THE IMMEDIATE OUTLOOK IN FRANCE.
THE division of Monday in the French Chamber may prove to have been one of considerable importance. It is, to begin with, almost fatal to the Gambettist policy of acquiring new Colonies in all directions, and so compensating France for her losses on the Rhine. France has not the art of extracting revenue from new Colonies ; she employs too many troops, creates too many appointments " for the sons of honest men at home," and though she imposes direct taxes with more courage than we do, she always by her tariffs dries up the springs of indirect taxation. She has, for example, as M. Lanessant testifies, actually annihilated the great trade between China and Tonquin. Unless, therefore, she is prepared to pay for her Colony, she cannot keep it, and she obviously is not prepared. M. Tirard asked £800,000 for Tonquin as abso- lutely necessary, and throughout the debate it was assumed that a hostile vote would be equivalent to the surrender of the province. Nevertheless, the result was a tie, and it was only by pointing out the grave results which must follow such a vote, and himself moving its reduction by £80,000 in order to give an opportunity for a fresh one, that the Premier succeeded in securing a majority of eight. That vote signifies that the feeling against Tonquin is growing instead of diminishing. It must break the hearts of all local officials, and induce them to provide for themselves elsewhere ; and it will add a new patience and a new courage to every element of disaffection in the dependency itself. Tonquin, it is now almost certain, will be abandoned at last, and with it must end Gambetta's splendid dream of converting all Indo-China, including Tonquin, Cochin China, Cambodia, Siam, and Upper Burmah, into one vast dependency, almost as extensive and quite as rich as India north of the Nerbudda. It was the dream of a capacious mind, and had the circumstances been but a little more propitious, and the French conscript a little better fitted for conquest in the tropics, it might have been realised ; but it has obviously failed, and will probably not be revived for many years to come. No ruler of France, however successful, will ever popularise expeditions which consume conscripts without bringing glory, or will fail to see that if France wants terri- tory, it lies at her doors, in the rich plains and richer valleys occupied rather than inhabited by the dwindling tribes of Morocco.
The shake to the forward Colonial policy of France is most severe, and this is not the only result of the division. It never could have occurred if two of the three parties in the Chamber had not made up their minds that the Tirard Ministry should be overthrown. A majority against the vote would have crushed the Cabinet at once, and though the crisis was staved off, a modern Government dependent on a representative body cannot go on with a majority of eight scraped together by Ministerial threats, and swollen, it is said, by an extreme dislike to spoil a "dinner of reconciliation " between M. Floquet and the Russian Ambassador by a Parliamentary crisis. It is intended, accord- ing to statements from many sides, that M. Tirard should go, and should be succeeded by M. Floquet ; and in that change the whole question of peace or war may be found to be in- volved. France, if by "France " we mean the majority of Frenchmen, does not, we are convinced, wish war ; but the directing classes are less peaceful, and the initiative rests with them. The whole of this " reconciliation " business— which is much less of a social comedy than it looks to English- men—is intended to pave the way for a Franco-Russian alliance, and a Franco-Russian alliance, however defensive in its avowed objects, will encourage every Chauvinist in France, and greatly increase Prince Bismarck's almost morbid apprehension of a future attack. He has dreamt of this precise danger for seventeen years, and is even now organising the last available Reserves of Germany, on the plea that it may be necessary to defend both frontiers at the same time, with a million of men on each. He said that openly in his speech, naming France and Russia as the foes whose joint attack he dreaded. A Franco-Russian alliance would make him the most suspicious of mankind, and at the same time deprive him of half his means of controlling that military party which in Germany, as in Austria, doubts the expediency of allowing Russia to roll her masses westward, and so to gain from the delay all that Germany gains from her perfect
organisation. If the Russian Army, say the German Staff officers, can be quietly concentrated in Western Russia with adequate supplies, half her difficulties will have dis- appeared.
Moreover, such an alliance, if it could be arranged, won/a greatly increase the danger from the Russian side in a way hardly yet pointed out. The leaders of the military party, which is the most active if not the strongest in Russia, are as well aware as the Emperor himself that Central Europe, united and in arms, is too strong for them. They might be thrown. back to the Dnieper, and lose the results of nearly two cen- turies of campaigning and diplomacy. But they think that " Central Europe" without Germany is a mere phrase, and that if France will but neutralise Germany, the contest with Austria and Italy is not beyond their powers. In. fact, they hope for an amazing victory. They may be utterly wrong ; we are not pretending to give a military opinion on. a matter which perplexes the greatest experts ; but that is- the Russian impression, and the French alliance once secured,. the Russian Generals would redouble their pressure on the- Emperor, not, indeed, to attack Austria, but to disregard' Austria, and settle the Balkan questions by main force. If Austria should then attack, so much the worse for Austria. It is not at all unnatural that they should press this point. They are not thinking, like Englishmen, of the natural rights of Bulgarians, or of Roumanian liberties, or of the general good of the world, but of the Russian failure to con- trol a petty State whose submission, owing to its geographical position, is essential to Russians. They fought for it, they say,. and they, therefore, ought to have it, more especially if, as- Prince Bismarck says, that was the understood meaning of the Treaty of Berlin. They care nothing about Roumania, which. they walked through in 1877, but want to " vindicate the honour and prestige of Russia " in the State they liberate& from Turkey. To shrink from doing so merely from fear of Austria is, they think, evidence of weakness. It must be ex- cessively difficult for a Russian Emperor who relies upon the Army, who is nervously anxious for the prestige of his throne, and who remembers, what Englishmen forget, the history' of his house, a house more threatened with palace re- volutions than any European dynasty, to resist pressure- such as this. So long as the Emperor can point to the huge- mass of force opposed to him, reason is so evidently on his- side that his decision is necessarily final ; but the moment that, mass cracks, his reasoning becomes—to patriotic Russians, at all events—much leas clear ; and that it would crack a little under the weight of a Franco-Russian alliance is obvious. It is all very well for us to believe that, even with France in movement, Germany could help Austria ; but Russians believe- the two Powers to be very nearly equal, and draw deductions as to their fitting policy from that datum.
But France desires no war ? That is the best security of Europe, and if the people were to be consulted, would prove, we think, a valid one. They could and, as we believe, would remove any Ministry ready to risk war, and so prevent the Russian alliance either from being formed or from bearing fruit. But would the people be really consulted ? Would they not be told that the alliance was purely defensive, and was the only valid security for France, once more threatened by those insidious Germans and Italians? Frenchmen rapidly catch an alarm, and once alarmed, the national disposition is to rush to action, a disposition not decreased by the popular belief in the new Army. Certainly in Paris the disposition is to welcome the Russian alliance, to push obstacles out of its way, to regard it as the only fitting and honourable answer to the alliance of Central Europe. That is a mood in which an.
alliance becomes possible, even though dangers may be visible, beyond it ; and though there are a hundred obstacles in the way, one at least being the incurable distrust of French, Radicalism entertained at the Russian Court, they may yet be all surmounted. M. Floquet may be entirely peaceful ; the Radicals may shrink at the last moment from making soldiers supreme ; or the silent peasantry may find an imperative voice and insist on peace ; but at present it looks as if the managers of the French Chamber intended to supersede. M. Tirard by a Ministry inclined to run all the risks involved in an alliance with Russia, secret or avowed. That is evidently the impression of the correspondents, and it is difficult not to' believe that in giving away Tonquin, the Right and the
Radicals were actuated by a feeling that every soldier in the service would shortly be wanted at home. They most have desired to liberate a corps trartne'e, as well as to pass a marked affront on their still dreaded enemy, M. Ferry..