Page images

its results we have not got a far more troublesome one before us. That remains to be seen. Meanwhile we are placed in this position, that whether we are or are not to go through the postponed conflict depends entirely on the will of others. The country being in isolation-splendid because unique - Lord Salisbury's colleagues have no contrivances with which they could further postpone a war which Disraeli never for a moment believed a war averted. The truth is that there is an oversight in that idea of one great war the less. It would be quite correct on the assumption (which seems to be present here) that when a nation, promptly obedient to the finger of Destiny, yields the cake to another without fighting for it, the transaction passes without bloodshed. It has its afflictions for the surrendering party, but war with its horrors is not one of them. But what, then, is the security for that? Nothing but the convenience of the conquering party; which, if it happen to be a young empire newly risen from barbarism, is unlikely to sacrifice expediency to scruple. Growing nations are like growing lads, who do all sorts of hardy unfeeling things, which we who have come to the fulness of maturity shrink from. When such a Power is conscious of the upper hand, it uses the victorious member either to strike or to squeeze with no compunction whatever, and with no choice between the two modes of action except as expediency dictates. In brief, and to come to the point, willingness to submit and give place affords no security from war if it suits the rising Power to hasten and complete a rival's downfall. Whenever the convenience of that course appears, an opening is made for a

well-contrived attack (such as our land and sea-forces are being prepared for), which, being meant to finish off the declining Power, is naturally severe. The declining Power does not go to war now: the "averted" war which might have been fought upon far more favourable conditions comes to it, in the shape of an enforced and final struggle for existence.


Tried, then, by the test of bloodshed, there is no such ground for inveighing against Lord Beaconsfield's Eastern policy as the enemies of his reputation pretend. The above considerations not peculiar to him, nor to the statesmen his predecessors in office who settled the British policy called anti-Russian. They have always and everywhere existed in the determination to maintain national safety and independence, and their correlatives are to be found in every great struggle for freedom. It is not as if, even in these new times, we could compound with a rival victorious for an exclusive application of the squeeze-immunity from the sword guaranteed. No doubt that also was understood by Lord Beaconsfield, though in his day the syndicate-and-squeeze system of enlarging the boundaries of empire had scarcely developed from the idea that it is the safest and cheapest use to which enormous armaments can be put. But the practice was known in principle, and, being known, was liked no better than brute conquest by the original designers of the policy which Disraeli did not invent. We can tell by their spirit, and by their dutiful habit of taking long views, that if the country had to give way they had no preference for its extinction by pressure, squeeze, peine forte et dur. The slowness and obscurity of the process (we

have had several touches of it lately, and nobody notices) is a great recommendation to many minds, no doubt. It is found soothing and reconciling; but what is the advantage if, as is very likely, the squeeze will not be carried far before summary execution is attempted? In that case, impoverishment and humiliation first, and the fight after all.

These considerations being fairly weighed, and, above all, note being taken of those grave changes of recent development which put so much out of controversy, what reasonable ground remains for the vilification of Lord Beaconsfield's Eastern policy which has lately broken out in greater confidence than ever? The assertion is that what is now going on in Europe and the East is its final condemnation as vilely conceived and wickedly futile; that it was not carried out seeming to be considered no abatement of its harmfulness. The mildest expression of hostility or contempt that I have encountered puts it down as an antiquated policy, unsuited to modern requirements. Yet to me it seems that what is now going on in Europe and the East is its perfect vindication, speaking by facts of

Of course I understand that Maga's readers have not gone so far into this article without wondering whether it is to be taken as a defence of Disraeli with the main charge excluded from the argument. Again and again they have said to themselves, and in myself I have heard them-"This is all very well, but you do not meet, nor even state, the more particular objections to Lord Beaconsfield's policy. Besides the express assumption in what you say, that


the most profound and permanent significance; while as to the antiquation, it can only be understood as meaning that the direction, the action, which sends the machine to the top of the hill, must be abandoned when the time comes for letting it comfortably run down again. In Lord Beaconsfield's day that time was not supposed to have arrived. The difficulties which the Foreign Office had then to meet were no new delivery from a political box of Pandora, but of a common and a constant sort. With hardly a change of shape, they were the same which for ever arise from the contention of races and nations for commerce and empire; and Disraeli's way of dealing with those difficulties had no more of singularity than themselves, and is as little likely to become antiquated. It may drop or die out in places, as even the nations do; but that is another thing. The foresight, the unrelaxing grasp on essentials, the eye for occasion, the understanding that Government is an active force as well as a meditative function-these things which determined Disrael's policy must live in British statesmanship today; or if not, it must be because British statesmanship itself is dead.

the domination of Russia signifies the subjection of England, there appears to be an implied assumption that England's defensive policy against that event may be continued without regard to certain very dreadful consequences of upholding the Turkish empire, as that policy requires. Here, however, are the two great objections to it-the one political, the other moral. A newer, fresher, more cultured and generous discernment is unable to see that

'the discrowning of England' is to be feared from Russian ascendancy, and even doubts whether the discrowning would be a matter of much consequence if it happened. At the same time, a purer morality denies that England has a right to sustain her empire by means which indirectly but no less certainly lead to the oppression and wholesale massacre of Christian peoples. The two objections are seen more clearly when stated in combination. A doubtfully wise, doubt fully moral, and perhaps impossible opposition to Russian encroachment entails the bolstering of Turkey. The bolstering of Turkey for that purpose is, and was in Lord Beaconsfield's time, participation in the guilt of massacre, participation for selfish ends. And not that only. The Christian populations of Turkey are oppressed when they are not being murdered; and he repelling of the Russian advance is the exclusion of a saviour. Of all this your defence of Lord Beaconsfield takes no account whatever."

actly those of a trustee, with these differences: All trusts are sacred, but the trust which the Government of a great historic people undertakes is of higher sanctity than any known to the courts of law-as may be measured by the acknowledged duty of a man to sacrifice his life at need for his country's good. Therefore it is a trust that should be executed with unscrupulous fidelity; with no less of that, at any rate, than honest and careful men observe in the business of private life. This should be done because of another and far more notable difference-which is, that the Government of a country is trustee not only for an existing generation or two, but for all that may come hereafter; and looking forward, let us say, to the fourth or fifth generation yet unborn, the trust of a Government is as much for that as for the one which is on the road to extinction to-day.

If, as I contend, every British statesman should be bound by these rules of conduct, especially So far it does not; but, of course, in foreign affairs, then Lord with no intention of evading the Beaconsfield was bound by them. unevadeable. Nor is there the You might say, perhaps, that he least desire to do so. Intention, had no heart, and things of that however, there is, and I am in kind (most trustees are accounted good hope that it will be approved. inhuman), but I doubt the posNot merely for the purposes of sibility of condemning him for his this paper, I insist that the stand- foreign policy in 1876-78 should ing duty of every British Govern- it appear to have been governed ment to the country (which, of by those rules. At any rate, the course, includes the faithful ob- fairer course in judging him is servance of national engagements first to try his policy by the and treaty obligations) should be obligations of his trust-positive kept apart from whatever obli- and negative, active and passivegations of right and generous feel- and then to see what moral reing towards other countries may sponsibilities he would have thrown at any time arise. There should or did throw upon his country by be no mix-up of them; no risk allowing no sacrifice of England's should be run of confounding welfare at the demand of outraged them. The duties of a Govern- humanity. This is the course I ment-most certainly of a con- have taken; and having shown, I stitutional Government-are ex- think, that Lord Beaconsfield ac

curately judged the situation, met it with no lack of wisdom or courage on the lines of an established policy since proved right by events is unassailable, in short, within the duties and obligations of his trust - we have now to see how much he is to blame for not departing from them at the call of alien peoples under barbarous rule.

Although Lord Beaconsfield can, I think, be positively justified against the attacks that are made upon him on this score, he need not lose the benefit of good and reasonable excuse when that minor means of absolution is available. Since none are so unintelligent as not to know that the Turks were guilty of frightful excesses in 1895 and 1896, it is assumed that anybody might have foreseen in 1878 a repetition of the Bulgarian atrocities before long. Therefore Lord Beaconsfield should have foreseen their recurrence, and should have abandoned forthwith a policy of safeguarding British interests by maintaining the existence of an incurably barbarous Government. This was imperatively due to the honour of England, and would have prevented the long series of Armenian horrors. It seems to me, however, that Lord Beaconsfield may be excused if he did not believingly foresee a repetition of misdeeds which were instantly punished with signal and irremediable severity. He could but think their recurrence possible, but surely it was no obvious defect of wit if he thought a keenly deterrent recollection of their punishment far more likely. In the third quarter of the nineteenth century, it was more reasonable to look for better measures as a consequence of the penalty than for a headlong provoking repeti

tion of the crime. This has often been urged in Lord Beaconsfield's excuse, and should be allowed. And there is a particular reason for doing so which has been overlooked. By universal agreement all that is atrocious in these dealings with the Armenians is the work of the Sultan, and his alone. The work of an individual, that is; and of one who began his reign so well that to change a rooted system of policy upon a forecast of his falling away could not have been avowed with safety.

This brings us to another point, and one of substantial importance. The politicians of our day who say that Lord Beaconsfield should have changed England's Eastern policy after the Bulgarian massacres, are of those who would have driven Lord Salisbury to attack Turkey after the Armenian massacres. Other Englishmen of similar temperament-in fact, the rest of the Disraeli-haunted party -have no doubt that both things ought to have been done upon every consideration of honour and humanity, but that Lord Salisbury was absolved by a necessary regard for certain restraints. And so, indeed, he was; but it is hard to see why Lord Beaconsfield should not be equally excused-if he needs excuse-for he also was under control of the practically impossible.

What is it that he ought to have done, and is condemned for not doing? It is obvious that his accusers could not have been satisfied with a change of heart or a revolution of opinion. If they examine themselves they will find that what they demand of him is not only that, and not only a complete change of policy, but also an immediate change of conduct, publicly displayed. A gradual change. of policy is not in question. Clearly,

it could have had no effective application to the case. Lord Beaconsfield was to decide at once, on a forecast of Abdul Hamid's turning out not the reforming Sultan he seemed but a murdering despot, upon a complete and proclaimed reversal of England's Eastern policy. It was to be proclaimed, and it was to be acted upon. If now Disraeli's unfriends will turn from ascertaining their demands upon him, and look to the conditions in which he was placed, they will understand their own unreasonableness. Everything that stood between their hearts' desire and its fulfilment when they would have had Lord Salisbury "sweep aside the Powers" and attack Turkey single-handed-treaty obligations, the concert, the partition-spectre-would have confronted England at once had Disraeli proposed that sudden change. But more remains to be said. The country would have forbidden the transaction. That is positive. Bulgarian agitation was strong at its zenith irresistible; and it was maintained at a pitch other wise untenable by a supposed discovery that the invasion of Turkey by Russia had none but the most divinely humane and self-sacrificing motives. But yet the Czar was quite right when he said, amidst these excitements, that there still existed in England 66 inveterate suspicion of Russian policy, and a continual fear of Russian aggression and conquest." True. These just suspicions and that provident fear existed all the while, rising almost to violence as the war went on. A transaction between the British and Russian Governments like that so much commended last year would have sent the people into the streets.



But surely, it has been said, some agreement might have been


It re

It was


come to at the beginning of the trouble which would have satisfied the benevolent desires of the Russian Foreign Office, and secured some measure of selfgovernment for the populations of Turkey. mains a plausible objection, but it was much more so before Prince Lobanoff removed the mask of Christian sympathy and self-sacrifice from the face of Russian policy. "Some agreement" on behalf of oppressed Christians was attempted lately, in very appealing circumstances. jected because it did not suit the programme of Russian advancement. Any attempt of the same character which obstructed the fulfilment of that scheme - to which the independence of the Turkish Christians has ever been offensive would have certainly failed in 1876. If, then, Lord Beaconsfield is blamed for holding a contrary view, and for taking no pains to act on that contrary view, his case should be re-tried. The only witnesses against him on that score were Imposture, Credulity, and Illusion allies of the Russian Government till the year before last, when they were slaughtered in the sight of all men as no longer needed. It was on a chill November day, and Prince Lobanoff was the memorable executioner.

agents and

That famous despatch of his finished them, quite completely but much too late. As long as they flourished, Lord Beaconsfield's Eastern policy was exposed to a double fire, from both the moral and the intellectual side. As a policy which bolstered up an unspeakable Government for the sake of Britain's material interests, it was a wicked policy, and it was the more wicked because it was foolish. Its justification and sustenance were jeal

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »