« AnteriorContinuar »
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 Candabar 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.
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 bave 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. 60g (xo. CXXIX. N.s.)
those who know as much about education or game as they do. Even Mr. Gladstone must listen to lectures on his own Budget from ' able' members, who can hardly have recovered their amazement at finding themselves under the eye of the Speaker. This legislative impatience may be said to be particularly characteristic of a certain class of Liberal members. It is even said to be one of the blessings of the Liberal party. There is such an exuberance of vitality, and such a diffusion of political intellect, in its ranks, that it can never be brought into the strict subordination of the Conservative party. If this be so, we must not grumble. It is better to have vitality with diversity than unity with stupidity. But there are, possibly, other explanations of so much restiveness; and, at any rate, there can be no doubt that such sallies of independent legislative ambition do not contribute to progress in legislation. Certain young lions of the Conservative party have been very active in obstruction. Lord Hartington has summed up their offences in a trenchant and amusing manner, which we hope may do them good; but it is absurd to attribute the delays in the political machine entirely to them. There are those on the Liberal side who must share the responsibility; and it may be questioned whether what is called, with an approving complacency, the defiant’tone of certain ministerial speeches, has not borne its part in clogging, rather than expediting, the wheels of political progress. "Defiance' is no doubt a potent attribute of oratory; but when we wish to gain an object, it is better not to assume too much the aspect of a pugilist.
The Irish Disturbance Bill, whose fate we deprecated in our last number, was speedily dismissed by the House of Lords. The extraordinary majority against it remains to witness to the strong feelings which it had excited not only in the Conservative, but no less in the upper ranks of the Liberal party. The Bill could have been thrown out by the votes of the Whig Peers alone. Before such a majority we of course bow respectfully. There is nothing more to be said in the meantime. We have seen no reason, however, to change our opinion as to the Bill, viewed as a measure of State exigency apart from which Government professed there would be difficulty in preserving the peace of Ireland. The event must show whether they were right or not. The condition of Ireland seems far from hopeful as we write, notwithstanding the prospect of a good harvest; and speeches like Mr. Dillon's indicate an audacious spirit of discontent, and even of sedition, in the country. The House of Lords would have acted more wisely in our opinion if it had acted with more hesitation, and recognised the true aspect of the measure. We are bound to believe that it was the offspring of grave political necessity. This was its professed justification in the mouths both of Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Forster—and they were the best judges of all the circumstances of the case. The members of the House of Lords should have acknowledged with more faith than they did the honesty of the Government. They virtually cast discredit on this bonesty by