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Correspondence of the Sovereign.


are held to bind together the persons and dynasties occupying the several European thrones, there is a real ground of fear either that the conduct of correspondence between this Government and foreign Governments should be at times entirely taken out of the hands of responsible Ministers, or that the correspondence of those Ministers should be conducted with all the dis advantages of the co-existence of a secondary and simultaneous correspondence, which may be out of harmony with the former. It has already been seen that on a memorable occasion the Prince Consort took upon himself to warn the Emperor of the French as to the consequences of making too cordial overtures of friendship towards the Grand Duke Constantine, who was expected on a visit to Paris. In this case, the formality was gone through of submitting the communication to the responsible Ministers before it was despatched; but it was noted that this scrupulous precaution did not rob the act of its character of initiating and formulating a policy in such a way as indirectly to influence Ministers far more powerfully than was probably intended. In the late Russo-Turkish war there were, similarly, constant reports floating about as to autograph letters passing between the Queen and, now the Emperor of Russia, now the Sultan of Turkey. No doubt all these reports were false; but the possibility of their existence points to a real constitutional danger against which it scarcely seems possible to provide any formal and legal security. Should the danger ever become a real and pressing one, the remedy must be sought in a more stringent insistence on the part of Parliament on publicity in the conduct of foreign policy, and in the growth

among foreign nations of an intelligent understanding of the real constitutional impotency of the English Sovereign.

Attention has been called of late to another field, in which the personal activity of the Sovereign may possibly expatiate independently of the advice or concert of responsible advisers. During the wars of 1878– 1879 in Afghanistan and Zululand, rumours prevailed that the Queen had been personally and directly communicating with the Viceroy of India, with Lord Chelmsford, commanding the forces in Natal, and with the family of Sir Bartle Frere, the High Commissioner of Natal. The policy of the Viceroy and of the High Commissioner was at the time matter of public discussion, and it was alleged or insinuated that the correspondence of the Queen in each case either had a direct political bearing, or at least conveyed some expression of opinion in reference to acts that had been done, which went beyond the limits either of mere general interest in the progress of events, or of sympathy for disasters which had been incurred. Though for a long time the Government refused to condescend to explain what had really taken place, yet at length the facts all came out, and the explanation of them afforded by the Government, and generally well received on all sides of the House, has a permanent interest in view of the probable recurrence at similar crises of like rumours and apprehensions. In a debate which took place in the House of Commons on May 13, 1879, in which the whole question of the recent use of the Royal prerogative was brought under discussion, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Northcote, explained that .at a moment of great anxiety, when Her Majesty's troops The Queen's Letter to Lady Frere. 331 « had met with a great disaster, when there was great • loss of life and great anxiety, the Government were so ' far from expressing their censure or their want of • confidence in our representatives in South Africa, that

they felt it to be their duty to defend them in the responsible positions which they filled. Her Majesty, • who is always ready with a kind word, sent a message « in general terms of sympathy, and an expression of

confidence that her troops would redeem their credit 6 and save themselves from the difficulties in which they were placed, and that her Administrator and Governor would be able to bring them out of their embarrass* ments. “I do not think,' added the Chancellor of the Exchequer, “that any one can make a serious charge out * of that.' Towards the close of the debate, Mr. Cross, the Home Secretary, further said: “It is only right to the * House and to the country that I should state at once • what I have the Queen's authority to state, and I re

ceived only to-day, that in the communication Her Majesty made to Lady Frere she did express, as she 6 was bound to do, her deepest sympathy with the diffi

culties and dangers with which Sir Bartle Frere had had to contend; but her communication was couched ' in the most general terms, and there was nothing in

it to lead him to suppose that Her Majesty wished to • recommend any line of policy to be taken.'

With respect to the report of the Queen's private communication with the Viceroy,—which Sir Stafford Northcote admitted, both by distinct allegation, and by the scrupulous care with which he examined and recounted all the circumstances appertaining to it, to be matter of relevant constitutional inquiry,—it is satisfactory to narrate both the dream and the interpretation

of it in Sir Stafford Northcote's own language in the course of the same debate :

With regard to the case of the Indian telegram, I 6am bound to say that it is a matter requiring a

moment’s consideration. The charge against the • Government is made in a very remarkable article con• tributed to one of the numerous periodicals of the day

by a gentleman whose name is very well known to us

all as a special correspondent and an admirable writer, • Mr. A. Forbes, whose descriptions we all read with • interest and pleasure. Whether he is an equally great • constitutional authority is, of course, another question. - His article is entitled “Some Plain Words about the 6 " Afghan Question,” and gives an account of the origin • of the war. He states that Lord Lytton was desirous • of bringing about a quarrel with the Ameer, and that • he was unnecessarily pressing upon the Home Govern• ment, who were themselves unwilling to take the step, • the necessity of hostilities with Afghanistan. Mr. • Forbes proceeds to say, “ While working in this fashion 666 on his own account, Lord Lytton was pleading with 6 66 Lord Cranbrook for bis sanction for an immediate • « declaration of war," and, after a few more sentences,

he adds that while applying unsuccessfully through the • official and constitutional channel, “ it is not generally 6“ known, but it is true, that the Viceroy has been in 66 direct communication with Her Majesty. How copi6" ous his message was may be judged from the fact that 6 " a single telegram was so long that the cost was 1,100 66 rupees.” These words are placed in italics, and a • great writer does not usually place his words in italics • unless he wishes to direct particular attention to that • of which he is writing. It is obvious that the mean

Debate on Lord Lytton's Telegram. 333

‘ing of the paragraph is this—that Lord Lytton, desir• ing to bring about the acceptance of a certain policy, 6 and finding himself unable to persuade the Ministry " by argument, addressed himself directly to the Queen " that he might obtain Her Majesty's support in order • to carry his object. If that charge is true, it is a • most serious one, and an offence trenching upon the 6 privilege of Parliament and the Constitution of the

country; but there is no foundation whatever for it. • It is perfectly true that a long telegram was sent to • Her Majesty; but what was the date of that message, 6 and what were the circumstances in which it was sent ? • I have been favoured with a sight of that telegram, • and am perfectly acquainted with it. I will describe

its nature and purport. It is dated November 26, and the war had begun five days previously, on November 21. It is a telegram describing in tolerably succinct

phrases the advance of the various columns of the • forces. It mentions the advance at all points, on the • morning of the 21st, of the three Generals, and specifies • for the information of Her Majesty the nature of the operations intended. There is not one word upon the

causes of the war, nor any mention of political matters • in the whole telegram. It is merely a despatch for• warded at the moment when the movements were • occurring, in order that Her Majesty might receive • early and authentic intelligence of what was happen. ing. That is the whole state of the case with reference

to that mysterious telegram; and in reply, Her Majesty • simply expressed her gratification at the conduct and 6 success of the troops. This telegram was not sent by • Her Majesty without being first communicated to and • approved by Her Majesty's Ministers. I really wish to

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