The long-standing jealousies, also, of Austria-Hungary, Italy, and Greece, in regard to the future of the Adriatic coast, Sir Charles Dilke felt were not sufficiently appreciated in England, where public opinion was too much inclined to see the Turk and the Slav only in every question concerned with the Balkan Peninsula. When Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in 1880-81, he had given a strong support to the proposals in regard to Albania of Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, which had the approval of Mr. Goschen, then Special Ambassador to the Porte—proposals which were framed with a view to the ultimate autonomy of the country, and were not accepted by the European Commission of Reforms, mainly owing to the opposition of Austria-Hungary. [Footnote: See Life of Lord Goschen, vol. i, p. 215. These proposals were revived in 1912, and, which is remarkable, by Count Berchtold, the Foreign Minister of Austria-Hungary, in a despatch in favour of 'progressive decentralization.' See an article in the Edinburgh Review, April, 1913: 'Austria and Italy have been rivals for influence in Albania, as Austria and Russia were rivals in Macedonia. It was because of this rivalry that the Treaty of Berlin, so far as it applied to the European provinces of Turkey, was never properly carried into effect. For the same reason the Fitzmaurice proposal of 1880 was defeated by the opposition of Vienna. The suggestion was that a greater Albania should be created, which would have been autonomous under a European guarantee. It is among the ironies of history that this scheme, rejected by Austria when it came from a friendly and neutral source, should have been put forward by the Austrian Foreign Office itself thirty-two years later. Count Berchtold's Circular Note of August 14th, 1912, revived the Fitzmaurice programme. The proposition came too late.'] But in The Present Position of European Politics it is seen how the author's increasing confidence in the future of Greece led to a change of opinion on this, the most intricate, perhaps, of all diplomatic questions connected with the Near East. He now advocated as large an extension as possible of the existing northern boundary of Greece, and held that the rest of Albania should be joined to Greece by some form of personal union, which ultimately might grow into a closer tie, bearing in mind the friendly cooperation of Greeks and Albanians in the War of Independence against Turkey, and the fact that a strong Albanian element already existed in the Greek kingdom. [Footnote: The Present Position of European Politics, pp. 146, 148, 193, 206, 214-217, 232, 237, 238.] A European Congress seemed to him the only method to avoid the ultimate arbitrament of war in this mass of tangled questions, but experience had shown that a Congress was useless unless the Great Powers had settled the main questions beforehand in agreement among themselves. Experience had unfortunately also shown the extreme difficulty of obtaining any such agreement.
'Austria ought to have been the heir of Turkey; the protector of a Greece extended to include Albania, Macedonia, the Islands, and the coast to Constantinople and down to Asia Minor; the friend of Servia and Roumania, and what not.' But these things remained in the class of visions, even if occasionally some Austrian or Hungarian statesman, like Herr von Kallay, seemed disposed to grasp them, and to renew the tradition of the forward policy attributed to Prince Eugene of Savoy and the Archduke Charles. Hungary also had made Roumania her antagonist by her illiberal policy in regard to the navigation of the Danube. Any permanent confederation of the Balkan States as distinct from a temporary alliance for some special and defined object, such as a possible attack on Turkey, seemed therefore no longer possible, especially after the recent events in Bulgaria. Meanwhile there was to be peace, because Prince Bismarck so willed it. [Footnote: See Der Krimkrieg und die Oesterreichische Politik, von Heinrich Friedjung, chap, ii., p. 16 (Stuttgart und Berlin, 1907); Louis Leger, Etudes Slaves: L'Autriche-Hongrie et la Question d'Orient, p. 395.]
The overmastering sense of the importance of whatever happened at Vienna and Constantinople—of which every page of The Present Position of European Politics is the evidence—will largely explain Sir Charles Dilke's views on another question. It has been seen that he was amongst the strongest advocates of an active policy in Egypt in 1882, agreeing in this with Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Hartington. But at an early period after the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir he pronounced himself, when the question arose, in favour of the earliest possible evacuation of the country, and contemplated it as a possibility of the immediate future. [Footnote: Sir Charles wrote in the Speaker of January 23rd, 1892, in reply to Admiral Maxse: 'Admiral Maxse appears to think that my views in favour of evacuation have been recently formed....' 'There was a time, before the intervention of the condominium with France by Lord Derby, when I held a different view; but it was not only formed under circumstances very different from those which have now existed for fourteen years, but also at a time when I had not given special consideration to our probable naval and military position in the event of war.'] Egypt to him, considered from the point of view of British interests, was subsidiary to Constantinople. All that really signified was the right of passage through the Suez Canal, which could, he believed, be secured by international arrangement and the neutralization of the country, a plan for which, as already seen, was being actually discussed by Mr. Gladstone's Government when it fell. Egypt, in fact, he regarded as part of Asia rather than of Africa, and he believed that time would make this more clear than ever, in proportion as railways were developed in Syria, Arabia, and Asia Minor. In this connection Constantinople, not Alexandria or Cairo, seemed to him the decisive factor: an opinion which brought him into opposition with those who held the view that since the occupation of Egypt by British troops events at Constantinople had become comparatively unimportant to this country. He also feared that if some great European crisis were to arise, in which Great Britain was involved, the occupation of Egypt might be a hindrance rather than a source of strength, and might hamper our exertions in other lands.
He had, however, no fear of allowing the Bosporus and the Dardanelles to be opened under suitable conditions to the passage of Russian ships of war, but only on the condition laid down by Sir William White, that the right accorded to Russia must be accorded to the ships of war of other nations; and this partly out of regard to the dignity of the British flag, and partly because any exclusive right accorded to Russia would be resisted by the States bordering on the Black Sea and by those interested in the trade and navigation of the Danube. But the opening of the Straits was one thing, the possession of Constantinople by Russia was another, and in his opinion would cause a European convulsion; for he saw in Constantinople what has since been termed 'the great strategic centre of the world': [Footnote: The expression was used by Mr. Winston Churchill in a speech on November 15th, 1915, in the House of Commons.] the meeting-place and clearing-house of the trade and politics of three continents.
'Russia at Constantinople,' he wrote, 'would mean the destruction of Austria and the Russification of a large portion of her Slavs. When Austria had disappeared or had been transformed out of all knowledge, Germany, placed between France and Russia, would be still weaker in her military position than she is at present. It is no doubt impossible that Germany can really contemplate that contingency with complete satisfaction. And if she cannot get other people to help Austria to keep Russia away from Constantinople, it is probable that she would be forced to interfere to help to do so, however stoutly her rulers may make the opposite declaration. One of my most valued correspondents, whose criticisms have been of the highest use to me, admits that to place Turkey at the head of a Balkan Confederation would be "adding a badger to your three unfriendly cats and altogether hostile dog"; but, nevertheless, he thinks that such a combination would be possible on account of the overwhelming dread of the danger of absorption by Russia; and I think it right to state his view, although I am unable to modify that which I have said as to the difficulties which the dispute for Macedonia causes.' [Footnote: The Present Position of European Politics, pp. 372, 373.]
In the autumn of 1891 this note occurs in the Memoir: 'John Morley having made a speech in favour of the cessation of the Egyptian occupation, I wrote to tell him how pleased I was, and in his reply he asked why we should go on mechanically applauding Lord Salisbury's foreign policy, which left this danger standing.'
Mr. Morley's satisfaction was, however, not shared by Mr. Chamberlain, who wrote in January, 1892, 'to implore me to have regard to the opinion of society about Egypt.'
'I do not mean fashionable society,' he added, 'but political society, and the great majority of cultivated politicians. I think you do go out of your way to offend them when you advocate evacuation of Egypt, and I ask you to consider if it is worth your while. It is not necessary for your constituents, and with regard to the others, there is no need to add to their causes of anger against you. My advice is, "Be as Radical as you like, be Home Ruler if you must, but be a little Jingo if you can."'
The correspondence had begun in the autumn of 1891, when Sir Charles wrote the following letter:
'Pyrford by Maybury, 'Near Woking, 'October 19th, 1891.
'My Dear Chamberlain,
'I have never said that there are not conceivable circumstances in which it would be better for us to be in Egypt. I'm going to try and discuss them in the book I am at work on. Re command of the sea against France. We have not quite a sufficient force to blockade Brest and Toulon. Lefevre and most of our sailors contemplate only "masking" Toulon by a fleet at Gibraltar, and using the Cape route. In this case we could not reinforce Egypt except from India, and not, of course, from India if we were at war with Russia too.
'I am in favour of a stronger navy, and attempting blockade, though it is not certain that it can be made for certain successful. Still Colomb is a better authority than Beresford, etc. I mean "Admiral Colomb," not Sir John. The difficulty, even if blockades are possible, is that France keeps building after us so as always to be without the limits which would make it possible. Lefevre will support Mr. G. in cutting down the navy on this ground—i.e., will prove by figures that every time we lay down nine ships the French lay down six or seven.
'I think that in the long-run France will beat Germany. She will fight her some day single-handed on a point in which Austria and Italy will not move, nor Russia either. Then, if Germany gets the best of it, the others will "mediate."
'Chs. W. D.'
'November, 1891, we spent in France.... While I was away I had a correspondence with Chamberlain about his speech on Egypt' (in reply to Morley), 'and pointed out to him,' says the Memoir,' that he had changed his mind so completely about evacuation that it was hardly prudent in him not frankly to admit the change of mind, as he had done in at least one speech previously.' He replied:
'"I have looked the matter up, and I think it is quite true that in 1884 we were all for evacuation as early as possible. But I did not then estimate properly the magnitude of the task we had undertaken, nor did I know how splendidly it would be performed by Baring and his colleagues. Baring himself began as a strong advocate for evacuation."
'In my answer, I said that Baring had only changed his mind in the way in which all people are apt to change their minds when they are employed as the agents of a policy, and I combated Chamberlain's military views, which were, in fact, for defending Egypt by the fleet—that fleet which is expected to do everything!'
Sir Charles set out in an article in the Speaker all the pledges to evacuate which had been given by the Liberal Government and repeated by Lord Salisbury. Thereupon Mr. Morley, whose general views on foreign policy were not as a rule at all the same as those of Sir Charles, wrote from Biarritz, where he was in Mr. Gladstone's company, that he had read the Speaker with enormous satisfaction. It would have a stimulating effect in quarters where a little stimulus was much needed, and had given much satisfaction to other people in Biarritz besides himself.
'"Quarters" of course meant Rosebery,' is Sir Charles's comment, and he adds:
'In order to meet the Rosebery objection to evacuation, I wrote an article for the January Fortnightly, of which the editor changed nothing but the title. I had called it "Lords Salisbury and Rosebery," and he changed it to "Conservative Foreign Policy."'
At a later date, in a letter [Footnote: This letter was apparently written on April 14th, 1893:
'Those of us who bitterly dislike the occupation of Egypt by a British force have been both to add to your work before and during a session in which, not to speak of the ordinary demand on the time of a Prime Minister, your unprecedented relation to the chief measure makes it the duty of your supporters to confine themselves to helping clear the road. Naught else could have excused us from having hitherto refrained from pressing the state of Egypt on the consideration of yourself, or of the House of Commons. It is only because since the publication of a recent despatch we feel that the time has nearly come for making up one's mind to be for ever silent upon the question, and because I cannot do so, given the strong feeling that I have with regard to it, without one last attempt to cause some change in a "temporary" situation now crystallizing into permanency, that I venture to address you. I ask for no reply. I shall have to bring the question before the House of Commons. I have no illusions as to what is likely to be the result of so doing. Sir E. Grey will tell us that the occupation is still "temporary," but must last, "for the sake of Egypt," till we can "with safety" leave: and so it will continue, with all its dangers to ourselves, till the next great war. Whoever else may again raise the Egyptian question in the future, I shall not. Vote I must, whenever it comes before the House, but I need not do more.
'Not one word of blame of anyone will fall from me when I raise the question on first going into Committee on Civil Estimates. It seems to me, I confess—but I shall try to keep the opinion to myself— that it would have been, on the whole, the safest course to have done in 1892 that which Lord Granville, under your guidance, did in 1880, and to have ourselves proposed, on the very day of the accession to office of the new Government, the policy which we thought best in the interest of the country and had supported in Opposition. Lord Granville congratulated himself, and with justice, on the promptitude with which, before the Russians could say a word to him as to the complete fulfilment of the Treaty of Berlin, he had told the Ambassador, in the first minute of their first interview, that the Government would insist on that fulfilment. Had the present Secretary of State, at his first interview with the French Ambassador, made a similar communication with regard to Egypt (at least so far as to propose to resume the negotiations of 1887), we should, perhaps, have avoided many evils. I share to the full the belief, which you expressed in such admirable terms a couple of years ago, that the long-lasting occupation of Egypt by our forces is the cause of all the difficulties by which our foreign policy, and even our position in Europe, are oppressed. Our hands are not free, and never will be free, so long as the occupation continues. But ills more direct are likely to fall upon us; and no one can look forward without the gravest dread to the prospect of our being drawn, step by step, into a situation in which we shall be driven to arrest the persons of the young Khedive and those of his advisers who possess the confidence of all that is intelligent among the Egyptian people; or (as seems hinted in Lord Bosebery's despatch) to insist upon a deposition.
'In the discussions as to the occupation of Egypt which occurred in the Cabinet, before I was a member of it, in 1882, even before the expedition (for the occupation was foreseen), I took a share, as Lord Granville was good enough to consult me on the papers circulated by his colleagues. As far as I am concerned, I have never budged from the principles of a memorandum which I wrote on July 4th, 1882; but those principles were far more excellently stated by you in a memorandum of the beginning of September, 1882—before Tel-el-Kebir—a memorandum which was approved by men now so hostile to your views as Sir Auckland Colvin and Sir Edward Malet. Sir E. Baring, now, as Lord Cromer, so bitterly opposed to us, in a paper of September or October, 1882, and Chamberlain in his paper of about October 21st, 1882, both pointed out how essential it was that our occupation should be really temporary, and that our condition—that we should leave behind us a "stable" state of things—depended on and meant what Chamberlain called "the extension of Egyptian liberties": the convoking, if not of a truly representative Assembly, at least of the Notables. Lord Dufferin, in December 1882, wrote to me that he would sooner run any risk than abandon the representative institutions proposed for Egypt in his famous scheme. Yet now the French are bidding the Khedive call together, against Lord Dufferin's virtual successor, this very Assembly of Notables, which Lord Cromer, such is his present policy, dare not call. The conception of this Assembly was the act of yourself, supported by Lord Granville and Sir William Harcourt and supported on paper by Lord Dufferin and Sir E. Baring, and opposed by Lord Hartington, by the then Chancellor, and by Lord Northbrook. This "extension of Egyptian liberties," which was our pride, which was our excuse for that "short prolongation" of the occupation, to which I was myself opposed—an extension of liberties which has not been carried into practical effect by us—is certain to result in a declaration by the Notables, when they meet, as within this year, through the French Agent's influence, they will, that they are rootedly opposed to our presence in their land.
'It may be said that neither the Turks nor the French have pressed us, directly, to come out. The Turks will never really press us. The Sultan is forced by Moslem public opinion to ask us to leave Egypt, but he is in fact personally anxious that we should stay there to keep Mahdism in the desert and representative institutions in the shade. The French have also their inner policy—their Rothschilds to keep in good humour—and two currents, one political and one financial, with which to deal. M. Waddington expressed to you at Hawarden a mere desire for exchange of views between the Cabinets. He was naturally anxious not to be refused in any direct request. But French public opinion is exasperated against us; only one man in France believes a word we say, and our diplomatists and admirals behave as though they represented German instead of neutral interests. We are responsible for tempting Italy to stay in the alliance of the Central Powers, to her own hurt.
'None of these things shall I be able to say when I bring the question before the House of Commons. To do so would involve statements based on private letters and statements as to Cabinet differences of 1882, which I cannot make. We shall be compelled to rely chiefly upon the declarations of Lord Salisbury, which were summed up in his words of May, 1887, to the effect that the occupation entails on us "heavy sacrifices, without adequate return either in peace or in war."
'Having given attention for some years past to our general position as a nation, feeling as I do, with you, how adversely it is affected by the prolongation of the "temporary" occupation, which, as matters stand, seems likely to endure till the next war, even should it be postponed till half a century hence, I cannot but feel miserable at the situation of this affair, and I once more ask your pardon for in this way liberating my mind, or, I fear, rather discharging upon you, regardless of your prodigious avocations, this last expression of a regret deeper than that which I have previously entertained on any public question.
'Through the mischiefs of the occupation there now seems to come no single ray of light. The present year will not pass over without a change in the local situation at Cairo, from which a conference is likely to result. A passage near the end of Lord Rosebery's despatch shows that he is prepared to have a conference forced upon him. Had we invited it, such a conference would be to us the blessing that it will be to others. Would it not at least be best that we should call that conference on the first opportunity rather than have it thrust down our throats?
'This letter has not been shown to anyone, and needs, as I said, no reply, but I should be glad if it were not handed to anyone outside of your own circle. It has not been mentioned to anyone except Mr. Herbert Gladstone.']
to Mr. Gladstone during his last Premiership, Dilke summed up his views when a debate was about to take place in the House of Commons, and four days later he notes: 'On April 18th I had a long interview with Mr. Gladstone, who sent for me, on my letter. The only thing he said worth remembering was, "Jingoism is stronger than ever. It is no longer war fever, but earth hunger."'
In 1887 the possibility of a German attempt to violate the neutrality of Belgian territory, notwithstanding the treaty of guarantee of 1839, which Prussia herself had signed, was again attracting attention owing to a sudden renewal of warlike apprehensions on the Continent. The position of Luxemburg was a kindred question, though the international guarantee was of a far more uncertain character than in the case of Belgium. Sir Charles, as already related, had returned from his work in France during the war of 1870 with a profound conviction that a spirit of reckless violence was abroad in Germany, which would stop at nothing if favourable circumstances offered a temptation to action; and in his opinion the absence of any fortifications at Liege and Namur afforded such a temptation. The point had been till then little discussed in England, though General Brialmont had written in the Revue de Belgique on the subject. Sir Charles's view having been questioned, that the danger to Belgium's neutrality for military and other reasons was from Germany alone, he drew attention to the enormous accumulation of supplies of every kind in the entrenched camp of Cologne as of itself sufficient in military eyes to prove the truth of what he said. He considered also that the reduction of our horse artillery greatly impaired the possibility of Great Britain affording really effectual military assistance to Belgium, and that the recent utterances of the principal organ of the Conservative party, the Standard, and of the writers in the National Review, that intervention in support of Belgium 'would be not only insane but impossible,' showed that the public opinion of Great Britain was no longer unanimous as it had been in 1870-71. [Footnote: The questions connected with the Belgian and Luxemburg guarantees are very fully discussed in a recent work, England's Guarantee to Belgium and Luxemburg, by C. P. Sanger and H. T. J. Norton. See also chapter i. of War: Its Conduct and Legal Results, by Dr. Baty and Prof. J. H. Morgan; The Present Position of European Politics, pp. 42-48, 73, 321-323.] This dispassionate consideration of the chances of England's intervening single-handed and without allies, in the case of a European war, to protect the neutrality of an unfortified Belgium, led to statements that he was opposed to such a step, and he had to point out in reply that for years he had consistently expressed the contrary view, but that he was now dealing with facts and tendencies, not with his own wishes. [Footnote: British Army, chap. ii., p. 55.] Shortly after the appearance of this article, discussion in Belgium led to the introduction of a Government Bill for the fortification of the towns upon the Meuse, and it was afterwards decided to fortify Namur and Liege.
Estimating the probabilities of a Continental war, he thought that Russia came next to England in staying power, because her enormous army formed a smaller proportion of her working class than in the case of any other great Continental Power. Notwithstanding his suspicions of her policy, he spoke of Russia with a deep and discriminating interest born of numerous visits to all parts of her dominions, and deprecated the attitude of those Englishmen whose dislike of Russia had done harm to the cause of sense and truth by exaggeration, and had led them to ignore 'her power and the marvellous patriotism of her people.' 'In the union of patriotism with religion I know no nation which can approach them.' There could be no doubt in any reasonable mind of her real and lasting strength. But her unlimited power of self-deception; the necessary instability of a policy resting upon the will of a single man; her misgovernment of Poland and her alienation of Bulgaria, constituted dangers which it was idle to ignore. He, however, set against these weaknesses her popularity with all the Slav nations; her influence in the Baltic provinces of Germany, and even with the Poles, 'who, like everyone else of Slavonic race, seem born with a hatred of the Teutons.'
'The only foreigner who is known to the Russian peasantry is the German, and the name for German and for foreigner with the peasantry is the same, and the hatred of the "dumb men," as they call their German neighbours, is intense. The peasantry know little of the English, and if you listen to their sentiments you discover that it is their belief that one day there will be between them and Germany a war compared with which, their soldiers say, that of 1870 will be child's play, and that if Germany wins this will not be the end, but that war after war will follow until Germany is destroyed.'
'Because Russia is very violent in her language and her acts, we often fail to see how a peasantry, which an aristocratic government or a government of political economists could never win, is won over by her to her rule. The Moscow men failed in Bulgaria, but in Poland they succeeded, and in the Baltic provinces, too, their methods and their policy have not been wanting, and the problems that have so long perplexed this country in her relations with Ireland would have been solved in a week by Samarin, or Miliutin, or Prince Teherkasky.' [Footnote: Present Position of European Politics, pp. 125, 134.]
The popular phrases which dubbed Sir Charles Dilke as 'anti-German' or 'anti-Russian' were never more curiously misapplied. The flaw to be found even in the mental constitution of Gambetta's great personality, as shown by his antagonism to Russia, had no part in his friend's outlook; nor did Sir Charles's friendship for all things French make him an enemy to Germany, though the possibility of conjuring 'the German peril' was ever in his mind. But he doubted the wisdom of the wavering counsels which began with 'lying down to Germany,' and were to be marked by the cession of Heligoland. Strong men and strong Governments recognize and respect one another; and in dealing with Germany he believed that it was necessary never to forget this trite yet valuable warning.
If personal friendships and political sympathy made Sir Charles, as the previous chapters have shown, look constantly to France as the natural ally of Great Britain, and also her most desirable ally, neither friendships nor sympathies could blind him to the constant danger arising from the instability of French Administrations, and the consequent difficulty of relying on any certainty in arrangements projected for joint action. Of this the events connected with Egypt had been a most conspicuous illustration. Nor were these the only dangers: for the best friends of France were painfully aware of the immense influence exercised by powerful financial interests both in her domestic and in her foreign affairs, and by the growth of fierce antagonisms on home questions which seemed to tear the country asunder and paralyze her position abroad. Numerous questions, not only in Egypt, but elsewhere in Africa; the old quarrels about the Newfoundland fisheries, on which Sir Charles was constantly putting his finger as a possible cause of a serious quarrel; and increasing jealousies in the Pacific, contributed to produce a condition of permanent tension for many years in the relations of the two countries, until the Fashoda incident in 1898 brought a crisis which cleared the air. Two of the ablest men in France, M. Jules Ferry and M. Hanotaux, were, to say the least, not friendly to Great Britain, and a plan which Sir Julian Pauncefote [Footnote: Then Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and afterwards Lord Pauncefote and Ambassador at Washington.] had suggested in 1884, of attempting to bring all outstanding questions with France into one great settlement, fell still-born, to be vivified, but twenty years later, by Lord Lansdowne in more favourable circumstances.
In all possible complications Sir Charles relied much on Italy's close friendship for England—notwithstanding her entry into the Triple Alliance—a friendship due to permanent gratitude for the support which she had received from Lord Russell, Mr. Gladstone, and Lord Palmerston, at the crisis of her fate in 1859; and also to the offer to her of a joint occupation of Egypt in 1882—an offer rejected indeed, but fruitful of good feeling.
But more important even than any question of alliances was, he insisted, the necessity that Great Britain should know her own mind, and have a definite policy in regard to the future of Constantinople and of Egypt, and in regard to the Belgian guarantee. Army organization itself obviously depended on policy, and in this connection there was a danger at home greater, perhaps, than any originating abroad.
'It is too much the case with us in England,' he wrote, 'that when we are occupied with the consideration of the Irish problem, or dealing with the circumstances which most often lead to the rise and fall of Ministries, we allow the foreign affairs of the country to be transacted in the dark: with an absence of control which, owing to the efficiency of our Foreign Office, may produce no ill, but also with an absence of knowledge which cannot be advantageous. On the other hand, when some awkward circumstance arises, a disproportionate weight is attached to it by those who have wilfully remained in ignorance of the true position, and the diplomacy of the country is suddenly unduly hampered by criticism which rests on no foundation of fact.'
Speaking from experience, he uttered a warning as to the danger of uninstructed debates and foolish questions—then so frequent—on foreign affairs in the House of Commons, and the harm done by them abroad. He spoke of the tendency to take advantage of some rebuff in foreign affairs for party motives, and urged that, as secrecy was not to be hoped for, members should at least try to inform themselves and the electorate, and avoid 'periods of ignorant calm' or 'equally ignorant panic.' In this connection he never ceased to insist on the weakness of our position abroad, owing to the deficient strength and want of organization of our army; the small results shown for the immense amount spent; the insufficient stock of arms and ammunition, and the poor reserves of rifles; and he urged that, whatever our economies, none should fall upon equipment or reserves of material. Such economies he stigmatized as a 'horrible treachery to the interests of the country.' [Footnote: The military situation as a whole is discussed in chapter vi. of The Present Position of European Politics, 'The United Kingdom.']
PUBLIC LIFE AND RETURN TO PARLIAMENT
Pathways of return to political life soon began to open to Sir Charles Dilke. In November, 1886, Mr. Labouchere wrote:
'It looks as though Chamberlain will be the scapegoat. At present his going over bag and baggage to the Whigs has utterly disgusted the Radicals. As long as Gladstone lives things will go on fairly with us, but after—the deluge. The Radical M.P.'s are regretting your not being in, as they would have accepted you as the leader.'
In the autumn of 1886 the Council of the Chelsea Liberal Association unanimously asked him to be their candidate (for Parliament), but he replied that he could not serve the borough to his own satisfaction while so large a section of the public still attached weight to the 'gross calumnies' with which he had been assailed. He was, however, from the autumn of 1887, increasingly active in local affairs, both on the Vestry and the Board of Guardians, [Footnote: In the winter of 1888, Sir Charles was unanimously elected Chairman of the Board of Guardians, as also of the Vestry ('as was the case in subsequent years'). He wrote to Mr. Chamberlain: 'I've taken the chairmanship of the Chelsea Board of Guardians, so am keeping my hand in on the prevention of obstruction. I am forced to begin gradually with them, and have only as yet ruled that I cannot let two speak at once.'] and also on the newly formed Library Committee, on which he served for three years, till both the local libraries were established and opened.
To M. Joseph Reinach he wrote in April, 1887: 'I have a splendid position as a writer, and writing projects which will occupy me for three years at least; and if any great calamity should occur which would force me back into public life—such as war with Russia, for example—I do not know that I should like the change.' Nor was the political scene attractive at this moment. His friends were tearing each other asunder; and not only his political friends—both parties were rent with faction.
'On October 1st, 1886, Chamberlain called and gave me an interesting picture of the political state. He seemed to think that he could keep Mr. Gladstone out for life, and was persuaded that Randolph would give him all he wanted and leave Hartington and Salisbury in the lurch. Randolph had promised him to have an anti-Jingo foreign policy, leaving Turkey to her fate, and to pacify Ireland with the National Councils scheme, modified into two Councils, or into Provincial Councils, to suit Ulster; and Churchill had also promised him procedure reform—that is, a sharper closure—and a three-acres- and-a-cow policy for England.
'There was an article in the Morning Post, October 2nd, representing Churchill's democratic views, but in the later autumn (while Chamberlain was away abroad) Churchill was beaten in the Cabinet both on his Irish scheme and also on the amendments which he proposed to make in the Local Government (England) Bill in the three-acres-and-a-cow direction. On December 17th Chamberlain, who had returned from abroad, came to lunch with me, furious at the defeat of Randolph Churchill. He found no fault with the Irish policy' (which was strongly coercionist), 'or with the foreign policy of the Cabinet; but he was anxious to defeat them on their Local Government (England) Bill, if it was not altered back again to suit his policy. Ultimately a compromise on this matter was arranged.'
For a moment it seemed as if Chamberlain's anger with the Tory party was going to drive him back into his old associations. On December 31st,
'Chamberlain and John Morley came in together to lunch, Chamberlain having been asked and Morley not, and it was somewhat startling. "Chamberlain thinks that he can get Mr. Gladstone by the bait of 'Four times Prime Minister' to accept his terms. On the other hand, Mr. Gladstone thinks that he can detach Chamberlain from Hartington. Conferences are sitting: Harcourt, Herschell, and Morley, meeting Chamberlain and Trevelyan. Hartington is crusty at this. Chamberlain has threatened Hartington with the consequences if he, as he wants to, supports a reactionary Local Government Bill of Salisbury's. Chamberlain has written to Salisbury as to this Local Government Bill, and received a dilatory reply." He told me the whole long history of Randolph's troubles with the Cabinet which preceded his resignation; first on procedure, as to which he finally obtained his own way, secondly as to foreign affairs, thirdly as to allotments, fourthly as to Local Government, and fifthly as to finance. Churchill always stood absolutely alone, and, being in a minority of one, could only get his way at all by continually tendering his resignation. At last he resigned once too often, as it was of course on the wrong subject; Salisbury jumped at it, and accepted it in a cool letter when Churchill did not mean it in the least. It was only the classical annual resignation of a Chancellor of the Exchequer against his colleagues of the army and navy. The Budget always involves the resignation either of the Secretary of State for War and First Lord of the Admiralty, or else of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but hitherto they have always managed to make it up.'
Within a fortnight Sir Charles 'was hearing from all sides about the Round Table Conferences which were intended to reunite the Liberal party.... From Chamberlain I heard that his view was to bring about a modus vivendi only, under which the Conservative Government was to be turned out on some side-issue. Mr. Gladstone would become Prime Minister for the fourth time, if the Irish would consent to take Local Government and a Land Bill first, and to leave Home Rule over. He thought that Mr. Gladstone was not unwilling, but that there would be difficulty in getting the Irish to consent. Morley and Harcourt were, according to Chamberlain, friendly to his suggestions, and Hartington hostile, not trusting Mr. Gladstone.'
On January 15th, 1887, Sir Charles wrote to Mr. Chesson [Footnote: See note, p. 273.] that
'Chamberlain and Morley were both going to make conciliatory speeches, but that nothing had really been done at Harcourt's house, every difficulty having been "reserved." There could be no doubt that several of the five who were there meeting were anxious to keep things open, on the chance of Mr. Gladstone not remaining in sufficiently good health to continue to lead the party. The independent Liberals were vexed at the Conferences. Willy Bright called on me, and said that obviously the great difficulty of the moment was "to keep Mr. Gladstone in the Gladstonian party." Morley, who also called on me, casually observed, "Harcourt was never a Home Ruler. The only Home Rulers in the last Cabinet were Lord Granville and Spencer, in addition to myself and Mr. Gladstone." When we remember the views of Spencer in May, 1885, his violent Home Rule, which dates from July, 1885, is laughable.'
'On the 15th I had a long and curious conversation with Chamberlain about the matter. He said that the articles which had been appearing in the Birmingham Post about his own position were inspired by him—that he and the other members of the Conference were telling the newspapers that everything was going on swimmingly, but that the whole thing was in reality a sham on both sides. Parnell was frightened at Mr. Gladstone's declining health, and Mr. Gladstone did not wish to end his life by having smashed his party, so that the Conference was willingly continued, although it was doing nothing. It was the wish of all concerned in it to be at the point of an apparent reconciliation whenever Mr. Gladstone might become incapacitated, but he, Chamberlain, was firmly decided not to take office under Mr. Gladstone.
'Chamberlain said that Randolph Churchill on the previous night had asked him, "Shall I come over?" but that he, Chamberlain, had replied that he advised him not to, being afraid that Randolph would play for the lead of the party, and not liking the notion of having him for leader. He had advised Randolph to simulate moderation towards Lord Salisbury, in spite of his anger at the Duke of Norfolk and the members of the Conservative party who, since his quarrel with the Government, had been "attacking his private character."'
'On February 4th, 1887, Chamberlain again came to see me, and I noted in my diary that he was "very sore against Labouchere and others."
'On February 13th, Morley called and said that the Round Table Conference was hopeless, although they were to meet at dinner on the 14th, and once again after that. He said, "Both sides are very cross, and each side asks, 'What is to become of the other?'"
'On the same day Chance, M.P., told me, he being the attorney of the Nationalist party, that O'Shea was going forward with his divorce case against Parnell, and that Parnell had no defence possible. I have never known what was the reason of the immense delays which afterwards occurred.'
Parties now began to settle into their new groupings.
'On March 2nd, 1887, Chamberlain came to lunch, and told me a good deal about the failure of the Round Table Conference, but it was not till April 3rd that he told me the whole story. On this latter day Deakin, the Chief Secretary of Victoria, and most interesting of Colonists, was with me; and Chamberlain came in before Deakin had gone, and, talking with his customary frankness, discussed the whole matter before the astonished Victorian. There had been a sad split caused by a letter which he had written, and which he admitted was an indiscreet one, to the Baptist, as to Welsh Disestablishment. A hint was then let fall that the Gladstonians were going to negotiate with Hartington direct. On this Chamberlain went off to Hartington and got from him a letter to say that Hartington would not negotiate himself, but that Chamberlain was in possession of his views. Efforts were then made to get Chamberlain to meet Mr. Gladstone. Chamberlain agreed to do so, but not to ask for the meeting. At length a meeting was fixed at Mr. Gladstone's request for the morrow, Monday, April 4th. It was settled that at this Mr. Gladstone would ask what Chamberlain had to propose. Chamberlain was going to reply that Mr. Gladstone knew his views, and to then ask whether they were accepted, and he knew perfectly that nothing would come of it. He had on the same day, April 3rd, met Randolph at Mrs. Jeune's at lunch. They had walked away together, when Randolph had proposed a Chamberlain-Hartington-Randolph league against both parties. This had tempted Chamberlain, but was an idle suggestion, as Hartington and Randolph could never work together.'
In the autumn of 1887 Sir Charles and Lady Dilke went to Constantinople, and he writes:
'I had received at this time a letter from James, in which he said that Mr. Gladstone had sent for him to talk to him about me in the friendliest way, and, Mr. Gladstone having called, I wrote to him, and transmitted some messages from the Sultan, in the following letter:
"Athens, "October 14th.
'"I have never thanked you except verbally through James for a kind and pleasant message which I had from you by James and Chamberlain last session.
'"At Constantinople last Friday, and again to Lady Dilke last Monday, the Sultan said that he wished complimentary messages conveyed to you. The Greek Patriarch said the same thing to us on Tuesday and Wednesday. My wife told both that she hardly knew you, and I replied that I was unlikely to see you for some time, but would see that the messages reached you.
'"The Greeks on the one hand, and the Bulgarians on the other, are now very friendly with the Sultan, but I regret to find that the dislike between the Greeks and the Bulgarians is as strong as ever. The common preference of both for the Sultan over Russia has not sufficed to draw them together. The split between the Bulgarian Government and the Exarch of Bulgaria will, however, probably draw Bulgaria closer to the Phanar."'
Mr. Gladstone replied, on October 24th, that his message to Sir Charles expressed his real feeling, which he should have been glad to find other modes of expressing. He added that if the Sultan spoke sincerely in the message which Sir Charles transmitted,
'he must be acting as a good Christian: for Hobart Pasha when here, as a spy on Fehmi, told me the Sultan believed I was his greatest enemy. I have never been so great an enemy to him as he to himself. I have never had extreme views about Turkey. Had I the settling of the affair, I should be disposed to keep the Turks in Constantinople, and not to let Home Rule when freely and honestly given mean total severance. But the materials of convulsion are, I fear, slowly gathering in that quarter, and Russia, shut out from her just claim to the passage of the Straits, means to have the mastery of them. I always grieve over the feud of Hellene and Slav, out of which much mischief may come. The situation here is favourable to those who view the Irish Question as you do. The relations with Chamberlain have been rather painful. I think he has developed since the schism of March, 1886, even greater speaking and debating talents than he had shown before. I think also that the organization of dissentient Liberalism, in which he has borne so large a part, has been enormously favourable to his general creed as an advanced Radical, whereas Hartington with his weak-kneed men has been utterly hoodwinked, and hoodwinked by himself. On the other hand, I own myself amazed at Chamberlain's proceedings during the last month. Everyone took a favourable view of his accepting the American mission; [Footnote: Mr. Chamberlain was corresponding with Sir Charles in regard to his mission, for which he started on October 29th, 1887. It had for its object the negotiation of a treaty with America on several outstanding questions.] but a man of one-tenth of his talent ought to have seen the folly of widening breaches and exasperating all passions as a preliminary to charging himself with a business that eminently requires a serene atmosphere.
'We witnessed at Nottingham an enthusiasm literally the greatest I have ever seen.'
'On my return to England before the middle of November, 1887, I received a letter from the Cinderford Liberal Association, in the Forest of Dean, in which they referred to an attempt which had been made to induce me to stand for the Forest of Dean when Blake retired in July, 1887, and went on to press me to go there to speak.... After the completion of the army articles and of the book, I intended to set to work on a new version of my Greater Britain. This afterwards became the book published under the title of Problems of Greater Britain.'
On October 28th, 1887, 'Chamberlain wrote ... "Mr. Gladstone's last speech shows distinct signs of old age. I think matters cannot long remain in their present state, and the whole policy of England—both foreign and domestic—may be greatly altered."'
On reaching Washington, Chamberlain wrote: 'I do not find the "civilized world" so much pro-Irish as Mr. Gladstone would have us believe. On the contrary, I have as yet only met two Americans who have expressed themselves favourable to Mr. Gladstone's policy. They are, generally speaking, inclined to some concession in the direction of State rights, but they are entirely opposed to anything in the nature of a self- governing colony, and they have no personal liking for the Irish. Above all, they are horrified at Mr. Gladstone's recent utterances about law and order, and say openly that he must have lost his head.'
'On January 4th, 1888, I made a speech in which I laid down my position as regarded Parliamentary candidature. It was made in presiding at the first dinner of the Hammersmith Central Liberal Club. About the same time I received requests to stand as candidate for Merthyr and for the northern division of the borough of West Ham, which I declined, pointing to my Hammersmith speech without giving further reasons.'
'About this time, my son being now at Rugby, we went down to see him and lunched with the Percivals.'
In the new session of 1888 Mr. Ritchie introduced his Local Government Bill, which (as Sir Charles had predicted to the Chelsea electors in 1885) was much influenced by the Liberal scheme that lay accessible in an official pigeonhole. The outline given by the new President of the Local Government Board in introducing the measure showed, however, that it fell short of expectation, and Sir Charles immediately criticized the project in an evening paper without waiting for publication of the text. When the Bill was published, he issued notes upon it, in concert with Mr. Cobb, M.P. for the Rugby Division, condemning the absence of any attempt to 'reform and revivify the parish.'
'My main objection to Mr. Ritchie's scheme was that, whereas in my scheme the District Councils had been more highly organized than the County Councils, in his scheme the reverse was the case. [Footnote: The allusion is here, apparently, to the Bill which Mr. Chamberlain prepared in 1886, but with considerable help from Sir Charles.] There was no building up out of the smaller districts, giving the work as far as possible to the smallest, where the people were at their homes; but Mr. Ritchie's unit was the county, and the smaller bodies were neglected.
'The Liberal leaders took a short-sighted course in recommending their friends to allow the Bill to pass almost without discussion.' [Footnote: In 1892 he again notes his intervention on this question. 'On November 9th, 1892, I had a long interview at the Local Government Board with Henry Fowler, the President, at his request, before I went down to the Chelsea Board of Guardians for the last time. He consulted me as to all his Bills, especially as to that on Local Government.']
There were, however, friends who considered that the new institutions established by Mr. Ritchie's Act opened a way back into public life for Sir Charles. Among these was Mr. Chamberlain. He was, as usual, corresponding with Sir Charles, during his absence abroad, on all matters, and an interesting letter is noted here.
'In, I think, May, 1888, while we were at Royal, I received a letter from Chamberlain in which he indicated a change in his views upon the South Africa question. Ultimately he completely turned round from his old position, which was violently anti-Dutch, and, like everyone else, fell into line upon the principle of the fusion of race interests in South Africa.'
'On our return Chamberlain came down to Dockett and spent the afternoon, bringing Austen with him, and very strongly urged that the time had now come when I should stand for Parliament. I said that I thought that the time would come, but that, after India, I had Problems of Greater Britain to write before I thought about it. He then urged that I should stand for the County Council in my absence in India, and as to this point a great difference of opinion arose, I being inclined to accept his advice, which was also very strongly pressed upon me by my former colleague Firth; my wife and G. W. Osborn strongly took the opposite view, to which I yielded. I afterwards came to think it had been the right view. Chamberlain pressed his opinion very hotly to the last. I received a deputation from Fulham which represented the entire Liberal and a portion of the Conservative party, and the seat would certainly have been won; but I declined, and Chamberlain then wrote: "You must be the judge, and are probably the best one. But I yield reluctantly."'
This decision was made public in answer to the Fulham deputation just before Sir Charles started on a journey to India.
In February, 1889, after his return to England, he was confronted with a new proposal. The Progressive party now in power on the London County Council desired to put him forward as one of the first Aldermen. Sir Charles refused; but a preliminary circular in reference to his candidature had been issued, and a protest was immediately organized by the section which desired his permanent ostracism. This opposition was then formidable in its proportions, and it never wholly disappeared. It was, however, increasingly clear that a much stronger body of public opinion desired his return to public and Parliamentary life.
In March, 1889, he was elected Honorary President of the Liberal Four Hundred in the Forest of Dean. The election did not pass without challenge, and one of the objectors was the Rector of Newent (Canon Wood). Sir Charles sent this clergyman the papers in the divorce case, which had been collected by Mr. Chesson [Footnote: Mr. Chesson had died earlier in this year; and the token of Sir Charles Dilke's gratitude to this defender of unpopular causes is commemorated in the High-Altar of Holy Trinity Church, Upper Chelsea, which he presented in memory of his friend. Sir Charles wrote: 'He had been for many years a useful man in politics, and he was to me at this period a very precious friend; one of the best and truest men I ever knew; he had been the most helpful man in England to the anti-slavery cause of the Northern Abolitionists, the working man of the Jamaica Committee, and, many years afterwards, of the Eastern Question Association, and of the Greek Committee; and since his death no one has taken his place.'] and his associates, and a study of them turned the Rector of Newent into a strong supporter of the man whom he had at first denounced.
Dilke's first visit to the Forest of Dean took place in May, 1889. By this time it was clear that his absence from Parliament could be terminated at his own pleasure. Mr. Gladstone had intervened almost officially in the matter. In June, 1889, he again sent for Sir Henry James, who transmitted the purport of his talk: which was that, while Mr. Gladstone was most anxious to see Sir Charles back, his opinion was that steps should not be too quickly taken. Sir Henry thought that Mr. Gladstone would willingly give his opinion and advice if Sir Charles thought that would be of any value to him. A few weeks later Mr. Gladstone called at 76, Sloane Street, but missed Sir Charles.
'In August he wrote to me in regard to his correspondence with James. The most important passage in the letter was:
'"I deeply feel the loss we sustain in your absence from public life, after you had given such varied and conclusive proof of high capacity to serve your country; and I have almost taken it for granted that with the end of this Parliament, after anything approaching the usual full term, the ostracism could die a kind of natural death. And I heartily wish and hope that you may have lying before you a happy period of public usefulness."'
Sir Charles was in no hurry. Another invitation had reached him, from Dundee, and 'on November 4th a unanimous request to contest the borough of Fulham.'
But his determination was to let nothing interrupt the work on his book; after that, various promises both of writing and speaking had to be redeemed.
Meanwhile he remained in touch with the political world. 'I carried on a controversy with Labouchere about his views in favour of reforming the House of Lords, to which I was bitterly opposed, preferring, if we could not get rid of it, to go on as we are.' All Labouchere's letters were full of references to the position of Chamberlain, and Chamberlain himself came from time to time to discuss that point.
'On December 2nd, 1889, I saw Chamberlain. On October 10th he had told me that he was clear that ultimately he should join the Conservatives, unless Mr. Gladstone were soon to go and a Rosebery-Harcourt combination would come to terms with him about Ulster. On December 2nd I found a little change back from his general attitude, and in face of the probable break-up of the Parnellite party over the O'Shea case, which was beginning to be talked of in detail, Chamberlain was undecided, he said, and no doubt thought, between the two parties. But I noted in my diary: "Labouchere sets him against the Liberals, and Balfour attracts him to the Tories." It was clear that I thought that the change was but a temporary one, and that he was certain to return to his attitude of October, as in fact he did.'
Problems of Greater Britain appeared at the end of January, 1890, and within a month the edition was exhausted. In America, Sir Charles, expecting censure, had arranged to reply in the North American Review to his censors; but there was so little adverse comment that he chose another subject.
Discussion of military problems abounded in the book, but the 'Problems' treated were by no means only those which concerned military experts. Mr. Deakin wrote:
'It will not merely be the one book treating authoritatively of the Empire, and the one book making it known to Britons in Europe, but it will also be the first book enabling the various groups of colonies to understand each other, and their individual relation to the whole of which they form a part.... Knowing some of the difficulties you encountered ... I have been completely amazed at the skill or the intuition with which you have caught the right tone of local colours and the true tendency of our political and social life.'
'On July 23rd, 1890, I lunched with McArthur [Footnote: Mr. W. A. McArthur, Liberal Whip and member of Parliament, who had made Sir Charles's acquaintance in 1886, and become a warm personal friend.] to meet Schnadhorst, who had returned from South Africa, and who warmly pressed my standing at the General Election, and I allowed myself to be persuaded so far as to promise that I would consider the matter in connection with the offer of any first-rate seat.'
Different constituencies were mentioned; but in the following October, when it became known that the then member for the Forest of Dean would not stand again, Mr. Schnadhorst wrote at once to Sir Charles urging him to let his name be put forward. He added, as an indication of the general feeling, that the adjacent constituency of South Monmouthshire had also sent in a request for Sir Charles's services—'which should assure you that popular support will overwhelm any other influence.' Accordingly, at the end of this year Sir Charles saw a deputation of leading men from the Forest, and fixed a date on which he would give a reply to a formal invitation. Having spent Christmas in his house at Toulon, he returned thence in February, 1891, met a further deputation, and agreed to give his public reply in the Forest in March.
In December, 1890, Chamberlain had concurred in the decision that, before Dilke accepted any candidature, there should be published a digest of the case with annotation and with the new evidence, 'which had grown up out of Chesson's notes, and which was largely the work of Howel Thomas, Clarence Smith, Steavenson, and McArthur. This was published in February, 1891, on my return.' [Footnote: In 1886 he had written: 'In the course of this winter a committee of friends of mine, got together by Chesson, and containing Steavenson (afterwards Judge Steavenson), and Howel Thomas of the Local Government Board, but also containing W. A. McArthur, M.P., Clarence Smith, ex-Sheriff of London and Middlesex, afterwards M.P., and Canon MacColl, who were mere acquaintances, or less, had begun to investigate my case with a view of getting further evidence.']
'The Cinderford meeting (the central town of the Forest) on March 9th, 1891, was unanimous, and after it we remained chiefly in the Forest of Dean for a long time. I had promised to give my final reply in June. At the meeting of March I had only stated that if, after all the attacks which might be made upon me, they should remain in the same mind, I would accept.'
Sir Charles was fortunate in his new constituency. Throughout England there was no other so suited to him; he desired contact with large bodies of labouring men, and the Forest made him a representative of that great and typical British Labour group, the miners. He loved 'each simple joy the country yields,' and, whereas almost everywhere else a mining district is scarred, defaced, and blackened, here pit-shafts were sunk into glades as beautiful as any park could show, forest stretches of oak and beech enveloped that ugliness in green and gold, and from many a rising ground you might look over the broad vale where the wide Severn sweeps round a horseshoe curve and the little, unspoilt town of Newnham stands set in beauty, winter or summer.
Newnham was dear to Sir Charles, and there he stayed for visits in winter. But the place of his most frequent and prolonged abode in his constituency was the Speech House, built in the very heart of the woodland, remote from any town, yet at a centre of the communal life; for outside it, on a wide space of sward, the Forest miners held their yearly meeting, their 'speech-day.' The miners' interest, which he represented, was not of recent growth, nor arising out of some great enterprise of capital; it linked itself with those rights of commonage of which he had always been a chief champion, and appealed not only to the radical but to the antiquarian in him. The 'free miners' privileges marked only one of many ancient customs in that Crown domain which he studied and guarded.
As in 1867 and 1868 he had made it his business to be sure that the electors whose votes he sought should know his opinions, so far as possible, not on one subject, but on all, so now in 1891, at his meetings throughout the constituency, he unfolded the whole of his political faith.
He developed in speech after speech the views which he had put forward in A Radical Programme, published in 1890, and in a great speech at Glasgow on March 11th of that year. His views on Housing, as given in his Glasgow speech and afterwards dealt with in his Forest campaign, show how far he was in advance of the recommendations made in the Report of the Royal Commission on Housing of the Poor.
'As chairman of that Commission, I had to instruct the secretary working with myself to draw such a report as would at least obtain a majority upon the Commission, and we succeeded in drawing a report that obtained a unanimity of votes; but, of course, to do so we had to put forward the points in which we felt that many would concur, and to keep out our most extreme suggestions. I personally would go much farther, and would allow towns to build or hire or buy, and would encourage them to solve the problem for themselves, and not ask the State to help them, except by setting free their hands and allowing them to obtain land cheaply and to tax themselves freely for the purpose.... Gladly would I see towns armed with the powers to destroy, without compensation, in extreme cases, filthy dwellings, where it is proved to the satisfaction of the magistrates that the owners are in fault, and the sites of such dwellings might be obtained by a cheap process. In all cases we ought to give powers to public bodies to take land for public purposes at a fair price ... and by the adoption of the principle of betterment ... owners would be called upon to make special contribution towards schemes which would improve their property at large.'
He dwelt on the sufferings of the working classes owing to improvements which ejected them from their dwellings, and urged that the Local Authority should in all cases come to terms as to rehousing before granting any facilities for improvements.
For land he advocated taxation of unearned increment and fixity of tenure under fair rents fixed by judicial courts, with power to the community to buy up land at its real price.
He also advocated, not only the limitation of hours of work, a principle to which he had been converted by the Industrial Remuneration Conference of 1885, but that the workers should be qualified for the enjoyment of their leisure by educational opportunities. He urged the example of Switzerland in making education compulsory up to sixteen years of age, and that of Ontario in granting free education up to the age of twenty-one.
He advocated municipal Socialism, by giving to municipalities the widest possible power to deal with local needs, and, passing from local expenditure to that of the State, he dealt with the need for graduation of Imperial taxation, and urged the equalization of the death duties (as between real and personal estate) and making these duties progressive. He would raise them gradually to 25 per cent. By such means we should attain the double purpose of raising money and discouraging the possession of large estates, which are the cause of the existence of a too numerous idle class.
Adult suffrage and one man or woman, one vote, was always a part of his programme.
In his utterances the change from individualism to collectivism is marked. 'We were all Tory anarchists once,' he used to say in reviewing economic theories of the sixties, and the change which had come over the attitude of economists to social questions. His own conversion was so thorough that in industrial questions he acted often as a pioneer, and his constituency adopted his views on the limitation of hours by legislation as in the demand for a legal eight-hour day. [Footnote: Speeches in Forest of Dean and elsewhere (1890-1891). Radical Programme, 1890.]
He had laid it down as a condition of acceptance of the candidature for the Forest that there must be 'full and absolute belief' in him and in his word. Time was given for the personal attack to develop, and it was made by pamphlet propaganda with unsparing virulence, but entirely without result. Not a dozen Liberals in the division declared themselves affected by it; and 'on June 11th, 1891, I gave my consent to stand for Parliament at a meeting held at Lydney, which was extraordinarily successful and unanimous.'
The chair was taken by Mr. Thomas Blake, who had been member for the division, and who in the darkest hour of Sir Charles's political life had come forward with a proposal to resign and make way for him. He was there now to say that, if Sir Charles would stand, he himself would act as unpaid election agent. On the platform were all the leading Liberals of the Forest, among them Canon Wood of Newent, whose opposition had been turned into strenuous advocacy. There also was 'Mabon' to speak for himself and the Welsh miners, and from the outside world Mr. Reginald McKenna, an inseparable friend. Sir Charles's speech, which he counted to have been the best of his life, dealt briefly with the leading political topics of the day—Home Rule and the Radical programme—but soon passed to the personal issue. He recalled the change from the murky dreariness of March to the height of summer loveliness which reigned about them, and the change no less great in the moral atmosphere. He reviewed the history of the attacks that had been made, the avowed determination to prevent his being their member; and at the close he declared himself satisfied that their trust was fully his. 'My conditions have been fulfilled. I accept the confidence you have reposed in me. I trust that strength may be given to me to justify that confidence, and I reply—not for a day, nor for a year, but from this day forward, for better for worse; and thereto I plight my troth. To-morrow we go forth from among you and commit our honour to your charge.'
He was justified in the confidence which he reposed in them. One attempt was made to raise the personal issue against him; and its result showed that any man would be imprudent who sought to oppose Sir Charles Dilke in the Forest of Dean except on strictly political grounds. First and last no member of Parliament ever got more loyal support; but no man ever trusted less to personal popularity. He carefully developed the whole electoral machinery. The month which he spent every autumn in the Forest was very largely a month of work on the detail of registration, and the register as he caused it to be kept might be put forward as an example of perfection unapproached elsewhere in Great Britain.
'A day or two afterwards I received at a public meeting at Chelsea Town Hall an address signed by 11,000 inhabitants of Chelsea, congratulating me on my return to public life. It was signed by persons on both sides of politics. In reply, I made another good speech; but it was a great occasion.'
Among the letters which reached him from all quarters was one from Sir Henry Parkes, who wrote:
'Chief Secretary, New South Wales, 'Sydney, March 9th, 1891.
'I still hold the belief that few men have before them a broader path of honourable usefulness than you. May you succeed in nobly serving the dear old country!'
He received now and henceforward many invitations to address labouring men, especially from the miners of Great Britain.
At Cannock Chase, in August, 1890, he attended his first miners' meeting. How rapidly the list increased may be judged by the fact that, speaking in July, 1891, at Ilkeston, he alluded to his conferences with miners of Yorkshire, of Lancashire, of Cheshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Staffordshire, and the Swansea and Neath districts in England and Wales, and of Fife and Ayrshire in Scotland. Attempts had not been wanting to stimulate against him the strong puritanism of these people, especially in South Wales; the answer had come from men like Tom Ellis, [Footnote: Mr. Thomas E. Ellis was a Liberal Whip at this time.] who brought him to address the quarrymen of Blaenau Festiniog, or like Mabon—William Abraham—miner, bard, and orator, who organized a gigantic torchlight procession of his own constituents in the Rhondda Valley to welcome Sir Charles and Lady Dilke, and who, at Lydney, when Sir Charles finally accepted their invitation, congratulated the Forest of Dean on having secured the services of 'one who was not only a political leader, but a real Labour leader.'
Parliamentary action in favour of an Eight Hours Bill formed the burden of Sir Charles's discourse at all these meetings. Accepting a special invitation to the annual conference of miners in the beginning of 1892, he dealt with the proposal, then strongly advocated, of a general international strike, pointing out that this measure 'should not be even talked about until they had seen the exhaustion of all other means of obtaining what they wanted.' It meant civil war; would 'disorganize the whole economic condition of the country and the trade of the Empire, and produce also a great feeling of exasperation between classes.' He pressed them to consider whether, in the event of such an international conflict, the whole brunt would not fall on Great Britain. In Belgium and in France there was no such strength of organization as among them; and a general strike succeeding in Great Britain, but failing on the Continent, would be a national danger. He proposed, as an alternative, co-operation with the British representatives of other trades, for whom also Parliamentary interference was demanded. In the discussion which followed, the weight of his argument was fully recognized, and a resolution favouring the international strike was amended into one calling for Parliamentary action.
In the following June Sir Charles Dilke attended the Miners' International Congress, and spoke at the banquet given to foreign delegates. A month later, when the General Election came on, 'thousands of handbills and posters,' says Mr. Thomas Ashton, 'were sent to the Forest of Dean by our federation recommending the workers to vote for the working man's candidate.'
Nor were his public utterances on Labour questions limited to Great Britain; request came from a society of the Belgian economists for a lecture on some subject connected with Greater Britain, and he chose the Australian strike and the position of Labour in the Colonies. This discourse was delivered by Sir Charles in Brussels on his way back from France at the beginning of 1891, and he then, he says, 'made the acquaintance of all the leading people on both sides in that city.'
As early as May, 1891, Dilke had made up his mind (and stated it in a letter to Count Herbert Bismarck) that the Liberal party would win the next election. The question of the Leadership was raised at the end of the session in a letter from Chamberlain:
'I am told that Mr. Gladstone is much shaken by his late illness, and I cannot see how he can ever lead the House again, though his name will always be a tower of strength in the constituencies.'
But in December Mr. Chamberlain said that he did not think the prospects of a General Election were so good for Mr. Gladstone as they had been six months ago.
'James, dining at my house, had said a long time before this that the prospects of the Liberals might look rosy, but that they had not realized the extent to which the Liberal Unionists intended to spend their money upon Labour candidates;' and this danger 'began to show itself more clearly about this time.' On December 28th 'I had an amusing letter from Cyril Flower:
'"Surely for a real good muddle in political affairs, Welsh, Irish, Scotch, and English, there has never been a bigger, and what with Pamellites and anti-Parnellites (Christian and anti-Christian) Whigs, Labour candidates, Radicals, Tories, Jacobites, and Liberal Unionists, the next House will be as rum a kettle of fish as ever stewed since George III. The worst of it is, as the House gets more and more divided (like the French Chambers) into sets, it also becomes more and more incapable of getting through its business, and the littleness of the individual members becomes daily more apparent."'
The real difficulty for the Liberals was, however, the question of leadership; and Sir Charles wrote an article in the Speaker [Footnote: September 5th, 1891.] in support of one of his few paradoxes—that Great Britain would be better off without a Second Chamber, but that, given a House of Lords, the Prime Minister should be a member of it. For this reason he urged that though, 'when the moment has come for Mr. Gladstone to think that he has earned a change into the position of adviser from that of military chief, Sir William Harcourt will occupy the place he pleases to assume—he will be able to make himself Prime Minister if he chooses'—yet 'the party would be strongest with Mr. Gladstone for adviser, Sir William Harcourt, as fighting chief, sharing the responsibility with the leader in the Lords more fully than he would if he were Prime Minister in the Lower House'; and he named Lord Spencer as possible Prime Minister, since Lord Rosebery should be Foreign Secretary, and the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister should not be the same man, 'so heavy is the work of each of these two offices.'
With the opening of 1892 Parliament entered on its sixth, and last, session, and 'on April 1st I received a letter from Chamberlain, in which he said:
'"My own firm conviction is that parties will be nearly divided, and if Mr. G. has a majority nothing will be done either in regard to Ireland or to social questions in Great Britain.
'"I do not expect the election till late in the autumn, and, judging from appearances, the Opposition are much divided and rather depressed in spirit. My prediction is that, unless the Gladstonians give up the idea of a separate Parliament (I do not say extended local government), they will not obtain power—though they may obtain office—for this generation.
'"This is a bold prophecy for you, but it is my sincere opinion."'
Right essentially—for there was a very small Liberal majority—Mr. Chamberlain was wrong on the point of date: the election came in July, 1892.
In the Forest proper, the local war-chant, 'Yaller for iver, an' Blue in the river!' was shouted everywhere. But the constituency, 'a microcosm of England, industrial and agricultural,' as Sir Charles had called it, had districts where support of the 'working man's candidate' could only be whispered; where closed hands were furtively opened to show a marigold clasped in them; where perhaps, as a farmer's trap drove by carrying voters to the poll, the voters, outwardly blue-ribboned, would open their coats a little and show where the yellow was pinned. Lady Dilke on polling-day took charge of these districts. Yellow flowers from every garden were heaped into her carriage as she passed; and when votes came to be counted, more than one had been spoilt by too enthusiastic votaries who wrote across their paper, 'For Lady Dilke.' Her courage and devotion had touched the loyalty of the Forest people, and she received from them a tribute of genuine love. One who accompanied her tells of a later day when, after a terrible mine accident, Lady Dilke came down to visit the homes on which that blow had fallen. In one a young widow sat staring dry-eyed at the fire or turning tearless looks on the child that played near her. But when Lady Dilke entered, the woman rose from her chair, and, running to her visitor, put her arms about her neck, and as the two held each other, tears came at last.
Sir Charles Dilke was returned by a majority of two to one, and, he writes laconically, 'in August was well received in the House of Commons.'
In 1891 Sir Charles had expressed some surprise at hostile comment in the Times and other important organs on his selection as candidate for the Forest of Dean, and Mr. Chamberlain told him candidly that opinion in society and in the House itself was hostile to his candidature, and that he must look forward to a 'mauvais quart d'heure.' But it was otherwise. After his election there appears to have been a general expectation that he would be silent, and keep out of the range of hostile criticism. As a fact, he fell directly into his old habit of raising every subject which interested him. Parliament met again on January 31st, 1893, and as soon as notice of questions could be given, Sir Charles was reviving interest in a subject familiar to him of old, by asking the new Liberal Government to issue papers which had been omitted from the official publications of France and Great Britain, but had been published in the Madagascar Red Book.
Amongst congratulations on his election came one from the Prime Minister at Antananarivo, rejoicing that the threatened freedom of Madagascar would again have his support, and transmitting the Red Book just named. Within the first week of the session Sir Charles had questioned Government about the arbitration as to the Newfoundland fisheries; and concerning a vacancy in the Bombay command, with inquiry as to whether amalgamation of the Indian armies would be considered [Footnote: The amalgamation of the Indian armies was achieved by abolition, in 1894, of the separate military commands of the Presidencies.]—a change which he had long advocated. He also reappeared in a different field, but one familiar to him, by introducing a Bill to amend the system of voting in local elections. Then, on February 11th, while the Address to the Crown was still under discussion, he took part in a full-dress debate.
Mr. James Lowther, the leading Protectionist of days when Protection was not a fashionable creed, proposed an amendment seeking to restrict the immigration of destitute aliens; and he found a seconder in a trade- unionist, Mr. Havelock Wilson, who spoke for the seamen. After Mr. Gladstone had argued strongly against the proposal, but had shown his perception of the widespread support which it received by expressing willingness to appoint a committee of inquiry, Sir Charles Dilke rose, and, claiming to speak for a small minority, opposed legislation and committee alike.
The force of his appeal to the House lay in the description which he gave of persecution directed against the Jews in Russia, coupled with citation of many previous instances in which England had afforded asylum, and had gained both advantage and respect by so doing. First- hand knowledge of Russian conditions and detailed mastery of the historical case were combined in what one of the more important speakers for the motion (Sir William Marriott) called a 'magnificent speech'; and Sir Charles himself observes that it turned many votes. Mr. Mundella wrote to him after the debate: 'I think it was the best I ever heard from you, and, moreover, was courageous and just.'
Mr. Mundella was no doubt struck by the fact that a man coming in, as Sir Charles did, specially dependent on the support of organized Labour, had in his first speech combated the view of Labour interests which was put forward by trade-unionists. Sir Charles's reply to the trade- unionists ran thus: If these aliens come to England, they very often join trade-unions, and so accept the higher standard; if they do not, the products of their work come in and compete even more disastrously. From this there lay an argument against Free Trade, and this he characteristically admitted. Free Trade was only a balance of advantages, and Labour politicians, he pointed out, considered that the arguments against it were outweighed by countervailing considerations. To exclude the immigrants and not to exclude the products of their labour would be inconsistent, and also it would lower the nation's standard of humanity.
Early in the session he spoke again on the qualifications for membership of local elective bodies, and incidentally condemned the proposed Ministry of Labour as 'a sham remedy.' [Footnote: See "Labour," Chapter LII., pp. 347, 348.] Not to create new Ministries, but to reorganize and redistribute their work, was his policy, advocated repeatedly both in the House of Commons and from the chair of the Statistical Society. He spoke also on redistribution in this session, and these speeches were 'successful in their business way. Thus I regained influence of a quiet sort.'
'For the first time' (1893) 'I dined at the Speaker's third dinner, or "dinner of the discontented." The first dinner each year is to the Government, the second to the late Government, and the third to the Privy Councillors who were not of either of the others, and to a few other leading members. Little Northcote was on the Speaker's left, parted only by the Speaker from Randolph. I was opposite, reflecting, whenever Jim Lowther would leave off slapping me on the back.'
On January 29th, 1893, Sir Charles noted in his diary:
'There is a league between Harcourt and Labouchere against the Rosebery-Asquith combination. Labouchere showed me a letter from Harcourt: "Hell would be pleasant compared to the present situation."'
'On my return to the House of Commons,' notes Sir Charles, 'I found Chamberlain's debating power marvellous, but, while his method has improved, it ... no longer carries the conviction of conviction with it, which, to me, is everything.
'Asquith is the only new man who is "any good"—a bold, strong man, of great intellectual power. Sir E. Grey is able, but terribly Whiggish. Hanbury has improved, and so has Harcourt. The others are where they were.'
Mr. Asquith he had met for the first time in 1891, at Mr. Chamberlain's house, and found him 'much more intelligent than the ordinary run of politicians.'
Dilke and Chamberlain, once closely united through a long period of public life, had now been working apart for more than seven years. Strong minds, that in the collaboration of their earlier policy mutually influenced each other, had by a turn of personal fortune combining with a great political change followed divided destinies; and their evolution carried them far apart. They had met in private, had maintained the personal bond, [Footnote: 'At this time I was searching for a secretary, and Chamberlain found me Hudson, who, as he said, "fulfils all your requirements."' The connection between the secretary and his chief ended only with Sir Charles's death.] and in so meeting must inevitably have been prompted by a desire to minimize differences. But now they stood both again in the public arena—the one returning after the lapse of years, the other sustained by an unbroken continuance of Parliamentary activity—and the situation became difficult.
There were not many men who could work with Mr. Chamberlain in equal alliance. For that a man was needed, confident enough in his own weight not to fear being overbalanced in the combination; great enough in nature to be devoid of jealousy; and wise enough to understand that restless activity was the law of his ally's being. Upon those conditions only was it possible for a cooler, more temperate, and, on some subjects, better instructed politician to steer the tremendous motive power which Mr. Chamberlain's personal force afforded. What was lost to the world when the crippling of Sir Charles disjointed that alliance can never be reckoned. Not only the alliance, but the personal intimacy, was broken when their political ways sundered on the Home Rule division. Friendship remained; but it was not possible that men of that mark, who had met incessantly in the closest confederacy, could meet easily when the very groundwork of their intimacy was gone.
Sir Charles worked hard for a Bill specially interesting now to his constituents.
On April 18th, 1893, 'I wrote to Chamberlain and to Randolph Churchill as to the Miners Bill, as its authors had asked me to lay plans for the debate. From both I had replies favourable to local option, and on my writing again to Chamberlain he answered: "The sentence about the Labour leaders escaped me because I am, I confess, impatient of their extremely unpractical policy, and also because I believe their real influence is immensely exaggerated. A political leader having genuine sympathy with the working classes and a practical programme could, in my opinion, afford to set them aside. Mr. Gladstone has no real sympathy with the working classes, and a perfect hatred for all forms of Socialism. His concessions are extorted from him, and are the price paid for votes, and therefore I do not wonder at the pressure put upon him."'
In the first week in May, 1893, 'I brought forward my Egypt motion, spoke for the Miners Bill, and carried a resolution, drawn for us by the Lord Chancellor himself, as to the appointment of the magistrates for counties. From this time forward I shall not name my speeches and ordinary action in the House, as I had now regained the position which I had held in it up to 1878, though not my position of 1878-1880, nor that of 1884-85.'
No Parliament is exactly like its predecessor, and changed conditions had also changed the character of Sir Charles Dilke's Parliamentary personal surroundings; but they were drawn now, as of old, from neither party exclusively. The group comprised several young supporters of the Government, like Mr. McKenna, who, having failed in Clapham, wrote to Sir Charles on July 7th, 1892, of his regret at not being near him in the House of Commons 'to go on learning from you—I don't mean information, but patience and judgment and steadfastness.' Mr. McKenna had now been returned for South Monmouthshire, one of the constituencies which had been anxious to secure Sir Charles himself. Here Sir Charles had many devoted friends, who gave introductions to Mr. McKenna, which led to his adoption as candidate, and he wrote again to Sir Charles on his election: 'I am glad to owe it to you.' Old friends—as, for example, Mr. Morley—remained, and from the ranks of the Opposition at least one rarely interesting figure stands out, that of H. O. Arnold-Forster, who with Mrs. Arnold-Forster came to rank among the nearest friends of Sir Charles and Lady Dilke. The political tie was here due to common advocacy of army reform, and it took shape in a kind of formal alliance.