Many critics at the time and many readers of a later generation have sometimes found fault with Canning's speeches, on the ground that they were not inspired by any passionate enthusiasm for the cause of popular freedom. Even when he condemned the Holy Alliance and dictated the policy under which the Holy Alliance soon withered and died, he did not flame into oratorical passion over the cause of popular freedom. But it has to be remembered that with all his exalted eloquence, Canning was essen-tially a practical man and thoroughly understood what he could do and what he could not do. He took into full account all the difficulties that surrounded him; and he was well aware that what might be called "miracle" enthusiasm was not the soundest inspiration for English statesmanship at such a time. It would have been idle to preach up a crusade against the despotic Governments of Europe; and what Canning recommended was always a task which could be accomplished without extravagant risk to the fortunes of the State whose foreign policy was for the time in his keeping. Then, again, we have to take into consideration that there were two forces arrayed against each other at that epoch in Europe with neither of which Canning could thoroughly sympathise. There was despotism on the one side, and what has been called "the revolution" on the other. Stuart Mill, at a time very near to our own, objected strongly to such a vague phraseology as that which was in the habit of talking of "the revolution" as some definite movement. No doubt it would be much better in all writing and speaking to avoid vague and grandiose phraseology, and to define clearly in our expressions the precise idea which we mean to convey. Still, when people in Canning's day, and in a much later day, talked of the revolution, there can be no doubt that the phrase carried with it a certain meaning intelligible enough, although not capable of scientific or political definition. When men in Canning's day spoke of the revolution, they meant, and were well understood to mean,the movement against despotism, and, indeed, against all monarchy, the movement which had been engendered by despotism itself, and which threatened at one time the foundations of all monarchy.
This is, in fact, the revolution which is hymned in the impassioned verses of the "Marseillaise." With that sort of revolution a man of Canning's temperament and training could have but little sympathy. Canning saw that while there were excesses on the one side there were excesses also on the other; and the memory of the French Revolution, led as a crusade by Napoleon against the monarchical systems of Europe, was a living memory in the minds of all men. Canning knew how every word he spoke as Foreign Secretary of England on a momentous occasion when peace and war were in the balance would be quoted and weighed by the advocates of the despots and by the advocates of the revolution. He had in his mind, first of all, the interests of England and the interests of peace; and he was determined not to say a word which would give to either side the hope of a support that it was not in his power to make good. He was always a cautious statesman; and his early impulses were not in any case such as would have led him into strong sympathy with the popular side of any great question. He became a supporter of Catholic Emancipation; but he was not a supporter of Popular Reform. He was cautious, even on the subject of West Indian Slavery; and he did not see his way to go any farther than the recommendation of such measures as might tend to mitigate the evils of such a system. He was, indeed, guided on all political subjects and on most social questions by his intellect and by his reason rather than by his sympathies and his emotion. He was, in fact, just the man to direct the destinies of England at a time of such terrible risk; and if he was not exactly an enthusiast, it has to be said that he lived through a crisis when enthusiasm of the romantic order was a far less valuable quality in a statesman than the judgment which sees what can be done, and the courage which maintains such a judgment in action. Thus his policy had always the advantage of being practical and of applying itself to definite ends. Others might have preached peace in language more touching; he secured peace. Others might have spoken loftier words in support of liberty; he gave liberty everywhere a chance for its existence.
Canning's attitude towards the revolution cannot be better described than in a few sentences which we quote from an admirable monograph by Mr. Frank H. Hill. "Canning," says Mr. Hill, "while welcoming national uprisings against foreign or external domination in Spain, in Greece, in South America, objected to the propaganda by pen or by sword of French principles or ideas in other countries. In theory he did not contend for the suppression of French principles in France. They might be good there, though he did not think they were; but they were bad elsewhere, because they were out of relation with the existing moral and social order, and with the traditions which have become a part, not only of the general life of the nation, but of the individual life of every one in it".
Canning was, in fact, the founder of modern Greek liberty. The rule of Turkey was becoming intolerable to the Greeks. Russia favoured and fomented the national uprising of the Greeks against their Turkish oppressors. The sympathy of these countries was given almost universally to the cause of the Greek patriots. Lord Byron threw his whole soul into their cause and lost his gallant life for it, not even, as he fondly desired, dying sword in hand for Greece on a Greek battlefield, but perishing prematurely of fever among the swamps of Missolonghi. Lord Cochrane lent all the generous ardour of his energetic nature to support the Greeks in their struggle. An immense wave of popular sympathy with Greece passed over this country. Numbers of brave and brilliant young men went over from London, from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland, to help the Greeks in their struggle. Lord John Russell told the House of Commons, many years after, of the manner in which, regardless of the strict letter of international law, he and other sympathisers had openly helped to raise recruits in England for the support of the cause of Greek independence. The nation became young again in its generous sympathy with Greece. Every one it would seem who had been inspired in his youth by the reading of a Greek classic poem or the sight of a Greek statue felt himself inflamed with the passion for the Greek cause, and thousands who had never seen the Acropolis or the waves that wash the shore of Salamis, felt as if they could gladly die to drive the Turks from the sacred soil. But the struggle of the Greeks did not prosper for all that. Despite the brilliant and daring exploits of men like Bozzaris on the shore, or Kanaris with his fire-ships on the sea, there seemed little chance of driving out what Byron calls the Turkish hordes. The Greeks had not a disciplined army; they had a poor stock of munitions of war; and their resources everywhere were stinted. Russia favoured their cause; and it seemed more than probable that Russia in the last resource would send her armies to deal with the Turks.