CHAPTER VII. CHANGES GOOD AND EVIL.
With the death of Lord Palmerston in 1865, a sort of truce in the strife of parties, which his supremacy had secured, came to an end. That supremacy had been imperilled for a moment when the Government declined to make an armed intervention in the struggle between Denmark and the German Powers in 1864. Such an intervention would have been very popular with the English people, who could hardly know that "all Germany would rise as one man" to repel it if it were risked. But the English Premier's rare command of his audience in Parliament enabled him to overcome even this difficulty; and the gigantic series of contests on the Continent which resulted in the consolidation of the German empire, the complete liberation of Italy, the overthrow of Imperialism in France and of the temporal power of the Pope even in Rome itself, went on its way without our interference also, which would hardly have been the case had we intermeddled in the ill-understood contention between Denmark and its adversaries as to the Schleswig-Holstein succession.
That strange crime, the murder of President Lincoln, in America just when the long contest between North and South had ended and the cause of true freedom had triumphed, was actually fruitful of good as regarded this country and the United States. A cry of horror went up from all England at the news of that "most accursed assassination," which seemed at the moment to brand the losing cause, whose partisan was guilty of it, with the very mark of Cain. Expressions of sympathy with the outraged country and of admiring regret for its murdered head were lavished by every respectable organ of opinion; while the Queen, by writing in personal sympathy, as one widow to another, to the bereaved wife of Lincoln, made herself, as she has often done, the mouthpiece of her people's best feeling. Again and again has it been manifested that America and England are in more cordial relations with each other since the tremendous civil war than before it. It is no matter of statecraft, but a better understanding between two great English-speaking peoples, drawn into closer fellowship by far more easy communication than of old.
A little war with Ashantee, not too successful, a difficulty with Japan, some more serious troubles with New Zealand, exhaust the list of the warlike enterprises of England in the last years of Palmerston. In a year or two after his death we were engaged in a brief and entirely successful campaign against the barbaric King Theodore of Abyssinia, "a compound of savage virtue and more than savage ambition and cruelty," who, imagining himself wronged and slighted by England, had seized a number of British subjects, held them in hard captivity, and treated them with such capricious cruelty as made it very manifest that their lives were not worth an hour's purchase. It fell to the Ministry of Mr. Disraeli, Premier on the resignation of his colleague Lord Derby, who had displaced Earl Russell in that office, to bring this strange potentate to reason by force of arms. Under Sir Robert Napier's management the work was done with remarkable precision; no English life was lost; and but few of our soldiers were wounded; Magdala, the mountain eyrie of King Theodore, was stormed and destroyed, and the captives, having been surrendered under dread of the British arms, were restored to freedom and safety. The honour of our land, imperilled by the oppression of our subjects was triumphantly vindicated; other good was not achieved. Theodore, unwilling to survive defeat, was found dead by his own hand when Magdala was carried, and he was afterwards succeeded on the Abyssinian throne by a chief who had more than all his predecessor's vices and none of his virtues. For this well-managed campaign Sir Robert Napier was raised to the peerage as Lord Napier of Magdala. The swift success, the brilliant promptitude, of his achievement are almost painful to recall to-day, in face of another enterprise for the rescue of a British subject, conducted by a commander not less able and resolute, at the head of troops as daring and as enthusiastic, which was turned into a conspicuous failure by unhappy delayings on the part of the civil authorities, in the fatal winter of 1884-5.