30 DECEMBER 1882, Page 5


WE wonder if Lord Granville has, or thinks he has, a definite idea of the present policy of France. If he has, he is, we imagine, nearly alone in that advantage. We cannot remember within the last quarter of a century, or, indeed, since Louis Philippe fled, a time when the Government of France seemed so undecided,—so incapable in its foreign action of adhering to any steady idea, or, indeed, of forming

roughly, M. Gambetta, the Cabinet, and the majority of the Chamber—had decided upon a line which, however unscrupu- lous, was at least intelligible. France would abstain for a time from all serious interference in European politics, and from all disputes which might involve European intervention, and would employ her leisure in acquiring or developing dependencies which might, if carefully worked, increase the national fortune. She would not quarrel about Egypt, but she would seize Tonquin, Madagascar, the Valley of the Congo, and any obtainable islands in the South Seas. That seemed clear, and all the initiatory steps were taken to make that policy successful. Suddenly, however, it became ap- parent that the new scheme had not been adopted with any decision, or any certainty of its acceptance by the people. The attack on Madagascar, though so positively resolved on that the Malagache Envoys were virtually expelled from Paris with contumely, was either abandoned, or was whittled down to a trumpery demonstration from Reunion, which will give the Hovas, unless their Queen loses her temper, and commits some outrageous blunder in the way of massacre, very little concern. The expedition to the Congo, though not abandoned, is carefully described as an "exploration," and only .£60,000 has been allowed for it ; while the expedition to Tonquin, by far the most promising of French enterprises —for an India might be built up in Indo-China—created a furious quarrel in the Cabinet. That was settled, as the official papers announced, by submission to the party of ad- venture ; the expedition was ordered, and then all at once it dwindled to an affair of reinforcements. Seven hundred and fifty men are to be sent to Hanoi. Of course, according to the officials, a larger expedition is to be sent " in spring," on purpose, one supposes, that malaria may do its worst ; but, meanwhile, France is informed that mere "reinforcements to so slight an extent do not require the previous sanction of the Chamber." Obviously, the Government shrinks from asking the national sanction to any extension of dependencies, and resolves to continue the policy of reserve, and this also in the face of peasant opinion would be an intelligible course, but for the action taken on Wednesday. On that day, M. Duclerc pushed the question of Tunis to a division, and carried a Bill which for all serious purposes involves the annexation of the Bejdik, and its direct administration by France. And the Chamber, in spite of the opposition of leading Ultras, accepted the proposal by 424 votes to 52. At the same time, the Government maintains its attitude of passive resistance to the settlement of Egypt, and the whole situation amounts to this. France will not intervene actively in Egypt, but will veto any arrangement there ; she will make no peace with Madagascar, but will make her demonstration a feeble one ' • she will claim the Valley of the Congo, but only in a nominal way ; she will not aban- don the conquest of Tonquin, but she will not prosecute it with any adequate force ; and she will hold on hardily to her con- quest of Tunis.

A great many observers, including all Opposition journals in France, explain these contradictory decisions in the simplest and most direct way, by declaring the Ministry imbecile. The Cabinet, they say, has neither nerve nor ability, and, of course,

it muddles everything. If there were another Ministry, which, however, is not described, everything would go straight. This explanation, however, can be only partially true. We ourselves see little reason for believing in the Dueler° Ministry, which, on the Egyptian Question, behaves like the sulky school- boy who declares that the master is unfair, and he " will not play any longer," but French Cabinets do not often show.their weakness by this kind of vacillation. • Their tendency is to do big, showy things, and never finish them. We suspect that the two hostile currents of opinion, which have be- come more marked in France than even in England, are waging another battle over the new Colonial policy, as they waged one over the Foreign policy a few months ago. " Society " in Paris, that is, the upper classes generally, de- sired active intervention in Egypt, and the Government would have yielded, but that the electors, slowly becoming aware of what was in prospect, interposed their peremptory veto. Society then fell back on " Colonial expansion," was again supported by the Cabinet—though this time with the open disapproval of M. Gravy, who maintains that Colonies are useless to France, and indeed, sources of weakness—and aided by accident would have carried out a large and not ill-planned scheme which, in three years, would have given France Indo-China, and the only great unconquered island accessible to French ambition. Suddenly, however, the Cabinet saw reason to believe that this project also was unacceptable to the electors, and all their designs were reduced till the movements sanctioned became mere matters of executive detail, with no financial meaning. The electors, in fact—that is, the French peasantry and artisans— were determined to allow of no adventure whatever, whether described as foreign or as colonial. We should be quite cer- tain of this explanation, but for the vote on Tunis, and we incline to believe that this passed only because the Deputies thought France had been too much committed to recede. M. Clemenceau neither opposed nor supported the vote, and the stronger Reds all voted for the evacuation even of that ac- quisition. To all appearance, the French people, taken as a body, have decided that France shall for the present efface herself altogether. They do not interfere in details, they scarcely, indeed, notice them ; but though they condone the Tunisian expedition, the worst of which is over, they are re- solved that French soldiers shall for the present be kept in France.

That resolve, if it exists—and M. Duclerc's anxious promise to reduce the number of troops in Tunis, and his eagerness to create local regiments point to nothing else—is a very momentous one, and will deeply interest every Foreign Office in Europe. What is the ultimate motive of it ? Are the French people determined to avoid all effort and concentrate all force until they can wage a promising war with Germany, or are they determined that France shall remain on the defen- sive, and attend to her own affairs alone ? Are they, in fact, waiting an opportunity for revenge, or are they intent on securing their own comfort ? A large number of observers, including most Germane, and, so far as we can judge by their public declarations, most Bonapartists, think the former ex- planation true,—and certainly they have French history behind them. It is quite easy, to those who recall the past, to believe France panic-struck and afraid of her own shadow, but most difficult to imagine that she

has deliberately abandoned her conspicuous Nile in the world. A France content to look on while Slav, German, and Englishman divide the world, is not the France that any,

even the oldest, of us have either known or conceived. Still, it is certain that, with the accession of the body of the people to direct and unquestioned power, some great change has passed over France. It was always said, even during the Napoleonic regime, that the peasantry disliked war, that the Emperor felt his wars must be short, and that he cut short the war with Russia, huddled up the war with Austria, and scuttled out of Mexico, from an accurate comprehension of the underlying temper of the peasantry. The ultimata view of that vast body is hard to ascertain, but it is quite possible that they regard war as a wasteful folly.

harassing to conscripts, who is and get, ill in unintel- ligible numbers, or that they care nothing whatever about Colonies—the loss of them all never injured the popularity either of Bourbon or Bonaparte, and no voice was raised against the surrender of Mexico—and that, like their Repre- sentatives in the Chamber, they regard all expeditions as

schemes to make fortunes for the rich. Their journals say so, openly declaring that Madagascar is to be seized to fatten the sugar interest in Reunion, just now staggering under a blew

very properly dealt by Lord. Ripon, who has prohibited Indian emigration until the planters mend their ways ; and that the object of the Tonquin adventure is to " float " the shares in certain mines in Anam, of which a Parisian Ring has obtained concessions. Those may be mere lies, but the direction of the lies shows the direction of the popular suspicions, which as regards Tuniq were only too true, and which are just the suspicions a half-instructed, jealous, and penurious population would enter- tain. It must not be forgotten, either, that since the Southern planters fell, the American masses have rejected every project for acquiring territory, that our own masses are clearly either indifferent or hostile to acquisition, and that France through the conscription feels distant war as neither America nor Britain ever does. She is the single country in which conscripts are required to fight beyond seas, and are sent home in thousands from invisible possessions, to drag out lives spoiled, and not glorified, by disease. There may be glory in a lost leg, there is none in ulcerated bowels, and the latter were the sole reward of the unhappy conscripts sent to fight the Kroumirs without filters. The French feel the personal losses of war as no other people do, and may have resolved that unless attacked or insulted, they will have no more of it. If that is the case, and can be finally ascertained to be the case, political com- binations all over Europe must undergo a radical modification, and England in particular must seek a now ally.