London: Saturday, December 10, 1864The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1291, p. 579.
December 10, 1864
Again, England, in peace and prosperity, is preparing for the great Christian festival, and again she has to look sadly across the sea, where those who own her blood and speak her language are engaged in the fourth year of a frightful war. It would seem, indeed, that every mail is destined to bring tidings that the ordinary horrors of strife are increased by some new barbarism. We have heard of whole districts laid waste; we have heard of prisoners being placed under fire; we have heard of other prisoners murdered in cold blood, by one side as a deed of vengeance, by the other as a deed of reprisal; we have heard of a great army marching off mysteriously to strike some heavy blow, and lighting up conflagration all along its way. The last mails add another feature to the savage story. We learn that eight or nine great fires broke out in New York the same night, and that they were the work of a body of leagued incendiaries in the interest of the Confederates. They selected places where numbers of persons were assembled, some of the localities being places of amusement, and, but for early discovery, the most frightful carnage would have been wrought. It is no longer in the mouths of those who have in any degree aided or abetted in these villanous attempts to complain of the rough deeds of Federal commanders. Those who could plan the firing of theatres, where, even if the fire were subdued, the panic must almost inevitably cause loss of life to women and children, are beyond the pale of civilisation. It will be useless to endeavour to lay the crime to the charge of volunteer desperadoes. We have ourselves read, weeks ago, notice in the Southern papers that such schemes were in hand; and we observed that they were applauded as a rightful revenge for atrocities stated--and, we dare say, with truth--to have been committed by Federal soldiers. In short, the war has now assumed a character so savage that we cannot but feel that if a stern military dictator of real genius, of the Napoleonic order, could arise and could bring the war to a sudden and violent end it would be well for humanity. The pictures now presented all over the Union, and what was the Union, are too shocking to be the subject of ordinary social conversation, and the topic is now put aside with sadness. And we write this but a few days from another Christmas Day.
At the season now rapidly approaching all who are really open to the sacred influence of the time will assuredly ask themselves whether Englishmen have done their duty to their American brethren in regard to the war. It is enough that at our Christmas we are afraid to talk of America; it would be unhappy indeed did we feel that any conduct of ours had conduced to the continuance of the strife, or that any exertions to terminate it had been wanting on our part. In no Pharisaical or self-righteous spirit we say that England may approach her altars and gather round her social boards with no reproach of conscience in this respect. From the first hour of the war to the present moment we have been resolutely neutral, while we have lost no chance of mediation that would not have been construed into offence. The Foreign Minister of this country has declared, in the House of Lords, his conviction that the subjugation of the South would not be for the good of the Union nor for that of the African. To say that the British press has never expressed exaltation at the disruption of an empire that had ever menaced us and our colonies is only to say that the organs of public opinion have been faithful, and that the spirit of Englishmen has been generous and kindly as of old. But the press deserves more than negative credit. The Federal population has never been aided by its own Government to know the real progress of the war or its various chances; but the English press has endeavoured to give this information with fidelity, in order to make our American brethren understand the true character of the work which their rulers have persuaded them can be accomplished by force. If, therefore, the North has chosen to commit itself to the war, and to elect a chief who has since pledged himself to carry it on until one party shall succumb from exhaustion, the terrible decision has been arrived at in face of the whole truth, which has been supplied by the press of England. We will not speak of certain well-meant, if injudicious, remonstrances which have been addressed to the Northerners, because we have not approved that kind of interference, and it is not upon sentimental grounds that a great people should be asked to alter its policy. The best thing that we could do for our American brethren was to tell them the truth, which they could not get from their own statesmen or journalists, and this has been done.
Therefore, we may say without pride, but also without hesitation, that England has no guilt in respect to this war. At the festival which is approaching, and when thoughts and words of kindness should be the rule with all, we shall have little to say of America; but the lightest-minded will wish, earnestly, that long before another recurrence of the great feast the sword will have been sheathed. But beyond this England, as a nation, is not called upon to make her Christmas sad with American memories. We have done our duty, and we have a right to the peaceful enjoyment of the feast.