TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE " SPECTATOR " AND THE BAGHDAD RAILWAY. THE current number of the Nineteenth Century contains an article by Herr Arthur von Gwinuer, the head of the Deutsche Bank, the great German financial institu- tion whose operations in Turkey, Asia Minor, and other parts of the world are so large and so successful. The article is in form a review of a book lately pill:fished and reviewed in these columns entitled "The Short Cut to India," a book which professes to tell the story of the Baghdad Railway. But we are not concerned for the moment with this book, or with Herr von Gwiuner's criticism of it, but solely with the fact that Herr von Gwinner publishes a portion of a private letter from the late Sir Clinton Dawkins which contains an accusation against the National Review and the Spectator, — an accusation which, we are bound to hold, would prove exceedingly damaging to our position and reputation as an independent organ of public opinion unless it were promptly contradicted and the true facts given. Whether Herr von 0 winner obtained the leave of Sir Clinton Dawkins's representatives to print this private letter we do not know or care. That is a matter between them and him. For ourselves, we are glad that the accusation made against us should have been given publicity, and that we should thereby have the opportunity of correcting it. A false statement of this kind is only damaging when it remains in the dark. The following is the statement made by Sir Clinton Dawkins, with Herr von Gwiuner's introductory words :— "I have been silent all these years, but under such strong pro- vocation as we are being exposed to of late, I feel now authorised to publish a letter dated the 23rd of April 1903, and addressed to me by the late Sir Clinton Dawkins, one of the gentlemen that took part in our negotiations. The letter says :— As you originally introduced the Baghdad business to us I feel that I cannot, upon its unfortunate termination, omit to express to you personally my great regret at what has occurred. After all you have done to meet the various points raised, you will naturally feel very disappointed and legitimately aggrieved. But I am glad to think, and I feel you will be convinced, that your grievance lies not against the British group but against the British Foreign Office.* The fact is that the business has become involved in politics here, and has been sacrificed to the very violent and bitter feeling against Germany exhibited by the majority of our newspapers, and shared in by a large number of people.
This is a feeling which, as the history of recent events will show you, is not shared by the Government or reflected in official circles. But of its intensity outside those circles, for the moment, there can be no doubt ; at the present moment co-operation in any enterprise which could be represented, or I might more justly say misrepresented, as German will meet with a violent hostility which our Government has to consider. The history of the recent occurrences is this. When my colleagues returned from Paris —you will remember that I proceeded to Spain—and reported the result of our discussion with yourself to Lord Lansdowne, he was perfectly satisfied and pleased to think that all the difficulties in the way of his giving the desired assurances were well on the way to be removed.
Indeed had you at once sent us from Berlin the draft of the engagements on your part, which we handed you at Paris, with your signature affixed, there is no doubt at all that Lord Lans- downe would have accepted it, and would at once have given the assurances desired from our Government.
Unfortunately there was a delay which was undoubtedly and naturally due to your having to consult your friends in Berlin. In the meantime there suddenly appeared a violent attack upon the suggestion that the British Government should pledge itself to any official countenance of the Baghdad scheme. The attack proceeded from a magazine and a newspaper whioh had made themselves conspicuous by their criticisms on the attitude of the British Foreign Office in the Venezuela question ; who instil; tt ed these papers, from whence they derived their information, is a matter upon which I cannot speak with certainty. My own impression is that the instigation prooeeded from Russian sources.
The clamour raised by these two organs was immediately taken up by practically the whole of the English Press, and a divergence of views in the Government at once became manifest, the Govern- ment not having been, as a whole, informed by the Foreign Office of the successive steps it was taking in the matter.
Lord Lansdowne, who was not without support, endeavoured sincerely and earnestly to make his views prevail. But he was unsuccessful. The anti-German feeling prevailed with the majority ; London having really gone into a frenzy on the matter "* Noltlier was tits cause,—A. Y. 0." owing to the newspapers campaign which it would have been quite impossible to counteract or influence.
It is, I think, due to you that you should know the histoire intime of what has passed, Ste" That the magazine and the newspaper alluded to are the National Review and the Spectator will be plain to any one who remembers the circumstances. The proposal that the British Government should give official sanction, help, and encouragement to the Baghdad Railway was, without doubt, defeated owing to the strong protest of the National Review and of the Spectator, and, needless to say, we have no ground of complaint in regard to this point. What we have a right to complain of, and what we can only describe as a false statement, or at any rate a false innuendo, is that contained in the words : "My own impression is that the instigation proceeded from Russian sources." In the first place, we as journalists resent the notion, common, no doubt, among a certain class of business people, and also among the less instructed politicians, that a newspaper has always got to be " instigated" by somebody or other- " instigation " meaning, of course, some sort of backstairs and not quite creditable influence—before it can take a strong and independent line upon matters of public policy. "I wonder who could have put them up to that is always on the lips of the Tapers and Tadpoles.
When, however, the innuendo is, as in the present case, that the alleged "instigation " proceeded from a. foreign Government, the offence committed by those who make it is very much more serious. It, in fact, involves an allegation of want of independence on the part of the newspaper,—an allegation, in other words, that the newspaper can be and has been "got at" through some form of secret influence by a foreign Government or Embassy. We do not, of course, suggest that Sir Clinton Dawkins wished to give the impression that the Spectator or the National Review was corruptly "instigated." He, no doubt, know better than that. Evidently, however, he wished to convey to his German correspondent an impression that the Spectator had been " instigated " from Russian sources. An allegation more unjust and more damaging, in our opinion, could not be made. Readers of our paper and of the National Review expect, and have a right to expect, that our opinions, whether right or wrong, should at any rate be honest and independent opinions honestly and independently arrived at, and that wo should not be open to secret foreign influences. If our readers thought that we made our- selves the mouthpieces of foreign Governments, though professing to be independent and impartial critics of foreign affairs, they would give up, and rightly give up, reading our pages. What makes the innuendo worse, however, in the present case is that it was made by an Englishman (though no doubt an Englishman in the employment of an American firm of financiers) to a German. Very little reflection will show what we mean by this. It is notorious that the German Press has not reached that level of independence which belongs to the British Press, and that German newspapers are constantly " instigated " from all sorts of external sources. On the Continent, Embassies as well as Ministers have their relations with the " reptile Press," Sir Clinton Dawkius's German correspondent would therefore form the impres- sion, as would German readers of the article generally, that the Spectator bad been "got at," or possibly even subsidised, by the Russian Government, and had been enlisted by it to lead the opposition to the Baghdad Railway, not from an independent view of the interests of our own country, but in order to play the game of Russia. Our readers will see at once that we are not making a mountain out of a molehill when we say that the allegation of want of independent action and " instigation " from a foreign source in the case of the National Review and the Spectator would be highly damaging if not promptly contradicted. Fortunately the contradiction is easy enough to make, and we are certain will carry conviction to all our English-speaking readers. We were not " instigated " in any way by the Russian Government or from any Russian sources to write the articles or to take the lino we took. Again, it is not possible to argue here, as has sometimes been done, that the editor was taken in by the writer of an article who, unknown to him, was prompted from Russian sources. The leading articles in question were every one of them written by the person who is writing these words,—that is, by the editor and proprietor of the Spectator. We are therefore able to state definitely that there was neither direct nor second-hand "instigation." As a matter of fact, the editor and proprietor of this paper has never had any relations with any Russian Ambassador or with any Russian agents or diplomats. He happens to hold the view,' in some quarters perhaps regarded as old-fashioned, that the less journalists know and see of foreign diplomatists the better. He considers that foreign Ambassadors are accredited to the Court of St. James and not to the Press of the United. Kingdom. Whether right or wrong, the editor of the Spectator formed the opinion that, though our Government ought not to oppose the Baghdad Railway in the kind of way Lord Palmerston opposed the Suez Canal, it ought not as a Government to give any official sanction or encourage- ment to the proposals for financing the project. We argued that if the Germans liked to find the money for building the railway and could persuade the Turks to let them do so, we ought not to attempt to prevent them,— provided always that proper arrangements were made to safeguard our interests on the coasts of the Persian Gulf. Otherwise, we held that railway development in Turkey was no business of ours. This view we urged upon the public with all the force at our command, but we did so purely on public grounds. In a word, the line the Spectator took was its own line, and nobody else's.
Mr. Maxse, the editor and proprietor of the National Iteview, is well able to take care of himself. We should like, however, to say that we are absolutely certain that Mr. Maxse was no more influenced than we were from any Russian sources, and that the line he took, whether right or wrong, was one taken solely because he believed it to be the line dictated by British interests. The notion of Russian agents " instigating " Mr. Maxse is quite as ridiculous as that of "instigation" in the case of the Spectator. That Sir Clinton Dawkins should have thought otherwise fills us with amazement.
Before we leave this subject we have a word to say as to the great unfairness of publishing extracts from private letters when the writers are dead. If this letter had been published in Sir Clinton Dawkins's lifetitne, our course would have been perfectly easy. We should at once have demanded an explanation. As be had thought fit to make a statement so grave and so injurious to the Spectator, it must be presumed—so we should bare informed him—that he had obtained information of a kind which induced him to believe, though erroneously,' that the articles had been "instigated," and. " instigated " from Russian sources. That he was not acting on what seemed to him trustworthy information, but on guesswork or mere gossip, could not, of course, have been assumed by us without warrant. That being so, he would have been obliged—and especially in this case, as he was a personal friend of the editor and pro- prietor of the Spectator—to give his sources of informa- tion.- He could not have made such charges and then refused us the opportunity of sifting' them and showing bow utterly baseless they were. This will appear an elementary proposition to every man of honour, as we admit Sir Clinton Dawkins to have been, even though lie was unwise enough to scatter unsupported accusations in a private letter. Further, the law obliges a man either to "justify"—i.e., prove—or else withdraw and make repara- tion for damaging allegations. Publication of his sources of information must in this case have shown that Sir Clinton Dawkins was relying on some foolish or malignant tittle-tattle of a perfectly untrustworthy and unverifiable kind.
It has been very painful to us to write as we have been obliged to write of Sir Clinton Dawkins, but at least this may be said in excuse for him. In the first place, be no doubt never dreamt that his letter would be made public. People ought not, of course, to say or write things Private which they would be ashamed to see published ; but as men of the world, we know well that men under the seal of privacy do write things behind the backs even of their friends which it is not fair or just that they should write. Next, Sir Clinton Dawkins, who was a member or the firm of Messrs. Morgan and Company,•tlie well-known American financiers, was no doubt exceedingly more at the failure of a great business transaction which, had it come off, would have brought, and from their point of view quite. legitimately brought, a very large profit to his firm in the shape of commissions. That so big a financial coup should have been ruined through the instrumentality of a mere newspaper must have been very galling. Besides, business men, like politicians, at heart always dislike the Press : it so often interferes with their plans and profits. We make no complaint against Messrs. Morgan's firm for their part in the trans- action. They were not a British firm, and they could not be expected to consider British interests in any shape or form any more than could the Deutsche Bank. All they naturally looked for was to do business. No doubt, also, Sir Clinton Dawkins felt obliged to make any excuses he could think of to the great German financial organisation for the failure of negotiations which had been placed in his hands. The letter was, in fact, a letter—to use a schoolboy's phrase—of the " Please,-Sir,-it-wasn't-my-fault" kind. Letters written by persona in that mood seldom take a very just view of wide political questions. In all time circumstances, then, and considering his position in an American house of business, we can find excuses for Sir Clinton Dawkins. If we were writing merely on the point of conduct, we should find it much more difficult to dis- cover an apology for the publication of a private letter by Herr von Gwinner. As we have said before, however, we do not in the least wish to press this point, because we are distinctly glad that this accusation of Russian " instigation " has come to the surface, and that we have thus been able to give a rumour so ridiculous its quietus. We suppose Herr von Gwinner's notion is to frighten us out of opposing British official co-operation in the financing of the Baghdad Railway. If that is so, he is mistaken. The fear of being accused of acting under Russian " instigation " will not in the very slightest degree affect our attitude.