HL Deb 31 July 1900 vol 87 cc145-9

My Lords, I have to ask the House to consider a matter which I regret to say is not strange to your deliberations, but which can never be mentioned here without arousing feelings of sympathy and grief. I have to propose an Address to Her Majesty with respect to the lamentable murder of the late King of Italy. As I have said, this is not the first time during the past half-century that the murder of heads of States, accused of no crime, and guilty of no special fault in the eyes of their subjects, has yet been carried out by the irresponsible decrees of secret societies, and under the ruthless execution of the fanatics who are chosen to accomplish such crimes. These murders have not been confined to any one political opinion. They are dictated by no thought for the peculiar system which the victim of the outrage might represent. In the last half-century we have seen the murder of three Presidents of Republics, and even to-day we can only say that we have seen the murder of two monarchs. It is a fearful roll, not only because of our sympathy for the people over whom these men, honoured, valued, and beloved, ruled, but also on account of the dark depths of human villainy and crime which it opens to our view beneath the smiling surface of society, and with which it threatens the best interests of society in the early future. It was certainly no fault of the King of Italy, no defect attached to his character, which produced the fearful calamity which we are lamenting to-day. He was a thorough Italian—the son of the man by whom Italy was founded, the inheritor of all his popularity and of many of his greatest qualities. He spared himself nothing for the benefit of his country, and watched over the slowly-growing fortunes and strength of Italy with a care that never flagged, and with a judgment that seldom failed. He showed in everything the deepest sympathy for his people. He sustained that military feeling which undoubtedly at the bottom they possess. He was deeply beloved for his own personal qualities, and also for the qualities of his Queen, to whose virtues and whose popularity and whose deep grief we all render a unanimous homage of sympathy and regret. He showed what his character was at a time which brings the force of men's strength to light—at the time of the great cholera epidemic in Naples. There are many men brave on the field of battle who would blench at the danger of contagion from the fell disease which he faced without hesitation and without stint; and nothing endeared him more to his people. He was a man unstained by any offence towards his countrymen or vice to the society to which he belonged—a man high in the esteem, belief, and homage of all his contemporaries—a man who loved his people above all things, and spent his life for them—a man whose family had given themselves to the fostering of the Italian nationality with an ardour and devoted continuance that led to constant success—it was that man that the secret societies selected and the ruthless executioner struck at in obedience to their decree. My Lords, we cannot consider these political actions, because, as I have said, all forms of political life have been equally struck at by them. We cannot consider them the result of private revenge, for there is no trace of any motive of private revenge to actuate those by whom these deeds have been done. It is nothing but that morbid thirst for notoriety which is the bane and the curse of our modern civili- sation; it is that which again and again has led men to the commission of the most awful crimes, and which threatens the very existence of society if it cannot be arrested. My Lords, I shall not on this occasion diverge for a moment to speak of the remedies—if remedies there are—by which such a state of things can be met. I have never hesitated to express my own belief that, with respect to these crimes, modern society errs on the side of leniency.


Hear, hear!


But be that as it may, we have now but one duty, and that is to mark and record the sense which we have constantly felt for the Sovereign who has done so much to nurture the early growth of the kingdom of Italy, to express our deep sympathy for the objects which he had in view, and our profound regret that the arm on which Italy leant so strongly has, by the assassin, been struck down. We have, my Lords, to express our sympathy —it is barren, but it is the expression of a feeling which exists deeply in this whole community—and I have no hesitation in submitting to your Lordships the motion standing in my name.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to convey to Her Majesty the expression of the indignation and deep concern with which this House has learned the assassination of Her Majesty's ally His Majesty the King of Italy, and to pray Her Majesty that she will be graciously pleased to express to His Majesty the present King, on the part of this House, their abhorrence of the crime, and their sympathy with the Royal Family of Italy and with the Government and people of that country."—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)


My Lords, I rise to second the motion made by the noble Marquess. I have very little to add to what he said, for he with his usual ability and eloquence has expressed, I believe, the sentiments felt by us all. But in the first place I will say a word upon that dismal subject to which the noble Marquess referred at the commencement of his speech—the existence in our highly civilised society of a band of men, of murderers, of a more atrocious kind, perhaps, even than we knew of in ages when civilisation was not so much advanced. I agree with the noble Marquess that it is a subject for deep reflection that there should exist, not only in Monarchies but also in Republics—indeed in all civilised society, I fear—men who are perfectly ready, for motives which it is almost impossible to understand, to commit crime of the most extreme atrocity —I say extreme atrocity. There have been times when men have assassinated their enemies, have from political motives assassinated men who they believed were doing some serious injury to their country, have assassinated men who were held up to execration as tyrants. Such assassins, at all events, had motives which one can understand, however unjustifiable those acts were; but here is a case where it is not the oppressor that is singled out. It is not a man who might have created enemies by unjust or too severe government, but the man who of all others has been an honour to the class to which he belonged—the highest class in Europe—and who has been an honour to them and a benefactor to the people over whom he has ruled. I need only remind your Lordships of the assassination of the Emperor Alexander of Russia. I was two years in Russia, and I had the honour of not infrequently seeing and speaking with him, and I will say that a more humane and more benevolent man,, a man who had more at heart the interests of the people over whom he ruled, never existed, and yet that man was singled out by the assassin. And now we have a man who, by universal assent, has invariably endeavoured to sustain the best interests of his country, and has invariably endeavoured to promote the liberties of his country, and has shown himself personally to have the deepest sympathy with all classes in a manner which one would suppose would have touched the hardest heart. Yet that is the man singled out for assassination. But perhaps more horrible and more atrocious— if anything could be more atrocious—was the dreadful assassination of the Empress of Austria, a lady who was, I suppose, one of the kindest, most amiable, and most beneficent that ever occupied a throne. With regard to the King of Italy, the noble Marquess has said everything on that subject, and I need add nothing to what has been said by him, but I will only make mention of this, that I believe the deep sympathy which is felt for the Royal Family and the people of Italy in every civilised country is perhaps even more felt in this country, owing to the extremely cordial and friendly relations which we have enjoyed with the Italians and their Government for many years. There is no country where, I think, we have gained more of the esteem of the population, because it is known that our sympathies have been strong with their endeavour to establish a free constitutional government. We have felt the difficulties which they have had to sustain, and that being the case I think we offer our sympathy with them with almost more emphasis than could be offered by people between whom there is not such a strong bond. As regards the future, I myself hold entirely to the opinion of the noble Marquess that there has been a tendency to treat these crimes too lightly and too leniently. I am not myself, I hope, one of those who have the least wish for indiscriminate revenge, but I do say that society is perfectly justified— nay, bound—to exercise a salutary control over and salutary punishment against those whom I do not hesitate to characterise as enemies of the human race. I most cordially second the Address.

On Question, agreed to, nemine dissentiente.

Ordered, That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.