« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
A WORD TO CONSERVATIVES.
IT is always hard in times of trouble and difficulty, when personal feelings and public interests are really or apparently in conflict, to hold the balance evenly between the two, or to determine with accuracy the weight which should be allowed to each in the regulation of our conduct. But if it is difficult to do so in any circumstances, how much more so must it be when the personal considerations involved are of an acutely painful character, arising from the loss of dearly loved relatives and friends, and aggravated by the belief, we will not say that they have died in vain, for whoso meets a hero's death never dies in vain, but that except for official mismanagement, many of them might still have been alive! Thousands of our countrymen and countrywomen are plunged into mourning; and thousands more are waiting in silent indignation for some explanation of events which have caused as much astonishment as grief. That this is a correct description of the state of feeling prevailing very widely in Great Britain at the present moment will hardly be disputed how widely, or how well founded, it is not the province of this article to inquire. It is sufficient that it exists that both among Conservatives and Liberals it finds expression in language calculated to inflict serious injury on the Government; and that,
under the influence of passions which, if not wholly justifiable, are at least excusable, we are in danger of being led into extremities of which hereafter we may have reason to repent.
as we have
It is perhaps too much to expect that any note of warning at the present moment should make itself heard above the rising tempest. It is always difficult, already said, to obtain a clear view of our public duty through the press of personal emotions. But it is never impossible; and in the present instance, even allowing for the exceptional irritation which our military failures have occasioned, the question to be answered is really so simple that, when once fairly raised, it can hardly, one would think, be misunderstood, or the path to which it points be missed. To all Conservatives, therefore, both in and out of Parliament, who, however angry they may be with the Government, are capable of keeping their heads, and of looking across the present crisis to the future which lies immediately beyond it, we venture on this brief appeal-reminding them that even righteous retribution may be bought too dear, and that history has many examples of the evils that have followed from too hasty a gratification of political resentment, however natural or just.
We offer no criticism on either the conduct or the policy
of the South African war. That must be sought elsewhere. War is an interlude at the conclusion of which the current of domestic politics, supposing it interrupted, resumes its ordinary course, and the questions which may for a time have been thrown into the background regain their customary prominence. Our only purpose, then, in writing these few lines, is to recall to the minds of Conservatives what it was which they sought to secure by the restoration of Lord Salisbury to power in 1895; to ask them whether these objects are any less desirable now than they were then; and whether, when the choice lies between the defence of constitutional principles and the punishment of administrative errors, there is room for a moment's hesitation.
First, as to the war itself. Granting the full truth of the worst that can be charged against the Government, the evil is now done, and no change of Ministry can undo it. If our rulers ought to have known long ago much of which they were ignorant; if they ought to have listened to representations to which they turned a deaf ear-at all events they know now, and must listen now; and with the information which they now possess they are just as well able to bring the war to a speedy and successful termination as any other set of men who could possibly be chosen to succeed them. If all, then, that Conservatives can hope to gain by embarrassing or discredit
ing the Government is the satisfaction of knowing that they have made them pay for their misconduct; if all they promise themselves is the pleasure of pelting a Government which, in spite of its blunders, has still a thousand claims on their respect-is it worth while for the sake of so mingled a cup to run the risk of such permanent calamities as those with which the revolutionary party in this country openly threaten us? Conservatives and Unionists may say that they have no desire to turn out the Government. But men, it is said, must be taken to mean the natural or necessary consequences of their own actions; and if Conservatives by any course of conduct they may now pursue assist the Opposition in lowering the character and destroying the authority of the present Ministry, when, at the next general election, the natural result ensues, they cannot be allowed to plead that they never meant anything of the kind.
The whole Unionist party has now to consider in what situation they will find themselves twelve months hence, if, in consequence of their attacks on the Government at the present time, the Radical and Home Rule party should be in a majority in the next House of Commons. All the principles for which they have striven so long will then, so to speak, be thrown into the Chancery of politics, there to await the issue of a new trial, which may not terminate so favourably as the
When Lord Salisbury went out of office in 1892, both he and his colleagues and their loyal followers retained the respect of the public and the confidence of a British majority. They were not They were not a discredited or dishonoured Ministry, from whom their party had been driven to revolt. But that is the light in which they would appear to the country if another "cave were formed during the coming session for the purpose of harassing and reproaching them at every possible opportunity, if not actually joining in a vote of censure or want of confidence. Then, when their behaviour had brought about the defeat and disruption of the whole Unionist party, and they came back to the Opposition benches with a powerful majority in front of them, including a numerous and well-organised section bent on pressing forward the abolition of the House of Lords, the Disestablishment of the Church, the separation of Ireland, and further encroachments on the rights of property, would they not begin to feel that they too in their turn had shown a want of foresight, had made a great, and, alas! perhaps, an irreparable blunder?
At the very least, all their work would have to be done over again, and against far heavier odds than any which they had encountered before. Always looming in the background would be the shadow of a great miscarriage, which, in the eyes of a loyal and compact majority, had been enough to justify action
almost certain to overthrow the Government to which they had so long been devoted. With this dark cloud resting on their recent history, with what hope could the Conservative leaders with a divided party appeal to the people for support? It would be far better, if a mutinous spirit should show itself at the meeting of Parliament, that Government should appeal to the country at once, without waiting for the gradual process of detrition which would leave them three months hence in a worse position than they are in now. On the other hand, if the Unionists in the House of Commons only remain firm to their duty, showing themselves able to see events and possibilities in their true proportions, and to distinguish between the minor and major obligations which rest on a constitutional party, the country, we have little doubt, will follow their example. English comsense will easily understand that there is no real patriotism in deposing a Government which upholds a political and social system whose benefits are permanent, in order to mark our of a single delinquency, the effect of which can only be transient. What England has to rely upon in the long-run is the national character. The national character has been formed by the combined influence of laws, institutions, beliefs, habits, customs, prescriptions, and traditions handed down from generation to generation, against the whole
of which Radicalism declares war. And can it be the duty of any Conservative to side with the assailants, because some mistake, in no way connected with their principal duty, has been committed by the garrison? The question is not how much censure the Ministry deserve, but how much Conservatives can afford to inflict.
Of course it is possible that even within the next few days the face of affairs in South Africa may be completely changed, and that some brilliant success may so far mollify the memory of recent disasters as to prevent any hostile steps of a really mischievous character being taken against the Government. Even as we write the turn of the tide seems to be approaching at last. But
as far as we can see at present, nothing is likely to avert the Radical attack directed against errors for which subsequent victory will not be allowed to atone. An appeal is certain to be made to the Ministerial benches, and it is beyond a doubt that words have been spoken and action contemplated by members of the Conservative party which are well calculated to encourage it. If there is any weight in the advice we here offer to the Unionist party, nothing is likely to occur before the 30th of January to diminish it.
That the principal article of the Radical programme will be steadily pursued by its authors there can be no manner of doubt. When the war is
VOL. CLXVII.-NO. MXII.
over or perhaps before-and affairs return into their usual channel, the abolition, or the emasculation, of the House of Lords will once more become a burning question with the party of revolution. And it is not merely the existence of a hereditary Chamber that is at stake: it is the recognition of property as entitled to separate representation where it cannot be swamped by numbers, that the House of Lords preserves for us. Nor this alone: it preserves also that regard for ancient immemorial usage and great historic houses which mingles an element of romance with the harder and coarser material of political life, and exercises a mellowing and elevating effect on the spirit of the nation. Democracy makes the House of Lords not less necessary but more so. The Established Church of England is our great guarantee for religious liberty; and we do not mean by this the freedom of all religious bodies to follow their own forms of worship-we mean freedom from priestcraft, whether it come in the shape of a Dissenting minister or a Roman Catholic priest. Disestablishment would at once cause rupture in the Church of England between the Protestant and the Ritualistic parties. The former would gravitate towards Methodism, the latter towards Romanism. Without the support of that particular status which the Establishment confers upon a national clergy, each would ere long be absorbed into the body which attracts
it, and the laity would have to contend with the combined pretensions of both, or give up formal religion altogether. This is so likely to be the result that it should surely give us all pause on the brink of taking action which may in no small degree contribute to it. Of Home Rule we need say no more. It is for the nation to determine whether we are to court a fresh contest under far more unfavourable conditions than we could formerly command. These and many other evil consequences, all of them irreparable, must certainly ensue from the return of a powerful Radical Government, dominating a dispirited and discredited minority, very different from the Opposition
which bridled Sir W. Harcourt, and in two years drove him from office. Let no Conservative expect to see that situation repeated. If the present Government are deposed, either presently or in another year, on the ground of their military mismanagement, they are out for the lifetime of the new Parliament. Let Conservatives think well of what followed on the vindictive vote which drove the Duke of Wellington from power in 1830, and Sir Robert Peel in 1846. In the hands of their successors legitimate reforms became virtual revolutions, and in the hands of Lord Salisbury's successors history would assuredly repeat itself on a larger scale, and with more destructive consequences.