CHAPTER XVII. THE FIRST FOREIGN WAR
Before describing the military operations now about to take place, a survey may conveniently be taken of events since the abolition of the monopoly, and it may be pardonable to employ the language formerly used. From an impartial review of the facts, and divesting our minds, so far as is humanly possible, of the prejudice of accepted political opinions, and of conviction as to the hurtful or innocent character of opium in the mixture as smoked by the Chinese, it cannot be contended that the course pursued by Lord Napier and Captain Elliot, and particularly by the latter, was either prudent in itself or calculated to promote the advantage and reputation of England. Captain Elliot's proceedings were marked by the inconsistency that springs from ignorance. The more influential English merchants, touched by the appeal to their moral sentiment, or impressed by the depravity of large classes of the Canton population, of which the practice of opium-smoking was rather the mark than the cause, set their faces against the traffic in this article, and repudiated all sympathy and participation in it. The various foreign publications, whether they received their inspirations from Mr. Gutzlaff or not matters little, differed on most points, but were agreed on this, that the trade in opium was morally indefensible, and that we were bound, not only by our own interests, but in virtue of the common obligations of humanity, to cease to hold all connection with it. Those who had surrendered their stores of opium at the request of Captain Elliot held that their claim for compensation was valid, in the first place, against the English government alone. They had given them up for the service of the country at the request of the queen's representative, and, considering the line which Captain Elliot had taken, many believed that it would be quite impossible for the English government to put forward any demand upon the government of China. The ten million dollars, according to these large-hearted and unreflecting moralists, would have to be sacrificed by the people of England in the cause of humanity, to which they had given so much by emancipating the slaves, and the revenue of India should, for the future, be poorer by the amount that used to pay the dividend of the great Company! The Chinese authorities could not help being encouraged in their opinions and course of proceeding by the attitude of the English. Their most sweeping denunciations of the iniquity of the opium traffic elicited a murmur of approval from the most influential among the foreigners. No European stood up to say that their allegations as to the evil of using opium were baseless and absurd. What is more, no one thought it. Had the Chinese made sufficient use of this identity of views, and shown a desire to facilitate trade in the so-called innocent and legitimate articles, there is little doubt that the opium traffic would have been reduced to very small dimensions, because there would have been no rupture. But the action of Commissioner Lin revealed the truth that the Chinese were not to be satisfied with a single triumph. The more easily they obtained their objects in the opium matter the more anxious did they become to impress the foreigners with a sense of their inferiority, and to force them to accept the most onerous and unjust conditions for the sake of a continuance of the trade. None the less, Captain Elliot went out of his way to tie his own hands, and to bind his own government, so far as he could, to co-operate with the emperor's officials in the suppression of the opium traffic. That this is no random assertion may be judged from the following official notice, issued several months after the surrender of the stores of opium. In this Captain Elliot announced that "Her Majesty's flag does not fly in the protection of a traffic declared illegal by the emperor, and, therefore, whenever a vessel is suspected of having opium on board Captain Elliot will take care that the officers of his establishment shall accompany the Chinese officers in their search, and that if, after strict investigation, opium shall be found, he will offer no objection to the seizure and confiscation of the cargo."