CHAPTER V. INDIA.
Lord Aberdeen, who did not hope very great things from the war which had initiated during his Ministry, had yet deemed it possible that Eastern Europe might reap from it the benefit of a quarter of a century's peace. He was curiously near the mark in this estimate; but neither he nor any other English statesman was unwary enough to risk such a prophecy as to the general tranquillity of the Continent. In fact, the peace of Europe, broken in 1853, has been unstable enough ever since, and from time to time tremendous wars have shaken it. Into none of these, however, has Great Britain been again entrapped, though the sympathies of its people have often been warmly enlisted on this side and that. A war with China, which began in 1857, and cannot be said to have ended till 1860, though in the interim a treaty was signed which secured just a year's cessation of hostilities, was the most important undertaking in which the allied forces of France and England took part after the Crimea. In this war the allies were victorious, as at that date any European Power was tolerably certain to be in a serious contest with China. The closing act of the conflict - the destruction of the Summer Palace at Pekin, in retaliation for the treacherous murder of several French and English prisoners of distinction - was severely blamed at the time, but defended on the ground that only in this way could any effectual punishment of the offence be obtained. That act of vengeance and the war which it closed have an interest of their own in connection with the late General Gordon, who now entered on that course of extraordinary achievement which lacks a parallel in this century, and which began, in the interests of Chinese civilisation, shortly after he had taken a subordinate officer's part in the work of destruction at Pekin.
From this date England did not commit itself to any of the singular series of enterprises which our good ally, the French Emperor, set on foot. A feeling of distrust towards that potentate was invading the minds of the very Englishmen who had most cordially hailed his successes and met his advances. "The Emperor's mind is as full of schemes as a warren is full of rabbits, and, like rabbits, his schemes go to ground for the moment to avoid notice or antagonism," were the strong words of Lord Palmerston in a confidential letter of 1860; and when he could thus think and write, small wonder if calmer and more unprejudiced minds saw need for standing on their guard. Amid all the flattering demonstrations of friendship of which the French court had been lavish, and which had been gracefully reciprocated by English royality, the Prince Consort had retained an undisturbed perception of much that was not quite satisfactory in the qualifications of the despotic chief of the French State for his difficult post. Thus it is without surprise that we find the Queen writing in 1859, as to a plan suggested by the Emperor: "The whole scheme is the often-attempted one, that England should take the chestnuts from the fire, and assume the responsibility of making proposals which, if they lead to war, we should be in honour bound to support by arms." The Emperor had once said of Louis Philippe, that he had fallen "because he was not sincere with England"; it looked now as though he were steering full on the same rock, for his own sincerity was flawed by dangerous reservations.
England remained an interested spectator, but a spectator only, while the French ruler played that curiously calculated game of his, which did so much towards insuring the independence of Italy and its consolidation into one free monarchy. It was no disinterested game, as the cession of Nice and Savoy to France by Piedmont would alone have proved. It was daring to the point of rashness; for as a French general of high rank said, there needed but the slightest check to the French arms, and "it was all up with the dynasty!" Yet the "idea" which furnished the professed motive for the Emperor's warlike action was one dear to English sympathies, and many an English heart rejoiced in the solid good secured for Italy, though without our national co-operation. There was a proud compensating satisfaction in the knowledge that, when a crisis of unexampled and terrible importance had come in our own affairs, England had perforce dealt with it single-handed and with supreme success.
Those who can remember the fearful summer of 1857 can hardly recall its wild events without some recurrence of the thrill of horror that ran through the land, as week after week the Indian news of mutiny and massacre reached us. It was a surprise to the country at large, more than to the authorities, who were informed already that a spirit of disaffection had been at work among our native troops in Bengal, and that there was good reason to believe in the existence of a conspiracy for sapping the allegiance of these troops. Later events have left little doubt that such a conspiracy did exist, and that its aim was the total subversion of British power. Our advance in Hindostan had been rapid, the changes following on it many, and not always such as the Oriental mind could understand or approve. Early in the reign, in 1847, an energetic Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, went out to India, who introduced railways, telegraphs, and cheap postage, set on foot a system of native education, and vigorously fought the ancient iniquities of suttee, thuggee, and child-murder. Perhaps his aggressive energy worked too fast, too fierily; perhaps his peremptory reforms, not less than his high-handed annexations of the Punjaub, Oude, and other native States, awakened suspicion in the mind of the Hindoo, bound as he was by the immemorial fetters of caste, and dreading with a shuddering horror innovations that might interfere with its distinctions; for to lose caste was to be outlawed among men and accursed in the sight of God.