THE DEBATE ON MR. LAYARD.
THE debate of Tuesday night will not conduce to Mr. Layard's credit, or to his repute at Constantinople. His friends admit, though they palliate, his "indiscretion." His opponents think that his conduct towards Mr. Gladstone went a good deal beyond indiscretion, and was wanting altogether in that fine sense of what is honourable which is one of the highest elements of public character and public influence. There is undoubtedly something grudging, evasive, and even unworthy in Mr. Layard's dealings in the Negro- pante affair, from his first message to the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, to the last despatch, printed for the first time on Tuesday morning though it had then been eleven days in the hands of the Government,—something which cannot fail to lessen very materially any credit which he might formerly have had for either candour or personal magnanimity. And, moreover, this grudging and evasive spirit was manifested towards one who 'was indeed for the time his political opponent, but who had been his chief, and whose peat fame and high personal character should have been all the more dear to him on that account. However, it is not of Mr. Layard that we care chiefly to speak. We have formerly said enough on that head, and pointed out how greatly his conduct through the whole affair has tended to show that he is extremely deficient in some of the best qualities of the ideal diplomatist,—in his complete self-control, in his anxious reticence, in his perfect courtesy, in his instinct for minimising causes of offence, in his profound consideration for what concerns his own dignity and the dignity of those with whom he deals, and in his just appreciation of the cost at which alone it is worth while to gain a trivial advantage over opponents. What we wish to say now concerns less Mr. Layard than the party and the Government, who have done their best to defend him.
And of them we must say that they have shown them- selves lamentably wanting in that generous jealousy for the fame of a great antagonist, which ought to have made them• anxious to discountenance from the first Mr. Layard's policy in aiding the Press to write down Mr. Gladstone, and dis- posed, before- shielding Mr. Layard from his assailants among the Opposition, to let him feel the weight of their own dis- approbation. Had there been a right feeling in the Press and party opposed to Mr. Gladstone, the false and unworthy
accusation brought by the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph on anonymous authority would never have appeared, or when it .did appear, it would have been greeted with cold dis- couragement, instead of undignified delight, by the Tory party. Had there been a due feeling in the Government itself of the unworthiness and meanness of this reckless casting of mud -at their political opponents, Lord Derby would, on the first intelli- gence of what had happened, have expressed to Mr. Layard serious dissatisfaction at the coursewhich Mr. Layard had pursued, and his wish to see his regret publicly and frankly expressed. Had either the Tory Press, the Tory party, or the Tory Government of the country acted in this way, the motion of Tuesday night would never have been made, or if made, would have been discountenanced by all men of any weight on both sides of the House. It was the discreditable eagerness of the pro-Turkish Press and of the Tory party to avail itself of the lightest excuse for running down Mr. Gladstone, and the cold indifference of the Government to the part taken by its own servant in that discreditable proceeding, which forced Members of the Opposition, who would otherwise have deprecated before everything the choice of such a moment for such a motion, to vote with Mr. Ashley.
And indeed, there has been no characteristic of political life in the last ten years more striking and more unpleasant than the unscrupulous rancour with which the person of Mr. Gladstone has been treated, first, in the journals which more especially profess to represent culture and to favour the aristo- cratic principle of Government ; next, in the journal which for many years lavished on Mr. Gladstone a praise as fulsome as its recent attacks upon him have been dishonest.; then on the Tory Benches of the House of Commons, where men like Mr. Chaplin have been uproariously cheered for a kind and manner of invective which can only be called a feeble and vulgar imitation of Mr. Disraeli's philippics against the late Sir Robert Peel,—themselves an unworthy, though a brilliant novelty in English political life,—and lastly, as a natural consequence, on the heated platforms and in the rowdy meet- ings of the mobs who began with abuse and ended with brick- bats. No wonder that the Tory Government,—which, as we gladly admit, has never in any degree followed the lead thus pressed upon it,—has yet shrunk back from its obvious duty of rebuking and checking those who, like Mr. Layard, have fol- lowed that lead, and has not had the moral courage to con- demn sharply and indignantly in its supporters a kind of tactics which have, on the whole, proved so discreditably popular and so unexpectedly successful. But the course of the Government, though it can hardly be regarded with surprise, has certainly been somewhat ignoble. It is the last policy suit- able to Conservatives, properly so called, to encourage even tacitly those who bring the public fame and standing of the leading statesmen of England into disrepute by vulgar tricks and calumnious rumours. If there is one habit more than another which is likely to break down the greatness of the Empire, and to substitute a rope of sand for the unity of the strongest Executive in the world, it is the American habit of cheapening great statesmen by making political capital out of scurrilous gossip. If Lord Derby had had even as much Con- servative instinct as an average Liberal, he would have let Mr. Layard feel at once that his want of honourable eagerness to express public regret for the storm of false accusations which he had set in motion, was an omission which it is the first duty of a Conservative Administration 'to condemn. Liberals, we are happy to see, feel this a great deal more keenly concerning Lord Beaconsfield than Tories do about Mr. Gladstone. There have been oppor- tunities,—we must not be understood to mean justifications,— and far more tempting opportunities, if moral tarring were ever tempting at all to men of any public spirit,—for danger- ous personal attacks on Lord Beaconsfield, than that of which Mr. Layard led the Daily Telegraph to avail itself against Mr. Gladstone, opportunities ignored or rejected simply because the tact and good feeling of the Liberal party discouraged this unworthy eagerness to pick holes in the per- sonal character of men who cannot but represent the Queen and the country, and by whose loss in moral position, if it could be ensured, the Crown and the country would lose far more than any party could gain. This has been the strong popular feeling on the Liberal side, and that it has not been the strong popular feeling on the Conservative side is due, we fear, to the persistent bad example set for years by those journals which have at once embodied the highest culture and the most petty spites of a cultivated and spiteful. age. But Lord Derby at least ought to have had clearsightedness enough, and courage enough, to recognise how fatal it will ulti- mately be to the Conservative cause for any Conservative Govern- ment to pass over signs of a similarly deteriorated morale in its most trusted officials. It was very hard, we admit, for Sir Stafford Northcote on Tuesday night to blame with becoming severity what Mr. Layard's chief had thought it not unbecom- ing to pass over without remark. But there was no excuse for Lord Derby's earlier remissness. He might have spoken in a tone which would at the same time have stopped the mouths of Liberal censors, and gained great weight and influence for the Government. Mr. Layard had shown a discreditable indifference to the calumnies which, whatever exaggerations they may have received from other sources, he unquestionably set in motion. He confessed to his chief that he had set them in motion. And the letter confessing this was itself a very discreditable one, showing every disposition. to set off against an admission he felt to be damaging to himself, a suggestion of new charges which proved to be as untrue as the old ones, but the truth of which he evidently hoped to elicit, and regarded as exculpatory of his own animosity. Lord Derby was unjust tc himself, unjust to his colleagues, and unjust to his country when he failed to reply to this letter in a tone of rebuke which must have discouraged this unworthy indifference of public men to the fame of our greatest English statesmen, have gained a new prestige for his own Administration, and have silenced for ever on this head the mouths of the Opposition. It was a great fault,—an unfortunate evidence of Lord Derby's want of proper sensitiveness on matters of this kind,—that he omitted to do this, and so compelled the Liberals to bring on the debate of Tuesday night.