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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 48

Speech in the Waverley Market, Edinburgh

Speech in the Waverley Market, Edinburgh.

This meeting immediately followed that in the Corn Exchange, and again Lord Rosebery was called to the chair. On rising Mr. Gladstone met with a reception which, alike from its enthusiasm and from the vastness of the audience, exceeding 20,000 in number, has never been approached, at least within the walls of any building in Scotland. He spoke as follows:—

My Lord Rosebery, my Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen,—There is nothing that I can say, or that much better and wiser men could say, to this meeting that is one-half as remarkable as the meeting itself. It is no light cause that has brought together—that has called off from their usual occupations to stand in such compressed mass before me—this great ocean of human life. I fear, gentlemen, you have suffered; you must have suffered inconvenience, notwithstanding the admirable order that prevails; but although, gentlemen, I can tell you nothing that, as I have said, can in the least degree add to the intense interest. page 77 of such an assemblage, yet neither can I part from you without a brief interchange of sentiments for a few moments on some of the questions in which our hearts are alike engaged. I say, gentlemen, an interchange of sentiment, for you have already expressed to me what your feelings are on behalf of the working classes at large. I am glad to see that you do not fear to call yourselves the working men of "Edinburgh, Leith, and the district." In this character you have given me your sentiments, and I wish to echo them back with corresponding sentiments of my own. An assemblage of this nature does not afford the place appropriate for minute criticism. My strength would not suffice; your patience must be exhausted. I will therefore avoid such criticisms; I will avoid what is in the nature of censure, or blame; I will fall back, gentlemen, upon a positive principle upon which I would hope there can be no difference of sentiment among us, even if there be within the limits of this hall some few whose opinions are not wholly those of the majority, but still whose opinions and feelings we should endeavour, upon so noble an occasion, scrupulously to respect.

Gentlemen, you have spoken, in one line of your Address, of the unhappy position in which England stands, in which Great Britain will

The Balkan Principalities.

stand—the United Kingdom will stand—if it should be found to be in opposition to the interests of the struggling provinces and principalities of the East. Now, gentlemen, I wish to lay before you my view upon that subject, because there are some who tell us that we are not contending for liberty, but contending for despotism, and that the result of our policy will be that when the power of the Turkish Government ceases to sway the Eastern provinces of Europe, it will be replaced by another despotic Empire—the Empire of Russia. That, gentlemen, is not your view nor your desire, neither is it mine, and I wish to avail myself of this occasion for the purpose of clearly putting and clearly answering one question of vast importance—"Who is it that ought to possess, who is it that ought to sway, those rich and fertile countries which are known as composing what is called the Balkan Peninsula?" It seems, gentlemen, to be agreed that the time has come, that the

Who is to succeed Turkey?

hour is about to strike, if it has not struck already, when all real sway of Turkish power over those fair provinces must cease if it were only by reason of impotence. Who, then, is to have the succession to Turkey? Gentlemen, from the bottom of my heart, and with the fullest conviction of my understanding, I will give you the reply—a reply which, I am perfectly certain, will awaken a free, a generous, a unanimous echo in your bosoms. That succession is not to pass to Russia. It is not to pass to Austria. It is not to pass to England, under whatever name of Anglo-Turkish Convention or anything else. It is to pass to the

The people of the principalities.

people of those countries; to those who have inhabited them for many long centuries; to those who had reared them to a state of civilization when the great calamity of Ottoman conquest spread like a wild wave over that portion of the earth, and buried that civilization under its overwhelming force. Those people, gentlemen, are already beginning to enjoy the commencement of liberty. Four or five million Roumanians, who were formerly subject to Turkey, are now independent. Two million Servians, who were


once political slaves, are now absolutely free. Three hundred thousand heroes such as Christendom cannot match—


the men of Montenegro—who for four hundred years have held the sword in the hand, and never have submitted to the insolence of despotic power—those men at last have achieved, not only their freedom, but the acknowledgment of their freedom,


and take their place among the States of Europe. Bulgaria has reached a virtual independence. And, gentlemen, let me say a word on another province, that which


was the scene of the terrible massacres and horrors of 1876—the page 78 province of Eastern Roumelia. It is inhabited by perhaps a population of a

Eastern Roumelia.

million. Well, gentlemen, at the Congress at Berlin we were told by Prince Bismarck and others that the Congress had restored to the Sultan a fair and rich province—namely, the province of Eastern Roumelia. Some were then afraid that the meaning of those words must be held to imply that the ancient despotism was still to prevail in Eastern Roumelia. The words that were used were ominous and dangerous words. It was said that the province was restored to the direct authority—political and military—of the Sultan. Gentlemen, I can a little console you on that subject; I hold in my hand—and if we were a less extended assembly I might be tempted to read to you—but I hold in my hand an account of the opening of the First Representative Chamber—assembled in Eastern Roumelia. It has been freely elected by the people. It is, as was to be expected, a Bulgarian Chamber, but along with Bulgarians there sit in it Greeks, and, I believe, also, in one or two cases, Turks, by the title of freemen, and about to learn, as I hope, to act in that character. On the day of the meeting you will not be sorry to hear that the Governor-General entertained the representatives of this country, which four years ago was an enslaved country—he entertained them at dinner to the number of eighty-four. After dinner toasts were drunk in our manner, and among those who proposed the toasts one was a Turk, in perfect harmony with the rest, who asked the company to drink to the health of the Sultan for having given them such an excellent Governor-General. Gentlemen, this is what I call progress. When you uproot slavery, when you put an end to suffering and shame, when you give security to life, property, and honour, which have previously only existed at the will of every representative of the Turkish power, of every one professing the Mahomedan religion, you accomplish a great and blessed work—a work in which the uttermost ends of the civilized world ought to rejoice, do rejoice, and will rejoice. The end of it all, gentlemen, is thus far, that not less than eight or ten millions of people have in one form or another been brought out of different degrees of political servitude, and have been made virtually freemen. Gentlemen, I appeal to you to join me in the expression of the hope that under the yoke of no Power whatever will those free provinces be brought. It is not Russia alone whose movements ought to be watched

Austrian aggression.

with vigilance. There are schemes abroad of which others are the authors. There is too much reason to suspect that some portion of the statesmen of Austria will endeavour to extend her rule, and to fulfil the evil prophecies that have been uttered, and cause the great change in the Balkan Peninsula to be only the substitution of one kind of supremacy for another. Gentlemen, let us place the sympathies of this country on the side of the free. Rely upon it those people who inhabit those provinces have no desire to trouble their neighbours, no desire to vex you or me. Their desire is peacefully to pass their human existence in the discharge of their duties to God and man; in the care of their families, in the enjoyment of tranquillity and freedom, in making happiness prevail upon the earth which has so long been deformed in that portion of it by misery and by shame. But we say, gentlemen, that this is a fair picture which is now presented to our eyes, and one which should not be spoiled by the hand of man. I demand of the authorities of this country, I demand it of our Government, and I believe that you will echo the demand, that to no Russian scheme, that to no Austrian scheme, to no English scheme, for here we bring the matter home, shall they lend a moment's countenance; but that we shall with a kindly care cherish and foster the blessed institutions of free government that are beginning to prevail—nay, that are already at work in those now emancipated provinces. So that if we have been late in coining to a right understanding, if we have lost many opportunities in the past, at least we shall see and lay hold on those that remain, so that when in future times those countries again shall arrive at the prosperity and civilization page 79 which they once enjoyed, they shall have cause to remember the name of Great Britain among the names of those who have contributed to the happy and the blessed change.

I think, gentlemen, that I have had sufficient evidence in the demeanour of this meeting that this is your opinion. I hope I am right in saying that such a meeting is not a mere compliment to an individual, or a mere contribution to the success of a party. Your gathering here to-day in almost countless thousands I regard as a festival of freedom, of that rational freedom which is alone secure, of that freedom best known to us, which is essentially allied with order and with loyalty. And I hope, gentlemen, that you will carry with you a determination, on the one hand, to do all you can in your civil and your social capacities for maintaining that precious possession of yours, and for handing it down to your posterity; and on the other hand, for endeavouring by every lawful and honourable means, through the exercise of the vast moral influence of this country, and through all instruments which may from time to time be conformable to the principle of justice, for the extension of that inestimable blessing to such races and nations of the world as hither to have remained beyond the range of its happy and ennobling influence.

Gentlemen, I thank you for the extraordinary kindness which has enabled me to convey the remains of a somewhat exhausted voice, I hope even almost to the farthest limits of this enormous building. That kindness is only a portion of the affectionate reception, for I can call t no less, which has been granted to me at every turn since my arrival in this country, aud through you I desire, I will not say to discharge, for a discharge there can never be, but at least warmly, truly, cordially, to acknowledge the debt that I owe to the people of Scotland.

Votes of thanks to the various deputations presenting addresses, between sixty and seventy in number, and a formal vote of thanks to the Chairman, terminated the proceedings of what must be regarded as one of the most remarkable political gatherings ever witnessed in this country.