Napier's Letters. Roebuck's Committee

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written June 1855


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Written on June 14 and 15, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 277, June 18, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.273-276), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, June 15. Sir Charles Napier has published a series of letters about the Baltic Fleet[1], the following being No. 1:

"People ask why our squadron in the Baltic, which did nothing to signify last year, is likely to do nothing this? The question is easily answered, viz., because Sir James Graham did not attend to the plans I sent him last June, and which he pretended to know nothing about; and because the Admiralty did not attend to the plans I sent them last September. Had Admiral Dundas been furnished with the appliances I pointed out, Sweaborg might have been bombarded, and probably destroyed. Instead of doing that, they spent about [...] a million of money in building iron floating batteries, which will hardly swim, and if sent to the Baltic will probably never return; and this, after it was proved, at Portsmouth, that 68-pounders would destroy them at 400 yards; and at 800 yards everybody knows they could do no harm to granite walls. Had the same money been spent in mortar vessels, something might have been expected, or had half the money been laid out in putting Lord Dundonald's plans (which he communicated to me) in execution, I have no doubt they would have been successfully employed, both in the Baltic and Black Sea. My time will come, and before long, when I shall be able to expose all Sir James Graham's conduct to me. He has been shown to have opened private letters" (in the Bandiera affair[2]) "by Mr. Duncombe. He endeavoured to throw the blame of poor Captain Christie's death on Mr. Layard, and 1 have accused him of perverting my letters, which I am prevented from proving, by the pretence that the publication would afford information to the enemy. That pretence will soon cease, and the country shall know what means the Right Hon. Baronet used to induce Admiral Berkeley and Admiral Richards to sign instructions, which, if carried out, would have lost the Queen's fleet. The country shall know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty has the power to turn an officer's private letters into public ones, and prevent him doing the same with the First Lord's.

Sir Charles Napier."[3]

Roebuck's Committee met again yesterday, for the 49th time, to reach a decision about the report to be submitted to the House of Commons. After a four hours' debate its members were just as incapable of reconciling their views as in earlier sessions. They adjourned again until Monday in the "hope" that they will finally be able to announce the conclusion of their proceedings.

The "Administrative Reform Association"[4] held a large meeting yesterday in the Drury Lane Theatre; not, be it noted, a public meeting but a ticket-meeting[5], a meeting to which only those favoured with tickets were admitted. The gentlemen were .thus completely at their ease, au sein de leur famille[6]. They were avowedly meeting to give "public opinion" an airing. But to shield public opinion from draughts from outside half a company of constables were posted at the doors of the Drury Lane. What a fragile public opinion that only dares to be made public with the protection of constables and tickets of admission! The meeting was, above all, a demonstration in support of Layard, who is at last due to present his reform bill to the House tonight.

At a public meeting held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne the day before yesterday David Urquhart denounced "the treacherous Ministry and the feeble-minded Parliament".

About the meetings now being prepared by the Chartists in the provinces, another time.[7]

While thus the status quo is coming in for criticism from various quarters and different points of view, Prince Albert, at a dinner in Trinity House[8], has seized the opportunity of stating the position of the Court with regard to the general ferment[9]. He too has a panacea for the crisis. It is: "patriotic, [...] self-denying confidence in the Cabinet!" According to Prince Albert only the despotism of the Cabinet can enable constitutional England to stand up to Russia and wage war against the despotism of the North. The comparison he made between England and Russia was neither striking nor felicitous. For example: The Queen[10] had no power to levy troops nor had she any troops at her command but such as offered their services voluntarily! Prince Albert forgets that the Queen has approximately £30 million at her disposal to buy troops with. Since when has forced labour been more productive than wage-labour? What would be said of a Manchester manufacturer who deplored the competition of the Muscovite manufacturers on the grounds that he only had at his disposal workers "offering their services voluntarily"? Instead of emphasising that the Emperor of Russia[11] has had the purpose of his "holy" war clearly and firmly proclaimed to his people from the pulpit, whereas for two years England has been waging a war of which the Prime Minister[12] has said in Parliament that "nobody can state its object", Prince Albert deplores the fact that

"Her Majesty's Government can take no measure for the prosecution of the war which it has not beforehand to explain in Parliament"!

As though Roebuck's committee had not been set up only after two-thirds of the British army had been sacrificed! As though the debate on the Vienna Conferences had not been held after they were over! In actual fact there was not a single explanation of any war measure in Parliament apart from Russell's blustering, unprovoked announcement of the Sevastopol expedition, whose only aim evidently was to give the Petersburg Cabinet timely warning! And if the blockade was debated it was not because the Ministry took this step but because it proclaimed it without taking it. Instead of deploring that in a war against Russia the Crown was compelled by parliamentary intrigues to submit to the dictatorship of an avowedly Russophile and notoriously peaceful Cabinet, Prince Albert complains, on the contrary, that an unfavourable vote in Parliament "forced the Queen to dismiss her confidential servants". Instead of rightly complaining that blunders, foibles and acts of villainy which, in Russia, would render generals, ministers and diplomats liable for Siberia, in England are followed at most by a little half-hearted gossip in the press and in Parliament, Prince Albert complains, on the contrary, that

"no mistake, however trifling, can occur, no want or weakness exist, which is not at once denounced, and even sometimes exaggerated, with morbid satisfaction".

Prince Albert inserted these morbidly irritated expectorations in a toast to his long-standing enemy Lord Palmerston. But Palmerston is not given to magnanimity. He at once used the false position taken by the Prince in order to beat his own breast in front of him, protesting loudly:

"I am bound to say that the English people have given us the most generous support."

He went further. He declared outright that he possessed "the confidence" of the English people. He spurned the Prince's obtrusive exhortations to the people. He paid court to the people after the Prince had paid court to him. He did not even think it worth the trouble to reply with a compliment to the Crown. Prince Albert had sought to set himself up as the protector of the Ministry, hence proclaiming the Cabinet's "independence" of Parliament and the people; Palmerston replied by pointing out the Crown's "dependence" on the Cabinet.

  1. Published in The Morning Advertiser.—Ed.
  2. Acting on instructions from the Home Secretary James Graham, the British authorities in 1844 opened the correspondence of a number of Italian revolutionary refugees, including letters from the Bandiera brothers to Mazzini in which they set forth their plan for an expedition to Calabria to organise an uprising against the Neapolitan Bourbons and Austrian rule in Italy. In June 1844 the members of the expedition, betrayed by one of their number, were arrested. The Bandiera brothers were shot.
  3. The Morning Advertiser, No. 19964, June 15, 1855.—Ed.
  4. The Association for Administrative Reform was set up in London in May 1855 on the initiative of liberal circles in the City. Taking advantage of the outcry caused in the country by press reports and the findings of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the plight of the British army in the Crimea, the Association hoped by means of mass rallies to bring pressure to bear on Parliament and win broader access for members of the commercial and finance bourgeoisie to government posts, monopolised by the aristocracy. In their campaign the Association's leaders sought to obtain the support of the Chartists. However, at rallies organised by the Association and at their own rallies the Chartists refused to back the moderate bourgeois demands for administrative reform and instead urged a Parliamentary reform based on the People's Charter (*). The administrative reform campaign was a failure, and the Association soon ceased to exist. In his subsequent reports Marx frequently touched on the Association's activities and relations with the Chartists.
    (*) The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published in the form of a Parliamentary Bill on May 8, 1838. It contained six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 and over), annual parliaments, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, abolition of the property qualification of MPs and payment of MPs. Petitions urging the adoption of the People's Charter were turned down by Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848.
  5. Marx uses the English expression. The meeting was held on June 13, 1855.—Ed.
  6. In the bosom of the family.—Ed.
  7. This article has not been found.
  8. The headquarters of the British mariners' corporation, which received its first charter from Henry VIII in 1514. Trinity House is at Tower Hill.—Ed.
  9. Prince Albert's address at Trinity House on June 9, 1855, and Palmerston's reply were reported in The Times, No. 22080, June 14, 1855 ("Prince Albert on Public Affairs").—Ed.
  10. Victoria.—Ed.
  11. Nicholas I.—Ed.
  12. Palmerston.—Ed.