A PERENNIAL GRIEVANCE.
DOES anyone remember a period when patriotic gentlemen of a maritime turn were not perennially anxious about the Manning of the Navy ? And in what we may call ancient days, before the war fever had broken out all over the globe, that is, before '48 and '51, there was good reason for solicitude and ample cause for the spasmodic action which characterked alike Admiralty and Parliament, scared by the fact that men,. of-war lay weeks in port unable to collect a crew. But the anxiety seems scarcely less now that we have the germ of a great system in luxuriant growth, and commissioned ships can be manned in a moment. And the reason is not far to- seek. Partly it lies in the wholesome tendency to grumble, and thus keep official people up to the mark,—at all event& on the alert ; partly in constitutional practice, which obliges the adreinia. trators who are out to criticise the administrators who are in ; partly in the natural crave of the shipowners to obtain large supplies of better seamen by participating in the fruits of official labours ; and partly in the praiseworthy tendency of inde- pendent amateurs to scrutinise and improve a Service so vital to the commonweal. The result of all this activity is that we are not likely to go to the bad without knowing it, or for want of plenteous advice ; and undoubtedly constant troubling of the pool does bring out its virtues. But it does not follow that the Navy is in a critical condition because critics abound. The fact merely shows on the face of it that the Talking Apparatus is moved to display its interest and apply a healthy stimulus to the Government. Annually Mr. Graves moves for inquiry and propounds extensive views, animated by patriotism, for he is British to the core, but also inspired on behalf of himself and his constituents by a not unreasonable desire to pro- mote the special interests of the Mercantile Marine. And there is much to be said on that side of the question, for it is in the Mercantile Marine that our great reserve forces of seafaring people are to be found ; from thence they must be taken whenever there is a great stress produced by a great war. But how far the State should interfere with the laws of supply and demand in order to supplement the exertions of shipowners is a question to be handled delicately, lest in the process we go back to the bounty system in a new form. The State is bound to train up or obtain an adequate supply of effective sailors for the public service ; it may be politic to aid the shipowners, but clearly it is no more incumbent on Government to provide mercantile crews than factory hands or agricultural labourers.
Whatever may be the case with the Mercantile Marine, it does not appear that the Military Marine is suffering from want of personnel. First, as to numbers. We have 18,000 able seamen, quite enough for all practical purposes. At the back of these there are the training-ships, educating yearly 3,500 boys, that is, furnishing a career to youths who might otherwise encumber the land. The training-ships are the well-head of supply, and it is practically inexhaustible. On the other side, there are more than four thousand Coastguard- men all ready for sea, all sea-going sailors ; in addition, as Mr. Childers reminded the House, there are the pensioners, hundreds of whom are still vigorous and efficient, although verging on the forties ; and further, there are the First Naval Reserve,-12,000 picked men out of the 72,000 able seaman in the mercantile ships. So that virtually there are some 50,000 men, good and true and trained, ready to come when you do call for them,---spirits from the vasty deep who have that advantage over Owen Glendower's mysterious allies. So far as regards numbers. But quantity is not enough. What is their quality ? On this head we have the testimony of Mr. Graves and Mr. Norwood, as opposed to that of Mr. Henley, who has a distressing tendency to believe in the general deterioration of Britons living under a Liberal regime and subjected to new-fangled experiments. Mr. Graves testifies that the able seamen in the Navy are at least equal to the sea-doge who won Tree falgar. He says they never were surpassed in steadiness, skill, and intelligence. As fighting men they have not been teiecl, but what reason is there to suppose that they differ from their race ? None at all. Courage is common enough, and these men have natural bravery hardened and quadrupled by discipline. Up to this point we are tolerably well provided, having fair numbers and excellent quality. We should be able to strike a powerful stroke at the beginning of a war and still have something in hand. Independently of the employed and retained force, we have, in the Mercantile Marine, 197,000 men of all sorts, 60,000 of whom, Reserve men being deducted, are able seamen ; and on our coasts 150,000 fisher folk ; a mass of rude available power far exceeding that any other country could show. We are, therefore, absolutely out of the region of anxiety.
But that is no ground for any relaxation in our endeavours not merely to preserve what has been secured, but to advance towards a less uncertain system. The principle on which our Naval and Military institutions alike depend is voluntary enlist- ment. Mr. Childers says he is one of those old-fashioned people who believe it to be the duty of every man to take a share in the defence of his country. The maxim earns lip service from all ; it is also the common law of the land ; but in practice the principle of compulsion is at a discount. Nowhere is it acted on. Nobody in England is compelled to do any- thing except serve on a jury and pay taxes. All other duties are got done through the process of natural selection. We may be drifting towards the enforcement of admitted duties, but we are a long way from port. In the meantime, here is the voluntary system, and we are at least bound by the law of self-preservation to make the most of it. Accordingly we do not issue decrees, we offer money or social status, or both. We enhance the inducements, raise the price in the market, lower the standard of height, give additional facilities, make the doing of national duties as easy as possible. Mr. Goschen's modified rules for the First and Second-Class Reserves are all in that direction. And since compulsion is not the order of the day, since we have got only as far as comparatively small standing forces ashore and afloat, and large reserves, it is moat desirable that the motives which operate to make the Reserves large should be powerful. The State desires to have as many men as possible under obligations to serve the public. Upon the voluntary principle there is no mode of securing the end save by money ; if the bulk of the community won't do common duties, they must pay for the doing thereof ; and as real reserves are in- dispensable to national safety, real reserves are worth paying for. From this point of view any help rendered to the ship- owner that is not a waste, but an investment of public resources, is justifiable. The plan suggested by Mr. Chichester Fortescue—plan based on payment for results—demands the hearty co-operation of the shipping interest. If they are to be assisted they must give a quid pro quo, they must provide that the boys paid for enter the Reserve, and must allow them the requisite time for drill. The suggestion of common naval schools for both Services, Mr. Graves's pet notion, looks handsomer and more like a national scheme, especially as the pick of the schools are to be given up to the Navy, and the rest retained for the Commercial Marine, the expense being borne jointly by the State and private persons. But no one seems to have an idea of the cost, and even if it were cheap, the plan would be inadmissible, unless the Admiralty set the standard of acquirements, dictated the conditions of manage- ment, and exercised a minute supervision. The Admiralty appears to be tending even towards that development of the voluntary system, the governing fact being that we must have adequate effective Reserves.
The novelty in the projects now before the country is the proposal to establish Naval Volunteers analogous to the Military Volunteers. The very name, of course, implies a farther extension of the principle in the efficacy of which we do not all believe. The notion meets with approval on all sides, but there is at present little on the part of those who alone can give it a substantial existence,—the shipowners. Govern- ment, however, is ready to second the experiment with the essentials, ships and officers ; is ready to send the gunboats to the Volunteers instead of bringing them to the gunboats ; has, indeed, already prepared regulations, and no doubt has esti- mates to present to Parliament, due encouragement being forthcoming. But it has not come. The projectors want a stimulus in the shape of a Sailor Prince, would like Prince Alfred to place himself at the head of the movement. We see no objection to that, except that the Duke of Edinburgh will one day be a German Prince. But that objection has little weight, since as soon as he succeeds his uncle he will cease to hold any official position here, just as his great-uncle did when he became King of Hanover. There is no reason why Naval volunteering should not be tried, for if it suc- ceeded, the defence of the coasts would become easy, and the strength of the Empire would be doubled by the acquisition of perfect security. That would be obtained by torpedoes, Glattons, gun-carriage, men-of-war of light draught, and effective coast volunteers. Nevertheless, all would depend upon the vitality of the voluntary system, which involves the paradox that duty is a thing which may be done or not done, at the will of the persons under national obligations.