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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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With regard to the reckless expenditure on public works, M. Thiers maintained that " all reasonable limits had been exceeded." If the passion for building and restoration could be confined to Paris and Baron Haussmann, perhaps the end the Government had in view of amusing and distracting the capital might justify such a large application of public money to the erection of new Boulevards, and to the rebuilding of the Tuileries. But the fashion once set would inevitably spread to the provinces. " The glory of the Prefect of the Seine has troubled the repose of all the prefects; he has rebuilt the Tuileries; and now the Prefect of the Bouches-du-Rhone wants to have his Tuileries, for it appears from ♦the debates of the Council-General, that he has applied for at least 12,000,000f. to defray the expenses of a new Prefecture! All the other prefects and sub-prefects will be eager to follow his example. Where will all this lead to?"

Here, indeed, were the two great sores of the Empire laid open by one who was himself to blame for having smoothed the way to the system which developed them, and who was now gauging with alarm the hollowness of French political life, and seeing in the results of the imperial system, even as they appeared then, signs of the danger to come. There was no such thing as liberty in France, but the Government knew that its safety lay in hiding the fact from the nation as much as possible. Hence perpetual schemes of conquest and glorification abroad, and at home expenditure in all kinds of showy undertakings, which might take the- attention of the nation from its masters. " You are upon the brink of financial ruin," said M. Thiers to the Ministry and to the Chamber, "if you persist in this course." The course was persisted in, and already something worse than financial ruin was preparing. This year the Convention of Gastein took place between Prussia and Austria, upon the subject of the Schleswig-Holstein duchies, a question which was to be decided in the following year by the Austro-Prussian War, and the Prussian victory of Sadowa, which, leading to the consolidation of Germany, and to a sudden vast increase of Prussian power, roused the jealousy of France, and brought on the inevitable collision. That collision will be described in due course, meanwhile let us bear in mind beforehand the general direction of French politics under the Empire, and we shall be the better able to understand its causes and its results.

Towards the end of August in this year, there was a pleasant interchange of courtesies between the French and English fleets at Portsmouth. An English squadron of six ships, five of which were iron-clads, received the French fleet at Spithead. Eleven fine screw steam-! ships and screw frigates, headed by the Emperor's yacht, the Reine Hortense, hove in sight on the morning of the 28th, and were greeted by our iron-clads with a gay display of flags, manned riggings, and a succession of deafening salutes. The Admiralty yacht, Osborne, having on board the Duke of Somerset and the other Lords of the Admiralty, went out to meet the Beine Hortense, and accompanied her into the harbour of Portsmouth, the Victory, that gallant old relic of a bygone day, saluting the yachts with nineteen guns as they passed. No sooner were they anchored, than the naval grandees on board the Osborne passed over to the Beine Hortense, to pay their respects to the French Minister of Marine, M. Chasseloup-Laubat, and the French admirals accompanying him. The usual compliments were paid, the usual invitations given, alter which the Minister of Marine, accompanied by his staff, Chief Almoner, Monseigneur Coquereau, and a splendid show of English vice and rear admirals, entered a state barge, and was landed at the King's Stairs in the dockyard. The day was spent by the French visitors in paying visits to the different officers of the garrison, and in inspecting some new barracks and forts close to Portsmouth; while in the evening the First Lord of the Admiralty entertained them at dinner on board the Duke of Wellington. The landsmen, not to be outdone by the sailors, illuminated Portsmouth, and gave a banquet to the French officers. On the following day, the 30th, the same round of visits and festivities was gone through. At a great dinner given at the Royal Naval College in the evening, the Duke of Somerset, after expressing the pleasure which he and his colleagues felt in being able to return the hospitalities showered by France upon the English fleet a month previously at Brest and Cherbourg, proposed the health of the Emperor and Empress, to which M. Chasseloup-Laubat responded, by proposing that of the Queen in a speech marked by that French grace and ease which makes a French public dinner so much less formidable than an English one. "Without any after-thought," said the French Minister, "we have shown each other the progress made in various directions by our navies, - we have concealed nothing which might lead to still further progress. Together we have studied those wonderful ships cased in iron shields, which a few years ago the boldest fancy would hardly have imagined; together we have seen those formidable engines of war, before which the mind pauses in horror until it is reassured by the thought that the more powerful the means at the disposal of force become, the less mankind will have to fear from force; since the more terrible they are, the more rarely will they be employed, and the more appalling will be felt to be the responsibility of resorting to them." The French Minister had hardly sat down, and the cheers were still ringing in answer to the toast of "Queen Victoria," when there was a discharge of guns and rockets from the Victory, and immediately the calm summer sea beyond the harbour was alive with thousands of twinkling lights; every ship in the allied squadron stool outlined from top to toe in many-coloured fires, and hundreds of rockets, sent up from every deck, fell in showers through the clear air of an August evening. Again and again, just as the distant hulls were growing dark, the fairy-like spectacle was renewed. Nor was the town behind-hand; illuminations ran along the shore, and land and sea vied with one another. This magical scene lasted for about half an hour, then one by one the ships faded from sight, the sparkle on the water died out, and, peer as it might into the darkness gathering round Spithead, the eye could distinguish nothing but a distant group of black forms on a grey sea. The dinner was then resumed, and a few more toasts and speeches followed; but the event of the evening was over, and at an early hour the French guests returned to their ships. For three days more festivities were kept up, and balls, concerts, and déjeuners followed each other in quick succession. The French squadron left Portsmouth on the 2nd of September, after a visit full of pleasure and amusement to all who took part in it.

With regard to the history of Prussia during this year little need be said. The Convention of Gastein, mentioned above, is so intimately bound up with the history of the Austro-Prussian War, which broke out in 1866, that to describe it here would be to dislocate the whole narrative of that great struggle. 1865 was spent by Prussia in strengthening her power over the minor German states, and in preparations which the rest of Europe rightly felt to be ominous of coming war. Denmark had been dismembered, and the three duchies of Schleswig, Holstein, and Lauenburg were - nominally, at least - in the joint possession of Austria and Prussia. Prussia, however, as Herr von Bismarck frankly avowed in the German Parliament at the opening of the session of 1865, had only employed Austria as an ally in the Danish War to keep the Federal Diet in check, and had no intention of finally dividing the spoils with her. The Prussian Government had set their hearts - nominally, at least - especially upon gaining undivided possession of the harbour of Kiel, by which means she would obtain a naval station on the North Sea, and thus materially strengthen her northern frontier and her position in Europe generally. Their demands were far from being limited to the acquisition of Kiel, but it became for some time the watchword of their proceedings, and it was with the ultimate disposal of Kiel that the Convention of Gastein was- principally concerned. It was not difficult by this time - it was, alas only too easy - to understand the whole course of Prussian politics since the opening of the Danish War. That war had been undertaken in the face of justice and European opinion, with a view to make Prussia supreme over the minor German states, which, represented by the Federal Diet, had hitherto proved the chief check upon Prussian ambition. That end had been amply gained; none of the smaller states dared to oppose any real resistance to Prussian policy; and Count Bismarck, in a circular addressed to the Federal Governments at the conclusion of the war, assumed a tone of mastery against which only one or two of the larger states, such as Bavaria, ventured to protest. The first step had been made, and made successfully; Prussia had gauged her own power and knew her strength. The mind of Count Bismarck was busy with dazzling projects of still further aggrandisement, and Bismarck was the life and soul of Prussian foreign policy. He saw clearly that the path to the undisputed supremacy of Prussia in Germany lay through a triumphant struggle with Austria. Austria had prestige and tradition on her side, and Prussia still nominally stood to her in the relation of a vassal. So long as her hold upon Germany enabled the lesser German states, trusting to her support, to exercise any check upon Prussia, so long a united Germany, with the King of Prussia transformed into an Emperor at its head, remained a dream and nothing more. Kismet! Prussia must be great; and to make her great, Austria must be chased out of Germany. This was Bismarck's attitude, and every public utterance of his during 1865 shows how the plot was thickening, and how carefully the sentiment of and enthusiasm for the Fatherland was being cherished and fed by the Government, in preparation for the coming attack. The details of Prussian policy at this time, the proposals with regard to Kiel, the Convention of Gastein, &c., belong, as we said before, to the general history of the approaching war; but it seemed right to note, in passing, the position of Bismarck during 1865, and through him of military Prussia. Civil and social Prussia was at this juncture feeling other matters more keenly than the prospect of war with Austria. The increasing power of the Monarchy, advised by Bismarck, and supported by a triumphant army, was alarming all liberal and constitutional Prussians, and an influential party in the country were very 10th to entrust any further means of absolute power to a Government which showed every day fresh signs of absolutist tendencies. Hence it was that Bismarck and the war party, while sovereign abroad, found themselves perpetually harassed at home by repeated refusals on the part of the Chamber of Deputies to vote any supplies for any military purpose, unless certain constitutional privileges, such as the right of voting the budget and others, which had been usurped by the Government, were restored to them. The session closed after a series of stormy collisions between the Ministry and the Chamber, sharply noticed by Bismarck in his concluding address to Parliament. The Chamber gained little by their refractoriness, however, for they were hardly adjourned before the King passed the rejected bills himself by royal decree - a mode of procedure which sounds strangely to an English ear! In spite of party conflicts and party opposition, Bismarck went on his way unmoved, rightly persuaded that his indomitable will would in the long run smooth away all obstacles to the cause he had at heart.

In Austria there were few or no symptoms of the approaching storm. And yet her statesmen could not but see whither Prussian politics were drifting, and must have watched their every alternation with dread and anxiety. Something was done towards securing the sincere support of Hungary and the eastern provinces of the empire in case of a struggle. The Hungarian Diet was opened by the Emperor in person, and his conciliatory speech did much to revive Hungarian loyalty. He gave up once for all the dangerous doctrine held by preceding Austrian statesmen, viz., that Hungary had forfeited all her ancient constitutional rights by the Insurrection of 1848 - 9. He recognised the right of Hungary to self- government, as far as the unity of the empire and the necessary supremacy of Austria allowed; and he held out a hope of re-establishing the ancient Hungarian kingdom, by reuniting to it Transylvania and Croatia. Hungary thus reconstructed, his own coronation as King of Hungary would take place. The Diet received his speech with applause, acknowledging that the acts of Francis Joseph's Government and the personal attitude of the Emperor towards Hungary had done much to heal the breach so long existing between Eastern and Western Austria. The effects of this wise policy on the part of Austria appeared in the following year, when Hungary, instead of harassing Austria at home, followed it loyally to battle against Prussia.

With regard to Italy, Spain, and Greece there is little to chronicle. There was a general election in Italy, turning to some extent upon the bill for the suppression of religious bodies and the organisation of ecclesiastical property proposed by the Ministry. Spain at length made her tardy recognition of the kingdom of Italy, protesting querulously that her opinion on the Roman question was as uncompromising as before, and her resentment of the Pope's misfortunes as bitter; but that the force of circumstances being too strong for her to combat, she could only injure herself, without benefiting the Holy Father, by refusing any longer to enter into political relations with Italy. This step may have inflicted a moment's unreasonable annoyance upon the ultra-clericals, but the rest of Europe read the announcement of it with a smile. What else indeed could Spain do? The only other noticeable event in Spanish history, during 1865, was the declaration of war against the Republic of Chilli, in consequence of its behaviour with regard to a dispute between Spain and Peru which had arisen in 1864. But Europe had little attention to spare for the fluctuating politics of South America, - for the position of the unfortunate Maximilian in Mexico was rapidly attracting all eyes. Sent there by Napoleon III., and deserted by him as soon as America showed symptoms of interfering with his Mexican plans, and France began to grumble at the cost of an experiment which had once amused her, the luckless Emperor, too weak to hold his own, too honourable to retreat, saw himself face to face with lawless and enraged political parties, without the power of either escaping or subduing them. Every thinking spectator knew that matters were becoming desperate with him, but none could as yet foresee the tragical revenge which Juarez and barbarism were about to take upon a dynastic experiment entered upon in the name of civilisation.

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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