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Cavagnari went to his post, being well assured, we cannot doubt, that he was going to his death. No prophetic foresight was needed to predict the result. The Envoy and his escort were murdered; and a British army again made its appearance at Cabul. It may or may not have exacted adequate vengeance for the massacre; but whatever it did, was done at a ruinous outlay. The delay of six months or a year might have enabled Lord Lytton to judge whether he could with safety venture to trust a British Envoy to the tender mercies of the people of Cabul; but it was better in his opinion to take the chance of Cavagnari escaping with his life than to confess to the English people that the enterprise had from first to last been an ignominious failure, and that the earthen pipkin had gone perilously near towards breaking the iron pot.
We have to mark that even to the last the nation was allowed to learn as little as possible of the true state of the case. It was not indeed pretended that these gigantic operations, however useless they may have been, had cost nothing; but it was distinctly asserted that they had cost very little, and that the revenues of India could safely meet the whole outlay of a war undertaken solely in the interests of the new-fangled thing called British imperialism. Parliaments last a long time, but they do not last for ever; and this happy discovery was made not very long before it would become necessary for Lord Beaconsfield to appeal to the people, unless he was prepared to allow his Parliament to die of old age. But even this was not enough. It could scarcely be expected that the nation would return the Tory majority to power, unless they could see that something was to be gained by doing so. In splendid consistency with all his policy Lord Beaconsfield held up before the people the spectre of another war which, as he affirmed, was about to wrap all Europe and the world in conflagration, and from which he, and he alone, could rescue the country. He can scarcely have been unconscious that the bait insufficiently concealed the hook attached to it; but probably he may have trusted still more to the jubilant cries which, at this most opportune of moments, announced that India could not only meet the costs of the Afghan war, but that, having met them, she would have a large surplus. This surplus, it might be inferred, was to be devoted to the benefit of the people of India; and so the English public might console itself with the thought that its servants still paid some regard to the welfare of those whom they were charged to rule. Of the condition of this subject population they knew nothing, or next to nothing. They did not know how the levying of the sums already demanded for the prosecution of this insane enterprise had affected the condition of the country generally; and they would have been overwhelmed with astonishment and horror if the whole truth could have been laid before them.
But although ignorant of many things with which, in strict justice, they should have been thoroughly acquainted, they yet knew enough to be in no doubt of the course which they were bound to
take. They had watched the pretentious and absurd drama of Imperialism, as it was exhibited to an admiring world simultaneously in Asia and in Africa. They had seen that during six weary years the Government had lavished on the country no better boon in the way of domestic legislation than a series of unfulfilled promises, while from first to last their foreign policy had been a monotonous failure. The Turkish despotism was tottering to its fall, just as though no efforts had been made to prop up the loathsome fabric; and the nations whom we ought to have set free from an unbearable yoke had been made to look on us with suspicion, if not with hatred. In Asia we had sacrificed hundreds or thousands of lives, and wasted, at the least, some millions of money. In the mad chase after an imaginary scientific frontier, we had invaded the barren and stony lands of mountaineers who had done us no wrong, destroyed their humble villages, burnt their scanty crops, and hung up or shot as rebels against English authority those who had simply fought, as we should fight, for their country and their home. In Africa Sir Bartle Frere had been allowed to carry out plans of which the Home Government affected to disapprove; and the result had been a war deliberately provoked by conduct utterly disingenuous on our part towards a chief whose careful moderation might well have put his enemies to the blush. Against the whole of this policy the nation, when called upon for the first time to speak for itself, raised its emphatic protest. The answer was as unequivocal as it would have been probably if the appeal to the constituencies had been made after the great representative assembly in St. James's Hall. The nation showed its thorough disapproval of the system followed by Lord Beaconsfield, as a whole, and in all its details; and it returned Mr. Gladstone to power in full faith that he would be true to the principles for which he had pleaded with such marvellous earnestness and power in his northern campaign.
The new Government was, therefore, both by the pledges of its members and by the solemn verdict of the country, bound to take the course which should soonest repair the mischief caused by their predecessors. There is not the least reason for supposing that they will be false to their duty and to their promises. Their whole conduct is straightforward and aboveboard. We have no longer the mysterious concealments, and need not fear the sudden surprises which characterised the administration of Lord Beaconsfield. They have shown no disposition to exceed their powers, and it must not be forgotten that the position in which they found themselves was one of special difficulty. The Government of Lord Lytton had admitted that the occupation. of Cabul was impracticable or needless, and the mere declaration that they intended to leave the country was followed at once by a comparatively quiet and orderly state of things. It can scarcely be doubted that if Candahar had not been excepted from the territory which we intended to abandon, the troubles which have come upon us in that quarter would never have arisen. But the
making of this exception cannot be laid to the charge of the present Ministry. It was the last official act of Lord Lytton, carefully calculated to increase to the utmost the burdens of his successors, and to compel them, if it were possible, to continue in a path which they at least felt must end in ruin. With an astounding and almost incredible assurance, Lord Lytton, the late Viceroy, has informed his hearers at Knebworth that nothing more was needed than perseverance for a few years longer in that great system of polity which a series of great and wise statesmen have framed for the government of India, in order to give to that magnificent portion of Her Majesty's dominions all the strength, wealth, and influence of one of the great powers of the world.' His successor will act on this conviction, although he will have to admit that this system has been deliberately set aside by Lord Lytton and his associates. If the English nation, at the time of the late elections, could have known the disaster which has befallen General Burrows, and the consequent imprisonment of the British force in Candahar, they would have said that no means must be spared for their rescue, and for the effecting of an honourable retreat from the country. But in no other sense would they have countenanced that theory of continuity which in the mouths of Lord Beaconsfield's supporters means simply the condonation of all their mischievous policy. By the result of the election the nation declared that the principles on which Lord Beaconsfield had acted must be abandoned, and that amendment must be made for the wrongs which had been done.
The failure of the Cabul enterprise and the defeat of General Burrows may not prove unmixed evils. The former has shown to Englishmen the wild folly of the fears which led to it; the latter has removed the only hindrance to our immediate abandonment of the whole country, and to our return within the frontier which Lord Lytton's immediate predecessors rightly regarded as impregnable. The conduct of the soldiers of the Wali of Candahar has happily released us from all obligations to their master. We are no longer (if we ever were) bound in honour and good faith to maintain his authority over subjects who reject it, while all considerations of policy urge us to immediate retreat. Of the danger of a Russian invasion of India we shall hear no more. The spell of that evil dream has been broken for all but men, who, like Sir Henry Rawlinson, will probably dream it to the end. Simply to get a footing in a country where we had our own territories behind us, we have strained our resources to an extent altogether unjustifiable, and terribly impaired the stability of our power in India; and it is enough to say that the task of the Russian would be immeasurably harder, immeasurably more costly, and immeasurably more ruinous. A year, we may be confident, will not have passed before we shall have convinced the Afghan people that we are sincere and resolute in the resumption of the policy which called forth the gratitude of Dost Mohammed and insured his fidelity in the season of our sorest need. The real difficulties before
us lie within the frontiers of India, for the difficulties created by our invasion of Afghanistan we shall speedily leave behind us. The folly of the plea that we are bound to leave the country in good order is manifest. Our presence there is the cause of the anarchy; and the longer we remain the more troubled the land will be. The effect will go with the cause; and in any case our duty lies elsewhere. Large portions of our dominion in India are in a state of dire exhaustion, the result of exactions rendered necessary solely by the iniquitous schemes of Lord Beaconsfield and his Viceroy. The condition of many parts of the country called urgently for a temporary remission of the land tax. It was collected to the uttermost farthing, in order that Shere Ali might be punished for an offence which he had never committed. The result is a state of hopeless impoverishment, even in a province like Behar. A recent report from the magistrate of Patna speaks of the misery of the peasantry there as far exceeding anything which he could have believed, had he not actually seen it. The wretchedness of the Deccan ryot is fully matched elsewhere. It will take years to grapple with and overcome evils which, if neglected but a little while longer, will become overwhelming. We have to do justice to our own people, and it cannot be done by making unjust wars on pretences scarcely less absurd than fears of an invasion by inhabitants of the planet Jupiter.
RESULTS OF THE SESSION.
E may forecast the results of the Session, and have done with
WE politics for a month or two, although the weary hours of an
unusual political year have not yet quite run out. Everybody is tired of the clang of the political machine, and none, we fancy, so tired as the Ministers themselves. They are worn out with the heat and pressure of Parliamentary business, and await with impatience the fresh air and healthy freedom which are still denied them. The great Minister himself has been borne down by the toil of the conflict, and forced to retire for a time from the field. It has been one of the pleasing features of an unpleasant political season that all parties have sincerely regretted his absence, and expressed the most kindly sympathy with him and his family in his sudden and, as it has happily proved, his brief illness.
The results of the Session, it was feared at one time, would prove very little. There was too much impatience on the part of the Government to undertake large tasks, and too little subordination and discipline in the House of Commons to enable it to gratify its laudable ambition. It would have been better on many accounts, as we formerly urged, if the Government had attempted less to begin with, and utilised a brief summer Session rather in preparation for the great legislative tasks before them than in grappling at once in a more or less hasty manner with some of the most difficult of these tasks. A Burials Bill was called for, and a new Budget; an Irish Relief Bill, a Census Bill, and a Ballot Continuance Bill; but other measures might have waited. The country would have been content to wait, although interests' were greedy for political movement. The fate of the more hurry the less speed' seemed at one time likely to overwhelm the Government, and leave the Session without even a Burials Bill, which claimed a paragraph for itself in the Queen's Speech on May 20. Matters, however, have improved during the lengthening weeks of the Session, and the Government will now apparently be able to reckon among its achievements all that it projected at that early date.
Among the chief obstacles to its success has undoubtedly been the restiveness and lack of subordination in the House of Commons. A new House, especially a House with so many new members as the present, is necessarily undisciplined. The new members have not fallen into their proper places: they are eager to distinguish themselves in the eyes of their constituencies and their fellow-members. Whatever the subject may be, they think they have something to contribute to its elucidation; and Mr. Mundella on the one hand, and Sir W. Harcourt on the other, are made aware that there are No. 609 (No. CXXIX. N.S.)