Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (November 17, 1860)

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The Road murder at home, and the Italian question abroad under yet another of its many aspects,—such, in a word, are the points which remained mainly under discussion Last Week. This autumn has been singularly barren of suggestions for the forthcoming session. There has not been a “recess” since the famous one of 1845, when the Irish famine was afoot, and the announcement appeared in the “Times,” which fell like a shell in the camp of the Protectionists, during which we have not had something more than an inkling of what would happen when Parliament assembled. But now, what is there to be done, or what to be talked about? Of the Reform Bill there seems to be as absolute an end as though a revisal of the settlement of 1831-2 had never been in contemplation. Mr. Bright may intend retirement from public life for aught the public have known of his proceedings during the last few months. Lord Derby, on the other hand, has been afflicted with severe illness—and it would almost seem as though ere long the marshal’s bâton of the Conservative army would be within the grasp of the first comer. We have not even had the usual crop of autumnal speeches from honourable gentlemen who go down to their constituents to render up an account of their stewardships. Lord Palmerston, to be sure, has been making a memorable progress in the Northern counties, and conciliating to himself the good-will of all men with whom he came into contact. Lord Stanley has been propounding a lecture upon education, which contained a vast amount of good sense, and consequently gave considerable offence to the education doctors. This day week the Duke of Argyll delivered an address to the Associated Mechanics’ Institute of Lancashire and Cheshire, upon the same subject. The inference as to the amount of political excitement in this country is obvious enough.

For it cannot be denied that, although the education of its children is amongst the most important affairs which can occupy the attention of a nation, here with us in England it is just the scapegoat which we drive into the wilderness when there is nothing better forthcoming. When there is nothing else to discuss—and not till then—we discuss what is called this great social problem. No doubt, as a nation, we have not discharged this particular duty to the full extent of our obligation. Whoever has practically concerned himself with the working out of any particular system which may have been established either in town or country, is soon, however, made painfully aware of the fact that the great hindrance to education in these islands is the necessity under which the children of the poor are placed of earning their own livelihood even from their earliest years. It is this which is the real stumbling-block in the way—far more than indifference—far more than religious bitterness, and the frenzies of sectarianism. The poor are well aware of the benefits which their children would derive from education, even of the most elementary kind, but as soon as the little hands can work, to work they must be set. As far as theological objections are concerned, the evil to a great extent works its own cure. Father O’Toole objects to little Romanist Paddy’s initiation in the “rudiments” in a mixed school. Of course that eminent divine is bound to provide him with “some” kind of learning in a sheepfold where Protestant wolves or ushers cannot break in and tamper with the purity of the young gentleman’s faith. All this is as it must be, but the fact remains that our great statesmen never trouble themselves much about the education of the people as long as there is any other subject upon which they can fall out with their rivals.

In point of fact, the editors of our newspapers—until the Chinese letter of Last Week—have been living upon the Italian news, the Syrian massacres, the Prince of Wales’s visit to Canada and the States, and the desperate catalogue of murders with which we have been afflicted during the last few months. Beyond this we find them having recourse to blue-books, and old official returns, from which, in some fashion or another, the essence is extracted, and, when duly spiced and perfumed, it is served up as an entirely novel article.

The legend of the Irish Brigade was a piece of unexpected good fortune, and it was made the most of. Who could have anticipated that even Ireland would have gone into crape for the few Irishmen who were scathed by the hand of the foeman during that brief campaign of Lamoricière’s? An ordinary cricket-match would have supplied well-nigh as numerous and as considerable a list of casualties; but for these Te Deums were sang, and holy men have waved their pots of incense in ecstasies of thanksgiving. It has indeed been suggested that all this incense-burning, and hymn-chanting, and scattering of laurel and cypress over half-a-dozen sprained ankles and contused knees must be taken to have represented nothing more than the extreme anxiety of the Irish Romanist Clergy to get the legion dispersed to their repective homes before they had time to marshal their grievances collectively before the faithful.

How desperate an awakening to those poor Irish peasants who were accustomed to regard the system of priestly government with what is called the “eye of faith,” must not that brief visit to the Pontifical States have proved! If the meanest hind of Tipperary or Clare could have had an idea of the condition of the Roman peasantry, and, possibly, still worse, of the poorer Roman citizens, he would have been well content to stay at home, with even the eventualities of another failure in the potato crop staring him in the face. But when to the ordinary and normal miseries of a Papal subject are added the discomforts and sufferings of a foreign mercenary hiring himself out to be drilled by Lamoricière,—to be justly execrated by the people, whom he was there to oppress,—and to be shot by Cialdini’s men, unless his discretion should outstrip his valour, it is not to be wondered at if an Irish legionary wished himself back in the juiciest recess of a Kerry bog, rather than in a Roman garrison-town. These poor wretches must have had enough to tell, if their tongues had not been stopped in a very effective way by the Irish priests at their landing. Dr. Cullen has converted the miserable runaways into heroes, if not to the satisfaction of Europe, at least in a manner which may serve the turn amongst their own Hibernian cognates and agnates. He has embalmed them as it were, and consigned them to the odour of sanctity; with what ill-grace would a mutiny arise amidst this noble army of martyrs! If they speak the truth, or even breathe a suggestion of the truth, they will not only become hateful to the particular Father O’Flaherty who directs public opinion in their own immediate neighbourhood, but they will make themselves supremely ridiculous. Now, whatever an Irishman’s faults may be, he has at least a keen sense of the ludicrous. To fall from the high position of a glorious and sacred martyr in posse, who had gone forth to shed his blood for the true faith, to that of a discontented, scourged, and wretched recruit—the dupe of a priestly Sergeant Kite—is a consummation from which the majority of the Holy Band will probably shrink. Meanwhile they have done what they can to make the name of their country a bye-word in Europe.

Of the investigation which is now going on at Road under the auspices of Mr. Saunders, a county magistrate, there is little to be said, and that little not of a very favourable kind. The investigation will probably serve to put—or rather to keep—the murderers still more on their guard, and certainly from the manner in which it is conducted is not likely to throw much light upon the mystery. It is clear enough that when the first twenty-four hours after the murder were allowed to slip by without any progress towards the discovery of the real culprits, their chances of immunity increased from day to day almost in geometrical progression. The real policy then was one of inaction. The great point was to throw them off their guard; and this was the more advisable inasmuch as the number of persons upon whom the surveillance of the police should have been directed did not exceed six in all. As it is, the caution of these six persons has been constantly and continuously kept awake by one clumsy investigation after another. By this time they are perfectly aware that all they have to do is to adhere to the story that they were fast asleep from midnight, or thereabouts, on the fatal night, until six or seven a.m. and who is to prove that they were awake? There can be no danger in repeating this here, because it has been so often and so forcibly impressed upon the minds of all concerned, when they were examined before the magistrates as witnesses, or accused as suspected persons. As matters stand at present, there must be some miracle of imprudence, as in the case of that wretched creature Mullins, who deliberately tied the halter round his own neck, when he might have gone to his grave without molestation from human justice if he had not tried to make a secure position too secure. There is, of course, the chance that the fortitude of one of the parties to the deed—if indeed there were more than one—may give way. There is the chance that the knife with which the wounds were inflicted may turn up, or some rag or material clue to the murderer’s horrid mystery.

Such a solution of the enigma, however, will more probably be the result of chance than of any persevering effort to get upon the right track. The task of discovering the true actors in this dreadful tragedy should be intrusted to some one amongst the “detectives,” who is as much superior to his fellows in the special faculty of “detection,” as a good detective is superior in this respect to ordinary mortals. It would be necessary that such aa one should fairly match his mind against the minds of the murderers; and that the shadow of his presence should be on them by day and by night, even when he was actually absent from them. He should incorporate himself as it were in their thoughts, so that sleeping or waking they should feel the Avenger was upon their track, and would not be balked of his prey. Sooner or later they must give way, and if women are “in it,” as the phrase is, they must at length be wearied out, and seek relief from an acknowledgment of the crime. The clumsy disturbance, however, which Mr. Saunders is raising at Road cannot be productive of any favourable result.

There is little to be added to the article upon our relations with China, published three weeks ago in Once a Week, in consequence of the recent intelligence. That the Chinese would make a stout stand at the Taku Forts, but that they would be shelled and tormented out of them after a brief onset by the superior military skill and armaments of the Europeans, was obvious enough. We were not quite prepared for the desperate character of the resistance, for it certainly seems as though the Tartar soldiers fought upon this occasion, as soldiers owing allegiance to the Emperor of China never fought before. What might not be done with such men if they had the advantages of a good drill, a plentiful supply of Enfield rifles, and instruction how to use them! On the whole, we should rejoice that this is so, for all that we want with China and the Chinese is freedom of commercial intercourse, and security for as many of the Queen’s subjects as may find it for their advantage to push their fortunes in that remote country. The stronger the government of China is, and the more capable Chinese troops are of holding their own consistently with this condition, the better for us. We, who want only to exchange the manufactures of the British Islands against the products of China, can have no desire to see this huge empire kept in a perpetual state of civil broil. Neither would it be for our profit that any other nation, Russia, or the United States, for example, should make territorial acquisitions in China.

China for the Chinese, and intercourse with China for all the world to the advantage of all parties concerned, is all that we desire. It seems to be doubted by those who have a good right to express an opinion upon such a point, if Lord Elgin and his French colleague in diplomacy have taken the best way to secure a permanent peace. It is said that they should have advanced to Pekin, not at the head of a guard of honour, even though composed of European troops, but with so large a portion of the forces at their disposal, that even the stupidest of the Pekin burghers must have awakened to the consciousness that the old Mandarin government had received a signal defeat, and that the shadow of its power had passed away. The conclusion is perhaps premature, although it is not unnatural that the persons who have been the actual witnesses of previous diplomatic failures in the same quarter of the globe should be swift to anticipate a fresh blunder. The well-nigh universal impression Last Week seems to have been that Lord Elgin would end by adding yet another to the many diplomatic failures which have distinguished our negotiations with the Chinese Court. A joint occupation with our French allies of the Taku Forts, or some other locality easy of access from the sea, and offering every facility for reaching Pekin in a very brief space of time, should further difficulties occur, would seem to be the easiest method of obtaining security for the future; and of economising not only our own blood and treasure, but the lives and the money of our semi-barbarous opponents. Whatever the result of Lord Elgin’s diplomatic efforts may be, it is quite clear that Sir Hope Grant, in the course of his stern negotiations with the defenders of the Taku Forts, has proved to conviction that the Armstrong gun is the most fearful and destructive weapon ever yet brought into the field. It seems, indeed, difficult to understand how two European armies, each possessed of a sufficient number of these guns, and with the skill to use them, could sustain each other’s presence at all for a quarter of an hour, or even for a less period of time. It would be on a larger scale the story of two duellists, each armed with a first-rate duelling pistol—each hair trigger set—and each muzzle applied to the brow of each combatant. There would just be a little smoke—a flash—a report—and the end.

It is the fashion to say that as weapons of offence are constructed on more and more fatal principles, the chances of war will decrease. Some centuries have elapsed since our ancestors fought with bows and arrows, and drove chariots, armed with scythes, over their battle fields—and we are now fighting with Enfield rifles and Armstrong guns. If we look at the history of Asia and Europe for the last few years, there does not appear to be any sensible diminution in the combative propensities of the human race. The Crimea—India—Lombardy, afford strange illustrations of the growth of the more benevolent feeling amongst the children of the great human family.

But when all is said that can be said of the Chinese news of Last Week—of the Armstrong guns—of the Road murder—of the delay in our young Prince’s return from beyond the Atlantic—of the follies of the Irish Brigade,—and other scraps and parcels of intelligence of more or less importance, every one knows that the chief point for our consideration is whether the Italian question is to receive a peaceful settlement, or whether Europe is to be plunged again into a series of hostilities. Of course, in our time, the nations of Europe cannot remain at war with one another for a quarter of a century. The fate of kingdoms and empires will be decided henceforward in short and bloody campaigns.

Now, the intelligence from Italy, of Last Week, is of a doubtful complexion—not as far as substantive results are concerned—but if we look to the chances of a permanent solution of the question. The French Emperor has been fairly foiled in the game of stratagem. He has been as much outwitted by the Italians as he himself outwitted the dull young Emperor of Austria at Villafranca. His idea was that of a federal Italy, that is to say, of an Italy divided into various provinces, each one under the influence of petty jealousies and petty ambition. Of such a confederation the French Emperor, who had borne a large share in driving the Austrians out of Lombardy, and without whose help, indeed, such a result could never have been accomplished, was the natural protector and master. The suzerainty of Italy would have passed from Austria into French hands; at the same time Louis Napoleon would have maintained his pretension in the eyes of the European nations to be considered the liberator of that beautiful land. How all his schemes and projects have been dissipated into empty air by the fortitude, energy, and patriotism of the Italians, the world knows. Instead of a divided, helpless Italy—an Italy relying upon his protection from day to day to secure her against fresh aggression from Austria—Louis Napoleon now sees a country rising into strength and independence—next neighbour to France—and which, in a short time, will be in a condition to contest with her maritime dominion in the Mediterranean. If Italy is to be independent, he will demand material guarantees that her newly-won independence shall not be used against the ambition of France. At the same time the tone of all the European powers, when he insisted in so forcible a manner upon the surrender of Nice and Savoy as the price of the assistance he afforded the Italians during the Lombardy campaign, and of the threatening attitude which he still maintains against Austria, was not such as to encourage the supposition that they would stand by tamely, and witness fresh acquisitions of territory by France. There is his dilemma. A feeling is growing up in France—a feeling far beyond his control—that the existence of a great Mediterranean power, such as an independent Italy certainly would prove, is a fresh element in European diplomacy, and that of its future working, Frenchmen are unable to take accurate account. On the whole, it is exceedingly unlikely that united Italy, under the sceptre of Victor Emmanuel, or of that gracious young Prince Humbert, of whom we heard the other day, would consent to act as the satellite of France. In the first place, France and Italy would stand to each other in a false position. From the recent course of events France would be apt to make too great claims upon the gratitude of Italy; Italy might be disposed to deny her obligations, and to maintain that whatever Louis Napoleon had done for her was the result rather of state-policy than of any sentimental sympathy with the miseries of the Italians. In the next place, the Government of Italy will certainly be conducted on very different principles from those which are considered by the French Emperor as necessary for the security of his dynasty. When he seized the reigns of government with so forcible a hand some eight years ago, France—not unmindful of his past history—was shuddering at what might happen if the Faubourgs were again to win the upper hand in Paris. France was sick of revolutions, and of the licentiousness of liberty. What she asked was to be guarded against the excesses of the popular principle. It was considered—let us travel back in thought to the beginning of the year 1853—that under the rule of Louis XVIII., of Charles X., and of Louis Philippe, the experiment of popular government had been fairly tried in France, and had resulted in a miserable failure. If the choice was to be between Anarchy and the Iron Hand, the deliberate choice of Frenchmen was in favour of the man who would ensure them against the results of 1792-93, and the possibilities of June, 1848. The rule of Louis Napoleon, which now partly rests upon habit and custom, in the first instance represented the apprehensions of the French nation in presence of an ascertained past and an unascertained future. If their Emperor, without increasing the financial burdens of the nation in too great a degree, can add a few more names to those which are already engraved on the triumphal arch at the Barrière de l’Etoile, so much the better. A purple rag and a successful tattoo are never very displeasing objects to a Frenchman’s mind.

Compare the moral conditions under which Italy is winning her way to independence with those which actually obtain in France. In the first place, they are not the excesses of liberty, but the excesses of despotism which are ever present as the bugbears of the Italian mind. An Italian matron thinks of her boy laid low by an Austrian firing party at Ferrara; an Italian wife still mourns over her husband who was buried alive for years, without trial, in the dungeons of the priests at Rome, and whom she never saw again; an Italian daughter weeps for her father who lived to suffer with Poerio, but who did not survive to triumph with Garibaldi. These feelings are deeply engraved into the hearts of the Italian people. When the popular party gained the upper-hand at Rome, at Venice, at Milan, and, for a brief space, at Naples, with the exception of the assassination by the mob of a single ruffian at Parma, the other day, what is there to regret? No one would for a moment defend the murder of Rossi a bit more than he would defend the attempt made, some two years ago, by Felice Orsini against the life of the French Emperor; but when this took place the priests were yet in power, and Rome was not under a popular government. It might also be said that when the people had gained a momentary supremacy they were so constantly under fire, that they had not the time, or opportunity, even if they had had the intention, for massacre and plunder. This is beside the purpose of the argument. The fact remains that the Italians have not any traditions of the guillotine and of revolutionary frenzy to forget. They may aspire to liberty, for they have never abused it. We may feel reasonably certain that if the Austrian war-cloud is dissipated, and Italy becomes constituted into a kingdom, the government will be directed essentially upon constitutional maxims.

There will be the three forms of liberty which are essential to the well-being and growth of a nation; liberty of speech in Parliament, liberty of speech at the bar, liberty of printed speech, or in other words, liberty of the press. There is, on the one hand, a vast amount of intelligence scattered about amongst the urban population of Italy; and, on the other, quite a sufficient pressure of adverse circumstances to prevent the Italians from degenerating into a nation of babblers and dreamers. Now, when we see with what extreme impatience Louis Napoleon regards the freedom of debate and discussion in Belgium, a country of which he may covet the possession, but which does not directly thwart his schemes of ambition, it may not unfairly be inferred that he would not regard the development of liberty in the Italian peninsula with any peculiar satisfaction. May there not come a moment when Frenchmen may say, “After all, are we not as good as the Italians whom we have helped to redeem from slavery with our blood, and with our treasure? Are we not to the full as much worth as the Belgians, whose highest boast it is to be imperfect Frenchmen?” With a constitutional Italy upon one side of France, and a constitutional Belgium upon the other (to make no mention of the Kingdom of the Netherlands), Louis Napoleon could scarcely maintain his system of government, which necessarily involves the repression of all expression—if not of the pressure—of public opinion. Surely such phrases as those which embodied the noble protest made Last Week by M. Berryer against the subjection of the French bar must find an echo in many a French heart. The government of Louis Napoleon and of Victor Emmanuel must certainly be conducted on different principles; and thus there arises a danger to the French Emperor, which would in the long run probably prove more fatal to him than any direct and material danger which he would incur from the entire and immediate liberation of Italy. At the present moment the belief is amongst many who make politics their trade, that he looks with an evil and grudging eye upon such an event as the complete independence of Italy, unless accompanied by a fresh cession of territory to France. The Genoese sailors would prove a far more useful addition to the navy, even than were the Savoyard soldiers to the army of France. These are men of very different mould to the hybrid mixture of soldier and sailor, which is warmed into a state of half efficiency by the rigour of the French law of maritime conscription. Your Genoese is a Jack Tar in the proper acceptation of the word, and would prove a very acceptable addition to the cadres of the French navy. Meanwhile Capua has fallen. Before these lines are published, the young ex-King of the Two Sicilies will probably have fled from Gaeta, and Victor Emmanuel and his advisers will be able to turn their attention to the northern region of the new kingdom of Italy, unless Louis Napoleon should transmit fresh orders to General Goyon at Rome. If Italy be independent in the long run, and without fresh territorial concession to France, Louis Napoleon will be what he has not often been—a dupe.