Meanwhile Tariff Reform had begun to act as a disintegrant on the Unionist party, and by the end of October, 1903, Lord James was writing to Sir Charles Dilke as to the position of Unionist Free Traders: "Can nothing be done for these unfortunate men?" There is no evidence that their state moved Sir Charles to compassion, but it is clear that he feared lest a regrouping of parties should destroy the commanding position which Radicals had gained, and as soon as Parliament reassembled he took action.
'Thursday, February 11th, 1904.—I sought an interview with John Redmond, to whom I said that there seemed a rapidly increasing risk of the speedy formation of a Whig Administration dominated by Devonshire influence, and that it might be wise that he, with or without Blake, should meet myself and Lloyd George for the Radicals, J. R. Macdonald for the Labour Representation Committee, and with him either Snowden or Keir Hardie. Redmond assented, and I then saw Lloyd George. Lloyd George was at first inclined to assent, but on second thoughts asked for time, which I think meant to see Dr. Clifford.
'Friday, February 12th, 1904.—Lloyd George had not made up his mind either way, but thought that it would be wise to meet except for the fact that trouble might happen afterwards as to what had passed. I pointed out that this could be easily guarded against by his writing me a letter making any conditions or reservations which he thought necessary, which I should show to Redmond, and write to him that I had so shown. On this he promised to let me know on Monday what he thought, and probably would prepare a draft letter.
'_February 18th, 1904.—Further talk with George. A little afraid of being attacked by Perks for selling the pass on education. I said that I must go on alone to a certain extent, and he then consented to come in, and on my suggesting reservations—as, for example, on education—he said: "No, I can trust the Irish as regards the personal matter, and, as I come in, I will come in freely without any reservations."'
Through the general unsettlement which Chamberlain's new policy had created, a dissolution and a change of Government were now possibilities of a not distant future, and speculations were rife as to the future position of Sir Charles. Lady Dilke, who regarded the admission of her husband to office as a proof of his public exoneration from the charges brought against his character, was ardently desirous that he should accept without reserve any offer of a place in the Cabinet, and it was much against her wish that Sir Charles imposed conditions, in conversation with a political friend who had been a member of the last Liberal Cabinet. So far as anxiety again to hold office existed on his part, it was more because of her wishes in the matter than from any strong political ambition of his own. [Footnote: He wrote to Mr. Deakin from Geneva, December 9th, 1904: "Only one word of what you say on 'too tardy rewards in higher responsibilities'! I was in the inner ring of the Cabinet before I was either a Cabinet Minister or a Privy Councillor, 1880-1882, and I am not likely to have the offer of the place the work of which would tempt me. The W.O. would kill me, but I could not refuse it. I have been told on 'authority' that it will not come to me."]
But the motive which in this, as in all else, swayed him so strongly was now to be taken away.
Lady Dilke's wish for her husband's return to office was shared by many Radical politicians, and in the course of the summer Captain Cecil Norton, one of the Liberal Whips, in a speech expressed his opinion of the value of Sir Charles Dilke's services, and his anticipation that the fall of the Tory Government would bring back the Radical leader of 1885 to his full share of power. This utterance was enough to set the old machinery in motion against him. A series of meetings had been organized by the advanced Radical section of the House of Commons, and the first was to have been held in Newington, Captain Norton's constituency, with Sir Charles for the chief speaker. Threats of a hostile demonstration reached the Newington committee, and it was decided—though Sir Charles Dilke was opposed to any change—that the series should be opened with a speech from him in his old constituency, the place where he was best known and where he had most friends. It was fixed for October 20th, 1904.
Nothing of the reason for this change was told to Lady Dilke. Her health had given some cause for anxiety, though at Dockett Eddy in August and at Speech House in September she had been more bright, more gay, than ever. She herself wrote to friends that she had "never been so happy in her life," but felt need of rest, and was going to Pyrford for a long rest.
She reached Pyrford with her husband on October 15th, and he wished her to see a doctor, but she refused. "He would stop my going up with you on Thursday, and I want to go. I think I ought to be there."
It was long since Dilke had stood before those whom he once represented, and she was determined to be with him; she assisted at the triumphant success of this meeting; but the strain of coming up to London and the excitement justified her forecast of the doctor's opinion. That night she was taken ill, yet till the morning would make no sign, for fear of disturbing her husband. She admitted then that she was very ill; to Pyrford, however, she was set on returning; in London she "could not rest." By Sunday she seemed to be on the highroad to recovery, but on that Sunday night the end came.
Those last days and hours have been fully described by Sir Charles in the memoir prefixed to her posthumous book. All that he has written in his own Memoir is this: 'October 23rd, 1904: Emilia died in my arms after one of our happiest Sunday afternoons.'
So ended the marriage which, contracted under gloomy auspices in 1885, had resulted in nineteen years of unbroken felicity. Her praise has been written in love and reverence by her husband, who was her equal comrade. The union between them was so complete as to exclude the thought of gratitude, but whatever man can owe to a woman Sir Charles Dilke owed to his wife; and though she died without achieving that end on which she had set her heart, of utterly and explicitly cancelling by public assent all the charges that had been brought against him, yet she had so lived and so helped him to live that he was heedless of this matter, except for her sake.
Over her grave many hands were stretched out to him. Chamberlain wrote from Italy:
"My Dear Dilke,
"I have just seen with the deepest sympathy and sorrow the news of the terrible loss you have sustained.
"Consolation would be idle in presence of such a blow, but I should like you to feel that as an old friend, separated by the unhappy political differences of these later years, I still share your personal grief in losing a companion so devoted to you, and so well qualified to aid and strengthen you in all the work and anxiety of your active life.
"When the first great shock is past, I earnestly trust that you may find in the continued performance of your public duties some alleviation of your private sorrow, and I assure you most earnestly of my sympathy in this time of trial. "Believe me, "Yours very truly, "J. Chamberlain."
Mr. Morley wrote also:
"My Dear Dilke,
"I did not hear the news of the unhappy stroke that has befallen you until it was a fortnight old. You need not to be told what a shock it was. I think that I had known her longer than anybody—from the time of a college ball at Oxford in 1859; a radiant creature she then was. To me her friendship was unwavering, down to the last time I saw her, when she gave me a long and intime talk about the things that, as you know, she had most at heart. I am deeply and sincerely sorry and full of sympathy with you. Words count little in such a disaster, but this I hope you will believe. "Ever yours, "John Morley."
When after his wife's death Sir Charles again took up his life in London, those who saw him off his guard recognized keenly the effect of this last sudden blow, heavier because unexpected. The very mainspring of his life had been weakened. But he exerted himself to prepare Lady Dilke's unpublished writings, and to write the memoir which prefaced them. Of this he says:
'I put my whole soul into the work of bringing out her posthumous book with a proper memoir, and it nearly killed me. I was never so pleased with anything as with the success of the book. To hundreds of the best people it seems to have meant and said all that I wished it to say and mean.'
Probably, also, to many readers it gave for the first time a true image, not of her only for whose sake it was written, but of him who wrote. One letter of this moment deserves to be put on record. Mr. Arnold-Forster wrote:
"Dear Sir Charles,
"In a very few days the Session, with all its conflicts, its misunderstandings, and its boredom, will be upon us. Before it comes let me take advantage of one of the few remaining days of calm to write a line to you.
"It is inevitable, and no doubt right, that you and I should find ourselves on different sides; we shall probably differ on a good many points, and on some we shall very likely express our differences. But I trust that nothing in the rough and tumble of public work will interrupt the pleasant relations which have so long existed between yourself and me, and the existence of which I have so greatly valued.
"You have been a good and kind friend to me ever since I entered the House, and I have always valued both your friendship and your good opinion, when you could give it me. I have known well enough that I owed much to Lady Dilke's friendship and affection for my wife; but I shall never forget how generously that friendship was extended to me. I was very deeply sensible of the privilege of receiving the confidence and the good-will of a very noble and wonderfully able woman.
"But I must not weary you with too long a letter. All I want to tell you is that I cherish the hope that even now that this bond of union, this comprehending and reconciling presence, is no longer here to keep our tempers wise and sweet, you may still count me among your warm friends, and—despite the estrangement of party politics—may continue to give me your good-will and may believe in the continuance of mine."
The Administration of Mr. Balfour fell in the last days of 1905. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was entrusted with the formation of a Liberal Government, and the question was at once eagerly asked, in political circles, whether Sir Charles Dilke would be a member of it. In February, 1905, he had written to Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice expressing a hope that he would be outside the next Government, so as to be free to oppose the deal with Russia which in his opinion Sir E. Grey was contemplating.
The feeling of the Conservative party on the question of his return to official life is sufficiently shown by the fact that he had previously been sounded as to his willingness to accept the chairmanship of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. That the attitude of the Court towards him had changed is also clear. Not only was his attendance at Levees approved, but he and Lady Dilke had received the royal command to the Queen's Garden Party at Windsor. The attitude of his own party was, however, the determining factor.
Before the critical time actually arrived, there had been tentative conversations, and, although Sir Charles did not expect that any invitation would come to him, Mr. Labouchere thought otherwise, and a letter from him describes conversations which he had held with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: "I thought then from his general observations that you would be War Minister."
In Labouchere's opinion the determining factor was a public correspondence in which Dr. Talbot, then Bishop of Southwark, took the lead in protesting against any such appointment. But this was probably a mistaken view. There is no reason to believe that the Liberal leader had any wish to include Sir Charles in his Ministry. The Cordite vote was not forgotten by the members of the Liberal Administration of 1892-1895. No office was offered to Sir Charles. His answer to the letter written by Labouchere on January 6th was:
"I never thought C.-B. could possibly offer me the War Office, and I could not have refused it or made conditions for the post, and it would have killed me. I did not expect him to offer me any place. Had my wife lived, that would have hurt her, and, through her, me. As it is, I prefer to be outside—a thing which, though often true, no one ever believes of others.
"But when in office—April, 1880, to June, 1885—I was exceptionally powerful, and nearly always got my own way in my department. That could never have been repeated—a strong reason why I have all along preferred the pleasant front seat in the house to a less commanding position on the stage."
When Mr. Haldane's name was announced for the War Office, Mr. Arnold- Forster sent a message agreeing with Sir Charles's high estimate of the new War Minister's abilities. "By far the best appointment they could possibly make—with the one exception." And Mr. T. R. Buchanan, Financial Secretary to the War Office, wrote in reply to Sir Charles's congratulations:
"I have taken the liberty of showing your letter to Haldane, and he desires me to thank you for what you say about him, and he values it all the more highly because of your generosity. You would certainly have been the natural man to be now in his place, and it is a public loss that you are not in it."
At the election which followed Sir Charles was re-elected by an enormous majority for his old constituency, after issuing this, the shortest of all his habitually short addresses:
"Gentlemen,—I solicit with confidence the renewal of your trust.
"Believe me, your devoted servant, "Charles W. Dilke."
In the autumn of 1905 he had delivered a series of addresses, mainly to audiences of Labour men, advocating a general co-operation of Radicals with the Irish and Labour groups. For Ireland he urged a return to the "Parnell-Chamberlain scheme of 1885," but applied as a part of Home Rule all round. His proposal was that the Irish members should in the autumn sit in Dublin, the Scottish members in Edinburgh, the Welsh in Wales, and the English at Westminster, and should then transact local affairs, their decisions being ratified or rejected by the United House when it met in spring as an Imperial Parliament.
In December, 1905, he wrote to Mr. Deakin:
"The composition of the new Ministry seems to me, as to everybody else, good. The Imperial question will slumber, I think, until the Irish question has become again acute. The Ministry ought to be able to do very well in 1906; two Sessions up to Christmas. In 1907 I expect a row with Redmond, in which I shall be more or less on Redmond's side. The Liberal party will not face the fact that they cannot avoid dealing with the Irish question without the certainty of the Irish moderates, of whom Redmond is the most moderate, being forced to say: 'We can no longer keep Ireland quiet for you.' The Liberal party will not have coercion, and, that being so, they have no alternative except to do what they ought to do. It would be wiser to do it before they are compelled; and if they did it before compulsion was applied, they would have more chance of carrying the country with them."
In a lighter vein he wrote to Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, commenting on the extraordinary predominance of Scottish members in the Cabinet, on December 15th, 1905:
"I had already, before I received your criticism on the Scotch, suggested to Hudson (who is with me) the things that Labouchere is likely to say about his friends, and had yesterday got as far as his turning round and asking us in a loud whisper: 'Who is it who represents England in this Government?'
[Footnote: The Cabinet consisted of nineteen persons. Of these, the Prime Minister (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman); the Chancellor (Lord Loreburn); the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Asquith); the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Lord Elgin); the Secretary of State for India (Lord Morley); the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Haldane); the First Lord of the Admiralty (Lord Tweedmouth); the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Bryce); the Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Sinclair)—nine in all—were Scottish Peers or represented Scottish constituencies. It was also observed that Sir Edward Grey's constituency was the Scottish Borderland; and it was jestingly said that John Burns was put into the Cabinet because he had persuaded the Premier that he descended from the poet!
Mr. Birrell, when the Government was formed, was not in Parliament, but his last constituency had been Scotch, The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was Lord Aberdeen.]
"We used to think that the value of Randolph was that he gave to politics the constant pleasure of the unexpected. Rosebery now does this in the Lords, and Charles II.'s truthful saying about the House of Commons, 'It is as good as a play,' becomes on account of Rosebery temporarily true of the House of Lords. We shall all of us be drawn there very often, and even such a House of Commons man as your humble servant, grumbling the while, will nevertheless find himself attracted to that 'throne.'"
When the new Parliament met in 1906, Labour had for the first time a really important representation. [Footnote: See Chapter LII., "Labour," p. 346.]
Sir Charles noted in his Diary: 'The Labour party was my original scheme for the I.L.P. as developed in talks at Pyrford, before its formation, with Champion and with Ben Tillett. To join it or lead it was never my thought.'
His purpose was rather to be a connecting link between the varying groups in the development of a legislative programme which he forecast with shrewd prevision. On January 6th, 1906, he wrote to Labouchere:
"As I now seem to have the confidence of Balfour, Redmond, and Keir Hardie, the position will be difficult; but in the present year Redmond and Keir Hardie will, I think, join with me in supporting Government. Next year it will be different, unless, as I expect, Grey goes for H.R. The small Budget of 1906 will be a disappointment, and so, I fear, will be the big one of 1907.
"The really weak point is that the Government is damned unless it fights the Lords in 1907, and that the promise of 'five years in power' will prevent the hacks from fighting."
Holding these views, it was natural that he should seek to maintain that organization of a Radical group which had existed continuously since Fawcett established, or rather revived, it on first entering the Parliament of 1865-1868. The Radical Club, of which Sir Charles himself was the first secretary, grew out of this, and was largely directed by him till 1880, when he ceased, on taking office, to be a member. [Footnote: For earlier mention of the Radical Club, see Vol. I., Chapter VIII., p. 100.] His brother succeeded him in the secretaryship; but with Ashton Dilke's death the club died also, being replaced by a loose committee organization which lasted till 1893, and then came to an untimely end because the party Whips attempted to pack the meeting which elected this committee. The elected body was then replaced by a virtually self-chosen group. In 1904 an emergency committee of this group was appointed; and when the new Parliament met, Sir Charles was the only member of the committee left. Mr. Harcourt and Captain Norton had taken office, Mr. Stanhope had gone to the Lords, Mr. Labouchere had retired. It therefore fell to Sir Charles to reassemble surviving atoms of this organism, to attract new ones, and to make known its nature and purpose.
It had always been essential, in his view, that there should be no "party," no chairman, and no whips; but simply a grouping for the purpose of stimulating the Government by pressure as to practical and immediate Parliamentary objects on which advanced men think alike or harmoniously, and for current arrangements, such as balloting for motions and generally making the best use of private members' time.
There was at the outset a great influx of members, and three secretaries were appointed. At all meetings at which he was present Sir Charles took the chair, and through this centre exercised much influence, committing the House of Commons to a series of resolutions—abstract indeed, but none the less important.
The various objects which Radicalism should have before it in 1906 are sketched in a kind of shorthand summary:
"Good understanding with Irish Nationalist members, based on at least the Parnell-Chamberlain National Council scheme of 1885, and with the Labour party for common objects.
"So far as further political reforms are needed no registration reform worth having, but principle of adult suffrage of all grown men and women carries simplification and single vote.
"Payment of members and expenses.
"Single Chamber, or restriction of power of House of Lords (i.e., no 'Reform' of = stronger). [Footnote: Sir Charles always maintained that "Reform" of the House of Lords would result in strengthening its position.]
"Fiscal reform, capable of being dealt with by Budget or administratively, and money to be saved by ... increased revenue provided by increased graduation of death duties and by relieving the Imperial Exchequer of the local grants, substituting taxation of land values by the local authorities for the latter.
"This last point is closely connected with full power to local authorities to acquire land for all purposes, and this with municipal trading and other forms of municipal Socialism. The heads of the Labour policy are now so universally embraced as not to be specially Radical; Taff Vale, for example, being supported by all Liberals and some Tories, and the Miners' Eight Hours receiving the support of nearly all Liberals and of some Tories."
On the question of electoral reform, and specially of woman's suffrage, all his action was guided by one conclusion thus expressed, and embodied in the Franchise Bill introduced by him each Session:
"The limited franchise, if it is ever carried, will be carried as a party Conservative measure intended to aid Conservative opinions and to rest the franchise upon an unassailable limited base, and it will be carried in that case against the counter-proposal of the suffrage of all grown men and women, made by those representing the advanced thought of the country." [Footnote: Memorandum by Sir Charles Dilke on "Suffrage of All Grown Men and Women," issued by the People's Suffrage Federation.]
It is unnecessary to emphasize the completeness with which political evolution has followed the lines here marked out by him. Others reaped the harvest. But no man then living had done more to sow the seed.
The Parliament in which he found himself was one of singular interest. He wrote:
"The old form of party divisions is, in the great majority of constituencies, not yet much affected by recent events. In the House of Commons it is almost dead for the present year....
"The future cannot be foreseen, and in politics it is always foolish to attempt to prophesy. I have frequently myself made or quoted the remark that in politics a year is equivalent to eternity. I have now limited myself to 1906. Whether the party system, in which British statesmen of our time and of past generations have been nurtured, will ever be restored is another matter. Whether the birth of a definite Labour party, in addition to a definite Irish Nationalist party, will be followed by any further division, or whether, as I expect, it will not, yet the division into four parties—of which three will compete actively for the favour of the British electorate—will, I think, continue, and we follow here the line of political development in which first the Australian Colonies, and now the Commonwealth, have led the way." [Footnote: Potentia, 1906.]
Writing in the Financial Review of Reviews for April, 1906, he spoke of the "extraordinarily interesting nature of the debates," of which example had already been given, and he foreshadowed no less interesting action. The changes which he had in view, mainly financial, were "not likely to be popular in the City, with solicitors, with the organized representatives of the employing class," but none the less they would probably be carried into law. The old assumption that democratic movements would be carried into legislation "by capitalist members steeped in Radical pledges" had ceased to correspond with the facts. A new type of member of Parliament had appeared, and Sir Charles welcomed the change.
"It is possible that the members are more Radical than the constituencies. This is an arguable question; but that they are convinced upon such questions, not by pressure, but by training and by thought, is a conclusion which no one who knows the present House of Commons can resist.
"There has probably never sat so interesting a House of Commons in the history of this country. With a good deal of experience of Parliaments and of their inner life and thought, and with the opportunity of frequent discussion with those who, like Mr. Gladstone, remembered all the Parliaments back to the early thirties, and those, like Mr. Vernon Harcourt, [Footnote: George Granville Vernon Harcourt, elected to the House of Commons as member for Oxford in 1831. He held his seat till 1859.] who remembered much earlier Parliaments, I am certain that there has never met at Westminster an assembly so able and at the same time so widely different in intellectual composition from its predecessors as that which is now there gathered. The development of opinion, however, is less of a surprise to those who have watched Australia and New Zealand than to those who have confined their studies to the United Kingdom and the Continent." [Footnote: In 1911, when Lord Hugh Cecil described with violent rhetoric the alleged degradation of the House of Commons, Mr. Balfour was moved to protest, and cited in support of his own view "a man whose authority had always been admitted." "I remember," he said, "talking over with Sir Charles Dilke the question of general Parliamentary practice, and he said, and I agree, that there has been no deterioration either in his or in my Parliamentary experience."]
Payment of members he did not live to see, but he always regarded it as "an extraordinary anomaly that payment should have been discontinued in this country."
"Members are paid in every other country in the world, and in every British colony (I believe without exception). Non-payment means deliberate preference for moneyed oligarchy, as only rare exceptions can produce a democratic member under such a system. It excludes all poor men of genius unless they can get themselves paid by parties like the Irish, which makes them slaves. It throws undue power into the hands of the capital as the seat of the legislature, and it leads to poor members selling their souls to rotten compromises."
Despite the advance of age and a growing weakness of the heart, the impression which he produced was always one of commanding vigour. His habit of fencing kept him alert and supple in all his movements. Notwithstanding his elaborate preparation for the work, no man's appearances in debate were less premeditated; he spoke when he felt inclined: had he spoken for effect, his interpositions would have been much less frequent. But when tactics required it, no man was more willing to efface himself. Especially was this so in all his relations with Labour; when he could leave to the Labour party the credit of moving an important amendment, he gladly left it to them. Yet when he was more likely than they to secure Liberal support, he was prepared to move against the Government, and in one notable amendment on the Trade Disputes Bill brought down their vast majority to the bare figure of five. [Footnote: For a fuller account of Sir Charles's work connected with the Taff Vale Decision and the Trade Disputes Act, see "Labour," Chapter LII, pp. 345 and 365.]
The work which in these last years cost him most labour—in view of his failing health, it would have been well for his friends had he never undertaken it—was that given to the Committee on the Income Tax, of which he became chairman in 1906. Sir Bernard Mallet (now Registrar- General) writes in 1916:
"In the spring of 1906 the Government decided to appoint a strong Committee to inquire into the questions of graduation and differentiation of the income tax, which had for some Sessions been coming into prominence in consequence of the financial difficulties caused by the South African War. Mr. Asquith, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, offered the chairmanship to Sir Charles Dilke, who had never claimed to be an expert in finance, and only accepted it after strong pressure, and the Select Committee set to work accordingly early in May. Having taken up the work, which occupied most of the summer, Sir Charles threw himself into it with immense energy. He familiarized himself with all the literature bearing on the question, and he made a point of calling, as witnesses, not only the usual officials, but also as many outside economists and statisticians as might be able to throw light upon questions which, as he rightly conceived, lay at the root of any proper consideration of the problem before the Committee. He attached special importance to all the evidence bearing upon foreign and colonial methods and principles in the taxation of income and property, and to the endeavour he made to get at statistics bearing on the distribution of income—two vitally important factors introduced by him, for the first time, into any official handling of the subject.
"But the result of all the knowledge, thoroughness, and enthusiasm, which, as his friends could testify, he lavished without stint (and, it is to be feared, to the serious detriment of his health) upon the work, must have somewhat disappointed him. Sir Charles's attempts to deal with the matter in a comprehensive spirit and produce a report which would rival in interest the famous reports of two previous Select Committees on the subject, those of 1851 and 1861, were hampered by the necessity, under which the Committee lay, of devising a means to increase the yield of the income tax with the least political friction. The two expedients which came most prominently before the Committee were those of differentiating the rate of the income tax in favour of earned or precarious incomes, and of imposing a supertax upon the larger incomes. Both of these were included in the recommendations of the report which was ultimately adopted, [Footnote: Report of the Select Committee on Income Tax, II. of C. 365 of 1906.] and carried into effect in the Budgets of 1907 and 1909 respectively. [Footnote: See British Budgets, by Bernard Mallet (1913), pp. 262, 263, 274, 277-281, and 305, where also some comments on the recommendations of the Committee are to be found.] Sir Charles's own view was opposed to both these methods. He would have preferred to differentiation, even in the limited form (up to L2,000 a year) in which it became law, the method of separate taxation of property, or income from property, as in Prussia and Holland, if death duties were not considered as sufficient taxation upon property.
"He was certainly impressed by the unscientific character of the proposed differentiation; by the difficulty of distinguishing between 'earned' and 'unearned' incomes, and by the possibilities of abuse which this method of dealing with the question offered. Supertax he would have reserved for a national emergency, but it should not be supposed that his opposition to it implied opposition to graduation either in principle or in practice. He was, indeed, strongly in favour of a graduated income tax, but, in his judgment, a supertax was a somewhat clumsy way of effecting the purpose aimed at. In his opinion the universal declaration of all taxable incomes was an indispensable preliminary to the full and just graduation of the income tax, and written notes of his are in existence showing how much importance he attached to this point.
"Holding these views, he could not produce a report sufficiently decisive in its acceptance of the methods favoured by the majority of his colleagues.
"The stupendous increases which have taken place in the rates of the income tax owing to the present war, increases far surpassing anything contemplated by the Committee over which Sir Charles presided ten years ago, have thrown all such controversies as these into the shade; but apart from the practical results of its recommendations, which for good or ill left at the time a very decided mark on fiscal legislation, this investigation succeeded, owing mainly to his influence, in eliciting a quantity of evidence which will always make it of historical interest to students of taxation."
FOREIGN AFFAIRS: 1890 TO 1910
Even before his return, in July, 1892, to Parliament, Sir Charles Dilke was still a powerful critic of the country's foreign policy. It is a curious commentary on the wisdom of those who believe that, except at moments of special excitement or of public danger, it is impossible to interest the electorate in foreign affairs, that during this period he was constantly able to gather large public audiences in the North of England and in Wales, and induce them to listen to careful criticisms on questions such as the delimitation of the African continent, the Newfoundland fisheries, British policy in the Pacific, and the future of the Congo State. This was achieved, although no party appeal could be made or was attempted, and although there was a deliberate effort by an influential section of the London Press to boycott the speaker. In these speeches Sir Charles pointed out that a perhaps too general acquiescence existed on the part of most Liberals in the foreign policy of the Government, merely because Lord Salisbury had made no attempt to continue or to revive the pro-Turkish and warlike policy which had distinguished the Government of Lord Beaconsfield in 1878. Lord Salisbury was now mainly intent on settling outstanding questions with France and Germany, especially in Africa, dealing with them one by one. The ordinary Conservative partisan still said in public that nothing could be worse than the foreign policy and practice of the Liberal party; but he was also saying in private that the policy of his own party was little better, that the army both at home and in India was neglected, and that the fleet was probably insufficient. Dread, however, of Mr. Gladstone and of the possible return of the Liberal party to power, made him with rare exceptions silent in Parliament; while, on the other hand, the mass of the Liberal party had become supporters of Lord Salisbury's foreign and colonial policy. "The fact that Lord Salisbury had not been an active Turk or an active Jingo had proved enough to cover everything." [Footnote: "The Conservative Foreign Policy," Fortnightly Review, January, 1892, by Sir Charles Dilke.] But the absence of any well-sustained criticism in Parliament had evident disadvantages, and Sir Charles's speeches at this time supplied the deficiency.
The political fortunes of France between 1887 and 1895 were at a low ebb. The financial scandals which led to the resignation of President Grevy in 1887, the serio-comic political career of General Boulanger, dangerous and constant labour disturbances in the great centres of industry, the Panama financial scandals of 1893, the assassination of President Carnot in 1894, and the impossibility of forming stable Ministries, caused a general lack of confidence in the future of the Republic both at home and abroad, which the facile glories of the Paris Exhibition of 1889 could not conceal. The foreign policy of the country seemed to consist in a system of "pin-pricks" directed against Great Britain, and in hostility to Italy, which culminated in anti-Italian riots in the South of France, a tariff war, and the entry of Italy into the alliance of the Central Powers. The letters of Sir Charles during this period are full of expressions of despair at the condition of French politics and at the general lack of statesmanship. The suspicion which he entertained of Russian intentions caused him also to look askance at the newly formed friendship of France with Russia, which, commencing with the visit of a French naval squadron under Admiral Gervais to Cronstadt in August, 1891, was finally sealed by a treaty of alliance signed in March, 1895, though the precise terms were not known. [Footnote: In a letter to M. Joseph Reinach written after the appearance of The Present Position of European Politics, Sir Charles says: "I did not say Gambetta had been a great friend to the Poles. I said he hated the Russians. He told me so over and over again. He held the same view as Napoleon I. as to Russia, and said, 'J'irais chercher mes alliances n'importe oui—meme a Berlin,' and, 'La Russie me tire le pan de l'habit, mais jamais je n'ecouterais ce qu'on me fait dire.' But, in searching for my own reasons for this in the first article, I said that as a law student he had been brought up with a generation which had had Polish sympathies, and that perhaps this had caused (unconsciously, I meant) his anti-Russian views. I know he did not believe in setting up a Poland."]
In Germany the position was different. The Dual Alliance devised by Prince Bismarck between Germany and Austria-Hungary had become the Triple Alliance by the accession of Italy, and had been further strengthened by an assurance of naval support given to Italy by Lord Salisbury in the event of the status quo in the Mediterranean being disturbed. The presumable disturber aimed at was evidently France. [Footnote: "In 1903 Lord Lansdowne explained that in February, 1887, there had been that exchange of notes between Italy and ourselves of which I had written in that year. In The Present Position of European Politics I made allusion to Disraeli's proposal, before his defeat in 1880, of a league of the Powers for the defence of the status quo in the Mediterranean. The notes of February, 1887, nominally dealt only with the Mediterranean status quo desired in common, it was said, by Italy and Great Britain. Cynics might be tempted to ask whether all Italian Ministers desired the maintenance of a status quo in a 'Mediterranean' which included the coast of Tunis, the coast of Tripoli, and even, Lord Lansdowne added, the Adriatic." (Sir Charles Dilke in the English Review, October, 1909: "On the Relations of the Powers.") On this subject see Crispi Memoirs, vol. ii., chap. v.] The meddlesome intrigues of Russian partisans, and a long series of political outrages culminating in the murder of M. Stambouloff, were gradually forming an Austro-German party in Bulgaria; while the wise and progressive administration of Bosnia and the Herzegovina by Herr von Kallay had encouraged a belief that some good thing might even yet come out of Austria, notwithstanding the famous expression of a belief to the contrary by Mr. Gladstone.
In the circumstances Lord Salisbury determined to base his policy on a good understanding with Germany, and he had his reward. The African settlement of 1890 was a comprehensive scheme which undoubtedly made great concessions to German wishes, but, taken in connection with subsequent enlargements and additions, it was hoped that it had at least removed any real danger of collision between the two Powers principally concerned. A treaty with France, recognizing a French protectorate over Madagascar, was defended by its authors as the complement of the arrangements of 1890, as to Zanzibar, with Germany. Subsequent treaties with Portugal and Italy made the period decisive as to the future division of the African continent. Both in Great Britain and Germany the arrangements of 1890 were attacked as having yielded too much to the other side. But looking at the treaty from an English point of view, Sir Charles said there had been too many graceful "concessions" all round, and of these he made himself the critic. He did not, however, identify himself with the extreme school of so-called "Imperial" thought, which seemed to consider that in some unexplained manner Great Britain had acquired a prior lien on the whole unoccupied portion of the vast African continent.
But in the treaty of 1890 there was one clause—the last—which stood out by itself in conspicuous isolation, and this Sir Charles never ceased to attack and denounce. It decreed the transfer of Heligoland to Germany. The importance of the acquisition was not fully appreciated at the time even in Germany. What the surrender might some day mean was not understood in Great Britain. On both sides the tendency was to belittle the transaction. [Footnote: Reventlow, 38-51. Hohenlohe Memoirs, ii. 470-471.] Apart from some minor interests possessed by British fishermen, Lord Salisbury described the value of the island as mainly "sentimental," in the speech in which on July 10th he defended the transaction in the House of Lords.
He supported the proposal by arguing that the island was unfortified, that it was within a few hours' steam of the greatest arsenal of Germany, that if the island remained in our possession an expedition would be despatched to capture it on "the day of the declaration of war, and would arrive considerably before any relieving force could arrive from our side." "It would expose us to a blow which would be a considerable humiliation." "If we were at war with any other Power it would be necessary for us to lock up a naval force for the purpose of defending this island, unless we intended to expose ourselves to the humiliation of having it taken." This argument, Sir Charles Dilke showed by a powerful criticism of the whole treaty in the columns of the Melbourne Argus, went a great deal too far. It could be used for the purpose of defending the cession of the Channel Islands to France. "The Channel Islands lie close to a French stronghold, Cherbourg, and not very far from the greatest of French arsenals, at Brest. They are fortified and garrisoned, but they are feebly garrisoned, and they have not been refortified in recent times, and could not be held without naval assistance, and the argument about locking up our fleet applies in the case of the Channel Islands, and in the case of many other of our stations abroad, as it was said to apply in the case of Heligoland." [Footnote: Melbourne Argus, September 10th, 1890. As to Heligoland, see Life of Granville, ii, 362, 363, 425; Holland Rose, Origins of the War, p. 18.]
Lord Salisbury went on to point out that we had obtained a consideration for the transfer of Heligoland to Germany "on the east coast of Africa," a consideration which consisted mainly in an undertaking from Germany that she would not oppose our assumption of the protectorate of Zanzibar. But, said Sir Charles, the protectorate, when it included not only the island of Zanzibar, but the strip of coast now forming the maritime fringe both of British and of German East Africa, had been over and over again refused by us. "I was one of those," Sir Charles continued, referring to a still earlier chapter of Lord Salisbury's policy during the short-lived Government of 1885-86, "who thought that the policy of 1885 with regard to Zanzibar was a mistaken policy, and that we should have insisted on supporting our East Indian subjects, who had and have the trade on that coast and island in their hands. We had joined with France in arrangements with regard to the whole Zanzibar coast, and when we concluded an agreement with Germany about that coast it became necessary for us to force that agreement upon the French on behalf of Germany. A most mistaken policy, in my opinion, as we should otherwise have had the support of France in resisting a German occupation of any portion of the coast, an occupation which it is safe to say would not have been attempted in face of a distinct statement on our part."
Lord Salisbury expressed his inability to understand on what ground those interested in South Africa objected to our recognizing an imaginary German right over a strip of territory giving the Germans access to the upper waters of the Zambesi. He said that our chief difficulty about this territory was that we knew nothing about it; but this consideration, Sir Charles said, "told against the agreement, inasmuch as we had given up a territory which seemed naturally to go with those which have been assigned to the South Africa Company, and which might, for anything we knew to the contrary, be of high value in the future." It was amazing to note how obediently the great majority of the Conservative party followed Lord Salisbury's lead in accepting the cession of Heligoland for no consideration at all, as Sir Charles thought—in any case, for a consideration which must seem inadequate. Contrast, he said, the grounds upon which the cession of Heligoland was defended with those, welcomed by shouts of triumph from the Conservatives, upon which the occupation of Cyprus was justified. It was inconceivable that any man possessed of reasoning powers could support holding Cyprus (which must be a weakness in time of war), and yet argue that Heligoland must be a weakness of a similar kind, and therefore had better be ceded. In the case of Heligoland the vast majority of the islanders were opposed to union with Germany. In the case of Cyprus the vast majority of the islanders were hostile to our rule, while the majority of Heligolanders were favourable to our rule. To cede it against the wish of the population was a step which should not be taken, except for overwhelming national advantage, and that advantage most certainly could not be shown.
"I am one of those," Dilke wrote, summarizing the argument of his speeches, "who are sometimes thought by my own party to be somewhat unduly friendly to the foreign policy of our opponents, a fact which I mention only to show that I do not come to the present matter with strong prejudice. I had heard during the negotiations in Berlin, and some weeks before the publication of the agreement, the whole of its contents with the exception of the cession of Heligoland, and I had formed a strong opinion upon the facts then known to me—that it was a thoroughly bad agreement, most unfavourable to British interests. The only change since that time has been that Heligoland has been thrown in, so that to my mind we are ceding that British possession, for which a very high value might have been obtained, against the wish of the inhabitants, and ceding it for less than no consideration. Lord Salisbury seems to be subject to strange dimness of vision when Africa is concerned. He positively claimed it as a merit, in the course of his speech to the South African deputation, that while the Germans demanded an enormous slice of our Bechuanaland sphere of influence, he had induced them to put back their frontier; but I need hardly point out that no German traveller had ever entered the country in dispute, that we had for years acted on the assumption that it was within our sphere, and that the Germans might as reasonably have set up a claim to the whole sphere of influence and to all the territories previously assigned by us to the British South Africa Company...."
In South-East Africa, too, it was to be remembered that we were dealing with a country which is far less populated by natives and more open to European settlement than was the case with Central Africa. [Footnote: See supra, p. 84, as to the differences which had arisen in Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet on this subject in 1884-85.]
"There has been in the whole matter," he declared, "a deplorable absence of decision. If, when Lord Salisbury came into power in 1885, immediately after the occupation by Germany of a slice of South Africa and of the Cameroons, and at the moment of German activity at Zanzibar, he had let it be clearly understood that we should support the policy of Sir John Kirk, our Consul, and the Zanzibar Sultan's rule, and had at the same time abstained from taking steps to facilitate the operations of the Germans in Damaraland, we certainly should have occupied at the present moment a stronger position than we do. But, instead of this, Lord Salisbury allowed our Indian subjects established along the coast to be ruined by German bombardments to which the British fleet was sent to give some sort of moral support. Our explorers have carried the British flag throughout what is now German East Africa and the Congo State. They had made treaties by which the leading native sovereigns of these countries had submitted to our rule, and the Germans are too anxious for our countenance in Europe to have been willing to have risked the loss of Lord Salisbury's friendship had he taken a very different line." [Footnote: Melbourne Argus, September 6th, 1890.]
Though not professing to be himself an "African," Sir Charles also asked how those who professed to come within that description, and speak as advocates of an Imperial policy in the vast and undeveloped regions of the Dark Continent, could quietly accept, as they seemed prepared to do, the break in the so-called Cape to Cairo route which had been allowed to form part of the great agreement of 1890.
"What, then," he asked in 1902, "have the Tories done with the free hand that has been given them? Above all, they have 'made up to' Germany, and this apparently for no definite object and with no definite result. They have given to Germany as far as they could give; they have certainly helped her to procure the renewal of the Triple Alliance, by inducing sanguine Italians to believe that the British fleet will protect them against France, though as a fact we all know that the House of Commons will not allow a British fleet to do anything of the kind. France has wholly given up the Temporal Power, and would not have threatened Italy had Italy held aloof from the Triple Alliance; and, in spite of a recent speech by the Minister of Austria-Hungary which was intended to 'pay out' Italy for her talks with Russia, it is not Austria that would have raised the question. Our Government have given Germany, so far as they could give, a vast tract in Africa in which British subjects had traded, but in most of which no German had ever been. They have also given Germany Heligoland, which they might have sold dear, and which, if Mr. Gladstone had given, they would have destroyed him for giving.... All this for what? What have we gained by it?" [Footnote: Fortnightly Review, January, 1902.]
The policy of Lord Rosebery and Lord Kimberley from 1892 to 1895 resembled that of Lord Salisbury in so far as it aimed at the settlement of outstanding questions with Germany and France. The apprehensions of trouble with France were still serious, because a constant succession of short Ministries at Paris made any permanent agreement difficult if not impossible. The few Foreign Ministers who were occasionally able to keep their place for any length of time at the Quai d'Orsay were also generally those who as a rule were indifferent, if not actually hostile, to friendship with this country, such as the Duc Decazes in the early days of the Republic, and M. Hanotaux at a later period, who, however, was quite ready to invite Great Britain to join in reckless adventures. [Footnote: Sir Charles notes in November, 1896, that Mr. Morley reported that 'Hanotaux had told him that he could not understand why England had refused to join in a France, Russia, and England partition of China. "China is a dead man in the house who stinks."'] Towards France Lord Rosebery's Government twice took up a firm stand: first in regard to her aggressive action in Siam; and secondly by the clear warning, given through Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons, that if the expedition of Major Marchand, which was known to be crossing Africa from west to east, reached the Nile Valley, as it eventually did at Fashoda, British interests would be held to be affected. The gravity of this warning was at the moment very inadequately comprehended by the House and by the country, notwithstanding the repeated attempts of Sir Charles to reinforce it before rather unconvinced audiences.
A firm attitude towards France was greatly facilitated through the friendly position adopted towards Great Britain by Count Caprivi (the successor in 1890 of Prince Bismarck in the Chancellorship of the German Empire) and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Baron Marschall. This period indicates the high-water mark of friendly relations between Germany and Great Britain; and though Count Caprivi retired in 1894, when he was succeeded by Prince Hohenlohe, who had special ties with Russia, these friendly relations may be said to have been prolonged, so far as the official relations of the two Governments were concerned, though with ever-diminishing vitality, up to the retirement of Baron Marschall from the Foreign Office in 1897. [Footnote: See the observations of Reventlow, 115-118, and Buellow, Imperial Germany, 31, 34.] In this period German commercial policy took a strong turn towards freer trade, to the great wrath of the feudal and military parties in Prussia, who were the centre of the forces hostile to a good understanding with Great Britain. The secret treaty also which Bismarck had negotiated with Russia, behind the back of his allies, was allowed to lapse, and a more conciliatory attitude was adopted towards the Poles, which gratified Liberal opinion, especially in this country. But even in the time of Baron Marschall there were evidences of the existence in Germany of currents of opinion of a less friendly character, which were able from time to time to assert themselves in African affairs. As Sir Charles Dilke pointed out, Germany had joined with France in 1894 in objecting to, and thereby nullifying, the Congo Treaty of that year with Belgium; and some of the territories which had been handed over to Germany in the neighbourhood of the Cameroons in 1893, with the express object, apparently, of barring a French advance in that region, had been handed over by Germany to France by another treaty in 1895. [Footnote: Reventlow, pp. 52, 53, admits this. For the treaties themselves, see Hertslet, The Map of Africa by Treaty, ii. 658, in. 999, 1008.]
Throughout the period from 1892 to 1895 a Liberal Ministry was in office, but hardly in power. For the next ten years a strong Tory Administration possessing unfettered freedom of action was in real power, with an Opposition weakened by internal dissension. It was not unnatural that, under such discouraging conditions as to home affairs, Sir Charles should have again devoted most of his time to foreign questions and army reform.
"I recognize," Mr. Balfour wrote to him, in regard to some arrangements as to the business of the House, "that no man in the House speaks with greater authority or knowledge on foreign affairs than yourself, and that no man has a better right to ask for opportunities for criticizing the course in respect of foreign affairs adopted by this or any other Government." [Footnote: March 31st, 1897.]
This recognition was general, so much so that what he spoke or wrote on foreign affairs was constantly translated, reproduced verbatim and commented upon in foreign newspapers—a distinction enjoyed as a rule only by official speakers, and not always by them; while original contributions from his pen were eagerly sought for not only at home, but abroad, especially in France and in the colonies, "Il a pese constamment sur l'opinion francaise," the Figaro wrote at the time of his death; and his known friendship for France and everything French made plain- speaking at times possible without exciting resentment. Even those—and there were many in England—who disagreed with his criticisms of the details of Lord Salisbury's policy, felt the comprehensive grasp of his facts, and the vast store of knowledge on which he drew; and the members of his own party, many of whom did not altogether go with him, or sometimes, perhaps, quite grasp his standpoint, nevertheless enjoyed, especially while their own oracles were dumb, the sound of the heavy guns which, after his return to Parliament, from time to time poured political shot and shell into the ranks of the self-complacent representatives of the party opposite. In those ranks, too, there were men who at heart agreed very largely with the speaker, while compelled by party discipline to maintain silence. On the other hand, there nearly always came a moment when Conservative approval passed into the opposite, for Sir Charles had no sympathy with the vast if rather confused ideas of general annexation which prevailed in Conservative circles: the policy of mere earth-hunger which Mr. Gladstone had denounced in 1893.
[Footnote: See above, p. 256.]
When Lord Salisbury returned to the Foreign Office in 1895, the policy of "graceful concessions" to France seemed to Sir Charles to have begun again—concessions in Tunis, concessions in Siam, concessions all round—and he returned to the attack. Tunis, he again pointed out, dated back to 1878, when M. Waddington received, in his own words as given in his own statement, a spontaneous offer of that country in the words "Take Tunis. England will offer no opposition." But at least certain commercial rights and privileges were then reserved. Now they were gone. Even the nominal independence of Madagascar had finally disappeared.
Sir Charles also drew attention to the one subject of foreign affairs upon which, during the last Parliament, Mr. Curzon never tired of attacking, first Mr. Gladstone's and then Lord Rosebery's Government: this was the advance of the French in Siam. Lord Rosebery had gone to the verge of war with France in checking the French proceedings, and when he left office France was under a promise to evacuate Chantaboon and the provinces of Batambong and Siamrep, and to set up a buffer State on the Mekong. We were then in military occupation of British Trans- Mekong Keng-Cheng. Lord Salisbury came to an arrangement which left France in Chantaboon and these provinces, thus giving away, against our interests, what was not ours to give—as he had done in Tunis—and he evacuated and left to France British Trans-Mekong Keng-Cheng, in which a 50 per cent, ad valorem duty had just been put on British goods (from Burmah), a duty from which French goods were free. Not only did Lord Salisbury himself make this arrangement, but he had to submit when France, in alliance with Russia, forced the Government of China to yield territory to France, in direct derogation of China's treaty engagements. Lord Salisbury had since made what was known as the Kiang-Hung Convention with China; and it commenced by setting forth the cession by China to France of territory which had been ceded to China on the express condition that it should not be so ceded to France. This action on the part of China was brought about by the violent pressure of France and Russia at Pekin, which Lord Salisbury passed over. "The defence of his Siam arrangements in the House of Commons consisted in Mr. Curzon, who had become the representative of the Foreign Office, informing the House that the provinces (which he had formerly declared most valuable) were unimportant to British trade, and in pacifying assurances that the Upper Mekong was not navigable, although a French steamer was actually working on it where Mr. Curzon said no ship could go." [Footnote: Letter to the Liverpool Daily Post, December 2nd and 5th, 1898.]
In the days of these petty collisions in West Africa and all the world over—the "policy of pin-pricks" to which at this time Mr. Chamberlain made fierce allusion in a public speech—Sir Charles arranged to publish a dialogue between himself and M. Lavisse of the French Academy discussing the international situation. "I shall be answering the Temps article which replies to you," he wrote to Chamberlain on December 26th, 1898. "Lavisse, being of the Academy, wants a month to polish his style. The dialogue will not appear till February 1st or 15th. There will be nothing in it new to you. What is new and important is that the French, impressed by the fleet, and pressed by their men of business, such as Henri Germain, the Director of the Credit Lyonnais, and Pallain, now Governor of the Bank of France, want to be friends. I've told these two and others that it is useless to try and settle things unless they will settle Newfoundland. These two came back after seeing Ministers, including the Foreign Minister and the Minister for War, Freycinet, and independently said that they want to settle Newfoundland. They've quite made up their minds that Germany does not want them and will not buy their friendship. I have not seen Monson (the British Ambassador) since my second interview with them, but I told Austin Lee last night to tell him the terms on which I thought that Newfoundland could be settled if you want to settle it. I do not put them on paper as I am sending this by post."
The Newfoundland dispute as to rights of fishing under the Treaties of Utrecht and Paris was one to which Dilke always attached special importance, and immediately after this letter to Chamberlain he wrote upon it in the Pall Mall Magazine (February, 1899), describing it as "the most dangerous of all international questions, as it is also one of the most difficult." [Footnote: This dispute was mainly concerned with the question whether the French fishermen possessed an "exclusive" or only a concurrent right in the so-called French shore, under the above- mentioned treaties (see Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, 2nd ed., ii. 218). It was finally settled in the Lansdowne-Delcasse agreement of 1904, with other then pending questions. Sir Charles Dilke gave a useful summary of the history of the question and its numerous developments after 1783, in a small volume entitled The British Empire, published in 1899.] Great Britain appeared to him to "have gone infinitely beyond the strict terms of the treaty in the concessions to France made for the sake of peace," and to have made proposals which "would not be tolerated for an instant if any of the other ten self-governing colonies were in question," and were only considered because of the "poverty and feebleness of Newfoundland." Lord Salisbury was, in his eyes, no worse a sinner in this respect than the Liberal Government of 1893, except that Lord Salisbury had also made concessions in giving up the existing situation secured by treaty in Madagascar, in Tunis, and in Siam, against which there might have been set off a settlement of this "really dangerous question." He said that in Newfoundland the British navy was being used to coerce British colonists into submission to the French demands; and he foresaw peril to the colonial relation, as well as peril in the international field.
Whether it was possible during the period now under consideration to make an alliance, or even to establish friendly relations with Germany on a solid and permanent basis, is a question which will never fail to be the subject of discussion and controversy: for on it hinged the future of Europe. With an unfriendly France and a German Chancellor— Prince Hohenlohe—aiming, and for a time with some partial success, at re-establishing friendly relations with Russia, the advantages of a good understanding between Great Britain and Germany were obvious; for hardly had the difficulties on the North-West frontiers of India been for the time quieted by the "Pamir" Treaty of 1895, [Footnote: This Treaty was made while Lord Kimberley was Foreign Secretary.] when the war between Japan and China opened up the long series of events in the Far East which culminated later on in the Russo-Japanese War. In those events all or nearly all the European Great Powers were taking a hand; Germany was aspiring to take a leading part, and had to a certain extent obtained it by the command-in-chief of the Allied Forces being given to Count Waldersee, and by the expedition to relieve the Legations in Pekin. But the Jameson Raid and the congratulatory telegram of the Emperor to President Kruger in January, 1896, showed that Germany might intend also to have a South African policy, which in the hands of a less skilful or a less friendly Foreign Secretary than Baron Marschall might open, notwithstanding all the previous treaties, a new chapter of diplomacy. Meanwhile Baron Marschall, with the hand of a skilful jurist, softened down the meaning of the famous telegram, by a close and minimizing interpretation of the words, and, as a practised diplomatist, went out of his way to meet the wishes of Lord Salisbury, who had proposed that the cost of the recent British Expedition to Dongola should be a charge on the funds of the Egyptian Caisse.
But Baron Marschall's tenure of his post was becoming precarious, and Sir Charles did not believe in the possibility of any alliance or permanent understanding with Germany. He feared, on the contrary, that one result of the policy of concession might be ultimately to tempt France, Germany, and Russia, to form a practical and informal union against Great Britain, similar to that which had proved so great a cause of anxiety in 1884-85. This, though not a formal alliance, had been almost as dangerous as one more specific and avowed, and it was now, he thought, likely to be found to exist with reference to events in China.
After the defeat of China by Japan in 1895, every year brought some new and dangerous development, and the break-up of the Chinese Empire seemed near. Any understanding on the part of Great Britain with Russia, in regard to China, Sir Charles believed to be unreliable, and probably impossible, and Lord Salisbury's policy, which seemed to have gone out of its way to let Russia into Port Arthur, showed in his opinion deplorable weakness.
Mr. Chamberlain in a speech in the winter of 1898—which was followed by others in the same strain—had seemed almost to propose an alliance with Germany. Following him at Birmingham, Sir Charles pointed out that the Secretary of State for the Colonies had said: "If the policy of isolation which has hitherto been the policy of this country is to be maintained in the future, then the fate of the Chinese Empire may be—probably will be—hereafter decided without reference to our wishes and in defiance of our interests;" and went on to say: "If, on the other hand, we are determined to enforce the policy of the open door, to preserve an equal opportunity for trade with all our rivals, then we must not allow jingoes to drive us into a quarrel with all the world at the same time, and we must not reject the idea of an alliance with those Powers whose interests most closely approximate to our own." No doubt, Sir Charles replied, the Government were pledged to pursue the policy of "equal opportunity for trade," but they had not successfully maintained that policy in action. What were the Powers, he asked, which Mr. Chamberlain had in view when he went on to say: "Unless we are allied to some great military Power, as we were in the Crimean War, when we had France and Turkey as our allies, we cannot seriously injure Russia"? Mr. Chamberlain must have referred to an alliance with Germany. Personally, Dilke said that he "was entirely opposed to a policy of standing and permanent alliances; but was there any prospect that Germany would ever agree to bear in Europe the brunt of defending for us—for that was what it would come to—the most dangerous of our responsibilities? Prince Bismarck's policy on the subject had been avowed over and over again; he had foreseen these suggestions, and had rejected them in advance. Speaking in 1887, Prince Bismarck said: 'Our friendship for Russia suffered no interruption during the time of our wars, and stands to-day beyond all doubt.... We shall not ... let anyone throw his lasso round our neck in order to embroil us with Russia.' And again in 1888: 'No Great Power can, in the long-run, cling to the wording of any treaty in contradiction to the interests of its own people. It is sooner or later compelled to say, "We cannot keep to that," and must justify this announcement as well as it can.' [Footnote: See, too, Bismarck Memoirs, ii., pp. 258, 259.] In 1890 the present German Emperor renewed the Triple Alliance, and the relations also of Germany and Russia had never, he believed, been closer than they were at the present time. Any notion of a permanent or standing alliance with Germany against Russia was, in short, a Will-o'-the-wisp. Opposed as he was to the whole policy of alliances as contrary to the true interests of this country, he was specially opposed to this particular proposal, because it was calculated to lead our people to think that they could rely on the strong arm of another Power instead of only on their own strong arm." [Footnote: The speech of Mr. Chamberlain referred to above was made at Birmingham. It was followed by speeches at Wakefield on December 8th, 1898, and at Leicester on November 20th, 1899.]
Yet a strong action in the Near East, Sir Charles thought, might have compensated for a feebler policy on the Pacific Coast. In Armenia, Christians for whom Great Britain was answerable under the Treaty of Berlin were being massacred, but Lord Salisbury did nothing to help them. In November, 1896, there was a faint stir of public opinion, but many of the suggestions made in regard to what ought to be done were unwise. [Footnote: November 4th, 1896.—'Morley told me that in order to force the hand of the Turks, before July, 1895, Kimberley had proposed to force the Dardanelles, and that Harcourt had stopped it. Mr. Gladstone had written to Morley to insist on his speaking about Armenia and to complain of his lukewarmness. I said: "But Mr. G. in 1880, when something could have been done, confined himself to what he called 'friendly' words to the Sultan.'" See on the whole subject Crispi Memoirs, vol. ii., chap. ix.]
"No one," Sir Charles had said in 1896, "would protest more emphatically than he did against some of the advice which had been given. One of the ablest journalists and highest of financial authorities, Mr. Wilson, had suggested the landing of a few troops and the deportation of the Sultan to Cyprus. The defences of the Dardanelles were not such as could be very easily forced even by the British fleet.... No British Admiral, even if he succeeded in forcing the Dardanelles, would have troops to land who could overcome the Turkish guard, an army corps, and the excited Turkish population." Elsewhere, with prophetic foresight, he showed that the forcing of the Dardanelles could not be carried out without "heavy loss, possibly tremendous loss, and that the loss of a first-class British ironclad is equivalent to the loss of an army corps with all its guns." [Footnote: Letter to the Macclesfield Chronicle, September 19th, 1896.]
Crete was now again in a state of chronic rebellion against Turkish rule; and Turkish methods of repression only stimulated the popular demand to be joined to Greece. Sir Charles Dilke thought that, if the Powers really wished to coerce Turkey to bring about better government within its dominions, coercion could most safely begin in the Greek islands, where European fleets could absolutely control the issue and no question of Continental partition need arise. In Crete the Sultan could, Sir Charles believed, have been compelled to accept a nominal sovereignty, such as he retained over Cyprus; and the aspiration towards Hellenic unity, the need for Hellenic expansion, might thus have been satisfied.
If England had taken "instant and even isolated action," France would, he thought, not have thwarted British policy. "The effect would ultimately have been the addition of Crete to the Greek kingdom under the auspices, perhaps, of all the Powers, perhaps of the Powers less Germany, perhaps of only three or four of them." [Footnote: Ibid.]
The occasion was missed, and war, declared by Turkey against Greece, followed, and years of anarchy in Crete. The Ministers of the Powers "even in the free Parliaments of the United Kingdom and France" "used pro-Turkish language," and attacked those who, because they upheld the traditional Liberal policy of both countries, were accused of abetting the Greeks.
"The blockade by the fleets of the Powers became pro-Turkish, and Europe took sides against Greece in the war. If Greece had been allowed to hold Crete, she could have exchanged it against Thessaly, if the worst had come to the worst, without those financial sacrifices which are now necessary. [Footnote: Such a proposal had actually been made in 1881 by Prince Bismarck. Life of Goschen, i. 214; Life of Granville, ii. 226.] The very claim of the Powers to have localized the war by stopping the Slav States from attacking Turkey is in itself a claim to have interfered on one side."
When Greece was defeated, "the majority in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, if not of the British people," Sir Charles wrote, "professed that their burning sympathies for Greece had been destroyed by Greek cowardice, although the stand, at Domoko, of ill-supplied young troops against an overwhelmingly superior force of Turkish veterans deserved fairer criticism." He interpreted his own duty differently, and when the Hellenic cause was most unpopular he continued to express his faith in the "rising nationalities of the Eastern Mediterranean," and looked forward with confidence to a future in which Palmerston's generous surrender of the Ionian Islands should be emulated by a new act of Liberal statesmanship. "There can be little doubt that Cyprus, as a part of a great scheme for strengthening the elements of the Eastern Mediterranean that are hopeful for the future, will not be kept out of the arrangement by any reluctance on the part of the United Kingdom to let its inhabitants follow the tendencies of their race!" [Footnote: The above Notes on Crete relate to the period when war broke out, in 1897, between Greece and Turkey, and the Turks invaded Thessaly.]
"Oh for an hour of Canning or of Palmerston!" he said, at a great public meeting in the North in October, 1898. "Canning was a Tory, a Tory Foreign Secretary of State, a Tory Prime Minister, although at odds with the Duke of Wellington upon some subjects. Lord Palmerston was looked upon by many Radicals as a Whig, but in foreign affairs he had never exhibited that carelessness and that absence of a willingness to run risks for the sake of freedom which no doubt marred his conduct of home affairs. Canning had seen the interest of Great Britain in maintaining the Greek cause, as Palmerston had seen her interest in strengthening Greece by allowing the Republic of the Ionian Isles, of which we had the protectorate, to join her after the downfall of the Prince called by Palmerston 'the spoilt child of autocracy, King Otho.' Canning had consistently refused in circumstances of far greater difficulty and danger than those which attended the Greek or Cretan questions in our times, to be dragged at the heels of the great despotic Powers. Canning resolved not only to assist the Greek cause, but in doing so to maintain the superiority of British influence in the Eastern Mediterranean; and, seeing the course which was clear in the interest of Europe and in our own interest, he determined to settle the question in his own way, as he at the same time settled that of South America to the immense advantage of this country, which now had found in South America one of the best of all markets for her trade. There never was a greater loss to England than when Canning died as Prime Minister and was succeeded in office by one of those fleeting figures who, in the language of Disraeli, were but transient and embarrassed phantoms. [Footnote: Lord Goderich, Prime Minister from August 8th, 1827, to January 8th, 1828.] The deeds of Canning in the questions of Greece and South America, his regard at once for liberty and for Britain, might be read in all the lives of that great Minister, and what Palmerston did of the same kind in the case of Italy was perfectly known."
In consequence of observations of this kind, he had to defend himself more than once against the charge of "Jingoism," as the cant term of the day had it; and more particularly in the debate on foreign policy on June 10th, 1898, when it was made by an old political friend, Mr. Leonard Courtney.
"I am one of those," Dilke replied, "who are in favour of large armaments for this country, and believe in increasing the strength of our defences for the sake of peace; and one of the very reasons why I desire that is because I repudiate the idea of making our policy depend upon the policy of others. I have always repudiated, and never ceased to repudiate, the policy of grab which is commonly associated with the name of Jingo.... I submit that the worst policy in these matters is to have regard to our own rights only, and not to the rights of others. We want our country to be viewed with that respect which men will ever cherish for unbending integrity of purpose. We should be more scrupulous with regard to asserting nominal rights which we do not intend to maintain.
"When such transactions are criticized, the Government always reply by asking: 'Would you have gone to war at this or that particular point, for this or that particular object?' It always appears to me in these cases that there is some confusion in our minds about this risk of war on such occasions. If the intention of the other Power is to avoid war, war will be avoided when you quietly hold your own. But if the intention of the other Power is war, there will be no lack of pretexts to bring it about."
His policy, therefore, would have been to advance no claims but such as could be made good, if need arose, by England's own carefully measured resources in connection with those of France.
It was, however, impossible at this time to focus public attention upon events in the Mediterranean, or even in the Nile Valley. The eyes of all politicians alike were becoming fixed upon a different part of the African continent.
Mr. Chamberlain had taken the Colonial Office in 1895, and it was in reply to a short speech from Sir Charles Dilke during the brief Autumn Session of that year that he expressed himself glad to outline his general policy, and spoke of finding in the Colonies an undeveloped estate, which he was determined to develop. His phrases caught the popular imagination then as always. Colonial enterprise was the theme of all pens and tongues. Then on New Year's Day of 1896 had come the Jameson Raid. But in the stormy chapters of Parliamentary life which followed Sir Charles took little part, beyond commending Mr. Chamberlain's promptitude in condemning the Raid. The speech which he made in the vote of censure on the colonial policy of Mr. Chamberlain, moved on January 30th, 1900, as an amendment to the Address, by Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice on behalf of the Opposition, was of an independent character, dealing more with the military and naval aspects of the position than those purely political. But, though standing rather apart from the general line of attack, the speech was recognized as one of the most weighty contributions to the debate, as it brought home to the country on how dangerously narrow a margin of strength the policy of Mr. Chamberlain rested, and how entirely it owed its success to the maintenance of the navy of this country, which German Navy Bills were about to threaten. Four years later, when the German naval preparations were assuming a definite shape, he repeated these warnings in a still more decisive manner by a speech which attracted great attention in Germany itself, as well as at home. [Footnote: "Der fruehere Unterstaatsecretaer des Auswaertigen, und sehr angesehene Sir Charles Dilke, wies damals auf Deutschland bin und sagte: man vergroessere dort die Flotte mit einer ausgewohnten Schnelligkeit und richte sich damit oeffentlich gegen England." (Reventlow, p. 242).]
Sir Charles disapproved of the Boer War, [Footnote: "I am myself opposed to the Milner policy, which led up to the South African War. But in spite of the Natal events I do not share the opinion either that the war itself will be a long one, or that foreign complications will arise." ("Risk of European Coalition," Review of the Week, November 4th, 1899).] but he held that when the country was seized by the war-fever interposition was useless: it did more harm than good both at home and abroad. Staying in Paris, in the early days of the contest, when we were suffering and beaten for the moment, he told those who commiserated us and threatened European complications to "wait and see," laughing at the idea that England could be permanently at a disadvantage, but not entering into the abstract merits of the question. If forced to speak, he admitted that the war was "unwise," but his utterances were very few. It, however, raised a general principle, inducing him to recall facts which had been too frequently forgotten. The party which was now opposing government by Chartered Company was, he said, the party which had revived it in 1881 in the case of North Borneo; while the Tories, who then had condemned that method of colonization, were now enthusiastic for it. Sir Charles, who had opposed the system in regard to Borneo, where it was attended by little danger, now pointed out that not only had it produced the Jameson Raid in South Africa, but that on the West Coast the Niger Company threatened to involve England in differences with France by action which England could not control. These were conclusive proofs that the principle which in 1881 he had resisted to the point of seriously differing from his official chief was fraught with inconvenience and dangers. The Niger Company's position, however, was the affair of political specialists; South African policy was embroiled with the fortunes of a gigantic gambling speculation. [Footnote: This is recalled by a fact in Sir Charles's personal history. His son became entitled on coming of age in September, 1895, to a legacy of L1,000. Sir Charles offered him in lieu of that bequest 2,000 "Chartered South African shares." Had he accepted, he could, when the legacy became due, 'have sold them for L17,000 and cleared L16,000 profit! But he refused them when offered, and,' says Dilke, 'not thinking them things for a politician, I sold them, and (purposely) at a loss.']
The Transvaal War destroyed whatever prospects there might have been of a permanent understanding with Germany, and Mr. Chamberlain before the war was over had to make at least one speech which brought on himself the fiercest denunciations of the German Press, when he replied in vigorous language to the charge of cruelty brought against the British military authorities in Africa. The absolute mastery of the sea possessed by Great Britain probably alone prevented the Emperor forcing his Ministers into some imprudent act; and it was clearly seen that Count von Buelow, who had succeeded Baron Marschall as Foreign Secretary in June, 1897, and afterwards succeeded Prince Hohenlohe as Chancellor in 1900, though not desiring a conflict, and convinced, as he has since told the world, that none need come, was nevertheless less friendly than his predecessors, and intended to pursue rigidly the policy of a free hand with a strong navy behind it. [Footnote: Buelow, Imperial Germany (English translation), p. 47. A later edition, with considerable alterations and additions, was published in 1916.] Events were visibly fighting on the side of those who saw that France was the only possible ally of Great Britain, and that the only other alternative was, not an alliance with Germany, but a return to the policy of "splendid isolation." The apologist of Prince von Buelow has himself told the world that the policy of an absolutely "free hand" now inaugurated by the new Chancellor was evidently one, in itself, of great difficulty, because Germany might frequently be compelled to change front; and, to use an expression attributed to Bismarck, might have to "face about" until friendship with this country became impossible. The prognostication was soon to be justified. [Footnote: Reventlow, p. 159.]
It was perhaps the decisive moment in the relations of Great Britain and Germany, when Count von Buelow, with the ink hardly dry on the Anglo- German treaty of October, 1900, which was supposed to be intended to protect China against further Russian advances on the north, cynically went out of his way to make a statement in the German Parliament that the treaty did not apply to Manchuria. The reply of the British Government was the Anglo-Japanese treaty of February 11th, 1902. [Footnote: Reventlow (German Foreign Policy, 1888-1914) speaks of this incident as the "Wendepunkt der Britischen Politik und der Deutsch- Englischen Beziehungen." (p. 168). See, too, Berard, La Revolte de l'Asie, pp. 192-194, 208, 209, 293.]