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London, Saturday, February 21, 1863

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1189, p. 195.

February 21, 1863


Diogenes was held to have played the part of a wise and honest citizen when, the city being in a state of general excitement, he rolled his tub about in a vehement manner, and, being questioned as to his object, said that it did not become a man to be quiet when every one else was in agitation. But his conduct would have been less philosophical had the cynic performed his acrobatic feat simply because there was a great disturbance in some city a hundred miles off. And herein is the difference between the Greek sage and certain English sages who are just now rolling their tubs furiously because the United States are in perturbation. There is no necessity for such a demonstration, and consequently it becomes ludicrous instead of imposing, or even respectable.

Were there any question at issue upon which the opinion of England was asked, there would be a reason for the meetings and orations which a numerous but not an influential class is now assembling and emitting. But what call is there upon England to interfere in the American quarrel? Has it not been the great praise of the Government that it expressed the views of the respectable and thinking portion of the population by declaring at the outset, and by reiterating the declaration, even from the Throne itself, that we had nothing to do with the struggle? Why, at the eleventh hour, and when there is every chance of the Americans adjusting the matter in their own way, by bringing a disastrous war to an end and allowing the South to go free, are thousands of Englishmen to be suddenly called together to lend what moral aid they can to one side by declaring that they hate slavery? Do we not all hate slavery? Has not the nation made the greatest sacrifices in proof of that hatred, that in 1863 we should require Exeter Hall certificates to our character? If these meetings and spoutings are simply intended to place the English nation right in the eyes o[f] the world upon the subject of slavery they are needless and impertinent; but if, as would seem to be the case, they are designed to bolster up the unlucky ex-attorney who has been placed at the head of the federal provinces of America, the sudden and foolish intervention is an act of presumption which deserves severer language. The Crown, the Legislature, and all the classes whence springs what is really public opinion, have solemnly and repeatedly declared that we will not interfere. And until the North was reduced to a conviction that it must shortly give in, and that peace must be signed, there was no attempt to violate the agreement which we had all made. Now, while the respectable part of the Americans themselves are busily devising schemes for ending the war without loss of honour, great crowds of Englishmen are brought together and are asked to join in a great shout to Mr. Lincoln to go on with the slaughter. It is, therefore, to be desired that dispassionate journals should assure both Europe and America that such manifestations, however loud may be the talk and however dense may be the gathering, have no real significance. The educated classes and the mass of the people are alike opposed to such impertinence. The nothingness of the leaders of the new agitation is, of course, notorious to English readers; but we may, with advantage, assure other persons that there is no one who takes the lead in these scenes who has the slightest claim to any other distinction.

At the same time it is right to add that, though foolish persons have permitted themselves to be excited into a rather remarkable display of folly, and are rolling their tubs when there is not the least occasion for such gymnastics, there is a certain extenuation of their conduct to be found in the fact that others have gone much too far in defence of the South. There have been promulgated a great many doctrines on the side of the Confederates which by no means express the sentiments of this country. We never for a single moment tolerate slavery as an institution to be preserved. We go no further than to accept it as a fact to be dealt with wisely and humanely. It was accepted as such a fact by our own Legislature when it was resolved to terminate the system, and when the present Earl of Derby had allotted to him the noble task which he discharged so well. We wish to see slavery extinct in American as in English territory; but we have never been so cruelly unjust to our American brethren as to insist that they should run where we only walked. We took time--many years--to arrange our plans; we spread emancipation over a long period of apprenticeship, and we provided large funds for compensating those whom we had permitted to believe themselves in possession of "property." Nor have we ever ventured to call upon the South to go faster. We have indeed recognised the peculiar reasons why the action of the South in this matter must be slower than our own. This, however, is as far as we have gone in our toleration of slavery, and those who would go further, and contend for it as an institution to be conserved instead of an affliction to be endured, do not speak the sentiments of Englishmen. Mr. Tennyson has told us eloquently of "the falsehood of extremes;" and one extreme begets another. The wise man is not irritated into exaggerations on one side because an opponent exaggerates on the other; but the judicial faculty is not a common one, and certainly it would not be a point of wisdom to expect the exercise of such a faculty from those who bawl and groan in Exeter Hall, which, as Lord Macaulay said, hath brayed. Still, we desire to note that there has been some provocation for the outcry, and it will be well that such provocation should cease. The South will, probably, ere long be a nation, and will exchange diplomatic communications with the Foreign Office. There is every reason why such intercourse should not be impeded by foolish declarations on one side or the other at home. We shall meet the South on facts, not on opinions. Brazil is a slave State, but (except when Earl Russell loses his head) we communicate amicably with Brazil, and yet we are so far from recognising the desirability of her domestic institution that we sink her slavers whenever we cannot seize them. The Southern Confederacy must prepare herself for similar treatment. On the other hand, we shall congratulate the North on not being a slave State; and, possibly, we shall suggest to her to give a lively colour to her professions by treating "niggers" a little better than she seems at all inclined to do at present.

We have deemed it right to say this because the Illustrated London News makes its way into every part of the civilised world, and is read where the ordinary journal of a foreign nation is neither seen nor cared for. We desire that a dispassionate statement of the real feeling of the people of England should go forth to those who may look for such a statement in vain in the columns of party strife. In brief, the case is this. England hates slavery as strongly as ever; but she loves fair play, and is not such a Pharisee as to pretend to more virtue than she has shown, or to demand that a slave State should move faster than she herself moved.

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