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Karl Marx

London, March 2. Layard, the great Nineveh scholar, in a speech to his constituents of Aylesbury the day before yesterday, made an interesting chapter public characterising the way in which the oligarchy distributes the most important state posts on the one hand, and the highly ambiguous attitude of the so-called liberal and independent Members of Parliament to this oligarchy on the other.

Layard told us that Lord Granville appointed him Under-Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, where he served for three months, when Russell's Ministry was overthrown and the Derby Cabinet was being formed. Derby proposed to him that he should stay in his post until the successor appointed for him, Lord Stanley (Derby's son), returned from India. Then he would entrust him (Layard) with a diplomatic mission abroad.

"All my political friends," Layard said, "thought I ought to have accepted that offer. Lord J. Russell alone expressed a contrary opinion, which I unhesitatingly accepted."[a]

So Layard rejected Derby's offer. Well! Lord Russell is Minister again and Layard is not forgotten. Russell now invites him to a ministerial banquet where he is to take his seat as Under-Secretary of the "Board of Control"[b], i. e. the Ministry for India. Layard agrees. Suddenly, however, Russell remembers that an elderly Whig gentleman, by the name of Sir Thomas Redington, who in the past had been in charge of Irish, though never of Asiatic affairs, "is still unprovided for" (literally). He therefore gives Layard to understand that he should not stand in the way of the accommodation of the elderly gentleman. Layard resigns again. Russell, encouraged by the self-sacrificing modesty of the scholar, conveys to him that he should get right out of the way and accept a consular post in Egypt. This time Layard is infuriated, he refuses and becomes conspicuous in Parliament by making important speeches against the oriental policy of the Ministry.

Palmerston has no sooner formed his Cabinet than he seeks to compensate him by offering him the post of Secretary in the Ordnance Office. Layard rejects this, as he knows nothing at all about artillery, etc. How naive! As though the retiring Secretary— Mr. Monsell, one of the brokers of the Irish Brigade[58]—had ever been able to tell an ordinary musket from a needle gun! Palmerston now offers him the Under-Secretaryship in the War Ministry. Layard accepts, but the next morning Palmerston has discovered that Frederick Peel—that bureaucratic nonentity—can at this moment not be spared from the War Ministry, of whose functions Peel notoriously understands nothing. As a substitute he finally offers Layard the Under-Secretaryship in the Colonial Office, in Russell's name. Layard considers that the present situation is too difficult to engage in the study of fifty colonies with which he has never before been concerned. He refuses, and there this edifying story ends.

The only moral which the ministerial papers draw from it is: that Layard is still very inexperienced in the way of the world and has iniquitously forfeited his Assyrian fame.

Written on March 2, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 107, March 5, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] "Mr. Layard and His Constituents", The Times, No. 21990, March 1, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[58] The Irish Brigade was the name given to the Irish faction in the British Parliament from the 1830s to 1850s. Up to 1847, the Irish Brigade was led by Daniel O'Connell. As neither the Tories nor the Whigs had a decisive majority the Brigade was able to tip the balance in Parliament and sometimes even decide the fate of the government.

In the early fifties, a number of MPs belonging to this faction formed an alliance with the radical Irish Tenant-Right League and set up what they called an Independent Opposition in the House of Commons. However, the leaders of the Irish Brigade soon made a deal with the British ruling circles, securing some secondary posts in Aberdeen's Coalition Government and refusing to support the League's demands. This demoralised the Independent Opposition and ultimately led to its collapse (1859).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.57-59), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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