to Mr. Evarts
Paris , February 4, 1881. (Received February 21.)
Sir: The debate which took place yesterday in the Chamber of Deputies, closing with a declaration from Mr. Barthélemy St. Hilaire, the minister of foreign affairs, will do much to quiet the uneasiness lately prevailing here and throughout Europe in apprehension of war growing out of the Greco-Turkish question, and the fear which within a few days has been entertained of a change in the French cabinet and policy by the retirement of Mr. St. Hilaire.
The position of France during and ever since the Berlin conference has been friendly to Greece, so much so that Mr. Waddington, her representative in that conference, was called a philhellene. Mr. St. [Page 394] Hilaire, too, whose reputation as an author and philosopher rests upon studies in Greek literature, has been considered a friend of Greece, until, of late, the publication of his circular of instructions to the French diplomatic representatives showed a reserve on the part of France and a more severe disposition in regard to the explosive policy of the little kingdom. This publication was viewed, however, by the diplomatic world with satisfaction as tending to preserve peace by restraining the bellicose Greeks.
But a few days since articles began to appear in the Republique Francaise, which is looked upon by many as Mr. Gambetta’s organ, criticizing Mr. St. Hilaire’s policy in such sharp terms that it was interpreted to mean that Mr. Gambetta had determined on a change in the cabinet, and that Mr. St. Hilaire should go out. When Mr. Proust, the near friend of Mr. Gambetta, gave notice that he should question the ministry on the foreign policy on Thursday, it drew universal attention to the discussion; and when the day arrived—yesterday—the diplomatic tribune was crowded to its utmost capacity by my colleagues, who watched the development of the debate with deep interest.
Mr. Proust’s speech was not in a hostile spirit. He desired not so much to have categorical answers to questions as a free exchange of views and a perfect understanding of the situation. His review of the historical precedents and of the circumstances surrounding the Eastern question was listened to with impatience. Mr. Lamy, an accomplished young member of the Left Center, spoke forcibly in support of Mr. St. Hilaire’s policy as far as disclosed in the correspondence published.
Mr. Barthélemy St. Hilaire whose appearance at the tribune was awaited with eagerness, was received and listened to with profound attention and respect. His speech was clear, full, and decisively marked out the policy of France, as a member of the European concert, in favor of peace, and in disapproval of the bellicose demonstrations of Greece.
He refuted the misinterpretations which had been given in many quarters to the character of the Berlin conference, reviewed the action and policy of Mr. Waddington, and his successor, Mr. de Freycinet—friendly to Greece, but seeking always to preserve the peace of Europe.
As to the present attitude of the Greeks he said:
They are friends whom I would be glad to declare were in the right, but whom I am compelled, in the name of truth, of the interests of France, of Europe, and of Greece herself, reluctantly to say are in the wrong.
He pointed out that no one was attacking or proposed to attack Greece, who coveted territory which a neighbor had held for centuries; that the territory demanded was not that ceded by Turkey in the treaty of San Stefano, and which the conference at Berlin undertook to divide and regulate in a way to satisfy the various populations and interests; that negotiations are in progress to settle the whole question by arbitration, and there must be patience for a little instead of rushing upon war, with all the disasters that will come and will fall first of all upon Greece herself; that France had been so sincere a friend to Greece in the past that she had the right to give her counsel now, and to have that counsel heeded. He said:
We have given advice to the Greeks, but so far, they have not listened. I remember that eleven years ago advice was given to our government to prevent its undertaking a war which was most disastrous, and from which this country still suffers. That [Page 395] advice was not heeded, but it was wise counsel. Do not reproach us now if we are not listened to by the Greeks. We urge, Europe unanimously advises her to cease her armaments, which are compromising and ruining her, and to trust to the good will and the justice of Europe, which she ought not to doubt. To-day peace exists; all Europe desires that it shall continue; only Greece wishes to kindle war.
All sides of the House, even to the Extreme Eight, were gradually gained by him as he proceeded with increasing plaudits, and when he closed the House passed, by a unanimous vote, an order of the day approving his declaration, a real triumph for Mr. St. Hilaire, and an assurance of the strength of the ministry and the concord of the Republican leaders.
The tone of the debate, and its happy close, showed, to the gratification of those who watched, that there was no such breach as had been supposed between Mr. Gambetta and the ministry, and it gave an assurance of peace that every one welcomed.
In the evening, at the reception given by President Grévy at the Elysee Palace, which was thronged by almost all the notabilities of Paris, I conversed with several of my colleagues, including Lord Lyons, Prince Hohenlohe, and Count Beust, who expressed their satisfaction at the situation and confidence that the complications which have of late obscured the outlook and threatened a European war would pass by, and the general peace be preserved.
I have, &c.,