15 MAY 1880, Page 4



THE publication of Mr. Gladstone's letter to Count Karolyi,

without the papers or memoranda of conversations which called it forth, has been a mistake. Isolated from its context, the letter, with its characteristic proud humility of tone, has created an impression, entirely unfounded, that Mr. Gladstone has receded from some position he took up, and has apologised for some misstatement made in the heat of an election contest. We do not suppose the Governments of Europe will fall into any such error, but the Premier has to satisfy English opinion also, and it has been evidently misled. The facts we believe to be these. After the first difficulties of the occupation of Bosnia had been over- come, the great Slav and military party in Austria, which so often deflects though it does not invariably control her policy, entertained the idea of pushing her authority much further south, and ultimately dominating the Southern Slays. This is evident from Lord Salisbury's speech at Manchester, from his warm acceptance of the Austro-German alliance, and from the immense importance attached to Novi-Bazar, which, ex- cept as a road to the south, is valueless to Austria, and indeed a burdensome and expensive charge. Whether the Hapsburgs who have always two distinct lines of policy before them, would ultimately have accepted this one, may be doubtful, though as a rule, since the rise of Germany, they have tended to favour the South-Slav idea ; but Mr. Gladstone thought that they would, and indignant that the new nationalities of the Balkans and all Greek hopes should be so crushed, he made a protest, which, as he was out of power, was necessarily plain. It would otherwise never have attracted the attention of Europe, for which, and not for the electors, it was designed. It did attract attention, and on the overthrow of the Beaconsfield Ministry it became plain to the Austrian Government that the " Slav " policy must wait, if only because they had no desire, by a serious difference with Great Britain, to be thrown entirely into Prince Bismarck's hands. They could not, in fact, move south, through hostile and fighting populations, without English consent, and consequently they recoiled from the temptation, and assured Mr. Gladstone in the regular way that they had no intention and no desire of adding to or extending "the rights they had acquired under the Treaty of Berlin," which, be it remembered, are only rights of occupa- tion in Bosnia and Herzegovina until order had been restored. Those assurances—which are in no way false, the adoption of the Slav policy having depended upon circumstances—officially recorded, were sufficient for Mr. Gladstone, who of course is no more hostile to Austria than to any other Power, and who is desirous, before all things, of recementing the European accord in the East; and he consequently assured Count Karolyi, first, that he had no hostility to Austria, such as the Emperor had regretted, and secondly, that a formal and official assurance having been given that Austria contemplated no conquests, his reason for animadversion had disappeared. Mr. Gladstone said, "Permit me at once to state to your Excellency that, had I been in possession of such an assurance as I have now been able to receive, I never would have uttered any one of the words which your Excellency justly describes as of a painful and wounding character. Whether it was my misfortune or my fault that I was not so supplied I will not now attempt to determine, but will at once express my serious concern that I should, in default of it, have been led to refer to transactions of an earlier period, or to use terms of censure which I can now wholly banish from my mind." How any human being aware of the circumstances can twist those words into a humiliating apology, we are at a loss to conceive. They are simply a statement that certain designs of Austria being sus- pected, Mr. Gladstone had used words about them of a painful and wounding character ; and that when those designs were de- clared to be non-existent--which is equivalent for the time to their being non-existent—Mr. Gladstone could wholly banish from his mind his terms of censure, and express his concern that, in default of the assurances now received, he should have employed them. It is a repudiation which Mr. Gladstone accepts, not an apology that he offers, though in accepting the repudiation he is courteous in expression to the verge of undue humility. There is the defect of the letter, as there is the defect of every letter Mr. Gladstone ever wrote in which he had to explain anything. He cannot help considering the feel- ings of his correspondent, instead of those of unconcerned spectators, and allowing himself to be swayed in expression by his own conscientious fear of his own instinctive tendency towards an unbending pride. He always writes as if English- men were Christians of the true type, instead of being in all their public sympathies Christians of the Cromwellian type.

As a matter of fact, the result of the correspondence is that the very powerful party in Austria which desires extension southward, and even hopes, by acquiring Constantinople, to. acquire also dominion over all South Slays, has received a serious check. Its policy is for the moment at an end. The- Hapsburgs, who are not the servants of that party, but arbi- trators between it and another, the German-Magyar, see in the new English mood a reason for not swaying further. towards it, but allowing the States south of them to obtain, their own freedom, and, at all events, to enjoy the chance granted them by the Treaty of Berlin of developing their own lives.. No injury is done even to the dreams of Austria by that course,. and immense present sacrifices are avoided. That was Mr.. Gladstone's object, and it is attained without a breach of the- European concord which he also desires. His policy may, for aught any one not gifted with prophecy can tell, prove un- attainable. The Balkan peninsula is inhabited by many peoples, speaking many languages, professing three creeds,. and separated by deep jealousies alike of race and of tradition.. It may one day be discovered that the pressure of a strong external government is required to weld them still more closely together by the pains of a common serfage. But many appear- ances indicate that no such pressure is now required, and that the- divided States have reached the point at which the sense of a common interest and the desire of a common freedom suffice- to bind together nations apparently separated, or even hostile.. The Serbs and Bulgars make no difficulty as to alliance with one another. The Roumanians are ready to ally themselves- with any sufficient Power, even Austria, which they dread.. The Mahommedans and Catholics of Albania are acting toge- ther, and talking of acting with Italians. The Greeks and Bulgarians, fiercely antipathetic as they are supposed to be are finding a modus vivendi in Roumelia. If the Treaty of Berlin is only thoroughly carried out, the tendency towards. federation, or alliance as close as federation, will in a short time be unmistakable, and a great new and free Power be- added to the European family,—a Power able in all good things to replace that of the Sultan. It seems to English- men who care for freedom that a hope like that, a really magnificent hope for Eastern Europe, should not be aban- doned while it is still possible to entertain it, much less while everything is still undetermined, and the- strongest visible impulse is towards federation. The ob- jectors who say the task is too difficult because of the oppo- sition of Russia, or the reluctance of Austria, or the surviving strength of the Porte, are talking reasonably, though too hope- lessly ; but those who say, with the Times, that Mr. Gladstone- is pressing the doctrine of nationalities to an absurdity, either misapprehend or misrepresent his view. How is he pressing that doctrine, when he asks that three or four nationalities. shall agree to put themselves under a common but free organ- isation ? Is the man who pleads that Switzerland shall be let. alone and shall be free, pleading the doctrine of nationalities ? or is he asking that the claim of nationality, the right of France to absorb Geneva, and Germany Zurich, and Italy Ticino, shall be abrogated in favour of the superior claims of freedom and self-government ? The charge would be true, if Mr. Gladstone were handing over Roumania to Italy and Bul- garia to Russia ; but that is precisely what he is not doing, but. is pleading that they should be separate, independent of their kin nationalities, and united to each other for defence. That his plan may require very rough diplomacy in the end, we have never attempted to deny ; but it is a practical as well as a righteous one, and as little dreamy as it is possible for a policy to, be, and the charge that it is dangerous hardly lies in the mouths of the party which proclaims that contempt for such dangers is the first attribute of a sound-hearted British Administration.