Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

BENTLEY'S MISCELLANY.

THE OUTREMANCHE CORRESPONDENCE.

No. VI.

A FEW FAILURES.

a

MON CHER ALFRED,—The “ Reform" bubble has burst, and throughout the United Kingdom there is but one person affected by the catastrophe! As Sganarelle says in the comedy: “Voilà par sa mort un chacun satisfait !” all except Lord John Russell, the author of the little legislative deformity, who, while everybody else is rubbing his hands with delight, assists with tears at the obsequies of the innocent defunct-at once its undertaker and chief mourner-and sorrowfully exclaims, “ Il n'y que

moi seul de malheureux !” The fate of the Reform Bill of 1860 took nobody by surprise. It was a failure from the beginning, and if it lived through a second reading, the result was simply due to the forbearance of the Opposition. Carry it into committee, said they, and then see what you can do with it. Alas! the very word “committee” frightened it to death. Its history may be told in the words of Molière : "Il y avait un homme qui depuis six jours était à l'agonie : on ne savait plus que lui ordonner, et tous les remèdes ne faisaient rien; on s'avisa à la fin de lui donner de l'émétique.--Il réchappa, n'est-ce pas ?-Non, il mourut.L'effet est admirable !--Comment! il y avait six jours qu'il ne pouvait mourir, et cela le fit mourir tout d'un coup. Voulez-vous rien de plus efficace ?” The Committee on the Reform Bill was the emetic that killed it. Like Perrette's pot of milk, it strews the ground: “Adieu, veau, vache, cochon, couvée!" M. Bright, however, is not discouraged. The session, he says, has not been barren. Who ever supposed so ? Barren, indeed! Why, the harvest of legislative folly has yielded the most plenteous crop on record. It has witnessed the passing of M. Gladstone's free-trade budget, and M. Cobden's free-trade treaty, either of which, to use the words of M. Bright, is “sufficient to immortalise” its author. Yes ! But there are two kinds of immortality. The recollection of evil is as enduring as the memory of its opposite. It remains to be seen in which category we shall place the budget of M. Gladstone and the treaty of M. Cobden. As the Times very pertinently remarks: “Nobody knows better than M. Bright that this Manchester Treaty, this achievement of a session, this immortality of a minister, is a universally admitted failure.”

“Blessings on the man,” says honest Sancho Panza, “who first invented sleep!” Without invoking a blessing on his head, the man deserves celebrity who first invented the entente cordiale between France and England, by which I mean that pacific form of words whose meaning must be read backwards. The entente cordiale! Since the promulgation of which phrase suspicion has pervaded every act of alleged amity of

VOL. XLVIII.

B

either government. Would you have any more striking proof of this than the inquiry into the best mode of defending England against French invasion, simultaneously carried on with the negotiations for a commercial treaty? Which of these two is the reality, which the sham? The Treaty offers quasi advantages ; but the Report of the Defence Commission involves an immediate application to the national breechespocket, than which nothing can be more real. Twelve millions of money is the initiative demand towards setting that house in order, the cupboards of which it is proposed to fill with damaged or otherwise worthless commodities. Coventry may reasonably differ with Manchester as to the value of a treaty whose earliest operation paralyses a most important branch of British industry, but there can be no difference of opinion between silk-weavers and cotton-spinners on the subject of a payment which affects both of them alike. This, however, is not exactly the question which I propose to consider at present. I am thinking of the character of the Report contained in the blue-book now lying before me, and the conclusions to be drawn from it.

To my apprehension it has all the air of a confession of utter impotence, combined with a most astonishing amount of polite imbecilitythe last-named quality not chargeable upon the Royal Commissioners, who have only done what they were ordered to do, but due to the go. vernment that indiscreetly allowed the Report to be published. To be sure they did their best to keep it from the knowledge of the public as long as they could, but when the nature of the revelations which it makes are considered, common sense alone should have dictated the necessity of keeping them secret. How often does one see a cabinet minister rise in the House of Commons and refuse what are called "papers,” because their production would be injurious to the public service; and yet, here, on a subject so vital as the preservation of the country from foreign attack, everything is exposed to the gaze of the first foreigner who can read a word of English. I shall, perhaps, be told that this open-mouthed sincerity is an evidence that the entente cordiale actually exists; but is it not a rather curious mode of bestowing your confidence on a friend when you give him, at the same time, the reasons why you suspect him of harbouring the most iniquitous designs against you? To me it appears that the act of publishing this blue-book, with all its explanatory details and elucidatory maps, conveying every possible kind of information that ought to be withheld, is about as sage a proceeding as if I were to say to the thief who, I felt certain, intended to rob my house, “Here is the key of my street-door ; when you enter, walk straight along the passage for a few yards, then turn into the room on the left where my plate and money are İying about, and help yourself to everything you can lay your hands on; you need not be afraid—there is no dog on the premises, and I can't afford to keep a private watchman.” So far, however, from keeping the dangerous knowledge to themselves, Lord Palmerston's cabinet, I am persuaded, sent over the proof-sheets of the Report to the Emperor Napoleon, wet from the press the moment they received them, with the polite request, no doubt, that he would correct and return them at lei. sure. Perhaps the English ministers thought that whether their excellent ally were made acquainted with the helplessness of the country they governed through their means or his own, made in the end but little

difference ; perhaps they did not like the responsibility attaching to the fact that they alone knew the weakness of which the nation was ignorant; but whatever the cause, the blue-book is à la portée de tout le monde, to make the best or the worst of it, as events may determine. The “worst of it,” I should say, will be the result, and for a very simple reason. Could the recommendations of the commissioners be immediately carried out, or would the enemy be kind enough to wait until the national defences are constructed, à la bonne heure! Everything, then, would be, as the English say,

“all right!" But if the expected invasion be not a myth, if Monsieur un tel be not a bugbear and nothing more, is it probable that time will be granted ? That reputation for astuteness which notre maître enjoys, that promptitude in plucking the pear when ripe for which he is so famous, that dexterity in seizing upon occasion which he constantly develops, would all be so many useless gifts if he did not utilise them when there was the greatest necessity for turning them to account. Supposing—and I for one do suppose it--that he really intends to humble England, what a Nicodème of an emperor he would be if he deferred his attack till every preparation was made for giving him a warm reception ! The defensive works on which the Royal Commissioners insist, “cannot be got ready,” they state, “ for the next three or four years,” and as all the world knows that 1861, au plus tard, is the date at which the defeat of Waterloo is to be avenged, the Report on the Defences of England was the only thing wanting to ensure the successful issue of that intention. With the most perfect bonhomie is pointed out the precise spots where the enemy can most advantageously land, the most convenient hour and the best manner of landing are indicated, and the most useful hints as to the mode of attack are offered. If the enemy should prefer a descent on the mainland with the view of marching direct upon London, three hundred miles of undefended coast, between the Humber and Penzance, are quite at his service ; if the Isle of White prove more attractive, on account of its proximity to Cherbourg, Sandown Bay is named as the best place for his purpose, because only one wretched old fort exists there to prevent it; and should he have a fancy for taking the bull at once by the horns--that is to say, for attacking Portsmouth suggestions are freely made as to the safest mode of bombarding that arsenal, specifying the exact distance at which the dockyard could be destroyed, and laying down the approaches to it with a degree of frankness and precision which reflects the highest honour on the candour and good-nature of the commissioners. The Report, under existing circumistances, consists, in fact, of a series of recommendations addressed to the enemy-ourselves, mon cher--rather than to the British Parliament; for, with the best disposition possible to defend their country, the Parliament cannot make money do the work of time, however lavishly the former may be expended.

The inevitable conclusion from all this is, that the Report is as great a failure as either the Reform Bill or the Treaty of Commerce. The commisisioners appear never to have seriously asked themselves or each other what it is that constitutes the real defence of a nation. True to their instincts for the engineering element predominates in the commission—they place their whole reliance in fortifications, and not in the strong arms and indomitable courage of their countrymen. Panic is the prevailing characteristic of the Report. They begin by decrying the efficiency of the royal navy; they anticipate defeat at sea; they predict a successful, if not an unopposed landing; they feel certain that the entire issue of the ex. pected invasion rests upon a pitched battle somewhere between the south coast and London, the result of which they have no manner of doubt will be in our favour; and knowing all this, with the knowledge which men possess who take counsel only of fear, they advise an extravagant expenditure on a series of useless fortifications, which, if their enemy have the slightest vous, will never by any chance be attacked. Amongst other brilliant remarks, the commissioners, whose only idea of defence is a brick-and-mortar remedy, observe as follows on the volunteer movement, which is fast becoming a national feature of England. After damning the movement with faint praise, they say: " It must, however, be borne in mind that such a body of men must necessarily, at the commencement of a struggle, be unable to meet the regularly disciplined soldiers of continental armies on anything like equal terms." True enough this, as regards “the commencement of a struggle,” but when do the commissioners expect that the struggle is to begin? According to their own showing, it ought not to take place for the next three or four years, or what becomes of their own elaborate system of fortifications? It strikes me that volunteers, however hastily raised, are more likely to be useful to their country than fortifications which are not begun. The commissioners make Time their ally in developing their peculiar notions, but they altogether ignore its aid when they speak of volunteer efficiency. But see what Time—and how little of it-has effected in the formation of these free corps already! Last autumn there was scarcely an Englishman, not a professed soldier, who knew his right hand from his left; at this present midsummer, a hundred and twenty thousand disciplined riflemen, armed and equipped at their own proper cost, are ready to take the field against the foe, little caring whether the terms be “equal” or the reverse, but tolerably confident, to use an English expression, that they can give a good account of him. If, then, the movement progresses— and, after the display in Hyde Park before the Queen the other day, none but the Defence Commissioners can doubt its progress—and the threatened invasion be delayed, not for “three or four years,” but for one year only, what is to prevent an army of volunteer riflemen from being equal in military value to any troops in the world? How many of the Guards who fought in the Crimea had ever seen a shot fired ? In all probability, not one! Yet, when they scaled the heights of the Alma-we ourselves are the witnesses—where could you see or dream of better soldiers? And if the cause for which you fight be worth consideration, I think something like a motive for doing their best is to be found in the fact that, when the volunteer riflemen take the field, they have that to defend which has never been assailed since the time of the Norman conquest, before England was indeed a nation. Sand-bags aud fascines are very good things in their way, but those who rely upon them as their chief means of defence are certainly not the English people. I could say a good deal more about this notable Report, but I fear to tire you, mon cher, with a subject to which you are, perhaps, indifferent. I cannot, however, conclude without adverting to the final Appendix. As Lord Palmerston never makes a speech in which there is not some brilliant joke, so the

« AnteriorContinuar »