Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]

from a friendship where all the profits were for Russia. It was currently said that France had given to the Tsar the key both of her heart and of her money-chest, and had to be satisfied with a return in monkey's currency. It was pointed out that everywhere, in the far East, in the Levant, in the Balkans, Russia had received an accession of strength and prestige, while nowhere, neither in Egypt nor on her eastern frontier, had France yet got back the smallest assistance.

Well, this shower of sympathy not unmixed with some cynical Schadenfreude is for the present come to an end. We hear now quite another song. People are not content to acknowledge the reality, the strength, the mutual cordiality, and the reciprocal beneficence of the Franco-Russian understanding: they must fain exaggerate the power, and by the same token the perilousness, of this new international constellation. Assuredly, it is a good and a reasonable thing to silence once for all these cavillers, who foolishly make it their wisdom to look for spots in the sun or blemishes in a gift horse, and who have sadly and sapiently shaken their heads because a certain word was not pronounced where a certain thing was established and put beyond all doubt before the whole world. However, the proceeding is a little too gross when, for instance, the Cologne Gazette expatiates at length on the dangerous omnipotence of the new Duplice as contrasted with the old innocuous and safe Triplice, and insinuates, in glaring contradiction to its own avowals during the meeting itself, that thoughts of the Revanche received a deplorable impulse and found a frequent expression during the imperial visit.

These tactics of the German officious press, though singularly unscrupulous, are not, after all, particularly dangerous. It is enough, in order to confute them, either to appeal to their own acknowledgments in their unguarded and therefore more truthful moments, or to call to witness any unprejudiced spectator of these memorable days. For is it not beyond doubt that during this short but epochmaking stay there occurred not only a political pact of the first rank, but at the same time a great soul-stirring moral event ? We must dare to say it: the people of France, in their unreasoning impulse, have known how to solve with the utmost simplicity the difficulties and to avoid the perils of this reception. Republicans they were and they are, and they have perfectly understood how to make themselves hoarse by clamouring "Vive l'Empereur!' without shaking the foundations of the Republic. They knew how to distinguish between home and foreign policy. This ignorant and fickle democracy knew how to follow the example of a Richelieu allying himself in Germany with those Protestants he was crushing in France, or of a Cromwell meeting halfway the friendship of the French King, that is to say of the first cousin of the proscribed Pretender. These masses—the men in the streets-knew how to redeem the innumerable mistakes of the Protocol, and how to make good by the innate dignity of nobodies the errors of the vulgar somebodies or busybodies of the official world. While they enjoyed to the full the feeling of reconquered security, of France's place in the world recovered, they have not compromised by a gesture or by a clamour the peaceful character of this visit, and they have held in the leash the unfeigned feelings or the factitious passions of so-called patriotism.

In short (I beg pardon of the arbitri elegantiarum and universal doctors of the German press), it has been a great and beautiful spectacle

-and, what is more, without the blemish of imprudent and foolish mishaps. Both parties—Tsar and people—have brought to bear the same goodwill, the same unshaken love of peace, the same unassailable consciousness of right and of strength upon this solemn promulgation and outburst of the Franco-Russian understanding. Even bad faith, which alone has dared to misrepresent these unmistakable displays and to slander their meaning, has borne an unwilling witness to their real value. If there is henceforth a fact solidly settled among the data of European politics, it is that France and Russia have tied a love-knot between themselves, and formed for the nonce an indissoluble league. Henceforth politicians have to take into account this dualism. If not precisely a brand-new contrivance, at any rate it is sufficiently new in its official acknowledgment, and chiefly in the tightening of its bonds, to introduce a novel element into international politics.

It has even appeared as if this coming up of the Duplice had already occasioned some searchings of heart among the members of the Triplice. Not only is poor, nearly bankrupt Italy unmercifully held up to her heavy undertakings, and casting longing eyes towards a more natural and less expensive relation with her nearest neighbour, no longer delivered up beforehand to the first assaulting whim of Germany. Other more or less premonitory crackings have been heard. In a portion, at any rate, of the German press, chiefly that which takes its cue from the unforgetting and unforgiving hermit of Friedrichsruh, advances-not even very self-respectful ones—have been made to the Tsar. The friendship of Russia has been depicted as immeasurably more valuable to Germany than the unattainable goodwill of England, or even than the easily gained intimacy of Austria -in fact, as the corner-stone of the true policy of the young Empire.

However, significant and worthy of all attention as are these symptoms, it would be wrong to put upon them too large or too immediate a meaning. The triple alliance is yet, for good or for evil, a great, stubborn, immutable fact, and with it we must deal as with one of the primary data of the international situation. Just now two great systems of states are facing each other in the political heavens. The era when numerous erratic bodies wandered isolated through space, crossing and recrossing their ways, is definitively gone. England alone remains, between two constellations following each its own path, a solitary comet. Naturally the drawing near and moving together of all these stars of the first rank have created both new attractions and new repulsions—in a word, have totally altered the state, not only of the bodies subject to these new relations, but of the others too.

[graphic]

England, then, finds herself under the necessity of a political selfexamination. It will be well for her, first of all, to clear her vision and to see things as they are. High-sounding formulas, burdens of songs for the use of the music hall, all the self-deceiving paraphernalia of a pinchbeck jingoism, are to be shunned more than in the past. For instance, splendid isolation’is neither more nor less than one of those hollow, resounding, dangerous phrases such as: “L'Empire c'est la paix,' or 'masterly inactivity,' or 'Peace with honour,' with which people let themselves be deluded.

If it were even 'proud aloofness,' that is to say, if it connotated a real attitude of abstaining, non-intervention, and solitary security, it might pass muster. But the truth is that this so-called 'splendid isolation means, not the refusal of all compromising, troublesome engagements, not the holding aloof from all entangling meddlesomeness, but purely and simply successive and contradictory flirtings. Its true name ought to be the semi-detached policy. Now, this plan does not seem to bring better results in diplomacy than it does when a builder scatters on a whole estate the sorry suburban monster of semi-detached villas. It is a policy of make-believe, of self-deceit, and it ends by discontenting everybody.

The history of the present year of grace bears sufficient witness to this melancholy truth. From the Transvaal to Zanzibar it has been a sequence of cross purposes, of self-contradicting undertakings, of half-matured designs. Begun by a violent explosion of anger against the German Emperor, of which the coarse polemics of the German press did not fail to fan the flames, it seemed to set towards an understanding with France, the first-fruits of which were the regulation of the Mekong and Siamese difficulty. Suddenly the policy of Lord Salisbury veered from point to point : French friendship was thrown overboard, German favour was ardently sought for ; Italy was taken in tow, a little against the grain on account of her African disaster; and Egypt, the touchstone of Anglo-French relations and of the value put by the Cabinet of St. James on its word, was once more an object of quarrel between the two great liberal countries of the West.

However, it was not yet the end. Once more the pendulum swung back. The Zanzibar succession has been much less the cause than the pretext of a new.war-whoop of the German press. Little by little the paper-war has widened its ground, the heavy ordnance has begun fire. The Times and the Cologne Gazette, not to name the smaller fry, are just now engaged in an exchange of rather uncomplimentary truths, among which it is difficult to see where comes in the boasted reconciliation of last spring.

[graphic]

Such, then, are the fruits of the system of splendid isolation,' so dear to the heart of Mr. Under-Secretary Curzon. It does not belong at all to my province to come and tell Englishmen: "Take this or take that side in exchange for your so-called freedom.' What I mean to try and set before my readers is only the fact that England must choose, that she cannot remain in a status quo, which would not be a true one, since the change of everything outside could not but react on the position of the isolated kingdom itself.

My next aim is simply to examine shortly under what conditions England, if she makes her choice, would be able to join the diplomatic combination in which France has got part and parcel. It is the business of Englishmen and of them alone to see if the periodical outburst of hate against their country in the German press is merely a childish symptom to be overlooked, or if it is a rather unamiable way of fishing for the friendship of England -in contempt of that popular saying according to which flies are not taken by vinegar-or if finally it is the weighty sign of a deepseated antagonism of temper and of interests, making, even against the will of the majority of the citizens of both lands, for a fatal struggle sooner or later ; in which last case, the incidents of the present year would take, to the eyes of clear-headed, sagacious observers, something of the character of that Luxemburg scrape which in 1867 nearly precipitated, three years before its time, the Franco-German War.

Let us then suppose that England, after full and mature consideration, advisedly and with open eyes, resolves to feel her way to an understanding with the Franco-Russian combination. Even by this simple statement I have already pointed out one, and perhaps the most important, of the conditions antecedent to this happy consummation. It is not, it cannot be, a question of substituting one country for another in the intimacy of Russia, of wriggling or worming in another partner into the Tsar's friendship instead of France. No divorce is to precede this match. International marriages admit perfectly well of a third party. Notwithstanding the old saying that 'two are company and three are none,' there can be for England' no association with Russia, if France has no part and lot in it.

And, what is more, it is not to be fancied that France's friendship may be thrown into the bargain or got for the asking. The two partners are both equally to be met halfway, both equally to be wooed, in order to be both equally won. Such advice is not at all superfluous, to judge by the tone of too many of the papers which have advocated, after the visit of Nicholas the Second at Balmoral, an agreement with Russia. Those among them which did not own a little cynically as their purpose the substitution of England for France in the Russian friendship, have all along built on the supposed willingness of France to follow blindly her great ally, and to accept dutifully any new bedfellow. As a matter of fact, the negotiators of this beneficent understanding will have to deal with two partners at once.

[graphic]

However, I must hasten to add that, in the majority of cases at any rate, what would satisfy the one would also satisfy the other. The crux of the whole matter is, before all, a matter of trust. The past is heavily handicapping the present. Everybody is beginning to see it in relation to the Armenian agitation. Thus Cyprus and Egypt stand in the way of the acknowledgment by Europe of the good intentions and disinterestedness of the forward policy. It is no less true that they bar the road to a fruitful understanding with France and Russia.

This Armenian business is in some sense a symbolic exponent of the whole state of things. Here is a hideous nightmare of cruelty, vileness, and madness oppressing the whole of Europe, or rather of Christendom. Here is the old spectre of the Eastern question reappearing within a dark and bloody cloud before the conscience of the people and of the governments of the civilised world. The mere continuance of the status quo is a scandal, and holds up over the peace of our continent the gravest dangers. In the meanwhile the whole of the great Powers remain stricken as with palsy. Diplomacy is just strong enough to paralyse philanthropy; philanthropy is just strong enough to paralyse diplomacy.

England has just seen such an outburst of right-minded indignation as in 1876, during the never to be forgotten campaign against the Bulgarian atrocities. Twenty years more on the hoary head of Mr. Gladstone have not prevented the old man eloquent from sounding from Land's End to John o' Groats the trumpet calls of his magnanimous anger. If the right honourable gentleman is no longer the member for Midlothian, he considers himself as the member for oppressed and martyred mankind, and he has nobly fulfilled his mandate. English opinion, without distinction of parties, has rallied around the grand leader of old days. A series of meetings, crowned by that in St. James's Hall, where bishops, peers of the realm, mayors of great cities, Anglican divines, Nonconformist ministers, professors, politicians have met on the same platform, have given loud expression to the mind of the country.

I am not here just now discussing the policy so passionately proclaimed at these meetings. Much as I admire the moral inspiration of the movement, much as I am disposed to subscribe with my whole heart to the ends it has in view, I should have to enter my strongest protest against the childish and hot-headed scheme of a separate action of England and of the recall of Her Majesty's ambassador at Constantinople, as well as against the exaggerated,

« AnteriorContinua »