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


Still the columns of our public journals are stuffed with accounts of warlike preparations; steam-frigates upon new and improved principles, both for offence and defence, are in course of construction here—volunteers are reviewed there. The French Emperor is strengthening his army of Rome—the Austrian Emperor is reinforcing his garrisons in the Quadrilateral. Victor Emmanuel is still—at the date these lines are written—engaged in administering a kind of homœopathic bombardment to the fortress of Gaëta. Garibaldi, late Dictator of the Two Sicilies, but now the Hermit of Caprera, has hung up his sword, and turned out his two horses for a season, but he claims 1,000,000 Italians in arms as the contingent of Italy next spring. We have a little war upon our hands in New Zealand, and a tedious war still before us in China, for, whatever may be the terms which Lord Elgin may think it proper to impose upon the Mandarins at Pekin, it is too much to suppose that they will be adhered to by the Chinese as soon as the military pressure is withdrawn. We will pass over the threats of the Southern States concerning the dissolution of the great North American Confederation as a mere brutum fulmen—but although there be no actual warfare, nor any immediate likelihood of it upon the North American continent, there is plenty of violence in Texas and elsewhere.

What is to be the end of all this? It does not follow as an inevitable consequence that because the great nations of Europe are making all these warlike preparations, they will therefore take the field next spring. Si vis pacem para bellum—says the old maxim, and certainly upon this principle the desire for the maintenance of peace must be very vehement throughout Europe just now. The true danger seems to lie in the fact that at the present moment questions of foreign policy seem to occupy the attention of every European nation in most cases, though not in all, to the exclusion of those which are merely of domestic interest. This must be. By the railroad, by the electric telegraph, by the spread of commerce, by the interchange of literatures, we have all learnt to sympathise with each other.

An English Liberal is an European Liberal. This may not be true to the same extent of other nations, for upon all points of political economy the great bulk of the Continental Liberals are still mourning over the grave of the late Colonel Sibthorp. Your German or Frenchman can never be a thorough Liberal until he has dismissed from his mind the dogma that he is to gain by his neighbour’s loss, and that the nation to which he belongs is proportionably the more prosperous the more it is independent of foreign supply. These fallacies will be appreciated in time for just what they are worth; but meanwhile ignorance of political economy is a great stumbling-block in the path. Capital throughout Europe is still tainted with false opinions upon the subject of exchange; and herein lies great danger to the peace of the world. Could the European Liberals be brought to lay aside their municipal jealousies and apprehensions—to agree upon the objects which they shall pursue in common, and to stand by each other in troublesome times, we should have a great security for the future. As an illustration of this, take the recent expression of public opinion in this country with regard to the Italian question. It is clearly understood that England has no intention of interfering in the contest in a material way; still the weight of her opinion is felt as though it were an army in the field. Had France been a free country—as England is a free country—and had there been in France the same overwhelming expression of public sympathy with the Italians as has taken place here—the liberation of the Peninsula might have been brought about without a Magenta or Solferino—without the lamentable cession of Savoy to a foreign power. The impulses and processes would naturally have been different, but the results would have been the same, if not more complete. England has sent her free thoughts, France her soldiers. England neither asked for, nor expected, profit from the liberation of the Italians. France did expect it, and has exacted it. In all probability the French Emperor will require further payment before his complete assent is given to the independence of the Peninsula.

Thus, then, we are all intent upon questions of foreign policy; we are all preparing for war, and yet Lord Palmerston thinks, and many men of great experience, and of forecasting mind, think with him that actual hostilities will in some way be avoided. There is no doubt that any war—save one of defence—would be highly unpopular in this country. Despite of the national fanaticism for military glory, there is little doubt that Louis Napoleon found the temper of the French nation not very malleable when he embarked in the Crimean war; and, more recently, in the Italian campaign. All public expression of opinion may be killed in France; but despite of all his laws of repression, it is still a power with which the French Emperor must settle accounts at his peril. War is always unpopular with Prussia, as every one knows who has ever witnessed the amount of domestic misery consequent upon a desire for what is called the “mobilisation” of the army, when the soldiers are called back from their ploughs and their shop-boards to the ranks. Russia is still exhausted with her last enormous struggle; and if the war party in Austria, of which Francis Joseph is the head, should succeed in plunging the Empire once more into war, the base of their operations will indeed be a house doubly and trebly divided against itself! Independently of these considerations, it should be added that the actual position of the Austrian treasury seems to be very desperate. The great capitalists of Europe are of course prepared to discount such an enterprise as an Austrian attempt to recover Lombardy, if it should be brought before them with any considerable chances of success; but fortunately the chances are not considerable. When to the difficulties inherent in the Italian campaign, are added those which would follow from an Hungarian insurrection, which would in all probability take place as soon as the Empire was at war, one should suppose that a capitalist would as soon make advances to the Grand Trunk Line of Canada, as to the treasury of the Hapsburgs, if the advances are to be expended upon gunpowder. By recent accounts, too, French finance is not in a very flourishing condition; and it would be strange if it were so, considering the monetary scale upon which the enterprises of the Emperor have been conducted. Europe has never yet seen the true French bill for the Russian war. The expenditure both of actual wealth, and of male adults in the prime of their strength (who are wealth in another form), must have been enormous.

That Italian campaign, too, must have cost the French tax-payers a good round sum; for Savoy and Nice, although a tangible return for the expenditure, have not as yet brought back any grist to the Imperial mill. Take the French expenditure upon the arsenals—upon the new ships of war—upon the rifled cannon—and other matters of military preparation, and the sum total, if fairly laid before the French nation, would give them serious thoughts for the future. Greater, however, even than this expenditure upon war, and preparations for it, must have been the sums spent upon the civil management of the country in various forms. How much improper expenditure must have been tolerated in order to maintain the zeal of partizans at a proper point of fervour! How many bubble schemes must have been winked at, if not actually encouraged, as they certainly have been by the machinery of the Credit Mobilier, and by direct concessions from the Government! The capital sum which would represent the extent to which the partizans of the Emperor have profited by the institution of the Empire must be very considerable. At the present moment we find that the subject of Finance—as well it may—is occupying the serious attention of the Emperor.

Money is scarce in France, but in the first days of Last Week the Bank of France had still obstinately refused to have recourse to the natural remedy which we in England know to be a regulation of the public discounts on conditions which may be in harmony with the actual commercial position of the country. To do this would be to confess that France has of late been outspending herself—that there has been over-speculation, and injudicious speculation, and that the time had arrived when the nation must pause awhile, and allow the restorative action of accumulation to repair the breaches made in the national prosperity. The Emperor as yet has preferred the false system—speaking in a commercial sense—of borrowing money in order to maintain the profuse expenditure, and to encourage the speculation which must have been injudicious, or France would now be a lender, and not a borrower. It is clear that the Emperor has taken the matter directly in hand himself, and is interfering in the very details of the difficulty. A large portion of the stock of specie in the French Bank is silver. Silver is a commodity just like tea, or tobacco, which is always purchasable at its fair value in the markets of the world. The means of the Bank Directors are crippled—here they have in hand a stock of silver with which they might tide over their present difficulties, but Louis Napoleon would not for a time permit them to part with a single bar.

It is to be regretted that we have not before us a true balance-sheet of the French Empire. The figures presented from time to time by the Government to the pseudo-representatives of the nation are of course fallacious. If our own share n the Crimean war cost us 100,000,000l., what was the amount of the French bill? for the Emperor went into the business far more heavily than we did. Was the cost of the Italian campaign much lea! What is the figure which would represent the French share in the China business? What is the total real addition to the National Debt of France since Louis Napoleon took the French government is hand? Something appalling, if the statements are fairly made.

At the same time the position of the French Emperor is different indeed from that of his Austrian brother. If Louis Napoleon is minded to go to war next spring, he will find plenty of capitalists to advance him the money upon reasonable terms, even if the opening of public loans in France be not responded to in as speedy and satisfactory a way as heretofore. It is most probable that he will not go to war if he can help it, because the seat of hostilities would again be the Italian Peninsula, and in the present temper of the European cabinets any serious attempts at territorial aggrandisement in this direction upon the part of France would no doubt give rise to an opposition which even a man of so firm a mind as the French Emperor had rather not encounter. Now, he cannot afford to go to war again unless at the close of the campaign he is prepared to show the French nation that he has gained for them an equivalent for the expenditure of blood and money which must certainly be incurred. The phrase of going to war “for an idea” may sound vastly well in the columns of a French journal, but it conveys cold comfort to the humble peasant family in Languedoc, who have been called upon to sacrifice poor Jean-Marie, or Pierre, in obedience to this magnanimous impulse. Still less does it carry consolation to the French tax-payer, whose liabilities to the treasury are every year heavier, and still heavier—for your French tax-payer is proverbially a hard-fisted man.

The ignorant impatience of the people under taxation is still greater in France than in England; and even here people are grumbling loudly enough about our temporary income tax, which next session will very probably be screwed up to a shilling in the pound. Still we must not be blind to the fact that Louis Napoleon may be forced into a war against his will. A rash and inconsiderate movement at Vienna might force him once more to despatch the armies of France into Italy. He could not stand by quietly, and see those results to which the blood of the French nation has so largely contributed actually neutralized. This would be to confess failure—and failure is a word which must be blotted out of the Imperial Dictionary, or it will be found to have a terrible synonym. The peace of Europe next spring actually depends upon the action of the Austrian Court,—and who will be bold enough to do more than hazard a conjecture as to what this action will be? What the calculations of prudence would be we can tell; but who can foretell, with any approach to certainty, the vagaries of imprudence? Not so long ago, we were all saying that the late Czar Nicholas would never be mad enough to cross the Pruth. He crossed it, however, and the penalty was the forfeiture of his own life, and a check in the development of civilisation in Russia, which will scarcely be repaired in the lifetime of this generation. Again, we were all saying that the Austrians would never provoke a conflict with the French armies. Magenta and Solferino were the illustrations of that prophecy. Matters are still more desperate now than they were two years ago. The whole Peninsula, up to the Venetian frontier, is in the hands of the Italians—save the Patrimony of St. Peter, which is a sort of French garrison. The discontent in the Austrian Provinces—especially in Hungary—has risen to a point which no longer admits of misunderstanding or concealment. The situation is desperate—but Despair is not always the safest Privy Councillor. There is not an Austrian statesman of much account; not even a man of the mark of Felix Schwarzenburgh; and a true statesman is much needed in Austria just now.

Let us not, in our just antipathy to the cruelties and abominations of Austrian rule in Italy, ever lose sight of the fact that the existence of a powerful military monarchy in the south-east of Europe has been found throughout historical ages necessary to our own security. What may be the political action of this new Italian kingdom, we know not as yet. That it will be for good, we hope, and believe—but we are standing upon the brink of an untried future. That old Eastern enigma still remains unsolved at Constantinople. It is not too much to say that the very greatest uneasiness is felt among English statesmen upon this point. The extinction of the military power of Austria, and the consequent French monopoly of military power for aggressive purposes on the Continent of Europe, would scarcely be a result which Englishmen could see with satisfaction. The Turkish Empire—do what we will—is crumbling and decaying before our eyes; and in all probability men now in the prime of life will live to see a solution of the question.

With the history of Europe behind us from the days of Henri IV. to the days of Louis Napoleon, one would scarcely wish to see so vast a preponderance of military power in the hands of Frenchmen as would certainly follow from the destruction of the Austrian Empire. If Francis Joseph could be induced to part with Venetia by way of sale, and to govern his Empire, especially Hungary, in a constitutional way, what a glorious future might still lie before the Hapsburgs! As the great Danubian Power, Austria would be a far more important member of the European Confederation than she has ever yet been: and destinies might yet await her in the East, which would place her in a position which she could never have achieved as the unreasoning task-mistress of unfortunate Italy.

In the absence of any great political events during the Last Week, our space may fairly be devoted to speculations on the future. Now a suggestion has been set afloat in Paris, and has received a certain amount of discussion during the last seven days, which, if there be any kind of truth in it, may grow into the most important event of our time. We all know pretty well the system upon which Louis Napoleon is in the habit of bringing his schemes before the world. The rudimentary element out of which a Russian War or an Italian campaign grows, is a suggestion in a French newspaper. The idea contained in this suggestion is either destroyed, or allowed to drop, according to the effect which it is found to produce upon the minds of the French nation. The suggestion put forth in one newspaper is contradicted in another—a discussion follows, and if it be found peculiarly unpalatable, in due course a contradiction is put forth in the “Moniteur,” and there for a time is an end of the matter. Supposing, however, that affairs take a different turn when the journalist once tosses the shuttlecock up in the air, a band of pamphleteers are appointed to keep it up, and should their endeavours, too, be crowned with success, in due course the French People are allowed to obtain an inkling of the Napoleonian idea upon the subject. Now the shuttlecock of Last Week is nothing more nor less than a suggestion that Louis Napoleon, after the lapse of somewhat more than three centuries, should follow in the steps of our own Henry VIII., and declare himself to be the head of the Church in France—as Queen Victoria is the head of the Church in England. Of course, at this preliminary stage, the suggestion leaves to the Pope all supremacy in matters of faith; but in such a matter as this, the first step is everything; and the higher French clergy, acting under the auspices of the Emperor, would soon become the arbiters of the national faith of France. The attempt is a bold one, and would certainly conciliate to the Emperor the sympathies of the vast bulk of the English nation. What are the chances of success? There can be no doubt that at the present moment the Pope, and the Papal Court, are profoundly discredited throughout Europe.

In the Italian peninsula itself, Pio Nono is looked upon as one of the two great remaining obstacles to the independence of the country. A similar result has been produced by the Concordat in Austria. The amount of exasperation against the influence of the priesthood in all the daily affairs of life, can scarcely be credited by any but those who have mixed familiarly with the peasantry of Austria. On the Danube banks your ears are stuffed with stories—no doubt many of them grievously exaggerated—such as those which animated Luther to his great attack upon the Papal power. These are at least evidence of the animosity entertained by the people against the priests. In France itself Louis Napoleon has been dealing of late in a very high-handed way with the upper and Ultramontane clergy. He has signalised the protests of some of the bishops as treason against the French nation and his own government. He has suppressed the journal which was emphatically the organ of the party. He has sternly forbidden any organised collections for the benefit of the Holy Father, who is now somewhat hardly pressed under the head of Ways and Means. It may be observed, parenthetically, that there is not a more significant sign of the times than the scantiness of the contributions forwarded by the faithful throughout the world to their Spiritual Chief in the hour of his need. This is a matter with which Protestants are not concerned. We are not expected to subscribe Peter’s-pence, or widows’-mites, for the benefit of the Pope; nor have we cast any obstacle in the way of such collections. We simply note the fact that now, when the necessities of the Papacy are the sorest, subscriptions do not flow in in any very lavish manner. If we adopt the pecuniary test, then, as a means of forming our judgment as to the degree of attachment felt by the Roman Catholic laity throughout Europe to the Holy See, the decision must be that the zeal of the faithful has grown cold. The French bishops send forth angry addresses, allocutions, or by whatever name such episcopal admonitions are aptly described. Dr. Cullen and his colleagues exhaust the vocabulary of abuse against the malignant and ungodly men who are endeavouring to save the Pope and his advisers from the temptations and anxieties of temporal sovereignty—but there are no assets forthcoming! It is calculated that by Christmas next Pio Nono will be absolutely bankrupt, and unable to pay his way. Then at last there must be an end of the undignified struggle which has been protracted too long for the true interests of the Church.

It is at this point when the last stiver in the Papal treasury has been paid away—and when there would appear to be so little solicitude on any side to replenish the empty coffers of the Vatican, that the French Emperor takes the matter in hand. He suggests that as the temporal sovereignty of the Pope has actually collapsed in Italy—nay, at Rome itself—despite of all his efforts to avert such a catastrophe, it would be well if the Church in France were placed upon a more stable footing. Here is the very suggestion as it has been set forth in the pamphlet of M. Cayla (the shuttlecock). “The Emperor, as head of the national religion, would have no need to break with Rome with respect to dogmas. The Pope, as simply a Spiritual Sovereign, would continue to exercise an influence over Catholicity, the greater as the Papacy would again approach the simplicity of the Primitive Church. As regards France especially, the Head of the State would direct the administration of public worship as a sovereign. Paris being the centre and the heart of France, the Archbishop of Paris would be named Grand Patriarch.” It is needless to enter into the details of M. Cayla’s scheme. These are of little importance in the presence of this one tremendous fact—the secession of France from obedience to the See of Rome.

Is this to be? Nothing, of course, is as yet decided, save that Louis Napoleon, who provides the intellectual food of the French people, has permitted—possibly, directed—that the subject shall be publicly discussed.

If we consider the probabilities of the case, it seems likely that the French Emperor is of opinion that he can now dispense with the ecclesiastical ladder which stood him in such stead when he first attempted to mount the Imperial throne of France. The day has gone by when he would condescend to humour the Breton peasantry by pilgrimages to the shrines which they held sacred, and by observances which they esteemed as necessary to salvation. He is the man who, of all others, is most deeply interested in arriving at the truth as to the convictions and wishes of the French nation; and who, of all others, has the best machinery at his disposal for the formation of a just opinion upon the point. Now, he has shown by overt acts that he will not tolerate any opposition to his will on the part of the French bishops and higher ecclesiastical dignitaries. With a few lines in the “Moniteur” he reduces them to silence.

Louis Napoleon would not venture upon so bold a policy if he did not feel that he had the support of the French nation at his back. It is true that his uncle, Napoleon Bonaparte, when he was considering some sixty years ago with his chosen councillors as to what steps would be the wisest for the restoration of religion in France, discussed with them this scheme for vesting in himself the Headship of the Church in France, and decided against it. He did so merely upon political grounds. It was important that France should remain one of the great Roman Catholic Powers. The common bond of union between these Powers was their obedience to the Holy See. If he had proclaimed himself Head of the Church in France, he considered that the inevitable result would have been that, even upon doctrinal matters, France would soon stand alone in Europe, or in other words, the bond of a common religion between France and other nations would be snapped asunder. Besides, if the Headship of the Church were nominally vested in the sovereign, it was certain that there must be some great ecclesiastical dignitary—call him Archbishop, Patriarch, what you will—to whom must be delegated the exercise of spiritual functions.

Might not such an one, if a Frenchman, resident at Paris, become very troublesome to the Government, if France should fall into a fit of fanaticism? Given a Napoleon upon the temporal throne, he would, no doubt, manage his archbishop well enough. Given a Napoleon upon the archiepiscopal throne, might it not happen in days to come that he might bring the temporal Emperor under his control? For these reasons, and certain others which we are precluded from setting forth here by consideration of space, Napoleon Bonaparte concluded that if Rome had not been in existence, it would have been incumbent upon him to invent Rome, for the graceful government of his people in spiritual matters. It was safest, he thought, to keep his High Priest at a distance from the seat of empire, and in a position in which he must, in a great degree, be at the mercy of the powerful chief of so mighty a nation as France.

It is certainly as yet too much to say that the views of the nephew differ from the views of the uncle upon this important point. When his head was turned, and he became intoxicated with success, even Napoleon Bonaparte did not adhere to his original idea, but made the Pope a State prisoner, and treated him in a manner which was certainly not calculated to promote respect for religion throughout Europe.