Page images
PDF
EPUB

succeed Mr. Gladstone. Not only had his party determined not to be led by a peer, but they had actually charged the Unionists with something like a breach of the Constitution in agreeing to Lord Salisbury's Premiership. Next Lord Rosebery was a comparatively unknown man, and there was in the House of Commons a politician eager for the post who had been before the country for the last twenty-five years, and whose claims on his party were overwhelming. Again, Lord Rosebery had shown himself somewhat lukewarm in regard to Home Rule, and the Irish contingent controlled the situation. His claims, too, were believed to be favoured by the Court and by the Opposition, and this in Radical quarters was looked on as a source of doubt and suspicion. Lastly, the House of Lords was going to be attacked, and how could that attack be led by a peer? Yet Lord Rosebery surmounted all these obstacles. How was this accomplished? If the writings of the organs of the different sections of Gladstonian opinion and the common talk of the members of the Gladstonian party are analysed it will be noted that Lord Rosebery had contrived to convey to each section of the party the notion that he was 'their man.' Ask the representatives of the extreme wing of the Gladstonian party, the socialistic Radicals, whom they prefer as a leader and from whom they expect help to carry their particular schemes. They will answer, Lord Rosebery. Ask a similar question of the moderate Gladstonians, the men of Whig sympathies, the men who cling to the party rather from tradition than from conviction, and who are at heart not a little alarmed at the prospect of socialistic legislation. They will at once answer that they have faith in Lord Rosebery, and that he is a man who is not going in for a reckless policy. The looker-on may smile and may point out that both views cannot be true, but as long as they are entertained at one and the same time it is no wonder that Lord Rosebery is irresistible. Lord Rosebery manages as successfully with individuals as with lines of policy. He had no enemies, or, at any rate, no open enemies. His habit of being everybody's friend and ally soon made him the link that bound the party together a link all the stronger because invisible. He was the one man who was nobody's obvious and avowed foe, the one man under whom nobody minded serving. He had conciliated all the factions and all the politicians, and hence, when Mr. Gladstone left office, Lord Rosebery was the statesman on whom the choice

naturally fell. He had made the choice of himself the line of least resistance. But the line of least resistance is almost as inevitably in the political as in the physical world the line along which progress and developement take place. It was not possible to insist on any other Premier when Lord Rosebery was so obviously the man who divided the party least and caused least friction.

[ocr errors]

Lord Rosebery, then, must be classed among the managers of men rather than among the statesmen of ideas-the men who, rightly or wrongly, follow a distinct line of policy. He is the Political Boss' rather than the Radical statesman. If he has adopted extreme views, and by his speeches in regard to the Eight Hours question and other Socialist projects has shrouded himself in an advanced Radical atmosphere, it is not so much that he believes in those measures as that he believes them to be winning cards in the party game. If Mr. Gladstone is the opportunist of earnestness and vagueness, Lord Rosebery is the opportunist of cynicism and indifference.

It must not be supposed, however, that Lord Rosebery is entirely without convictions or political principles. There is evidence to show that on one question he feels strongly. Lord Rosebery is, we believe, a sincere Imperialist, and on this question he would probably refuse to subordinate his views to the considerations of the moment. Lord Rosebery's imperialism may be best expressed in the words which he used in giving in his adhesion to the policy of Home Rule. The connexion of the colonies and of India with the mother-country has,' he said, 'been the dream of my life. If I did not believe in my inmost heart and soul that the course which we are pursuing is not merely not antagonistic to that object, but is in absolute promotion of it, I should not be where I am.' Lord Rosebery's intimate connexion with the Imperial Federation League and the policy pursued by that body may serve to interpret this statement. It is clear that the dream of Lord Rosebery's heart is the creation of a great federal empire. It is possible that he has lately come to think this ideal very distant, but for a time at any rate he worked at it as a practical object, and it has always remained for him the thing to be hoped for and longed for. An interesting statement of his present attitude towards the Empire, a revised and authorised version, is to be found in a preface which Lord Rosebery contributed in the year 1892 to a little school-book, entitled Round the

6

'Empire' (Cassell & Co.), a book written by Mr. Parkin, a gentleman whom we believe we are right in describing as at one time a lecturer for the Imperial Federation League. This preface has curiously enough been overlooked by those who have endeavoured to run to earth that shy and difficult quarry, Lord Rosebery's opinions. It is, however, the best, as well as the latest, source of information in regard to the type of imperialism at present professed by Lord Rosebery, and we shall therefore make no apology for quoting the salient passages. After stating the importance of keeping before our children the fact that they inhabit not an island but an Empire,' and declaring that there are few 'political facts, perhaps none, which should exercise so great an influence on their future lives,' Lord Rosebery proceeds :

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

'For a collection of States spread over every region of the earth, but owning one head and one flag, is even more important as an influence than as an Empire. From either point of view it is a world-wide fact of supreme significance; but in the one capacity it affects only its own subjects, and in the other all mankind. With the Empire statesmen are mainly concerned; in the influence every individual can and must have a part. Influence is based on character, and it is on the character of each child that grows into manhood within British limits that the future of our Empire rests.

If we and they are narrow and selfish, averse to labour, impatient of necessary burdens, factious and self-indulgent: if we see in public affairs not our Empire but our country, not our country but our parish, and in our parish our house, the Empire is doomed. For its maintenance requires work and sacrifice and intelligence.

'If, on the other hand, we aim at the diffusion of the blessings of industry undisturbed by war, if we aim at peace secured, not by humiliation but preponderance, we need to preserve our Empire not for ourselves only but for mankind. And this is said not pharisaically, 'not to the exclusion of other countries, but because ours is the most widely spread and the most penetrating of nationalities. The time, indeed, cannot be far remote when the British Empire must, if it remain united, by the growth of its population and its ubiquitous dominion, exercise a controlling authority in the world. To that trust our sons are born.

'I hope, then, that the youth of our race will learn from this book how great is their inheritance and their responsibility. Those outside these islands may learn the splendour of their source and their "home," as well as communion with the other regions under the Crown of Great Britain; and within, English, Scottish, and Irish children may learn not to be shut in their shires, but that they are the heirs of great responsibilities and a vast inheritance. History has marked those that made this Empire, and will mark, with equal

A

certainty but in a different spirit, those who unmake it or allow it to dissolve.'

6

In

What is the precise meaning of this eloquently written passage it is difficult to say with precision. If Lord Rosebery means that it is the duty of the inhabitants of these islands to cultivate the best possible relations with their kin beyond sea; to resolve never to commit again the fatal blunders of Lord North and George III.; to eschew 'parliamentary projects' which, though intended to bind, would be far more likely to disunite; and to encourage instead the firmer and saner, if less ambitious, policy of a close and friendly alliance with the colonies, we have not only nothing to say against Lord Rosebery's view, but must congratulate him on his statesmanship and good sense. If, however, 'parliamentary projects,' beginning with the project of a repeal of the Union, are in reality, if not in name, to be the rock-bed of Lord Rosebery's imperialism, then we sincerely trust that the nation will lend no ear to his schemes. They are certain to lead to disintegration in the United Kingdom, and over-sea are only too likely to destroy instead of to build up. If Lord Rosebery imagines that the Imperial structure can be strengthened by introducing ruin and confusion into the very heart of the Empire, he is the victim of one of the most mischievous of delusions. any case it may be hoped that the preface marks the fact that Lord Rosebery has ceased to be an 'Imperial Federationist,' and is merely anxious, as every patriotic citizen of the Empire should be anxious, that the future of the Empire shall be secure, and that its component parts shall be linked with the mother-country in bonds of amity and concord. Closely connected with Lord Rosebery's imperialism as regards the Empire is his imperialism as regards foreign affairs. Lord Rosebery in the region of foreign affairs is credited with being in favour of a spirited policy, of desiring that the United Kingdom should exercise a wide and strong influence abroad. In the cant phrase of the day, he is against the Little Englanders.' If by this it is meant that Lord Rosebery will not allow any encroachments on our just rights, no one will quarrel with him. If, however, it means that he is going to actively stimulate the growth of the Empire, his big Englandism' will bring him little but disaster. The automatic growth of the Empire is quite rapid enough and needs no encouragement, but rather the reverse; and the Ministry which neglects this fact and tries to foster a forward movement will meet the fate which

[ocr errors]

6

pursued Lord Beaconsfield's Administration. The Afghan war, the Zulu war, and the annexation of Cyprus were acts which brought nothing but trouble on those who devised them. It is most probable, however, that Lord Rosebery realises this clearly enough-it is commonly the first lesson gained by those who see the work of government at the centre-and that his foreign policy will show nothing very new or very startling.

It remains to say something as to the details of Lord Rosebery's conduct as Foreign Secretary. His actions give no indication of any very strongly marked or original policy. He seems to have dealt with questions as they arose with common sense and firmness, but for good or evil there has been nothing approaching a new departure. Lord Rosebery during his two tenures of office has had in all three questions of importance to deal with. These were the question of Batoum in 1886, the Egyptian question of a year ago, and the Siamese problem of last July. The despatches dealing with Siam have not yet been published, but those concerned with the two first matters may be dealt with as specimens of Lord Rosebery's work at the Foreign Office. They have been regarded in certain quarters as monuments of diplomatic skill, but their perusal will hardly justify so enthusiastic an estimate. In June 1886 Russia denounced the 59th Article of the Treaty of Berlin, under which Batoum had been declared a free port, on the ground that the article was not the product of a general agreement, but the spontaneous 'declaration' of the Czar. Lord Rosebery's reply was from a literary point of view not otherwise than happy. He told the Russian Government that even granting the doctrine, which, as far as her Majesty's Government are aware, is an entirely novel one, that the spontaneous declaration of his Majesty the late Emperor is not to be considered as bind'ing because it was spontaneous, it cannot be denied that its embodiment in the treaty placed it on the same footing 6 as any other part of that instrument.' And he went on to deal with the general question in severe terms:

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

'One direct, supreme, and perpetual interest, however, is, no doubt, at stake in this transaction-that of the binding force and sanctity of international engagements. Great Britain is ready at all times and in all seasons to uphold that principle, and she cannot palter with it in the present instance.

'Her Majesty's Government cannot, therefore, consent to recognise or associate themselves in any shape or form with this proceeding of the Russian Government. They are compelled to place on record

« PreviousContinue »