TOPICS OF THE DAY.
LORD DERBY AND MR. DISRAELI ON THE BULGARIAN ATROCITIES.
1 T is a pity that Lord Derby should be so unwilling ever to I put a weight simply into one scale, without putting a counterpoise into the opposite scale. His speech in answer to the deputation introduced by Mr. Bright, yesterday week, was as good as it could be, but evidently he would have been reluctant to leave that speech to produce its natural effect, without taking some pains to undo at least a good part of what it did, by making a speech of a very different kind and drift later in the day to another deputation. This is Lord Derby's favourite policy. If he goes with you a mile, he takes care to retrace the mile with somebody else who takes a very opposite view, lest he should seem really to have laid down what would advantage one party rather than the other. So far as Lord Derby has pledged England to the policy of neutrality, —and no doubt, that is the most important practical point,— he takes nothing back. But so far as he had intimated in his first speech that " suicide or sadden death " was the calamity which might possibly be threatening Turkey, and against which England had no intention of guaranteeing her,—so far Lord Derby did take back as much as he possibly could, in the second speech, delivered to the deputation charged with the memorial signed by Earl Russell. In fact, while on the point of practical neutrality Lord Derby is perfectly firm, he is evidently resolved not to say a word which can be construed as unfavourable to. Turkey, without saying some word of oppo- site effect which shall take all the pith out of the first word. Doubtless Lord Derby expressly guarded himself, even in his reply to the first deputation, against being understood to admit that "the Turkish Empire was in a state of decay from internal causes ;" but still the effect of the latter part of his speech was certainly to impress his hearers with the belief that he regarded that as at least a very plausible account of the political phenomena we had to deal with. But evidently Lord Derby had a little frightened himself with the boldness of even so very hypothetical an admission. And in replying to the deputation which took up to him the memorial signed by Earl Russell, he was careful to say something of a precisely opposite tendency. For he suggested, in reply to them, first, that our regime in India suggests the feasibility of governing Mahommedans and those who are adherents of a very different creed, impartially ; and secondly, that the growing tolerance of Christian Governments towards the Jews since the middle- ages should teach us to question the strong assertion that a Mahommedan Government could not really become tolerant. Now, if these two remarks were not mere remarks in the air, without any conceivable application to the present crisis, they were clearly intended to suggest, first, that it was conceivable that Turkey might establish a regime at least approaching in impartiality, as regards Christians and Mahommedans, to our regime in India as regards Hindoos and Mahommedans, and that Mahommedanism might gain as much in tolerance in some very limited period of time (say, within two or three years) as Christian Governments have gained towards the Jews within two or three hundred years. The tendency of these suggestions is, to say the truth, so completely romantic, so utterly without fruitful drift on the present crisis, that we can only interpret them, and the remainder of Lord Derby's speech on the same occasion, in one way, namely,—that he wanted to counterbalance any rather anti-Turkish effect of his previous speech by making safe abstract remarks of a pro-Turkish ten- dency. Of course, no one in his senses would commit himself to a forecast of what Mahommedanism or any other religion might or might not become, through the modifying influences of a few centuries of historical experience. But statesmen are usually supposed to speak with relation not to the remote possibilities of causes which may take effect on generations still unborn, but to the influences which promise speedy and practical results. And speaking with relation to such results, anything more entirely out of the question than a Government by Commanders of the Faithful which should approach in any degree to being as fair to Christians as our Government in India is to Mahommedans, or an improve- ment in the tolerance of the Mahommedan Government approaching to the improvement which has taken place within the last three centuries in regard to Jews among the Christian Governments of Europe, can hardly be presented to the mind of the politician. Lord Derby might, with even less violence to the probabilities of the case, have considered the chance that the Government of India should, within a few years, degenerate into a rule as bad as the rule of the Turk in Europe, or that the Government of England should again decree the expulsion of the Jews, as flash these wild dreams before the eyes of politicians who go to talk to him of the actual situation, and the duty of England in connection with it. It is a mere imaginative coining of fairy money, to throw into the balance against solid coin of the realm. Lord Derby is so afraid to seem to favour the Christian rebels, that he invents dreamy apologies for the Turk, which have just as much to do with the actual condition of Eastern affairs as a lark-pie conditional on the falling of the sky has to do with any one's bill of fare for his dinner to-day.
And it is just the same when we come to Lord Derby's and Mr. Disraeli's mode of dealing with the Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria. All that we get from them is hints of modes in which some sort of palliation may be found for the Turkish atrocities, instead of any denial of the facts. Lord Derby says that it is not a case of wolves and lambs, but of one savage race pitted against another. Yet, as far as we know, that is just what is not true as regards the pacific and industrious Bulgarians, though it may be true of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian Christian mountaineers, who, if not as savage as the Mahommedans to whom they are opposed, are at least quite equal to giving cold steel for powder. Then, again, Lord Derby says, what is no doubt very likely, that the accounts we hear are exaggerated. Let that be granted. Let us assume only as much as the Government's own official agents vouch for, and the case is quite strong enough. No consul or ambassador of ours can question what sort of information the Government wish to get, who has read Mr. Disraeli's various statements on the subject in Parliament. It is impossible to convey more distinctly the wish of the Government to hear of all circum- stances tending to palliate the conduct of the Turks, and tending to magnify the provocations which had been offered to the Turks by the Bulgarians. Yet, knowing as we do how this impression will even unconsciously and involuntarily warp the minds of officials, so as to make them reject hastily much which is possibly true, and attenuate the force of what is certainly true, and assuming that nothing more can be proved than what they admit, there is yet more than enough admitted to make it monstrous that the moral influence of England should be lent in any degree to a cause so iniquitous as that of the Turkish rule in Bulgaria. Let us compare Mr. Disraeli's pleas on Monday night with the admis- sions of the diplomatic authorities he cited. First, he gave a history of the settlement of the Circassians in Bulgaria, intended to excite our sympathies with them. Then he showed that, according to the authorities on the spot, the first provocation had come from the side of the insurgents. Then he suggested that, by way of retaliation, the Circassians had " taken matters into their own hands,"—which suggests, of course, that the Turkish Government was not responsible for what was done. But how far does this interpolated suggestion of Mr. Disraeli's obtain any sanction from Sir Henry Elliot's despatch I Why, none at all. Sir Henry Elliot's lan- guage, as quoted by himself, is explicit to the contrary. On the 16th of June Sir Henry Elliot wrote that the accounts of atrocities were doubtless greatly exaggerated, but that " the employment of Circassians and Bashi-Bazouks has led to atrocities, which might be expected." Of course, Sir Henry Elliot means employment by the Government. Then, on the 6th of July, Sir Henry Elliot writes still more expressly that " the excesses committed in the suppression of the insurrection" have "unquestionably been very great, as was inevitable from the nature of the force which the Porte was, in the first emer- gency, obliged to employ." Whether the Porte was really obliged to employ irregulars so ferocious and brutal may be reasonably questioned. But Sir Henry Elliot could not more plainly traverse Mr. Disraeli's suggestion that these Circassians had taken the matter into "their own hands," and that they had no sanction from the Government. Again, on the 14th July, the same Ambassador says that when "the Circassians and Bashi-Bazouks were called out, they indulged in every kind of misconduct, killing and outraging numbers of innocent persons." No testimony could be more explicit or more fatal to Mr. Disraeli's hypothetical apology. Then as to the extent of the atrocities, we have seen that Lord Derby suggests that the atrocities of both sides are, to some extent at least, on an equality. Now here, again, what does Sir Henry Elliot say,—and say, remember, well knowing the bias of the Prime Minister I In the same despatch of July 6 he writes :—" I am unable to say more than that I am satisfied that while great atrocities have been committed, both by Turks upon Christians and by Christians upon Turks, the former have been by far the greatest, although the Christians were undoubtedly the first to commence them." Again, " Bulgarian children have certainly been sold, but I cannot find that there has been anything like a regular traffic." Once more Sir Henry Elliot admits explicitly that not only have the irregular troops, Bashi-Bazouks and Circassians, been guilty of great excesses, but that in several cases even the regular troops have been guilty of great excess also :—" however, appears from other sources that the regular troops have, at other times, been guilty of great excess also." Lastly, since these reports were issued, the Government of the Porte have admitted the atrocities, and their responsibility for them, by appointing a Commissioner to go down into Bulgaria, with full power to stop them and punish those who have committed them. It will be observed, then, that though exaggeration is imputed to the accounts, it is Officially admitted that gross barbarities have been practised, that innocent persons have been killed and outraged in considerable numbers, that Bul- garian girls have been sold in open market, that the irregular troops who committed the worst of these atrocities were "called out" by the Turkish Government, and that even the regulartroops also have been guilty of "great excess." That is the whole case, established out of the mouth of the very officials to whom Mr:Disraeli appeals to show that things are not nearly so bad as they seem. Mr. Disraeli's own witnesses confirm the tale of the Times and the Daily News in so many important par- ticulars, that it is not creditable to the Government still to per- severe in that attitude of impartial incredulity as to the enormity of the diabolic deeds in Bulgaria which pervades Mr. Disraeli's speech, and Lord Derby's reply to the second deputation of the 14th of July. The Bulgarian massacres have betrayed the policy of the Turks. They hoped to silence by violence of a furious and fearful kind the one industrious, passive, and patient race which is to be found amongst their subject Christian populations, and now, at last, when the remonstrances of Europe are compelling them to repudiate so fiendish a policy, our Govern- ment is inventing excuses for them, and trying to palliate their guilt. If the barbarities had been limited to putting armed men to death, that might be excusable. But marked as they have been by frightful cruelties to inoffensive and unarmed peasants, as well as women and children, they disgrace the Mahommedan Government which authorised them, and, though in a less degree of course, the Christian Government which tries to attenuate their guilt, and makes as light as possible of the sufferings which they have involved.