TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE notion of redistributing Europe by a conversation among Foreign Secretaries—a notion about as practical as that of putting out a fire by a discussion among savans—has at length been officially abandoned. The Austrian Govern- ment, in a despatch remarkable at once for its pride and its outspokenness, has definitively declined all propositions for an exchange of territory. Austria will not accept a slice of Turkey. She would rather not accept Silesia. She will in fact permit no redistribution whatever, until she has by great successes in the field placed herself in a position to accept and offer con- cessions without dishonour. Then indeed, says Count Mens- dorff, she may consider whether a new province might not be compensation sufficient for an old one, but till then neither the nation nor the army will permit the Kaiser to cede provinces which are his by treaty right. The haughty cynicism of the great old House which has faced and survived so many storms appears in every line of the refusal, and extorts even from those who, like ourselves, hold that no family ever sinned like the Hapsburgs, a reluctant admiration. There is not a word of cant in the whole despatch, not a single complaint of the treatment to which Austria has been subjected, not a sign that the writer quails before the imminence of the danger. Hapsburgs leave querulousness to weaker men, expect aggression from the strong, and calmly "claim the right to defend their own so long as they have the power." Attacked by Prussia, momentarily expecting invasion from Italy, menaced by France with "all the responsibilities" of war, with a million of armed enemies on three sides of his empire, with half his dominion discontented, his treasury empty, and a famine officially acknowledged to be impending, without an armed ally, and conscious of the undying hatred of the Revolution, the Kaiser turns to the world a calmly defiant front. He has "the right" to guard his own, and he will maintain his right. We wish him utter defeat for the sake alike of Italy and the world, but no such wish shall prevent us from acknowledg- ing that he is worthy of the great name he bears and the lofty position he holds among mankind, that if his Empire perishes in his hands, at least it will not have been dis- honoured. He is faithful according to his lights even unto slaying or being slain, and deserves from his enemies the respect which Englishmen were never till now slow to pay to the haughty daring which accepts any odds rather than any bribe. It is thus, and thus only, that empires are main- tained, and the attempt to pronounce such masculine courage mere hotheadedness, to throw on Austria all blame because she disdains to postpone the inevitable by useless chatter, to declare her wicked because her nerve interferes with English profits, is base to the last degree. Italy has the right to regain the control of her children if she can ; Austria has the right to defend property assigned to her by a competent tribunal if she can ; and in the presence of rights at once so equal and so irreconcilable, the appeal to force is not a course which ought on either side to alienate utterly English sympathy. The disturber of order, if there be one, if all alike are 'not controlled by the irresistible logic of events, is Prussia, and the moral guilt of Prussia is not yet ascertainable. If she is rushing to war to win a Duchy for her King, it is immense, but if, as we partly believe, her Court risks war in order to make of North Germany a nation, to realize the just aspirations of thirty millions of men, and add a new and great nationality to the world, we cannot say that such an end does not justify .the slaughter which may precede it. To hear some men talk one would think that but for bullets man were immortal, that freedom, and honour, and largeness of national life were objects too contemptible to be worth the smallest risk, that a people like the Venetian was bound to accept slavery, an empire like the Austrian to dismember itself, rather than in- terrupt the accumulation of wealth. So believe not we. The problems before the nations engaged are, as we have pointed out incessantly for three months, of that kind which force alone can solve, the ultimate ends are adequate to the pro- bable ruin ; and heartily desiring the success of one side, we will leave it to the organs of the Stock Exchange and the pulpit to apportion the moral guilt which ought to attach to each. Of this at least we are certain, that it is morally right to refuse to lie, and that the Conference would have been, and was intended to be, an assembly solemnly convened for the greater convenience of lying. As we write it is probable that the armies have commence& their march. With the failure of the proposal for Conference inaction has become oppressive, and Austria has given the formal opportunity statesmen always desire. In defiance of Prussia, which claims to hold the Elbe Duchies by cession from their legitimate ruler, Christian of Denmark, she haa surrendered her co-dominion to the Federation, and summoned the Estates of Holstein to decide on their own fate. This step,. just according to the principles recognized by all Liberals,. amounts in fact to a termination of Prussia's right to rule, and has been answered, as might be expected, by the entry of Prussian troops. The Austrians have retired upon Altona, and their Emperor will, it is almost certain, announce that his ex- pulsion was violent, and must be avenged by arms. The war has commenced, and next week can hardly pass without the first serious action, the commencement either of an invasion of Silesia or of a march upon Berlin. The first shot is Italy's signal, and before ten days are over all Central Europe will ben in flames, fifteen hundred thousand men eagerly watching opportunities of slaying one another. The duration of the struggle probably depends upon the result of the first great. battles. If Austria is beaten she may make peace, for one. lost battle would release all the smouldering embers of dis- content, but if she wins in the North she niay arouse the latent patriotism of North Germany, and in the South may provoke. the French army into another descent. Her victory would be. the triumph of reaction, and reaction and the Bonapartes can- not triumph together. In any case the war can scarcely last like the wars of the last gearation. The armies collecte& are too vast, the means of locomotion too perfect, the cost of campaigning too excessive, for a repetition of the tedious struggles which distinguished the commencement of the century. The American war lasted four years, but a nation was in that war its own leader, was fighting for ex- istence, and had for base the untouched resources and the unwearied strength of a people ruling through half a fertile continent. Mature men, not youths, are fighting now, and though they will strike as hard, they will not fight so long. As to the winners, we question if there is a statesman in Europe who has formed a distinct opinion. The Austrian, army is the largest, the oldest, and the best provided with- cavalry, but Austria has never won, her soldiers are armed only with the rifle, and she has but an indifferent artillery_ The Italian army is new, but it has enthusiasm, guns, and Cialdini ; while the Prussians, with inferior cavalry, and an organization too inflexible for the field, have a rifle which will fire three times to the Austrian once, and that Teutonic stubbornness which, like iron, only hardens under blows. The victory should be with moral force, but if the Austrians pursue the policy, visible in every line of the Kaiser's last despatch, of finding in Prussia itself the compen- sation for Venice, the moral force becomes nearly equal, and the burden will ultimately fall upon the petty States whose Governments are now protesting so eagerly that the eaglen shall fight it out, while -hawk and crow and jay look on in inactive but tremulous admiration. The Austrian idea, it is. evident, is to thrash Italy and surrender Venice, to thrash Prussia and keep such a slice of her possessions as shall, when North Germany is united, leave South Germany still an. equal German Power, an& it is by no means impossible that this idea may be realized. War, however, is an uncertain game, and a war in Europe, with France armed, but undecided, Russia ready but quiescent, and England holding steadily aloof, is a game of which no wisdom limited by mortality can foresee the end. This country is well out of it, but if that Bill for reducing the debt is postponed, and 5,000 men come home from India, and the home garrison is brought up to its strength, and a word of warning goes round the dockyards, the nation will not be displeased to pay for those precautions.