What has Mr. Bland to tell us of all the welter of loan-mongering, rococo constitution-tinkering, Confucianism, and genuine if at times misdirected philanthropy, which is now seething in the Chinese melting-pot?
In the first place, he has to say that the main obstacle to all real progress in China is one that cannot be removed by any change in the form of government, whether the ruling spirit be a full-fledged Republican of the Sun Yat-Sen type, aided by a number of "imitation foreigners," as they are termed by their countrymen, or a savage, albeit statesmanlike "Old Buddha," who, at the close of a life stained by all manner of blood-guiltiness, at last turned her weary face towards Western reform as the only hope of saving her country and her dynasty. The main disease is not political, and is incapable of being cured by the most approved constitutional formulae. It is economic. Polygamy, aided by excessive philo-progenitiveness, the result of ancestor-worship, has produced a highly congested population. Vast masses of people are living in normal times on the verge of starvation. Hence come famines and savage revolts of the hungry. "Amidst all the specifics of political leaders," Mr. Bland says, "there has been as yet hardly a voice raised against marriages of minors or polygamy, and reckless over-breeding, which are the basic causes of China's chronic unrest."
The same difficulty, though perhaps in a less acute form, exists in India. Not only cannot it be remedied by mere philanthropy, but it is absolutely certain—cruel and paradoxical though it may appear to say so—that philanthropy enhances the evil. In the days of Akhbar or Shah Jehan, cholera, famine, and internal strife kept down the population. Only the fittest survived. Now, internal strife is forbidden, and philanthropy steps in and says that no single life shall be sacrificed if science and Western energy or skill can save it. Hence the growth of a highly congested population, vast numbers of whom are living on a bare margin of subsistence. I need hardly say that I am not condemning philanthropy. On the contrary, I hold strongly that an anti-philanthropic basis of government is not merely degrading and inhuman, but also fortunately nowadays impracticable. None the less, the fact that one of the greatest difficulties of governing the teeming masses in the East is caused by good and humane government should be recognised. It is too often ignored.
A partial remedy to the state of things now existing in China would be to encourage emigration; but a resort to this expedient is impossible, for Europeans and Americans alike, being scared by the prospect of competing with Chinese cheap labour, which is the only real Yellow Peril, as also by the demoralisation consequent on a large influx of Chinamen into their dominions, close their ports to the emigrants. That Young China should feel this as a gross injustice can be no matter for surprise. The Chinaman may, with inexorable logic, state his case thus: "You, Europeans and Americans, insist on my receiving and protecting your missionaries. I do not want them. I have, in Confucianism, a system of philosophy, which, whatever you may think of it, suits all my spiritual requirements, and which has been sufficient to hold Chinese society together for long centuries past. Nevertheless, I bow to your wishes. But then surely you ought in justice to allow free entry into your dominions to my carpenters and bricklayers, of whom I have a large surplus, of which I should be glad to be rid. Is not your boasted philanthropy somewhat vicarious, and does not your public morality savour in some degree of mere opportunist cant?"
To all of which, Europeans and Americans can only reply that the instinct of self-preservation, which is strong within them, points clearly to the absolute necessity of excluding the Chinese carpenters and bricklayers; and, further, as regards the missionaries, that there can be but one answer, and that in a Christian sense, to the question asked by jesting Pilate. In effect they say that circumstances alter cases, and that might is right—a plea which may perhaps suffice to salve the conscience of an opportunist politician, but ought to appeal less forcibly to a stern moralist.
Foreign emigration, even if it were possible, would, however, be a mere palliative. A more thorough and effective remedy would be to facilitate the dispersion of the population in the congested districts over those wide tracts of China itself which are suffering in a less degree from congestion. I conceive that the execution of a policy of this nature would not be altogether impossible. It could be carried into effect by improving the means of locomotion, possibly by the construction of irrigation works on a large scale, and by developing the resources of the country, which are admittedly very great. But there is one condition which is essential to the execution of this programme, and that is that the financial administration of the country should be sufficiently honest to inspire the confidence of those European investors who alone can provide the necessary capital. Now, according to Mr. Bland, this fundamental quality of honesty is not to be found throughout the length and breadth of China, whether in the ranks of the old Mandarins or in those of the young Republicans.
The essential virtue of personal integrity [he says], the capacity to handle public funds with common honesty, has been conspicuously lacking in Young China. The leopard has not changed his spots; the sons and brothers of the classical Mandarin remain, in spite of Western learning, Mandarins by instinct and in practice.
A very close observer of Eastern affairs—Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole—has said that the East has an extraordinary facility for assimilating all the worst features of any new civilisation with which it is brought in contact. This is what has happened in India, in Turkey, in Egypt, and in Persia. Even in Japan it has yet to be seen whether the old national virtues will survive prolonged contact with the West. Hear now what Mr. Bland has to say of China:
Where Young China has cast off the ethical restraints and patriotic morality of Confucianism, it has failed to assimilate, or even to understand, the moral foundations of Europe's civilisation. It has exchanged its old lamp for a new, but it has not found the oil, which the new vessel needs, to lighten the darkness withal.
In the opinion of so highly qualified an authority as Prince Ito, "the sentiments of foreign educated Young China are hopelessly out of touch with the masses." But while there has been alienation from the ideals of the East, there has been no real approach to the ideals of the West.
Education at Harvard or Oxford may imbue the Chinese student with ideas and social tendencies, apparently antagonistic to those of the patriarchal system of his native land; but they do not, and cannot, create in him (as some would have us believe) the Anglo-Saxon outlook on life, the standards of conduct and the beliefs which are the results of centuries of our process of civilisation and structural character. Under his top dressing of Western learning, the Chinese remains true to type, instinctively detached from the practical and scientific attitude, contemplatively philosophical, with the fatalistic philosophy of the prophet Job, concerned rather with the causes than the results of things. Your barrister at Lincoln's Inn, after ten years of cosmopolitan experience in London or Washington, will revert in six months to the ancestral type of morals and manners; the spectacle is so common, even in the case of exceptionally assimilative men like Wu Ting-fang, or the late Marquis Tseng, that it evokes little or no comment amongst Europeans in China.
Notably from the point of view of financial honesty, which, as I have already mentioned, is of cardinal importance if the regeneration of the country is to be undertaken by other means than by mock constitutions, the results of Western education are most disappointing.
The opinion [Mr. Bland says] is widely held amongst European residents and traders that the section of Young China which has received its education in Foreign Mission schools displays no more honesty than the rest.
What is the conclusion to be drawn from these facts? It is that not only in order to obtain adequate security for the bond-holders—in whom I am not in any way personally interested, for I shall certainly not be one of them—but also in the interests of the Chinese people, it is essential, before any loan is contracted, to insist on a strict supervision of the expenditure of the loan funds. That Young China, partly on genuine patriotic grounds and also possibly in some cases on grounds which are less worthy of respect and sympathy, should resent the exercise of this supervision, is natural enough, but it can scarcely be doubted that unless it be exercised a large portion of the money advanced by European capitalists will be wasted, and that no really effective step forward will be taken in the solution of the economic problem which constitutes the main Chinese difficulty. The very rudimentary ideas entertained by the Chinese themselves in the matter of applying funds to productive works is sufficiently illustrated by the episode mentioned by Mr. Bland, where he tells us that "the Szechuan Railway Company directors made provision for the building of their line by the appointment of station-masters"; while the fact that but a short time ago 1400 German machine guns, costing L500 apiece, which had never been used or paid for, were lying at Shanghai, indicates the manner in which it is not only possible but highly probable that the loan funds under exclusively Chinese supervision would be frittered away on unproductive objects.
Those, indeed, who have had some practical experience of financial administration in Eastern countries may well entertain some doubts as to whether supervision which only embraces the expenditure, and does not apply to the revenue, will be sufficient to meet all the requirements of the case. The results so far attained by the more limited scheme of supervision do not appear to have been satisfactory. Herr Rump was appointed auditor to the German section of the Tientsin-P'ukou Railway, but Mr. Bland tells us that "the auditorship on this railway has proved worse than useless as a preventive of official peculation." On the other hand, the system of collecting the revenue is in the highest degree defective. It violates flagrantly a principle which, from the days of Adam Smith downwards, has always been regarded as the corner-stone of any sound financial administration. "For every tael officially accounted for by the provincial authorities," Mr. Bland says, in words which recall to my mind the Egyptian fiscal system under the regime of Ismail Pasha, "at least five are actually collected from the taxpayers."
It is, therefore, earnestly to be hoped that the diplomatists and capitalists of Europe will—both in the interests of the investing public and in those of the Chinese people—stand firm and insist on adequate financial control as a preliminary and essential condition to the advance of funds.
As to whether the recently established Republic is destined to last or whether it will prove a mere ephemeral episode in the life-history of China, there seems to be much divergence of opinion among those authorities who are most qualified to speak on the subject. Mr. Bland's views on this point are, however, quite clear. He thinks that Confucianism, and all the political and social habits of thought which are the outcome of Confucianism, have "become ingrained in every fibre of the national life," and that they constitute the "fundamental cause of the longevity of China's social structure and of the innate strength of her civilisation." He refuses to believe that Young China, which is imbued with "a doctrinaire spirit of political speculation," though it may tinker with the superstructure, will be able seriously to shake the foundations of this hoary edifice. He has watched the opinions and activities in every province from the beginning of the present revolution, and he "is compelled to the conviction that salvation from this quarter is impossible." He thinks that although in Canton and the Kuang Provinces, which are the most intellectually advanced portions of China, a system of popular representation may be introduced with some hope of beneficial results,
... as regards the rest of China, as every educated Chinese knows (unless, like Sun Yat-Sen, he has been brought up abroad), the idea of rapidly transforming the masses of the population into an intelligent electorate, and of making a Chinese Parliament the expression of their collective political vitality, is a vain dream, possible only for those who ignore the inherent character of the Chinese people.
There is, however, one consideration set forth by Mr. Bland, which may possibly prove, at all events for a time, the salvation, while it assuredly connotes the condemnation of the present system of government, and that is that the Chinese Republic may continue to exist by abrogating all republican principles. According to Mr. Bland this "gran rifiuto" has already been made. "The actual government of China," he says, "contains none of the elements of genuine Republicanism, but is merely the old despotism, the old Mandarinate, under new names." "The inauguration of the Republican idea of constitutional Government in China," he says in another passage, "can only mean, in the present state of the people, continual transference of an illegal despotism from one group of political adventurers to another, the pretence of popular representation serving merely to increase and perpetuate instability."
It would require a far greater knowledge of Chinese affairs than any to which I can pretend to express either unqualified adherence to or dissent from Mr. Bland's views. But it is clear that his diagnosis of the past is based on a very thorough acquaintance with the facts, while, on a priori grounds, his prognosis of the future is calculated to commend itself to those of general experience who have studied Oriental character and are acquainted with Oriental history.
[Footnote 66: High Albania, p. 311.]
[Footnote 67: See on this subject the final remarks in Mr. Bland's very instructive chapter xiv.]
THE CAPITULATIONS IN EGYPT
"The Nineteenth Century and After," July 1913
During the six years which have elapsed since I left Cairo I have, for various reasons on which it is unnecessary to dwell, carefully abstained from taking any part in whatever discussions have arisen on current Egyptian affairs. If I now depart from the reticence which I have hitherto observed it is because there appears at all events some slight prospect that the main reform which is required to render the government and administration of Egypt efficient will be seriously considered. As so frequently happens in political affairs, a casual incident has directed public attention to the need of reform. A short time ago a Russian subject was, at the request of the Consular authorities, arrested by the Egyptian police and handed over to them for deportation to Russia. I am not familiar with the details of the case, neither, for the purposes of my present argument, is any knowledge of those details required. The nature of the offence of which this man, Adamovitch by name, was accused, as also the question of whether he was guilty or innocent of that offence, are altogether beside the point. The legal obligation of the Egyptian Government to comply with the request that the man should be handed over to the Russian Consular authorities would have been precisely the same if he had been accused of no offence at all. The result, however, has been to touch one of the most tender points in the English political conscience. It has become clear that a country which is not, indeed, British territory, but which is held by a British garrison, and in which British influence is predominant, affords no safe asylum for a political refugee. Without in any way wishing to underrate the importance of this consideration, I think it necessary to point out that this is only one out of the many anomalies which might be indicated in the working of that most perplexing political creation entitled the Egyptian Government and administration. Many instances might, in fact, be cited which, albeit they are less calculated to attract public attention in this country, afford even stronger ground for holding that the time has come for reforming the system hitherto known as that of the Capitulations.
Before attempting to deal with this question I may perhaps be pardoned if, at the risk of appearing egotistical, I indulge in a very short chapter of autobiography. My own action in Egypt has formed the subject of frequent comment in this country; neither, assuredly, in spite of occasional blame, have I any reason to complain of the measure of praise—often, I fear, somewhat unmerited praise—which has been accorded to me. But I may perhaps be allowed to say what, in my own opinion, are the main objects achieved during my twenty-four-years' tenure of office. Those achievements are four in number, and let me add that they were not the results of a hand-to-mouth conduct of affairs in which the direction afforded to political events was constantly shifted, but of a deliberate plan persistently pursued with only such temporary deviations and delays as the circumstances of the time rendered inevitable.
In the first place, the tension with the French Government, which lasted for twenty-one years and which might at any moment have become very serious, was never allowed to go beyond a certain point. In spite of a good deal of provocation, a policy of conciliation was persistently adopted, with the result that the conclusion of the Anglo-French Agreement of 1904 became eventually possible. It is on this particular feature of my Egyptian career that personally I look back with far greater pride and pleasure than any other, all the more so because, although it has, comparatively speaking, attracted little public attention, it was, in reality, by far the most difficult and responsible part of my task.
In the second place, bankruptcy was averted and the finances of the country placed on a sound footing.
In the third place, by the relief of taxation and other reforms which remedied any really substantial grievances, the ground was cut away from under the feet of the demagogues whom it was easy to foresee would spring into existence as education advanced.
In the fourth place, the Soudan, which had to be abandoned in 1884-85, was eventually recovered.
These, I say, are the things which were done. Let me now state what was not done. Although, of course, the number of Egyptians employed in the service of the Government was largely increased, and although the charges which have occasionally been made that education was unduly neglected admit of easy refutation, it is none the less true that little, if any, progress was made in the direction of conferring autonomy on Egypt. The reasons why so little progress was made in this direction were twofold.
In the first place, it would have been premature even to think of the question until the long struggle against bankruptcy had been fought and won, and also until, by the conclusion of the Anglo-French Agreement in 1904, the acute international tension which heretofore existed had been relaxed.
In the second place, the idea of what constituted autonomy entertained by those Egyptians who were most in a position to make their voices heard, as also by some of their English sympathisers, differed widely from that entertained by myself and others who were well acquainted with the circumstances of the country, and on whom the responsibility of devising and executing any plan for granting autonomy would naturally devolve. We were, in fact, the poles asunder. The Egyptian idea was that the native Egyptians should rule Egypt. They therefore urged that greatly increased powers should be given to the Legislative Council and Assembly originally instituted by Lord Dufferin. The counter-idea was not based on any alleged incapacity of the Egyptians to govern themselves—a point which, for the purposes of my present argument, it is unnecessary to discuss. Neither was it based on any disinclination gradually to extend the powers of Egyptians in dealing with purely native Egyptian questions. I, and others who shared my views, considered that those who cried "Egypt for the Egyptians" on the house-tops had gone off on an entirely wrong scent because, even had they attained their ends, nothing approaching to Egyptian autonomy would have been realised. The Capitulations would still have barred the way to all important legislation and to the removal of those defects in the administration of which the Egyptians most complained. When the prominent part played by resident Europeans in the political and social life of Egypt is considered, it is indeed little short of ridiculous to speak of Egyptian autonomy if at the same time a system is preserved under which no important law can be made applicable to an Englishman, a Frenchman, or a German, without its detailed provisions having received the consent, not only of the King of England, the President of the French Republic, and the German Emperor, but also that of the President of the United States, the King of Denmark, and every other ruling Potentate in Europe. We therefore held that the only possible method by which the evils of extreme personal government could be averted, and by which the country could be provided with a workable legislative machine, was to include in the term "Egyptians" all the dwellers in Egypt, and to devise some plan by which the European and Egyptian elements of society would be fused together to such an extent at all events as to render them capable of cooperating in legislative effort. It may perhaps be hoped that by taking a first step in this direction some more thorough fusion may possibly follow in the future.
As I have already mentioned, it would have been premature to deal with this question prior to 1904, for any serious modification of the regime of the Capitulations could not be considered as within the domain of practical politics so long as all the Powers, and more especially France and England, were pulling different ways. But directly that agreement was signed I resolved to take the question up, all the more so because what was then known as the Secret Agreement, but which has since that time been published, contained the following very important clause:
In the event of their (His Britannic Majesty's Government) considering it desirable to introduce in Egypt reforms tending to assimilate the Egyptian legislative system to that in force in other civilised countries, the Government of the French Republic will not refuse to entertain any such proposals, on the understanding that His Britannic Majesty's Government will agree to entertain the suggestions that the Government of the French Republic may have to make to them with a view of introducing similar reforms in Morocco.
I was under no delusion as to the formidable nature of the obstacles which stood in the way of reform. Moreover, I held very strongly that even if it had been possible, by diplomatic negotiations with the other Powers, to come to some arrangement which would be binding on the Europeans resident in Egypt, and to force it on them without their consent being obtained, it was most undesirable to adopt anything approaching to this procedure. The European colonists in Egypt, although of course numerically far inferior to the native population, represent a large portion of the wealth, and a still larger portion of the intelligence and energy in the country. Moreover, although the word "privilege" always rather grates on the ear in this democratic age, it is none the less true that in the past the misgovernment of Egypt has afforded excellent reasons why even those Europeans who are most favourably disposed towards native aspirations should demur to any sacrifice of their capitulary rights. My view, therefore, was that the Europeans should not be coerced but persuaded. It had to be proved to them that, under the changed condition of affairs, the Capitulations were not only unnecessary but absolutely detrimental to their own interests. Personally, I was very fully convinced of the truth of this statement, neither was it difficult to convince those who, being behind the scenes of government, were in a position to judge of the extent to which the Capitulations clogged progress in many very important directions. But it was more difficult to convince the general public, many of whom entertained very erroneous ideas as to the extent and nature of the proposed reforms, and could see nothing but the fact that it was intended to deprive them of certain privileges which they then possessed. It cannot be too distinctly understood that there never was—neither do I suppose there is now—the smallest intention of "abolishing the Capitulations," if by that term is meant a complete abrogation of all those safeguards against arbitrary proceedings on the part of the Government which the Capitulations are intended to prevent. Capitulations or no Capitulations, the European charged with a criminal offence must be tried either by European judges or an European jury. All matters connected with the personal status of any European must be judged by the laws in force in his own country. Adequate safeguards must be contrived to guard against any abuse of power on the part of the police. Whatever reforms are introduced into the Mixed Tribunals must be confined to comparatively minor points, and must not touch fundamental principles. In fact, the Capitulations have not to be abolished, but to be modified. An eminent French jurist, M. Gabriel Louis Jaray, in discussing the Egyptian situation a few years ago, wrote:
On peut considerer comme admis qu'une simple occupation ou un protectorat de fait, reconnu par les Puissances Europeennes, suffit pour mettre a neant les Capitulations, quand la reorganisation du pays est suffisante pour donner aux Europeens pleine garantie de bonne juridiction.
I contend that the reorganisation of Egypt is now sufficiently advanced to admit of the guarantees for the good administration of justice, which M. Jaray very rightly claimed, being afforded to all Europeans without having recourse to the clumsy methods of the Capitulations in their present form.
In the last two reports which I wrote before I left Egypt I developed these and some cognate arguments at considerable length. But from the first moment of taking up the question I never thought that it would fall to my lot to bring the campaign against the Capitulations to a conclusion. The question was eminently one as to which it was undesirable to force the pace. Time was required in order to let public opinion mature. I therefore contented myself with indicating the defects of the present system and the general direction which reform should take, leaving it to those younger than myself to carry on the work when advancing years obliged me to retire. I may add that the manner in which my proposals were received and discussed by the European public in Egypt afforded good reason for supposing that the obstacles to be overcome before any serious reforms could be effected, though formidable, were by no means insuperable. After my departure in 1907, events occurred which rendered it impossible that the subject should at once come under the consideration of the Government, but in 1911 Lord Kitchener was able to report that the legislative powers of the Court of Appeal sitting at Alexandria had been somewhat increased. Sir Malcolm M'Ilwraith, the Judicial Adviser of the Egyptian Government, in commenting on this change, says:
The new scheme, while assuredly a progressive step, and in notable advance of the previous state of affairs ... can hardly be regarded, in its ensemble, as more than a temporary makeshift, and a more or less satisfactory palliative of the legislative impotence under which the Government has suffered for so long.
It is most earnestly to be hoped that the question will now be taken up seriously with a view to more drastic reform than any which has as yet been effected.
There is one, and only one, method by which the evils of the existing system can be made to disappear. The British Government should request the other Powers of Europe to vest in them the legislative power which each now exercises separately. Simultaneously with this request, a legislative Chamber should be created in Egypt for enacting laws to which Europeans will be amenable.
There is, of course, one essential preliminary to the execution of this programme. It is that the Powers of Europe, as also the European residents in Egypt, should have thorough confidence in the intentions of the British Government, by which I mean confidence in the duration of the occupation, and also confidence in the manner in which the affairs of the country will be administered.
As regards the first point, there is certainly no cause for doubt. Under the Anglo-French Agreement of 1904 the French Government specifically declared that "they will not obstruct the action of government in Egypt by asking that a limit of time be fixed for the British occupation, or in any other manner." Moreover, one of the last acts that I performed before I left Egypt in 1907 was to communicate to the British Chamber of Commerce at Alexandria a letter from Sir Edward Grey in which I was authorised to state that His Majesty's Government "recognise that the maintenance and development of such reforms as have hitherto been effected in Egypt depend upon the British occupation. This consideration will apply with equal strength to any changes effected in the regime of the Capitulations. His Majesty's Government, therefore, wish it to be understood that there is no reason for allowing the prospect of any modifications in that regime to be prejudiced by the existence of any doubt as to the continuance of the British occupation of the country." It is, of course, conceivable that in some remote future the British garrison may be withdrawn from Egypt. If any fear is entertained on this ground it may easily be calmed by an arrangement with the Powers that in the event of the British Government wishing to withdraw their troops, they would previously enter into communications with the various Powers of Europe with a view to re-establishing whatever safeguards they might think necessary in the interests of their countrymen.
As regards the second point, that is to say, confidence in the manner in which the administration of the country is conducted, I need only say that, so far as I am able to judge, Lord Kitchener's administration, although one of his measures—the Five Feddan law—has, not unnaturally, been subjected to a good deal of hostile criticism, has inspired the fullest confidence in the minds of the whole of the population of Egypt, whether European or native. I cannot doubt that, when the time arrives for Lord Kitchener, in his turn, to retire, no brusque or radical change will be allowed to take place in the general principles under which he is now administering the country.
The rights and duties of any such Chamber as that which I propose, its composition, its mode of election or nomination, the degree of control to be exercised over it by the Egyptian or British Governments, are, of course, all points which require very careful consideration, and which admit of solution in a great variety of ways. In my report for the year 1906 I put forward certain suggestions in connection with each of these subjects, but I do not doubt that, as the result of further consideration and discussion, my proposals admit of improvement. I need not now dwell on these details, important though they be. I wish, however, to allude to one point which involves a question of principle. I trust that no endeavour will for the present be made to create one Chamber, composed of both Europeans and Egyptians, with power to legislate for all the inhabitants of Egypt. I am strongly convinced that, under the present condition of society in Egypt, any such attempt must end in complete failure. It is, I believe, quite impossible to devise any plan for an united Chamber which would satisfy the very natural aspirations of the Egyptians, and at the same time provide for the Europeans adequate guarantees that their own legitimate rights would be properly safeguarded. I am fully aware of the theoretical objections which may be urged against trying the novel experiment of creating two Chambers in the same country, each of which would deal with separate classes of the community, but I submit that, in the special circumstances of the case, those objections must be set aside, and that one more anomaly should, for the time being at all events, be added to the many strange institutions which exist in the "Land of Paradox." Whether at some probably remote future period it will be possible to create a Chamber in which Europeans and Egyptians will sit side by side will depend very largely on the conduct of the Egyptians themselves. If they follow the advice of those who do not flatter them, but who, however little they may recognise the fact, are in reality their best friends—if, in a word, they act in such a manner as to inspire the European residents of Egypt with confidence in their judgment and absence of class or religious prejudice, it may be that this consummation will eventually be reached. If, on the other hand, they allow themselves to be guided by the class of men who have of late years occasionally posed as their representatives, the prospect of any complete legislative amalgamation will become not merely gloomy but practically hopeless. The true Egyptian patriot is not the man who by his conduct and language stimulates racial animosity in the pursuit of an ideal which can never be realised, but rather one who recognises the true facts of the political situation. Now, the dominating fact of that situation is that Egypt can never become autonomous in the sense in which that word is understood by the Egyptian nationalists. It is, and will always remain, a cosmopolitan country. The real future of Egypt, therefore, lies not in the direction of a narrow nationalism, which will only embrace native Egyptians, nor in that of any endeavour to convert Egypt into a British possession on the model of India or Ceylon, but rather in that of an enlarged cosmopolitanism, which, whilst discarding all the obstructive fetters of the cumbersome old international system, will tend to amalgamate all the inhabitants of the Nile Valley and enable them all alike to share in the government of their native or adopted country.
For the rest, the various points of detail to which I have alluded above present difficulties which are by no means insuperable, if—as I trust may be the case—the various parties concerned approach the subject with a real desire to arrive at some practical solutions. The same may be said as regards almost all the points to which Europeans resident in Egypt attach special importance, such, for instance, as the composition of criminal courts for trying Europeans, the regulation of domiciliary visits by the police, and cognate issues. In all these cases it is by no means difficult to devise methods for preserving all that is really worth keeping in the present system, and at the same time discarding those portions which seriously hinder the progress of the country. There is, however, one important point of detail which, I must admit, presents considerable practical difficulties. It is certain that the services of some of the European judges of the Mixed Tribunals might be utilised in constituting the new Chamber. Their presence would be of great use, and it is highly probable that they will in practice become the real working men of any Chamber which may be created. But apart from the objection in principle to confiding the making as also the administration of the law wholly to the same individuals, it is to be observed that, in order to create a really representative body, it would be essential that other Europeans—merchants, bankers, landowners, and professional men—should be seated in the Chamber. Almost all the Europeans resident in Europe are busy men, and the question will arise whether those whose assistance would, on general grounds, be of special value, are prepared to sacrifice the time required for paying adequate attention to their legislative duties. I can only say that I hope that sufficient public spirit is to be found amongst the many highly qualified European residents in Egypt of divers nationalities to enable this question to be answered in the affirmative.
It is, of course, impossible within the space allotted to me to deal fully on the present occasion with all the aspects of this very difficult and complicated question. I can only attempt to direct attention to the main issue, and that issue, I repeat, is how to devise some plan which shall take the place of the present Egyptian system of legislation by diplomacy. The late Lord Salisbury once epigrammatically described that system to me by saying that it was like the liberum veto of the old Polish Diet, "without being able to have recourse to the alternative of striking off the head of any recalcitrant voter." It is high time that such a system should be swept away and some other adopted which will be more in harmony with the actual facts of the Egyptian situation. If, as I trust may be the case, Lord Kitchener is able to devise and to carry into execution some plan which will rescue Egypt from its present legislative Slough of Despond, he will have deserved well, not only of his country, but also of all those Egyptian interests, whether native or European, which are committed to his charge.
[Footnote 68: It is believed that a proposal to reform the constitution of the Egyptian Legislative Council and to extend somewhat its powers is now under consideration. Any reasonable proposals of this nature should be welcomed, but they will do little or nothing towards granting autonomy to Egypt in the sense in which I understand that word.]
"The Spectator," November 1912
No one who has lived much in the East can, in reading Mr. Monypenny's volumes, fail to be struck with the fact that Disraeli was a thorough Oriental. The taste for tawdry finery, the habit of enveloping in mystery matters as to which there was nothing to conceal, the love of intrigue, the tenacity of purpose—though this is perhaps more a Jewish than an invariably Oriental characteristic—the luxuriance of the imaginative faculties, the strong addiction to plausible generalities set forth in florid language, the passionate outbursts of grief expressed at times in words so artificial as to leave a doubt in the Anglo-Saxon mind as to whether the sentiments can be genuine, the spasmodic eruption of real kindness of heart into a character steeped in cynicism, the excess of flattery accorded at one time to Peel for purely personal objects contrasted with the excess of vituperation poured forth on O'Connell for purposes of advertisement, and the total absence of any moral principle as a guide of life—all these features, in a character which is perhaps not quite so complex as is often supposed, hail from the East. What is not Eastern is his unconventionality, his undaunted moral courage, and his ready conception of novel political ideas—often specious ideas, resting on no very solid foundation, but always attractive, and always capable of being defended by glittering plausibilities. He was certainly a man of genius, and he used that genius to found a political school based on extreme self-seeking opportunism. In this respect he cannot be acquitted of the charge of having contributed towards the degradation of English political life.
Mr. Monypenny's first volume deals with Disraeli's immature youth. In the second, the story of the period (1837-46) during which Disraeli rose to power is admirably told, and a most interesting story it is.
Whatever views one may adopt of Disraeli's character and career, it is impossible not to be fascinated in watching the moral and intellectual development of this very remarkable man, whose conduct throughout life, far from being wayward and erratic, as has at times been somewhat superficially supposed, was in reality in the highest degree methodical, being directed with unflagging persistency to one end, the gratification of his own ambition—an ambition, it should always be remembered, which, albeit it was honourable, inasmuch as it was directed to no ignoble ends, was wholly personal. If ever there was a man to whom Milton's well-known lines could fitly be applied it was Disraeli. He scorned delights. He lived laborious days. In his youth he eschewed pleasures which generally attract others whose ambition only soars to a lower plane. In the most intimate relations of life he subordinated all private inclinations to the main object he had in view. He avowedly married, in the first instance, for money, although at a later stage his wife was able to afford herself the consolation, and to pay him the graceful compliment of obliterating the sordid reproach by declaring that "if he had the chance again he would marry her for love"—a statement confirmed by his passionate, albeit somewhat histrionic love-letters. The desire of fame, which may easily degenerate into a mere craving for notoriety, was unquestionably the spur which in his case raised his "clear spirit." So early as 1833, on being asked upon what principles he was going to stand at a forthcoming election, he replied, "On my head." He cared, in fact, little for principles of any kind, provided the goal of his ambition could be reached. Throughout his career his main object was to rule his countrymen, and that object he attained by the adoption of methods which, whether they be regarded as tortuous or straightforward, morally justifiable or worthy of condemnation, were of a surety eminently successful.
The interest in Mr. Monypenny's work is enormously enhanced by the personality of his hero. In dealing with the careers of other English statesmen—for instance, with Cromwell, Chatham, or Gladstone—we do, indeed, glance—and more than glance—at the personality of the man, but our mature judgment is, or at all events should be, formed mainly on his measures. We inquire what was their ultimate result, and what effect they produced? We ask ourselves what degree of foresight the statesman displayed. Did he rightly gauge the true nature of the political, economic, or social forces with which he had to deal, or did he mistake the signs of the times and allow himself to be lured away by some ephemeral will-o'-the-wisp in the pursuit of objects of secondary or even fallacious importance? It is necessary to ask these questions in dealing with the career of Disraeli, but this mental process is, in his case, obscured to a very high degree by the absorbing personality of the man. The individual fills the whole canvas almost to the extent of excluding all other objects from view.
No tale of fiction is, indeed, more strange than that which tells how this nimble-witted alien adventurer, with his poetic temperament, his weird Eastern imagination and excessive Western cynicism, his elastic mind which he himself described as "revolutionary," and his apparently wayward but in reality carefully regulated unconventionality, succeeded, in spite of every initial disadvantage of race, birth, manners, and habits of thought, in dominating a proud aristocracy and using its members as so many pawns on the chess-board which he had arranged to suit his own purposes. Thrust into a society which was steeped in conventionality, he enforced attention to his will by a studied neglect of everything that was conventional. Dealing with a class who honoured tradition, he startled the members of that class by shattering all the traditions which they had been taught to revere, and by endeavouring, with the help of specious arguments which many of them only half understood, to substitute others of an entirely novel character in their place. Following much on the lines of those religious reformers who have at times sought to revive the early discipline and practices of the Church, he endeavoured to destroy the Toryism of his day by invoking the shade of a semi-mythical Toryism of the past. Bolingbroke was the model to be followed, Shelburne was the tutelary genius of Pitt, and Charles I. was made to pose as "a virtuous and able monarch," who was "the holocaust of direct taxation." Never, he declared, "did man lay down his heroic life for so great a cause, the cause of the Church and the cause of the Poor." Aspiring to rise to power through the agency of Conservatives, whose narrow-minded conventional conservatism he despised, and to whose defects he was keenly alive, he wisely judged that it was a necessity, if his programme were to be executed, that the association of political power with landed possessions should be the sheet-anchor of his system; and, strong in the support afforded by that material bond of sympathy, he did not hesitate to ridicule the foibles of those "patricians"—to use his own somewhat stilted expression—who, whilst they sneered at his apparent eccentricities, despised their own chosen mouthpiece, and occasionally writhed under his yoke, were none the less so fascinated by the powerful will and keen intellect which held them captive that they blindly followed his lead, even to the verge of being duped.
From earliest youth to green old age his confidence in his own powers was never shaken. He persistently acted up to the sentiment—slightly paraphrased from Terence—which he had characteristically adopted as his family motto, Forti nihil difficile; neither could there be any question as to the genuine nature either of his strength or his courage, albeit hostile critics might seek to confound the latter quality with sheer impudence. He abhorred the commonplace, and it is notably this abhorrence which gives a vivid, albeit somewhat meretricious sparkle to his personality. For although truth is generally dull, and although probably most of the reforms and changes which have really benefited mankind partake largely of the commonplace, the attraction of unconventionality and sensationalism cannot be denied. Disraeli made English politics interesting, just as Ismail Pasha gave at one time a spurious interest to the politics of Egypt. No one could tell what would be the next step taken by the juggler in Cairo or by that meteoric statesman in London whom John Bright once called "the great wizard of Buckinghamshire." When Disraeli disappeared from the stage, the atmosphere may have become clearer, and possibly more healthy for the body politic in the aggregate, but the level of interest fell, whilst the barometer of dulness rose.
If the saying generally attributed to Buffon that "the style is the man," is correct, an examination of Disraeli's style ought to give a true insight into his character. There can be no question of the readiness of his wit or of his superabundant power of sarcasm. Besides the classic instances which have almost passed into proverbs, others, less well known, are recorded in these pages. The statement that "from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to an Undersecretary of State is a descent from the sublime to the ridiculous" is very witty. The well-known description of Lord Derby as "the Rupert of debate" is both witty and felicitous, whilst the sarcasm in the context, which is less well known, is both witty and biting. The noble lord, Disraeli said, was like Prince Rupert, because "his charge was resistless, but when he returned from the pursuit he always found his camp in the possession of the enemy."
A favourite subject of Disraeli's sarcasm in his campaign against Peel was that the latter habitually borrowed the ideas of others. "His (Peel's) life," he said, "has been a great appropriation clause. He is a burglar of others' intellect.... From the days of the Conqueror to the termination of the last reign there is no statesman who has committed political petty larceny on so great a scale."
In a happy and inimitable metaphor he likened Sir Robert Peel's action in throwing over Protection to that of the Sultan's admiral who, during the campaign against Mehemet Ali, after preparing a vast armament which left the Dardanelles hallowed by the blessings of "all the muftis of the Empire," discovered when he got to sea that he had "an objection to war," steered at once into the enemy's port, and then explained that "the only reason he had for accepting the command was that he might terminate the contest by betraying his master."
Other utterances of a similar nature abound, as, for instance, when he spoke of Lord Melbourne as "sauntering over the destinies of a nation, and lounging away the glories of an Empire," or when he likened those Tories who followed Sir Robert Peel to the Saxons converted by Charlemagne. "The old chronicler informs us they were converted in battalions and baptized in platoons."
Warned by the fiasco of his first speech in the House of Commons, Disraeli for some while afterwards exercised a wise parsimony in the display of his wit. He discovered that "the House will not allow a man to be a wit and an orator unless they have the credit of finding it out." But when he had once established his position and gained the ear of the House, he gave a free rein to his prodigious powers of satire, which he used to the full in his attacks on Peel. In point of fact, vituperation and sarcasm were his chief weapons of offence. He spoke of Mr. Roebuck as a "meagre-minded rebel," and called Campbell, who was afterwards Lord Chancellor, "a shrewd, coarse, manoeuvring Pict," a "base-born Scotchman," and a "booing, fawning, jobbing progeny of haggis and cockaleekie." When he ceased to be witty, sarcastic, or vituperative, he became turgid. Nothing could be more witty than when, in allusion to Peel's borrowing the ideas of others, he spoke of his fiscal project as "Popkins's Plan," but when, having once made this hit, which naturally elicited "peals of laughter from all parts of the House," he proceeded further, he at once lapsed into cheap rhetoric.
"Is England," he said, "to be governed, and is England to be convulsed, by Popkins's plan? Will he go to the country with it? Will he go with it to that ancient and famous England that once was governed by statesmen—by Burleighs and by Walsinghams; by Bolingbrokes and by Walpoles; by a Chatham and a Canning—will he go to it with this fantastic scheming of some presumptuous pedant? I won't believe it. I have that confidence in the common sense, I will say the common spirit of our countrymen, that I believe they will not long endure this huckstering tyranny of the Treasury Bench—these political pedlars that bought their party in the cheapest market and sold us in the dearest."
So also on one occasion when in a characteristically fanciful flight he said that Canning ruled the House of Commons "as a man rules a high-bred steed, as Alexander ruled Bucephalus," and when some member of the House indulged in a very legitimate laugh, he turned on him at once and said, "I thank that honourable gentleman for his laugh. The pulse of the national heart does not beat as high as once it did. I know the temper of this House is not as spirited and brave as it was, nor am I surprised, when the vulture rules where once the eagle reigned." From the days of Horace downwards it has been permitted to actors and orators to pass rapidly from the comic to the tumid strain. But in this case the language was so bombastic and so utterly out of proportion to the occasion which called it forth that a critic of style will hardly acquit the orator of the charge of turgidity. Mr. Monypenny recognises that "in spite of Disraeli's strong grasp of fact, his keen sense of the ridiculous, and his intolerance of cant, he never could quite distinguish between the genuine and the counterfeit either in language or sentiment."
Much has at times been said and written of the solecisms for which Disraeli was famous. They came naturally to him. In his early youth he told his sister that the Danube was an "uncouth stream," because "its bed is far too considerable for its volume." At the same time there can be little doubt that his practice of indulging in carefully prepared solecisms, which became more daring as he advanced in power, was part of a deliberate and perfectly legitimate plan, conceived with the object of arresting the attention and stimulating the interest of his audience.
* * * * *
I have so far only dealt with Disraeli's main object in life, and with the methods by which he endeavoured to attain that object. The important question remains to be considered of whether, as many supposed and still suppose, Disraeli was a mere political charlatan, or whether, as others hold, he was a far-seeing statesman and profound thinker, who read the signs of the times more clearly than his contemporaries, and who was the early apostle of a political creed which his countrymen will do well to adopt and develop.
It is necessary here to say a word or two about Disraeli's biographer. The charm of Mr. Monypenny's style, the lucidity of his narrative, the thorough grasp which he manifestly secured of the forces in movement during the period which his history embraces, and the deep regret that all must feel that his promising career was prematurely cut short by the hand of death, should not blind us to the fact that, in spite of a manifest attempt to write judicially, he must be regarded as an apologist for Disraeli. In respect, indeed, to one point—which, however, is, in my opinion, one of great importance—he threw up the case for his client. The facts of this case are very clear.
When Peel formed his Ministry in 1841, no place was offered to Disraeli. It can be no matter for surprise that he was deeply mortified. His exclusion does not appear to have been due to any personal feeling of animosity entertained by Peel. On the contrary, Peel's relations with Disraeli had up to that time been of a very friendly character. Possibly something may be attributed to that lack of imagination which, at a much later period, Disraeli thought was the main defect of Sir Robert Peel's character, and which may have rendered him incapable of conceiving that a young man, differing so totally not only from himself but from all other contemporaneous politicians in deportment and demeanour, could ever aspire to be a political factor of supreme importance. The explanation given by Peel himself that, as is usual with Prime Ministers similarly situated, he was wholly unable to meet all the just claims made upon him, was unquestionably true, but it is more than probable that the episode related by Mr. Monypenny had something to do with Disraeli's exclusion. Peel, it appears, was inclined to consider Disraeli eligible for office, but Stanley (subsequently Lord Derby), who was a typical representative of that "patrician" class whom Disraeli courted and eventually dominated, stated "in his usual vehement way" that "if that scoundrel were taken in, he would not remain himself." However that may be, two facts are abundantly clear. One is that, in the agony of disappointment, Disraeli threw himself at Peel's feet and implored, in terms which were almost abject, that some official place should be found for him. "I appeal," he said, in a letter dated September 5, 1841, "to that justice and that magnanimity which I feel are your characteristics, to save me from an intolerable humiliation." The other fact is that, speaking to his constituents in 1844, he said: "I never asked Sir Robert Peel for a place," and further that, speaking in the House of Commons in 1846, he repeated this statement even more categorically. He assured the House that "nothing of the kind ever occurred," and he added that "it was totally foreign to his nature to make an application for any place." He was evidently not believed. "The impression in the House," Mr. Monypenny says, "was that Disraeli had better have remained silent."
Mr. Monypenny admits the facts, and does not attempt to defend Disraeli's conduct, but he passes over this very singular episode, which is highly illustrative of the character of the man, somewhat lightly, merely remarking that though Disraeli "must pay the full penalty," at the same time "it is for the politician who is without sin in the matter of veracity to cast the first stone."
I hardly think that this consolatory Biblical reflection disposes of the matter. Politicians, as also diplomatists, are often obliged to give evasive answers to inconvenient questions, but it is not possible for any man, when dealing with a point of primary importance, deliberately to make and to repeat a statement so absolutely untrue as that made by Disraeli on the occasion in question without undermining any confidence which might otherwise be entertained in his general sincerity and rectitude of purpose. A man convicted of deliberate falsehood cannot expect to be believed when he pleads that his public conduct is wholly dictated by public motives. Now all the circumstantial evidence goes to show that from 1841 onwards Disraeli's conduct, culminating in his violent attacks on Peel in 1845-46, was the result of personal resentment due to his exclusion from office in 1841, and that these attacks would never have been made had he been able to climb the ladder of advancement by other means. His proved want of veracity confirms the impression derived from this evidence.
Peel's own opinion on the subject may be gathered from a letter which he wrote to Sir James Graham on December 22, 1843. Disraeli had the assurance to solicit a place for his brother from Sir James Graham. The request met with a flat refusal. Peel's comment on the incident was: "He (Disraeli) asked me for office himself, and I was not surprised that, being refused, he became independent and a patriot."
So far, therefore, as the individual is concerned, the episode on which I have dwelt above appears to me to be a very important factor in estimating not merely Disraeli's moral worth, but also the degree of value to be attached to his opinions. The question of whether Disraeli was or was not a political charlatan remains, however, to be considered.
That Disraeli was a political adventurer is abundantly clear. So was Napoleon, between whose mentality and that of Disraeli a somewhat close analogy exists. Both subordinated their public conduct to the furtherance of their personal aims. It is quite permissible to argue that, as a political adventurer, Disraeli did an incalculable amount of harm in so far as he tainted the sincerity of public life both in his own person and, posthumously, by becoming the progenitor of a school of adventurers who adopted his methods. But it is quite possible to be a self-seeking adventurer without being a charlatan. A careful consideration of Disraeli's opinions and actions leads me to the conclusion that only on a very superficial view of his career can the latter epithet be applied to him. It must, I think, be admitted that his ideas, even although we may disagree with them, were not those of a charlatan, but of a statesman. They cannot be brushed aside as trivial. They deserve serious consideration. Moreover, he had a very remarkable power of penetrating to the core of any question which he treated, coupled with an aptitude for wide generalisation which is rare amongst Englishmen, and which he probably derived from his foreign ancestors. An instance in point is his epigrammatic statement that "In England, where society was strong, they tolerated a weak Government, but in Ireland, where society was weak, the policy should be to have the Government strong." Mr. Monypenny is quite justified in saying: "The significance of the Irish question cannot be exhausted in a formula, but in that single sentence there is more of wisdom and enlightenment than in many thousands of the dreary pages of Irish debate that are buried in the volumes of Hansard."
More than this. In one very important respect he was half a century in advance of his contemporaries. With true political instinct he fell upon what was unquestionably the weakest point in the armour of the so-called Manchester School of politicians. He saw that whilst material civilisation in England was advancing with rapid strides, there was "no proportionate advance in our moral civilisation." "In the hurry-skurry of money-making, men-making, and machine-making," the moral side of national life was being unduly neglected. He was able with justifiable pride to say: "Long before what is called the 'condition of the people question' was discussed in the House of Commons, I had employed my pen on the subject. I had long been aware that there was something rotten in the core of our social system. I had seen that while immense fortunes were accumulating, while wealth was increasing to a superabundance, and while Great Britain was cited throughout Europe as the most prosperous nation in the world, the working classes, the creators of wealth, were steeped in the most abject poverty and gradually sinking into the deepest degradation." The generation of 1912 cannot dub as a charlatan the man who could speak thus in 1844. For in truth, more especially during the last five years, we have been suffering from a failure to recognise betimes the truth of this foreseeing statesman's admonition. Having for years neglected social reform, we have recently tried to make up for lost time by the hurried adoption of a number of measures, often faulty in principle and ill-considered in detail, which seek to obtain by frenzied haste those advantages which can only be secured by the strenuous and persistent application of sound principles embodied in deliberate and well-conceived legislative enactments.
Disraeli, therefore, saw the rock ahead, but how did he endeavour to steer the ship clear of the rock? It is in dealing with this aspect of the case that the view of the statesman dwindles away and is supplanted by that of the self-seeking party manager. His fundamental idea was that "we had altogether outgrown, not the spirit, but the organisation of our institutions." The manner in which he proposed to reorganise our institutions was practically to render the middle classes politically powerless. His scheme, constituting the germ which, at a later period, blossomed into the Tory democracy, was developed as early as 1840 in a letter addressed to Mr. Charles Attwood, who was at that time a popular leader. "I entirely agree with you," he said, "that an union between the Conservative Party and the Radical masses offers the only means by which we can preserve the Empire. Their interests are identical; united they form the nation; and their division has only permitted a miserable minority, under the specious name of the People, to assail all right of property and person."
Mr. Monypenny, if I understand rightly, is generally in sympathy with Disraeli's project, and appears to think that it might have been practicable to carry it into effect. He condemns Peel's counter-idea of substituting a middle-class Toryism for that which then existed as "almost a contradiction in terms." I am unable to concur in this view. I see no contradiction, either real or apparent, in Peel's counter-project, and I hold that events have proved that the premises on which Disraeli based his conclusion were entirely false, for his political descendants, while still pursuing his main aim, viz. to ensure a closer association of the Conservative Party and the masses, have been forced by circumstances into an endeavour to effect that union by means not merely different from but antagonistic to those which Disraeli himself contemplated.
It all depends on what Disraeli meant when he spoke of "Conservatism," and on what Mr. Monypenny meant when he spoke of "Toryism." It may readily be conceded that a "middle-class Toryism," in the sense in which Disraeli would have understood the expression, was "a contradiction in terms," for the bed-rock on which his Toryism was based was that it should find its main strength in the possessors of land. The creation of such a Toryism is a conceivable political programme. In France it was created by the division of property consequent on the Revolution. Thiers said truly enough that in the cottage of every French peasant owning an acre of land would be found a musket ready to be used in the defence of property. In fact, the five million peasant proprietors now existing in France represent an eminently conservative class. But, so far as I know, there is not a trace to be found in any of Disraeli's utterances that he wished to widen the basis of agricultural conservatism by creating a peasant proprietary class. He wished, above all things, to maintain the territorial magnates in the full possession of their properties. When he spoke of a "union between the Conservative Party and the Radical masses" he meant a union between the "patricians" and the working men, and the answer to this somewhat fantastic project is that given by Juvenal 1800 years ago:
Quis enim iam non intelligat artes Patricias?
"Who in our days is not up to the dodges of the patricians?"
The programme was foredoomed to failure, and the failure has been complete. Modern Conservatives can appeal to the middle classes, who—in spite of what Mr. Monypenny says—are their natural allies. They can also appeal to the working classes by educating them and by showing them that Socialism is diametrically contrary to their own interests. But, although they may gain some barren and ephemeral electoral advantages, they cannot hope to advance the cause of rational conservative progress either by alienating the one class or by sailing under false colours before the other. They cannot advantageously masquerade in Radical clothes. There was a profound truth in Lord Goschen's view upon the conduct of Disraeli when, in strict accordance with the principles he enunciated in the 'forties, he forced his reluctant followers to pass a Reform Bill far more Radical than that proposed by the Whigs. "That measure," Lord Goschen said, "might have increased the number of Conservatives, but it had, nevertheless, in his belief, weakened real Conservatism." Many of Disraeli's political descendants seem to care little for Conservatism, but they are prepared to advocate Socialist or quasi-Socialist doctrines in order to increase the number of nominal Conservatives. This, therefore, has been the ultimate result of the gospel of which Disraeli was the chief apostle. It does no credit to his political foresight. He altogether failed to see the consequences which would result from the adoption of his political principles. He hoped that the Radical masses, whom he sought to conciliate, would look to the "patricians" as their guides. They have done nothing of the sort, but a very distinct tendency has been created amongst the "patricians" to allow themselves to be guided by the Radical masses.
I cannot terminate these remarks without saying a word or two about Disraeli's great antagonist, Peel. It appears to me that Mr. Monypenny scarcely does justice to that very eminent man. His main accusation against Peel is that he committed his country "apparently past recall" to an industrial line of growth, and that he sacrificed rural England "to a one-sided and exaggerated industrial development which has done so much to change the English character and the English outlook."
I think that this charge admits of being answered, but I will not now attempt to answer it fully. This much, however, I may say. Mr. Monypenny, if I understand rightly, admits that the transition from agriculture to manufactures was, if not desirable, at all events inevitable, but he holds that this transition should have been gradual. This is practically the same view as that held by the earlier German and American economists, who—whilst condemning Protection in theory—advocated it as a temporary measure which would eventually lead up to Free Trade. The answer is that, in those countries which adopted this policy, the Protection has, in the face of vested interests, been permanent, whilst, although the movement in favour of Free Trade has never entirely died out, and may, indeed, be said recently to have shown signs of increasing vigour, the obstacles to the realisation of the ideas entertained by economists of the type of List have not yet been removed, and are still very formidable. That the plunge made by Sir Robert Peel has been accompanied by some disadvantages may be admitted, but Free Traders may be pardoned for thinking that, if he had not had the courage to make that plunge, the enormous counter-advantages which have resulted from his policy would never have accrued.
As regards Peel's character, it was twice sketched by Disraeli himself. The first occasion was in 1839. The picture he drew at that time was highly complimentary, but as Disraeli was then a loyal supporter of Peel it may perhaps be discarded on the plea advanced by Voltaire that "we can confidently believe only the evil which a party writer tells of his own side and the good which he recognises in his opponents." The second occasion was after Peel's death. It is given by Mr. Monypenny in ii. 306-308, and is too long to quote. Disraeli on this occasion made some few—probably sound—minor criticisms on Peel's style, manner, and disposition. But he manifestly wrote with a strong desire to do justice to his old antagonist's fine qualities. He concluded with a remark which, in the mouth of a Parliamentarian, may probably be considered the highest praise, namely, that Peel was "the greatest Member of Parliament that ever lived." I cannot but think that even those who reject Peel's economic principles may accord to him higher praise than this. They may admit that Peel attained a very high degree of moral elevation when, at the dictate of duty, he separated himself from all—or the greater part—of his former friends, and had the courage, when honestly convinced by Cobden's arguments, to act upon his convictions. Peel's final utterance on this subject was not only one of the most pathetic, but also one of the finest—because one of the most deeply sincere—speeches ever made in Parliament.
I may conclude these remarks by some recollections of a personal character. My father, who died in 1848, was a Peelite and an intimate friend of Sir Robert Peel, who was frequently his guest at Cromer. I used, therefore, in my childhood to hear a good deal of the subjects treated in Mr. Monypenny's brilliant volumes. I well remember—I think it must have been in 1847—being present on one occasion when a relative of my own, who was a broad-acred Nottinghamshire squire, thumped the table and declared his opinion that "Sir Robert Peel ought to be hanged on the highest tree in England." Since that time I have heard a good many statesmen accused of ruining their country, but, so far as my recollection serves me, the denunciations launched against John Bright, Gladstone, and even the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, may be considered as sweetly reasonable by comparison with the language employed about Sir Robert Peel by those who were opposed to his policy.
I was only once brought into personal communication with Disraeli. Happening to call on my old friend, Lord Rowton, in the summer of 1879, when I was about to return to Egypt as Controller-General, he expressed a wish that I should see Lord Beaconsfield, as he then was. The interview was very short; neither has anything Lord Beaconsfield said about Egyptian affairs remained in my memory. But I remember that he appeared much interested to learn whether "there were many pelicans on the banks of the Nile."
The late Sir Mountstuart Grant-Duff was a repository of numerous very amusing Beaconsfieldiana.
[Footnote 69: This passage occurs in Coningsby, and Mr. Monypenny warns us that "his version of the quarrel between Charles I. and the Parliament is too fanciful to be quite serious; we may believe that he was here consciously paying tribute to the historical caprices of Manners and Smythe."]
[Footnote 70: Mr. Monypenny says in a note that a hostile newspaper gave the following translation of Disraeli's motto: "The impudence of some men sticks at nothing."]
[Footnote 71: What Buffon really wrote was: "Le style est l'homme meme."]
Iratusque Chremes tumido delitigat ore; Et tragicus plerumque dolet sermone pedestri Telephus et Peleus.
Ars Poetica, 94-96.]
[Footnote 73: Sir Robert Peel. Charles Stuart Parker. Vol. iii. 425.]
[Footnote 74: Sat. iv, 101.]
[Footnote 75: Life of Lord Goschen, Arthur D. Elliot, p. 163.]
"The Spectator," March 15, 1913
De Voguee's well-known book, Le Roman Russe, was published so long ago as 1886. It is still well worth reading. In the first place, the literary style is altogether admirable. It is the perfection of French prose, and to read the best French prose is always an intellectual treat. In the second place, the author displays in a marked degree that power of wide generalisation which distinguishes the best French writers. Then, again, M. de Voguee writes with a very thorough knowledge of his subject. He resided for long in Russia. He spoke Russian, and had an intimate acquaintance with Russian literature. He endeavoured to identify himself with Russian aspirations, and, being himself a man of poetic and imaginative temperament, he was able to sympathise with the highly emotional side of the Slav character, whilst, at the same time, he never lost sight of the fact that he was the representative of a civilisation which is superior to that of Russia. He admires the eruptions of that volcanic genius Dostoievsky, but, with true European instinct, charges him with a want of "mesure"—the Greek Sophrosyne—which he defines as "l'art d'assujettir ses pensees." Moreover, he at times brings a dose of vivacious French wit to temper the gloom of Russian realism. Thus, when he speaks of the Russian writers of romance, who, from 1830 to 1840, "eurent le privilege de faire pleurer les jeunes filles russes," he observes in thorough man-of-the-world fashion, "il faut toujours que quelqu'un fasse pleurer les jeunes filles, mais le genie n'y est pas necessaire."
When Taine had finished his great history of the Revolution, he sent it forth to the world with the remark that the only general conclusion at which a profound study of the facts had enabled him to arrive was that the true comprehension, and therefore, a fortiori, the government of human beings, and especially of Frenchmen, was an extremely difficult matter. Those who have lived longest in the East are the first to testify to the fact that, to the Western mind, the Oriental habit of thought is well-nigh incomprehensible. The European may do his best to understand, but he cannot cast off his love of symmetry any more than he can change his skin, and unless he can become asymmetrical he can never hope to attune his reason in perfect accordance to the Oriental key. Similarly, it is impossible to rise from a perusal of De Voguee's book without a strong feeling of the incomprehensibility of the Russians.
What, in fact, are these puzzling Russians? They are certainly not Europeans. They possess none of the mental equipoise of the Teutons, neither do they appear to possess that logical faculty which, in spite of many wayward outbursts of passion, generally enables the Latin races in the end to cast off idealism when it tends to lapse altogether from sanity; or perhaps it would be more correct to say that, having by association acquired some portion of that Western faculty, the Russians misapply it. They seem to be impelled by a variety of causes—such as climatic and economic influences, a long course of misgovernment, Byzantinism in religion, and an inherited leaning to Oriental mysticism—to distort their reasoning powers, and far from using them, as was the case with the pre-eminently sane Greek genius, to temper the excesses of the imagination, to employ them rather as an oestrus to lash the imaginative faculties to a state verging on madness.
If the Russians are not Europeans, neither are they thorough Asiatics. It may well be, as De Voguee says, that they have preserved the idiom and even the features of their original Aryan ancestors to a greater extent than has been the case with other Aryan nations who finally settled farther West, and that this is a fact of which many Russians boast. But, for all that, they have been inoculated with far too strong a dose of Western culture, religion, and habits of thought to display the apathy or submit to the fatalism which characterises the conduct of the true Eastern.
If, therefore, the Russians are neither Europeans nor Asiatics, what are they? Manifestly their geographical position and other attendant circumstances have, from an ethnological point of view, rendered them a hybrid race, whose national development will display the most startling anomalies and contradictions, in which the theory and practice derived from the original Oriental stock will be constantly struggling for mastery with an Occidental aftergrowth. From the earliest days there have been two types of Russian reformers, viz. on the one hand, those who wished that the country should be developed on Eastern lines, and, on the other, those who looked to Western civilisation for guidance. De Voguee says that from the accession of Peter the Great to the death of the Emperor Nicolas—that is to say, for a period of a hundred and fifty years—the government of Russia may be likened to a ship, of which the captain and the principal officers were persistently endeavouring to steer towards the West, while at the same time the whole of the crew were trimming the sails in order to catch any breeze which would bear the vessel Eastward. It can be no matter for surprise that this strange medley should have produced results which are bewildering even to Russians themselves and well-nigh incomprehensible to foreigners. One of their poets has said:
On ne comprend pas la Russie avec la raison, On ne peut que croire a la Russie.
One of the most singular incidents of Russian development on which De Voguee has fastened, and which induced him to write this book, has been the predominant influence exercised on Russian thought and action by novels. Writers of romance have indeed at times exercised no inconsiderable amount of influence elsewhere than in Russia. Mrs. Beecher Stowe's epoch-making novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, certainly contributed towards the abolition of slavery in the United States. Dickens gave a powerful impetus to the reform of our law-courts and our Poor Law. Moreover, even in free England, political writers have at times resorted to allegory in order to promulgate their ideas. Swift's Brobdingnagians and Lilliputians furnish a case in point. In France, Voltaire called fictitious Chinamen, Bulgarians, and Avars into existence in order to satirise the proceedings of his own countrymen. But the effect produced by these writings may be classed as trivial compared to that exercised by the great writers of Russian romance. In the works of men like Tourguenef and Dostoievsky the Russian people appear to have recognised, for the first time, that their real condition was truthfully depicted, and that their inchoate aspirations had found sympathetic expression. "Dans le roman, et la seulement," De Voguee says, "on trouvera l'histoire de Russie depuis un demi-siecle."
Such being the case, it becomes of interest to form a correct judgment on the character and careers of the men whom the Russians have very generally regarded as the true interpreters of their domestic facts, and whom large numbers of them have accepted as their political pilots.
The first point to be noted about them is that they are all, for the most part, ultra-realists; but apparently we may search their writings in vain for the cheerfulness which at times illumines the pages of their English, or the light-hearted vivacity which sparkles in the pages of their French counterparts. In Dostoievsky's powerfully written Crime and Punishment all is gloom and horror; the hero of the tale is a madman and a murderer. To a foreigner these authors seem to present the picture of a society oppressed with an all-pervading sense of the misery of existence, and with the impossibility of finding any means by which that misery can be alleviated. In many instances, their lives—and still more their deaths—were as sad and depressing as their thoughts. Several of their most noted authors died violent deaths. At thirty-seven years of age the poet Pouchkine was killed in a duel, Lermontof met the same fate at the age of twenty-six. Griboiedof was assassinated at the age of thirty-four. But the most tragic history is that of Dostoievsky, albeit he lived to a green old age, and eventually died a natural death. In 1849, he was connected with some political society, but he does not appear, even at that time, to have been a violent politician. Nevertheless, he and his companions, after being kept for several months in close confinement, were condemned to death. They were brought to the place of execution, but at the last moment, when the soldiers were about to fire, their sentences were commuted to exile. Dostoievsky remained for some years in Siberia, but was eventually allowed to return to Russia. The inhuman cruelty to which he had been subject naturally dominated his mind and inspired his pen for the remainder of his days.
De Voguee deals almost exclusively with the writings of Pouchkine, Gogol, Dostoievsky, Tourguenef, who was the inventor of the word Nihilism, and the mystic Tolstoy, who was the principal apostle of the doctrine. All these, with the possible exception of Tourguenef, had one characteristic in common. Their intellects were in a state of unstable equilibrium. As poets, they could excite the enthusiasm of the masses, but as political guides they were mere Jack-o'-Lanterns, leading to the deadly swamp of despair. Dostoievsky was in some respects the most interesting and also the most typical of the group. De Voguee met him in his old age, and the account he gives of his appearance is most graphic. His history could be read in his face.
On y lisait mieux que dans le livre, les souvenirs de la maison des morts, les longues habitudes d'effroi, de mefiance et de martyre. Les paupieres, les levres, toutes les fibres de cette face tremblaient de tics nerveux. Quand il s'animait de colere sur une idee, on eut jure qu'on avait deja vu cette tete sur les banes d'une cour criminelle, ou parmi les vagabonds qui mendient aux portes des prisons. A d'autres moments, elle avait la mansuetude triste des vieux saints sur les images slavonnes.