THE ENGLISH PRESS AND 111E FRENCH PRESIDENT. THREE great Lords,
not to speak of little ones, have in the High Court of Parliament, under our most gracious Queen at this time assembled, thought themselves called upon to arraign the conduct of the English Press towards the President of the late French Re- public, and to deprecate the evil consequences that might thence ensue. Obvious reasons suggest themselves why Lord John Russell, Earl Grey, and the Earl of Derby, should be anxious to make out to their own satisfaction and that of others, that the English press does not represent the sentiments and opinions of the English nation. The estimate these Lords put upon themselves by no means corresponds with that put upon them by the press ; and could they lay so flattering an unction to their souls as that the nation approximates to their own estimate of themselves rather than that of the press, they would gain a point dearer to them even than disarming the wrath of Prince Louis Napoleon, of which they seem to stand in uncomfortable alarm, and provide them- selves with a reason for not listening to the reproaches and moni- tions of that power which will not let them misgovern without protest and obstruction. Whether they are really likely to know the feelings and opinions of the people of England better than the host of men who have written in the public journals upon this subject, depends upon the previous question, whether England is contained in Woburn Abbey, Howick Castle, and some score lordly mansions, or whether, as is popularly supposed, it spreads out uniformly between John o'Groat's House andLand's End, and speaks its mind in the countinghouses, the parlours, the streets, wherever man meets man, as well as in the salons where " fine gentleman " is the sole specimen of the genus " homo" allowed the entrée. Till cause shown, we hold that at any rate the journalists, mingling familiarly with all classes, have a better chance of understanding the opinions and sympathies of the country than the noble Lords who are at home only within the charmed circle of rank and fashion.
But Lord Derby uttered an incontrovertible truth when he said that if journalists aimed at exercising the influence of statesmen, they were bound to submit to the responsibility of statesmen, and to temper their expression of opinions with discretion and regard to circumstances.* Certainly, no man will exercise a power wisely or well who owns no responsibility ; and misused power—thanks to the constitution of human nature and the laws that regulate so- ciety—is not of long endurance. The journalist will therefore, from honesty and a sense of his own interest, endeavour to realize his responsibility. The sentiment can scarcely be dis- puted ; but, like all such sentiments, its practical value depends upon its application. The press is undoubtedly re- sponsible, first to public opinion, and then to that on which public opinion permanently rests—truth, justice, and national in- terests. To which responsibility has the press been unfaithful in this case ? Not to public opinion, unless all its usual indications are to be distrusted, and among them not least the remarkable unanimity of journals of all shades of political sentiment,—unless the "base exception " proves the rule, m a sense very contrary to the usual meaning of that venerable proverb. Not surely to truth and justice ? when the only crime alleged is that of calling acts by their right names ; a practice which has the authority of a book generally held as safe a practical guide for an honest man's steps as even a court guide or a diplomatist's vade mecum. True, the tone of "good so- ciety" is neither to admire, to be indignant, nor to be astonished; and "good-society " dines and dances at the Tuileries, and makes no sign of consciousness that there is anything monstrous in either its host's antecedents or its own conduct. But this tone is just the distinction of "good society," and cannot, as we know, be caught by low people who write in newspapers.
a The Times has already shown that there is more of contrast than re- semblance between "the press" and "statesmanship," in functions, powers, sphere of operation, duties, habits, rewards. But we accept Lord Derby's sneer, as his Lordship's substitute for a wise saying ; and join issue with him upon the facts.
But it may be urged that national interests have not been con- sulted by the English press in speaking their minds on this mat- ter. The French people, it is said, has accepted the coup d'etat with its consequences : seven millions of votes have sanctioned all that M. Bonaparte has done or may do ; and England has no right to dictate or to censure, but may by so doing provoke the hostility of an exasperated and jealous people. We should be sorry to think so meanly of either theuatellect or theheart of the Frenchnation as to imagine that they could mistake the pity and the sympathy so warm- ly expressed in England, for dictation or presumptuous interference. It is on the very ground of the dictation which has been exercised to- wards them that the indignation of the English press has been so loud. For who is so senseless or so dishonest as to assert or believe that the French nation had really a choice whether they would accept M. Bonaparte and his crime or not? The robber knocks down his victim, and, kneeling upon his breast, demands money or life. Is that a free choice ? And does the hapless traveller complain that his dignity is insulted, and his right of free action interfered with, because society at large insists that he has been robbed, and that the man to whom he surrendered his purse is a scoundrel ? It is pitiful to hear " great " statesmen so paltering with facts and so studious of phrases ; and some comfort, under official and noble disapprobation, for the public writers of England to know that the literary and political men of eminence banished from France, or compelled to silence, have derived hope and con- solation from the different tone adopted here by the press. Nor, when brighter days dawn on France, and their natural leaders are restored to the French people, will it be a con temptible source of pride to English journalists, that they have secured the lasting gratitude of the men of genius and of expe- rience and of permanent power in that nation, and so have laid the foundations of an amity and cordial good understanding of more real value towards preserving peace than any hollow diplo- matic courtesies or any base reticences towards successful crime or even popular infatuation. For, happily, when a people errs or is misled, the consequences are so inevitable that repentance comes quickly, and with repentance comes respect for those who have with manliness and sympathy told them of their infatuation, and contempt and hatred for those who have cried peace when there was no peace.
There remains to deal with one base argument which an English nobleman ought to have blushed even to have conceived in his official bosom, and which an English Parliament ought to have drowned in indignant reclamations : Lord John Russell did not blush to urge that the press should have been silent lest the Usurper should be enraged and turn and rend us ! Why, had not truth and justice and political sentiment bidden us speak out, the mere consciousness of the effete Government with which England is burdened, as Sinbad with the Old Man of the Sea, would have compelled the journals to give vent to their distrust, and so stimulate the Ministry to take those precautions which official hypocrisy allows to be prudent, though it disclaims any feeling of their increased necessity. Does any one believe that, had the press been silent, the officials would have stirred ? Does any one believe that even now, unless they are vigilantly watched, they will do anything beyond asking for increased estimates ? The very utterance of such a sentiment by the Prime Minister proves the necessity for the plain speaking of the press ; for it proves that the savage resentment of an irritated usurper fills the Prime Minister with more apprehension than the resolute and prepared alacrity of his own nation inspires him with hope. It is to be feared that the tone taken by the leading statesmen of England in Tuesday's de- bate will do more to excite the contempt of M. Bonaparte than the English journalists can have done to excite his hatred.