19 MAY 1866, Page 8


THE question before Admiral Denman at Valparaiso was rather a moral than a political one, and a more difficult question was probably never raised. It is not necessary to the matter to talk the sentimental nonsense into which we regret to say a majority of English journals appear to have been betrayed by their just indignation. Granting that Spain was at war with Chili, and that she had just cause of war, an assertion never yet either proved or disproved to the satis- faction of any reasonable bystander, the facts remained the same. The Spanish Admiral proposed, as a measure of yen- geaned, to destroy a very rich and very defenceless town, a place which though nominally Chilian was really a bonded warehouse of vast extent, maintained by the maritime States for the convenience of trade with one portion of South America. It was certain that such destruction was in practice, though not in form, an outrage on civilization, would cer- tainly cause a great loss of property, probably a great slaughter of human beings, and would- in no degree tend to accelerate the submission of Chili. The property threatened was not • Chilian, the lives threatened were of no exceptional value to Chili. The property was British, American, and French ; the lives, a few porters excepted, were those of strangers ; Val- paraiso has not even that imaginative importance which always attaches to a capital,—which attached, for example, to Naples when Naples was the centre of the dominion of the Two Sicilies. The city is a mere port, a very rich port, for Chili, but bearing no more relation to her organization than Liverpool, Bristol, or Glasgow bears to that of Great Britain. The destruction was an act of spite, not war, and it was possible for the British Admiral to prevent it. Mr. Layard professed to doubt this, but Mr. Layard would say anything which seemed an effective argument, and we confess we have upon this point scarcely any doubt. A great many wild assertions were made in the debate, but the despatch of the American Commodore has been published, and he affirms distinctly that had Admiral Denman consented to aid him, they would have decided to lay their ships between the Spanish Admiral and the town. If they had been laid, we do not believe a single shot would have been fired. Spain might have declared war. Spain might have appealed to Europe against maritime tyranny after a fashion which would have been diplomatically most unpleasant. But there is no Admiral of -any State, or combination of States, who, without orders specifically addressed to that special con- tingency, would fire into a combined English and American squadron, for this very simple reason. There is on earth no State, and no possible combination of States, whose marine would be in existence three months after the Anglo-Saxon Federation had resolved that it should cease to exist. The alliance of England and America is the one alliance which the maritime world is incompetent to resist, and we do not believe, let Mr. Layard make any assertions he pleases, that the Spanish Admiral, specially chosen because he is not a monomaniac, would have run a risk so unspeakably great for a gratification so infinitesimal. He says the Spaniards could have destroyed the combined squadrons. Grant it, though Commodore Rodgers distinctly refutes him, and how many days would have elapsed ere San Francisco would have witnessed the sale of the Spanish fleet by auction to the highest bidder, the purchaser obtaining a, title which earth combined could not have inter- fered with? Admiral Denman knew well that he could prevent a terrible outrage against civilization by a mere consent, and had to overcome temptations of all others the most effective with a British Admiral. It would have been a proud moment for him, a moment such as rarely occurs in a man's life, when his flag rose between an armed fleet and its victims, a power- less barrier through which no power on earth dare break, when his bare fiat could protect a State, when his risk of his own commission could preserve a great community with which he was personally acquainted from the horrors of the worst form of war.

Admiral Denman resisted those temptations, and, to our minds, showed more true daring and generosity than if he had run in a half-armed vessel between the shells and Val- paraiso. There is one danger greater even than a failure in the national spirit, and that is a failure in the national sense of discipline ; one evil worse than torpidity, and that is a tendency to anarchy. Admiral Denman had his orders, clear and peremptory, and had Valparaiso been Liverpool, a British port filled with British inhabitants, his peremptory moral duty was to obey those orders. There is no suffering possible in any isolated case comparable with the suffering which must arise if British Generals and Admirals, wielding, as they do, the tremendous power of the Empire, or, to speak literally, capable, as they are, of committing the power of that Empire to a special line of action, were to act upon their own dis- cretion. The world would never be at peace, England never without war, statesmanship a pretence, policy a phrase. We are all very peaceful of course, teste Mr. Layard and the Star, and all guided by abstract reason and the eternal justice of things,. but we just ask any sane Englishman how long, supposing Admiral Denman to have been sunk, righteously or un- righteously, the Ministry which did not avenge him would. continue to exist ? Every British officer, if he only commani a lorcha with the British flag at the mast-head, is clothe 1, wisely or unwisely has nothing to do with the question, -with the power of the British people, and is therefore in the right when he refuses to act without the national consent expressed through his general or explicit instructions. In this case, Admiral Denman had the latter, and the sole basis for argu- ment therefore is whether the Government were right in issuing them. His honour is not in question, or the flag, or the position of Great Britain, nothing except the wisdom of the Cabinet. On the whole, they were, we think, though we think it with some bitterness, wise. Kagosima, though the Japanese business was not so bad, the Straits being splendidly defended, lies too heavy on our souls to allow Englishmen to use the moral argument. If we had a right to burn a mighty city in order to compel its feudal lord to let us make a profit out of his subjects, Spain had a right to burn Valparaiso to compel its legal owners to make atonement to her offended pride. As for expediency, the only expediency was quies- cence. Spain, had we fired a shot, must have declared war, and we have no earthly interest in making war on Spain. Spain has not attacked us. There is nothing_ to get, not even honour. We do not want Cuba ; we can buy the Philippines, should we ever decide on an aggressive policy in China, at a week's notice, and have absolutely no reason, just or unjust, for wishing the destruction of the Spanish fleet. Nobody knows what view Napoleon would have taken of the transaction, what concessions Spain might have made for his aid, how; we might have been hampered by American aggran- dizement in the West Indies, how soon our support of Chili might have transformed itself into a joint protectorate with Mr. Johnson of South America. If we are to risk any of those things, it must be in pursuance of a policy, and failing such policy, the only course to pursue was to order the local repre- sentative to maintain a neutrality not to be shaken at all events by any danger to property. Life Admiral Denman did protect. He stretched his orders, with generous temerity, so far as to inform the Spanish Admiral that there must be no sudden bombardment, no wanton destruction of human life, and of course the Spanish Admiral yielded, as he would have done had the prohibition been complete. Time was granted for the people to remove, and for British property to be carried away, if its owners chose. They did not choose, and their refusal, wild as it seems to London insurers, is, we confess, to us perfectly intelligible. " Worthy merchants on 'Change fail very often to comprehend the almost inconceivable haughtiness of the Anglo-Saxon abroad. Fire into British and American store- houses, with British and American ships lying in the harbour !— the threat was simply inconceivable, and the merchants did not remove their goods. Somehow or other, after the diplomacy was all done, a British or American cockle-shell of some sort would steam across the line of fire, and the fire of course would not come, as happened only a year ago at Callao. A British merchant is not going to bear the expense of porterage to remove goods, and the humiliation of being ordered to do it, while there is a British gunboat in sight,—a very imprudent feeling, only we have assumed the control of half the maritime cities of the world that way, and no other. So the property was destroyed, and a dozen firms in London are wondering how they can make up the loss in less than twelve months, and the member for Southwark is called upon to explain this "horrible destruction of property," not, be it observed, this "lamentable destruction "—we keep that word for the loss of inferior things, such as human lives. The burning of cocoa is horrible, of Japanese regrettable. Of course the member for Southwark made a mess of his explanation. He had a clear case, but there is a latent dislike of weakness in Mr. Layard which always betrays him into a certain brutality of expres- sion. He condemned the bombardment of course, having defended that or Kagosima warmly, but then he condemned also the alliance of Chili with Peru, which is as natural and right as that of England with France in the Crimean war, and actually spoke of the capture of the Covadonga as if it had been an insolence, expecting the Chilians apparently to avoid taking Spanish ships lest they should give offence to Spain. There was gross want of taste, too, and something more than taste, in so brutally giving the lie to a body of English mer- chants, all on the spot, all maddened not only by losses, but by what they deem the dishonour of the flag to protect which they would have borne the losses without a word, and all writing, we have not a doubt, in sincere faith as to their view of facts. A worse explanation was never offered, but we must not allow the defects of an official exponent to blind us to the trim character of the policy he expounds. Admiral Denman obeyed orders in refusing to defend Val- paraiso, and so far as we can judge those orders were wise.