3 APRIL 1880, Page 12


IFOUND myself conversing the other night, at Mrs. Leo 1. Hunter's, with my old friend Count Smorltork, who, with his ally Baron Torltork, has been a good deal in society of late, upon all that "the word poltics ' surprises in himself." He was, I think, a good deal puzzled as to the meaning and origin of the word "Conservative," and particularly why, whatever it might please the Earl of Beaconsfield to do for the moment, whether by the sudden introduction into the boroughs of an extreme measure called "Household Suffrage "—up to that moment not contemplated by the Liberals as immediately practical (and the Count added that to the word "Liberal," whether for good or bad, he could, at least, give a distinct meaning)—or by suddenly, and as the Count expressed it, "off his own hook-and-I," declaring war and annexation in Asia in a general sort of way, using and moving Asiatics as English troops, upsetting all the traditions of Canning and Palmer- ston in Europe, and of Lawrence and Mayo in the East, and all that without a with-your-leave or by-your- leave to the people or to their Parliament,—why, I say, that should be called Conservatism, and should be voted for through thick and thin, particularly thick, by the peculiar body which is pleased to call itself "Society," and all those who, from pressure, or imitation, or Mammoncult, or Lordophily, or any other cause, go for what Society tells them ? Even though the reading of Society be confined to novels in three volumes and newspapers composed of polite intelligence impolitely given (varied on Sundays, when religious, by dear Mr. Rosewater's or that dreadful Mr. Anathema's sermons, according to the taste), all this (and the length of the sentence may, to a certain extent, be referred to too much reading Lord Beaconsfield, to see what he

means) puzzled and vexed the soul of Smorltork. "What," he said, put into English, "does all this conserve, except office ? and I hope not always that." "Further," added the Count,

"figures are a bore. I have had few millions, and they bother

me. And in a small way, figures may prove anything. But some big sums are clear. If a man dies five millions to the good, and his son dies owing eight, the first was an honest man and the second a spendthrift. Whether the next successor takes after father or grandfather, it is hard work for him either way,

though, in the interests of the creditors, it is to be hoped he may resemble the second. And why juggle P' Why does Sir Stafford Northcote say that he has 'relieved' one or more forms of taxation, at the expense of taxation in general P What is the good of putting an empty purse into a man's coat- pocket, if you first take two full ones out of his breeches P What is the good of saying that he has 'readjusted' the Probate Duties for the benefit of those that pay them, when he has increased them by seven hundred thousand pounds ? Finally, my dear Mr. Balbus, all you English seem agreed upon one thing,—that you want peace and quiet (you can be trusted with your own honour). How do you mean to get them ? and why on earth haven't you got them now ?"

I looked meditatively at Smorltork, and gave him my ideas. I told him that in fact, like everybody else, I had been wonder- ing for some time past what all the rumpus was about. I couldn't understand why men like Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote, whom I always regarded as honest men and honest politicians, however I might differ from many of their conclusions, had got into the way of telling, as the children say, "such horrid dreadful 'tories " in public. It is no use pretending that a statement which made to a private indi- vidual might be called by a short, bad name—a verinan trium literarum—becomes anything else when it is officially told, with all the weight of responsibility and publicity on its back, to a large collection of private individuals in the Queen's councils assembled. What did a man of Lord Salisbury's private char- acter mean by denying the change in our Indian frontier policy, when it had just been changed? What did Sir Stafford North- cote mean by following this lead so steadily ? And why do all the little minor fiddles go squeaking their false notes all over the country, and playing their one eternal tune, "'There is but one Beaconsfield, and Russia is his Bogie,"—the melody which, it is to be hoped, will soon be remembered as "The tune the old Cabinet died of ?" "Your Ministers," said Smorltork, "are certainly not remarkable for their veracity ; and I do not see what they want Sir William Dyke for, being, as you hinted just now, their own best Tory-tellers. Truth may lie at the bottom of a well, but is not to be found at the bottom of a Cabinet."

"It is so strange," I said, and here I began to orate a little, "that I have been casting about -for a solution of this sudden subversion of English tradition, which had, as we thought, crystallised into a steady and hereditary policy, handed down from minister to minister, Liberal or no, always unimpaired, if not always enriched. And, as I think, Eureka,' or else this Ministry of Self and Company is verily the most fortuitous concourse of inadequate atoms which ever scattered the dust of Downing Street in the eyes of the English people. . They simply go screaming over the world any nonsense that turns up, one parrot-cry being uttered on various notes, according to the respective strength of their pipes, till Polly learns another from the arch Parrot-merchant. The last cry about the alliance of the Liberals and the Home-rulers is so foolish, even in a parrot, that the hood must finally be drawn over Polly's cage. Now, if Nemo repente fuit turpissimus '- not to say stultissimus ' also—how can a body of honourable men consent together to incur such an imputation ? When Lord Salisbury made that answer in the Lords, I hold that he was saying what he believed to be the simple truth. I hold that neither then, nor long afterwards, had he any knowledge of what that silent and self-sufficing chief of his was intending to do. So with all of them, who have not the strength of character that Derby and Carnarvon had, to shake themselves free. To those that have eyes to see, those Lords have not deserted the Conservatives ; the Conservatives have deserted them. As far as these weaker vessels are concerned, this newfangled Conservative policy is just what it appears to observers to be,—a chapter of accidents. What I be- lieve it in reality to be is a settled and determined purpose though, for all practical ends, but the baseless fabric of a vision;

the purpose of one man who never swerves from it, and is utterly unscrupulous as to his means and instruments, but keeps his dark counsel in the dark, and confides it to no bosom but his own. When the secret memoirs of the time come to light, I believe that the figure of Beaconsfield will be a great one, as the world counts greatness ; greater than most of us think, who must otherwise regard him as a very poor charlatan. I believe that he will stand out in history, if I may for a moment borrow his trick of alliteration, as a kind of Brumma- gem Buonaparte, working out with a steady and masterful patience a single scheme,—the scheme of Asiatic empire. May the polling-booths be his Moscow !

The greatness of Napoleon the Great depended upon this, —that in France he was essentially an alien, and was therefore reckless of French life and treasure in the pursuit of European empire. Au alien in race is not of necessity an alien ; it is a question of naturalisation of character. It is in that sense that Lord Beaconsfield is essentially an alien in England ; in ways of thought, and mind, and speech he is as unlike an Englishman as Lord Palmerston was like one. What he has called himself he is, an Imperialist; which means "Empire at any cost." And mark you this, that secret as he is in his methods, no man has ever been franker than he as to his main ends and views. So was Napoleon ; so is Prince Bismarck. That he regards politics and morality as things apart ; that he joined the Tory party in order to manage it, for which the Liberals would have been no use to him ; that he passed Household Suffrage to take the wind out of the Liberal sails, these and other such matters the Premier has very plainly said. If he only had a Parliament like the German, he would do as the other big B does, who dreamed of German Empire, and achieved it. But that was a patriotic dream, after all. He would put himself and his Cabinet at the head of the majority, whatever party got it, Home-rulers or anybody else, and work through them. But his means are

different, and he uses them as best he may. How did he begin ? He bought the Suez-Canal Shares, which made him master, with the help of France, of the high-road to Asia. And therein he used our friends, the Egyptian Bondholders, as he uses everybody else. If annexation be ever advisable in the interests of humanity, so it would have been in the case of Egypt, where it would have been not more advisable than welcome. But Egypt is not in Asia, and Lord Beaconsfield only wanted his right of way ; better secured by working with France, he thought, than he could have secured it alone. Then he made the Queen of England Empress of India, with some opposition. I agree with the Duke of Argyll, and fail to see that it matters, one way or the other. Empress of India or Earl of Beaconsfield, what comes of it ? It amuses them and doesn't hurt us. To us they will remain our old friends, the Queen and Dizzy. Occupied at the time with the derivation of this Imperial expression, I found it referred (in its primitive form of Cmsar ') to an old Carthaginian word, meaning, as I think, a white elephant. Be it so. I would suggest that Cyprus be immediately transformed into an empire. Then my Lord. Egomet worked the Eastern difficulty (which he made, as much as anybody), and in defiance of precedent went to Berlin as his own commissioner, with his pocket Foreign Secretary for his dme daninee. Then and there, careless of Europe (which he regards as a worn-out old place, where, in these days of balanced military Powers, there is little enough to be done for Number One), he made his famous Cyprian Treaty, which commits us to obligations which very few of us have realised. It introduces into Asia, quoth Lord Sandon, steam-ploughs, and lawn-tennis, and the Conservative working-man, and all the other blessings of civilisation. It really introduces, if it should- be brought to the pinch, the necessity of holding and governing all Asia Minor against Russia, at the point of the sword. That implies conscription in England, but that is nothing to Benjamin Bonaparte. Were he a younger man, and were the English Constitution less of a nuis- ance to him than it is, he would lead his own armies to the field, —native and mercenary, Sikhs and Arabians and Mesopotamians and everybody, to lord it over Asia from one end to the other. He disliked the Zulu war, for Zululand, being in Africa, concerns him in nowise. It probably worried him as much as a wasp's sting would ; and if he did not recall Sir Bartle, it is pro- bably because he had the Napoleonic obstinacy with the Napoleonic idea, and was not inclined to throw over a mis- taken servant, who had caught from himself the infection of dictation, like the Baroness Burdett-Coutts, and all the

Conservative candidates the country through. I am Sir

Oracle.' Being a Conservative, I don't ope my lips much, but I think the more. Bali! the thing is coming to an end. Ac- cording to the Conservative creed, Russia wants to get at' us. To prevent that, we are getting at Russia. We have made ourselves conterminous with her in Asia Minor, annexing thereby a huge Asiatic slice, and contracting engagements which only conscription can keep, or honour break. We have taken Cyprus because Rhodes, better for the purpose put forward, is less Asiatic in geography. I wonder why we haven't undertaken to rebuild Troy. We have invaded Afghanistan because, on the Tory showing, we ought to have attacked Russia, not her; and my Lord of Beaconsfield means to end that war in annexation of Asiatic territory. We have done so on pretexts which nobody defends, understands even. India is to the Premier what Gaza was to Samson ; he has carried off its 'gates' on his shoulders, and does not know where to put them down. What he means to do next I know not, and should be sorry to predict. Quoth the wise Ameri- can to his young friend given that way,—' Young man, never

you prophecy till you know.' But whatever he does will be for Asiatic empire, and the power at home which will enable him to dream out his dream. He gave the English boroughs household suffrage, with the light heart with which, like 011ivier, he goes to war. He will give the counties the same, as he would give Ireland Home-rule, or give anybody anything which would keep him master for the hour, if he, little Benjamin. our ruler, can but come back to rule us again. The question before us is, whether England likes this sort of thing, or means to stand it, with something of the misery to follow which Napoleon left as his bequest to France. We appeal from Eng- land drunk to England sober. Shall it be ?"

I was silent, and Smorltork much impressed. Whether he believed a syllable of my theory, is what I know not.