Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

be opened again in five years, it can only be settled in one way—that is, by reviving the old idea of the Duke of Wellington, and by placing at Constantinople, as the head of a revived Byzantine Empire, the European prince whose presence there will be least inconvenient to everybody. That is the only arrangement which will enable all interests concerned to obtain their legimate consideration. Russia might under it receive, without injury to any British interest, full compensation for all the expense she is now being put to; Austria might obtain a guarantee against Slavonic intrigues; Germany might secure the freedom of the mouth of the Danube ; Greece might receive an addition to her territory and the security produced by a strong administration along her frontier. The respective rights of Christian and Mussulman in the Eastern Peninsula might cease as completely to be a subject of dispute as they have done in British India, while a new and useful member might be added to the European community. Mr. Freeman, writing recently upon the subject, pointed out that a European prince sent to Constantinople would soon cease to be English, or German, or Russian, and become Byzantine—the spell of the great imperial city being too strong for all other influences. Of course he would. That is just one of the most powerful recommendations of the scheme. No one supposes, I apprehend, that the Duke of Wellington imagined that Prince Charles of Prussia, or whoever had gone to Constantinople fifty years ago, would have remained a Western European. That very spell of empire which attaches to Constantinople differentiates the proposal of the Duke of Wellington from the attempt to build up an empire in Mexico under an Austrian archduke. It was said of the principal supporter of that scheme that he did not know the difference between rêver and penser; and it may be equally truly said of those who do not see how much is to be said for the Duke of Wellington's scheme, mutatis mutandis, that they do not know the difference between penser and rêver. Of course the difficulties in the way may be insuperable. In order to bring such a scheme before Europe the consent of at least eight persons would be necessary, and some of these persons may be so opposed to the idea as to make it out of the question ; but that is a matter as to which hardly any one, perhaps no one at all, can now give an opinion. If, however, Mr. Walter made use of the words, which I have just quoted, advisedly, it is high time that he should begin to form some definite idea as to how the Eastern Question should be settled, if the Duke of Wellington's solution is wholly impracticable.

Then followed Lord Hartington. I do not wonder that his speech, read by persons in other countries who did not fully understand how strangely this question of the East had got mixed up with our domestic politics, should have created some surprise. But the embarrassment caused by the unfortunate way in which this discussion was raised was so excessive that the Liberal leader could not have done otherwise than go as far as he possibly could in the direction indicated by the resolutions. Whatever criticisms, however, they may think ought to be made upon particular turns of expression with reference to Turkey which are scattered through the speech, I am sure that the best Liberals abroad will think that Lord Hartington's concluding words put with admirable clearness and force the view which a British statesman ought to take of British interests, avoiding at once the exaggerated expressions of national self-love into which Mr. Hardy fell in a former discussion, and those still more unhappy phrases about our national misdoings into which Mr. Gladstone slipped in this one.

would have been impossible to state the view of the Liberal party, as a whole, in a clearer or better way than Lord Hartington did in his closing words :

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

I do not believe there is a member sitting on these benches who is more indifferent to the maintenance of British interests than the gentlemen who sit opposite. I do not quarrel with the definition of British interests given the other night by the right hon. gentleman opposite, nor with the eloquent language in which the hon. member for Mid-Lincoln identified British interests with the interests of the world. But let the House admit that a vast extension of British interests over the whole world may be a source of weakness rather than strength. Our strength abroad, as at home, consists, I believe, rather in defence than in attack. In India, as elsewhere, I believe our true policy consists in consolidating our dominion, in guarding our frontier, and not in being drawn by every idle rumour and every alarmist pamphlet from a position which is already strong. If it be necessary for the security of our Indian dominions that we should send forth armies to fight in Central Asia or in Asia Minor, I believe we shall find the task, I will not say too great for us, yet one that will tax our powers to the uttermost; but if, for the security of our Indian Empire, it should be our fortune to contend against the forces of nature and against the laws of human progress, then I say we shall have undertaken a task which will prove beyond our powers of accomplishment. There is no power which can restore the sap and vigour to the lifeless trunk, and there is no power which can check the growth of the living although struggling tree. The Turkish domination is the lifeless trunk, the struggling nationalities are the living tree, and this House is asked to-night to assert that with these nationalities, and not with the remnant of a shameful past, are the sympathies of the British nation.

The last sentence, coming from the Liberal leader, may be taken as a declaration of a final breach with what was erroneous in the Turkish policy of Lord Palmerston. The views of some who disapproved that policy would perhaps have been more accurately represented if the word "shameful' had been omitted. These persons disapproved Lord Palmerston's philo-Turk policy, not because they thought the Turk so much wickeder than other people, but because they thought him hopelessly out of place, and recognised that the future belonged to the Christian races of the Eastern Peninsula, little inclined as they were to go into any ecstasies about the virtues of those same Christian races.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer wound up the debate on the

[ocr errors]

side of the Government in a speech much of which was occupied, and necessarily occupied, by matter of mere immediate and party interest. He added little, could perhaps be expected to add little, to what had already been said from the Treasury bench, but formulated the policy of the Government very tersely in the words:

We desire to maintain a strict neutrality, we desire to watch over the interests of England, and, in the maintenance of these objects, we desire to be vigilant and at the same time not to be over-hasty.

Mr. Gladstone replied at considerable length; but although there was much in bis speech that was interesting, and much with which everybody agreed, he did not convey to my mind the impression that he really had a clear conception of what he desired to bring about. England ought to have intervened with the rest of Europe to coerce Turkey. Very well. If England and Europe had been prepared, or are prepared, with a distinct plan which was intended once for all to settle the question of Constantinople and of European Turkey, that would be reasonable enough; but there never has been a moment when anything of the kind has been possible. The Cabinets have never got beyond the consideration of palliatives, and since the Andrassy note they bave never heartily agreed even about palliatives. Mr. Gladstone asks us to do what of all things is the least satisfactory —to take strong action without knowing where that action is to lead us. He says, in fact, “Take a leap in the dark,' while the Government says, "Stand where you are till the darkness clears away. Of the two policies, the latter is the wiser, though there may be a third which is better than both,

A few minutes after the close of Mr. Gladstone's speech, the House divided—356, including tellers, supporting the Government, and 225 the Opposition. Nearly all those who voted in the majority meant, I suppose, by their vote, principally this: “Clearly, at this difficult crisis, Her Majesty's Government ought to be supported.' Nearly all those who voted in the minority meant, I suppose, by their vote, principally this: Clearly, at this difficult crisis, the Liberal party ought to hold together;' but if any one were to infer an identity of opinion between any two hon. members as to Eastern affairs from the fact of their having voted in the same lobby, he might find himself very much mistaken.

The net result seems to be this. There is a party in the country, slenderly represented in the House of Commons, more largely represented in the press, which would not be sorry to have to go to war for Turkey. There is another party, more largely represented in the House of Commons, which would be delighted to join Russia for the coercion of Turkey in the interests of its Christian inhabitants, and more or less on the lines of the Constantinople Conference, without, however, any very definite notions as to what it really wants. The vast

majority, however, of Englishmen, represented by a majority on both sides of the House of Commons, is desirous, in the present phase of the dispute, to be absolutely neutral between Russia and Turkey, but prepared, at the same time, to push intervention even to war if British interests are threatened. As to what British interests mean there is a good deal of difference of opinion at present; but probably that difference of opinion would disappear, so far as the great section of which I am now speaking is concerned, if the country had actually to decide the question-does this or that particular move of Russia attack British interests? The only dissidents would then be found in the ranks of the first and second parties to which I have alluded—the first maximising, the second minimising, the meaning of the term British interests.

In the next place it is clear that the debate was even more unreal than debates of the kind are apt to be; for both sides were thinking first, no doubt, of the matter in hand, but, secondly, of the amount of political capital to be got out of it. From so discursive a discussion we might well have hoped to have had more light than we have received. But, considering how long this Eastern Question has been looming on the horizon, there was less knowledge exhibited of the facts of Turkey than could have been expected. Mr. Gladstone mentioned, as he has repeatedly done, the well-known book of the Misses Mackenzie and Irby; but neither he nor any one else, so far as I am aware, either in this or any other debate of this session, has given any indication of having looked at the work of Kanitz, surely indefinitely more important. The two parties picked all the holes that were to be picked in their respective garments with adequate ability. But questions as to whether the Government has made this or that slip in its foreign policy, or whether this or that leading member of the Opposition might have been more reticent, are of very secondary importance. What is really important is to ask what is to be done next ? For the moment the country is in favour, and very wisely in favour, of absolute neutrality. But one of two things is sure to happen, and it will be worth inquiring what the Government ought to do in either event.

1. This war may end by Russia getting some advantages at the expense of Turkey, retaining a portion of the territory she conquers, and so forth. At present she loudly disclaims any idea of treating with Turkey alone, and insists that the settlement made at the end of the war shall be made with the concurrence of the Powers who were represented at the Conference. Well, in that case, I suppose we shall take our part in a sort of patching up which may enable the rickety old vessel to keep the sea for a few years longer. If, however, this comes about, I trust we shall never lose sight of the fact that the whole difficulty is merely postponed, and not postponed for long-that we shall forthwith so strengthen our embassy at ConVOL. I.--No. 5.

3 N

stantinople as to be sure that the ambassador has, in addition to his ordinary staff, at least five perfectly competent men, of the rank of second secretaries, always moving about in the provinces of Turkey, in constant communication with himself, and with the Foreign Office though him.

I do not think, as at present advised, that it would be necessary to increase our consulates. The officers whom I propose to create, following the suggestions made by Lord Strangford nearly half a generation ago, are not consuls, and are intended to fulfil a purpose which even first-rate consuls cannot fulfil, and it is notorious that our consular service in Turkey is very unequal. You have men on whom you could not improve, like Mr. White; and you have men on whom, to say the least, you could improve very much.

But this reform will be futile if you have not some one in the Foreign Office whose business it is to keep himself thoroughly acquainted with all that goes on in Turkey--acquainted, I mean, not only with the current business, but with the literature of the subject.

An excellent illustration of the extraordinary want of information at the Foreign Office about Turkey, and that information of vital importance to our policy there, is supplied in a blue book lately laid before Parliament.

In the years 1872 and 1873, notices were given in the House of Commons of an intention to ask certain questions about the state of things in Turkey. They were questions which any one who kept his eyes on that country might have ventured to answer offhand, and which could have been answered most fully at a day's notice if there had been any one in the Foreign Office whose duty it was to be generally informed about what was passing in the Sultan's dominions.

But what happened ?

Lord Granville sent the two following telegrams to Sir Henry Elliot :

1872. Let me know, if possible by two o'clock to-morrow, whether the Turkish authorities generally may be said to be giving effect to the several edicts in favour of Christians ?

1873. What answer can be given to the following questions to be asked in the House of Commons ? Whether

any

advance has been made in securing that the evidence of Christians shall be admitted in courts of justice in Turkey on a footing equal to the testimony given by Mohammedans ?

And whether certain inhabitants of that country at present suffer from disabilities in reference to military service and the devolution of landed property?

Sir Henry duly replied, and the answers were given in the House accordingly. Now could the absurdity of the present system be better demonstrated? Why is there not some one in Downing Street holding the position of the Vortragende Rath of the Berlin Foreign

« AnteriorContinua »