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THE BANK CHARTER.
person, and delivering a speech which contained the following clause, showing that the government had resolved to introduce farther measures for the reform of parliament during the coming session: 'Your attention will be called to the laws which regulate the representation of the people in parliament, with a view to consider what amendments may be safely and beneficially made therein.'
Seldom in the whole course of its history had the bank been placed in a more critical position. The provisions of the bank-charter act restricting the issue of notes had been found inexecutable, and were therefore suspended. The authority for this suspension was communicated in a letter addressed by the first lord of the Treasury to the governors of the Bank. The reason assigned for this step was the failure of certain mercantile and trading establishments, and the consequent withdrawal from circulation of a large amount of paper-money. But the true motive for the relaxation was the condition to which the Bank itself was reduced, which was such that, without the liberty thus afforded, it would have been unable to meet the demands made on it. On Wednesday November the 18th, when the accounts were made up, it appeared that there were in the Bank notes and gold to the value of 1,462,1531., while the deposits that might at any time be drawn out amounted to 18,248,0037. On the following day the liabilities of the Bank were upwards of 4,000,000l. more than they had been in the preceding July, while its available resources were more than 4,000,000l. less than they had been at that time. If therefore the act of 1844 had been strictly carried out, the Bank must have failed. Under these circumstances the government sanctioned the suspension of the act in this respect, and the Bank at once issued notes for 180,000l. more than the law permitted. Having done this necessary but illegal act, the government determined to hold a December session and ask parliament to indemnify them for their unavoidable violation of the law. This session lasted only eight days, and was terminated on the 11th of December by an adjournment to the 4th of February.
There were other events besides those we have recorded
which render this year remarkable. While the great struggle was going on which was to determine whether India should be preserved or lost to England, the Social
Science Association was being founded, the South Kensington Museum established, the noble reading-room of the British Museum inaugurated, the Art-treasures Exhibition held at Manchester, and the first Handel festival at the Crystal Palace. Great efforts were being made to convey the electric telegraph across the Atlantic, which, though not successful, encouraged the hope of future success. The Leviathan or Great Eastern, by far the most gigantic steam-ship ever constructed, was brought to a completion; and though the attempts to launch her had not as yet succeeded, there was no doubt that she would in the course of the next few months be floating in the element for which she was destined. Mr. Macaulay was raised to the peerage, and Mr. Bright elected member for Birmingham, during his absence from England through illness.
Parliament resumed its sittings on the day to which it had been adjourned. On the 12th of February the government introduced into the House of Commons a bill for the transfer of the government of India from the Company to the Crown; thus obeying the demands of public opinion, which required, especially since the recent rebellion, that the division of authority which had hitherto prevailed in the administration of that great and important possession should at once and for ever be put an end to. We will not enter into any examination of the details of the measure thus brought forward; for a speedy and unexpected catastrophe caused it to be withdrawn shortly after its introduction, under circumstances to which it is necessary that we should briefly refer.
On the 14th of January a most determined attempt was made to assassinate the French emperor, as he was being driven to the opera with the empress and General Roquet. Just as the carriage in which they were riding entered the Rue Lepelletier, a bomb was thrown at it, which instantly exploded and killed twenty persons, without injuring the carriage or its occupants. Almost immediately after, a second bomb was thrown, killing one of the horses, and consequently stopping the carriage. A third bomb burst immediately under the vehicle with a tremendous explosion; but though the carriage itself was almost blown to pieces, its occupants escaped with only very trifling injuries. A man who, at the moment of the last explosion, rushed for
LETTER OF COUNT WALEWSKI.
ward with a dagger and a revolver to accomplish his murderous object was seized by a sergent de ville, and apprehended after a violent struggle, in which his captor was wounded. Just before the attempt was made, a man named Pierri, a refugee who had recently entered France with a forged passport, was recognised and appredended with a bomb in his possession similar to those that had been employed in the murderous attempt, as well as other arms. On the following morning Felix Orsini, who seems to have been the leader of this gang of assassins, was arrested. As these men had come from London, where they had made their preparations for this atrocious attempt, a great number of the French people felt hurt and indignant that, after an alliance so close and so loyal, after the recent sympathy manifested towards England at the time of the outbreak of the Indian war, we should harbour such a crew of villains, and allow the murderous weapons they employed to be constructed without taking steps to prevent this gross abuse of our hospitality. It was felt to be unjust that shelter should be afforded to the assassins of a friendly prince, which would not be afforded to the assassins of the meanest of his subjects. Accordingly Count Walewski, the minister of foreign affairs at Paris, wrote to Count Persigny, the French ambassador at London, a letter which strongly, but not too strongly, expressed the feeling with which the harbouring of such criminals was regarded by the French government and people. It is no longer,' he wrote, 'the hostility of misguided parties manifesting itself by all the excesses of the press and every violence of language; it is no longer even the labour of factions seeking to agitate opinion and to provoke disorder; it is assassination reduced to a doctrine, preached openly, practised in repeated attempts, the most recent of which has struck Europe with stupefaction. Ought, then, the right of asylum to protect such a state of things? Is hospitality due to assassins? Shall English legislation serve to favour their designs and their manoeuvres? and can it continue to protect persons who place themselves by flagrant acts without the pale of the common law ?' Representations in accordance with the instructions thus conveyed were made to the English government by the French ambassador, and favourably received. Lord Palmerston and his colleagues resolved to
bring into parliament a measure bearing on the subject; and in conformity with this determination Lord Palmerston on the 9th of February introduced a bill for the punishment of conspiracy to murder; and though its introduction was strongly opposed by Mr. Kinglake, who moved an amendment, leave to bring in the bill was carried by a majority of 299 to 99. The measure, however, was brought forward under circumstances which strongly tended to rouse the passions of the English nation, and to prevent the bill from obtaining a calm and candid consideration. Addresses had been presented to the emperor from certain members of the French army, some of them holding the rank of colonel, which, while congratulating him on his wonderful escape, contained menaces but too well calculated to wound the susceptibility of the English people. One of these addresses spoke of them as the protectors of 'assassins surpassing those who had gone before them in all that was odious;' another stated that their indignation moved them 'to demand an account of the land of impunity which contains the haunts of the monsters who are sheltered by its laws. Give us the order, sire, and we will pursue them even to their strongholds.' A third address was couched in these terms: 'Let the miserable assassins, the subordinate agents of such crimes, receive the chastisement due to their abominable attempts; but let also the infamous haunt in which machinations so infernal are planned be destroyed for ever.'
This martial balderdash would probably have been treated in England with the contempt it deserved, if it had not unfortunately been inserted in the Moniteur, the organ of the French government, and thus received, or at least appeared to receive to a certain extent, the stamp of the approbation of the French government. It was thought that the French were taking advantage of the critical position in which the Indian revolt had placed us in order to coerce our government. The consequence was, that the spirit of this country was thoroughly roused, and it was determined to meet menace with defiance. The measure brought in by Lord Palmerston was regarded as an unworthy concession to the bombastic threats of the French colonels; and many who at another time would have been disposed to support it, now refused to give it any consideration. In
DEFEAT OF THE GOVERNMENT.
vain did Count Walewski endeavour to remove the unfortunate feeling which these addresses had roused in this country, by expressing his regret at their publication, and explaining that it had arisen from inadvertence, caused by the number of the addresses presented. These apologies and explanations, ample and sincere as they were, did not succeed in allaying the indignation that had been awakened. The claims which the French emperor had established on the friendly feeling of this country were forgotten, and there was a strong combination of parties to defeat the government measure. On the question of the introduction of the bill, Mr. Roebuck, Lord John Russell, Mr. Disraeli, and Mr. Monckton Milnes, declared themselves against it. When the second reading was proposed, on the 19th of February, Mr. Milner Gibson moved the following amendment: That this house hears with much concern that it is alleged that the recent attempt on the life of the emperor of the French has been devised in England, and expresses its detestation of such a wicked enterprise; and that while the house is ready at all times to assist in remedying any defects in the criminal law which, after due investigation, are proved to exist, yet it cannot but regret that her Majesty's government, previously to inviting the house to amend the law of conspiracy at the present time, have not felt it their duty to make some reply to the important despatch received from the French government, dated Paris, January 22nd, 1858, and which has been laid before parliament.' In the debate that followed Mr. Gladstone joined the opponents of the government. When the House divided at the close of the debate the numbers were:
Such was the answer the House of Commons gave, not so much to Lord Palmerston as to the foolish threats of the French colonels. Many of those who thus voted did not wish to overthrow the government; and as the question was not a very vital one, Lord Palmerston might have appealed to the House of Commons for a vote of confidence, which would probably have been accorded to him, and the house, after having exhaled its ill-humour, might