12 DECEMBER 1885, Page 42


Mg. V.S.31BilRY'S new book reminds us of an incident that occurred in the House of Commons during the first administra- tion of Lord Palmerston. Sir George Lewis had introduced a Bill for the amendment of the old Highway Act, greatly favoured by the Whig and Tory Members, but Mr. Bright, for once in his life posing as a Conservative, opposed the measure in a speech which excited great hilarity. "I protest," he said, " against Ministers of the Crown thus tampering with the ancient institutions of the country "—here the speaker's voice was drowned in a burst of laughter and ironical cheers—" when nobody asks them," he continued, so soon as quiet was restored. And we, with better reason than Mr. Bright had then (for the old Highway Act left much to be desired), may well protest against distinguished foreigners coming here to ex- pose our shortcomings, scorn our statesmen, and give us oracular advice on the management of our affairs—when nobody asks them. Mr. Vamb417 is a great traveller and a distin- guished scholar; but when he denounces Russia, and offers counsel which, if followed, would bring us into immediate collision with that country, we cannot help remembering that he is a Hungarian, and that, however sincere he may be and undoubtedly is, his judgment must needs be warped by his nationality, and coloured by the traditional hatred borne by Magyars for Muscovites. We do not blame Mr. Vambery for his detestation of the Russian Government ; yet, unlike him, we have no quarrel with the Russian people ; and even the Government—bad, tyrannous, and treacherous though it may be—is not quite evil incarnate, and its conquests in Central Asia have introduced 'some sort of law and order into a land which, not long ago, was given up to cruelty and rapine, and blasted by the curse of slavery. Of this, however, Mr. Vambery says nothing. He can see in Russian conquests only the develop- ment of a deeply laid scheme for the acquisition of India, and he evidently believes that its loss will be the penalty of neglecting his advice.

Let us examine fairly the grounds of this belief, not merely because it is held by a man so eminent as our author, but because his views are shared by many people in this country who have given much thought to the subject, and are possibly quite as alarmed as they profess to be. Russia, they say, is a formidable, a dangerous, and an unscrupulous Power ; and as proof of her might, they point to her recent conquests in Central Asia, conquests which are supposed to have added to her influence as much as they have increased her strength. We grant without hesitation the absence of scruple in her Government ; and that Russian soldiers are formidable foes, has been proved on many a hard-fought field, from Pultava to Knnnersdorf, and from Borodino to Inkerman ; but that Russia is formidable in proportion to the extent of her territory or number of her people we utterly deny. Since the * The Coming Struggle for India: being an Account of the Encroachments of Russia in Central Asia and of the Difficulties sure to Arise there. fron to England. By Axminins Yambdri. London : vassal and Co.

conclusion of the Napoleonic wars all her triumphs have been won over barbarous tribes and effete nations. Turkey, Persia, Poland, and Circassia have all felt the weight of her arms and had to pay the penalty of defeat ; but when she came into colli- sion with England and France the result was humiliation and disaster. Mr. Vambery thinks that the allies played a ridiculous part in the Crimean War. Perhaps ; but the Russians are not of this opinion. It is true that the conquest of Central Asia has been effected with marvellous rapidity ; but how little this result is due to Muscovite prowess and how much to Tartar impotence let our author himself bear witness :—

" By us in Europe," he says, "the new feats of Russian arms were certainly looked upon with great surprise. Nations vainglorious of military deeds partly envied and partly admired the modern successor of Djenghis and Timor, but it is only ignorance of facts and gross exaggeration which has (sic) led them astray. They had been accus- tomed from immemorial times to couple the names of Tartar, Kalmuck, Kerghis, &c., with all rudeness, strength, power, and all possibly imaginable qualities of savage warriors. I had the same opinion on the subject ; but how different was my opinion gathered on the spot, when I discovered in the roughest looking Tartar a coward without example, and found that, despite my lame leg, I could, armed with a stick, put to flight five or six men. Of such a character was the predominant majority of the enemies Russia had to fight. The whistle of a single ball was enough to scare away dozens of warlike looking Sarts, Tadjiks, and Uzbegs. in reality, how could it be otherwise, considering the difference existing between the arms of the Russian Conqueror and those of the native defenders ? Take the gun, for in- stance. The Russian is armed with a good modern rifle, and his gun- powder is of the best, whilst the poor Tartar has nothing but an old and rusty gun, which rests on a kind of wooden fork. Before attempting to shoot, he is looking out for a level spot where to put down his wooden fork. He has to place the coarse gunpowder in the pan, then strike fire with the flint to ignite the tinder, and proceeds to tap upon the powder for at least five minutes. The rusty gun bursts, the fork tumbles down, and where the ball has gone God only knows. Besides this dissimilarity in arms, we have to consider the utter want of union, which disabled the natives of Central Asia from a vigorous defence of an invading Power."

The victory of a first-rate military Power like Russia over practically unarmed and rather cowardly nomads, does not quite prove that she could conquer India; when her op- ponents were Turks instead of Tartars, she suffered many disasters, and had the Ottoman troops been better led, the late war would have had a very different ending, of which nobody is better aware than Mr. Vambery. This is his deliverance on the subject :—

" In connection with these statements [as to the military resources of Russia and England], I would only remark that, being accustomed to judge Russia, not from the extension she shows on the geographical maps, but from the strength she was able to display on the battle-fields of Europe and Asia, I must say I do not share the opinion of those who attribute to that gigantic Empire such a formidable and extraordinary power of action. An army which ran great risk of being thrown into the Danube, the Emperor and general staff included, by the ill-fed, emaciated, and half naked Turkish soldiers, if the regiments of little Roumania had not hastened to her help— such an army I cannot call a formidable one. Still less does it inspire me with fear, if brought face to face with the hardy, plucky, and intrepid British soldiers of India, who, led by such intrepid generals as Donald Stewart, Roberts, Charles Macgregor, and others like them, would certainly keep up their old reputation, and do their duty for the welfare of their country. Why should we over- look tho enormous difference existing between military material recruited from a free country, and led by highly patriotic officers on the one hand, and between the poor slave forcibly enlisted by despotic power, and commanded by officers, who, brought up in gambling, debauchery, and the indulgence in dissipations of every kind, can hardly be animated by the noble spirit of free men. Indeed, it is a little irony of fate to have to draw comparisons between the abilities of a nation standing at the top of our civilisation, the prototype of civilisation for the whole world, the luminous fountain of science and of many glorious achievements of mankind, and of a society noted for its abominable vices, where. truth-speaking is an unheard of occurrence, and where an Emperor said' that he was safe with his palace built of granite, which could only be stolen by his dear subjects or his surroundings.' "

We do not share in this estimate of the Russian army, for we believe that Russian soldiers are formidable foemen, and that, as fighting material, they are second to none in Europe ; but if Mr. Vambery be right, then his book has no raison d'etre, since it is absurd to suppose that (whatever may be the fate of Herat) India runs the remotest danger from a Power whose armies are composed of slaves led by gamblers, debauchjs, and thieves. The high quality of the Russian army is proved by the fact that, notwithstanding corruption and maladministration, it has been able to achieve so mach. But this fact is far from implying that it constitutes a danger either for India or for any Euro- pean Power of the first rank. On the contrary, we may safely affirm that for purposes of aggression, except against bar- barous or half-civilised peoples, Russia, of all Great Powers, is the least formidable. During the Franco-German war Ger- many put into the field nearly every man of her nominal military strength ; in the late war with Turkey, Russia, after months of strenuous effort, succeeded in sending to the front only four hun- dred thousand men, yet, on paper, her forces outnumber those of her Teutonic neighbour by nearly a million. And even then the soldiers were so ill-equipped, insufficiently clad, and badly fed, that they died like flies in winter. The reason of this lies in the nature of things, and will prevail so long as the present regime endures. For, owing to the interdict laid on publicity and discussion, and the suppression of every form of political life and individual initiative, there exists hardly any check whatever either on incompetence or corruption, and the Czar himself is compelled to connive at abuses which paralyse the army and impoverish the State. Russia, more- over, is far from being the homogeneous and united nation she was at the beginning of the century. The Empire is simply a magazine of inflammable material. At the first signal of war Circassia, always in a state of simmering revolt, would be in open rebellion ; if Poland did not rise, it would be because of the check imposed by the presence of a large military array. Every strategic point between the shores of the Caspian and the banks of the Oxus would have to be held in force ; a long line of communications efficiently guarded ; and, unless Nihilism be a delusion, and the dread of it a sham, every large town would require even a stronger garrison than that which is now deemed necessary. How many troops, in these circa instances, would be available for the invasion of India, a country with a population of 250,000,000, backed by all the might which England could place at her disposal ?

Skoboleff thought he could conquer India, or at least over- throw its British government, with an army of 30,000 men. But only if he could raise the people against their foreign rulers. And this is the crux of the whole question. If the peoples of India are, on the whole, contented with our rule, even if they are so far contented therewith that they prefer it to the tender mercies of a Muscovite regime, the fear of an invasion is the merest chimera. If, on the other hand, the 250,000,000 whom we govern, or any great proportion of them, are so hostile to us that they would hail an invader as a friend, and welcome him as a deliverer from an intolerable tyranny, then whatever efforts we may put forth, whether Herat stands or falls, the days of the English raj are numbered. If the late crisis in our relations with Russia has had no other good effect, it has at least served one useful purpose,—it has shown that the people of India have not the slightest wish to exchange the beneficent despotism which now controls their destinies for the stupid tyranny of the Muscovite Czars. With the people on our side, we may bid defiance to half-a-dozen Russias, as Russia is at present constituted ; and under a popular Government, she would in all probability become a strong friend of Britain, and the surest guarantee of European peace. It might easily be shown, too, that Russia's recent conquests, instead of rendering her more formidable, have impaired her resources and diminished her strength. Next to Turkey, she is certainly the most impecunious of European Powers, and in no condition to undertake great military enter- prises. Moreover, her territory is so immense, that even if her army were as big in fact as it is in figures, it would be far inferior, relatively to the work demanded of it, than that of either Germany, Austria, or France, or, we may add, of India. At the same time, it being our undoubted fluty not alone to protect that country from even remote dangers, but to ensure the tranquillity of its vast population, whose trustees and guardians we are, it is well for the Indian Government to take whatever military precautions may be necessary to convince alarmists, both at home and abroad, that their fears are vain, and the Russian Government that a policy of menace, so far as India is concerned, will be equally useless and absurd. The advice of Mr. Vambery and his like, to pro- vide against the perils which they predict, but fail to prove, by making an alliance with Turkey and forcing another British Envoy on Afghanistan, under penalty of another war, is self- condemned. Never did political monomaniac propose a madder policy.