HL Deb 13 July 1854 vol 135 cc124-32

said: My Lords, I trust I may claim your indulgence while I make a very short statement on a subject personal to myself, arising out of a charge to which—from the place in which it was made—it would be irregular for me to refer more particularly. I have been accused, and it has been imputed to me as a grave offence, of having introduced into English society, and presented to an English club, a Russian subject—the subject of a country with which we are at present at war. Count Pahlen, my Lords, a Russian subject, is at this moment in this country. I believe he is well known to several of your Lordships; his high character, his accomplishments, and his partiality for this country, are also well known. He has come here, not from Russia, not from any part of the Continent, but from Madeira, where he has been spending the winter for the advantage of the climate. I believe he has never been employed in any capacity by his Government; but he has spent the greater part of his life in travelling in various parts of the world, and this country he has visited repeatedly. His object in coming here at this time is to settle some small pecuniary matters, but principally to take leave of those intimate friends whom he has here, before that, which at his age, and under present circumstances, may be a final separation from them. As to the charge of introducing Count Pahlen into English society, I think I need only say, that at the time of my birth he was an intimate friend of my father, of the Duke of Wellington, of Earl Grey, and of a great many of the most distinguished men in this country. Since the earliest time that I can remember I have received kindness from that gentleman, and I have always seen him treated with the greatest respect by those on whose judgment I have been taught most to rely. On his arrival here I invited him to my house, and I signed, as I have frequently done before, the printed form of recommendation, on the receipt of which it is usual for the Committee of the Travellers' Club to invite strangers as visitors to the club. That my conduct has not been distasteful to that society, I infer from the fact that in the space of one short ride along Pall Mall yesterday not less than twenty members of the club stopped me to express their indignation at the complaint which had been made. I have stated thus much to show the character of Count Pahlen's visit here, and that, from the somewhat exceptional position which he holds, he has strong claims to courtesy and civility from the members of English society with whom he has been so long in honourable relation; but I may, perhaps, be allowed to say a few words upon the more genera question. I entirely deny that it is not justifiable on the part of an Englishman to treat with civility and kindness the subject of a foreign Power, even when we are at war with that Power. The cases to the contrary are numerous on both sides, even during the late war, when the struggle was so intense, and when so many new restrictions were imposed on international intercourse. The law of nations in times of war was originally barbarous and unchristian in the highest degree; but, as civilisation advanced, mitigations have taken place from time to time in the severity of that code. The office which I lately had the honour to hold gave me the opportunity of taking a humble part in the modification of our own practice in time of war. Those modifications have received the almost unanimous approval of this country and the sanction of public opinion all over the world. My Lords, it must be the interest of all civilised nations to mitigate, as far as possible, the evils of war; but, if it is the interest of any country, it is especially the interest of this country, which has connections and subjects all over the world, and even at this very moment in Russia itself. The only limit I know to such mitigation is, that we should not diminish our own power of carrying on the war with vigour, and therefore of bringing it to a speedy conclusion; but I ask your Lordships, whether civility to an individual stranger in this country, where everything is as open as noonday, can in the slightest degree weaken our means of attack or strengthen our enemy's means of defence? For my own part it appears to me that, if a perfectly faithful statement were taken to the Emperor of Russia of the material state of this country at the present moment, and of the feelings which animate every class of society with which at least I am in the slightest degree acquainted, such an account would not lead that Monarch to take a more favourable view of the probable issue of the war than he does at present. But, my Lords, as I have been accused of acting, not only in an unbecoming, but also in an illegal manner, it is some consolation to me to be able to say, that I have the sanction of the highest authority living in international law for every proposition which I have taken the liberty of laying before your Lordships. As a mere individual Member of your Lordships' House, I might, perhaps, have thought it impertinent—if I may use such a word—to trouble your Lordships with any observations arising out of this subject; but, looking to the official position which I hold, and to the effect which any misrepresentation might have on our national relations, I thought it right to trouble your Lordships with this short statement; and I hope I sit down cleared, in your Lordships' opinion, of having acted improperly or unbecomingly, either as a servant of Her Majesty or an individual Member of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, although I think that my noble Friend has somewhat exaggerated—has stated more strongly than he need—the remarks which appear to have been made against him upon this subject, I am very glad that he has brought it before your Lordships, that the country may see that on both sides of the House there is no sympathy with the remarks which have been made, offensive to the noble Earl, and offensive to a high and honourable gentleman, who has for a few days enjoyed the hospitality of this country. I can only say that for my own part I regretted to see those observations made both in a public journal and in another place. I have had the honour of knowing Count Pahlen for many years. He is, perhaps, more interested in, and has a greater partiality for, this country, than any other foreigner whom I ever knew. I know that the whole occupations of his life, his private tastes, and his love of travelling, remove him entirely from diplomatic or political questions, in which he takes only that interest which every intelligent person must take in the questions which are being discussed at the present moment; and I cannot conceive how any exaggeration could have seen, in his presence, any danger to the interests of this country. Your Lordships know that I am personally an eager advocate for the vigorous prosecution of this war, which I consider both just and necessary; but your Lordships will do me the justice to say, that in this House I have never used language which may be construed, even by those partial to the Russian Government, as implying abuse either of Russian statesmen and diplomatists, of the manner of their performing their duties, or of the Russian nation itself. I have heard the word "barbarous" used in this House as applying to Russia, and I should be anxious that all foreigners should think that when we use that adjective it is applied not to the persons of the Russians as being Russians, but to their mode of Government as compared with ours. We all know that there are many Russian gentlemen of most accomplished and polished manners and understandings. The gentleman who has been alluded to is one, and we have seen others in this country who are models of the intelligence and the high feeling—who are too well known to your Lordships to make any language necessary to prove how unjustly the word "barbarous" can be applied to them, or indiscriminately to the country and people they represent. That the Russians are not barbarous has been proved by the conduct of their generals. I know nothing more touching, and have read nothing in history more gratifying to our feelings of chivalry and Christianity, than the behaviour of the Governor of Odessa, General Osten Sacken, and his most amiable wife. I believe your Lordships know how the General himself behaved towards the prisoners, and how his lady behaved to their wounded officers and the poor boy who had fallen into the power of the Russians. I am glad to have said what I have done, because, although no one can more strongly feel anxiety for the carrying on of this war with the whole force and vigour of this country, though no words that I can use can express my desire that Her Majesty's Government should continue it, yet I should be sorry that in an Assembly which I may call the highest, and which, I believe, is certainly the oldest Legislative Assembly in the world, language should be used which should cause misapprehension on this subject, or that our feelings upon the point to which my noble Friend has called the attention of your Lordships should be misunderstood and misconstrued.


said, that he could boast of forty-two years' intimacy with Count Pahlen, and considered the friendship of such a man a legitimate subject of congratulation.


It is scarcely necessary for me to occupy your Lordships' time in rising to bear my cheerful testimony to the worth and merit of that distinguished gentleman, whose friendship noble Lords on both sides of the House seem mutually desirous to acknowledge and to boast of. I can only say, that I myself have personally had the advantage of knowing Count Pahlen for the last thirty years, and a man more distinguished in society I do not know, or one who has made himself more respected and esteemed in every way. Under all circumstances and at all times during the period I have had the pleasure of knowing him, I can truly say that all my experience of his character and conduct leads me to speak in the highest terms of both; he is a gentleman who, from the habits and tendencies of his mind, has kept himself peculiarly free from political occupations. He is really a citizen of the world, and as one of those many foreign and distinguished men who have a taste for the society of our countrymen, I believe him entitled to our high consideration and esteem. I am one of those, my Lords, who think that in a time of war, equally as in a time of peace, there should be men who form as it were the connecting links of society, and who exert the vigour of their minds, the purity of their intentions, and the greatness of their genius, in unison with the intelligence of the great and learned men of all other countries, as well as their own, to combine, and, as opportunities occur, to diffuse the blessings of civilisation to the different nations of the world, and this in the face of, and independently of war.


said, that the highly respectable gentleman to whom reference had been made needed no testimony from him, after what had fallen from noble Lords on both sides of the House. With all that had been said in praise of Count Pahlen he most heartily concurred. He rose principally for the purpose of declaring how entirely he concurred with his noble Friend (the Marquess of Lansdowne), that it was a most excellent thing that we should, as far as it was possible, mitigate the inevitable horrors of war by not imposing more restraints upon private and personal intercourse than the necessities of war rendered imperative. It was a great mistake to suppose that such intercourse of a few individuals was in any way a modern invention. Until the Emperor Napoleon, then First Consul of France, took the step which he did in 1803, that intercourse was most usual during the whole course of a war of extraordinary violence and excitement between the parties; and even after the breaking out of hostilities in 1803 there were numerous, though not so frequent, instances of Frenchmen being allowed to remain in this country, and of Englishmen remaining in France, with the proper passports, and under the proper restraints and superintendence, but still being allowed freely to inhabit the two countries. He had him- self known many instances of this. It was not even in modern times, and in the more mitigated form of war alone, that this had prevailed. It was known to their Lordships that, even in the dark ages, there were great exceptions as regarded individuals to the rule which excluded the intercourse of people in time of war. He had only to remind their Lordships of a distich, which, though not very classical, expressed a much more amicable feeling than classical times frequently exhibited:— Clericus, agricola, mercator tempore guerræ Movetque, colat, commutet, pace fruantur. This showed that we acted for our own interest in thus mitigating the severities of a state of war; and he thought it would be equally to our interest to extend still further that mitigation.


I have had the pleasure of knowing Count Pahlen for many years, and of meeting him in many countries and under various circumstances, and I am enabled to say that I never met a man who, while having due regard to the interest of, and attachment and affection for his own country, became entitled so much to the respect of every other country that he visited. I have the greatest pleasure in bearing my testimony, as a sincere friend, to his goodness and worth.


rejoiced that his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had been induced to say what he had upon this subject, and thought that his noble Friend had not had due credit for the exertions which he had used to effect the improvement that was required in the law of nations. There was no doubt that the laws of this country said, that a contract with an enemy was an unlawful contract; but no one ever could suppose that such an enactment was intended to apply so as to forbid the indulgence of the ordinary civilities of private life with the subject of a foreign country with which we might be at war, and that the encouragement of such civilities could in any way be construed as treason, misprision of treason, felony, or misdemeanor. He considered that the noble Earl had been very improperly assailed on this subject, and he thought too much praise could not be bestowed upon aim for his exertions in mitigating the restrictive laws of warfare. We talked much about law reform; now this branch of the law had received an unspeakable improvement since hostilities began; because, preserving our right of blockade, preserving our right of preventing contraband of war being imported into an enemy's country, we had given a great accession to our strength as well as to the commerce of the world, by saying that free bottoms should make free goods.


said, that his imagination could suggest to him only two grounds on which any person could entertain apprehensions concerning the presence of this distinguished foreigner in our country. One was that he was employed as a diplomatic agent to the Government. That imputation Her Majesty's Government had fully answered, and he was sure that the experience of the noble Lords on the opposite side who had spoken would show them how unlikely it was that Count Pahlen should be here in such a capacity. The next imputation would be more offensive—namely, that he was here as a spy. An intimacy of thirty-four years' standing would prevent his (the Earl of Ellesmere's) believing for a moment that such an employment was consistent with the high character of that gentleman; but assuming that he was employed in that capacity, he said that it would be the interest of this country and the duty of their Lordships to retain him in this country altogether rather than to dismiss him, to give him access to all the clubs, and to all the information that society could afford him; for what lesson would he carry back to his own country? We were told the other day with perfect truth and justice, in a speech delivered by a very distinguished servant of the Crown, upon a public occasion, that much of the misfortunes of this unhappy contest originated in the ignorance of the Sovereigns of the Continent. He believed that to be the root of the matter. What, then, would be the report of an intelligent Russian as the result of a mission to this country? Is there anything which we should seek to conceal from his knowledge? Would he not tell his Sovereign that the people of this country are rallying round its standard with a unanimity which could never have been anticipated by those who do not understand our institutions and our habits? Would he not tell him that an alliance, which he doubtless thought would never come to pass, now appeared to promise immutability, if that term might be applied to any human institutions? And if this were so, would not the lesson he had learnt as to what he had seen and what he had heard be such as we could allow him safely to carry home to his Sovereign? These were the lessons which even a three weeks' residence in this country would enable Count Pahlen to carry back to his Sovereign, and he should very much regret the withholding of such lessens from the Sovereign of Russia.


My Lords, after what has passed and the observations which have been made from all parts of the House relative to Count Pahlen—and in which, as far as they personally affect that gentleman, I cordially join—it will scarcely be necessary for me to assure your Lordships that Count Pahlen has not arrived in this country on a secret mission to me—a notion which has been, I hope, not seriously entertained, but at any rate put forth and asserted by those who oppose the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government generally, and mine in particular. ["Name!"] The authority I refer to is that of a newspaper which it is very well known is the organ of the noble Lords opposite. ["No, no!"] Well, then, in connection with the name of this Russian gentleman, and to show the truth of such authoritative statement, I beg to assure your Lordships that, although for the last forty years I have been a more intimate friend of Count Pahlen than I have been of his Sovereign, yet, notwithstanding this friendship, until I was made aware of the attack which has been made upon my noble Friend (Earl Granville), I had not even heard that Count Pahlen was in this country.