THE DUKE OF DEVONSHIRE'S ANTHOLOGY. T HERE is a characteristic sentence
in the Duke of Devonshire's speech at the Guildhall which contrasts unintentionally, but very happily, two different roads by which the fiscal controversy can be approached. The Duke, referring to a certain speech in the House of Lords, described it as made "before I had been able to give to it [the fiscal question] as much thought as I have since endeavoured to do." There we have in a nutshell the process by which the Duke of Devonshire makes up his mind on new controversies. In the first instance, like other people, he takes a side in accordance with such lights as he has. But, unlike some other people, he is not content with these lights. He sets to work to clear, to strengthen, to add to them. He gives to the subject all the thought he can bring to bear on it. He looks at it all round. He compares and harmonises the various con- clusions which his inquiries suggest. He applies to them all the tests with which experience and observation furnish him. And as a result of all this his knowledge of the subject not only grows, but becomes more accurate in pro- portion to its growth. He is not the slave of his own first impressions. He is not mastered and carried captive by the arguments that he first happened to use. That is one road to the fiscal controversy. There is another, along which Mr. Chamberlain is the most conspicuous traveller. Here there is no real progress because there is no real thought. The side is chosen, indeed, in the first instance, in accordance with such lights as the traveller has ; but having used his lights in this fashion, he remains per- fectly satisfied with them. He sets up one argument after another for the course he has determined on, but he is at no pains to reconcile them with each other. His policy grows, but it grows only by the addition of fresh incon- sistencies, until in the end it assumes the proportions and the character of a collection of lantern-slides,—a fresh picture for each successive audience, with no connecting link beyond the fact that they travel from platform to platform in the same box, and are drawn from it at the fancy of the same exhibitor.
If we had to single out the best points of the Duke's speech, we should be inclined to instance his singularly happy quotations. There were three of them, and every one of them told. The first was from a petition addressed by the merchants of London to the House of Commons more than eighty years ago, which might have been drawn up after a careful study of Mr. Chamberlain's proposals. About 1820 this country was rejoicing in a policy hardly dis- tinguishable from that to which the Tariff Reform League is urging us to return. The object of the Government was to "exclude the productions of other countries, with the specious and well-meant design of encouraging its own productions," and with the result that the consumers who formed the bulk of the community had to submit to "priva- tions in the quantity or quality of commodities." This disas- trous policy had its origin in the mistaken belief that for every increase in our imports there is a corresponding reduction in our home production, whereas since every import implies a corresponding export, "there would be an encouragement, for the purpose of that exportation, of some production to which our situation might be better suited." The London merchants of nearly three genera- tions ago probably looked forward to a time when common- sense and experience would bring these truths to the knowledge of their countrymen. What they certainly did not dream of is that after these truths had gained complete acceptance for nearly sixty years they would be challenged by a popular politician, and be rejected at his single bidding by a large number of Englishmen. These merchants of London were the slaves of no shibboleth, they had not been led astray by anybody's "unadorned eloquence." They were simply hard-headed men of business observing, analysing, and explaining a situation with which they were in daily contact. Their single merit is that they understood where the shoe pinched and where the pressure ought to be taken away. It will be well if the citizens of London to-day have as clear a vision of the facts around them, and will lay as weighty a document before the House of Commons.
Some twenty years later we have a remarkable picture of the results of Protection drawn by the Common Council of the City of London. It is from this that the Duke of Devonshire makes his second quotation. All that Free-trade is alleged to be bringing us to was realised in 1842 under Protection,—" manufacturers without a market, shipping without freights, capital without investment, trade without profit a working population rapidly increasing, and a daily de- creasing demand for its labour." The greatest pessimist among Mr. Chamberlain's supporters does not claim that this is a true picture of the actual condition of England. He only warns us that this is what will overtake us if we do not learn by experience and impose Protective duties. But experience refuses to teach the lesson Mr. Chamberlain seeks to draw from it. Whether Free-trade will or will not bring us to this sad plight, it is certain that Protection will not keep us out of it, because Protection has been proved to bring about precisely the same consequences. Free-trade may be as big with disaster as Mr. Chaplin and Sir Howard Vincent love to make out, but the remedy will not be found in the quarter where they would have us look for it. The utmost they can maintain is that dissimilar causes sometimes produce similar effects. Protection and Free-trade may both spell ruin ; but all that is positively known is that Protection actually did spell it, and this is hardly a reason for going back to it if Free-trade fails.
The Duke's third quotation was from the minority Re- port of a Royal Commission appointed nineteen years ago to inquire into the causes of the then existing commercial depression. The majority of the Commission were as blind to the mischiefs of the present fiscal system as the most prejudiced Free-trader of to-day. But the minority was a minority of prophets. There were but four of them, but those four can only be described as Mr. Chamberlain in commission. Everything that he dis- covered in 1903 they knew and warned us of in 1885. In their Report "you will find every statement, every inference, every argument contained which is now being put forward as a remedy for all our commercial and industrial evils." These four prophets the greater were made uneasy, as Mr. Chamberlain is, by our diminishing exports and our increasing imports. They shared his dread of the competition of the happy countries that are blessed with Protective tariffs. They were equally disturbed by the impending want of employment for English working men, and equally ready to find the explanation of it in "dumping." Nor can the authors of this minority Report be accused of calling up spectres which they had not the power to lay. Not only was their diagnosis of the malady identical with Mr. Chamberlain's ; the treatment they suggested was identical also. They, too, were of opinion that salvation would be found in Colonial preference, in moderate duties on food, in a 10 per cent. duty on every manu- factured article imported. The Duke of Devonshire may well wonder that Mr. Chamberlain "should never by a single word have expressed his sense of his obligations to his predecessors in this field of labour, and never have recognised the superior prescience and sagacity which enabled these four gentlemen eighteen years ago to anticipate every argument he has used and every remedy which he has proposed." What Mr. Chamberlain has been spending the summer and autumn in expounding is no discovery of his own. He has merely picked up the key of the room in which the Old Guard of Protection stored their antiquated weapons, and brought them out as though they were new arms of precision. Now that he has placed them in his followers' hands he can only await the dis- charge, and wonder, as he gazes on the Nile sunsets, who will be the sufferers by the explosion.