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Czar,' and, within sight and hearing, rolls towards Moscow the long line of wagons laden with the corpses of three thousand of his subjects, poor dumb animals, slain by the carelessness, cowardice, and imbecility of his officials. “Ave! imperator: morituri te salutant.' The catastrophe will, in a country so grossly ignorant and superstitious as Russia, overshadow the whole reign. Why had no care been taken to propitiate a hostile Fortune? Why, as in a Roman triumph, had no slave been placed in the chariot of the victorious general to whisper in his ear that he was mortal ?
The duty of moralising may be left to the clergy and special correspondents, and all that is intended here is to suggest considerations which, though familiar to all political thinkers, the majority of Englishmen are too careless or too occupied to work out for themselves. The close of the nineteenth century has seen the interest of the human tragedy transferred from Europe to Africa and Asia. The coming century, which will be full of scientific marvels radically changing the conditions of modern life, will also see the awakening of old world nations whom many have believed to have sunk into hopeless decrepitude; while the savage peoples who have, through long ages, lived in fear and darkness, will, at last, turn to the light and, with glad hearts, prepare to take their rightful places at the feast which civilisation and freedom have provided impartially for all mankind. Everywhere the valley of dry bones begins to stir with new life. The miraculous advance of Japan is no subject for jealousy or fear, but is the happiest omen for all. India, educated and free, will quadruple her wealth ; the desert plains of Persia may again blossom as the rose, and the valley of the Nile repeat the glories of the Pharaohs. The crowded ant-hills of Chinese cities will be transformed by the railway and the telegraph ; while the spirit of change, like the faint breeze that precedes the dawn, is beginning to wake the dwellers on the slopes of the Atlas, by the far waters of Nyanza, and among the Turkomans' camel-hair tents. The earth is in travail with the new birth that is to be, and the future is of hope and not of despair.
Who, then, and of what spirit are they who shall dominate the twentieth century and lead the expectant nations in the path of progress ? For Asia and for Persia, with which this article is specially concerned, there can be no shadow of doubt as to the answer. England and Russia are the two Powers between whom the empire of Asia will be divided, and there is no other to complicate their rivalry. The Monroe doctrine is a chain which binds Americans to their own continent; Germany has no colonising aptitude and all the commercial advantages she may desire are secured to her under the British flag. Austria and Italy are the hereditary friends of England. The day of France is past, with population and power growing each year proportionally less; and, whatever her jealous illtemper, she may perhaps consider that the shopkeepers and attorneys who rule her to-day are not likely to be more successful than Louis the Fourteenth or Napoleon in a war with England, which would sweep her flag from the seas and leave her with Algeria as her only colony. It is in the conviction that England and Russia stand face to face as the sole pretenders to Asiatic sovereignty; that the struggle between them for supremacy will be the dominant note of the twentieth century, as the contest between France and England for colonial empire was the dominant note of the eighteenth, that the chief significance of the Moscow celebration is found.
That imposing ceremony signifies the renewed consecration of autocracy; the fresh dedication of a nation to the service of despotism ; the surrender of independence and free will and intellectual vigour and the joy of life to a fetish as degrading as any that makes the savage tremble in an African jungle. For the young Czar, weighed down with his impossible responsibilities, a god to some of his people, a tyrant to others, we can only feel a profound and respectful pity. For the Russian people our sympathy may be as deep and sincere ; nor is there room for a single shadow of ill-will or hostility to either Czar or people on the part of Englishmen. He and they are alike slaves of a traditional system of government which is an anachronism in this age and a constant danger to the peace and the freedom of the world. What can be more pathetic than the figure of the Czar as he takes his predestined seat on the throne whose pretensions are an insult to heaven and an outrage to man?
He is singularly unfitted for the responsibilities of rule, for, like other princes of semi-civilised states, a jealous tradition has not allowed him any training in public affairs. The dominating influence in his life has been, and doubtless still is, that of the gracious lady so closely allied to our own Royal House, to whose ability, courage, and goodness of heart the peace of Europe owed, during the late reign, far more than is generally imagined. He may possess qualities and virtues which, under a happier system, might bear fruit in the prosperity of his people; but he, like his subjects, is crushed by the administrative machine, from which, in Russia, there is no escape. A new Czar has as little initiative and is as much at the mercy of permanent officials as is the chief of an English Department reading in the House of Commons the elaborate evasions of his head clerks. If he were really a despot it might be well; for a benevolent despot is an excellent thing; but he is no more than the irresponsible head of an evil system which is founded on repression, ignorance, darkness and slavery. The chief object of the Russian bureaucracy, whatever official apologists may say, is to exclude the light; to hold the people in a blind superstitious obedience; to punish, imprison and banish those who would teach the miserable moujik that he is a man and not a vodka-filled beast, that the peasant has his rights as well as the Czar and an equal claim to happiness and freedom. This is why political discussion is forbidden in Russia, why every book which opens the windows of the mind, even though of pure science and philosophy, is prohibited by the censorship, and why every unorthodox dissenter who questions the claims of the successor of Ivan and Paul and Catherine to mediate with God for the people is regarded as disloyal and is treated as such. A system like this would never have been tolerated by any race of energy and intelligence, as Englishmen have often taught both Popes and kings. But the Slav people, of an Oriental type, patient, sluggish, mystic and ignorant beyond all imagination, bear and suffer, and allow themselves to be driven, like sheep to the slaughter, into the armies of the Czar. The great majority of Englishmen have no ill-feeling towards Russia, and would rejoice to see her with open ports on the Pacific, stretching her giant limbs in peaceful development. But for the stupid, cruel, and corrupt bureaucracy which dominates Russian policy those who love freedom can have no sympathy, and it is a strange portent that France and the United States, who, in name at least, represent purely democratic institutions, should be the two Powers who express the warmest friendship for the Russian Government. In this ignorant submission of a vast population, directed by a tenacious and unscrupulous bureaucracy, who use the name of the Czar to justify their own selfish ends and his spiritual authority to confuse a simple people, lies the strength of Russia and the danger to Europe and Asia. Freedom and education and constitutional government can alone remove the danger, but these the Czar, however benevolent his personal tendencies may be, has no power to confer.
The strength of the British Empire rests, unless all the results of civilisation be a lie, on surer and deeper foundations, on equal rights, on free speech, on the interdependence of class upon class, and on a reasoned loyalty to the ruling House. Many of those who read this article will have witnessed and will never forget the indescribable scene of tumultuous enthusiasm at the victory of the Prince of Wales in the Derby, and will have understood its significance as a spontaneous expression of the affectionate loyalty of a free people. As significant and instructive to the friends and enemies of England was the interesting spectacle at the Military Tournament, where, in long procession, passed in review the Sons of the Empire,' specimens of each division of the multitudinous armies of the Queen, from every quarter of the world. Surely a sight to make each British heart beat fast, to encourage each lover of freedom, and to remind us that Imperial Federation, which some timid statesmen have thought to be an idle dream, is, in some essential particulars, already accomplished. Here, from Canada to the Equator and to the far continent of Australia, are the representatives of a vast host, capable of indefinite increase, who are all free and independent citizens of the great
British commonwealth, whose voluntary service counts high above the unwilling service of compelled soldiers. If the world-empire of England has roused the envy of Powers who would be glad to assist at her dismemberment, she has yet taught the lessons of freedom to her great dependencies so unreservedly that France or Russia, Germany or the United States would not profit by our defeat. Australia, Canada, South Africa, and probably India are strong enough to stand alone against hostile attack. The free trade policy of England which in these days is questioned by impoverished landlords is, in reality, a chief support of our power, as it neutralises the jealousy of other nations, whose vanity may suffer but whose pockets are filled by our success. If, like France or Russia, we closed our foreign possessions to outsiders by hostile tariffs, a league might well be formed against us. But England claims no privileges which she does not share with the rest of the world. It is French stockholders who have most benefited by the pacification of Egypt, and German merchants and financiers amass their fortunes under the British flag preferentially to their own. The so-called selfish policy of England has been, since the triumph of free trade, a cosmopolitan unselfishness unparalleled in history.
Having sketched the positions of the competitors for Asiatic supremacy, we will now consider the country most immediately affected by their rivalry; which is Persia, geographically the neighbour of both, seeing that Afghanistan, as a subsidised state, may be held to be attached to the British Empire. So much has been written of Persia lately that I will not repeat what may be found in admirable travels and handbooks, but a brief notice of the results of the late reign is needed to make the present position intelligible.
The late Shah Nasiruddin, signifying Defender of the Faith, was, for his time and country, an enlightened, prudent, and liberal-minded ruler. It is not possible to apply to his conduct and administration a standard of comparison which is only applicable to Western countries and constitutional forms of government where progress is largely due to popular sentiment and initiative, while the slow conservatism of the East opposes its vis inertiæ and its traditional and religious opposition to all change, however beneficial. Nevertheless, his reign of nearly fifty years would compare not unfavourably with an equal period of storm and stress and feverish reform and revolution in many Western countries. In every direction substantial progress has been made. The administration of justice has been rendered both more certain and more merciful. Schools and colleges have been founded, for the late Shah was interested in education and was himself acquainted with French, Arabic and Turkish, and in Persian was a poet of some merit, while the aries which he published after his European tours have had a wide circulation, not
only in Western countries but in Persia, where they enjoyed the honour, which English authors may well envy, of compulsory purchase and a special tax. The greatest defect of the Shah was his avarice, which was immense and insatiable; and although this is a fault common among Oriental despots, who feel that their power can only be made secure from attack by the command of a full treasury, yet it injured and often ruined his schemes for the development of his country. If he had been content to spend some portion of his hoards on public improvements, on the repair of ancient reservoirs and watercourses, and the construction of roads and bridges, he would have brought under cultivation tracts of culturable land which are now desert and would have largely benefited both his own revenue and the general trade of the country. But he could not make up his mind to spend money, and required every improvement not only to pay for itself, but to bring a large contribution to his own treasury. The concessions which were given to all comers for manufactures, mines, tramways, roads, banks, monopolies for lotteries, electric lighting, tobacco culture, and other schemes were in no case assisted by State money; but all had to surrender a share of their profits, real or problematical, to the Shah. The consequence was that the greater number of these industrial undertakings, which, in a strange country and among a suspicious population, required constant support and large pecuniary assistance from the Government, soon withered and disappeared, and the Shah not only lost his anticipated profit, but solid and honourable financiers were deterred from adventuring in so unpropitious a country. The ground was left free to less honest speculators, who applied for concessions, not to work them seriously but to pass them on for a consideration to others who might successfully plant them in the often credulous markets of Europe. Disaster followed, the credit of Persia was lowered, and sound enterprises were seriously injured by the collapse of worthless speculations.
There was nothing of the religious bigot about Násiruddin, and there is no probability in the story that his assassin was a Bábi, commissioned to avenge the death of the founder of the sect and the persecution of his followers. The truth is that, with the exception of a few local outbreaks of intolerance on the part of the orthodox priesthood, who find it easy to excite the populace, Bábism, which is to Muhammadanism what the Reformed Faith was to the Church of Rome, or Kukaism to the creed of the Sikhs, has been not only tolerated but protected in Persia by the Shah. At the beginning of his reign, when the extravagant pretensions of the founder had excited both irritation and alarm, the sect was persecuted with some ferocity, but it has been gradually acknowledged that Bábism is a religious and not a political propaganda, many of the Ministers belong to it, secretly or openly, and its adherents are said to include two-fifths of