TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE ENGLISH MEDIATION.
TT is fresh proof how idle external criticism on the opportu- nities and conduct of diplomacy generally is, that Lord Granville's offer to mediate at a moment the choice of which astonished all the world, should have been accepted by both the belligerent States, and accepted in a spirit obviously very different from that which prevailed six or seven weeks ago when M. Jules Fevre went to Ferrieres, or even from that which prevailed less than a month ago, when General Burnside attempted to bring the belligerents to an understanding. The truth we take to be that, as re- gards Germany at least, the pressure for peace from home has greatly increased during the last few weeks ; that Count Bismarck has been compelled reluctantly to abandon the hope he cherished to the last moment of making peace with the defeated regime, under circumstances which would give him tangible hopes of seeing that re'giine again accepted by the French nation ; that the gallant resistance of Paris, and the excellent training to which General Trochu is gradually sub- jecting his raw levies, have produced their effect on the Ger- man commanders ; that the odious duty of bombarding Paris caused a certain amount of political dismay in the mind of Count Bismarck, who, much as he dislikes and despises "the gentlemen of the pavement," is far too much of a statesman not to appreciate, as we pointed out last week, how undesirable it is to excite a crusade of Red Republicans against the Prussian dynasty ; and that, in a word, Lord Granville had the means of knowing what only diplomatists can have the means of knowing,—that on the urgent application of the Neutral Powers, Germany would not be sorry to relax the utterly inad- missible terms for an armistice offered to M. Jules Fevre in Sep- tember, and suggested through General Burnside in October. That an armistice has been granted for twenty-five days, includ- ing permission to revictual Paris, and we conclude the other be- sieged towns also, from day to day during its continuance, seems to be now all but officially admitted. These terms are, doubtless, generous to France, especially if, as we conclude, (no preliminary as to the terms of peace having been granted), the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine are also to elect deputies ; but yet they are, in all probability, not less welcome to Ger- many. Hitherto the German career has been one long success, —indeed, a little too long for the families of the Land- wehr,—and it is always well to conclude a war before there is even a shadow of reverse. Moreover, the absence of any French Government which can speak with the authority of the country is a terrible misfortune for Germany as well as France. There would be nothing more vexatious than to find, even if Paris fell, that there were a score of other provincial powers to subdue before there could be any French Govern- ment with which Germany could make peace. It is well to be at once magnanimous and prudent, and this is, perhaps, the last opportunity Germany may have of combining the advantages of those dissimilar virtues. Only diplomatists can possibly know the relenting moods of statesmen. And there can be no reasonable doubt that Lord Granville did not step in at the apparently odd moment selected by him, when Paris was nearly ready to fight and Germany was nearly ready to bombard, and there could be no suspension of hostilities with- out the revictualling of a city containing near two millions of inhabitants, without a very sufficient hint that his mediation was desired.
Nothing could have been better than the manner of Lord Granville's mediation. It not only contrives to be neutral, which is difficult, but it contrives to be sincerely cordial to both belligerents, and to make it evident that what England really wishes is to save them both from very great dangers. He concedes the indisputable military right to bom- bard Paris, and does not even intimate that the English Government would condemn the exercise of this right, if there were real reason to suppose that it would be for the best interests of Germany. He "presumes," in writing to the North-German Power, that the attack on Paris would reduce it before long. He questions, therefore, neither the military right nor the military wisdom of the course on which Germany is embarked. He only questions its political advantages. "There are degrees of exasperation," he says, "and the probability of a great and irreconcilable war must be greatly increased if a generation of Frenchmen behold the spectacle of the destruc- tion of a capital,—.a spectacle associated with the deaths of large numbers of helpless and unarmed persons, and the destruction of treasures of arts, sciences, and historical asso- ciation of inestimable value, and incapable of being replaced. Frightful as such a catastrophe would be to France, and dan- gerous as I believe it would be to the chances of future peace to Europe, Her Majesty's Government believe that to none would it be more painful than to Germany and its rulers." It is impossible to conceive a neutral power pressing modera- tion in more friendly, or respectful, and yet more dignified and weighty terms.
We feel confident, however, that the suggested armistice cannot have been offered by Germany on terms so much more moderate than before, without some further understanding with the mediating Power as to the attitude she was disposed to take in relation to the ultimate terms of peace. An armistice is useful only as a step to peace. It is in- credible that Germany should grant it unless she feels a real hope of getting a satisfactory peace without the odious duty of bombarding and taking Paris. To grant twenty-five days' armistice without such hope is only to lengthen the war by twenty-five days, and to prolong the suspense and weariness with which Germany awaits the return of her men. No doubt, the mere moderation of the step,—the appearance of exhausting all the chances of peace without extreme measures—is some political gain in itself. But that would be too soon forgotten, and exercise too little ultimate effect on popular judgment, to be really worth while, if the chances of peace are not in Count; Bismarck's own estimation substantial. And he must have felt assured, we think, not only that the Constituent Assembly, when elected, will be likely to accept his terms ; but that England at least will be likely to counsel their acceptance, before granting the armistice,—for, of course, in the present situa- tion of France, the urgent advice of a sincerely friendly and neutral power cannot possibly be without its significance and its moment. We do not, therefore, attach much importance to the decidedly unyielding and even bitter tone towards France which runs through Count Bismarck's courteous reply to Lord Granville. The more he intends to con- cede, if he is pressed, the more stern and unyielding probably he thinks it prudent to appear, especially as he is already making a considerable relaxation of his original terms of armistice. That he will let France off without cession of territory at all, we do not believe. The military feeling for Strasburg, and the fanatical popular feeling for Strasburg, both put that out of the question. But it is just possible that he is prepared to grant the Constituent Assembly, at the intercession of England, terms as good as the Empress has assured us he offered to her in the Isle of Wight. And we imagine that this is precisely what the English Government may be prepared to recommend the French Government to accept. Mr. Gladstone, it seems pretty obvious, both from the form of his question to the work- ing-men on which we remarked some weeks ago, as to the injustice of ceding territory against the will of its inhabitants, and from the article in the Edinburgh attributed to him, puts this limitation on the law of conquest—that a sincere popular assent should be required to rectify it. It is well known that in Strasburg there are so many German Pro- testants, that the assent of a majority might be honestly ob- tained for its cession, and perhaps a cession of some small ter- ritorial fringe round it. If this could be obtained, and on con- dition that it should, we should surmise that the British Government would urge France to make this sacrifice for the sake of France ; nor is it perhaps very probable that the Constituent Assembly would refuse to make it. Assum- ing, then, that Count Bismarck, after convincing himself sorely against his will that the Imperial Government cannot be restored with any prospect of commanding the nation's obedience, has made up his mind to concede as much to the government of a Constituent Assembly as he would have con- ceded to the Empress, we think there is great reason to hope that England may be successful in rescuing both the Bellige- rent Powers from the greatest possible dangers, military or political, and may thereby earn for her steady and impartial neutrality, some of that respect and even glory which has hitherto been contemptuously denied to it.
But, of course, there is another side to the picture. It may well be that Count Bismarck is not really in the relent- ing mood,—not really disposed to grant now half as much as he offered to the Empress after Sedan,—for the German organization of Alsace and Lorraine has gone far in the in- terval, Metz is now in his power, and it would be a painful effort for him to give back what he has so peremptorily claimed and so completely made his own. He may be, and we
have great fear that he is, counting on the timidity of the Con- stituent Assembly, and the dismay likely to be caused by the ap- parently impossible task of retaking Metz. He may be, and we have great fears thathe is, prepared to use the English mediation so far as it goes, but to decline altogether limiting himself by Lord Granville's counsels. It seems difficult to conceive that Metz once in his hands, Count Bismarck will ever consent to evacuate and dismantle it. "Not near enough yet" is his family motto. It has been his motto as a statesman. And if he inexorably demands Metz, and Lorraine, and Alsace, as well as Strasburg, it will be quite impossible for the English Government to press compliance while France thinks she has any power to resist. Metz is an incomparably greater threat to Paris than Coblenz in French hands would be to Berlin, as great a threat as a great fortress at Cassel in French hands would be to Berlin. France can only cede it if her force is exhausted. If Count Bismarck is in the mood his despatch superficially indicates, the conclusion of peace is still a very doubtful inference, indeed, from the armis- tice. If he is going to be reasonable, it is highly probable.