HL Deb 24 March 1854 vol 131 cc1267-9

; My Lords, before your Lordships separate, I would beg to put to the noble Earl at the head of Her Majesty's Government a question upon a subject which is just now of much public interest, and I trust that, although I have not given any formal notice of it, he will be both able and willing to give a satisfactory answer. Evening after evening discussions have taken place in this House relative to the affairs of the East, and to the war with Russia, upon which this country may be said to have entered; and those discussions have certainly not been devoid of interest and of public advantage. It is a subject of congratulation that the whole of the correspondence with Russia, both secret and official, having been laid upon the table, it has been found to be such as to reflect no dishonour upon the British name, and it may justly be added that it is most creditable to those who have been entrusted with the conduct of our foreign relations. These papers show that everything has been done that could have been done to avert the calamity of war, and they conclusively establish the justice of the cause we have espoused. Again, from the discussions that have taken place on the naval and military armaments, it has been satisfactorily shown that the most efficient preparation has been made, and that the Government have not been wanting in the emergency in careful attention to the good of the public service. Hence they have acquired, at this important crisis, the cordial support of public opinion, and the national enthusiasm in the impending conflict is scarcely less than that which animates the forces that are now on their way to the scene of action. All these are most auspicious and cheering circumstances, but there is one circumstance which many in this country view with regret and disappointment, and that is, the omission on the part of the Government to take any step for publicly invoking the Divine blessing upon our arms, and upon the cause they are sent forth to support. Such a step would, I conceive, have been right, at a time when the country is embarking in a war, certainly of a very formidable character, and of which no one can foresee the issue. We may feel confident in the justice of our cause, we may feel confident in the strength of our armaments, and we shall certainly not be disappointed in the valour of the brave men we have sent forth; but "the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong;" and if we look not to the Almighty disposer of events for his guidance and blessing, we may find our confidence no better justified in the event than was that of the Spanish Monarch, who once sent against this country the armada that he styled "invincible." I am no advocate of superstitious forms and observances, but they may nevertheless be regarded in general as implying a recognition of the Deity. I therefore take the liberty of mentioning what came under my personal observation, when I happened to be with a Russian army in 1829, on the occasion of a force being detached upon some special service from Count Diebitsch's army at Adrianople. The troops were formed in an open plain around an altar, at which a Greek priest officiated, and after a certain rite, doubtless including the offering up of prayer, had been performed, the troops were sprinkled with holy water. The ceremonial, though not very intelligible in its forms, was undoubtedly designed to invoke the Divine blessing upon the expedition, and the example is so far worthy of imitation. Forms of prayer and devotion in this country are happily simple and intelligible. Prayer is made during the sitting of Parliament for the Divine blessing upon your deliberations, and suitable forms of prayer are ordered for use in our national churches on occasions of calamity or of danger. Surely, then, on the departure of so many brave men to engage in the strife of arms, it would be suitable that some public acknowledgment should be made of national reliance on Divine support. I trust the noble Earl will, if he has not already done so, take such steps in the matter as would be becoming in the Government of a Christian people. I therefore venture to inquire, as a matter of much public interest, whether it is intended that any form of religious observance should be commanded in reference to the war in which the country is now engaged?


considered the noble Earl's appeal somewhat premature, for war not having yet been declared, the time had not arrived when such a step as that to which the noble Earl referred could properly be taken, even if it should be thought proper to take it at all. He would remind the noble Earl, too, that there was in our liturgy a prayer to be publicly used in time of war, and which for the same reason—that war did not exist—was not read in our churches; and it would, he submitted, be premature to announce any proceeding of this sort, until the emergency to which it was to be directed arose.

House adjourned to Monday next.