THE HYTHE INQUIRY- C OMMISSIONS of inquiry are very useful. They
serve various purposes. They may be appointed either to act as a soothing sop to public excitement, to ease the passage of a vote through the House, or to obtain bona fide information with a view to the introduction of real reforms. It depends almost entirely on the nature of their composition which of these functions they do in fact discharge. Sir Charles Rus- sell has done good service by drawing attention to the pre- sent state of musketry instruction throughout the Army. 'The public in general is now so well acquainted with the nature of the improvements which have recently been intro- duced into the manufacture Of the principal arm of our infantry, that there is little fear lest the importance of the subject should be underrated. We have the fullest confidence in the good faith of Lord Hartington and of the Duke of Cam- bridge, but we must say that if the inquiry which the former has promised to institute, be conducted by men selected on the principles which ruled over the appointment of the recent Commission on the medical service of the Army, it 'will be very nearly useless. But that the feet is again and again• overlooked, it would seem to be self-evident that men intimately connected with the body into whose proceedings an inquiry is to be made onglA net to be members of `the investigating commission, not only because they are all but .certain be prejudiced, but be- cause their evidence is precisely that which we most desire to obtain. The more necessary it is that they should appear as witnesses, the more certain is it that they ought not to be placed in such positions that their evidence cannot possibly be sifted, so that that evidence will ultimately appear not as what it really is, the result of their previous knowledge of the subject, but as the result of their investigation into the opinions of others. We have the more reason to fear that some mistake of this kind will be made in the present instance, because Lord Hartington has not 'apparently at all appreciated the true nature of the case. When he " asked whether the Army, the Militia, and the Volunteers were not satisfied with the instruction as a whole," there was, not the faintest response in the House. Not One word was said in favour of the system during the whole evening. Indeed the severest comment that was made on the Hythe establishment came from one of the members who opposed Sir C. Russell's motion. It is not difficult to ascer- tain what the Volunteers think on the subject. It is perhaps natural that they should prefer a system of instruction con- ducted under the auspices of their own association to that of any Government institution, but it is not a little remarkable that when the movement first began, the Volunteers, eager to acquire the most perfect knowledge of the use of the regula- tion weapon which the Army could give them, flocked to Hythe in such numbers that ft 'was difficult to provide accom- modation for all who wished to enter the School of Musketry. No obstacle is, we believe, at present thrown in the way of any Volunteers who choose to avail themselves of the instruction given at Hythe, but nevertheless there has been of late little or no competition between the Wimbledon course and the older and more 'regularly established system of rifle training. It is not quite so easy to discover by a test of this Idnd the feelings of the Militia officers, because those of them who go to Hythe at all, do so chiefly in order to obtain adjatancies and other appointments which are not given to any but those who have qualified themselves by passing through the regula- tion course.
The opinion of the Army on the subject was expressed with sufficient distinctness in the debate ; and from an ac- quaintance with a certain number of Army officers, we could quote many expressions of opinion, all tending to show that the feeling of those in the House is fully shared by most of those outside of it. That special instances of pedantic mismanagement have tended to aggravate this feel- ing is probable enough. The 89th Regiment have, according to Sir C. Russell, in spite of an appeal of their Colonel's and a protest from the medical officer, been compelled immediately on their return from a long course of very active service in India, to trudge down daily to Hythe, or stand about for hours on the sloppy ground of the camp in which they are quartered, and this throughout one of the most rainy winters we have had for years. But their case is connected with the whole question of permanent camps, and with that of the wisdom which sends regiments immediately on their return from India to the worst stations that can be selected for them— subjects on which, so far as we have been able to ascertain it, the opinion of our best officers is quite as unanimous as on that of the Hythe course, but which are only incidentally con- nected with the latter topic. There must be some much more general reason why the military system is so unpopular, while the Volunteer course at Wimbledon is just as well attended now as it was when it was first instituted. The fact is that at Bythe, as elsewhere, " Men may be read, as well as books, too much;" —that it is quite possible 'to acquire the habits of a pedagogue, and to fancy that all the world is equally ignorant of the subjects on which one is bound to descant during a number of years, without being oneself very learned or very original.
The grand complaint that is made of Hythe is that no distinction is there made between the youngest tyro who enters the course before he has handled any kind of fire- arm, and the oldest veteran who has seen service in a dozen campaigns. We remember to have once heard this complaint most pathetically expressed by an excellent old officer, who, well nigh at the end of his career, was sent down to Hythe before he was allowed to obtain some Go- vernment appointment. Having been a capital shot with a rifle long before the Hythe course came into existence, he easily carried off any of the prizes, for which he thought it worth his while to compete, but the summary which he gave of his experiences was this. It was brought out in the measured manner of. one whose woes are too deep for rapid utterance. I have been during fifteen years in command of one of Her Majesty's regiments. I have seen service in all quarters of the globe. I was once during a border war en- trusted with the independent command of 4,000 or 5,000 men, and now, on Iny return home, I am sent down to Hythe, where, at the end of six weeks' training, I am permitted to fire off six percussion caps, on a rifle the trigger of which I am requested to pull without winking." Is it wonderful that when means are thus so admirably adapted to their end, Hythe is not very successful or popular ? The hints that were dropped during the discussion as to the positive ignor- ance of some of the officials connected with the establishment were sufficiently distinct. Mr. Acland made the apparently rather obvious remark that at an institution which is intended to afford 'the best instruction that Government can offer to the Army " on scientific subjects, lectures ought not to be given which excited the ridicule of those who had even an elementary knowledge of natural philosophy." We believe, however, that the observation was not uncalled for. If there be any truth in the stories which get about, very won- derful things have been taught at Hythe. We have heard of a speech made by an old infantry officer to the chief of the School of Musketry, which must have been sufficiently galling to the latter, and which, whether the statement con- tained in it be true or not, indicates clearly enough the con- tempt with which those who have been under instruction at Hythe regard their instructors. " Sir," said the indignant old gentleman, rolling out each word, "there is not in the Royal Regiment of Artillery a single bombardier who is not better acquainted with the subjects on which your assistants profess to impart information than any member of your entire staff."
Even in matters about which the staff of the School must, we presume, know at all events something, they seem disposed to think that statements cannot be made intelligible to men so stupid and ignorant as they assume the rank and file of the Army to be, unless the instruction is incorrect as well as elementary.
" Parallel straight lines are such as, being produced indefi- nitely in either direction, never meet," is a definition which would rather have puzzled Euclid, and which would certainly lead any ignorant soldier who believed in it to suppose that when his rifle pointed at any spot in the target not in one of its edges, the piece must be in a line parallel to every edge of the target at once. Yet such is, or was till recently, the only definition of parallel straight lines which the Hythe recruit learnt, and the excuse offered for this extraordinary piece of bungling, was that any expression which introduced the idea of a plane was so confusing that it was impossible to convey to the mind of a raw recruit a correct conception of Euclid's own definition. Supposing that this were true (though there would be little difficulty in adducing evidence to the opposite effect), it would, we fancy, be better to abandon all attempts at theoretical in- struction. At any rate, it is absurd that officers who are pos- sessed of the education of average English gentlemen, should be required to accept as accurate statements which they must know to be simply ridiculous.
A rumour yet more disastrous to the reputation for wisdom of the powers that be at Hythe has spread so widely in the Army that it is impossible to deny its existence, in- credible as it may appear. The fact that the truth of such a rumour should be generally assumed, shows at all events that there is little sympathy between the Hythe officials and the body of the Army. It is gravely asserted that the certificates of merit in shooting and in knowledge of the theory of musketry depend not so much on the good shooting and accurate information of the candidate, as on the opinion entertained by the authorities of his moral cha- racter, and even of the coincidence of his religious convic- tions with those of one of the most bigoted and intolerant parties in the Church 1 While such rumours as these are afloat, we are sure that it is as much in the interest of the officials of Hythe itself, as in that of the general public and of the Army, that we demand that the members of the promised Commission of investigation shall be men who have been entirely unconnected with the School of Musketry. If the statements contained in Lord Elcho's letter to the Times be correct, General Hay and his staff have no reason to fear an independent inquiry. At present that letter reads very much like the good-natured writing of a man who is un- willing to quarrel with those who have once stood in a posi- tion of friendly relationshig to him.