[TO TEE EDITOS OF VIZ " SPECTATOR:]
SIR,—I am quite at a loss to understand by what offence of opinion or of tone I can have aroused such rancorous animosity as you display towards me in your last number, which assails me in four distinct places, and almost seems as if your writers could not keep their hands off me ; but I am sure that both the manner and the substance of your onslaught entitle me to claim in your columns space for a reply.
You are as angry with me as if you were the French Minister of the Interior for pronouncing the French to be "thoroughly and hopelessly beaten," and for holding the opinion that it would be far more rational for them to acknowledge their defeat and beg for peace than to prolong a now useless and sanguinary conflict. I can only say this is the natural conclusion from the whole aspect of affairs, it is the conviction of nearly every bystander, and even of the great majority of those Frenchmen themselves who are in a position to know the facts ; and, indeed, it is pretty obviously
your own too. Probably, since the fall of Dietz, even the Spectator has no more doubt than I have on the matter. Of course, some
half-miraculous turn of events, the rise of some great military genius, the advent of some dreadful pestilence, may yet retrieve what seems a desperate case, and show me to have been premature in my conclusions. But why a view—even if mistaken—which I
share with nearly all competent observers, should have drawn down on me such wrath ; still more, why my anxiety to rescue a
gallant though a guilty people from that terrible aggravation of their sufferings and ultimate humiliation which must ensue if the war is prolonged into anarchy and social dissolution, should be imputed to me as a crime, is quite inconceivable.
The Spectator altogether repudiates my representation that the German demand for a cession of territory was founded on the
desire for a securer frontier. He must surely know that, though success and exasperation have no doubt at last aroused a spirit of conquest in the German nation —which the prolonged resistance
encouraged by the Spectator could only aggravate—yet that security was the original and the true plea for a rectification of the boundary line,—a plea urged as earnestly, and on the highest military authority, in 1815 as in 1870. Even now a large portion of the people seek to limit their demands to this. This is the plea urged almost in my words by Mr. Max Muller, whom "F. M." so gently rebukes for saying the same things for which I am ferociously denounced. He defends Bismarck's demands, and lays down as a position which cannot be disputed "that Germany, after her dear-bought victories, has a right to the most ample guarantees for the safety of her south-west frontier." Moreover, notwithstanding the Spectator's peremptory denial, this was the plea urged and relied upon by Count Bismarck in his arguments with M. Jules Fevre. "Strasburg," he said, "is the key of our House, and we must have it." It is very true that he replied to the French Minister (who represented that France was a very lamb which, if not pressed too hard, would have no idea of again making war on Germany), that Ms anticipations were very different, and that he must enter on the renewed conflict he fore- saw with all the advantages he has gained ; but what was that, except the identical plea in rather harsher terms? And surely the Spectator will now be somewhat ashamed of its unjust dogmatism, since it has learned that, instantly after the great victory of Sedan, when it became clear that the campaign was won, and the object of the war virtually achieved, Bismarck offered the Empress-Regent (as the only ostensibly legal depository of authority extant) to make peace there and then, on the condition (most moderate under the circumstances, as even the Spectator will allow) of the cession of Strasburg and a very small slip of adjoining territory, not containing 250,000 people, leaving all Lorraine and the main part of Alsace untouched.
The Spectator is pleased to give high praise to the lucidity of my style, which, after all, is probably only due to sincere convic.
tion and naked, unadorned truth. I might be more gratified by the compliment if I had not observed that controversialists, when baffled by an unanswerable argument, habitually exclaim, "What an admirable faculty you have of making the worse appear the better reason !" But I think the clearness of statement with which I am credited ought to have secured me from misrepresenta- tion. The Spectator charges me with " justifying " the Germans in extorting territorial cessions on the ground that the French intended to do precisely the same thing. Where in any portion of
my letters can be found a sentence warranting such a charge ? I never held such a doctrine, and I never wrote a word that, without unwarrantable distortion, could be wrested to mean it. I said that the protest of Frenchmen, that the demand for territory was a shocking crime, an immorality out of date, a humiliation which could not be endured, was in the mouths of Frenchmen an inadmissible and shameless plea. Does the Spectator not think so ? The Spectator thinks that an enforced transfer of territory would not give Germany security, but the reverse. I had already said that I myself inclined to this view of the quesion, which, however, is an essentially military one, —and military authorities are nearly unanimous against us both. I merely declared, and I maintain the position, that under certain given circumstances—and probably under actual circumstances, the demand for a territorial cession is not necessarily either illegiti- mate or immoral. "Is it not obvious," I asked, "that if a ces- sion of territory is never to be extorted as the penalty to be paid by an aggressive and a conquered nation, no nation can ever be punished for its sins except by a pecuniary mulct ? " Will the Spectator, instead of misrepresenting my argument, endeavour to answer it ? And will it also be kind enough to notice that Mr. Max Muller (whose letters your correspondent "F. M." so favour- ably contrasts with mine) advances precisely the same plea in even stronger language. He writes, "It would be subversive of the car- dinal principles of public right to allow an unprovoked war to be atoned for by a pecuniary fine." France, says the Spectator, is apparently willing to bear any punishment, such as an increase to her debt, which falls on the nation as a whole. Do you really believe, Sir, that an indemnity of £100,000,000, which would be met by an easily raised loan, and which would only increase the annual taxation from seventy to seventy-five millions,—i.e., add just half-a-crown a year to each man's payment,—is an adequate or a fitting punishment for an unprovoked and aggressive war, which has cost Germany tens of thousands of lives and inflicted incalculable losses on Europe in general? Do you really believe that such a scarcely perceptible retribution as that will bring home to the convictions ofFrenchmen the crime of which their nation has been guilty, or make any permanent impression upon their volatile temperament, or make them even so thoroughly realize their defeat as to protectlEurope from an early repetition of the scenes of 1870? Andjif not, in what mode, other than by a loss of territory, would you propose to enforce the much needed conviction?
And now, Sir, having:dealt both with your arguments and your misrepresentations °famine, I think I am entitled to complain of the way in which, in your attack upon me, you have transgressed, not only the recognized courtesies, but the decencies and morali- ties of literary and journalistic:warfare. You have entirely evaded the specific purposes and propositions of the articles you criticize, to indulge in sarcasms and innuendoes on my disposition and cha- racter which, I respectfully submit, are both unjust and irrelevant, and quite unbecoming a journal usually so high in tone and temper as the Spectator. The letters which have so roused your indignation were written simply to enforce two positions, from neither of which can I believe that the Spectator really dissents :— First, that we have as yet had no indication that the French people, as a whole, have abandoned their rooted prepossession that they are a semi-sacred and exceptional race, exempt from the ordinary rules of political justice, the recognized ob- ligations of international morality, and the usual penalties of national crimes ; and that till this notion is exorcized, Europe has no security against a speedy reproduction of past aggressions and pretensions ; —and secondly, that their present rulers are acting a flagrantly immoral and really unpatriotic part in deceiving the people in the way they do, and urging them to resistance, and so leading them to slaughter under false pretences and impressions. You carefully abstain from conveying to your readers the slighted hint that such was the gist of my argument. Instead of doing this, and of controverting these propositions if you could, you declare that, even if my expectations be correct, "my moral bias is at least all wrong, as wrong as it has always boon," on a variety of specified occasions when I have had the
misfortune to differ from the Spectator ;—that "if Germany were not so strong as she is, 'W. R. G.' would have exposed her pleas in his finest antitheses," but that "when it is the vanquished and not the victor who is in question, no exposure of his sophisms can be too severe ;"—that "there can scarcely be a surer test of the- plausible political immorality of a cause than the adhesion of W. R. U.'" Finally, you insinuate that I "prefer a cause which, involves an indirect apology for some spice of slavery, to any other," and you exhort me to desist from "the congenial task of lashing a half-conquered people into new bitterness."
Now, Sir, I think you owe me frank atonement for these unper- missible amenities, and I expect it from your calmer reflection and your fairer feelings. You know me too well (and Lhope esteem me too much) sincerely to believe any one of the harsh things yew
say. You might know that, long since, when the cause of labour versus capital was not in the ascendant, as it now is, and when it had comparatively few defenders, I—then a capitalist—toiled, humbly and inefficiently, no doubt, but still with ardour, to improve and elevate the labourer's position and assert his claims.. You must know that to side with the strong and to lash or triumph over the weak has never been precisely my taste or my vocation,— for you yourself say that I have nearly always been unlucky enough, to espouse the beaten or the losing side. And you might have recognized—for I think I made it clear enough—that what roused my sympathies for the South in the American contest was the- tyrannous and oppressive pretensions of the North ; and that the- distinctly specified reason for my condemnation of the French rulers now, is the scandalous fashion in which they are cheating to. their ruin the unhappy people who trust them, lengthening out- their misery, and dragging them to unprofitable slaughter.
But my own personal mal-treatment is of little moment. What
is of much moment is that a journal like the Spectator, which bears so high a character for earnestness and truthfulness, should, not descend, even for an instant, to the weapons and the tactics. ofmere prejudice and passion ; or should recover itself at once, if in an unguarded hour it has so descended.—I am, Sir, &c.,
W. R. G.
[We can assure "W. R. G." that nothing has been further- from our intention or, we believe, our actual course, than any personal as distinguished from political assault upon him. He is a public man of no little repute ; and both the style and the sub- stance of of his political writings are as much public property as the style and substance of the writing in this journal. Considering. the honest and hearty private esteem with which we regard him,. our perpetual wonder is how so high-minded and able a man can do so much political mischief. He has said his say and we ours, and we need only remark here that the South was not losing but winning, and was the darling cause of London society, when he took. up its cause, and that the campaigns against what we regard as jus- tice to Ireland, which he so ably and bitterly fought, have never- been more popular in the same society than when Mr. Gladstone and his majority were fighting their victorious battle in favour of justice to Ireland. As for the French romancing about victories,. we took no notice of that part of his letter, because we have no sort of belief that the French nation has ever been deceived since. Se Ian, or that the Republican rulers ever tried to deceive it.. That Germany has beaten all along is patent on the soil of France.. The French victories which never took place, but which were for- the moment as thoroughly believed in by the romantic promul- gators of them as by the French public, have done more by far unduly to depress France than to elate her. As far as we can seer, the more thoroughly France understands her beating, the more. determined she is to fight till she can at least save Alsace and. Lorraine. That seems to us, as long as there is real hope, a very noble determination, and we hardly know how to express strongly enough our grave disapprobation of the cruel and brilliant invec- tives of "W. R. G." That Count Bismarck offered far better terms to the Government which invaded Germany than he offered to the Government which disowned and endeavoured to atone for that invasion, seems to us to aggravate the injustice of the German policy with which "W. R. G." seems so much in ED. Spectator.]