THE DISEASE AND THE CURE.
THE writer of a pamphlet bearing the title of The One Thing Needful discusses the cause of the evils under which British mili- tary administration is suffering, and points out their remedy by a simple removal of the cause. We do not think we can do a greater service to our readers than by presenting with commingled re- marks of our own the substance of this pamphlet, and by urging those who care to form an accurate opinion of the most pressing practical question of the day, to study the pamphlet iself, which is not long, and is written with a force and directness that contrast very strikingly and favourably with the Parliamentary harangues which fill the columns of our daily papers. When Lord John Russell professed himself unable to explain or account for a condition of things which he described as heart- rending, he did not appear to perceive that he thereby went a great way towards exonerating the capacity of the Duke of Newcastle and the apathy of Lord Aberdeen from that responsibility for existing misfortune which his whole line of conduct and tenour of speech attempted to fix upon them. Party dislike and blind popu- lar indignation shared his Lordship's failure of logical consist- ency. The author of The One Thing Needful expressly clears the late Government from a neglect of duty or a lack of capacity. "Ministers," he says, "did their best, as that best is understood in the Cabinet and in Parliament. So much talent, zeal, experience, and conscientiousness, was never crowded into a Cabinet before." He points out what everybody knows, that the two War Ministers, in addition to their unbounded diligence and earnestness, displayed the rare merit, " in office the rarest of all, in critical times the greatest of all," of being neither too proud nor too impatient to learn, and of welcoming and inviting instead of snubbing sugges- tions from persons of experience and skill. Lord John Russell— knowing this, we presume, though he said nothing of it—was utterly at fault where to lay the blame. Poor man! he never had experience in administration himself, and he supposed that the talent, industry, and willingness of the head of a department, communicated itself, as an impulse along the electric wires, with- out mistake or loss of time, from the directing mind to the creating hand. The writer of the pamphlet, however, suggests that Mi- nisters are neither ubiquitous, omniscient, nor despotic; that con- sequently the success of their administration must greatly depend —and the more in proportion to the complexity of the operations and the distance of the directing head from the various hands to which details are committed—upon the several agents whose com- bined action is necessary to the execution of any project originating in a Minister's office. In the case before us, the agents are the numerous host of civil servants and of military officers; and he proceeds to state the principles on which these agents are ap- pointed and advanced in their profession; and finds in the system with which we are now so familiar sufficient cause for all the blunders committed, for all the disappointments and humiliation the nation is at this moment undergoing. "The first principle," he says of our system, "is, that the func- tionaries civil and military who compose it are never selected for merit, and are never discharged for incapacity." And again- " They (the Ministers) find themselves at the head of a vast and cumbrous machine, composed of human wheels, nine-tenths of whom they did not put into it, and nine-tenths of whom they can- not put out of it." "This," he adds, "is the real explanation of the whole matter." If it be not the whole explanation, it goes at least more to the root than any of the more popular explanations afloat, which find their expression in actual changes of Ministry from good to bad, from bad to worse; and in proposals to recall Generals by wholesale, with no indications of successors, and to amalgamate at once our army to foreign models, belonging to a wholly different order of political and social institutions. For is it not true that the Army and the Civil Service are insti- tutions, which the British public knowingly allows, and has from time immemorial allowed, to be conducted on principles totally opposed to any known method for obtaining efficient service ? Would not any private business conducted on the same principles inevitably fail of any other result than ruin and disgrace to its undertakers? In the first entrance into these branches of the public service, the system enforces no test of fitness ; for the mili- tary examination is simply into elementary general knowledge, and any one that can read and write—these expressions not being very strictly interpreted—can become a clerk in a Government office ; and when a young man has once obtained his commission or his desk, what advances him but money or interest in the former ease, and seniority in the latter ? It may be affirmed absolutely, that with the promotion of a subaltern officer in time of peace, and of a Government clerk at all times, merit, capacity, knowledge of his profession, in either general or special attainment, have no- thing to do. The wonder is, not that the Army and Civil Service fall so short of perfect instruments, but that, with such a system, they do their work as well as they do. We have spoken only of subaltern officers, for the early years of a professional career are those in which ambition is excited, habits of industry formed, and high talent called forth by distinction to be earned. But our pamphleteer epigrammatically and truly remarks, that " to be a general officer in high command, it is not necessary to have any one qualification for the post; it is necessary to have at least one dis- qualification—you must be old." But the faults of the system are truisms ; it is needless to insist upon them.
Who is to blame for the system ? We say with the pamphleteer, the British nation is to blame ; if for no other reason, at least be- cause it allows the system to continue, and still more directly be- cause the constituencies and their representatives insist upon hav- ing what they call their share of the political patronage of the country. Mr. Gladstone significantly told the House of Commons the other night, that the greatest obstruction to a system of pro- motion by merit was, from his experience, to be anticipated from the representatives of the people. Even while writing this arti- cle, we are fresh from the perusal of the long-expected Parlia- mentary discussion on " the great Kennedy case ": and what is that case, which has not only wasted a whole night of the session at such a time as this, but nearly upset the Aberdeen Cabinet at Christmas ? Strip it of its accidents, and we find that the Minister responsible for the management of the Crown Forests carried out his responsibility by dismissing a gentleman of family and strong political connexion—a Privy Councillor and an old Whig partisan—for what the Minister deemed a proved incapacity for dealing properly by his subordinates. We are not discussing the correctness of Mr. Gladstone's decision, for that has no bearing on the argument: but the legally responsible officer cannot dismiss his functionary without brinqing upon himself a great political party, a hornet's nest of private con- nexions, and a Parliamentary motion for a Committee of in- quiry. Yet, after this, we talk of Ministers not showing energy, and disregarding all the influences of party, clique, rank, and wealth ! They never will show energy, and never would re- main in office a week if they did, so long as the public ser- vice, in its military and civil branches, is regarded by Mem- bers of Parliament, and by the constituencies who send them to Parliament, as so much public spoil, to be divided according to certain recognized laws of political feudality. Here is the plague- spot. The British public, an aggregate of individuals, think less of the public service being adequately performed, than of getting a share of the revenue allotted to pay for that service. Public spirit among us is practically at so low an ebb, that no Minister could maintain himself against the private vengeance that would ensue if he refused to continue this Parliamentary and social traffic in places and political support. It is the lack of independent political spirit among us, on which a Minister should rely for support, that drives the best of them to rely on influences of a base kind. It is the lack of this spirit, and not of skilled ability for the service of the country, that has paralyzed the army before Sebastopol, and the civil and military departments at home.
The remedy consists in removing the disease ; in supplying to the Minister that independent support which would enable him to hold his own against placehunters and solicitors for preferment— in other words, against the political parties organized in Parliament, in society, in the press, in the constituencies. Does not this sound almost like mockery ? were it not almost as easy to draw down the moon from its orbit or to climb to the nearest fixed star? Yet the writer of the pamphlet does not consider his notion Utopian, for he offers practical suggestions which do in fact redeem it from that reproach. The first step is partly gained in the awakened apprehension of the nation, which only needs a Minister to shape its convictions into action, and which will seek vent in some very sweeping and revolutionary changes, unless satisfied that for the future its interests are likely to be better cared for. A month ago, perhaps Lord Palmerston had the power to do anything he pleased; even yet a display of vigour in the right direction may recover for him some of the vantage-ground his wavering half- measures have lost him in public estimation.
The suggestions of the pamphleteer may be reduced to the as- sertion of two principles, with the statement of which we must be for the present content. First, entrance to the Army and the Public Service must be absolutely barred to all such as cannot show " at least alert intelligence and a moderate education." Within this range let political or private influence be reduced to choose its proteges, and so be minimized in mischief. After ad- mission, let promotion in the Civil Service go by merit ; the im- mediate superior to be the judge of the merit, responsible for his selection, and bound to record his reasons for it. In the Army, let no man obtain his Captain's commission "till he has satisfied an inde-
pendent board of men, who are known and can be made responsible for their decisions, that he thoroughly understands his profession, and has the mental and moral qualifications for command." "Let Staff appointments be rigidly reserved for those who have passed the Senior Military College with high distinction ; and place the whole system of appointments and promotions in the hands of a man who is responsible to Parliament." This amounts to a recommend- ation to make the administration and discipline of the Army si- milar to that of the Navy. Its essential principle is not to at- tempt to stop political and private influence, which would be a chimera, but to limit its range within a competent class ; which would be a point of incalculable importance gained, and would soon lead to most other improvements. For the higher appoint- ments the writer finds no more effective safeguard than to leave them as at present to the responsibility of the Minister, but to make that responsibility real—to hold the appointer answerable for the blunders of his appointee if he retain him a moment after the exhibition of incapacity. But for the Civil Service he adopts the proposal of placing official seats in Parliament at the disposal of the Minister, to give him a wider range of choice than at present. It remains with the nation duly to estimate the resistance to be overcome in order to effect such a change, and the more im- mediate personal changes necessary for immediate safety. If they estimate this aright, we scarcely doubt their will to give the Minister the requisite support. But neither Minister nor people must underrate the task that lies before them. We have commit- ted that blunder about Sebastopol. A similar error in relation to our domestic Sebastopol will lead to results equally disastrous and disgraceful. Well may the writer whom we have been mainly following say—" He (the Minister) must do nothing by halves. He must not alienate the aristocracy without conciliating the country. He must not offend the sticklers for routine without securing the enthusiasm for reform. He must not act so as to bring about his ears all those displaced hornets who have a vested interest in darkness, and yet not so as to rouse in his defence all his fellow countrymen who have a patriotic interest in light." And well worth noting are his concluding words—" The measure of his daring will be the measure of his power. If he fail, some- thing more than a change of Ministry will be called for next."