NEWS OF THE WEEK.
THE Mahdi has endeavoured to stop Sir H. Stewart's march to Shendy, and has failed. Relieved and probably excited by the capture of Omdurman, the great fortified post opposite Khartoum, the Arab leader had collected from that post, from Berber, and from Metemmeh, some 10,000 men at Abou Klea, a valley with wells in it, twenty-three miles on this side of Metemmett. When, therefore, Sir Herbert Stewart, with his 1,500 men, on the 16th inst., arrived at the head of the valley, his scouts reported an army determined to oppose his progress. Sir H. Stewart halted his men for the night ; and after a rest, disturbed by three calls to arms, left his great cavalcade of camels under guard, and advanced, with 1,300 men arranged in square, to the attack. The enemy came on in two great divisions, one of which charged furiously down the side of the valley on the square, drove in the Dragoons, who had scattered a little, by sheer impetus, and for some minutes maintained itself within the square. The English soldiers and sailors fought, however, with desperation, the officers were always in front, and the Arabs, though they showed their accustomed courage, were driven out with slaughter. They suffered, too, terribly, both in advance and in retreat, from the heavy fire. Sir Herbert Stewart, though the battle was not over till the afternoon, felt it necessary to move forward before the enemy could reform ; and, leaving a minute force to guard the wells, recommenced in a few hours his march towards Metemmeh. There, for the moment, the curtain drops,—the difficulty of sending messages without strong escort having probably been increased by the presence, near the route, of parties of defeated Arabs.
The losses on both sides in this engagement were very great, both forces having, in the literal sense of the word, been decimated. The British lost nine officers killed, including Colonel F. Burnaby and other well-known men, and nine officers wounded, sixty-five non-commissioned officers and men killed, and eighty-five wounded. This list shows 12 per cent. of all present killed or placed hors de ebazbat, most of them in a struggle—the rush into the square—which did not exceed ten minutes. In that struggle, however, the officers had to take a personal lead. On the other side, the Arabs probably lost a larger proportion of their men. The prisoners estimate their force at twenty regiments of 400 men, or 8,000 in all; but accepting it with Lord Wolseley at 10,000, they left 8 per cent, of their number, or 800, dead on the plain; and the prisoners report the number of wounded to have been "unusual," and estimate it at 1,500, of whom half at least, without doctors or hospitals, would probably perish. Unfortunately, the loss is in no way equal; for besides the comparative value of the lives taken, the Mahdi can expend many men for our one. The stories of his 150,000 men are rubbish ; but we see no reason to alter our original calculation that he disposes at El Obeid, round Khartoum, with Osman Digna, and along the Nile, of 40,000 men, who are reinforced, as men fall, by a regular system of drafts from the South. That is the old Mohammedan way, and has been described in every account from El Obeid.
There is a disposition, we perceive, to accuse Lord Wolseley of rashness in sending so small a force to Meteinmeh ; but it is unreasonable. The General could not have greatly increased the strength of Sir H. Stewart's command without endangering the water supply, which, as it was, gave out once, or without losing precious time in waiting for more camels. He had no means of knowing the precise force by which his lieutenant's march would be opposed ; while he had the means, as the event proved, of deciding that fifteen hundred men would repel and defeat any force in the least likely to oppose them. Expeditions are not to be carried out without risk ; and it is madness for Englishmen to insist, as they perpetually do, on great efforts, to insist also on making them with small forces, and then to insist that Generals shall not be audacious. If they want to make sure of victory before every battle, they must bring their Army and their expenditure up to the necessary level, and then confine themselves to certain great objects. The Cologne Gazelle says the English are getting cowardly. Abou Klea does not, look like it ; but the talk about Abou Klea does look as if we were losing moral fortitude. All honour to the dead, and all pity for their friends ; but if campaigns are to be fought, men must be expended, and officers in the largest proportion.
The Government have considered the counter-proposals of the Powers about Egyptian finance, and have forwarded a reply of which every journal gives a different account. That which looks most true is that the Government accept the permission to tax the Egyptian coupons as equivalent to a reduction in the rate of interest; that they are willing to guarantee a loan of £9,000,000 instead of £5,000,000, if that is thought expedient; that the Domain and Daira lands may remain as at present, if the Powers do not desire improvement in their position ; but that no form of Dual or Multiple Control can be allowed while the British remain in occupation. In other words, the Government adhere to Mr. Gladstone's plan of endeavouring to set Egypt on its legs by themselves and unassisted, but give way upon the minor matters of finance which interest the great loan-mongers who give M. Ferry his orders, and stand behind every other Continental Government,—except, it would seem, Italy. We do not believe that Egypt can be set on its legs, and regard the effort to place it there as a generous dream ; but granted Mr. Gladstone's point of view, we see nothing objectionable in the compromise. Suppose even we concede the International Guarantee, what does it signify ? If we are to rule Egypt we must pay-off the Debt, this £9,000,000 included ; and if we are not, fourteen endorsements on the bill will not affect its value. If there is one thing feebler than our supposed policy in Egypt—for the last word has not been said yet—it is the journalists' disposi tion to scream about it.
Mr. Parnell addressed his constituents at Cork, on Wednesday, in a speech unusually brief, cold, and important. He congratulated his audience upon the Reform Bills ; and expressed his belief that the five or six hundred thousand Irishmen who in 1886 would record their opinions would send up a strong party with which he might recover all ancient Irish rights. He intended to ask that "the industry of the Irish farmer should not be fettered by rent." The farmer, in return, must aid the struggling manufacturer of Ireland by buying goods from him, even if they were a little dearer, a duty which he had hitherto neglected. "We shall also endeavour to secure for the labourers some recognition and some right in the
land. of his country. We do not care whether it be the prejudices of the farmer or of the landlord that stand in his way. We consider that whatever class tries to obstruct the labourer in the possession of those fair and just rights to which he is entitled, that class should be put down and coerced, if you will, into doing justice to the labourer." Finally, he should ask for the restoration of Grattan's Parliament, though "that would not be the boundary to the march of the nation." Grattan's Parliament would send Mr. Parnell to the scaffold without a moment's hesitation ; but we suppose he means Grattan's Parliament, with the new electorate. The speech is made on the old lines ; but the speaker evidently feels deeply the need for new allies, makes a definite bid for the manufacturers, who would starve in a week if England excluded Irish goods, and offers to extort good terms for the labourers by the old instrument—Terror. The farmers loved that instrument when brought to bear against landlords ; but it may not seem so charming when turned against themselves. They must find the land and the new cottages for the labourers, for the landlords have no land left to do it with, and the cost will not be slight.
The Attorney-General, Sir Henry James, made a very remarkable speech at Bury on Wednesday, chiefly devoted to a refutation of the plan of "Proportional Representation." But in the early part of his speech he gave one or two remarkable evidences that since household franchise was given to the boroughs the country has certainly improved morally, and has so justified a further advance in the same direction. In the five years ending with 1864, he said, the average number of persons sentenced every year to penal servitude in England and Wales amounted to 2,800; but the number during the five years ending in 1884, for a much increased population, was only 1,400, or just one-half. Moreover, during the periods of bad trade between 1876 and 1883, when, according to the precedent of previous periods, crime should have increased, pan i passic with pauperism, though able-bodied paupers increased from 16,000 to 25,000, crime had absolutely diminished, the prisonpopulations in England and Wales having fallen from 20,400 to 16,800. And this diminution had taken place amongst the young and not amongst the old. Inthe year ending March, 1879, the male prisoners under thirty years of age averaged 9,584; but in the year ending March, 1882, the number had been reduced to 8,613. On the other hand, the average of such prisoners in custody over thirty years of age had, in the same time, slightly increased. So that the improvement may be directly traced to the improved education of the young. "It is far cheaper," said Sir Henry James, "to pay even a moderate schoolmaster than the best of prison-warders."
On the subject of proportional representation, Sir Henry James commented on the grotesqueness of the argument that because in 1874 a minority of voters returned a majority of representatives, therefore that minorities are insufficiently represented, and that we ought to take pains to represent them better. One vital defect in the scheme is that it professes to secure the representation of minorities ; whereas it cannot in any case represent any but one minority, and that a minority compounded probably of many minorities. There may be a minority on the subject of local option, of compulsory vaccination, of Home-rule, and of twenty other issues ; but the minority to be represented must take all these into account together, and suppress many of them in favour of the minority which the constituency cares most about. Moreover, as one-fifth of any Parliament is replaced by fresh Members before the Parliament is dissolved, and as none of the minority-Members can be returned at by-elections by the minority, the proposed plan does not even pretend to be of universal application.
But then Sir Henry James went further, and asserted that the plan itself is unfair and unworkable. It contains too large an element of chance in it to command the confidence even of those who understand how to work it. A great deal might depend on the accident which of the ballot-papers should be selected as those returning the most popular of the candidates, and which should be transferred to the candidate standing next on the list. To illustrate how arbitrarily even well-shuffled ballot-papers will sometimes get themselves arranged, he described an election in which he himself felt a strong personal interest, where the ballots were divided into three well-shuffled groups. He was able to watch the counting of two out of the three, and in each of these two the candidate in whom he was interested was in a minority of from 60 to 70; and he accordingly left the room in disappointment. But it so happened that the counter of the third heap of ballots returned the Liberal in his heap of ballot-papers by a majority of 160, and so reversed the result of the counting of the other two bundles. Under the proportional representation scheme a similar accident might easily make a difference between the return of candidate No. 2 or the return of candidate No. 3; and a system liable to such "accidents " would never command the confidence of the public.
And so thought the Greenwich meeting addressed by Sir John Lubbock and others of that party on Wednesday last. After a very elaborate address by Sir John, the meeting took the question into its own hands ; an amendment was moved declaring the proposed plan " un-English,"—a rough mode, we suppose, of saying that it would not command the confidence of Englishmen,—and this amendment was carried by a large majority against Sir John Lubbock, Mr. Courtney, and their friends. On the other hand, at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, on Thursday, Sir John Lubbock and Mr. Courtney carried their resolution against the amendment by 51 to 20; but even that can hardly be called a brilliant success. The truth is, that simplicity is the first essential of any system of voting. It may be a very rough sort of result which an election determines ; but it should never be in any sense an uncertain or equivocal result. Unless the point determined is a clear point, and the people who determine it have full confidence in the method in which they determine it, it would be much better that no determination should be attempted at all. And this is precisely where proportional representation fails.
We are sorry to see Mr. Bright's letter to Dr. Foster of Birmingham, on the subject of the disfranchisement of voters who were convicted of corruption, or who confessed to it before the Commissioners. "I think it," says Mr. Bright, "not too severe only, but in some degree monstrous, to disfranchise for their lives all who were convicted, or who confessed before the Commissioners." "I am for looking forward; I am willing to overlook the past, and do not wish to bring its errors and crimes into the future." We cannot say that we in the least understand why, in looking forward, we should forget the past. What better mode is there of convincing those who look forward that they must look forward to a higher standard of political morality, than to lay it down for the good of the whole people, that those who have treated a grave duty as if it were a mere vulgar and selfish right, shall have no chance of committing the same offence again ? Amnesties are all very well towards political enemies ; but amnesties towards people who have lowered the standard of political morality are mistakes,—less serious, perhaps, but of the same kind, as amnesties of shoplifters or swindlers. It is not out of vindictiveness that these men are to be disfranchised, but out of care for the political morality of the future. It matters nothing among five millions of voters whether a few scores have or have not votes; but it matters a great deal whether the five millions know that those who have betrayed their trust once are regarded as unworthy of trust for the future.
Sir Stafford Northcote has been making this week a series of speeches to the electors of the Barnstaple division of Devon, but the drift of these speeches is not very distinct. He objected to the names " Liberal " and "Conservative," as giving an unfair advantage to the Liberal Party; and quoted the old lady who supposed her husband would vote Liberal because she understood that the Liberals were the party "that gives." The Conservatives, he held, ought in the popular sense to be as Liberal as their opponents. He disapproved the plan of proportional representation, and approved the subdivision into electoral districts, because he held that to be the system which would secure the closest contact between the electorate and the representative,—a fact to which Lord Salisbury and he attached the utmost importance. He hoped that the new electors would be allowed to form a serious political judgment, and not hurried into the belief that they had great grievances to redress, such as Mr. Chamberlain had hinted at; and he attacked Cabinet Ministers for raising such cries as the ransom of property. Sir Stafford Northcote has not resolved to advocate Fair-trade,— has, indeed, almost intimated his opinion that England cannot reopen the subject of Protection ; but he declared that a great deal depends on a close relation with our Colonies, and attacked the Government with some bitterness for its indifference to Colonial interests, as well as to the dignity of England in relation to foreign Powers. On the whole, Sir Stafford Northcote's manifestoes have been wanting in distinctness and perspicuity.
Mr. Dillwyn, M.P., presiding at the dinner of the Swansea Chamber of Commerce, last Monday, gave his view of the causes of the depression of trade. It was not due, he said, to Free-trade ; on the contrary, it was due partly to the absence of Free-trade. It was the depression of foreign manufactures, owing to the Protective system abroad, and the enormous waste on the great European armies, which diminished the demand for English manufactures ; and yet, in spite of that diminished demand, no country had suffered so little as England, just because England has Free-trade, while most of the countries of Europe are cursed with Protection. In England he thought that some of the depression had been due to the too fierce competition of Limited Liability Companies with private firms and with each other,— a competition often carried to the point of rendering production perfectly unprofitable. The managers of these Companies, caring more for their fixed incomes than for the profits of the Company, do not limit their productive operations to those which can be profitably effected ; and the result is that they often ruin other Companies without benefiting themselves. Unlimited Companies managed by those whose whole future depends on making their operations profitable, would not attempt the ruinous competitions in which the salaried managers of Limited Companies too often indulge. That is a striking view of a difficult subject, but of the accuracy of the latter opinion we hardly feel competent at present to judge.
Great interest has been felt this week in the rumoured illhealth of the Emperor of Germany. It was said that he had caught a severe cold, which had exasperated an old internal trouble ; that he had taken to his bed, and that the Court physicians were uneasy. As the death of the Emperor might mean the retirement of Prince Bismarck, and must mean the accession of a Sovereign with different ideas, objects, and modes of action, all diplomacy was aroused ; but the alarm was either groundless or has passed away, The Emperor has risen again ; and though be is ordered to avoid outdoor duty, he is once more at work for nine hours a day.
The Paris correspondent of the Times declares that M. Ferry has made up his mind what to do about Tonquin. He does not want his policy to be misdescribed at the elections, and accordingly intends that the 12,000 men, whom he is sending to Tonquip, shall fight within that province, and clear it thoroughly up to its extreme boundaries. Then his enemies cannot say that he is at war with China. This means either that M. Ferry is still blind to the cardinal fact of the situation, that China will fight him contentedly on the frontiers for a century, or that be has postponed the march to Pekin till after the elections in April or June. The second is the more probable explanation, and suggests a pretty exact measure of M. Ferry's frankness.
The Congress of the United States is alarmed by the enormous purchases of land which have recently been made within the Union by Englishmen and others. The Public Lands Committee of the House of Representatives has been ordered to inquire, and has reported that, without taking into account purchases by untitled persons, which have been very considerable, English nobles have purchased 21,000,000 acres, chiefly in the West, and are either fencing them in for the maintenance of great herds of cattle, or are introducing a system of landlordism opposed to the "best interests and the free institutions of the United States." They therefore recommend a Bill prohibiting aliens from acquiring land in future. The Bill will probably pass, and though as it stands quite senseless, as the English capitalists can buy any land they please in American names, it indicates a growing jealousy which will presently make itself effective. The Americans are not so much afraid of the economic as of the social consequences of these vast purchases, which will, they fear, introduce a caste into the Republic. They are not striking at the Scotch " ranche-men," who have recently invested great sums, especially in Texas, but at the English Peers, who are trying to found great estates. Wealthy Englishmen have been trying this speculation recently to an immense extent, not only in the United States, but in Spanish America, Australia, and Eastern Europe, with, we believe, a moderate, but definite, success everywhere. The British Government has objected t) the language employed by the Berlin Conference in fling the methods of African annexation. The Conference treated Protectorates and annexations as identical ; but Sir E. Malet insists that they are not so. The essence of a Protectorate is that the foreign Power controls external policy, but does not interfere with internal government. A Committee of Conference has accordingly agreed to modify the expressions used, and to arrange that while an annexing Power must prove " jurisdiction " sufficient to secure order, a protecting Power need only show " authority " sufficient to ensure the desired results. This is regarded as a considerable triumph for the English delegate, who was thinking of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State ; but we could find it in our hearts to wish be had not won, it is not well for the world that civilised Powers should assume property in States which they either will not or cannot take the trouble to govern. The necessary effect of the system, though it works in some places, is that the protecting Power corrupts itself by tolerating great evils, on the plea that it is not responsible; while the " protected" statesmen have only half a sense of responsibility, and can do anything without fear of insurrection. Some Indian States in this position flourish ; but some are hot-beds of unpunished oppression and crime of all descriptions. Baroda recently, and Hydrabad still, were infinitely worse than either independent native States or British Provinces would be.
The list of comparative consumptions of alcoholic driuks iu the different nations of Europe which the Times has compiled is very curious. It shows that neither is cold the chief excuse for stimulants, nor is it a matter of race. The least average consumption per head per annum is in Canada, where there is an extremely cold winter ; and by far the greatest consumption of pure spirits per head is in Denmark ; while Norway, close as it is to Denmark in neighbourhood and climate, comes only second
to Canada in its moderation. The list is as follows :— From this it appears that Belgium is far the greatest beerdrinker, while Great Britain comes in a good second; and that France is the greatest wine-drinker, with Switzerland as a good second. Some of the Teutonic races are among the most abstemious, and others amongst the most self-indulgent as regards spirits. No general law of any kind appears to suggest itself. Certainly no clue is supplied by the relative condition of education in the various countries. In both Germany and Switzerland, where the popular education is best, the level of alcoholic consumption is very high.
The Board of Studies at Oxford makes a great many too many changes. It is always trying some new system ; whereas we hold that even au indifferent system, steadily pursued for considerable periods of time, is much better than a rapid succession of even improved curricula. The lust change adopted, very much extending the number of hooks to be read for classical honours at Moderations, is, we believe, One of the most unfortunate contributions to over-pressure yet made. Had the change been to require a considerable extension of the setting of previously intseen passages, it would have been a very good one, for that tests scholarship without screwing-up the demands on hard readers ; but the large extension of books with which some familiarity is expected, is a change, we think, in the wrong direction. But be it right or wrong, it is, we should say, clear beyond question, that it ought not to be required from any student who had entered the University on the faith of the old system; and this requirement, it would appear, from Professor Church's letter, which we publish in another column, that the University of Oxford rov; proposes to make.