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Chapter XXXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


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The story of the debates on the Greek massacre may now give place to the story of the tamer debates in Parliament which still remain to be described. The two great Acts which were recorded in the last two chapters naturally fill the chief place in the parliamentary history of the year; but there still remain some discussions that are worth describing, some measures whose fate has to be told. First in order come the naval and military proposals of Mr. Childers and Mr. Cardwell - memorable as showing the naval and military condition of England at the opening of the great war year, and as indicating more or less completely the lines upon which reorganisation afterwards proceeded. The Naval Estimates of Mr. Childers carried out very thoroughly those principles of economy on which the Liberal Government had laid so much stress on its accession to power. The proposals of the First Lord also included a scheme for the retirement of officers, and were full of details about the intentions of the Admiralty with regard to ships and guns - those never-ceasing perplexities of the modern naval administrator. The gross estimates reached a total of 9,250,000 - three-quarters of a million less than those of the previous year, and 1,700,000 less than those of 1868. This saving had been arrived at by different expedients; and, popular as the broad result was, the expedients, taken severally, were most of them doubtfully welcomed both in and out of Parliament. The most notable one had been the closing of several of the dockyards, and the consequent throwing out of employment of several thousand workmen. But Mr. Childers presented not only a justification of his policy to the House, but showed that the Government had done very much to lessen the distress of the discharged workmen. Thus, of 2,000 who were thrown out of work by the closing of Woolwich Dockyard, 1,000 had been transferred to other establishments, 200 pensioned, gratuities given to 200, and 300 helped to emigrate. This, in fact, was all that could be done. The Government found itself in a dilemma - either they must abandon retrenchment, or they must harass certain interests. They chose to pursue their policy of retrenchment, trusting to their own remedial measures and to the chances of the market for providing for the discharged workmen. Mr. Childers' proposals with regard to keeping up a proper supply of ships were " to push on the most powerful class of armoured ships and the fastest cruisers," experience having shown that these were the two classes most likely to be of use in modern wars - the one for fighting, the other for pursuit. He had much to say about new guns; he promised to send another flying squadron round the world; he detailed his measures for forming a reserve of sailors; and, above all, he unfolded his new scheme of retirement for officers. The details of this scheme, stated shortly, were that admirals of the fleet were to be compelled to retire at 70 years of age, admirals and vice-admirals at 65, rear- admirals at 60, captains at 55, commanders at 50, and lieutenants at 45. With this he proposed a scale of pensions, and promised that the result would be a considerable benefit to the service and a saving to the country of about 300,000 a year.

Mr. Cardwell's army proposals need not be described at length, for they merge into the far more comprehensive proposals of the next year, when the war had compelled the country to look its military affairs in the face, and to consent to a thorough-going scheme of reorganisation. Still, even in this year, Mr. Cardwell struck the note of a very decided reform. He proposed reductions both in the colonial and the home army, and laid down the two principles, though he did not fully work them out, upon which the reorganisation of 1871 was based - namely, short service, and abolition of purchase. He abolished the rank of ensign and cornet, as a first step towards the latter; he announced his plan of enlistments for twelve years, six to be passed in the regular army and six in the reserve, as a preparation for the former. He proposed to disband the Canadian Rifles, the Cape Mounted Rifles, the 8rd West Indian Regiment, and the African Artillery. He reduced the Indian establishment, and proposed an elaborate method of reducing the strength of all home regiments. By all these measures he brought about a reduction of 1,136,900 on the estimates of the previous year, and of 2,330,800 on those of the year before. The figures by which he described the strength of the army at the beginning of this year were: - Regulars and others available for all services, home and foreign, 109,225; second army of reserve, 20,000; militia, 63,000; yeomanry, 15,300; volunteers, 168,477. In other words, a total of 376,002, nearly half of them being volunteers - figures which tempt one to speculate what would have been the result of all this reduction and economy had the German armies made their appearance before London, instead of before Paris!

The revenue of the year, as Mr. Lowe announced in his Budget speech, amounted to 76,505,000; a sum of which nearly four millions were due to the new mode of collecting taxes instituted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer - a mode which for the first year caused the revenue to appear far greater than it really was. The expenditure was 68,223,000; and the surplus was devoted to paying about half the cost of the Abyssinian War, to a reduction of the income tax by a penny in the pound, to a reduction of the sugar duties, and to various smaller reductions. In finance, at least, the annus mirabilis cannot be pronounced unfortunate, so far as England was concerned.

The history of Parliament in 1870 must be completed by a mention of a few bills that became law, and a few that did not. This year saw the passing of a bill which practically repealed the law that Pitt had carried in order to exclude Home Tooke from the House of Commons - a bill, moved by Mr. Hibbert, to remove the civil disabilities of clergymen. This provided that any clergyman wishing to relinquish the office of priest or deacon might do so by signing a deed, to be registered by the bishop. From the moment of his signing, he was to become free to practise any trade or profession, and to sit in Parliament - to become, in fact, a layman. It may be added that a considerable number of distinguished clergy took advantage of the Act soon after it was passed. Mr, Russell Gurney's " Married Women's Property Bill " was another of great practical importance; but unfortunately its success was only partial. It proposed to give married women the absolute control of their own earnings, instead of allowing the husband to seize them at his pleasure. The bill was, of course, directed mainly towards the class of wage-earning people, where the wife often contributes largely to the family stock by the labour of her hands; and no one who has any knowledge of this class can be ignorant of the fearful amount of misery which a drunken or worthless husband may cause by compelling his wife to keep him in drink and idleness. Mr. Russell Gurney's bill aimed at curing this state of things; and, in spite of the practical difficulties of the question, the advantage of protecting married women in the possession of their actual earnings was evident to almost everybody. But in the House of Lords, where there are no members pledged to support women's rights, the bill was severely handled by the law lords and others. The unbelief of Lord Westbury, the peculiar experience of Lord Penzance, induced them to " amend" the bill in its most essential points. It passed, but passed mutilated; and its advocates can only hope that when the public mind has become familiar with its principle, it may be taken up again and made more consistent and comprehensive. The House of Lords also threw out for this session the bill of Sir John Coleridge for abolishing religious tests in the universities, and also the " Deceased Wife's Sister Bill," which the House of Commons had passed. This bill, which has been described as "a bill to enable a woman to marry her deceased sister's husband," found great favour with the Dissenters, and was pushed through the Lower House mainly by their exertions. But the House of Lords is more open to High Church influence - Lord Salisbury is a greater power there than Mr. Beresford Hope is in the Commons - and it is never too willing to pass bills for the simple removal of disabilities, matrimonial or other.

We must now turn to the obituary of the year. A statesman of high rank, a judge of great and long-lived reputation, some illustrious soldiers, the most eminent of French neo-Catholic laymen, and, above all, the most popular of English and the most popular of French novelists, were among those who died. Of several of these - of Sir De Lacy Evans, of Sir Gr. F. Seymour, of Sir William Gordon, and of General Windham - it is not necessary to speak; nor of Sir James Clark, the veteran physician; nor of Dr. Gilbert, the cultivated Bishop of Chichester, once the well-known Principal of Brasenose College. More famous than these was Sir Frederick Pollock, formerly Chief Baron of the Exchequer, who began his public career by coming out as Senior Wrangler at Cambridge in 1806, and ended it sixty-four years later as a judge who had carried into his retirement the respect and affection of his colleagues and the bar. He was notable, too, as a member of a family - for Sir David Pollock, once Chief Justice of Bombay, and Field- Marshal Sir George Pollock, the famous Indian soldier, were his brothers. It is rare for three brothers to reach, they did, the very highest posts in their different professions, especially if, like these, they start with no advantages of wealth or birth to help them.

Lord Clarendon, who died on the 27th of June, had started with those advantages; but he had turned them to good account. He was the head of the Clarendon branch of the Villiers family, which has for a long time been Whig; and he carried out through a long official life the best traditions of Whig policy. He was born in 1800, and entered the diplomatic service very young. At twenty years of age he was attached to the Embassy at St. Petersburg; at twenty-three, or thereabouts, he found a place at home, as Commissioner of Excise; at thirty-one he appeared in Paris, charged with the negotiation of a commercial treaty between England and the new Government of Louis Philippe. His next step was to be appointed Minister at the Court of Madrid, in 1833. Spain was at that time, as it has so often been since, a theatre of civil war. The Absolutist pretender, Don Carlos, was urging his claims to the throne against Queen Christina, who ruled, or seemed to rule, on constitutional principles. The war ended, as is well known, in the Quadruple Alliance - a contract between Spain, Portugal, England, and France, undertaken with the design of keeping the two " Legitimist " pretenders, Don Carlos and Dom Miguel, out of the Peninsula. This alliance was the joint work of Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Minister, and Mr. Villiers, who had not then succeeded to his title; and is a good specimen of the engagements in which Lord Palmers- ton's policy was, for good or evil, perpetually involving us. The experience of the later years of the century has taught people, and even statesmen, to rely less upon treaties than they used to do in Lord Palmerston's day. Less trust is beginning to be placed in parchments, and more in "big battalions." Still, if treaties are to be drawn up at all, they had better be drawn up well; and Mr. Villiers deserves nothing but credit for his share in the Treaty of 1834. He held his post with honour for some time. He was made a G.C.B, while still an untitled commoner; and Lord Palmerston spoke of him, in the House of Commons, as a minister who had " made the name of an Englishman a passport through Spain." In 1839, he came to England, having succeeded to his uncle's title; and from that time till his death, he made one of the chief members of Liberal Governments, or of the Liberal Opposition in the House of Lords. A speech on Spanish affairs, and his own conduct at Madrid, brought him prominently into notice both in England and in Spain, where, indeed, a gold medal was struck in his honour. Soon afterwards - in January, 1840 - he joined Lord Melbourne's Government as Lord Privy Seal, and some months later exchanged this office for that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. But this was notoriously the weakest of Administrations, and was swept from power by the General Election of 1841, when the first " Conservative reaction" since the Reform Bill set in, and carried Sir Robert Peel to office, with a majority of nearly a hundred. Lord Clarendon, of course, resigned, with his colleagues. But in the great change which was impending, he very naturally took the side of the Tory Government - for it was the side which he had supported throughout. Sir Robert Peel turned round on the question of Free Trade, and Lord Clarendon, who with his brother, Mr. C. P. Villiers, had always been strong Anti-Protectionists, helped to carry Free Trade into law. His appointment to the Presidency of the Board of Trade, when Lord Russell came into office, in 1846, was the natural result of his action on the Corn Law question. Next year he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland - a trying post at that time, when the potato famine was at its worst, but a post which popular opinion declared that he filled very well. He had, however, to face a storm of unpopularity in 1848, when the Young Ireland party, under Smith O'Brien, attempted their insurrection. A Lord Lieutenant had, of course, a definite and unmistakable duty to perform in such a case - to put down the insurrection. But Lord Clarendon did more. He declined to rely upon one religious faction in Ireland in order to overawe the other. He refused the offered aid of the Orange Lodges, and even went so far as to remove Lord Roden, an Orangeman, from the Commission of the Peace, for indiscreet behaviour, sometime afterwards. This act brought down upon him a good deal of severe criticism in the House of Lords; and the Earl of Derby united with the Orange peers in attacking the Lord Lieutenant. But nothing more was proved than that Lord Clarendon had acted with perfect impartiality.

After his resignation of the post of Lord Lieutenant, a new chapter of Lord Clarendon's political life began. It was as Secretary for Foreign Affairs that he entered Lord Aberdeen's Cabinet in February, 1853; and it is therefore with him that the official responsibility of the Russian War rests. The real responsibility rests with the whole Ministry, and perhaps with the House of Commons, that did not early compel a clear declaration of policy; but still, the official responsibility rests with the Foreign Minister. An immense amount of difficult work fell to his share; and if the Russian War did not become an European war, perhaps some of the credit is to be given to Lord Clarendon, whose agents were busy at every court in Europe. Evidence of the high opinion that was entertained of his work is afforded by the fact, that when the Coalition Ministry fell in 1855, Lord Derby wished to retain him at the Foreign Office. Lord Derby, however, could not form a Government, and Lord Palmerston came in as Prime Minister. Under him Lord Clarendon continued to hold his portfolio, and he watched over the end of the Russian War as lie had watched over its beginning. It was his signature which was attached to the treaty of peace that was drawn up in Paris in 1856. From that time onward, whenever the Liberals were in office, he, except for a single year, continued to hold the Foreign Office. For a short time, from the beginning of 1864, in Lord Palmerston's third Ministry, he made way for his senior, Lord Russell; but on Lord Palmerston's death, in the next year, he succeeded to his old post. Again, in December, 1868, he returned to it, as a member of Mr. Gladstone's Administration, and he held it till his death. It has often been said that, if any single man could have averted the war of 1870, it would have been Lord Clarendon. There is, of course, no means of verifying a hypothetical statement of this kind; but it may be taken as the expression of a very general satisfaction in the character of his work, and in his strength and wisdom. Probably nothing short of a clearly expressed threat, that England would go to war against whichever party was the aggressor, would have stopped the French declaration of the 15th of July; and it is more than doubtful whether such an expression would have come from Lord Clarendon any more than it came from Lord Granville. But, allowing for the complete change that has passed over English foreign policy since the beginning of the century, and judging him by the standard of 1870 rather than by the standard of 1806, it must be owned that Lord Clarendon was a minister who never forgot the honour of England. His correspondence with Mr. Fish, the choleric American minister, on the Alabama question, was at once peaceful and dignified; as peaceful as was consistent With dignity; as dignified as was possible for a minister who did not mean to go to war. And that correspondence may be taken as typical of his whole action as Foreign Secretary. On the whole, it may be said that he was as much respected in public as he was liked in private life.

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