The Opening of Parliament
London, January 24.
The parliamentary session was opened yesterday. In the House of Lords, Lord Ellenborough gave notice that on Thursday, February 1, he would move for an official account of the number of troops—infantry, cavalry and sailors—sent out to the Crimea, and also the number of killed, wounded, sick and otherwise disabled[a]. The Duke of Richmond asked the Secretary for War why those who fought at Balaklava had been passed over in the awarding of medals. Not only those who fought at Balaklava would receive medals, but also all the sailors in the Black Sea area who had not been in combat, thus the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary for War, trumped the Duke of Richmond. The Duke of Richmond, on the other hand, together with Lords Ellenborough and Hardwicke, asserted the truth of the proposition advanced long ago by Adam Smith that the value of fancy goods, hence of medals too, is in inverse proportion to their quantity[b]. After this important debate, which lasted about half an hour, the Lords adjourned.
The House of Commons was crowded. But the proceedings did not come up to expectations. Disraeli was not present, and Sir Benjamin Hall spoke. Having begun at a quarter to four, the sitting was over by 6 p.m. The Roman Senate has been admired for the dignified tranquility with which it received the news of the defeat at Cannae. The patres conscripti[c] of Rome have now been surpassed by the Commons of England. It was impossible to see these faces and to believe in the destruction of the British armies in the Crimea. The state of health of the Crimean army seems to have prompted Sir Benjamin Hall to introduce two Bills to improve the running of the health inspectorate in England. Sir Benjamin Hall is one of the so-called Radicals, of the same type as Sir William Molesworth, Osborne and Co. The radicalism of these gentlemen lies in their demanding ministerial posts even though they neither belong to the oligarchy nor possess plebeian talent. But their mere presence in the Ministry is a radical fact. So say their friends. Hence, when cholera was raging with great virulence in England in the summer of 1854 and the Board of Health, until then under the control of Palmerston, the Home Secretary, proved as incompetent as the medical department of the camp outside Sevastopol, the Coalition considered it a suitable time to create a new ministerial post, an independent President of the Board of Health, and to strengthen itself by making the "Radical" Sir Benjamin Hall a member of the Government. So Sir Benjamin Hall became Minister of Health. Cholera, it is true, did not disappear from London as soon as his appointment appeared in the Gazette, but a certain Taylor disappeared from Punch, where he had been poking fun at the Coalition and the Emperor of Russia. For Sir Benjamin Hall appointed him Secretary of the Board of Health at a salary of £1,000. As a Radical, Sir Benjamin Hall loves radical cures. As for the merits of his Bills, there will be time enough to discuss them when they are introduced. Yesterday they merely served to give him the opportunity of making his ministerial début in the House of Commons.
In answer to Layard's question,
"whether the Ministry has any objection to lay on the table of the House the correspondence that has taken place with foreign Powers with regard to the treaty of the 2d of December, 1854, and especially any document communicated to the Russian Government containing the interpretation put by the British and French governments on the Four Points[d], not for negotiation but for acceptance",
Lord John Russell stated that he could not say if it would be possible to lay on the table any of the documents in question. Such a thing was not parliamentary. With reference to the history of the Four Points, however, he was able to tell his honourable friend, quite in general, the following: At the end of November Russia, through Gorchakov, had declared her acceptance of what is known as the Four Points; then came the treaty of December 2; then on December 28 a meeting in Vienna between Gorchakov and the ambassadors of England, France and Austria. The French Ambassador had, in the name of the Allies, read out a document in which they gave their interpretation of the Four Points an interpretation which was to be considered as the basis of negotiations. In the third point it was proposed to put an end to Russia's preponderance in the Black Sea. Gorchakov did not accept this interpretation, he said however that he wanted to contact his Government for instructions. Ten days later he informed Count Buol that he had received these instructions. On January 7 or 8 another meeting was held in the offices of the Austrian Foreign Minister. Gorchakov read out a memorandum containing the views of his Government. Count Buol, Lord Westmorland and Baron de Bourqueney declared that they had no authority to accept the memorandum. The basis of negotiations had to be acceptance of the interpretation of the Four Points. Gorchakov then withdrew his memorandum and accepted the interpretation as the basis of negotiations. Russell added that despite her acceptance of this "basis" Russia had the right to dispute "every point" of the same as soon as it was definitely formulated. (A preliminary draft existed already.) The British Government stated that it was ready to open negotiations on the aforementioned basis. "But hitherto it has not yet given its ambassador any authorisation to negotiate." The last sentence is the only new piece of information Russell conceded to the Commons. The most important moment of the sitting was Roebuck's announcement that
"on Thursday next he should move for a select committee to inquire into the numbers and condition of our army before Sevastopol, and into the conduct of those departments of the Government whose duty it was to administer to the wants of that army".
The Times "implores" Roebuck to "cry aloud and spare not"[e]. The imploring of The Times and the past of Mr. Roebuck are neither of them likely to remove entirely the suspicion that Roebuck will cry, or rather croak, to prevent others from speaking. Thersites, as far as we know, was never used by Ulysses, but Roebuck is certainly being used by the Whigs, who in their own way are as cunning as Ulysses.
Written on January 24, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 45, January 27, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW
The debates in the House of Lords and the House of Commons on January 23 are given according to The Times, No. 21959, January 24, 1855.
Adam Smith has: "All sorts of luxuries and curiosities" (An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p. 354).—Ed.
Honorary title of the ancient Roman senator.—Ed.
See this volume, pp. 579-84.—Ed.
The Times, No. 21959, January 24, 1855, leader.—Ed.
On August 2, 216 B.C. a major battle of the Second Punic War took place at Cannae (south-eastern Italy), in which forty-eight thousand Romans were killed and ten thousand taken prisoner.
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13
(pp.600-602), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980