Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (November 10, 1860)
It is the fashion to say that the day of great men is at an end, and people discuss the subject much as follows. There is such a uniformity of education and of opportunity, that there is very little to distinguish A. from B. Hero-worship expired with the newspaper and the railway. In order that it may exist there must be a dim shadowy background. Men fall prostrate before a cloud; but where all is clear and palpable to the senses, they handle, they criticise, they discuss, they doubt. Hence the reverence for the heroes of antiquity. Imagine the Right Honourable Pericles, member for the Hymettus Burghs, to be well dissected from day to day in the “Clerkenwell Courier,” as the clear-sighted editor could dissect him when a War Peloponnesian, or other, was in progress, which the great statesman did not conduct exactly in conformity with the views of that eminent publicist. Fancy Demosthenes on the wrong side, or indeed on the right one, and how, to the eyes of party men, those roaring sentences, which we were all taught to admire in our youth, would degenerate into “miserable stuff,” “nisi-prius pleading,” “catchpenny trash,” and so forth. The man lived and spoke two thousand years and more ago. The human race have ceased to care about Philip of Macedon and his doings. Indeed the only remains now of what was once deemed so important are a few Klephts owning a doubtful allegiance to a Bavarian Kinglet (who was it lived at Munich when Demosthenes wore wig and gown?), and the tirades of eloquent abuse with which young gentlemen, struggling for First Classes, are so familiar. If our Own Correspondent had accompanied Julius Cæsar during his wars in Gaul, and Mr. Reuter had helped us hour by hour to the very latest intelligence of his doings amongst the Belgæ and others, how some amongst us would have cried him up as a “fine energetic fellow,” a “soldier to the back-bone;” but how the peace-party would have groaned over him, and dubbed him a monster in human form, a cat-o’-nine-tails in the right hand of Destiny! How his fame would have gone up and down exactly as he was fortunate or unfortunate in his operations. Excelsior is the motto of the bubble; it must soar upwards, and upwards still. Let it pause for a moment in its flight, and all that remains of its iridescence and its glory is a drop or two of soap and water, not over clean.
Such is the fashion of talk about modern greatness—or rather about the possibility of greatness in modern times. There is some truth and some untruth about the theory. That it can scarcely be altogether true would appear from the fact that there are three or four names just now which are uppermost in the minds of all, and the bearers of these famous names really are what the old Greek hexameter men would have called shepherds of the people. There is Joseph Garibaldi for one. Who will say that the days of hero-worship are gone by when we read of the homage paid to that great chief? Aspiring young men! the real trouble is not so much to get your greatness acknowledged as fairly to earn the acknowledgment by noble deeds enacted for the good of others, without selfish motive. It may well be that in very few cases the homage of the human race will be paid in so immediate and palpable a form as it now is to that great Italian leader. It is not allowed to every man to put on a red jersey—to conquer a kingdom—and to give it away for the greater happiness of all concerned within six months. Men, however, may be great in other ways. No doubt Michael Faraday in his laboratory—just on the eve, or on the morrow, of a great discovery—receives his reward as well as Joseph Garibaldi at the conclusion of a well-fought day. After all, the evvivas, and the laurel crowns, and the triumphal arches do not count for much. The thought that he has been the instrument in the hands of Providence to put an end to so much misery, must be that which makes such a man as Garibaldi feel happy in himself. There is something about his ways of going on which makes his detractors appear ridiculous. Even Dr. Paul Cullen squirts dirty water at him with an uncertain hand. The Papal people, who are rather adepts at cursing than otherwise, can’t get their curses to hold water when they curse Garibaldi. As you read the bead-roll of mediæval abuse, and the curses come rumbling out like potatoes out of a sack, you feel that they are quite out of place. It is Dr. Slop cursing Obadiah in his vitals, and in all the acts of his life, because he has tied a string round a bag in too complete a manner. Joseph Garibaldi is not “iniquitous,” “impure,” “the enemy of God and man,” because he dislikes Cardinal Antonelli, and would much prefer that Pio Nono should take up his residence somewhere else than at Rome. Garibaldi has been attacked in a far less virulent manner, and in a much more wholesome spirit by public writers in our own country. Of this there is no great reason to complain, because he has been handled just as any great Englishman would have been handled who was—what is the usual phrase?—“occupying a prominent position in public life.”
We do criticise the acts of our leaders in this country in a very unsparing way, and well is it for them and for us all that this is done, so that we may not fall into the senilities and anilities of hero-worship. But never in our time has this amende honorable been so quickly paid as in the case of Joseph Garibaldi. On Monday he was a kind of crazy buccaneer for going to Sicily. On Tuesday he was the remarkable man whose story was like an Arabian tale. On Wednesday our great thinkers wagged their fingers at him, after the fashion of the witches in Macbeth, for thinking of an attempt upon the mainland. The Sicilian rocket was to fall down by mere gravitation as the Neapolitan stick. On Thursday, the “remarkable-man theory” was brought to light once more. His acts stultified prophecy, and defied criticism. Dobbs admitted his error. On Friday it appeared that Dobbs was right after all. Garibaldi, who was at best a splendid partisan leader—a fact which Dobbs was free to admit—had attempted a bit of statesmanship—really now! Worse still, he was about to fight a battle against regular troops, and the result was not only to the ingenious Dobbs, but to every dear old gentleman in the Senior United Service Club, but a foregone conclusion. On Saturday the great battle was not only greatly fought, but greatly won. Garibaldi was a great General. Dobbs had put his visa on him. It was all right until Garibaldi’s first reverse, when his English friend would have turned upon him, and denounced him as an impostor. Yes, Garibaldi had proved to Dobbs’s satisfaction that he could set a squadron in the field; but let him still beware of statesmanship.
Well—well, Arthur Wellesley, after his Peninsula and Waterloo, was dubbed by the late Daniel O’Connell a “stunted corporal,” but he survived it. On Sunday poor Garibaldi had committed a great error, he had thrown himself into the arms of Mazzini, or Mazzini had thrown himself into his arms—in point of fact, something was wrong about the embraces; and Dobbs, admitting all the while that Garibaldi had about him the makings of a great general, was more and more convinced that as a statesman he was weak, shallow, and incompetent. On Monday it turned out that Garibaldi, who had had some small business on hand (while Dobbs was dining out in London), such as meeting a regular army with his hasty levies, coming to an understanding with the Sardinian Government, maintaining the requisite attitude against Lamoricière, whilst Lamoricière still existed as a political and military entity, had really not done so very badly. He had had a very difficult game to play at Naples whilst engaged with the enemy in front, and had only spare minutes to play it in. He had, however, contrived to keep now one ball, now another, in the air until the moment had arrived for decisive action; when, lo! he was found to have done the very thing which Dobbs himself had pointed out as the only proper course—namely, handed the southern portion of the Italian peninsula and the island of Sicily, which by his wisdom and his courage he had all but purged of the Bourbons and their adherents, over to Victor Emmanuel. True to the declaration of the last ten years of his life Garibaldi still believed that the best chances of independence and safety for his country lay in the union of all the provinces under one sceptre. Dobbs withdrew the epithet of Massaniello—and was appeased.
Has not this been the tone of a certain portion of English society towards Garibaldi during the last few months? No great harm is intended, but the habit of English political life is to drag down all men to the intellectual level of the speakers or writers. They weigh them in their own scales, and measure them with their own rules. On the whole, it is well. They have more to learn from Garibaldi, than Garibaldi from them—and they will accept the teaching in the long run. Have we not lived through a period when the present premier of England was known as “Cupid,” and the mere mention of his name provoked a smile or a sneer? Now, the reason why this mention has been made of Garibaldi is, that although very wise people tell us that the day of hero-worship is gone by for ever, it would appear that just now the whole action of Europe turns upon the decisions of half-a-dozen men, and Garibaldi is one of them. Indeed, until he had announced his positive decision of handing over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies at once to Victor Emmanuel he may be said to have been the foremost amongst these marking men. What has he been about last week? To relate what these half-dozen men have been doing for the last seven days, would be the shortest method of giving a true chronicle of the week.
Just now Garibaldi has taken Capua. In Southern Italy his task is well-nigh completed. It is said that when this is fairly accomplished, he will return to his little island of Caserta, and put off dignity—at least as much of it as beadles would care about—more easily than he put it on. There are not wanting rumours that when the Italian matter is finished, he meditates an expedition into Hungary. The notice of this movement, indicated to the troops under General Türr’s orders, seems ominous enough—and yet one should guess, that if the disaffection amongst the Hungarian soldiers in the Austrian service be as profound as it is said to be, both the Hungarian and the Italian question will receive a more pacific solution. The theory of the financial men is, that Austria is at the present moment prepared to bargain away and sell Venetia for a suitable consideration. The Austrian authorities appear to be shooting the Hungarian gunners at Venice for spiking the guns which they should turn against Cæsar’s foes.
This preliminary matter of Garibaldi’s once disposed of, Europe falls back into its normal state—which state now appears to be one of dependence upon the resolutions to be adopted by the French Emperor. Now, what is this man about?—he who wears the shoes of stillness, and who bears the sword of sharpness, like the hero of the Fairy Tale! To be sure, last week, he has been drafting a few more battalions to Rome, and has managed matters so effectually, that if it were thought desirable to dislodge them from that illustrious city of ruins and recollections, the task would not be a very easy one. This, however, has ostensibly been the smallest of what our French neighbours call the Imperial pre-occupations during the last week. Louis Napoleon, during that brief section of time, has had the good sense to close with Mr. Whitworth. He has put our own tardy government to shame, and secured for himself means of offence and defence superior to our own. Besides this, Louis Napoleon has thrown himself into the theory of the currency, and is about to appear before the eyes of Europe as the great Banker of the world. If the intelligence be true—and it appears to be true—and if the announcement is not a mere blind—a golden shield held before the breasts of his soldiers—it is well. Europe, just now, has more to gain from peace than from war.
But if Louis Napoleon takes to banking in good earnest, Lord Overstone had best look to himself. The pound sterling—that Fetish of the “well regulated” English mind—is in imminent danger. Beware the Ides of March—or rather, the Second of December! Our ledgers are exposed to a coup-d’état. The financial may be more potent than the military arm after all; and the French Emperor, who seems to have given up the idea of attempting a disembarkation upon our coasts, may reach Capel Court by double entry after all. The workings of the company popularly known as the “Crédit Mobilier,” may give some clue to the fashion of the Imperial thought upon such subjects. Credit, if we mistake not, is to be the keystone of the system, without those precautionary reserves which the late Sir Robert Peel would have deemed indispensable for the success of his financial operations. This matter should be regarded seriously. The announcement of it is the most important event of Last Week. Europe may have somewhat to dread from France gorged with prosperity—but still more from desperate and bankrupt France.
Pounds, shillings, and pence—or rather francs and centimes—apart, what has Louis Napoleon been about for the last seven days? He has been endeavouring to restore harmony between himself and the Parisian workmen irritated with the high price of lodgings and the dearness of tobacco. He has been marking his definitive rupture with the parti prêtre which has served his turn, and may now be cast aside, or at least reduced to obedience. The fag-ends of cigars, and the broken fragments of pipes, which have been cast by the workmen on the path where he takes his usual walk, have produced more effect upon the mind of Louis Napoleon than the headless arrows of the Ultramontane clergy.
To the workmen the Emperor deigns to explain his tobacco policy, and there is little doubt that if the explanation does not suffice to conjure away the storm of cigar-ends and broken pipes, Louis Napoleon will give way. He is too wise a ruler to drive men desperate by putting out their pipes. Obstinate old George III. lost his North American provinces for a pound of tea; Louis Napoleon will not put his crown in danger for an ounce of tobacco. For the priests he has a different word. Cromwell could not have taken a higher tone with a High-Church bishop of his day than the French Emperor now does with his recalcitrant clergy. They must follow as he leads, or—! The English Protector gave the Irish malcontents in his time the choice between emigration to Connaught, or to a point which lay still further south—and this is much the tone adopted last week by Louis Napoleon with his protesting bishops. The day of genuflexions and pilgrimages in company with the graceful Eugénie to the shrines of the Breton peasant is at an end. Louis Napoleon now leaves the Holy Father exposed to the full force of circumstances, and what he calls the inevitable logic of facts. Well, just now the “inevitable logic” means the occupation of the late Papal territory—save the patrimony of St. Peter—by the national troops. It means the presence of an overwhelming French force in Rome and the patrimony of St. Peter itself. It means a bankrupt exchequer, and the benefit of the act—or worse—for Pio Nono ere the coming winter is at an end.
So far of Joseph Garibaldi and Louis Napoleon: let us not lose sight of our own First Minister, and his doings, during the Last Week. Lord Palmerston is as much the expression of the aspirations and wishes of English society, at the latter end of the nineteenth century, as Garibaldi is of struggling—and now well-nigh triumphant—Italy, or Louis Napoleon of France, weary of revolutions and loving glory well, but money still more. Time was when these islands were ruled by the great revolution families or the Whig connection. Then George III. and the younger Pitt, with their batches of new peers, had it all their own way. Then the Radicals and Reformers practically ruled over us for a term of years, and great lords and great statesmen, and all who aimed at the peer’s coronet, and the seals of office, were compelled to pay court to the populace. These were the palmy days for political adventurers. There has come, at last, a time when Englishmen are weary of these things, or, more properly speaking, are content with what has been gained, and do not care for revolution principles or quintessence of Whiggery, or great Tory Peers, or High Prerogative Attorney-Generals, or Demagogues, or the Five Points of the Charter. See, last session, what a failure resulted from the attempt to galvanise the dead movement of 1831-32 into fresh life. Times are changed. It is idle to look in July for last winter’s snow, or to water apple-trees in December with hot water, after the fashion of Triptolemus Yellowly, in search of a second crop. Lord Palmerston is the man who has had the wisdom to discern how English society is to be ruled during the current decennial period.
In the absence of all strong political passions and feelings, the statesman who is a good-humoured embodiment of the public opinion of his country is our appropriate chief. When we are not running crazy about a war, or engaged in mad speculation, the characteristic of English society is common sense. Lord Palmerston is common sense personified. He knows how to deal with men, and therefore men like to deal with him. He is neither a fanatic nor a sceptic in religion; he will hold his own against the Court, when need is, and yet maintain the authority of the Crown; he is touchy, and perhaps a trifle too well inclined to parade the British Lion in his dealings with foreign powers—in our very hearts we are all inclined to give that noble animal an airing now and then. He is not too great an orator. In the year 1860 we would no more consent to be ruled by a great orator, than by an eminent tragedian. Although he every now and then falls into the mistake of treating a political adversary with something very much like contempt in the House of Commons,—as a set-off, when addressing himself to the country—he has all the exquisite tact of Scarlett when “going to a jury.” Nobody knows better than Lord Palmerston the value of a sandwich composed of two commonplaces and a bad joke. This style of oratory is not great, but it suits us just now. Then there is the genial humour of the man when out of harness. Despite of his seventy and odd years—and what dull people call the cares of State—the English Premier is as ready for an afternoon’s rabbit-shooting as a great schoolboy. With all this he is in very truth a statesman of great experience—of close discernment—of high administrative ability—and a lover of his country. Lord Palmerston’s Yorkshire progress, with a cheerful word, and a cordial grasp of the hand for all who came across him, may fairly be reckoned amongst the events of Last Week.