23 SEPTEMBER 1882, Page 13



SIR,—It is interesting to note that, in your review of Mr. Brereton's work, your objections to the Opium traffic are based on the conditions of our treaty regulation with China, and not on the question as to the noxiousness or innocuousness of opium in consumption. All must admit that if those who are known as " anti-opiumists " could be induced to look at things in the same way, and to abandon the arguments based on presup- posed ill-effects of the drug—amply disproved by Mr. Brereton and others—the question of the morality of the opium traffic would be greatly simplified; and although none will deny that the forcible import of any commodity whatever is a wrongful action, yet it is probable that if the arguments of the Anti- Opium Society, profusely backed up by anecdotes of the most unpleasant nature, were once and for all abandoned as erroneous, and, what is more, misleading, little indignation would be felt among the genteel public on the subject. Suppose, for instance, that we were obliging Chinese to accept our rice duty free ; the offence would be, in reality, the same as ever, though I doubt whether many opponents of the opium traffic Would admit as much. But, as a matter of fact, the case between us and China is not as bad as you have put it. We do not oblige the Chinese to accept our opium duty free, but forbid them to impose more than a specified duty on it. And—what is generally forgotten should be remembered that this regulation, very probably unfair, is, after all, the result of a regular Treaty, framed to admit to China not only opium, but also merchandise of other kinds. Keeping this in view, the morality of the case is not so very bad, certainly not bad enough to excuse the sort of crusade carried on now against the traffic by many Englishmen more zealous than logical.

And it is this crusade, this well-meant zealousness, that have kindled the ire of Mr. Brereton. You, Sir, have found fault with the tone of his book, on the score of "prejudice." But surely there is some excuse for strong feeling, and even indigna- tion, on the subject. Our Indian Empire is now in the extra- ordinary position of being able to raise a large revenue without imposing one penny of taxeff on her own subjects, and we are asked by the opponents of the opium trade to throw away this immense advantage, in consequence of arguments which are for the most part doubtful, if not entirely untenable. It is easy to rouse the British public into the sort of righteous indignation which' dubs its followers as "moral," and its adversaries indis- criminately as "immoral," and then proceeds, on very insufficient evidence, to declare its intention of being thoroughly "moral," and letting all vile pecuniary matters slide! On the other hand, it is hard to persuade the public that questions of this kind between nation and nation really bear little parallel with ques- tions between man and man ; and there seems some reason now to fear the committal of a gigantic blunder, in consequence of the attempt to solve a great question by mere contman-sence.— [We cannot admit that benefit to our own subjects is an excuse for robbing the Chinese. The best argument for the Treaty is that a spirit duty has often been the subject of nego- tiation between free and equal States. We do not know, how- ever, that such a treaty was ever extorted by force.—En. Spectator.]