22 JULY 1882, Page 5


IT has been said that our century bas lost the gift of i

dignity,—or rather, that the Western world has lost t ; for the East has never lost it, but seems to retain it by way of compensating, perhaps indeed also by way of accounting, for its want of success in the struggle for existence. And un- questionably the strife and competition to which the Western world has more and more given itself up, are quite sufficient to account for a considerable part of that loss of dignity of which our century is accused. Go-ahead people cannot be dignified. It takes a certain amount of calm self-posses- sion, and of conscious indifference to the petty advantages and disadvantages at which so many and such eager competitors clutch, to preserve the personal dignity of those ages when with- out personal dignity there was hardly any account taken of per- sonal worth. The curious thing is, however, that even in this age, when personal dignity seems almost to have been engulfed in the whirlpool of the world's petty interests and conflicts, Mr. Bright, who is supposed to represent not only the modern world, but the modern world of trade and manufactures,—the modern world of great cities and of bustling material interests, —better almost than any figure loft us since the death of Cob- den, should be one of the best representatives of personal dignity who remain amongst us. Probably, the Quaker tradi- tions,—those traditions which attach so much importance to silent meditation, and the secret influence of the Spirit,—have a great deal to do with a certain grandeur in Mr. Bright's public attitude. The influence of a powerful imagination and musing habits of life,—though you cannot properly separate these from the former,—may have still more to do with it. But be the cause what it may, it is certain that Mr. Bright hardly ever intervenes at all in public life, without adding to the impressiveness of his influence and the public reverence in which ho is held. Nothing could illustrate this better than his resignation, which came just at the right moment to vindi- cate his personal consistency, and yet just at the right moment, too, to express adequately the personal reluctance with which he quitted the Government, and the determination he had formed to support to the last possible minute that Irish policy in the conception of which he himself had so great a share. We cannot deny that it would have been hardly possible for Mr. Bright, with his antecedents, to accept his share of the responsibility for the bombardment of the Alexandrian Forts, and for the consequences, however little they may have been anticipated by the Government, which followed that bombard- ment. It would be quite possible to say, indeed, that Mr. Bright has never committed himself absolutely to extreme peace principles, and that when he assented to the Naval Demonstration in favour of Montenegro, and did not resign when the Government threatened the forcible seizure of Smyrna, he was in principle responsible for a course which might have involved us in a much more dangerous war than any with which we are now' threatened. However, everybody knows that in England we do not push "the logic of facts " so far as this. So long as the foreign policy of the Government does not actually result in the sort of war which Mr. Bright condemns, no one would think of censuring him for remaining, even though his colleagues may have approved and carried out a policy which might have had a very differ- ent end. The collective responsibility of Members of the Cabinet is not very strictly enforced, nor could it be very strictly enforced without rendering Cabinet Government almost impossjble. No doubt, if the Naval Demonstration at Dulcigno had resulted in war, Mr. Bright might even then have felt it his duty to resign, as he has felt it his duty to resign now. But it is one thing for a man in Mr. Bright's position to pass over a high-handed act, which, though it might have led to war, has actually led to peace, and quite another to pass over what he regards as a high-handed act which has actually resulted in the large effusion of both innocent and guilty blood. We can all see that, with Mr. Bright's principles, he would hardly have been the man the country has taken him for, if, disapproving as he seems to have disapproved the orders given by the Government, he had consented to remain in office after the deplorable events which he, no doubt, re- gards as the consequence of those orders. What exactly Mr. Bright would have wished to be done, in place of what actually was done, he does not tell us, and, no doubt, is quite right in not telling us. He sees probably that the policy which he would have advocated would find little support in the country, and none in the House of Commons ; and, therefore, he wisely abstains from expounding a policy of which he is perfectly well aware that the whole country would have disapproved. It is sufficient for us to know that whatever principles a man wholly averse to wnr, though unwilling to formulate his aversion to war, might lay down in such a crisis as the present, they would be sure to be so laid down as to condemn what has actually taken place. In fact, no doubt, it is rather Mr. Bright's feelings,—feelings partly inherited, as well as personal,—than his principles, which are outraged by what has occurred ; and he would hardly have failed, had he been required, to find principles which would justify him in expressing his outraged feelings. The very little which Mr. Bright did say in vindication of his resolve to quit the Cabinet, and which could hardly have been better said, does not, of course, in the least explain the rationale of his own view. The doctrine that " the moral law is intended not only for individual life, but for the life and practice of States in their dealings with one another," is a doctrine which we should all accept, so far, at least, as the moral law applicable to individuals is applicable to the life of States; and even Mr. Bright would hardly maintain that it is always• applicable. It is clear enough that when there is no common authority to which to refer your disputes, you cannot act on precisely the same principles as you ought to act upon when there is a common authority ; and Mr. Bright himself would certainly not have justified the Federal Government, in 1861, in leaving the slaves of the South under the benign care of a Confederate Government just set up for the express purpose of both maintaining and extending slavery. There is, there- fore, no key to the reason why Mr. Bright disapproved the bombardment of the Forts of Alexandria in the few words which he dropped, and which he dropped no doubt rather as indicating, than as explaining, the direction in which we ought to look for the explanation of his differences with the present Government.

And we entirely approve of Mr. Bright's reticence, in not dilating further on his grounds of difference. However care- fully he had explained himself, the country at large would have carried away little more from the explanation than they knew already,—namely, that Mr. Bright hates war, and can- very rarely indeed find any excuse for the nation which begins it, though such excuse he has once at least found. It is doubtful whether Mr. Bright would have added much to the moral influence of that impression. It is certain that if he had said too much, he might have detracted from that moral influence, and, moreover, conveyed the impression of a sort of discontent with his late colleagues, which he certainly does not feel, and is very anxious to have it known that he does not feel. It was, indeed, hardly possible for Mr. Bright to have acted. otherwise than he did. And it was certainly not possible for him, having determined to act as he did, to give effect to that determination with more of personal dignity, or with more of advantage to that cause of peace of which he always desires to be accounted the champion.