TOPICS OF THE DAY.
PEACE AND THE FRENCH ALLIANCE.
PERszerr5T rumours of peace-propositions, likely to be accepted by all the parties to the present war, point at least, whatever their actual basis, to a general feeling that the occasion is ripe for the termination of hostilities, and that all the nations engaged in the contest would be glad to see their way clear out of it. And, no doubt, both feelings are largely justified by the facts. On the one band, the military and naval superiority of the Allies has been convincingly, if not very dashingly, demonstrated : Russia must feel that another campaign vigorously carried on would inflict damage upon her for which the two previouscampaigns have taught the means, and rendered the naexecution comparatively easy. On the other hand, the expenses of the war to the Allies are enormous ; the gains ambiguous so long as it is carried on on its present principle ; the danger of altering that principle, and aiming at territorial conquest, or an excitement of the so-called nation- alities, not to be lightly hazarded. .ff Russia would accept her defeat—certainly not at present a very humiliating one—the pub- lic objects of the war would be attained, and no adequate motives exist which ought to induce a single reasonable man to wish it prolonged. The rumours-, moreover, are not only general rumours of a dis- position everywhere to make peace on reasonable terms, but dis- tinctly assign. the person with whom the disposition is strongest, and the cause why. Here again no actual foundation may exist for the reports current ; but unquestionably they fall in with probability. The vrai,semblable is not indeed always the vrai; but there cannot be much danger of mistake in taking for granted that the French Emperor looks with anxiety upon the financial position of his empire, and that he would rather not have a third time to appeal to the enthusiasm of the nation for a vast loan. Nor must we forget, without throwing the slightest suspicion on his good faith, that he has far more than any of his allies realized peculiar and personal objects of his own by the war, while France has also gained a comparatively greater renown than we have our- selves. Louis Napoleon is no longer the parvenu, excluded from the recognized synod of royalties, whom Nicholas of Russia would not greet with the title of fret.' e ; he is without any question the foremost man in Europe—the man whose single will can do more than any other will, whose abilities and character are recognized most unmistakeably to belong to the first order, whose alliance is eagerly welcomed. The war can do little more for him personally, and might in certain contingencies undo much that it has done. Even the object of diverting French energy from domestic polities would be dearly purchased by serious financial difficulties with their corresponding commercial pa- ralysis and social discontent, if such diversion under such circum- stances were possible. And for France herself, though future victories would probably give batons to future marshals, and add titles to successful generals, yet she has taken Sebastopol—at least she has the largest share of the honour, and the achievement will always be credited to her rather than to England in thinking of it as a whole ; whereas in the coming campaign it is probable that England's navy would snatch the lion's share of work and glory, and restore the balance. Now that quicksighted nation is not likely to be insensible to this prospect; and a peace that should compass the acknowledged common objects of the war, and leave France relatively to England in a higher position than she held before, would not probably be less popular because England might have liked to go on a little longer for her own sake. Then, an- other campaign would not be unlikely to prove a serious obstacle to Russia's progress South of the Caucasus. That, again, is no French object, while it does bear very closely on English interests in India. Altogether, these considerations, none of them likely to be unfamiliar to so reflective a man as Louis Napoleon or so acute a nation as the French, give sufficient plausibility to the impression that is just now prevalent, that any reasonable propositions for peace would not find the French Emperor or the French nation disposed to throw obstacles in the way of their reception.
Supposing the propositions for peace to be accepted by Russia and France, neither of the other three parties to the war would be in a position to carry it on. Not that England alone could not fight Russia, but that no English Government would venture to carry on a war in the face of such a defection and the impression it would make both at home and abroad. Nothing, indeed, but the necessity of self-defence would in that case justify its continu- ance, and that is here excluded. There might, however, arise a soreness between France and England under such circumstances, which would be greatly to be lamented. This possibility will probably, and certainly it ought to, act upon the minds of both Governments. It would argue little for the wisdom or patriotism of either if they neglected such an element in their deliberations on any terms suggested. It would be the most grievous folly and calamity, that for want of a dispo- sition to wise compromise and conciliation an estrangement should take place between the two nations, and that the greatest triumph of our times—the hearty union in sympathy and interest of France and England—should be dashed by perversity on either side. It certainly will not be Louis Napoleon's least glory that he has contributed to this union ; and he must know this. We can hardly doubt that to preserve it unshaken mast be with him a motive equal if not paramount to any other. And, on the other hand, our own Government knows well that the alliance is tho- roughly popular in England—is acceptable alike to all parties, classes, and characters—a fact rejoiced in by the most far-seal speculator and the plainest common-sense man of business.
Palmerston is personally pledged to it, having been ei•cted from his office of Foreign Secretary for his precipitation in ..eknowledg- mg Louis Napoleon. It wants but one element, which time alone can bring. Hitherto it has been, perhaps necessarily from the form of government in France, at least in appearance an alliance of go- vernments mainly. A few years of cordial intercourse would ripen it into an alliance of peoples ; and then it would be, humanly speaking, immutable.
But the English public themselves have a duty in this matter. If the war should terminate without giving our navy an oppor- tunity to retrieve the comparative inaction and want of daring that have characterized the last two campaigns, Englishmen will naturally feel a passing wish that it might have been otherwise. If a two-years war is not sufficient to rouse to their full display the tardy latent energies of this country, the satisfaction of re- stored peace will not unnaturally be dashed with regret. If the hatred and envy of Continental powers have found in actual dis- asters ground enough for absurd misconception or at least mis- statements of the decline of England's military power, one might, without being considered bloodthirsty, wish for another campaign to test what we could do, now that the surprise of the war has worn off, and the nation is thoroughly roused to a sense of the importance of the struggle. But should the common objects of the war be attained,—and we do not suppose that Louis Napoleon would be content with terms short of this,—we could not with reason hold out merely to enhance our own glory by triumphs for which the means have been prepared; and we should act un- reasonably were we to visit upon Louis Napoleon and the French a disappointment for which we are alone ourselves to blame. None of this is the fault of the French Emperor, though he may not be sorry for it. No act of perfidy can we lay at his door, no act or speech that breathes even an unfriendly feeling. Indeed, it is only from a belief in the universal selfish- ness of statesmen, and from a consciousness of a kindred feeling lurking among ourselves, that any suspicion of Louis Napoleon's satisfaction at our comparative ill-success can be entertained. Our own Government and our national policy are alonesthe cause if we have reaped less glory in the last two years than our allies the French. We had chosen to let our army dwindle down both in number and efficiency ; we had always neglected mili- tary education, and damped military ambition ; we were unskilled in military administration, and no system com- pensated for want of Ail]. Therefore we went to war with our land force ill-prepared, and we suffered accordingly. Our navy was in high condition ; but, with ample warning of what was going to happen, the Government left it crippled in that peculiar arm needed for the warfare it was to be engaged in. The next campaign would probably show much of this remedied; but oppor- tunities wait for no man: should peace be now made, and the com- mon public objects of the war be attained, the English nation must be content, though her ancient preeminence has not been maintained by her exploits during the last two years. And if, in spite of our- selves, we cannot help feeling annoyed and vexed that we have failed to make the moat of our opportunity, let us be angry with the right parties, and not shift upon the French Emperor sad his people a blame that attaches to ourselves, to our shortsighted economy, our contempt for administrative skill, our ignorance of the progress of other nations, our presumption, our conceit, and our stupidity. Meanwhile, be it remembered that this train of remark has been suggested not by facts, but rumours; and that a vast if intervenes between us and their accomplishment,—namely, that the Russians should be prepared at once, without further beating, to concede such terms as the French Emperor could accept with regard to his own honour and interest and the common objects of the alliance.