party concerned.”
Observations on Par. 8.
If the form of this paragraph is hypothetical, the spirit of it is as categorical as any one could desire. We now see, then, what we, for our part, have to expect. If the Danes are true to their engagements, our Ministry is to throw off the mask, abet unprovoked aggression with a high hand, and plunge the nation into a causeless and useless war. Perceiving what he is here desired to perceive, it is to be hoped that his Excellency will also perceive, on the other hand, how little the good-will of the British Ministry could affect their virtuous ally, if Parliament, when applied to, should hesitate to throw away t’other fifty or hundred millions of the nation’s money for their amusement, and to saddle it with two or three millions a-year more, in taxes, for the pleasure of cutting the throats of a people who never offered them the smallest injury. Such hesitation is not altogether out of the sphere of possibility. Fond as the people of this country are of war and insolence, prone as they have shown themselves, of late years, to make sudden starts from well-grounded and deep-rooted jealousy, to implicit confidence and foolish fondness towards George the Third, it is too much to suppose them capable of being wrought up to such a pitch of infatuation.
I hope the Danish Minister is not the only one who will consider, that neither threats nor promises like these, are quite so soon performed as made; and that, when the trustee of a free people takes upon him, thus smoothly, to offer their lives and fortunes in support of a war not less foolish than flagitious, he may find, to his shame, that he has reckoned without his host.
The pride of dictation, the pomp of arbitrage, the glory and renown of unretaliated injustice, form at a distance a captivating spectacle. But, when the pageant is brought near, and war and taxation are spied in the background, reflection begins to operate, and prudence whispers, that even the transports of senseless ambition may be bought too dear.
Text. Par. 9.
“Therefore, sir, I must expressly entreat you, from the king and his allies, to induce the Court of Denmark not to grant any part of their forces, either by land or sea, to act offensively against Sweden, under pretence of a Defensive Treaty; but, on the contrary, to support a perfect neutrality, in every province, and in all the seas belonging to the King of Denmark.”
Observations on Par. 9.
Under what pretence trespass upon the patience of the Danish Minister with this insolence? Is, then, a Defensive Treaty between Denmark and Russia but a pretence? Was it not the King of Sweden that attacked Russia, and that for the avowed purpose of making conquests at her expense? Are aggressors to choose how the aggrieved country shall be defended? And can Russia be defended without offending the King of Sweden?
Text. Par. 10.
“Depend on it, sir, that as soon as Denmark will have taken a resolution so conformable to the wishes of his (its) true friends, the concurrence of the King of Denmark towards the reestablishment of a general peace would be infinitely agreeable to the king, my master, and I dare add that your Excellency has too long been acquainted with the true interests of Russia, and with the sentiments of England, not to be sensible that the Empress of Russia cannot better confide to effect a peace than to his Britannic Majesty and his allies. My instructions are to ask of your Excellency a clear and decisive answer on the intentions of his Danish Majesty, with regard to a junction of part of his forces, either by land or sea, to the forces of her Imperial Majesty of Russia, and to propose the neutrality of the Danish States, and of the Danish seas, under the most efficacious promise of security from the King of England and his allies.”
Observations on Par. 10.
Another proposition for the truth of which Mr Elliott is entitled to full credit, viz. that supposing a resolution, on the part of the King of Denmark, to break his treaty with Russia, and refuse her all assistance, the concurrence of that king, towards the reëstablishment of a general peace, would be infinitely agreeable to Mr Elliott’s royal master; as a peace, good or bad, is not to be made, nor any other political effect to be produced, by sitting still and doing nothing; if Denmark, without helping Russia, is to act towards the production of a peace, it must be by helping the enemies of Russia. At this price, she may be sure enough of the temporary smiles of this “true friend,” this adept in the true interests of Russia, who in return for his indefatigable labours in her service for these two years, now demands her “confidence.”
A declaration in which this country is not less concerned than Denmark, is, “the most efficacious promise of security from the King of England,” so generously offered to Denmark, in case of her deserting her allies, coupled with the assurance which we saw given of speedy and efficacious assistance to be afforded to the King of Sweden, in case such desertion does not take place. Punishment on one hand, protection on the other, are thus held out to this injured and insulted people, all for the amusement of this their “true friend,” all at the expense of Britain. If after all these efforts this true friend of peace, and his virtuous seconds, fail of compassing the felicity of a war, they are the most unfortunate of men. War with somebody they will have at any rate. Now in one event—hereafter in another. War with Denmark, if Denmark will not be bullied into a breach of faith. War with Russia if Denmark crouches, and Russia at some future period, when recovered out of her present difficulties, should bethink her of her wrongs, and call a faithless ally to account for his infidelity.
Text. Par. 11 and last.
“This desire of avoiding every kind of useless animosities has caused me to address myself to your Excellency by a private letter rather than deliver a formal declaration, the contents of which might have been made more public than the actual circumstances of affairs require; and I am bold enough to flatter myself that, whatever may be the event of my negotiations, your Excellency will do me the justice of acknowledging that I have laboured to prevent the miseries of war. May our united endeavours revive in the hearts of the sovereigns the true love of their subjects, too unhappily victims of that chimerical love of glory which has so frequently and so unnecessarily stained Europe with blood!”
Observations on Par. 11 and last.
Secrecy is the known companion of guilt: publicity of probity and innocence. The first endeavour was to confine the matter to verbal insinuations: that defeated, the business was pursued by letter, which it is desired might be considered as a private one. This letter, whether by policy or accident, has been made public; and the reproach of meanness added to that of insolence and tyranny, is what the authors of the proposition have got by their endeavours to hide it. Had the Danish Minister yielded to private insinuations, not only would Russia have been deprived of the assistance due from Denmark, but the seeds of jealousy and dissension would have been sown between the two courts. The extorted neutrality would have been published as a voluntary one, and the breach of alliance would have been imputed either to disaffection or to the unjust desire of reaping the benefit of it without sharing in the burthens. The disavowal of the threats, after they had produced their effect, would thus have effected a double purpose: the reproach of injustice would have been transferred from the authors to the victims of it. Interrogated concerning the cause of the infidelity of Denmark to Russia, the British Minister at Copenhagen would have known no more of it than the British Cabinet did of the causes of the Turkish war. Pride, too, by disposing the Danish Court to attribute their defection to any other principle rather than fear, might have disposed them to join in throwing a veil of secrecy over the business.
The plan was not ill laid for a plan of knavery; but it is the property of knavery that its successes hang upon a hair; and when exposed to the public eye the breath of one honest man is enough to break it.
That there is a species of “coldness” in the “self-flattery” here professed by Mr Elliott will not be disputed with him; but what purpose it can answer to a man, in the act of setting fire to a train, to boast of the pains he is taking to prevent the conflagration, is a question not easy to resolve.
Actions are the test of words. A wish, which would have been the language of virtue in the mouth of a guardian of peace, corrupts into hypocritical violence in the impure lips of a Minister of violence. Such is the response of an honest man to this concluding prayer.
The plan of aggression in the north I find pursues an uninterrupted course. Opportunities are sought, and none are suffered to pass unimproved. To evince the partiality of his Majesty’s proffered mediation, Sir Roger Curtis is sent to perform the office of Drill Serjeant to the Swedish Navy. This is old news in Europe. I have looked for it in vain in our own prints. Should occasion require, Gibraltar’s other hero may be despatched perhaps for the defence of Gottenburg. Once already has that port been saved by us; Sweden rescued from the miseries of ancient liberty, and the nations of the Baltic from the calamities of peace. At that time the pen of an Elliott was sufficient to the task. A second time the sword of another Elliott may be nothing less than necessary. Terrified or deceived, Christian for once submitted to our mandate. Catherine may not be quite so tractable: a Russian Admiral may have scruples about recognising a British Envoy for his commanding officer.
Once more, if the endeavours of the Ministry are not crowned with war, they are the most unfortunate of men. A Swedish frigate is captured by a Russian off the coast of Norway. Restitution is demanded by the British envoy.—On what pretence? That the vessel was British? That it had British subjects, or British goods in it? No: but it was taken too near the Danish coast. The King of Great Britain is become King of Norway: Great Britain is therefore injured by a violation of the territory of Norway. The nominal King of Denmark has no interest in the peace of his own country, no feeling for his own honour: it is therefore become necessary for his brother of Great Britain to take the sceptre out of his hands. Such is the logic of St James’s. If the consequents only of these syllogisms are expressed, it is only to save words; the antecedents are implied.
One of the glories of the first Pitt was the destroying of a French fleet, not near but upon the coast of Portugal. What would have been his language, if a neutral court—Denmark for instance—addressing itself to Portugal or to him, had taken France by the hand, and called for satisfaction? In the present instance, conceive Denmark to have recalled the precedent.—“We will talk about the Swedish frigate, when, in satisfaction to the violated peace of Portugal, you have put France into the same plight she would have been in had the coast of Lagos never felt the flame of British firebrands.” If such had been the answer of Denmark, what would, what could have been the reply?
The fair and open reply is, that justice and humanity have no place in cabinets. It is for weak states to suffer injuries: it is for strong ones to inflict them. Do as you would be done by, a rule of gold for individuals, is a rule of glass for nations. The duty of a king to his subjects and to the world, is to compass war, by any means, and at any price; and the less the profit or pretence, the greater is the glory. To do mischief is honour: to do it slily, darkly, and securely, is policy. The number of troops a nation is able to bring into the field, gives the measure of its power: the number of unprovoked and unrequited injuries it has been able to inflict, gives the measure of its virtue. The true contest among kings is, who with least smart to himself shall give the hardest blow. The King of England, is he not the King of Humphreys and Mendoza? The prowess of Humphreys and Mendoza, is it not the object of envy and imitation to the Ministers of the King of Great Britain?
Soon after the publication of the foregoing, the following Ministerial apology appeared. Bentham attributed it, on what he thought good authority, to the king himself:—
To the Printer of the Public Advertiser.
June 4, 1789.
—In several of the public papers, but particularly in those called Opposition papers, great pains, I observe, have lately been taken to blame his Majesty’s Ministers for having concluded the late Treaty of Defensive Alliance with the King of Prussia. The manner in which most of the authors of these remarks have treated the subject, proves, that the ardour of serving their party has led them far beyond the sphere of their knowledge, and that they are very little acquainted with the different interests of the several powers of Europe, of whose respective political situations an exact statement appeared in one of your papers some time in the beginning of May.* The necessity of a continental ally being allowed on all sides, the enemies of the treaty in question could do no less than point out another power, as preferable to the King of Prussia; and they have very wisely fixed upon Russia. But whilst, in order to prove the advantages of an alliance with that empire, they represent its power by sea and by land in its utmost magnitude, they seem not to be aware, that what they allege as an inducement to an alliance, might partly be looked upon as a sufficient reason for declining it. The power of Russia has lately grown to such a pitch, that, in the opinion of the best informed statesmen, it threatens to overthrow the political balance of Europe. But by the present judicious combination of England, Prumia, Sweden, and perhaps Denmark, it is likely to receive a seasonable check; and, in proportion as Russia will thereby be reduced, Sweden will rise in importance, and become firmly attached to this country, by whose assistance it has been raised from its late insignificance, and rescued from the power of Russia, which has long meditated its destruction. The great abilities of the present King of Sweden and his brothers, seem to point out the present period of time as expressly calculated for restoring the balance of power in the north, destroyed by the preponderance of Russia.
Independent of these considerations, would it become the spirit of the British nation to court the alliance of the haughty and imperious Czarina, who, when England was involved in a war with numbers of enemies, assumed the air of a Dictatrix on the seas, and promoted every measure which could tend to the reduction of the power of Great Britain? The armed neutrality was chiefly the work of the Court of Petersburg, whereby England was deprived of the great advantages which her numerous armed vessels would have given her over her enemies, by intercepting their supplies of warlike stores. It is true, the late King of Prussia gave likewise into that measure; but he had at least some cause to complain of the conduct of England towards him in the year 1762, whilst Russia was plainly actuated only by a jealousy of the great power of the British navy, which she has ever since shown a disposition to diminish. The commercial advantages which this country might derive from a treaty with Russia, the other powers in the Baltic, together with Poland, will be able in a great measure to afford; whilst, from the wisdom of the present administration, we may expect that such encouragement will be given to the cultivation, in the British dominions, of the important articles of hemp and timber, that the immense sums which are paid for them to foreign nations, will, in time, be considerably lessened. The system adopted by the present administration tends likewise manifestly to lemen, if not entirely to annihilate, the influence of France in Turkey and Sweden, which may very probably be attended with such commercial advantages to England, with regard to the former power, that the British trade to the Levant, at present almost entirely superseded by the French, may regain its pristine importance.—I am, sir, your humble servant,
To Partizan’s letter Bentham thus replied:—
The Public Advertiser, June 15th, 1789.
Observations on a Ministerial Defence of the Prussian Treaty, signed “A Partizan,” and inserted in the Public Advertiser of June 4th.
Text. Par. 1.
“In several of the public papers, but particularly in those called Opposition papers, great pains, I observe, have lately been taken to blame his Majesty’s Ministers for having concluded the late treaty of Defensive Alliance with the King of Prussia.”
Observations on Par. 1.
I am heartily glad to find there is one party amongst us whose eyes begin to open to the folly of the plan of continental politics we have been so long pursuing;—better half open than perfectly closed. I hope, ere I have done, to open them a little wider. “Defensive Treaty,”—so pretends the title. The whole tenor of our foreign politics for two years past, and the very terms of Mr Elliott’s declaration, so lately delivered to Denmark, show it to be offensive.
Text. Par. 2.
“The manner in which most of the authors of these remarks have treated the subject, proves, that the ardour of serving their party has led them far beyond the sphere of their knowledge, and that they are very little acquainted with the different interests of the several powers of Europe, of whose respective political situations, an exact statement appeared in one of your papers some time in the beginning of May.”
Observations on Par. 2.
For this statement, I suppose we are obliged to the author of this argument. I have not met with it, nor should I think of looking for it, but in the persuasion of finding it as erroneous as these deductions are inconclusive. True, or false, it is equally incapable of throwing any other than a false light on the present question. According to this pretender to superior “knowledge,” the writers on the other side show themselves “very little acquainted with the different interests of the several powers of Europe.” Without the pains of studying that exact statement, it shall be seen whether he possesses any tolerable conception of the interests of any one.
Text. Par. 3.
“The necessity of a continental ally being allowed on all sides, the enemies of the treaty in question could do no less than point out another power, as preferable to the King of Prussia; and they have very wisely fixed upon Russia.”
Observations on Par. 3.
Somewhat less unwisely than those who fixed on Prussia. An impregnable Empress, with twenty-five or thirty millions of subjects, is a less ineligible ally than a collection of disjointed scraps and fragments, made up into a nominal kingdom, with less than six millions. See the vulnerability of this tottering power extremely well stated by Sir J. Dalrymple, in the Public Advertiser of April. See the same truth fully developed by the masterly and impartial hand of the Comte de Mirabeau, in his great work, Sur la Monarchie Prussienne. The necessity of a “continental ally allowed on all sides:” assuredly not on mine. Of the non-necessity of all alliances to this country; of the inutility and mischievousness of all such engagements, my conviction is as strong as of my own existence. The fewer allies, the more friends. Neither Prussia nor Russia would I have for an ally, nor any other power whatsoever, would they pay us for our alliance the half of their revenue. An alliance which is not necessary, is much worse than useless. No ally will engage to go to war for you, without your engaging to go to war for him. The first power in Europe, a nation that for more than thirty years, and in two successive wars, has shown herself more than a match for the two greatest next to herself, cannot stand in need of alliances for her defence. Other powers may join with one another to guard themselves against her attacks; prudence may enjoin them; justice cannot but authorize them;—both forbid her to take umbrage. But that three or more powers should join in offensive war, in the view of plundering one which is more than a match for any two of them, is out of all probability and all example. To engage her in alliance, is to shake her peace for nothing. Such measures, instead of increasing her security, diminish it. Being unnecessary for defence, they announce aggression, if they do not, as, unhappily in our own case, follow it. Exciting well-grounded jealousy, they beget counter-alliances; and, by the boundless terror they inspire, create many sincere enemies, in return for one false friend.
There is a point in the scale of national security, beyond which the nature of things will not suffer man to soar. We stand—we have long stood—upon that pinnacle. No step we can take can raise us above it: no effort we can make, but must endanger our sinking below it.
Text. Par. 4.
“But whilst, in order to prove the advantages of an alliance with that empire, they represent its power by sea and by land in its utmost magnitude, they seem not to be aware, that what they allege as an inducement to an alliance, might partly be looked upon as a sufficient reason for declining it.”
Observations on Par. 4.
The argument which this introduction ushers in, might be partly deserving of that name, if the alliance, which it is employed to represent as ineligible, could be partly made, and partly not made. Here it follows:—
Text. Par. 5.
“The power of Russia has lately grown to such a pitch, that, in the opinion of the best informed statesmen, it threatens to overthrow the political balance of Europe.”
Observations on Par. 5.
A comment on this passage is no further of use, than as it serves to show the badness of the cause, by the necessary distress betrayed by those who stand up in its defence. Is Russia, or is she not, so strong as the opposition writers, it seems, have been representing her? Is the alliance of a strong power, or is it not, better than that of a weak one? No one reply, nor any two consistent replies, will answer the purpose of this advocate. The statements of the opposition must be true and false, Russia strong and weak, an eligible ally, and an ineligible one at the same time. Weak, for the purpose of assisting us, so long as the alliance lasts: Strong, for the purpose of injuring us, when, in order to get at us, she has made a sudden spring, broke the alliance, and overthrown the political balance of Europe: Ineligible, so long as a chain of aggressions, as unexampled as they were unprovoked, have failed of winning her to our side. Eligible, as soon as these extraordinary favours shall have purchased her unnecessary assistance. Her thirty ships of the line, after having been less useful to us for I don’t know what length of time, than the King of Prussia’s none, are to swell in the compass of a night to sea serpents, and swallow up our 120, and so on.
Text. Par. 6.
“But by the present judicious combination of England, Prussia, Sweden, and perhaps Denmark, it is likely to receive a seasonable check; and, in proportion as Russia will thereby be reduced, Sweden will rise in importance, and become firmly attached to this country, by whose assistance it has been raised from its late insignificance, and rescued from the power of Russia, which has long meditated its destruction.”
Observations on Par. 6.
In this hodge-podge paragraph, there is such a combination of ignorance, absurdity, false statement, and cool wickedness, as should effectually protect it against discussion, were it not too faithful a specimen of the vulgar commonplace mode of arguing on these subjects. That powers, without any assignable cause, take sudden shoots, while others, equally without any assignable cause, are at a stand, or on the decline, and in a state of insignificance:—that a nation is at any time, and for no reason but that of its being in a state of prosperity, and because it is possible it may some time or other, turn assailant, be assaulted, and checked, in order to be reduced:—and thereby that at all times when there is one nation more powerful than another, that is to say, at all times whatsoever, some one nation is to be laid waste, and as many of her subjects as can be come at be put to the sword by a parcel of other nations who, at the expense of the same miseries, are to confederate for that purpose:—that a nation, consisting like Sweden of scarce three millions of the poorest subjects in Europe, is to rise in importance, by being driven, without the smallest provocation received, and against the avowed inclination of its own armies, into a war with an Empire, containing from 25 to 30 millions; that the having thus pushed such a nation into the jaws of destruction, under favour of the venal baseness of its rulers, is such a benefit conferred on it, as to create on its part “a firm attachment” to this country;—that an assistance which consists in nothing more than the keeping off of other remedies, is to “raise” a nation so assisted “from insignificance,” and rescue it from the power of the enemy, into whose jaws it is thus plunged:—that Russia, with the complete power of destroying Sweden, but without any motive, has been long meditating its destruction, though without taking any one step (for I defy him to produce any) for that purpose:—that a “combination” entered into for such purposes is a “judicious combination:”—that Denmark, to whose capital city and shipping, an officer of the King of Sweden has been convicted of setting fire, in revenge for the assistance she was bound to render to Russia, in obedience to the strict letter of a defensive treaty, is “perhaps” about entering into this combination against Russia: that it would be judicious on her part so to do: such are the absurdities and atrocities which this man of “superior knowledge” and “exact statement” has contrived to crowd into the compass of a sentence—which this man of a temper superior to “the ardour of serving a party,” has attempted to impose upon his readers.
In the nomenclature of politics there are certain established phrases, by which innocence and wisdom are branded with contempt, guilt and folly recommended to admiration and to practice. In this dictionary, peace and tranquillity are represented by sloth, obscurity, and insignificance: bloodshed and destruction by vigour, spirit, activity, a sense of national glory, and so on. In the faculty of ringing the changes upon these phrases, consists the skill by which writers of the complexion of this ministerial advocate prove their title to the appellation of adepts in politics.
For these five and twenty years last past, Sweden has enjoyed the benefits of peace; her scanty population, and as slender substance, have been undergoing a slow but regular increase, to the great mortification of her active and spirited sovereign, who, ever since incorruption, and her companion liberty, have been expelled the Constitution by armed force, has been labouring to “rescue her from insignificance.” British protection, and Turkish—I hope not British, gold, have at length crowned his efforts with success; the small remains of liberty have been completely crushed; the power of the purse seized, new and heavy taxes imposed, the country exposed to the inroads of a superior and justly exasperated enemy, and now the nation is “rising in importance.” The profound and virtuous politicians, of whom the composition I am reviewing is intended as a defence, have for about these two years been labouring to rescue this country from insignificance, to raise it in importance in the same way, and these efforts seem to be on the point of being crowned in the same manner. The nation, constantly and laudably vigilant against domestic mismanagement, has been too inattentive to the mischiefs which may befall her from ill-grounded plans of foreign politics, and the misbehaviour of her servants towards foreign powers. Pushed on by injustice and false policy to the brink of war and unfathomable taxation, it is time, if it be not too late, to open her eyes. With impatience, mingled with surprise, I have long been waiting for a less incompetent historian to step forward and undertake the thankless office. Sad necessity alone could have dragged me from more smiling prospects to this gloomy scene; but the same necessity, if it continue, will ensure my perseverance.
Text. Par. 7.
“The great abilities of the present King of Sweden and his brothers, seem to point out the present period of time as expressly calculated for restoring the balance of power in the North, destroyed by the preponderance of Russia.”
Observations on Par. 7.
The personal character of the King, of this Royal Champion of Justice and Equality, is a theme of which I shall leave this, his British second, in undisturbed possession. Kings have long arms; and, however well you may be insured, Mr Printer, against fire, I fear you would not find yourself so against the severity of those laws by which Kings have thought fit to protect one another’s characters from scrutiny. Respect, and a propensity to imitation, are kindred sentiments. I hope they are not inseparable. For the abilities that could carry through a national assembly a question of supply, by the imprisonment of the Opposition—for such abilities our own most gracious sovereign feels all that respect, which is evidenced by the support his Ministers are giving to them. But let us hope the precedent will not be imported from Stockholm into Westminster.
Text. Par. 8.
“Independent of these considerations, would it become the spirit of the British nation to court the alliance of the haughty and imperious Czarina, who, when England was involved in a war with a number of enemies, assumed the air of a dictatrix of the seas, and promoted every measure that could tend to the reduction of the power of Great Britain.”
Observations on Par. 8.
My task would have been shorter if this jargon about the spirit of a nation,—courting alliances,—haughty and imperious Czarina,—air of a dictatrix,—had been left undisturbed in the school-boy’s satchel, from which it was purloined. And so we are to set Europe on fire on both ends, spread slaughter and destruction over three empires, and four or five kingdoms, to show our spirit, and that we are not courting an alliance? In return for this declamation, let me put a question to this candid “Partizan,” so superior to the ardour of serving a party: which of the two powers stands most in need of being “checked and reduced?” The power against which such methods are employed, or the power which employs them?
Text. Par. 9.
“The armed neutrality was chiefly the work of the Court of Petersburg, whereby England was deprived of the great advantages which her numerous armed vessels would have given her over her enemies, by interrupting their supplies of warlike stores.
Observations on Par. 9.
The accusation contains within itself a complete demonstration of its own injustice. This greater disadvantage, which Great Britain, it is said, experienced by the check given to her intercepting the supplies of her enemies, could have no other cause, but her superiority over those enemies; she could have no other motive for wishing that check removed. The greater the disadvantage, the greater her superiority. The armed neutrality was, therefore, a measure of self-defence, of equality, of peace. Of self-defence, as its object was, merely to protect all those northern nations against the being cut off from the disposal of almost the only articles of their produce. Of equality, because it operated either equally for and against both parties in the war, or most against the one whose overbearing power had given it the “advantage.” Of peace, because by throwing obstacles in the way of oppressive power, it tended to make the success of projects of conquest or encroachment more tedious and uncertain; and because the peaceful enterprise was pursued by no other than pacific means. One of two things, then, he has made out to demonstration: either this measure of the empress did us no harm, or it did us harm which we deserved, and which, according to his own principles, she was bound to do to us.
Text. Par. 10.
“It is true, the late King of Prussia gave likewise into that measure; but he had at least some cause to complain of the conduct of England towards him in the year 1762, while Russia was plainly actuated only by a jealousy of the great power of the British navy, which she has ever since shown a disposition to diminish.”
Observations on Par. 10.
Another cluster of absurdities, partly expressed, partly implied. That in order to know whether it be proper or no to engage in a measure hostile to another nation, the way is,—not to ask ourselves whether it would be consistent with justice, humanity, or a regard for our own interests so to do,—but in what state the temper and affections of the sovereign of that nation were upon a certain oceasion nine or ten years back. That it is possible to ascertain, or worth while to inquire, from which, out of half-a-dozen motives, any one of them capable of producing the effect, an act not in itself a hostile one, took its rise: That in point of fact, the motive which produced the effect in question was, on the part of the Empress of Russia, jealousy: on the part of the King of Prussia, resentment: That, in consideration that sixteen or seventeen years before that period, and twenty-six or twenty-seven years before the present, the angry sovereign might have conceived he had a cause for his anger, it is fit and proper now to enter into an alliance with that angry power, and against the jealous one. If considerations like these are to be sufficient grounds for war, I wonder when, and with whom, we are to be at peace. A nation with thirty ships is never to be capable of being supposed jealous of a power with a hundred and twenty, on pain of seeing its subjects’ throats cut for it at ten years’ distance, while the nation that has the hundred and twenty ships, is to be eternally jealous of the one that has thirty, and in consequence to raise up enemies to attack her as often as an opportunity presents itself.
This disposition to reduce the naval power of Great Britain, this hostile disposition which is so coolly assumed, I should be curious to know how it is to be proved? Is there any one instance where the means of keeping up that species of force have been permitted to other nations, and refused to Britain? Even since the expiration of the treaty of commerce is there any one advantage in the trade of naval stores, or in any other branch of trade, in respect of which we have been put upon worse terms than any other nation? A disposition on her part to reduce our power? How? By what acts evidenced? Surely some errata must have crept into the official documents with which this “exact stater” has been supplied. That it was Sir R. Ainslie that was olapped up in the Seven Towers, and that Mr Bulgakoff was the adviser. That it was the English fleet that was attempted, in time of peace, to be burnt at Copenhagen, and that they were Russians that seconded the patriotism of the Swedish colonel in that generous enterprise.
A circumstance, too, which this champion of equality seems to forget, is, that it was not only the jealous sovereign of Russia, and the angry sovereign of Prussia, that engaged in this supposed conspiracy against our power, but our great and good ally, the King of Sweden: All these joined in the same obnoxious measure: One is to be crushed for it; the other encouraged and supported. Such are the lessons of equity which this instructed advocate is employed to teach us.
I will not inquire what other powers joined with the foregoing. I would rather ask which did not? The documents are not before me: but I believe not one. The world we are fallen into is not only a very wicked one, but a very unaccountable one. It joins in a universal conspiracy against us. It finds us pressed by enemies; and when the junction is formed, it behaves to us and our enemies alike, without offering us the smallest injury. It is for this offence that we have embarked in the enterprise of punishing such parts of the world as are within our reach, in pious expectation of the time when it shall please God to deliver the rest of it into our hands. It is for the sovereign dispenser of unerring justice to choose his own time and his own instruments; and if, in truth, it hath pleased him to give commission to our most gracious sovereign, as successor to Attila, to scourge the world, it is for us to kiss the rod, and for the world to crouch to it. Of the existence of such a commission, I, for one, shall be satisfied when I see it produced; but the rhetoric of this declaimer, I hope, is not to pass in lieu of it.
Text. Par. 11.
“The commercial advantages which this country might derive from a treaty with Russia, the other powers in the Baltic, together with Poland, will be able in great measure to afford; whilst, from the wisdom of the present Administration, we may expect that such encouragement will be given to the cultivation, in the British dominions, of the important articles of hemp and timber, that the immense sums which are paid for them to foreign nations will in time be considerably lessened.”
Observations on Par. 11.
The political economy of this ministerial advocate is of a piece with his foreign politics. For the credit of office, I hope here at least he is not speaking from his brief. Sure I am he has not got his instructions from Dr Smith.
To prevent us from raising the important articles in question there are no legal obstacles, nor ever have been. The obstacle is, that the quantity of them that can be produced upon a given spot of ground, at a given expense, is of not so much value as the production on the same spot, at the same expense, of some other commodity. The good management, we are bid to expect from the “wisdom of Administration,” consists in the taxing the one part of the community, in order to make a purse to pay another part, for raising a less profitable crop, instead of a more profitable one. The amount of the bounty thus bestowed, of the tax thus wisely imposed and applied, constitutes pretty nearly what, according to my calculation, would be the loss by this wise measure. “No,” says this harbinger of wisdom, “it is only the deduction from the gain: For the saving of the immense sums which we now pay for hemp, and so forth, would be so much dear gain.” And true he says, if the corn, and other productions which, by the supposition, would otherwise have been raised on the same land to a greater value, would sell for nothing.
Text. Par. 12, and last.
“The system adopted by the present administration tends likewise manifestly to lessen, if not entirely to annihilate, the influence of France in Turkey and Sweden, which may probably be attended with such commercial advantages to England, with regard to the former power, that the British trade to the Levant, at present almost superseded by the French, may regain its pristine importance.”
Observations on Par. 12.
Why attempt to “annihilate,” or by violence even to “lessen,” the influence of France in Sweden, in Turkey, or anywhere else? With what hope? with what justice? with what reason? to what use? In what instance, and in what country, has France been attempting to abuse it? Do we feel, have we lately felt, in the Levant or elsewhere, any want of influence? Have we met with any hinderance there, from selling what we had to sell, from buying what we wanted to buy, except in the way of fair and peaceable competition? Are the French never to be permitted to buy anything but of us? How are they to buy anything of us, without being allowed to get anything to pay for it with? Is it so sure a thing that the French will never have hereafter any troops in their armies, any money in their treasures, any resentment of injuries in their bosoms, aud that they will always lie still to be trampled upon by the present Administration, and the present Administration’s Trumpeter? If to keep them from starving, we can prevail upon our generosity to indulge them in a small pittance of trade anywhere, can we find a more proper field for indulgence than one to which they are twice as near as we are? Is not that superior vicinity sufficient to account for whatever superiority their trade has over ours, without recurring to the unsupported supposition of superiority of influence? Can the sum total of our own trade, at any period, be extended beyond the limits which the quantity of our capital at that period has set to it? Can the sum total of the trade of France be prevented from assuming the extension which the quantity of her capital allows of? Is it to be taken for granted without proof, and against manifest probability, that a trade for which we have farther to go than the French have, must be more profitable than others for which we have not so far to go as they have? Can the wisdom of grasping at any particular branch of trade be shown any otherwise, than by showing that in that trade the gains are greater, or the expense less, than in any other branch?—and is there not in the breasts, and in the heads of merchants, a principle that will lead them to find out the most lucrative, without their being whipped to it, or whistled to it, by the “wisdom of the present administration?”
If the principles I have been reviewing were to be pursued by all who have as good a right to pursue them as we have, a war of all against all would be the consequence, and the race of man would be swept from off the earth.
There might be wisdom in blind and malignant selfishness, if, by shutting our own eyes against our own injustice, we could shut the eyes of our fellow-men; the misfortune is, that we open them but the wider.
Sir, it is not my ambition to crush insects: but better arguments than these the cause does not supply. Sir, I wage no war with harmless ignorance: but when ignorance, under the mask of superiority, steps forth to abet guilt, and a great nation is egged on to run a muck against the world, severity becomes a duty, and compassion for one gives way to sympathy for millions.—I am, Sir, yours, &c.,
These Anti-Machiavel Letters excited the resentment of George the Third. He discovered their author, and never ceased to regard Bentham in the light of a personal enemy. Bentham always attributed the Veto he put upon the Panopticon Bill, after it had passed both Houses of Parliament, to the vindictive feelings created by this correspondence.
Bentham had not mentioned to any one that he had written the first two Letters, signed Anti-Machiavel; but on the day, or the day after the Letter appeared, (so sharply attacking the policy of his unknown royal opponent,) Bentham called at Lansdowne House, and he thus relates what passed:—“ ‘You are found out,’ cried Lord L., laying hold of me, ‘Lady Lansdowne it was that detected you,’ and he told me by what mark. He was in a perfect ecstasy. His fame had been grounded, in no small degree, on his knowledge of foreign politics. Guess my astonishment, when I found the whole story new to him. Never shall I forget the rapidity with which we vibrated, arm in arm, talking over the matter in the great dining-room. A day or two after, came out, in the same paper, an answer, under the signature of a Partizan. ‘So,’ says he, ‘here’s an antagonist you have got. Do you know who he is?’ ‘Not I, indeed.’ ‘Well, I will tell you: it is the King.’ That he had means of knowing this, was no secret to me. For a considerable length of time, a regular journal of what passed at the Queen’s house, had been received by him: he had mentioned to me the persons from whom it came. The answer was, of course, a trumpery one. The word check, applied to the power of Russia, formed the whole substance of it. The communication produced on me the sort of effect that could not but have been intended. Junius had set the writings of the day to the tune of asperity. I fell upon the best of kings with redoubled vehemence. I sent the two Anti-Machiavels to Pitt the second. The war was given up.”
“Who Anti-Machiavel was, became soon known to this same ‘best of kings,’ for that was the title which the prolific virtues of his wife had conferred upon him. Imagine how he hated me. Millions wasted were among the results of his vengeance. In a way too long to state, he broke the faith of the Admiralty Board pledged to my brother. After keeping me in hot water more years than the siege of Troy lasted, he broke the faith of Parliament to me. But for him all the paupers in the country, as well as all the prisoners in the country, would have been in my hands. A penal code drawn by me would have become law. Of the Panopticon establishment, the character to which it owed its chief value in my eye, was that of a means leading to that end.”
1789—1791. Æt. 41—43.
Correspondence on French Affairs.—Memoranda of Lord Lansdowne’s Ministerial Projects.—Lord Wycombe.—Memoir of a Portrait of Bentham.—His Wish to enter Parliament, and Correspondence with Lord Lansdowne.—Correspondence with Sir Samuel Bentham, Dr Price, Benjamin Vaughan, &c.
The progress of events in France, hurrying faster towards their crisis, naturally engrossed much of Bentham’s attention at this period, and became prominent in his correspondence.
A letter of Wilson, dated 21st May, 1789, says,—
“Trail and myself are out of humour with Necker’s conduct, and with his speech, and also with the order of the noblesse, and with the meetings at Paris. As to Mirabeau, he is, I fear, an incorrigible blackguard, and also very deficient in common sense. What could be more foolish than to publish anything at this time, which should give a pretence to say that the liberty of the press was dangerous? They would not have dared to suppress a journal which had given a fair account of the proceedings of the States.”
In the same letter, Wilson accuses Bentham of having divulged to the Duke de la Rochefoucauld, that Trail and he had taken part in the preparation of certain papers sent to the duke,* —as the communication might lower Romilly in the duke’s opinion, and be suspected of “a want of modesty and candour in passing off for his own, work which had been done by others.” To this charge Bentham replies:—
[* ] See these demands, as exhibited in the official note of the Swedish minister at Petersburg, in the Gaz. de Leyd. of Aug. 12, 1783.
[† ] Viz. with Turkey.
[* ] Mr Elliott’s declaration to Count Bernstoff (May 10.)
[* ] It is pretty clear that the “papers” were, the account of the Rules and Forms of the House of Commons, mentioned in Romilly’s Memoirs, vol. i. pp. 101, 351.