TOPICS OF THE DAY.
BARON REUTER'S BARGAIN.
FAS anybody a nice little planet anywhere for sale ? 1 Because if he has, Baron Reuter will make him a fair bid for all the sulphur or mines it may contain, and all the springs it yields, will cover it with engineers, and will raise a loan for its speedy and final junction to the earth. We used in days not long past to think Mr. Parish rather spirited for buying in Canada a million acres in a block ; rather admired Francis Baring's coolness in drawing on his father for the purchase of the Lake of Mexico, in order to turn its shores into market gardens,—for which the great firm at home wrote him such a " wig ;" have perceived a sort of grandeur in the Rothschilds' monopoly of quicksilver ; and have written some highly laudatory words of the cool sale by Mr. Ellice of the North Pole to the Crown. Baron Reuter, however, it seems quite clear, has entirely outstripped all these feeble specula- tors, and that in a manner which can never be transcended even by Mr. Charles Reade's hero, Joshua Fullalove, " who dealt in islands considerable." Baron Reuter has bought Persia, at least everything in it worth buying, and ought to ride on Friday to Guildhall with a long broom to clear the way for the King of Kings. There never was since financing began such a contract as he has concluded with the Shah, without attracting much notice from the public. Talk as the Times does of his being Minister of Public Works,—he is all that, and proprietor of Persia too. In the first place, he has possessed himself of all Persian Customs for a period of twenty-five years, paying £20,000 more than the Government now receive during the first five years, and GO per cent. of the nett receipt for the last twenty. In other words, Baron Reuter is master of all the frontiers of Persia, can stop or encourage all her trade with Russia, Turkey, India, and the Steppe ; can, if he is a good financier —which goes on the evidence, without talking—by appoint- ing decent men to levy a 10 per cent. ad valorem tax, tithe the whole of a trade which, honesty and light taxation once guaranteed, must speedily be enormous. It is six millions even now in the Gulf alone. Why, the wheat trade alone from Kurrachee to Bushire ought to pay all expenses of col- lection in the Persian Gulf and on the Turkish frontier. This, however, the spring by which Mr. Lay so nearly mastered China, is but a trifle. For accepting this princely gift of a fortune, the Baron is to have all the State mines in Persia, and all mines owned by private persons on paying them, if the mines are unopened, the surface value of the soil, —say, nothing at all, and twopence-halfpenny for the transfer deed. Land of that kind has no price in Persia, where 4,000,000 live in a country twice the size of France. All lands necessary to the mines and to communications with the mines are handed over to the Baron free, and the solitary things kept back from him are a royalty of 15 per cent. on the out-turn, all gold and silver, and we presume, the turquoise of the Elburz. Of course, the mines may be worthless, though sulphur, to begin with, certainly exists, and if he does not find coal in a month he is a most unlucky man ; but the Baron has not reduced him- self to any such chance as that. All the State forests are his, and all the land included in the forests, and all canals, wells, or watercourses existing or to be made,—supplies upon which the very existence of the people may be made to depend. Persia needs only water, and all the land so made productive belongs to Baron Reuter, the price of the water alone being matter of consultation with the Shah. This looks like a nice extensive property, but people will say it is far off, so M. .Reuter is empowered to remedy that difficulty. The Shah concedes to him the monopoly of the right of making railways, of cutting canals, of setting up telegraphs, of erecting gas works, of improving the towns, of working the post-office,- in fact, of doing everything that corporate energy can do. His agents are promised full protection, he has behind him for workmen the millions of India, of the African coast, and of China, and he has for first setting off any reasonable amount of European capital. For though we can imagine dry capital- ists on 'Change looking glum at the guarantee of a country yielding only £1,700,000 of revenue, of which the Shah wants nearly the whole for himself, or losing it might send M. Reuter to a happier world, the interest is to be the Srst charge on the Customs, which will be in the Baron's hands, and till it is paid none of that sixty per cent. is to go to the Shah. There never was in history such a bargain made, or one which, if fully worked out, would give a concessionnaire or a Company
such a prospect of making millions. The contract reads like a story out of the " Arabian Nights."
In truth, it reads only too well. If Baron Reuter has truly obtained such a contract, which we have no reason to doubt,. and can raise a Company and a capital at all adequate to his task, he will find his first difficulty is that he must have more power still, that he must directly as well as indirectly rule Persia.. He must have such a charter as the Mogul gave Clive. He- will find within a year that he cannot raise customs without troops of his own, whose actions will be complained of at Teheran ; that he cannot make his concession and the Shah's commercial treaties coincide, that he will be in conflict at every point with the Royal authority. Russia is not going to leave her trade at the mercy of any private individual. The Shah is not going to give up his power to do as he likes, nor are his nephews. and sons, nor are his people. The Baron will need troops every- where out of the immediate range of the Shah's authority, as well to put down brigand incursions as to resist sudden caprices at Teheran which might be fatal to all his works. What is there to prevent the Shah, when the improvements are made, from complaining that his people complain, or from objecting to the import of Pagan workmen not slaves, or from pointing out- that he never intended to part with his Royal authority in any- department ? If the people of Teheran should think gas sinful,. what is to prevent his throwing Baron Reuter into the gaso- meter as a measure of popular conciliation ? We do not believe that any Eastern authority whatever, not even the Duke of Argyll, dare give up the right of control over the water when once turned on, or dare meet the incessant in- surrection which would be the consequence. The misrepre- sentation, the intrigue, the efforts after plunder, in the Palace,. would be incessant, and would in the end either prove suc- cessful, or compel the Persian Company, as they compelled the- East India Company, to defend itself by its own power, or the- power of the great Viceroyalty behind it, in either case bidding adieu to profits. It is not a concession, it is a sub-sovereignty M. Reuter is buying, and sub-sovereignties seldom succeed, the reason being that their acts affect the national life, while their motive is only a dividend. The sub-sovereignty always comes either into collision with the Royal power—and Kings of Persia are persons with strong ideas that their decrees are laws—or they declare themselves independent. There is very little objection, from our side at least, to that particular method of obtaining a permanent safeguard for India. If Baron Reuter has a Clive on his staff, let him use him by all means, but let him not delude either himself or the world as to the possibility of "regenerating Persia " without ruling it.. The first step he takes disliked by the Shah will bring down the whole fabric or change its character for that of a Royal Company ; and how in the world is he to make an irnperiu7n- in
imperio like his satisfactory to a family which has never known a check ? It is hard enough to deal with the Khedive, and with him we only come in contact on one little isthmus which he scarcely sees ; but to deal with the Kajars,—the late Shah had, we believe, 360 children,—Baron Reuter with need armies of soldiers as well as agents.