« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
was clearly a vote of censure on the Ministry, and Sir William was told that if he chose to move one, a day should be given him, but not otherwise. This he declined to do, and the consequence was that the debate took place on a motion for adjournment on the day before the Easter holidays. As far as facts are concerned the debate was only a thrice told tale, on which we do not propose to enter on the present occasion. "The integrity of the Ottoman empire," which lies at the bottom of it, is one of those familiar diplomatic fictions which, like many legal fictions, are found very convenient in practice, and which, being incorporated into the public language of Europe, cannot be ignored at the will and pleasure of any single nation. We all understand what it means, and to hold it up to public ridicule or execration is only to be excused on the score of that political ignorance to which we have already referred. Sir William Harcourt, however, cannot plead that excuse; and he is logically bound, therefore, to declare himself opposed to the policy which the phrase in question represents. That policy is to ensure if possible that the disintegration of the Turkish empire shall be brought about by a gradual and peaceful process; and to avoid precipitating a conflict of which time may do much to mitigate the violence, if not to avert it altogether. The stronger that empire is, the more desperate will be its dying throes; whereas if we believe, as all Liberals and Radicals are bound to believe, that it is growing weaker every day, the longer we wait the more easy will be its dissolution. Now Sir William Harcourt, by what he says of the "integrity of the Otto
man Empire," binds himself to contradict all this,-binds himself to a distinct declaration that it is not desirable to defer the disruption of the Turkish empire till it can be effected with less bloodshed than would attend it now; and that it is desirable to precipitate a conflict, which the sooner it happens the more violent will it be. We say that this is the only logical deduction from his handling of a phrase of which he fully understands the meaning.
It is probable, however, that the war-cry of the immediate future is indicated by the concluding words of Sir William's rather pompous invective: "We cannot assent that the policy of the British nation should be made subordinate to, and controlled and environed by, the decision of other States. That is a policy to which, in my opinion, this great and free nation will never consent, and it is a policy which we at least will meet with a united and determined resistance." Brave words! the misfortune is, that they prove too much, for Sir William could hardly mean to assert that in the present state of the world, when neither the silver streak nor the British navy are the same protection to us as they were in the olden time, England ought to forswear all alliances. Yet if we have allies, it is a matter of necessity that they should to some extent influence our policy. Sir William then is, we presume, for isolation, complete isolation; no allies, no friends, no helping hand in the hour of adversity. Let this be made known to the country as the inevitable conclusion from Sir William's grandiloquent assertion. If the British people are to cut themselves off from all Continental sympathy, or to try hopping about from one
ally to another, as Sir William suggests, making use of each in turn as it suits their own purpose, a policy which it is needless to say neither Canning nor Palmerston ever practised, and which no Continental power would endure, let them, at least, do it with their eyes open.
Sir William should not have referred to Canning without telling the whole truth about him. But for the battle of Navarino Greece would not have gained her independence. And when the battle of Navarino was fought Canning was dead. With regard to the Conference of St Petersburg-that of 1824, not 1826Canning's conduct is not exactly what is represented by Sir William Harcourt. In January of that year Russia laid before this country a plan for the settlement of Greece of which Canning approved. Part of this plan was the division of Greece into three Principalities under the suzerainty of the Porte, a fixed tribute to be paid, and the Porte to retain certain fortresses on conditions calculated to prevent the garrisons from coming into collision with the people. Canning agreed to go into the Conference at St Petersburg to consider this proposal, to which he himself was, as we have said, favourable, a fact conveniently omitted by Sir W. Harcourt in his statement to the House of Commons on the 12th of April. But before the Conference could meet, these terms had leaked out, and both Greece and Turkey positively refused to accept them. It was after this that Canning withdrew from the Conference and declined to take part in it, on the ground that it must either be absolutely futile, or else point to the imposition of these terms on the two belligerents by force: a step
against which he had always protested even more strongly in favour of Turkey than in that of Greece. (See reply to Greek Deputies, 1825.) This reply is to be found in the second volume of Mr Stapleton's 'Life of Canning,' p. 444. It deserves to be widely known. For it shows most clearly that Canning was not prepared for a moment to sacrifice either the principles of international law or the sanctity of Treaty obligations to any sentiment, sympathy, or prepossession whatever. It may perhaps be added here that the Austrian Government in 1825, and not Canning, was the first to recommend the recognition of Greek independence.
The danger which to Canning seemed imminent was Russian aggression. His object was to stop the war between Greece and Turkey before Russia should intervene, and, in his own words, "swallow Turkey at one mouthful and Greece at another." There was no necessity, then, for taking precautions against a general scramble. The situation had not arisen with which Lord Salisbury and Lord Rosebery were fronted and we cannot compare the action of one Foreign Minister in 1897 with that of another in 1824, unless the conditions are the same. The question of the breakup of Turkey, followed by a free fight for the fragments among the principal European States, was not in Canning's time within the domain of practical politics. Had he been alive now there is no shadow of a reason for supposing that he would have refused to be a party to the "Concert" for the purpose of preventing or postponing this sanguinary conflict. English interests were Canning's first consideration. But it is one of the very highest English interests that
the Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor should not become the theatre of a general European war. Is this end more likely to be attained by the separate action of Great Britain or by a general agreement between all the Powers concerned? If Sir William Harcourt argues that Canning would have answered this question in favour of the former because he retired from the Conference of St Petersburg in 1824, he must have discovered some new logical process unknown either to Aristotle or to any other master of the art, ancient or modern.
Now that war has actually broken out, the position of affairs more nearly approaches to what it was in the reign of George the Fourth. But the maintenance of the European Concert becomes only more necessary than ever. It has failed to prevent hostilities between Greece and Turkey. But war between these two Powers is a mere preliminary skirmish to what might be expected to follow if it led directly or indirectly to the dissolution of the Turkish empire, in the absence of any loyal understanding between the great Powers. If, in the event of such a catastrophe, every Power were to have "a free hand," God help the unfortunate provinces which would be the prizes contended for; and God help this country, which, with all her great Eastern and Mediterranean interests, could scarcely avoid being dragged into the melée! To avert the battle of Armageddon is the aim of the European Concert, and we hardly know what else can avert it.
This is its final cause, and to this it must bend all its energies.
Sir W. Harcourt's big talk about "a free hand" is, with all due deference to that eminent person, ridiculous. We have a perfectly free
hand now. We joined the European Concert of our own accord because it seemed the best way of attaining the end that we desired. And we have certainly dragged the other Powers at our chariotwheels as much as, or more than, they have dragged us. One can hardly help thinking that he must have had some special end to gain, over and above the necessity of satisfying the Radicals, by the extraordinary exhibition which he made of himself both at the Eighty Club and in the House of Commons. The European Concert is associated with the policy of Lord Rosebery. Has that got anything to do with it?
With the introduction of the Irish Board of Agriculture Bill the same night what is called the Lenten session terminated, and we may now cast a glance at our legislative prospects for the next three months. The Necessitous Board Schools Bill will, we suppose, have the preference; and we can see already the lines on which the opposition to it will proceed. The object of the Voluntary Schools Bill was to remove the gross inequality of resources between these schools and board schools, whereby the former were exposed to a competition which, if not checked, must lead to their extinction. It will be the contention of the Opposition that the assistance given to board schools should be exactly the same as that given to voluntary schools,-the effect, of course, being to rob the additional grant now allotted to the latter of all its value. Give the board schools an equal grant, and we practically replace the two systems exactly where they were before the new bill was passed. We re-establish the very grievance which the bill was intended to redress, and restore with one hand the inequality we removed with
the other. The debate which took place on Sir John Gorst's resolution of the 5th of April showed clearly enough what the Opposition meant, though we hardly needed any further evidence, as they have made no secret from the first of their anxiety to push back the voluntary schools into the position from which the Government has rescued them, in order that the process of "squeezing them out" may be steadily continued. Indeed the front Opposition bench has gone so far as to use a threat, very rarely if ever heard before within the walls of St Stephen's and to threaten to repeal the bill if ever they return to office. The threat, as Mr Balfour said, will do them more harm than good. But it shows the excess of irritability from which they are just now suffering.
We must leave the details of the Necessitous Schools Bill to another time. It is sufficient to say broadly that the relief given will be on a sliding-scale in proportion to the rate that is required, and the amount which it represents per head. The 97th clause of the Act of 1870 and the amending clause in the Government bill are both worded with that careful attention to tautology and obscurity combined for which our Parliamentary draughtsmen have long been justly celebrated; and we should not have been able to tell Our readers the little that we have told them without the help of Sir John Gorst's speech. But by dint of severe study we hope to master the full meaning of it before recurring to the subject. Why it is that Acts of Parliament should always be as difficult to construe as a chapter in Thucydides, we have never been able to ascertain.
The Irish Board of Agriculture Bill ought to pass without much
difficulty. But we suppose the old objections will be taken to the Employers Liability Bill, better called the Workman's Compensation Bill.
This may not be carried into law without considerable friction. Next to these in importance-perhaps from one point of view we might say before these in importance · come two bills, of which one is in the hands of the Secretary for Scotland, and the other in that of a private member. Scotland certainly will have reason to complain if the Scottish Private Legislation Bill is not pushed forward this session. It is nonsense to postpone it in deference to the Irish members, who demand that an Irish Private Legislation Bill shall be passed simultaneously with the Scottish. Ireland has got quite her fair share of legislation for the present year in the Irish Board of Agriculture Bill and the Irish Poor Relief Bill, and Scotland may well insist on an equivalent in the shape of the measure for which she has waited so patiently, especially as her conduct in this respect contrasts so favourably with that of the Irish members where Irish questions are concerned. If Scotsmen see, however, that the only way of securing attention to their wants is to give the Government as much trouble as possible, they will perhaps be driven to take a leaf out of the Irishmen's book; and the Government should understand that this persistent neglect of the Northern province is scarcely a proper response to the warm support which they received from it at the last general election.
The second measure to which we have referred concerns the Church of England: we mean the Benefices Bill, of which Lord Cranborne is in charge. The friends of the Church of England, both in and out of Parliament, have been at
no pains to conceal their mortification at the little support which this necessary reform has received from her Majesty's Government. The opposition which it has encountered in the House of Commons is a piece of barefaced dishonesty. The Dissenters desire to preserve abuses in the Church, for fear the removal of them should weaken the case for disestablishment. Unless the Government takes up the question in earnest, these tactics will succeed. Of course unforeseen circumstances may make it impossible to pass the bill into law this session. But if its failure is due to the lukewarmness of the Government in its behalf, deep and lasting offence will have been given to the most powerful and influential section of the Unionist party. Already we have heard of "other political combinations." Vanity is gratified by the applause of opponents and by the thoughtless sympathy of the public with what they call "honesty and independence." But the question to be asked is this: Whether such movements have ever done any real good, and whether the political principles which they were supposed to be vindicating have ever really been served by such tactics? The malcontents, if successful, have generally had to laugh on the wrong side of their mouths. As for the dream that some other "political combination" might be more favourable to the Church, it is too absurd. Radicals would use discontented Churchmen for regaining power, and would then chastise them with scorpions.
At the present day, when the masses, with whom rests the ultimate decision, stand at a great distance from the political stage,
broad effects are necessary: unmistakable indications of intellectual and personal prowess, of perfect self-confidence, and unfailing intrepidity, such as the meanest can understand. Mr Disraeli was ever ready to take the biggest of his enemies by the throat; and if the battle sometimes ended in a draw, he was very much oftener the victor. It is the power of doing this that tells with the present constituencies. And whatever
other deficiencies may be tolerated in the leader of a party, the want of this essential quality cannot. Now it is quite certain that Mr Balfour has shown himself above all criticism as a party leader, whether as to courage, statesmanship, serious eloquence, or ready wit. Twice this session at least he has beaten Yorick himself at his own weapons, and any dissatisfaction with him on personal grounds is entirely out of the question. With regard to any other, we shall do well to reflect that it could only end either in nothing, or in the loss of all that Unionists and Conservatives have been fighting for during the last twelve years.
All Governments now are necessarily more unstable than they were forty years ago. There is no reason to suppose that public opinion is certain to swing round every six or seven years. But it is certain that in proportion as the constitution becomes more democratic, the more are Governments at the mercy of caprice or impulse: and it is surely better that some sectional grievances should remain unredressed than that the whole Government, and the whole system of policy which it represents, should suffer any detriment.
Printed by William Blackwood and Sons.