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


Course of Events in 1864 - Pacific Temper of the Nation - Opening of Parliament - Birth of an Heir to the Prince of Wales: Speech of Lord Derby on the event - Sterility of the Debates in this Session - Sentiments of Mr. Cobden - Mr. Gladstone's Financial Statement: Elasticity of the Revenue: Application of the Surplus- Mr. Stansfeld, Junior Lord of the Admiralty, named in connection witch Plots against the Emperor Napoleon's Life: Discussion of the matter in Parliament: He resigns Office - Mr. Disraeli moves a Vote of Censure on the Government: it is rejected by a narrow majority - Mr. Gladstone's remarks on the Extension of the Suffrage - Resignation of Mr. Lowe - Convocation passes a Synodical Judgment on "Essays and Reviews Speech of the Lord Chancellor on the Judgment: Reply of the Bishop of Oxford - Prorogation of Parliament - Visit of Garibaldi to England: He arrives at Southampton: his reception in London: at the Crystal Palace - Death of the Duke of Newcastle: Sketch of his Career; and of that of Mr. Senior - The Shakespeare Tercentenary: Speech, of Professor Max Müller - Progress of Rationalism: Sentence on Dr. Rowland Williams and Mr. Wilson - Arguments on the Claim of Bishop Gray to Metropolitan Jurisdiction over the See of Natal - Speech of Mr. Disraeli at Oxford on Clerical Rationalists.
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The year 1864 was for England as uneventful as the years which, preceded and followed it. The course of peaceful industry and the accumulation of wealth went on undisturbed, and the gradual abatement of the distress in Lancashire diffused a general feeling of relief and satisfaction. The revenue was found to display that wonderful elasticity which Mr. Gladstone, the wizard of financiers, seemed to possess a spell for infallibly endowing it with. True, an ancient ally of England, the integrity of whose territory we were bound by treaty to maintain, was this year violently assailed by two of the great Powers, and despoiled of nearly one half of his dominions. In former times the outrage would inevitably have led to war, or, at least, to the menace of war. The regal England of the Middle Ages, the aristocratic England of the reign of Anne and the first two Georges, the England of the country gentlemen in the days of the great Napoleon, all agreed in considering the honour and word of the nation to be things worth fighting for to the death. But the commercial England of the nineteenth century has changed all that; and reprobating the Quixotic rashness of English ministries in the old times, who often took great pains to protect weak states, curb the ambition of arbitrary princes, and preserve the balance of power, it seems to have decided that no treaty can be so binding, no oppression so glaring, no suffering so unmerited, as to make it worth while to go to war. Mr. Cobden, in the debates of this very year, indulging in what Mr. Disraeli calls "heedless rhetoric," spoke of us as a "fierce and combative nation; " but the phrase is a ridiculous anachronism. The commercial classes, which now form the immense majority of the English nation, are - so long as trade prospers - of an imperturbably pacific temper. One or two members only - notably Lord Grey - raised their voices in Parliament to advocate the course which the England of our fathers and grandfathers would certainly have adopted. But the suggestion was received either with blank silence or with disapproval.

But of the manifestation of this modern temper, with reference to the famous question of Schleswig-Holstein, it is not yet our purpose to speak. For the present we shall confine ourselves to the narration of such events in our domestic history for the year as require to be recorded.

The session of Parliament was opened by commission on the 4th of February. In the royal speech Her Majesty expressed her confidence that Parliament would sympathise with her in her gratitude to the Almighty on account of the Princess of Wales having given birth to a son, " an event which has called forth from her faithful people renewed demonstrations of devoted loyalty and attachment to her person and family." The speech mentioned the recent invasion of Schleswig-Holstein by the forces of Prussia and Austria, and the subject was soon after taken up and keenly debated in Parliament; but we have already expressed our intention of reserving this whole matter for a future chapter.

In the debate on the address, Lord Derby adverted, with that felicity of phrase for which he was notorious, to the birth of an heir to the Prince of Wales. " At this time last year," he said, "we offered our humble congratulations to Her Majesty on the auspicious marriage of the heir to the throne with a Princess every way qualified to share the high destiny reserved for him, and whose personal beauty and attractions, and the natural and unaffected charm of whose manner, secured for her, from the first moment of her entrance into this kingdom, the admiration and, I may say, the affection of her adopted country. On this occasion we have to congratulate Her Majesty and the nation on the happy issue of that marriage, in the birth of an heir to the throne in the second generation; and although, my lords, happily for this country monarchical institutions are so firmly established in the hearts and affections of the people, and their attachment to them has been so strengthened by the private virtues and personal qualities of the illustrious lady who occupies the throne, that it is not with us, as it might be with other countries, a subject of additional congratulation that we thereby obtain greater stability for the throne, or greater security for the dynasty, yet we may be permitted to rejoice at the prospect we have before us of a direct line of succession from the present illustrious wearer of the crown and her immediate descendants - from a sovereign who has done so much to cast a lustre on that crown, and also to strengthen the hold which monarchical institutions have upon this nation. . . .I am sure there is not one of your lordships who does not offer up a fervent prayer to the Throne of Grace that that bright prospect may remain unclouded, and that, long after the youngest of your lordships has passed away from this scene, the throne of these realms may be occupied by the descendants of the illustrious Prince and of his new-born heir -

Et nati natorum, et qui nascentur ab illis."

In the course of this session many measures of political or social reform - the Ballot, the reduction of the County Franchise, the abolition of Church Rates and of Tests, the Permissive Bill - were introduced into Parliament and discussed, but in no single instance were they carried. Sterility attended all the legislative throes of our political assemblies. Nor are the debates on foreign affairs either pleasant or profitable reading; for in the midst of much acrimonious criticism of the proceedings of the Ministry, the general result comes out clearly, that the critics, had they been in the place of the Government, would have pursued substantially the same policy. Thus, although Mr. Cobden, in his speech on the resolution brought in by Mr. Disraeli censuring the foreign policy of the Government, severely blamed the proceedings of Lord Russell with reference to Schleswig-Holstein, the grounds of his censure were, not that we had disregarded treaties, or broken faith with Denmark, but that we had laboured so much as we had done to maintain the former and preserve the latter. Mr. Cobden expressed the genuine commercial spirit when he asked, " What was this Treaty of 1852, of which so much was heard? A few gentlemen sat around a table, and decreed the destinies of nations which were not consulted in the matter." Similarly, the cautious and pacific temper of the man of business, so strikingly contrasted with the temper of the gentlemen and men of honour which in former times inspired our policy, appeared in the review which he took of the British army and navy, dispersed about the world, and engaged in the protection of our colonies; thence inferring that to engage in a war with any of the great Continental Powers would be for England attended with extreme difficulty and expense. And the same prudential spirit appeared, in various degrees, to animate the great majority of our public men. When the notions of the gentlemen prevailed, England was not wont to count the cost so narrowly. It is not our business to decide which of these two policies is best calculated to subserve the interests of the country, or is the most just and rational in itself. On the one hand, the men of honour plunged us into ruinous expense; on the other, the commercial school, though they have saved our money, have lowered our character and prestige in Europe. The course of events in Europe during the next fifty years can form the only adequate criterion to guide, on this important question, the judgment of the philosophic historian.

The financial statement of Mr. Gladstone was again, among all the domestic transactions of the session, the chief point of attraction. His expectations of buoyancy and expansion in the revenue, as a consequence of that very reduction in fiscal burdens which ostensibly tended to diminish it, were again remarkably verified. On a comparison of the revenue with the expenditure of the past year, it appeared that there was a surplus of £2,037,000. On the general prosperity of the trade of the country, Mr. Gladstone entered into some striking details. The aggregate amount of that trade, it appeared (including imports and exports), had been, in 1861, £377,000,000; but, in 1863, it had risen to the unprecedented sum of £444,000,000. The disposal of the surplus was the next point of importance. A great fight was made by the farmers' friends to prevail upon the Government to apply at least a portion of it to the reduction of the malt tax. But the Government wisely resisted all these overtures, and in so doing were supported by a decided majority of the House. That tax, producing so many millions to the revenue, was felt to be too important to be made the subject of experiments; if it was to be touched at all, it must be thoroughly and systematically revised. But although the Government thus resisted the attempts to take off or diminish the duties on malt used in the manufacture of beer, they i made a concession to the agriculturists in the shape of a i remission of so much of the duty as had been hitherto levied upon malt used for the consumption of cattle. The House finally agreed to apply the surplus in the manner proposed by Mr. Gladstone - that is to say, partly in effecting a substantial reduction in the duties on sugar, partly by taking off a penny in the pound from the income tax.

In course of the discussions on the Navy Estimates, a singular incident occurred, which cost the Government the services of one of the Junior Lords of the Admiralty. A trial had recently been held in Paris, in which two conspirators, Greco and Trabucco, were charged with a plot I against the Emperor's life. In the course of the trial, I the Procureur-General stated that a paper had been found on the person of Greco, directing him, if in want of money, to apply to a Mr. Flowers, at 35, Thurloe Square, Brompton. This, the Procureur added, is the residence of an English member of Parliament, who, in 1855, was appointed banker to the Tibaldi conspirators against the Emperor's life. When the report of the trial came to be read in England, people asked each other what member of Parliament lives at 35, Thurloe Square, and who is Mr. Flowers? A reference to the Post Office Directory showed that the member in question was Mr. Stansfeld, the member for Halifax, and one of the Junior Lords of the Admiralty; nor was it difficult to discover that Mr. Flowers, alias M. Fiori, was no other than Mazzini, the ex-triumvir. Mr. Cox, one of the members for Finsbury, first drew the attention of the House, and of the member for Halifax, to the passage in the Procureur-General's speech, when Mr. Stansfeld, in reply, expressed great indignation that the Crown prosecutor of a friendly Power should have ventured to connect him, a member of the British Parliament, and a minister of the Crown, with the atrocious crime with which the prisoners were charged. He knew nothing either of Greco or of Mr. Flowers, whose letters were addressed to his house. As to Mazzini, he gloried in the friendship of such a man, the greatness and nobility of whose character were little appreciated; and he was persuaded that to say that Mazzini had ever incited to assassination was as base a libel as could be uttered.

Incredible as it may seem, it would appear that, on the first occasion of the subject being mooted, it did not occur to Mr. Stansfeld that " Flowers " was merely the translation of the Italian word " Fiori." For, on a subsequent night, he distinctly admitted that he had authorised Mazzini to have his letters addressed to his house under the designation of M. Fiori, an expedient to which Mazzini was compelled to resort, because letters addressed to him from abroad in his own name were certain to be opened and read in some foreign post-office.

Mr. Stansfeld's first explanation left the matter still involved in considerable mystery. The subject was revived by Sir Laurence Palk a few nights afterwards, and warmly discussed, Mr. Pope-Hennessy reading extracts from letters written by Mazzini, with reference to other transactions, in which he appeared to justify assassination in certain cases. Again, on the motion for going into Committee of Supply, Sir H. Strachey moved as an amendment, " That the speech of the Procureur-Imperial on the trial of Greco, implicating a member of this House, and of Her Majesty's Government, in the plot for the assassination of our ally the Emperor of the French, deserves the serious consideration of this House." In the debate which ensued, Mr. Stansfeld made the admission respecting M. Fiori and his letters which we have already quoted; and also stated - with reference to the charge that he had acted as banker to the Tibaldi conspirators - that he had never had any knowledge of, much less sympathy with, the plots of assassination with which the names of Tibaldi, Orsini, and others were associated. He admitted, however, that he had at one time allowed his name to be inscribed on banknotes (issued probably by the society of Carbonari, or revolutionary conspirators to procure the liberation of Italy), which he believed would have been used, not in the interest of assassins, but to aid in the establishment of a free and united Italy; but, acting on the advice of friends, he had withdrawn the permission. Lord Palmers- ton and other members of the Government warmly defended their colleague, and the amendment of Sir H. Strachey was rejected by a majority of ten. Nevertheless, Mr. Stansfeld, finding that the discussion of his conduct was becoming prejudicial to the position of the Government, resigned his post as Junior Lord. And, however confident we may be that Mr. Stansfeld was incapable of consciously assenting to plots which included assassination within their scope, it must be admitted that the matter was sufficiently serious, and that he had acted in a manner which laid him open to the charge of great imprudence. For, as our readers will recollect, one of the witnesses on the trial of this very Tibaldi - Grilli - who had turned king's evidence against his accomplices, distinctly implicated Mazzini in the projects for the assassination of the Emperor which were then on foot. And a member of the British Government must be like Caesar's wife - above all suspicion of complicity with the darker portion of the plots of revolutionists.

The existence of the Government was seriously imperilled in July, when Lord Malmesbury, in the Lords, and Mr. Disraeli, in the Commons, moved the following resolution: " That this House has heard with deep concern that the sittings of the conference recently held in London have been brought to a close without accomplishing the important purpose for which it was convened. That it is the opinion of this House, that while the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has failed to maintain their avowed policy of upholding the integrity and independence of Denmark, it has lowered the just influence of this country in the councils of Europe, and thereby diminished the securities for peace." To the arguments used by the principal speakers in this debate, we may, perhaps, hereafter return; at present we notice it merely as an incident in the political history of the session. In the Lords, the Government was defeated by a majority of nine; but this was not unexpected. In the Commons, there were some brilliant passages of arms between the party leaders; but Mr. Horsman, it was generally felt, was not far from the truth, when ho said that "the Government had made mistakes, but their opponents had endorsed them; so the parties were pretty much upon an equality." On a division, the amendment to Mr. Disraeli's resolution, moved by Mr. Kinglake, was carried by a majority of eighteen in a very full House, so that the Government was saved.

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

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