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Sketches in Parliament

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1197, p. 382.

April 4, 1863


...On the Friday evening on which the House adjourned for the Easter recess there was placed on the paper as much notice of business as would have legitimately occupied a fortnight; but as it is impossible to get schoolboys to learn lessons the day before their holidays commence, so with members; they flutter and fidget, and show no disposition to assemble in numbers or to sit late. Nevertheless, Mr. W. E. Forster did contrive to elicit a smartish debate on the subject of the Alabama, Confederate ship of war, and her doings, which are supposed to infringe great principles of international law. Careful, moderate in expression, but decided in opinion, Mr. Forster made exactly the sort of speech which the occasion required. His tactical mode of dealing with the question was fully justified by the touchiness of the Opposition, who seized every opportunity of showing which way their sympathy lay; and, being present at the time in larger numbers then those who espoused Mr. Forster's views, if he had goaded them to it, they might have got up a demonstration in the House of Commons the very opposite to that which he desired to create. Unquestionably Mr. Bright felt something of this when, in replying to the astute and masterly-put arguments of the Solicitor-General, he burst through the trammels of a fearful cold, which almost deprived him of his voice, and uttered an appeal, half plaintive, half passionate, to Lord Palmerston, to use his acknowledged influence to prevent its going forth that the majority of the House sympathised rather with the Confederate than with the Federal cause. It sounded like a wail of despair when he implored the avoidance of such an issue to a debate which was intended to be, if anything, a pronouncement in favour of individual as well as national abstinence from assistance to the South, with a reservation in favour of all sorts of aid and comfort to the North. At least so Mr. Laird put it; and went far, statistically, to prove it in his curiously damaging speech. What was distinctly proved is, that to the British trader the true way to carry out the doctrine of neutrality is to accept customers from all markets. Did not the Kaffirs in the Cape wars shoot the British soldiers with excellent muskets from Birmingham?

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