Front Page Titles (by Subject) XVIII: A HISTORY OF ENGLAND, 1837-1880 By the Rev. J. Franck Bright, D.D., Master of University College, Oxford - Historical Essays and Studies
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XVIII: A HISTORY OF ENGLAND, 1837-1880 By the Rev. J. Franck Bright, D.D., Master of University College, Oxford - John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Historical Essays and Studies 
Historical Essays and Studies, by John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, edited by John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence (London: Macmillan, 1907).
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A HISTORY OF ENGLAND, 1837-1880.1 By the Rev. J. Franck Bright, D.D., Master of University College, Oxford.
General Garfield wrote in his diary: “No country has made nobler progress against greater obstacles than this heroic England in the last hundred years.” At the same time, Gratry described the admirable spectacle of a nation turning from its sordid carnal ways to make reparation for centuries of profitable wrong. Just then, too, Prévost Paradol, with the same scene before him, said that we all know at what stage of existence people begin to feel remorse, settle their affairs, and try to atone for their misdeeds. Dr. Bright has seen these things, and has found in them the keynote of the reign of the queen. He crowns the history of England with the age of conversion and compassion, of increased susceptibility in the national conscience, of a deepened sense of right and wrong, of much that, in the eye of rivalry, is sentiment, emotion, idealism, and imbecility. He has shown how the nation, the constitution, the empire were formed; but his heart is not in the striving, stumbling past, in the siege of Ascalon and the coronation at Paris, with Drake and Clive, but with those who administer the inheritance of power and responsibility, the treasured experience, and the imperial arts, to the needs and claims of three hundred millions of men. He is the historian of living forces and present cares. His intense consciousness of duty and difficulty in the discharge of such a trust makes this book vivid and impressive beyond his former volumes, although it lacks the dramatic element. We do not keep the weary watch on the rampart of Jellalabad for the army that is no more; and when O’Connell is saved by a flaw we do not learn how the error which had escaped the law officers and the judges, the Irish bar, and the cunning prisoner himself, was detected by a young lawyer in London who had nothing to do with the case, and whose fortune it made to this day.
Gneist pleasantly describes us as floundering in a transit of socialism. What he calls “Uebergang in das Jahrhundert der Socialreformen und der Socialbills,” Dr. Bright designates as the democratic age. To call it the liberal age would be to court a party triumph; and we should have to define liberty, which resembles the camel, and enjoys more definitions that any other object in nature. Democracy, if not the most scientific notation, is the one that divides us least. The two ideas are not always kept apart, and a veil hangs over the question how they come out in respect of class government, equality, imperialism, education, toleration, slavery, nationality, federalism, conquest, the right of minorities, the reign of the higher law. Zeller has thought it worth his while to open the Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie with the admonition that history should explain as well as narrate. The advice is not addressed to the master of University, who knows the unpolitical cause of much political effect, and always looks beneath the surface of vacant debates for the derivation, if not for the original root of things. But he never sails under the bare poles of theory, and pronounces as little as he can upon party dogmatism. He shows himself a partisan like Keble when he asked whether Disestablishment was not just; or Quesnay when he said, “Quand on parle pour la raison et la justice, on a bien plus d’amis qu’on ne croit.” He deserves the high praise that he will not satisfy inferior minds of his own or any other way of thinking. For the sincere liberal he is full of weighty lessons, meaning by sincere one who knows his cargo and his course, who both thinks and acts with a mind applied to consequences, who can appraise the saying of the philosopher, that liberalism will lose India, and the Prussian minister’s speech to our countryman: “You will cease to be a nation before you have time to put your hand into your breeches-pocket.” He avoids glaring contrasts and exact definitions, and abstains with excessive abnegation from the statement of private opinion. The Oxford movement was a wave of conservatism, and a Liberal is by the hypothesis an enemy of the Church, a man who wants to set the bishops’ house in order, a follower of Colenso. Men like Cardinal Newman and the Dean of St. Paul’s still interpret the term in that sense, and German Lutherans, for their own constitutional reasons, do the same. Dr. Bright accepts the Tractarian nomenclature without remonstrance, regardless of men who would thereby surrender the ground beneath their feet, and who, believing that the doctrines of Laud are to those of Bradlaugh as heaven to hell, yet glorify the Providence that sent the primate to the Tower and the atheist to the House of Commons. With the same extreme reserve, he likes to speak conditionally of foreign countries. “Whatever may be thought of the political aspect of the coup d’état,” is the form of his judgment upon it. The want of sharp outlines reminds one of the Prague poet who went to see Béranger in 1847, and had to answer a few questions. Was Prague in Hungary or in Poland? In neither one nor the other. Was Bohemia in Austria or in Germany? In both. Was the Prussian monarchy absolute or constitutional? Partly one, partly the other. At last Béranger lost patience. “Frenchmen,” he cried, “like things to be clear. What is not clear is not French.” The scruples and qualifications and optatives of this history would not be admitted in a French compendium.
All this caution is dismissed at the approach of transactions which betray the faults of the national character, and are subject to considerations by which we all are bound, not those for which man is not accountable to man. “Such was the natural result of the position occupied by the English in India. The rightfulness of the position may well be questioned. . . . At no time, it must be confessed, did they show in more cruel fashion their fixed belief in themselves and in the rightfulness of their cause, and their incapacity for understanding the rights or feelings of those opposed to them. . . . The contest seemed to lie between two savage races capable of no thought but that, regardless of all justice or mercy, their enemies should be exterminated.” The right to applaud, and even to exult at times, is justified by the generous integrity of such judgments as this. History of a higher tone has never been written; at the death of Cavour, Doudan writes: “Ceux qui l’appellent un scélérat ne savent guère de quel bois se sont chauffés la plupart des libérateurs des nations.” Dr. Bright knows it well, and it nowhere mitigates the gravity of his avenging sentences. If there is an exception, it is a tendency to be complacent in the Crimea, and to share some of our discredit with the French. He follows Kinglake even on the boulevards, and in his account of the plan of Paskiewitch, which led to the disaster at Silistria, omitting his really historic advice to march upon Constantinople through Vienna. But when Kinglake assigns to the allies at least 24,000 men more than the enemy at the Alma, he scarcely allows an excess of more than 5000. At Inkerman a somewhat unsteady regiment of the French line is aided by the invincible courage of the English. If the fact is so, the tone is not that of the sergeant’s speech in giving the health of the French. “Don’t you remember when we saw them coming over the hill?”
The Duke of Wellington, who is buried and eulogised in 1852, is the conventional hero with powers mellowed by age, loyal, trustworthy, too good for party; and the opportunity is lost of strengthening the shadowless Elizabethan portrait with the colours of prose. We have to estimate his fitness as a statesman by his encouragement of Ferdinand VII., his refusal to allow the elevation of the house of Orleans, his fancy for Charles X. and Polignac, his objection to constitutional government in Poland on the ground that it would imperil the tranquillity of Europe at a time, September 1814, when there was too much liberalism about. While Canning was straining all his resources to stay the invasion of Spain, the duke showed his fidelity as a colleague by exhorting the French Government to push on boldly and defy him; and when the first faltering steps were taken towards popular education, Wellington gives the measure of his superiority to the narrowness of party feeling by the dictum “that money ought not to be levied upon the subject, or granted by Parliament, for the purpose of educating the people in popery, in the tenets of the Unitarians, in those of the Anabaptists, in those of any sect not in communion with the Church of England; or at all, excepting in the tenets of the Church of England.” In Peel’s great administration—great because it included ten men of the rank and substance of premier—he ceased to be listened to, and came to be treated as an august bore.
Masters of expediency and compromise, like Peel and Palmerston, are convenient to the political historian who writes for all readers. Lord Palmerston especially, as a sort of medium Englishman, fares well at his hands. He deems that he was prejudiced in his judgments and material in his aims, and in a characteristic paragraph on the war for the sale of “a noxious and poisonous drug,” austere morality wrestles uneasily with an acquiescent patriotism. The garbled Portuguese and Afghan despatches he does not touch. It is only from 1835 onwards that he makes Lord Palmerston prominent as the manager of our foreign policy. “In the period between November 1830 and the autumn of 1834 it was much governed by the then prime minister, Lord Grey.” When Kinglake wrote those words there were men living who could bear witness that they were not only true, but considerably within the mark. Too much is made of the British triumph in the fall and submission of Mehemet Ali. To be in perfect keeping it should be said that, having been deposed by the sultan, he was formally reinstated, and was even made hereditary Pasha of Egypt. So far, therefore, France under Guizot recovered her influence. The marriage of Queen Isabella would hardly have provoked so loud an outcry against the offending French, or so serious a rupture, but for the previous enmity between Louis Philippe and Lord Palmerston. Dr. Bright traces it back as far as the quadruple treaty, and the date is confirmed by what King Leopold writes, in 1840, on the authority of Melbourne: “Seit er vor vier Jahren in der spanischen Frage einen ihm empfindlichen Widerspruch von Seiten des Königs Louis Philippe erfuhr, ist er noch nicht versöhnt, und aus Rachsucht geneigt, Frankreich schonungslos zu behandeln.” The ill-feeling began when they were younger men; and the outrageous memorandum in which Palmerston justified his attitude towards the coup d’état expressed sentiments of long standing.
It belongs to the friendly treatment of Lord Palmerston to be severe on the Spanish marriages; but to say that so scandalous a breach of morality has seldom occurred, and that the queen was doomed to an unfruitful union, is excessive. The choice lay, at last, between two brothers, of whom the elder, for no good reason, was the candidate of France, and the younger, who was a progresista, was preferred by England. The French carried their point. They also wished the queen’s sister to marry the Duke de Montpensier, and England assented; but it was agreed that the second marriage should be postponed. The French contrived that they should be simultaneous. That is the extent of the breach of faith which broke up the western alliance. Having conceded to England that the husband of the Queen of Spain should not be a French prince, France stipulated at least for a Bourbon, and informed the English Cabinet that they would hold themselves absolved from their engagements if any candidate was brought forward who did not descend from Philip V. The warning had scarcely been conveyed to Lord Aberdeen when negotiations were opened for a match with Leopold of Coburg. It was rejected by the Government; Lord Aberdeen threatened to recall our minister at Madrid, and Lord Palmerston was committed to the Spanish Liberals and to their candidate Don Enrique. Having kept faith absolutely, they had a right to hold France to her bargain. But the French were able to reply that Sir Henry Bulwer was responsible for Prince Leopold; that the court, if not the Ministry, were interested in his success; that he was encouraged by the Kings of Portugal and Belgium. After three months of hesitation, Palmerston induced Prince Albert to decline the proposal of Queen Christine; but the French employed their plausible materials so well that two generations have believed that the scheme which he in fact demolished was his own; and as late as last June, M. de Mazade wrote that Lord Palmerston’s first care on taking office in 1846 was to revive the candidature of Leopold. Duke Ernest, on the contrary, testifies that he was incapable of harbouring a design favourable to the house of Coburg. The rejection, not by France but by England, of a prince connected with the royal family, who was the fittest candidate, who was preferred by the Queen of Spain, opened that conflict between English and German notions of the function of monarchy in free States which the dynastic literature has exposed. Accepting without challenge Prince Albert’s action in this country, Dr. Bright passes by the revealing allusions of the Duke of Coburg to what he feels as failure in his brother’s career: “Ob Prinz Albert in seinem Verkehr mit dieser Nation gleich von vornherein den richtigen Ton zu treffen wusste, will ich nicht entscheiden. Ich habe über diesen Punkt oft in aller Liebe mit meinem Bruder gehadert und immer die Empfindung gehabt, dass ihn ein schweres Loos getroffen, sich dem grossen Inselvolke verständnissvoll einfügen zu müssen. . . . Man hätte streben müssen ihn freundlicher zu stimmen. . . . Die grösste Wärme und opferfähigste Neigung vermochten sich zuweilen in schmerzliche Kälte zu verwandeln, und oftmals sah man ihn an jener Grenze, die für Mächtige und Hochgestellte so verführerisch sein mag, in Urtheilen und Anschauungen sich gefallen, die einem gewissen Hange zur Menschenverachtung entspringen. . . . Es war eine ewige Gedankengährung in ihm, darauf gerichtet, die Menschen zu beglücken, und er konnte gegen den Menschen sich so hart wie möglich zeigen. . . . Man steigerte sich in abfälliger Beurtheilung der vornehmen, sowie der niedern politischen Halbwelt, welche sich vermass zu praktiziren und in das Leben einzugreifen.” This last sentence is from the panegyric of Stockmar.
Mr. Ruskin came from Hawarden rejoicing that he had solved the great Gladstonian mystery. Dr. Bright is less confident, and might perhaps suspect a momentary illusion. His own key is assimilation; and he thinks that Mr. Gladstone absorbs in the shape of popular vapour what he gives back in scientific showers. Consequently he has some difficulty and indecision in dealing with a letter, I presume to Dr. Hannah, which was cited as evidence of a too rapid conversion to Disestablishment. The change was neither sudden nor subject to external cause. My own testimony is needless, because Lord Selborne’s knowledge reaches farther. The Oxford supporters had due warning in 1863, and there were Whigs who, as early as April 1864, knew what was coming, and were enabled, without help from prophecy, to forecast the fortunes of the party through many later years. I even questioned the guarded doubt whether the government in 1873 were conscious of diminished power. After the Church and the land, one of the ministers most interested in the upas tree said, “Now comes education, and that will soon turn us out.” According to Dr. Bright, the Tories did wrong to refuse office after their victory. It may be a question whether opposition is to be considered before administration, whether it is the higher function to govern or to prevent misgovernment, to exercise power or to control it. If he is a little strict with Mr. Disraeli at this point, he speaks of him with respect after the time of his attacks on Peel. Having spoken of Lord George Bentinck, he adds: “The fire, the venom, and the acute parliamentary tactics were supplied by his less distinguished henchman.” Hard words towards a statesman who, if he left few friends on one side of politics, was honoured with a public monument on the other, and who had a higher right than the Duke of Abrantes to say that it is better to be an ancestor than a descendant. Apparently there is a reminiscence of the story that Peel wanted to challenge Disraeli, whose violence was caused by the inconceivable neglect of his fitness for office, and whose wife answered the consoling Milnes, “The worm will turn.” In truth he repels the considerate and sympathetic treatment which Dr. Bright extends all round, for he liked to accentuate antagonism and to make it very real. He resisted the polite habit of saying “my right honourable friend,” when the friend was an enemy, and objected emphatically to the incongruous friendships of Northcote. Too much amenity he feared would teach the audience that what does not affect fellowship does not affect character, and that parliamentary contention is exaggerated and insincere. The pleasant conciliation of the History of England would not have been to his liking.
The actual mistakes are few and trivial; and in several doubtful places the author indicates opinions which, without being argued or final, are worthy of attention. Earl Fortescue did not become lord-lieutenant of Ireland in 1841, but the lord-lieutenant became Earl Fortescue; Mr. Bayne is Sir Edward Baines; the Duke d’Aumale was the fourth son, not the eldest; there are no archdukes in Russia; the Duke de Gramont was not war minister, unless figuratively; the elector of Hesse, in 1850, did not take flight before an insurgent chamber; “Paulo’s younger son” should be “Francisco de Paula’s younger son”; the treaty of 1866 was signed at Berlin on 8th April, not on 27th March. It is confusing to read that in 1871 “Grevy was elected president, and Thiers put at the head of the Ministry.” One was president of the assembly, the other head of the government. The imprecations of Sir John Hay do not fitly represent a large section of opinion towards Lord Palmerston; for the indignant orator had personal motives of a kind that compelled respect. That the reform debate of 1859 was memorable for the speeches of Bulwer and Cairns is well said, by virtue of the prerogative, to mark the force of arguments that are none the worse because they did not persuade, and the rights of a cause that has failed; but it is out of proportion. Bulwer far surpassed himself on 26th April in the following year, when he so impressed opponents that Ayrton turned in astonishment to Bernal Osborne, saying that it was the finest speech on the representation of the people he had ever heard. Sir Hugh Cairns never acquired in the Commons anything like the reputation and authority which his splendid gift of intellectual speech brought him in the other House, where some say that the great tradition which comes down from Mansfield and Chatham ended at his death and, by the law of demand and supply, is likely not to revive.
One of the disputed passages which Dr. Bright settles by implication concerns the marriage of the queen. He praises Lord Melbourne for bringing about an event which involved his own abdication, and evidently does not assign to him any part in the arrangement by which the marriage was to have been put off for three years. He says that Prussia, by the treaty of Prague, obtained all that it desired; thereby rejecting the story that the king desired more, by several millions of souls, and was restrained by the moderation of his son. It was supposed that Lord Russell, to screen the convention of Plombières, obtained false assurances from Turin, and conveyed them to Parliament. Clearly, Dr. Bright does not believe it. Nor does he admit that Lord Russell, when asserting our neutrality and resisting the confederate proclivity of Napoleon III., spoke without conviction, as the mouthpiece of an overruling Cabinet led, while he lived, by Lewis. He does not even hold England guilty of avoidable delay in the affair of the Alabama. Thus, he drops more than one figure in the American calculations. For those Englishmen whose sympathies were southern he has scant respect. He says of the wealthier classes: “With their usual misapprehension of the true meaning of the word, they supposed that the southerners came nearer to satisfy the ordinary definition of gentlemen than their northern brethren.” Dives perhaps might reply that he was only adopting a saying of Burke, which Pinckney, I think, quoted in congress; and he would find solace in a northern criticism of Arnold’s latest utterance, to the effect that distinction is a correlative of snobbishness, and incompatible with genuine equality. The thing cannot be explained by the suspected thoughts of men too unintelligent to know a gentleman when they see him. Macaulay, at least, was not an aristocrat. He had done more than any writer in the literature of the world for the propagation of the Liberal faith, and he was not only the greatest, but the most representative Englishman then living. Yet Macaulay, in 1856, spoke this remarkable prophecy: that the union would not last ten years; that it would be dissolved by slavery, and would settle down into several distinct despotisms.
In the three wars which between 1860 and 1870 determined the isolation of England, and generated Jingo, Dr. Bright does all that a few solid sentences can do to make the issues impartially intelligible; although each contending party might add a rectifying word. He dislikes slavery, but is not far from agreeing with Mr. Oliphant, that a dog with a master is as good as a dog without one. He thinks the abolitionists fanatical, and shares that phase of federal opinion which was expressed by President Buchanan: “The original and conspiring causes of all our future troubles are to be found in the long, active, and persistent hostility of the northern abolitionists, both in and out of congress, against southern slavery, until the final triumph of their cause in the election of President Lincoln.” Whilst he barely admits the strength of the pledges which Lincoln gave against abolition, the disinclination to assign grave practical consequences to impalpable dogma leaves a haze on the other side. That the theory which gave to the people of the State the same right of last resort against Washington as against Westminster possessed a certain independent force of its own, that northern statesmen of great authority maintained it, that its treatment in successive stages by Calhoun and Stephens forms as essential a constituent in the progress of democratic thinking as Rousseau or Jefferson, we are not told. The confederates are presented as men who adopted a certain political theory because it suited their interests and their passions. But beyond this, the immediate cause of secession, the duration of the war, its balanced fortune, its historic grandeur, were very much due to four or five men, most of whom took arms under compulsion of an imperative law, in obedience to duty in its least attractive form. To the cogency of the unwritten law, to the stern power of the disinterested idea for which men died with a passion of sacred joy in the land of the almighty dollar and the cotton-king, justice is not done. That which made the conflict terrible, and involved Europe in its complications, was not the work of premeditating slave-owners, but of men to whom State rights, not slavery, were supreme, who would have given freedom to the slaves in order, by emancipation, to secure independence. Many good officers, before resigning their commission, before, in Douglas’s phrase, they checked their baggage and took a through ticket, hesitated like Lee and like A. S. Johnston, who wrote, “I suppose the difficulties now will only be adjusted by the sword. In my humble judgment, that was not the remedy.” From the Seven-days’ Battle to Appomattox, during three years, the defence of the confederate capital rested upon Lee; and although M‘Clellan believed that he knew him by heart, and that the South had better men, without him the end would have come in 1862 or 1863, as surely as it would have come to the revolutionary war in 1796 or 1799 but for Bonaparte and Masséna. General Lee delivered the following opinion: “In addition to the great political advantages that would result to our cause from the adoption of a system of emancipation, it would exercise a salutary influence upon our whole negro population.” The History of England has not to estimate the political effects which would have ensued if the corrections of the federal constitution adopted at Richmond had been completed in timely pursuance of this advice; but it ought to note that there was more at work than fanaticism and ambition on one side and provincial pride and private cupidity on the other.
That Austria took the final step towards war in 1866, by refusing to consider territorial changes at the congress, is technically correct. But the terms of the refusal were not so peremptory. Count Mensdorff made it a condition “qu’on exclura des délibérations toute combinaison qui tendrait à donner à un des états invités aujourd’hui à la réunion un agrandissement territorial ou un accroissement de puissance. Sans cette garantie préalable qui écarte les prétentions ambitieuses et ne laisse plus de place qu’à des arrangements équitables pour tous au même degré, il nous paraîtrait impossible de compter sur une heureuse issue des délibérations proposées.” This cautious language does not prohibit exchanges; for Austria had attempted, too late, to neutralise Italy by the offer of Venetia, with a view to compensation in Silesia. Dr. Bright doubts whether Bismarck was unscrupulous enough to use the duchies throughout as the means of a quarrel with Austria. That statesman explained his purpose to General Govone with the same laudable candour with which he spoke of ceding the Rhine-frontier down to Coblenz. The duchies were too weak a basis to justify a great war in the eyes of Europe, but they served to irritate King William and to detach him from legitimacy: “Chiamare l’Austria a parte della guerra danese e vedere di cementare cosi l’alleanza austro-prussiana. Questa esperienza essere completamente fallita, o direi piuttosto completamente riuscita, . . . e l’esperienza avere guarito il rè e molte persone sull’ alleanza austriaca.” Govone’s despatches were published by La Marmora, and suggested to that distant countryman of Machiavelli the pertinent gloss: “In politica come in tutte le faccende della vita, il migliore modo di essere furbo è di non ricorrere mai alle cosi dette furberie.”
The theory of the war of 1870 is not so sound as that of 1866. The agitation in France is described as a phase of that vulgar patriotism which protects the feeble neighbour and detests the strong, as Thiers objected to the consolidation of Italy, and every French politician, excepting Ollivier, deprecated the consolidation of Germany. The candidature of the Prince of Hohenzollern becomes a mere pretext, inasmuch as he was the grandson of a Murat, the grandson of a Beauharnais, and nearer to the French court than the Prussian. Germany resents the arrogant demands, and the French ambassador meets with a somewhat rough reception. With all their faults, the proceedings of the two Powers were more politic and more reasonable. The candidate for the crown of Spain was a Prussian officer. He had been recognised as a prince of the Prussian house. His father had been quite lately prime minister to the King of Prussia, and had contributed, as a trusted adviser, to the elevation of Bismarck. The French argued that with such a man on the Spanish frontier they would have to guard the Pyrenees in the event of war on the Rhine. They required that he should withdraw, and expressed a hope that he would, by his own act, prevent a conflict. When the French Government had declared that a voluntary withdrawal was all they demanded, the prince, by the advice of Prussia, refused the proffered crown. Émile Ollivier at once proclaimed that all ground of quarrel was removed. The constitutional empire had won a great diplomatic triumph, after the absolute empire for ten years had endured the humiliation of failure. The success of the liberal and pacific statesman was a check to the imperial tradition and to the men who desired that the power of Napoleon should be transmitted to his son undiminished by conditions of popular debate. Without his knowledge the question was reopened. Whilst Ollivier declared himself satisfied, Gramont asked for more. The Hohenzollern candidature, known to be offensive to France, had been off and on for a year and a quarter, and had been matured in secret. They asked to be assured that the prince, whose mind had wavered so long, and had changed so suddenly, would waver and change no more. They had carried Europe with them in protesting against his election, even when, knowing what they knew of German opinion and preparation, for their agents served them well, the words of Molé to Baron Werther were repeated, forty years later, to his son, “La guerre est au bout de mes paroles.” But until that despatch was written to Benedetti France had not resolved to go to war.
Prussia had taken no irrevocably hostile part. While the confidential reports of French officers found their way to the Wilhelmstrasse in the original, the Government could not be ignorant that France was discussing with Austria the place where their armies were to unite. At the same time an old man of rare political experience and sagacity, out of office, but deeply initiated, was missing from the tea parties of Berlin, on a tour in the peninsula. But the Spanish crown was surrendered with a good grace, and even the arrogant demands were not at once resented. The correct Prussian showing the door to the gilded envoy, who may still be seen in picture-books for the use of the Philistine, was never seen but there. But the seething waters were lashed by the ambiguous communiqué, which was instantly hailed as a studied insult to France. The leading organ of cultured Prussia said of it, “Die fortgesetzte Insolenz hatte endlich die allerderbste Zurückweisung erfahren. Die bisher erlittenen Beleidigungen waren reichlich wettgemacht.” Self-command was not wanting at Ems or at Berlin, nor the faculty of entirely dispassionate calculation, which debate impairs, but which no statesman even of the second rank ever permits to fail him in office hours. To give way, without sulking, before the direct action of hostile force is a lesson in elementary politics which no civilised government finds it difficult to learn. Prussia might have accepted her diplomatic repulse as England bore the dismissal of Crampton, America the surrender of the prisoners, France the disavowal of Drouyn de Lhuys, Northern Germany itself the dismantling of Luxemburg. There remained in reserve the means of satisfying national feeling by demanding explanations of the haughty language of Gramont. But they could not lose the advantage of being attacked. The assured neutrality of Europe, the union of all the German armies, were at that price. The telegram indicating the rebuff of Benedetti secured them against the risk of a pacific reaction at Paris. Dr. Bright who has related what came to Palmerston when he received in silence the complaint of Walewski, backed by the chorus of colonels, could tell what fate would have attended Ollivier if, while Germany rang with the tidings of insult, he had protested that there was no offence either meant or taken.
He thinks that we lost ground by our conduct during the war in France, and lost it unjustly. If we were censured for having failed to prevent or to abridge hostility, and for having made no friends by our neutrality, this judgment would be correct. But it is not enough to obtain defence against wild hitting. Even in the age of experimental science, the area which reason commands is not extensive, and history, by further contracting it, sacrifices itself. We go to historians for the sake of what is reasonable: passion, and folly, and sin, we find better in the poets. The cool reception of Thiers, or the sale of arms to the French, is the declamation, not the real complaint. But we had not taken note of the double train of gunpowder laid after the plébiscite, and our agents did not ascertain what the mysterious travellers, Lebrun, Bernhardi, and Salazar, carried about them. Therefore, when the crisis came, we had forfeited somewhat of our weight and competence in advice, and were like watchers of a game whose eyes have strayed from the board. The decisive moment was when the emperor demanded security against the reappearance of Hohenzollern. Four days earlier Gramont assured us that France would be content with the voluntary renunciation which he asked our aid in obtaining; and when it was obtained he pronounced it worthless, and gave an opening for effective remonstrance. Lord Lyons only informed him that although we might be disappointed, deceived, and even slighted, it would make no difference, so that he might strike for the Rhine without risking the loss of our friendship. Again, after Ferrières, when a good deal depended on coolness, and temper, and accuracy, and the government of defence was in need of a judicious bottle-holder, our ambassador was away.
A dozen lines, from first to last, in the 570 pages would meet every grievance. The question would remain whether it is best, with effacing fingers, to make history with individual character, class interests, and the fortuitous changes of opinion, or with the ceaseless conflict of defined forms of thought. We begin to see daylight in the Cromwellian era when we know what a Calvinist meant and an Arminian, a Presbyterian and an Independent, a Baptist and a Socinian. It would be a luminous moment if, for the perpetual round of violence and weakness, folly and crime, somebody would display the operation of the original materials that supplied the French Revolution, the distinct systems that divided the three assemblies and governed the several constitutions: the eighteenth-century law of nature, the American rights of man, English parliamentary institutions, the abstract constitutionalism of Montesquieu, Voltaire’s humanitarian code, Protestant toleration, Jansenist theories of Church and State, the perfectibility of the encyclopædists, the whiggism of Holbach, the Helvetian doctrine of equality, Rousseau’s democracy, the socialism of Mably, Turgot’s political economy, the unguarded sentence in the Wealth of Nations which gave to the Provençal priest the fulcrum to overturn the monarchy of Lewis XIV., the conditional contract which Marat transmuted into a theory of massacre, the policy of the four Genevese who worked Mirabeau; and our times might be clearer if, instead of our own devices, the historian explained what it is really all about, wherein a Conservative differs from Whig and Tory, where a Liberal draws the line against Whig and Radical, how you distinguish a philosophic from an economic Radical, or Manchester from Birmingham, at what point democracy begins, how it combines with socialism, and why some socialists are Liberal and some democrats Tory. Impartiality would remain intact, for the strength of a doctrine, that which has to be accounted for, is its truth or semblance of truth; its errors make themselves known by its consequences and variations. The difficulty is that political symbolism implies symbols, and a party seldom produces or obeys its charter. No manifesto or election programme has the defining authority of a Shorter Catechism; and political teachers are not representative in the same sense as Hammond or Chillingworth, Baxter or Barclay. Theology differentiates towards exclusiveness, while politics develop in the direction of comprehension and affinity. Men who move along plain lines, like Seward and Castelar, are not often the most efficacious; and the alchemy that could condense Thiers or Bismarck or Frère Orban into a formula, as Bulwer’s French cook put the Prize Durham into a pomatum-pot, is a lost art. History does not work with bottled essences, but with active combinations; compromise is the soul, if not the whole of politics. Occasional conformity is the nearest practical approach to orthodoxy, and progress is along diagonals. Most of the maxims that have made the times since 1776 different from what went before are international. Criminal and philanthropic and agrarian legislation is simultaneous in many countries; the Reform Bill was carried in the streets of Paris, and purchase fell between Metz and Sedan. Pure dialectics and bilateral dogmas have less control than custom and interest and prejudice. The German loves abstractions and the Frenchman definitions, and they are averse from whatever is inconsistent and illogical. But the earliest history which is still read in Germany begins, “There was once a count”; and Ranke is always concrete, seldom puzzling over predestination or the balance of trade. Almost the only man who in France has succeeded with deductive history is the Milanese Ferrari; even the best historian of the Revolution, Sorel, has not carried out the dogmatic method, and Renan would be likely to lose readers if he required them to understand the Gnostics.
Nevertheless, the avoidance of a keen political edge is a risk even to the most dispassionate and conscientious of writers. He does not see that in 1874 it would have been better not to dissolve before the budget; he looks on the ballot as a medicine for corruption, not for the graver evil of pressure which makes men vote against their conviction, and always involves a lie; and he does not clearly separate expenditure on insurance and defence from expenditure on the means of aggression. The danger to the student is that moral indifference in political thinking which Leroy Beaulieu homœopathically declares to be a very good thing as well as a very bad one: “Cette sorte de scepticisme, d’athéisme politique, est le grand péril, la grande difficulté de tous nos gouvernements, et en même temps c’en est le principal point d’appui: c’est à la fois le mal et le remède du mal.”
[1 ]English Historical Review, vol. iii. 1888.