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Mr. Martin on the Prince's Letter. 259
• Sidney Herbert fell flat upon ears that were little «inclined to adopt the praises of Russia, with which • their speeches abounded, and their views of the terms
of peace which should satisfy the allies for their • sacrifices in the war.''
In introducing this correspondence, Mr. Martin says that the intimate friendship which had so long • existed between the Prince and Lord Aberdeen justi• fied him in making the late Premier aware of the 'impressions produced upon Her Majesty and himself • by the line of policy adopted by his late colleagues.' But it is to be remembered that Lord Aberdeen was, or was treated for this purpose as, the leader of an influential party in Parliament opposed to the Government of the day ; and that, notwithstanding the undoubted propriety of the utmost possible liberty being left to the natural play of the relationships of private friendship and ordinary intercourse, it was impossible for the Prince Consort to take such anxious pains to enforce his views on the leader of a party with respect to the critical party question of the hour without bringing an influence to bear far other than what was merely personal and private, and for which no theoretical view of the British Constitution has ever yet found a place.?
i Life of the Prince Consort, vol. iii. p. 289.
? The most recent account of the transactions here alluded to is given by Mr. Gladstone, a prime actor in them; and though the narrative is not strictly relevant to the constitutional point now under consideration, yet it is fair to complete what is said in the text by making the following extract from Mr. Gladstone's review of the Life of the Prince Consort. "The Aberdeen Government had • resisted, unanimously and strongly, the appointment of what was • termed the Sebastopol Committee. The Palmerston Government • set out with the intention of continuing that resistance. Its Head,
Considering the personal relationships which are by courtesy held to exist, and do largely exist in fact between the Sovereigns of Europe and their families, it is no doubt a matter of considerable difficulty to restrict the communications which may pass between one member of the regal group and another, and to prevent the language of friendly correspondence occasionally passing into that of international diplomacy. Indeed, a claim has of late been set up in this country, by the advocates of an extension of the Royal prerogative, which, if conceded, would go far to establish the occupant of the Throne for the time being as his or her own Foreign Minister, without responsibility either to Par• and the majority of its members, arrived at the conclusion that
the resistance would be ineffectual, and they determined to succumb. + The Peelites adhered to their text; and, as the minority, they in form resigned, but in fact, and of necessity, they were driven from
their offices. Into the rights of the question we shall not enter; • but, undoubtedly, they were condemned by the general opinion out
of doors. Moreover, as in the letting out of water, the breach, once • made, was soon and considerably widened. They had been parties ' in the Cabinet, not only to the war, but to the extension, after the
outbreak had taken place, of the conditions required from Russia. • But when it appeared that those demands were to be still further (extended, or were to be interpreted with an unexpected rigour, and • that the practical object of the Ministerial policy appeared to be a
great military success in prosecuting the siege of Sebastopol to a " triumphant issue, they declined to accompany the Ministry in their * course. Again they met with the condemnation of the country;
and the Prince Consort, while indicating his high opinion of the *men, has recorded his adverse judgment. One admission may • perhaps be made in their favour. In the innumerable combina• tions of the political chess-board, there is none more difficult for
an upright man than to discern the exact path of duty, when he • has shared in bringing his country into war, and when, in the midst of that war, he finds, or believes himself to find, that it is being waged for purposes in excess of those which he had approved.' Gleanings of Past Years, vol. i. p. 124.
Foreign Correspondence of the Prince. 261
liament or the country. The discussion as to the nature and value of such a claim belongs to the general subject of the Royal prerogative, which will be entered upon in the next section. In the meantime it is obvious in this case, as in the other cases of political intervention already noticed, that a Prince Consort cannot with propriety extend the character of his communications with foreign Powers beyond the limit permitted to the Sovereign, and that, if he attempts to do so, he thereby creates a personality wholly unknown to the Constitution. The Prince Consort, indeed, in all his communications of a political bearing with foreign Powers, is distinctly credited by his biographer with having taken anxious care to submit his letters to the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary of the day. But by doing so, and securing their formal approval, he was none the less constituting himself an agent of Her Majesty's Government, to whose acts and initiatory suggestions the criticism of Parliament could in no case extend. When the result of these informal despatches or negotiations was satisfactory, the biographer of the Prince naturally reports them with fulness, and evidently takes pleasure in imputing the success achieved to the Prince's intervention. But should any hitch have occurred in the correspondence, or sensibilities have been wounded, or misunderstandings created, it is easy to see that the Ministry of the day would have had before them a most arduous task in obliterating the effects of these extraofficial communications, and in putting Parliament into possession of all the facts out of which possibly a strained condition of international relations may have arisen. There is no doubt that the Prince Consort himself was a keen student of politics, and was an emi
nently sagacious, an astute, and,—excepting always his unconscious invasions of the Constitution,-a cautious man. But if the precedent set by him were generally admitted as the rule of conduct for every one hereafter in his position, the fortunes of the country might be made to turn not on the tried stability of firmly settled institutions and practices, but on the accidental character and qualifications of one individual person. It is needless to point out that one chief portion of the whole struggle of English constitutional history has been to rest the fabric of the State upon fixed institutions as a substitute for the sandy foundation of personal character.
A leading instance of the sort of informal political agency which the Prince Consort consented to undertake in his communications with foreign Powers, is supplied by the correspondence conducted by the Prince with the Emperor of the French in 1857, on the receipt of a letter of congratulation from the Emperor on the birth of the Princess Beatrice. The Emperor's letter touched upon the vexed question of Neuchâtel, and alluded to the approaching visit to Paris of the Grand Duke Constantine. “I am grieved,' the Emperor wrote, • to see that the English attach a significance to this • visit which does not belong to it. We are grati
fied here by the goodwill and courtesy shown to us by • Russia, but this in no way weakens the interest and . • the feelings by which we are bound to England.' Mr. Martin records that, as the letter touched upon politics, 'it was as a matter of course passed on by the Prince
to the Foreign Secretary. It seemed to Lord Claren• don, and also to Lord Palmerston, to furnish an op
portunity for opening the Emperor's eyes to the fact,
Letter to the Emperor Napoleon.
of which they were well aware through authentic • intelligence from other quarters, that the bons pro
cédés of Russia meant something more than the • courtesy of courtly friendship, and were part of a • well-studied scheme for undermining the Anglo-French • alliance. They also thought it well he should be told • that it was not wholly without reason that the English • Press were suspicious of the obsequious advances of
the Russian Court to a Sovereign whom that Court 6 had treated at the outset of his reign with studied • indignity, and with whom, or the political creed of • whose people, they could not have any natural sym
pathy. Accordingly, acting upon their suggestiori, • the Prince drew up the following reply. It was well • known that the Emperor attached the greatest value 6 to his good opinion. Neither was any one more likely • to influence a mind which was already beginning to
cast about for the means of carrying into effect his • favourite projects for the readjustment of the boun
daries of Europe, and which, in the matter of the • Danubian Principalities, about which a keen diplo• matic controversy was now raging, had shown a dis• position to fall in with the views of Russia rather than • with those of Austria and England. Mr. Martin then reproduces a great part of the Prince's reply, thus written to a great extent at the dictation of the Government, but yet exempt from all Parliamentary or other responsibility. The Prince says,- in a somewhat patronising way, it must be allowed: Your Majesty • does well to cultivate the friendship of all the reign• ing families of Europe, and of the peoples over whom
they rule. The greatest good may result from rela. tions of this kind; and our alliance would be a veri