(From a photograph by Messrs. Russell & Son.) Joseph Chamberlain 1836.
During all this time Mr. Gladstone had borne many a noble part in other than domestic affairs. He had championed the cause of Greece again and again, and his mission to the Ionian Islands had led to the cession of those islands to the kingdom of kindred Greece. When, on March 12, 1874, he resigned the leadership of the Liberal Party and effaced himself in temporary retirement from the active life of Parliament, he suddenly came to the front again; for the cry of the suffering Bulgarians appealed to his heart and summoned him back to the leadership of the Liberal Party.
Then began what may be called the last great struggle between Gladstone and Lord Beaconsfield. For many years these two men had been political antagonists, the advocates very often of irreconcilable political principles; and now once more each led an army hostile to the other. The cruelties inflicted on the Bulgarian Christians brought up again the Eastern Question as it is called - the question what is to be done with the Ottoman Power in Europe. On this subject Lord Beaconsfield and Mr. Gladstone maintained views that were directly opposed. Each man had the support of a large body of influential followers; each man could bring strong and captivating arguments in support of his own case. Lord Beaconsfield held that the first duty of England was to protect herself against the danger of Russia's preponderance in the south-east of Europe, against everything which might tend to strengthen Russia's influence there, and to make her way more easy in her supposed designs upon our Indian territory. Gladstone held that the first duty of England was to protect the lives and the civil rights of the Christians under Turkish dominion, and to trust to her own resources and to her own strength to secure herself hereafter against the hostile designs of Russia, if Russia were really cherishing any hostile designs against us. It was quite certain that the sufferings of the Christians under Turkish sway were giving Russia every day a more and more imposing claim to be regarded as the friend of the Christian races under Turkey's dominion.
Lord Beaconsfield was for strengthening Turkey against Russia, and making the Ottoman Empire in that way a sort of bulwark to protect Western Europe from the advances of the Russian power. Gladstone was for fostering, promoting, and establishing a number of free Christian States or monarchies in the southeast of Europe, and making these the barrier against Russian ambition. There can be no doubt that with a very large proportion of the population of England the dread of Russia's growing influence was the first inspiring sentiment in the consideration of continental politics. Russia had come to be regarded by such men very much as France was regarded in the days that immediately followed the great French Revolution. When the news of the massacres of Christians in Bulgaria first reached this country, Mr. Disraeli, as he then still was, treated the stories with contempt, and regarded them as mere fables, got up by the enemies of the Turkish Government. The stories, however, were soon proved to be only too true, and Russia interposed in favour of the Christian populations, and insisted on Turkey coming to some understanding with the Great Powers of Europe, which should secure the lives and liberties of the Christian populations under the rule of the Sultan. There were long negotiations, there were evasive answers on the part of Turkey; and at last an agreement was made which would have been well enough, if it had only been kept by Turkey, but which Turkey soon showed that she had no intention of keeping.
At last Russia declared war against Turkey; and one Russian army crossed the Danube, while another began an invasion of Turkish soil in Asia Minor.
The Turks showed a splendid resisting power; and for a time it seemed as if the Russian invasion in both regions was destined to be checked, or even to be driven back. All history shows us that the Turks have been splendid fighting men, and in recent days the Turkish armies have been commanded by officers who got their training from qualified military instructors brought in from countries not under Turkish rule. It soon became plain that the Russians had made the serious mistake of undervaluing their opponents. The Sovereign of Russia at once, however, retrieved this error, and put his army under the command of that General Todleben, who has been already mentioned in this history as having made the one only great military reputation which came out of the Crimean War. From that moment victory changed sides; the Russians carried everything before them; and it soon became apparent, that so far as Turkish resistance was concerned, Russia was free to march on to the occupation of Constantinople. Then came the great crisis in English popular feeling. The immediate sensation produced in England, and more especially in the Metropolis of England, was the impulse to call out for an armed resistance to Russia's further movement. For the time all thought as to the welfare of the Christian populations passed out of the minds of most of Lord Beaconsfield's followers, and the only idea was as to the best and promptest means by which England could put a stop to Russian aggression. There can be little doubt that if Lord Beaconsfield, at that moment, had called upon the country to make war against Russia, his appeal would have met with an enthusiastic response from a vast number of people.
There were, however, some influences of a moderating order, even in his own Cabinet. The late Lord Carnarvon was then Colonial Secretary in Lord Reaconsfield's Government, and he was strongly opposed to any rash movement coming out of mere alarm about the ambition of Russia, and he was also well known to be a sincere and enlighted friend of all the Christian populations under Turkish rule. When the Government ordered the English Fleet in the Mediterranean to pass the Dardanelles and go up to Constantinople, in order to protect Turkey against a Russian advance upon her capital, Lord Carnarvon at once resigned his place in Lord Beaconsfield's Administration. Russia entered, for the time, into a Treaty with Turkey - the famous arrangement known as the Treaty of San Stefano, by which Turkey promised to the Christian populations an almost absolute independence of Turkish rule. The English Government refused to recognise this treaty, declaring that such arrangements could only be made by the authority of the Great European Powers assembled in Congress. The Turkish Government sent round the intimation that it had been coerced into making the Treaty. Lord Beaconsfield took the unprecedented course of calling in a contingent of our Indian forces to be stationed at Malta, ready for any events that might come to pass; and at the same time he determined to occupy the Island of Cyprus as " a place of arms," with the consent and in the interests of the Ottoman Sultan. This was too much for another of his colleagues - the late Lord Derby.