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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


Foreign Affairs - Quietness of the Situation - Debate on Poland - The English Prisoners in Abyssinia: Debate in Parliament - French Politics - The Roman Question - The Pope's Encyclical Letter - Napoleon goes to Algeria: Proclamation to the Arabs and Pamphlet on their Condition - French Finance: Criticisms of M. Thiers - The French Fleet at Portsmouth - Prussia and Austria - The Convention of Gastein - Contests between the Prussian Government and the Chamber - Austrian Affairs - Italy, Spain, Greece - Approaching troubles in Mexico.
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In European history, the year 1865 will always be looked upon as an interregnum, a breathing time, between the two eventful years that preceded and followed it. It was the interval between two wars; and its history is the history of passions that smouldered, and of intrigues that worked in secret. The underground records of diplomacy have much to tell of it; but as for events, there are none. Nor, so far as England is concerned, is there very much to record under the head of foreign policy. The dulness of such foreign debates as Parliament saw in this year contrasts sharply with the keen excitement of the debates of 1864, when Mr. Disraeli and Mr. Gladstone flung in each other's faces their opposing views of what constitutes the honour of England. Schleswig and Holstein were irrevocably gone now; rightly or wrongly we had stood by and seen them taken; and it was of no use to protest after the event, or to debate about our duty. On the other hand, the quarrel about the division of the spoil had not yet broken out; so we have few despatches from Lord Russell, and few scoldings by the Times. The only debate on European affairs that need be chronicled was one on a motion brought forward by Mr. Pope Hennessy, on the treatment of Poland by Russia. The terms of the motion referred to Russia's palpable violation of the Treaty of 1815, and entered a protest against it. But Lord Palmerston, and the good sense of the House with him, refused to entertain the resolution; for such a resolution means less than nothing unless it means war if its request is not complied with. Neither Mr. Pope Hennessy nor any one else thought seriously of a war with Russia; and Russia, like Prussia, is a state that possesses a policy, clear-cut, unscrupulous, and backed by force, and from that policy only war can make her swerve. In this matter of Poland, in this year at least, we escaped the blunder which we had committed so often and so ludicrously in 1864; as we did not mean to enforce our opinion, we kept it to ourselves.

It was in this year that the public began to hear stirring accounts of the English prisoners in Abyssinia, who were, a short time afterwards, to be raised to a position of such national importance. The full story of their captivity is perhaps better deferred till the time comes for treating of the Abyssinian War, set on foot to rescue them; but the points at issue may be shortly recorded here, as they were told by Lord Chelmsford in the House of Lords during this session. In July, 1862, Captain Cameron had been sent to Abyssinia as consul, with flattering messages and presents to King Theodore, a half-savage chieftain, professing a kind of spurious Christianity. He was well received by the King, and treated with honour; especially when, on the breaking out of a war between Egypt and Abyssinia, he attempted to mediate in favour of King Theodore. But this mediation was ill received by the Egyptian authorities, and Consul Cameron was induced to desist. This made the King very angry; especially as he had received no answer to an autograph letter which he had written to Queen Victoria on Captain Cameron's arrival in July. With the fickleness of a savage, he turned round upon the consul and began to treat him with great indignity; and matters were complicated by the action of certain missionaries, Mr. Stern and some others, whom the King and his grandees considered to have been acting against the interests of Abyssinia. One of Mr. Stern's interpreters was beaten to death; he himself was also beaten very severely: and then first he and the other missionaries and afterwards Consul Cameron himself were imprisoned and loaded with chains. So they continued for a long time: the English Foreign Office found itself in the difficult position of having either to leave British subjects to take their chance, or to run the risk of rousing to fury an African chieftain renowned for his fierce temper, and of arming him against the lives of the unhappy captives. Matters had been in this position about eighteen months, when Lord Chelmsford, in the House of Lords, and Sir Hugh Cairns, in the Commons - both great Opposition lawyers - questioned the Government very severely about the whole circumstances of the case. Lord Russell and Mr. Layard both made the same defence of the Foreign Office - that it could literally do nothing without sending the captives to certain death. It is well known that the event proved the Foreign Office wrong. But it remains for a future chapter to give the account of the war of release undertaken by Mr. Disraeli's Government; and to that chapter we must defer the rest of the romantic story.

There was little tangible connection between English and French affairs during this year; but France is so near a neighbour, and so closely bound to us by ties of trade and finance, leaving out of sight her political importance, that a short sketch of her contemporary history will not be out of place. 1865 was with her quiet and prosperous; political passions slumbered, hidden out of sight by the bustle of imperial bureaucracy and the lavishness of imperial expenditure. Beneath this outer crust of wealth and order crouched forces ready to spring when occasion offered. The legacy of hatred to the Empire bequeathed by the coup dieted was in no degree abated, but as yet the administrative system of the Empire stood firm, strong enough to repress all outward signs of dissatisfaction, but not strong enough to indoctrinate the thinking population of France, especially of the great towns, with any real respect and confidence. There was considerable excitement abroad at the opening of this year, especially among the clergy, concerning the Pope and the Roman question. It will be remembered that in September, 1864, there had been a Convention between France and Italy, under which Italy guaranteed the undisturbed possession of the Pontifical Dominions to the Pope, while France on the other hand engaged to withdraw her troops from Rome. M. Thiers spoke out boldly on the subject of this convention; he saw in it the beginning of the end, and professed little faith in the guarantees of Italy. " The Pope," he said, "is a poor priest; he has moral force, no doubt, at his back, but he cannot muster 300,000 men. He is therefore requested to yield, but has hitherto refused. What will happen next?" The object of the French Government was, he maintained, to appear to Italy willing to help her to the possession of Rome, while persuading all the rest of the world to the contrary. The Ultramontanes therefore were distrustful and alarmed, and when the Encyclical Letter arrived in France, and a circular was issued by the Minister of Justice, forbidding the clergy to distribute the letter among their flocks, or to read in public the first half of it, on the plea that it contained "propositions contrary to the principles on which is founded the Constitution of the Empire," several of the more prominent Anti-Gallican bishops broke out into warm remonstrance. " This restrictive measure," said the Archbishop of Cambrai, referring to the circular of the Minister of Justice, " astonishes and saddens me, all the more that the diffusion of the most Anti-Christian doctrines meets in our time with little or no opposition from the State. In our day everybody is at liberty, as much and as often as he pleases, to deny the existence of God Himself, and to propagate atheism in writings to which he may give all the publicity he desires. Is it too much to ask that the same latitude should be extended to Catholic teaching P " The Bishops of Moulins and Besançon set the circular at defiance, and read the Letter publicly from their pulpits; only, however, with the result of provoking an imperial decree ordering the Minister of State to see that the prohibition of the Minister of Justice was enforced. Dupanloup, Bishop" of Orleans, boldly published a pamphlet addressed to the Papal Nuncio, denouncing the upholders of a National Gallican Church - that pet theory of the Empire, - professing an unbounded devotion to Papal authority, and sharply criticising the restrictive policy of the Government. Dupanloup was then thought to be a moderate man, so that this act of his was the more distasteful to the Government, who thought it worth while to complain at Rome, when the Bishop's pamphlet drew forth an approving answer from the Nuncio. M. Drouyn de Lhuys, writing to the French Minister at Rome, assumed a tone calculated to make the Pope and his advisers feel the danger of irritating their only protector against a United Italy. " In writing to French Bishops to express an opinion on their conduct, and to direct their course with respect to the Imperial Government, his Excellency (the Nuncio) has exceeded his functions, which, according to French public law, can only be those of an ambassador. But an ambassador fails in his most essential duty when he encourages, by his approbation, resistance to the laws of the country in which lie resides and criticism of the acts of the Government to which he is accredited.... It is hoped, consequently, that the Court of Rome in its wisdom will not permit a recurrence of such irregularities, which, besides, the French Government is determined not to tolerate."

The fame of the Encyclical Letter reached England and created some stir among the Ultra-Protestant party. Mr. Newdegate, speaking in the House of Commons on the Roman Catholic Oaths Bill, said, that in his opinion, that was a singularly inopportune moment to propose any change in the test imposed upon Roman Catholic members, seeing that the French Government were just then occupied in grave discussions on the best means of dealing with the latest Papal aggression, in the shape of the Pope's Encyclical Letter, which, in the interests of order and peace, could not be allowed to pass unnoticed. How the Encyclical Letter could affect the question of the Roman Catholic Oaths Bill, Mr. Newdegate's hearers failed to see, - it was one of that gentleman's many cries of "Wolf" in Roman Catholic matters. The Convention between France and Italy had no doubt disappointed the Papacy, and the Letter may be looked upon as more or less an expression of that disappointment; but the French Government knew very well that Rome lay too much in the power of France for any serious affront to be offered, and after a little more diplomatic skirmishing they let the matter drop.

Later on in the year the Emperor paid a visit to Algeria, where an insurrection had broken out in 1864, which was still smouldering when the Emperor reached the country. Napoleon III. made a characteristic use of his visit, by publishing some clever theatrical proclamations, strewn with passages from the Koran, which probably astonished the Arabs more than they conciliated them. Speaking of the insurrection, one of these proclamations said: " Far be it from me to call it a crime; on the contrary, I honour the feeling of warlike dignity which led you, before submitting, to invoke by arms the judgment of God. But God has pronounced; acknowledge therefore the decrees of Providence, which, in its mysterious designs, often guides to a good end by disappointing our hopes and deluding our efforts. Twenty centuries ago our ancestors, like yourselves, courageously resisted a foreign invasion, but from their defeat dates their regeneration. The vanquished Gauls became assimilated to the victorious Romans; and from the forced union of the contrasted virtues of the two opposed civilisations there arose in the course of time that French nationality which in its turn has propagated its ideas throughout the world. Who knows if the day may not come when the Arab race, regenerated and blended with the French, shall not regain a powerful individuality similar to that which for ages made it mistress of the southern shores of the Mediterranean. - Accept these facts. Your prophet declares 'God gives power to whomsoever He wills ' (The Koran, chap, ii. verse 248). The power I hold from Him, I wish to exercise for your advantage. You know my intentions; I have honoured your chief and respected your religion; I intend to foster your well-being and to make you participate more and more in the blessings of civilisation; but it is on the condition that you on your part will respect those who represent my authority. Two millions of Arabs cannot resist forty millions of Frenchmen; a struggle of one against twenty is madness. You have, besides, sworn allegiance to me, and your conscience, like your sacred book, obliges you religiously to keep your engagements (The Koran, chap. viii. verse 11). Have confidence then in your destinies as they are united to those of France, and acknowledge with the Koran that he whom God leads is well led."

On his return to France, leaving Algeria once more comparatively quiet, the Emperor published a pamphlet proposing various reforms in the French management of Algeria, such as: -

" To declare that the Arabs are French citizens, since Algeria is French territory, but that they continue to be governed by their civil statutes, conformable to the Mussulman law; that nevertheless such Arabs as may desire to be admitted to the benefits of the French civil law shall, on their demand, be invested with the rights of French citizens.

" To proclaim the eligibility of the Arabs to all the military offices of the Empire, and to all the civil offices in Algeria.

" To restrict the action of the forest laws, and to revise them, so that the Arabs may not be deprived of the only means they have of procuring pasture for their flocks.

" To recommend to all the administrative authorities to lay aside the abrupt and often contemptuous manner with which they receive the natives whose affairs oblige them to present themselves to the Bureaux," &c.

The whole affair throws a strong side-light upon the character of the Emperor, upon his fatalism, his facile cleverness, his love of attitudinising, his mastery of detail, and fondness for ingenious shifts of administration. His proclamations belong to that side of his mind which made him in early youth train an eagle to perch upon his head, in allusion to the Napoleonic eagles, and to the Napoleonic tradition of which he thought himself the destined heir and upholder; while his schemes of Algerian reform recall in some measure that power of seeing all round a question, and that wide range of administrative ability which belonged to his uncle.

The state of French finance, according to imperial year-books, was unusually satisfactory throughout 1865. M. Thiers, however, in his great Budget speech in June, in the Corps Législatif,, from which we may quote a few figures, put some awkward facts before the Chamber, highly significant when read by the light of subsequent events. He pointed out that in the last few years the expenditure of France had risen from £60,000,000 to £92,000,000. The question was how to account for this vast and alarming increase. M. Thiers boldly ascribed it to the various means employed by the Imperial Government to occupy the attention of the country, and distract it from home affairs. " These means, sometimes dangerous, always odious, have been wars abroad and enormous expenditure and great speculations at home. After great wars came small ones - small, if we consider the number of men engaged; but large, if we consider their distance and the serious complications they may cause. The war in Mexico has already cost us more than the Italian War, to say nothing of the complications (with America) it may entail. The war expenditure has, of course, been met by loans, and the public debt has consequently been considerably increased."

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

Captain Cameron and the other Abyssinian captives
Captain Cameron and the other Abyssinian captives >>>>
Pope Pius the Ninth
Pope Pius the Ninth >>>>

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