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that inquiries had been made in order to ascertain whether the good offices of Her Majesty's Government could be useful if they were tendered, but the answers were not encouraging.
About a fortnight later, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe recurred to the subject. Adverting to the great warlike preparations that were making upon the Continent, he asked, "whether any negotiations, or preliminaries for negotiations, official or confidential, were actually in progress on the part of the Government, with a view to settle by Congress, or otherwise, those unhappy differences among Continental Powers which endanger the peace of Europe; and whether they appear to offer a reasonable hope of an amicable issue.”
The Earl of Clarendon said, “It is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the present crisis or the consequences of the struggle which appears to be impending. I think my noble friend is per-fectly justified in asking the question which he has addressed to me, and I have only to thank him for the terms in which he has expressed it. I can only reply to his question by saying that negotiations, or at least confidential communications, are going
I hope they may terminate in the meeting together of all the Powers concerned, not only those which are neutral, but those which are arming for the strife. I can scarcely at present hold out the hope that they will terminate in peace, but the meeting together of the various Powers to deliberate on the differences which have led to the present state of things does lead to the hope of amicable settlement. My noble friend will readily understand how difficult it is to bring together in harmonious action Powers who have created that state of things to which he alluded. No effort on the part of the Government will be wanting to bring about that result; and I believe that is also the wish of the Emperor of the French. In the present state of the negotiations, I think it would be inexpedient for me to say more."
A few days afterwards the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to a question from Mr. Disraeli, said, "Her Majesty's Government have entertained with earnest desire, though perhaps not as yet with sanguine hope, the proposal for a meeting or Conference among the Powers of Europe. "They thought that it was their duty not to pass by the chances presented in view of the extreme calamities which they sought to prevent, and which appeared to be certainly impending over a great part of Europe. They have therefore acceded to the proposal made to them, so far as they could entertain the question; but the precise terms upon which the invitation was to be addressed to the Powers of Europe in general have not, I think, been finally adjusted, according to the latest information which I have received. At the same time I do not think there is any reason to suppose, so far as present information goes, that difficulty is likely to arise upon the adjustment of those terms. As to the statement lately made by a foreign journal, that 'the three Courts seek conditions of agreement in territorial compensations, which would offer indemnities and satisfaction to the claims of Prussia, Austria, and Italy, the difficulty in the present state of affairs consists in finding compensations suitable to each case,' I think that that statement goes beyond the facts. I cannot say precisely what are the real facts; indeed it would be dangerous to describe what, after all, must depend upon documentary evidence, and wbich yet may be in possession of the House. I do not think, however, that the statement that the three Courts are seeking conditions of agreement in territorial compensations as a basis, is an accurate description of what has taken place.”
As time advanced, the chances of a pacific settlement seemed to grow less and less hopeful, and the two rival States of Germany, as the breach widened between them, were evidently on the very verge of hostilities. The House of Commons was at this time in the very midst of the Reform debates, involving the fate of the Government and the balance of the Constitution, yet the formidable aspect of Continental affairs prevailed for a time to divert the attention of Parliament from the great domestic controversy; and Mr. Kinglake succeeded, on the 11th of June, in postponing the subject of Reform for one night at least to a discussion upon the attitude and prospects of the German Powers, between whom the flame of war was at any moment ready to break out. In reviewing the circumstances of the crisis, he observed that, though nothing to create a misunderstanding bad occurred, there was no hypocrisy practised as to the motives of the parties. Prussia wished to obtain the Elbe Duchies, and Italy wished to obtain Venetia. In regard to the first, Count Bismark was opposed by the opinion of the German people, by the King, and, to some extent, by the army; and it was a question which might have been settled by a Conference. Venetia was the difficulty ; for, having her northern frontier guaranteed, Italy was able to occupy with impunity the position of a disturbing Power, and, while waiting for her opportunity, had entered into a convention with Prussia. As to the course taken by the by-standing Powers, nothing was known of the advice given by France to Prussia ; but the rumour was, that not only had our Foreign Office urged Prussia to keep the peace, but that means of communication had been resorted to still more likely to be impressive on the King of Prussia. Italy, he believed, had been encouraged to arm, and to remain armed, by the French Government; and, though no advice had been given by us to the Italian Government which would lead directly to war, there was a rumour that we had tendered advice to Austria to cede Venetia, which must have acted as a great encouragement to Italy. Mr. Kinglake exposed at some length the absurdity of asking Austria to part with an important nest of fortresses which Prussia herself in 1859 had pronounced to be a German frontier and a safeguard of European peace, pointing out that what he called the “Fenian " principle of nationality on which the demand was made, must involve the cession of Bohemia, Hungary, Trieste, and the Tyrol, not to push the question beyond Austria ; and asserting that by such advice we became the disturbers of the peace of Europe. After remarking that, in accepting the proposal for a Conference without ascertaining beforehand what Austria's views were, the Government had departed from the pitiless logic of Lord Russell's despatch refusing to go into Congress two years since, he concluded by putting a string of questions to the Governmentwhether they had any ground for believing that peace would be preserved ? what reason they had for concluding that the Conference would have been useless ? and what was the purport of the advice given to Austria, Prussia, and Italy ?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, premising that he answered the questions put to him under protest, and in the belief that they could serve no good purpose, denied that the quarrel between the German Powers could bave been settled but for the Italian difficulty; for the testing question which disposed of the Conference embraced the Elbe Duchies quite as much as Venetia, and affected Prussia quite as deeply as Italy. The rescission of the Treaty of Gastein, the reference of the question of the Duchies to the Diet, and the convocation of the States of Holstein were the questions which were likely to give immediate occasion for war; and, speaking strictly of the circumstances of the moment, Italy, he asserted, could not be said to be acting the part of a disturbing Power, or to be aggravating the difficulties of the situation. As to the conduct of the by-standing Powers, while professing ignorance as to the course of France, he denied that our Government had given encouragement to Italy to go to war; and with regard to the cession of Venetia, that had notoriously been the policy which our Government, as a friend, had for some years advised Austria to follow-though, in a moment like this, believing the maintenance of the Austrian Empire to be of great importance to Europe, they might not be willing to repeat it. In the double quarrel in which she was engaged, Austria, having public right and justice on her side, had the sympathy of England with her in respect to the Duchies; but in the matter of Venetia she could not expect it. He declined to follow Mr. Kinglake into a discussion of the value of Venetia to Austria ; and in regard to the parallel he had instituted between the Elbe Duchies and Venetia, he declared his readiness to give up Venetia altogether if its populations could be shown to be desirous of continuing to form part of the Austrian Empire. After explaining the fundamental difference between this proposal for a Conference and that which had been refused by the Government in 1864, he stated, in answer to Mr. Kinglake's questions, that the Government had no solid grounds for holding out a prospect that peace would be preserved, and that they had been particularly chary in giving advice singlehanded to any of the Powers. He concluded by expressing approval of the policy of calling a Conference to settle disputes between the European Powers, and regretting that it had failed in this case.
Sir G. Bowyer pressed for an explicit denial that what he called the “Court of Florence” had been informed in private letters from some member of the Government that we would use our influence with Austria to cede Venetia, maintaining that the “King of Sardinia ” had no more right to Venetia than to Middlesex, and that those who had mixed up Venetia with the Holstein question were responsible for the failure of the Congress.
Sir R. Peel contrasted Mr. Gladstone's expression, that he answered “under protest,” with Lord Clarendon's readiness to give explanations in the other House, and warned Mr. Gladstone that these discussions might hereafter be not unfrequent. He attributed the present crisis to the overweening ambition of Prussia, fostered by an unscrupulous Minister ; hinting that, had Lord Palmerston's advice to his Cabinet been followed, the Prussian policy would have been checked at the commencement of the Danish war.
Lord Cranborne vindicated the right of the House of Commons to demand explanations from the Government at such a crisis, and challenged a denial of the rumour that Lord Russell in private letters had advised the cession of Venetia. He threw also some doubt on the desire of the country population of Venetia to be annexed to Italy, and asserted that the principle on which that annexation was demanded might be applied to strip us of India, part of Canada, and even Ireland.
Mr. Layard explained that Mr. Gladstone had not protested against answering Mr. Kinglake's questions, but merely against being led into a discussion, and assured the House that the advice always given by the Government to Italy was, not to go to war, but to consolidate herself and apply herself to internal improvement. The Italian army, he asserted, was on a peace footing until Austria began to pour troops into Venetia.
Several other members took part in the discussion, and the question was much pressed upon the Government, whether, besides the official communications, Earl Russell had given any advice through the medium of private letters; but no answer was given to this question, and the discussion was at last allowed to subside.
The events of the war, which soon afterwards broke out, its rapid progress and decisive results, will be found fully described in another part of this volume. The Administration of Lord Derby had been but a short time in office, when it became evident what must be the issue of the contest, and that its termination was approaching. Under these circumstances a demand was made upon the new Cabinet for a declaration of their views and intentions with reference to the great changes impending in the distribution of power in Europe. In addressing the House of Lords upon Continental affairs and moving for certain papers, Lord Stratford de Redcliffe commented upon the aggressive policy of Prussia, and invited the House to consider whether it was desirable that this country should permit a great Power to be struck out from the list of nations without some expression of opinion on our part. Deprecating war, and not always sympathizing with Austria, he still thought that the aggressive policy pursued by one Power would lead to general danger. The doctrine of nationalities was one which could be easily extended in any direction, and from its influence no country could claim to be secure, so that if it were allowed to prevail universal uncertainty must exist.
Lord Derby declined to follow Lord Stratford de Redcliffe over the whole range of European politics, and pointed out that the alternative to inactively witnessing the course of the present war was to interfere actively, which, he believed, no party in the country was disposed to do. If the assistance or good offices of the Government should be needed to co-operate with France in restoring peace, they would not be withheld; but until those good offices were sought, it was not the province of the Government in any way to interfere.
With respect to the papers moved for, he thought it would be more for the public advantage that their production should be deferred until the pending negotiations were brought to a close.
Earl Russell expressed his approval of the policy of non-intervention adhered to by the Government.
In the House of Commons on the same evening, July 20th, a discussion of more than ordinary interest took place with respect to the effect of the changes likely to be produced both upon the Germanic States and upon the whole face of European politics by the territorial and dynastic changes consequent upon the war. Opinions were also expressed and declarations elicited with reference to the conduct and attitude of our own Government, the importance of which entitles them to be recorded. The occasion was also remarkable for the opportunity it afforded of drawing forth the views of the newly-appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Stanley, upon the principles of foreign policy. That noble lord, in an address recently delivered to his constituents at East Lynn, had laid down and explained the doctrine of intervention as he understood and professed it; and, taking occasion from this declaration, in which he expressed his own full concurrence, Mr. Laing addressed to him certain questions on the subject of our foreign relations :
It was not likely, he said, that we should go openly and knowingly into an intervention ; but we might drift into it under the insidious guise of a mediation. In minor differences, which turned chiefly on points of honour, mediation might be useful; but in questions involving great national and territorial interests there could be little force in mediation which did not verge on intervention ; and by mediating in such a quarrel we ran the risk of patching up a hollow peace and leaving unsettled questions which