Carlyle at His Zenith (1848-53)

By David Alec Wilson | Go to book overview

XXV
THE DEATH OF PEEL (1850)

IN the latter half of June there was much debating in Parliament on our Foreign Policy; and what Carlyle had called the "Hercules-Harlequin" and busybody tricks of Palmerston the Foreign Secretary were condemned by a majority in the Lords. The Government was in danger even in the Commons, in spite of party loyalty, which did, however, make a formal victory secure for the time. In the debate the speech of Palmerston lasted five hours, and may be called his masterpiece as a blatherskite talking bunkum. He flattered the national vanity and misled our 'superfine vulgar' by falsely pretending we were justified in meddling with other countries, and were like the Roman Citizens of old, privileged persons everywhere. Well were his colleagues aware that it was dangerous nonsense, but it was popular, and so they stood by him; and there were plenty of place-hunters to back him up and party men ready to vote against their convictions. Aware that Peel had other reasons for wishing the Government to remain in power, Cockburn flattered him and begged for his support in this matter. But Peel was a man of conscience, and rising to reprobate Palmerston, delivered what John Bright used to call "that most beautiful, that most solemn speech," setting forth the true method of righteousness in practice, even in the darkest depths of Diplomacy, which he called a 'costly engine for maintaining peace.' Diplomacy could be used to prevent war, if applied to appease passions and check resentments; but if it merely continued an angry correspondence and kept up conflicts for the sake of some imaginary 'English interest,' it would then be 'a cause of hostility and war.' The moral victory was so complete that the vote was little heeded, and it was generally expected that Peel would soon be forming a new Government.

The next day was Saturday, 29.6.50; and Peel attended a meeting of the Commissioners arranging next year's Great Exhibition. It is said he made them happy by promising to

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