4 APRIL 1885, Page 5


THERE is something so offensive to English ideas, alike on propriety and on politics, in the startlingly-sudden dismissal of M. Ferry, that the true justification for the conduct of the Chamber may be overlooked. Prima' facie the Opportunists behaved disgracefully. They had given M. Ferry his majority in order that he should pursue the very policy of " Colonial enterprise " which he was pursuing. They had over and over again voted down any opposition to his plans with regard to Tonquin. They had cheered lustily when he described France as engaged in a profitable enterprise,— profitable, at least, to fathers of families wanting places for their sons ; they had sustainedhim in his dismissal of General Campenon for resisting a further despatch of troops ; and they had even exonerated him when M. Clemenceau showed that he was concealing from the bureaux telegrams of importance. They had abstained from criticising his declarations that China would not fight ; and had at least tolerated his unusual, and, as we think, discreditable, policy of waging informal war. Yet the moment his Generals sustained a defeat the Opportunists turned against M. Ferry, refused to give him a full hearing, and voted him out of power with every mark of contumely and abhorrence. That certainly looks as if the governing party in the Chamber were either base or shallow-minded—as if they either judged solely by results, or could not perceive the necessity of sustaining their leaders when visited by misfortune. In part, this charge must be pronounced true, for the Opportunists were, as regards Tonquin, accomplices of M. Ferry ; but it must in justice be remembered, first, that the dramatic rapidity of French action in politics is a peculiarity of character, and not a moral offence ; and next, that the provocation given by the Minister was excessive. He had deceived his party in a way to endanger all their seats. Not only, as he frankly admitted on Wednesday to the Times' Correspondent, had he made a practice of suppressing or modifying telegrams from his Generals, but he had misdescribed the attitude of China in a way which displayed either complete contempt for facts, or gross incapacity to understand them. From the very first, the one preoccupation of the Opportunists had been the necessity of avoiding war with China. That was the reserve they always made when they agreed to give their votes. They were ready to annex Tonquin, and bully Amara, and force treaties on Cambodia, and intrigue against Siam, because those operations were partially invisible to their constituents ; but they knew quite well that the peasantry would not endure a' great war with China, with its certain sacrifices, and its possible depletion of the armaments of France. M. Ferry understood this, and therefore from the first denied that there '• was or could be " war with China. That Power, he at first declared, was only engaged in a game of bounce ; and when this seemed too contrary to visible facts, he decried her strength, asserting With epigrammatic conciseness that China was " une quantite negligeable," or, as Americans would put it, a" no-account State." The phrase, which agreed with popular prejudices about China, and with the recollections of Lord Elgin's war, struck home so deeply that the first cry of the Parisian populace, when the reverses in Tonquin became known, was "A bas la quantite negligeable." They touched with that sharp spear-point the very centre of the lying. Upon this subject M. Ferry was consistent, so absolutely so, that even when sending Admiral Courbet to " occupy ' Formosa, and ordering General Negrier to menace -Western China, he still asserted that a declaration of war was needless, and that China would speedily give way. When, therefore, China, after beating back the attack on Formosa, suddenly threatened Tonquin, flung General Negiier out of Langson and the hill country, and compelled the French Commanderin-Chief to stand on the defensive in Hanoi, in a position which he describes as dangerous, the Opportunists felt themselves deceived. They had trusted M. Ferry at least thus far, that whether China fought or not, at least she would fight uselessly ; and, behold, she was defeating French Generals They grew savage with irritation and fear for their seats, which, unless they could convict M. Ferry of deception, would be lost in an explosion of popular wrath such as had already occurred in Paris. They therefore turned on their leader with such fury, that the brutal expression of a Parisian journalist, "M. Ferry was sent to the door by three hundred pairs of boot;," is scarcely a rhetorical exaggeration. There was no real debate on either side. M. Ferry minimised the disaster ; but asked for more money and men to preserve the Army in Tonquin. The Opposition promised

to give them, "but not to you ;" and on the technical question of " priority for the credits," the Minister, but a day before all-powerful,—and, indeed, constantly described as the " indispensable man,"—was crushed by a vote of 308 to 161. Of course be resigned ; and for the present he is utterly discredited. He will rise again ; for, though fearfully unscrupulous,—or, rather, conscienceless,—he has nerve, will, and ability, and his countrymen will by-and-bye pardon the failure of his plans in consideration of their grasp.

His probable successor, M. de Freycinet, will have a difficult task. He has been in office before, when he contrived to alienate England by his retreats, and to embarrass the Treasury by grandiose proposals for public works ; and he has not the complete confidence of any Party. He is accepted only as a stop-gap ; and though no doubt, as Minister of the Interior, he may have influence in elections, still a stop-gap Minister is not reverenced, and the " lists " will be drawn in great part by other men. Besides, the position itself Is almost terribly difficult. M. Ferry held the threads of a hundred intrigues in all parts -of the world, and of some delicate relations with Prince Bismarck ; and although M. de Freycinet has the power of consulting M. de Courcel at Berlin, and may wish to change nothing, he may not be able to take them all up. He has not M. Ferry's audacity, and perhaps not his unscrupulousness ; and it is clear, from the language held in Berlin and in Vienna, he will not be equally trusted by the German statesmen. Then he does not 'belong fully to the forward school in Colonial affairs. He is trusted by M. Gravy, who is opposed to that school, and will hardly dream of founding Empires in Indo-China, or annexing huge new Colonies like the Island of Madagascar. Nevertheless, he is at war with China, whether he likes it or not ; he must save General Briere de l'Isle, or be accused by the whole Army of deserting the soldiers of France; and he must, according to French military ideas, win some success over Chinese troops before he consents to peace. That would be a painful situation, even if the nation were prepared for great sacrifices in order to secure victory ; but this is exceedingly doubtful. We may err, but we think we see signs that even now the Chamber is doubtful if the peasantry will endure a proposal for an advance with 50,000 men upon Pekin. M. Ferry, though in extremis, and as brave as man may be, did not propose it. The cry of the Chamber was only to save the Army. The vote as yet is only for two millions sterling,— a mere drop in the bucket if an invasion of China is intended ; and the Radical Committees everywhere are counselling "retirement within the limits of Cochin China,"—that is, an abandonment of the entire Indo-Chinese enterprise. It is quite possible that the electors, when they know all the facts, may insist on peace with China on any terms ; and M. de Freycinet will then have to conduct a most difficult retreat, and incur the unfair but inevitable odium of abandoning the aggressive Colonial policy, which will then have given France nothing except Tunis. The situation calls, in fact, for an energy which M. de Freycinet may possess, but is not in a position to display ; and the Government of France, therefore, until the elections, must necessarily be weak. That fact should hurry the elections ; but M. Gravy will not dissolve without an informal assent from the Chamber, and the majority in the Chamber will not want to face the departments while they have to account for a defeat, and da not clearly know its effect upon the minds of their constituents. The prospect is not promising ; but France, like England, lives through a great deal, and enormous as. the consumption of Ministers has been, M. Gravy is not constitutionally restricted to men with seats in the Chambers.