OPENNESS A WHIG VIRTUE.
SOME governments have been characterized in history by epithets derived from an accident of constitution or position ; others have been designated by their vices ; very few by their virtues. It is not difficult to anticipate by what virtue the present Administration of Great Britain will be characterized ; they will be called "the Open Ministry." Not that the adjective will be applied in its depreciating sense, because the Ministry happens to have been open to very strange fellows—though "misery makes one acquainted with strange bedfellows." Nor is that sort of openness meant in which Lord ALTHORP put his trust, and on account of which he obtained all the trust which others put in him—except the colleagues by whom he was rusticated ; " Aperto crede Roberto" being honest Lord Aernoer's constant objurgation and rule of conduct, until the Cabinet to which he belonged became as open as a potato-warehouse. Neither is Lord Mzenomuse's open- ness, when he declared that all the members of his Government, except himself, were engaged in the maddest project that ever entered the brain of man, a fair specimen of the Whig virtue. These, however, were faint indications of the future greatness, which, under a more exact discipline, has grown to be the leading principle of their policy, and without which they could not exist. The principle thus elicited was finally developed in its mature shape of "Open Questions." Having once attained this stage, there was no end to the newly- invented virtue of the Whigs ; for it was found to be of wonderful avail. No storm could blow them down, since the gust passed harmless between their divided ranks, like the torrent through a sluice. Not a Liuswarre nor a PEEL could bowl them out, for they played with their stumps as wide apart as the field's breadth. The ballot was as useless to throw at them as round-shot fired to bring down a flock of geese ; the enormous Corn-laws slipped between, without grazing the skin of one sham Repealer. The good effects of the new kind of openness became apparent in the neutralizing of every influence : nothing could push the Ministry, for every thing went through. It was, in the cant phrase "open to all parties, influenced by none." Every question seemed to be getting on, but it was all like walking on quicksand. The highest good, however, was found in the application of the principle, in a yet wider sense, to the foreign policy of the Cabinet : and right heartily was it so applied. With unparalleled address and industry the present Government have contrived to make and to keep almost every foreign question of their day an open question. To enumerate some of them. There is the Boundary question—the notable North-eastern boundary between Maine and New Brunswick; a very open question, with small prospect of being closed. Once, indeed, it seemed done for, with the King of Holland's award; but the Foreign Minister cunningly hinted away his own success, and the Americans were willing tools. Then there is the Boundary question regarding the Lake of the Woods; as little likely to be closed for the next century, if the great Open-Question Foreign Secretary last so long, as the third Boundary question, in the basin of the Columbia—and that is as open as a prairie. Again, there is the Boundary question in British Guiana, open on three sides : Mr. SCHOMBURGK is going out to survey it, preparatory to several large Blue Books, chiefly written by Mr. BACKHOUSE, and moved for in the House of Commons by Lord PALMERSTON. Jumping to the other side of the globe, all India is surrounded by open questions—Afghanistan, Cabel, the Punjab, Nepal, with shoals of minor open questions to fill up the gaps. There is not much fear of all these being closed prematurely. To come nearer home, there is the open question of Circassia, and the little open question of the Vixen—both ready for use when wanted. Then, passing for the present the glorious open question of Egypt, there
is the unclosed Sulphur question, which a mixed commission have just succeeded in opening afresh—using an impracticable umpire by way of wedge. Next, there is the pretty little open question of the Douro ; which the Foreign Office has within these few days contrived to appropriate to itself. And next door to us there is the newly-opening question of the Paris fortifications ; which pro- mises to furnish a world of convenient trouble.
But the most curious and instructive application of the principle is its introduction into naval tactics. The first instance of the kind, if we may trust rumour, is in the China question. It was a crown to that huge open question, when the principle was carried into the composition of the very power which was charged with effect- ing a settlement : Captain ELLIOT, an able and practised hand at
keeping questions open, is associated with Admiral ELLIOT ; and is said to mitigate the military ardour of the naval commander by
urging conciliatory measures—conciliating the Celestials, just as his masters at home conciliate the Tories—mixing cannon and con- ciliation, just as Corn-law repeal and Corn-law support are mixed in the Cabinet. A very pretty application of "the balance of power." But a nearer and more notable instance of the new discovery in statecraft is seen in the present stage of the Eastern question. A settlement has once or twice seemed imminent ; but surpassing
luck or surpassing skill has hitherto staved it off. When M. THIERS—who, catching inspiration from his grillit antagonist in
Downing Street, so long kept up the two juggling-balls of war and no-war with admirable effect—was driven from his post, and the plainer statesmanship of M. Guizor substituted for the other's cunning, a settlement seemed inevitable. And the slashing
NAPIER actually signed a convention. That great open question at length was settled ? No such thing : the good genius of Open Questions did not desert the Foreign Minister. What one officer did, another undid ; and the settlement of NAPIER was kicked aside by STOPFORD : there was an open question in the fleet ; Admiral STOPFORD'S vote did not depend upon Commodore NAPIER'S, and so the two colleagues paired off. But Admiral Sroiseoan has settled the question ? Why, so had NAPIER. Here is then no need for despair yet. Could not some- body pick a hole in STOPFORD'S convention ? Was he not, for
instance, desired to send a "competent" officer to negotiate with the Pasha ; and did he not send the author of the "hasty and un- authorized convention"? or could not some yet more available flaw
be discovered in his procedure ? Besides, who knows how obsti- nate the Sultan may prove about the deposal of MEHEMET Au? He has already repudiated NAPIER'S convention, with which STOP'.
risen's, according to the Ministerial papers, is substantially the same. And moreover, is not our dearest ally, Russia, making ad-
vances to France; and may not that be turned to some account, by helping to bring about a new rupture among the European Powers ? Never trust Lord PALMERSTON if this pet open question be closed in a hurry.
It need not be pointed out, that the application of the Open Question principle in this manner to Foreign policy possesses advantages which even that great principle cannot realize at home. For instance, if the progress of the Ballot question be stopped by making it open, still there is entailed upon the Ministry a vast amount of irksome and hazardous labour, in rebutting or parrying all the importunities and reproaches consequent upon their coquettish policy. On the contrary, in the Foreign use of the principle there is no such drawback : the very object is to make trouble, which falls chiefly upon other shoulders ; while the "department" is placed in a prominent position, which it never could occupy in a more settled state of affairs. By keeping every thing in doubt and debate, and always holding forth the power of
Britain without decisively using it on any one side—there is a talk now, for example, of taking MEHEMET Am's part against his
recusant master—the statesman who sets all Europe canvassing his quibbles instead of acting, becomes the arbiter of the world. Settle every question that is now open, and the Foreign Minister sinks into as insignificant a part as the village apothecary whose best patients are cured. There is no fear of that disgrace for the present Minister : the brightest ornament of the Open Ministry, he will not readily be deprived of all the open questions with which be is armed. The world is his arsenal, and he will leave ample stores for his successors.
Nothing mortal is perfect. All the members of the Cabinet are not equally skilful, nor indeed equally assiduous, in carrying out the grand discovery. The Secretary of State for the Colonies has been to blame on more than one occasion, and his blameableness seems rather on the increase than otherwise. He has evinced a proneness to close up a few great open questions, which to some of his colleagues would have been inexhaustibly valuable. The past year has exhibited a series of grave mistakes ; to such an ex- tent, that Lord JOHN must seriously have reduced the obstacular resources of his office. It is to be hoped that future years may not exhibit such a falling-off. Upon the whole, however, the Whigs will bequeath a noble legacy to future officials, in their new version of the maxim " Di- vide and rule"—this new sort of honesty and perfect openness