15 JULY 1876, Page 11


THERE are hundreds of Englishmen and thousands of English- women who are made quite angry and fretful by the details of this war in Turkey, and that for a somewhat creditable reason. They are accustomed to "follow" any important events with a certain intellectual interest, to find a new excitement in anything considerable that happens, and to form judgments iu the accuracy of which they have a certain and commendable pride. They like to be " well-informed," to see a day or two ahead, to "know what is going on," to feel themselves, in fact, intelligent people, and not ignoramuses; and in the matter of this war they do not satisfy their liking, and are very discontented. They say they " cannot follow it," whatever trouble they take, and are half-inclined, for that reason alone, to condemn both parties equally as per- sons wholly unworthy not only of credence—which is more or less true—but of attention, which, considering the issues in- volved, is a little absurd. The truth is that these persons, though they do not overestimate either their own intelligence, or their own interest in news, or even their own general information, do greatly overestimate their own capacity for taking trouble. Mr. Sharp and Mrs. Keen are not half so much accustomed to follow events as they think they are. What they are accustomed to do is to read their journals intelligently, and form opinions, often very sound, on information which, though, perhaps, penetrated with a bias, has been very carefully sifted and prepared for their instruction. Accident has for a moment disabled the journalists from doing this preparatory work, and the intelligent classes are as puzzled as connoisseurs in cookery would be if asked to pro- nounce on the raw meat and " ingredients," instead of the cooked viand. They are judges, but they are judges of a prepared and not of a raw article. The news from this war is the rawest ever received since newspapers were established. The journalists are as bothered as the public ; they serve up everything as if everything was an oyster or an apple, and their news is unintelligible. The difficulty of understanding it may widen the notions of intelligent people as to the work involved in getting-up, as statesmen, debaters, and journalists are perpetually compelled to do, any subject what- ever. There is really no harder intellectual work than " following " a war from a distance, more especially if you have not had either a military training, or the same work to do very often before. It requires an artificial patience, and a capacity for worrying over details without losing sight of big facts, which the majority do not possess, or at all events, are most reluctant to use upon any question not pressing directly home to their own interests. It is absolutely necessary, to begin with, to acquire some notion of the geography of the country which is the scene of operations, and the beginner is quite startled to find how ex- ceedingly difficult it is to obtain that preliminary information. Maps seem to him suddenly to have lost their utility. They are in fact, unless very carefully selected, and selected from one or two separate sources, quite as likely to mislead as to guide the inquirer aright. In popular maps, rivers are usually fairly given, railway stations, and fortresses ; but the mountains are pretty sure to be wrong by defect, huge blanks being left, to avoid obscuring words, and boundaries are traced with the grossest carelessness. In a map of Eastern Europe before us, for instance, drawn on a very large and expensive scale, but not drawn for this war, the scene of action seems to be very clearly depicted,— " only," as a travelled expert remarks, with an aggravating chuckle, "the man knew too much history, and has included Old Servia in the Servian State. South boundary is wrong by a hundred miles." Even the special maps are imperfect, the places suddenly become important having been omitted—for instance, Saitschar is never marked—and the " war maps," more especially those pub- lished in the newspapers, are often far too rough and hurried, and faulty as to scale. Still, it is possible, by careful application and comparison, to obtain an idea of the great features of the country, the lie of the rivers, the passes of the mountains, and the localities of the required towns ; but when that unavoidable task has been accomplished, much more remains to be done. The observer has to comprehend the comparative value of

statements. He will see in half-a-dozen telegrams that such a General has gone to such a place, and in half-a-dozen more that he has gone to such another, and he has to weigh the comparative truthfulness and accuracy of bulletin-makers about

whom he knows next to nothing. The instinctive feeling of the British public belonging to the well-informed classes happens in this matter to be of some service to them. They are disposed to trust Englishmen, and nobody else. Mr. Sharp and Mrs. Keen accept a grave statement by an English correspondent as likely to be correct, and certain not to be wilfully false, and their instinct, if the correspondent does not live at Con- stantinople—in which case he is pretty sure to believe in untrustworthy natives who speak English, and to circulate astounding rubbish—are quite accurate. The best infor- mation in war time comes from English correspondents, from the friends of one or two German newspapers—the Cologne Gazette being first—and occasionally from some adventurous Frenchman who happens to see that the truth will admit of being sensationally told. No French newspaper, except the Debate, Temps, and sometimes the lifonikur, can be relied on for foreign facts ; for their information, besides being coloured by party prepossession, is apt to be drawn up with an eye to the Bourse, and is printed by managers who absolutely know nothing, and are quite capable of printing gravely, as happened this week, that " Osman " in Turkish " means Christian." When, however, as in the early days of this war, English correspondents are not to the fore, the task of observation becomes more diffi- cult, so difficult that the observer is apt in his impatience to con- demn all statements of fact as lies. That, however, is not quite a sound view. Nothing is circulated without some object, and gradu- ally, with patience and watchfulness, the reader acquires a sense which tells him pretty nearly what that object is. An official state- ment, even from Constantinople, although until corroborated it should be regarded as substantially false, may still be studied with advantage, first, as stating what those who issue it wish Europe to believe, and secondly, as indicating what the Generals think important. For example, the men at Constanti- nople would not have circulated all their exaggerations and in- ventions about the victories at Saitschar, if they had not thought the carrying of that point, and consequent crossing of the Timok in force, very essential to the campaign. Then almost all official telegrams recording disaster to their own side, or announcing drawn battles, may be taken to be palliatively true ; while telegrams announcing movements which have taken place are either true, or, as in the Carlist war, are so directly false—being intended to be flashed back from London to the enemy—that they are in their falsehood useful strategical hints. All calculations of the numbers of killed are untrustworthy, and almost all statements as to the tone of an army,—those being subjects ou which even eye-witnesses, and sometimes military eye-witnesses, are liable to be completely taken in. When, however, the observer has got his topography fairly right, and has ascertained by days of comparison where he is to look for intelligence, he has still something to do before he forms an opinion, which, after he has done everything, will be that of a feeble amateur. He has to clear his mind of political pre- possession, and of any belief for which he has no reason as to the fighting merits of the troops engaged. Many observers, possibly moat, are positively blinded by their political wishes, while most men have ideas about troops which are more like transmitted instincts than operations of reason. The notion, for example, that Italian troops are weak cannot be got out of most Englishmen's heads, and probably never will be, till Italy wins a pitched battle against a first-class Power. In the American war, the majority of the English upper-class could not see the plainest facts about the re- lative strength of the two parties ; wanted the South to win, till they thought immigrants would desert the North ; or wanted the North to win, till they counted on slave-risings as direct elements in the military calculation. It is most dangerous, in calculating military movements, to care one straw which side wins, and nearly as dangerous to believe in the special " quali- ties " of _ troops, who, for the most part, unless very highly- trained indeed, are different men under different circum- stances and in different positions. The best way is to consider the troops in most cases pretty equal, and the causes entirely equal, and then watch the events which will reveal which of the two parties has the more qualified, or energetic, or risky leaders. When you have the topography right, and the facts pretty accurately, and your mind is clear of prepossessions, and you have a distinct view of the characters of the leading officers engaged, then you are competent to form an amateur opinion which, if the war lasts long enough, will tend to become a useful or even a trustworthy one, though still liable, like the opinion of mili- tary men, though from different causes, to unaccountable mistakes.

The heat amateur opinions in England, for instance, after four years of study of the war, were wholly wrong as to Sherman's "march into space," which seemed to them an objectless and even foolish operation, they being, of course, entirely unaware of the weak- ness in the Southern force which it would reveal. The amount of labour requisite to form such an opinion is very great, and is of the kind which most intelligent observers find too irksome to endure.

The getting up the political part of a campaign is even more difficult than the military, and without extensive previous know- ledge is very nearly impossible. The men who regulate these matters, and can move armies in support of their views, act, for the most part, from enlightened self-interest, without much scruple, and without much mercy ; but their action is very greatly affected by traditionary beliefs, and by circumstances which need not appear to the ordinary observer at all. Russian action, for example, in South-Eastern Europe is immensely affected by two dangers which certainly exist, but the extent of which can be judged only by the very few men familiar with the policy of Prince Bismarck, and the nature of the popular pressure which every now and then deflects the course of the Russian Czars. No amateur could form a useful opinion as to the real wishes of the Emperor of Austria in this struggle, or as to the degree of pressure which the Slavophils can bring to bear upon the Czar. Yet without such a preliminary opinion, their opinions as to the chances of intervention can be nothing but guesses, happy or unfortunate, as the case may be. Nothing short of a very extensive course of reading will help them to the needful data, and their better plan is to avoid guessing on any bases except the facts of the day, and the knowledge that Czar Alexander and Count Andrassy are in favour of avoiding a pro-Slavic war as long as possible. If they see that the Czar abdicates or that Count Andrassy retires, they may take it for granted that Slav pressure has grown strong, and that great events are immediately at hand.