OUR MARITIME STRENGTH.
NO man ever quite attains his own ideal. That seems to be the root of the chorus of criticism which always breaks out when the Naval Estiniates are produced, and which almost convinces timid people that Great Britain, with all her expenditure on her marine, has not an efficient navy. The national ideal has for some years been a navy, chiefly of iron- clads, stronger than the navies of any two Posiers, composed of invulnerable ships each able to destroy an opponent with- out injury to itself, each able to Sail to the Pacific if necessary, each as swift as a despatch-boat, and all together costing about eight millions a year. Nobody, however, ever gets his ideal, this nation has not got it, and never will get it, and the real point for discussion is whether its efforts secure any reasonable or sufficiently reasonable approach towards its end. Lord Clarence Paget, as spokesman for the Goverunient, says that so much at least has been obtained. The nation, he says, will by the end of this year possess a total of thirty iron-clads, all of the first class in one way or another,- though four are intended only for harbour -defence, and four cannot be sent to great distances becatise they are so large that out of England they could not be docked. Docks, however, are to be built both at Malta and Bermuda, by which that defect will be remedied. In additibi to this line-of-battle fleet there will be seven armed vessels built entirely for speed, on a model improved from that of the Alabama, and intended entirely for the protection of com- merce. This is the vessel which of all others private yards can beet turn out, and it is useless therefore to overdo their construction. In addition to all this force there is a wooden steam fleet, hereafter to be found perhaps more useful than some critics believe, admitted to be superior to any wooden fleet in existence. To man them we have 69,750 men, be- sides 17,000 enrolled in the reserve, and training schools which turn out some 2,000 most efficient seamen a year. This great force, immense when we consider that Secretary Welles in the fourth year of war registers only 17,000 American- born seamen, comprises a proportion of " expert " gunners which has doubled in two years, and is as a body so orderly that the demand for good-conduct pay rises every year till it becomes an appreciable weight upon the finances. All this we obtain at an expense stated in round numbers of ten millions a year, which again is in course of steady reduction from two causes. The "conversion" of the fleet is getting itself done, very slowly indeed, but still getting done, and as it gets done the number of men employed decreases. The iron-clads do not want so many men, but need more thoroughly qualified men,—in fact, to use Lord Clarence Paget's strong illustration, " skilled labour is being substituted for brute force." Finally, behind and beyond all this enormous pro- vision of ships and docks, and men and material, rests the still greater provision now in private hands, a provision large enough to fit out a great war in a twelvemonth, and all available for money, though doubtless after a certain loss of time.
It seems a very satisfactory statement that, and the only question is whether it is all quite true, whether ships, and men, and material exist anywhere except in Lord Clarence Paget's speeches. Sir john Pakington, in his capacity of First Lord in Opposition, is inclined to question that ; that is to say, he does not believe the men are not there, or the ships, or the stores, but he alleges that they cannot be put to use. There are the men, he says, but they are never at hand when wanted ; there are the ships, only they can neither fight nor sail; and there are the guns, but they burst. Of course, as the natural and fitting depositary of every whisper of discontent and every non-official criticism, he makes out some part of his case. The Admiralty does of course occasionally make blunders and very often throw away money, is subject to fits of experiment not always conducive to efficiency, and is apt to build a very fine ship not exactly fitted for the immediate work to be done. There are vessels of course not fully plated, and vessels which being fully plated " pitch a good deal," and vessels which when holes are made in them sink more inches than their constructor approves, and the multipli- cation of such criticisms makes the case look very serious. But still the unprofessional public, looking at the matter in a broad way, will we think decide that on the whole the balance of evidence rests with the Government, not the Whig, or the Tory Government, but the Govern- ment. They will remember that when the last great com- mittee sat on naval expenditure they found plenty of evidence of waste, but they also found that one main cause of waste was an over-profusion of good work, that, as one great shipowner said, Government ships " were three times as good" as they needed to be. How should it be otherwise? A very great though clumsy organization is supplied with almost limitless means of building ships, which it has the strongest official interest in building well an•i very little interest in building cheaply. The natural result will be as an average very dear ships and very good ships, and that we cannot but think will, in the event of war, be found to be the case in England. The nation has not reached its ideal, but is as near it as any other nation, is tending under criticism closer towards it, and is obtaining meanwhile a fleet strong enough to meet any call worth the cost of providing against. Expense and delay, not failure of out-turn, are the characteristic faults of the British Admiralty.