LORD DE GREY'S ADMINISTRATION OF THE WAR OFFICE.
go THE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR."] November 15, 1865. Sin,—Will you allow me to set right one or two trifling slips in your last week's article on "The Ministry at War." The office that Colonel Bentinck has been appointed to is not " the In- spector-Generalship " in Dublin, but what is known as "Inspect- ing Field Officer." The duties of this post are simply those of senior recruiting officer of a district. It is not a high or dignified appointment: in fact, if a full Colonel was to be brought back from the half-pay list at all, I know of no humbler door than this through which he could re-enter. In other respects your article, though taking the same view as several other leading journals, presents such a marked contrast in tone and temper to what they have written, that I will ask you to let me shortly question your conclusion that Lord De Grey, though eminently successful as an administrator, has shown himself too " accessible to private influences" (as some of those writers who wish him well phrase it) for the great and difficult office of Secretary at War. First, then, has Horse Guards' influence prevailed during his tenure of office? Let me ask, with respect to the Volunteer movement, with which Lord De Gray's name is specially connected, and of which indeed he has had the guiding from the very first, whether point after point, from 1800 down to the present time, has not been carries against the opinion and in the face of the influence of the Horse Guards? Had I space I could illustrate this by a dozen instances, but I must pass on, as the subject is a large one.
Next, whatever writers in the Times may say, it is notorious that the rule vacating Staff appointments after five years has always been unpopular at the Horse Guards, and that successive Secretaries at War have had much trouble in enforcing it. Lord De Grey has extended that rule to the civil departments of the army ; while the late retirement of Sir R. Airey, in spite of protest from the highest quarters, proves that big fish have not been able to break the net which has held the smaller fry. Does this look as if the Secretary at War were too pliable to the Horse Guards?
Take one more illustration. Lord De Grey has established regi- mental libraries and reading-rooms, and no one who has ever seen them can doubt that a greater boon was never given to the army. These institutions have seemed matters of small moment at the Horse Guards, and I venture to think, Sir, that no pliant or weak minister could ever have carried them through successfully. In all these instances I quite admit that there has been no collision between the two authorities, although the one has always carried the day, and I claim this as the highest praise which can be given to Lord De Grey. What we want is, the hand of steel in the silk glove.
And now as respects other outside influences, apart from the Horse Guards, how stands the case? You mention the chicken- hazard scandal as though it were a trifling matter. I believe that the summary dismissal of two civil servants of such high standing without retiring pensions stands alone in the late annals of our great offices : and it was notorious, and if I mistake not, you, Sir, noticed the fact at the time, that very severe Parliamentary and social pressure was exercised to obtain some relaxation of the sentence. No relaxation was obtained.
The re-organization of a great office is perhaps as onerous and thankless a work as can fall to the lot of any statesman. Lord De Grey's "sterner and less pliant predecessors" had at any rate never undertaken it, and when he succeeded Sir G. Lewis proba- bly no great department ever stool more in need of reconstruction. The least expert of your readers will understand this when they hear that the branches of "Account" and " Audit" were not distinct —in other words, that the Accountant-General audited his own accounts. Lord De Grey has nearly finished the re-organi- zation of the office, and in doing so he has entirely separated the branches of " account " and "audit," has abolished a number of practices which savoured of the circumlocution office, and has brought the War Office more thoroughly into conformity with the recommendations of the Civil Service Commission, especially in the matter of examinations, than any other of the great departments of the civil service. One effect of, this recon- struction has been, that a certain number of gentlemen have found the work of their appointments by no means so easy as it used to be, and that the services of others have been altogether dispensed with. You will surely own, Sir, that a pliable minister bidding for popularity would have never faced such a job as this. Another effect of the reconstruction has been that Lord De Grey has absolutely destroyed his own patronage for the time, in proof of which I think I am not mistaken in stating that he has not ap- pointed a clerk for upwards of a year, and that he has never appointed a barrackmaster.
I could go into many other matters if I were desirous of show- ing the amount of good work which Lord De Grey has done while in office, such as the perfecting of military gymnastics, and the change in the canteen system, which has delivered the soldier from the clutches of publicans and brewers, but my point at present is simply, that the charge of pliability is not only un- supported by, but is in the teeth of, evidence. Even in this last charge as to the appointment of Colonel l3entinck, I own it seems to me that it adds one more proof of Lord De Grey's independence of external influence. In judging of this case we must remember that he was not in office at the date of the Robertson Court-martial, and that since the court-martial Captain Robertson has had to leave the service under very unpleasant cir- cumstances. In making the appointment, then, Lord De Grey must have well known that he was braving public opinion, though the professional opinion of the army was with him. He has done so deliberately, and has brought nearly the whole press of the country on his back ; but those who know something of his official career may hope to be heard in your columns, if not elsewhere, and may ask that he shall be tried by facts patent to all the world, and not by the rhetorical statements of writers whose business it is skilfully to create the opinion to which they pretend to appeal. I know that you like fair play, and therefore ask for a hearing, though I have no authority whatever to defend Lord De Grey, and may therefore sign myself on this occasion, in a double sense, A VOLDNTEER.