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room had been found for themselves, were virtuously indignant at the action of the Prime Minister, and Mr. Bartley gave voice to this indignation in a speech which was accentuated rather than depreciated by the ironical criticisms of his fellow-sufferer, Mr. Gibson Bowles. Liberals looked on at this domestic quarrel with a certain degree of amusement. Their sentiments were adequately expressed by Lord Rosebery when he congratulated Lord Salisbury upon being the head of a family possessing an unequalled degree of administrative capacity. Nobody believes that nepotism in its grosser forms is possible to Lord Salisbury; but the general opinion, not merely of his political opponents, but of the world at large, was that he would have acted more prudently if he had displayed a greater regard for the scruples of the squeamish and the later traditions of our official life. The whole situation, as it affected disinterested spectators, was summed up in the exclamation of a Conservative M.P.: What would have been said by everybody if Mr. Gladstone had formed a Ministry in this fashion?'
It was upon the head of Mr. Chamberlain, however, that the full fury of the storm of personal criticism burst. Mr. Chamberlain has many remarkable qualities, and they have raised him very high. But his dearest friend will not claim for him the quality of conciliating his opponents. All through his public life it has been the same. Conservative statesmen had likened him to Jack Cade long before it became the fashion among Radicals of a certain school to compare him to a still more notorious and objectionable character. During the General Election he had surpassed himself in the energy with which he had pursued his enemies, the representatives of the Liberal cause in the constituencies. There seemed to be absolutely no limits, either to his vituperative vehemence or his physical activity. He darted here and there throughout the country, making speeches, every one of which contained, not one, but many stings; he wrote letters inspiring those whom he addressed with the belief that unless they did their duty England would find herself at the mercy of a party of traitors; and when the time failed him for letter-writing he despatched telegrams to east and west and north and south, in which he pelted his opponents with insulting epigrams. Never before has such activity on the part of a politician of the front rank been accompanied by so much unrestraint. Mr. Chamberlain was manifestly bent upon surpassing the record of Mr. Gladstone's colossal energy whilst importing his own characteristic methods into the campaign which he was waging with such heroic intensity of purpose. Even those of us who profess no love for the Colonial Secretary were compelled to a certain reluctant admiration by the spectacle which he thus presented.
But he made, or seemed to make, one serious mistake. In one of his telegrams to the supporters of a Conservative candidate in
Lancashire he was represented as saying that a seat lost to the Government was a seat sold' to the Boers. Naturally, such a statement aroused the deepest indignation among Liberals who, if they do not claim, as Mr. Chamberlain did, a monopoly of patriotism, are at least conscious that there is no ground for such a calumny as this. The storm spread until it even reached the ears of the Colonial Secretary, who has since frankly admitted that he was too busy during the General Election to observe what was passing around him. He issued a statement to the effect that there had been a telegraphic error in the transmission of the message. He had not used the offensive word sold,' but had merely asserted that a seat lost to the Government was gained' to the Boers. In ordinary times this would have sufficed to end the incident. But the exasperation of the Liberals against Mr. Chamberlain was so great that they were not to be appeased. Some of their number hardly attempted to conceal their want of belief in the Colonial Secretary's explanation, and during the short Session he was challenged more than once to prove that he had not really used the obnoxious word 'sold.' In the end, but not until after the Session had closed, a facsimile of the original telegram was published, and it was proved conclusively, as sensible people might from the first have anticipated, that Mr. Chamberlain had spoken the simple truth with regard to the wording of the message which, as altered, had caused so much anger.
But in the meantime came the unhappy episode of what has become known as the case of the 'Chamberlain contracts.' Whilst the election was in progress the Morning Leader, a Radical news paper, had published a series of statements showing that Mr. Chamberlain and the members of his family were shareholders in a number of Birmingham companies some of which do business with different departments of the Government, and more particularly with the Admiralty and the War Office. Upon these 'revelations' turned one of the most striking debates of the Session. No one ventured to impute anything in the shape of corruption to the Colonial Secretary, but some unpleasant insinuations were undoubtedly made during the course of the debate. Mr. Chamberlain, in defending himself, was able to show that any profit that could accrue to himself from Government contracts was infinitesimal so far as its pecuniary amount was concerned, and the country has accepted his statement as a satisfactory vindication of his personal purity. But here, as in the case of Lord Salisbury, the feeling prevails widely that it would have been well if Mr. Chamberlain had shown greater care in his investments, so as to avoid even the appearance of evil. The Standard neatly summed up popular opinion in both cases by stating that we could have wished that Lord Salisbury had been able to obtain more talent outside the family circle, and that Mr. Chamberlain had held no shares in any public company to which Government contracts were
given.' Many Conservatives bitterly resent the obtrusion of these personal questions into the discussions of Parliament; but they cannot pretend that there was no provocation for the action of those who raised them. Nor is it possible to acquit the Prime Minister of a somewhat cynical disregard for a wholesome convention. This cynicism was clearly shown in his reply to Lord Rosebery, who raised the question of the appointment of the Earl of Hardwicke as Under-Secretary for India, whilst he remains a member of a firm of stockbrokers. It is not enough that Lord Hardwicke himself is a man of unblemished and unassailable honour. The chief Minister of the Crown, in deciding whether a member of the Stock Exchange is eligible for such an office as that of Under-Secretary for India, is bound to think not so much of the personal merits of an individual as of the consequences of an innovation which in other days and with other men might have far-reaching and unfortunate results. The political history of the last century is on the whole most honourable so far as it throws light upon the characters of our public men, but even that history, singularly creditable as it is, should have satisfied Lord Salisbury that scandals have occurred and may occur again. All party feeling apart, it is impossible not to feel that the standard of public morality, so far as it affects politicians of the official class, has not been maintained as it should have been by the present Prime Minister.
The vote of sixteen millions to meet the current expenses of the war was the only practical work of the Session. Ministers asked for the money in a chastened mood, and one of their number offered the House a frank official confession of the miscalculations which they had made in their estimates of the cost and gravity of the operations against the Boers. A more remarkable series of miscalculations can hardly be found in the records of the past century. An initial blunder would have been explicable, and might readily have been excused. But for eighteen months past Ministers have stumbled from one blunder into another owing to an optimism for which there has been no justification, and which, singularly enough, has not been shared by the intelligent portion of the public. Their last and in some respects their greatest miscalculation was when they precipitated the General Election on the assumption that the war was practically at an end, and that it would receive the coup de grâce when the Boers became aware that the Government had secured a new vote of confidence from the country. The General Election is a thing of the past, and the war is still with us. Last Christmas, when the nation was passing through the bitterest crisis of the century with a silent fortitude that may not improperly be described as sublime, none of us could have believed that the Yuletide of 1900 would witness such a state of things as that which now confronts us in South Africa. The guerilla warfare,
which began after the flight of Mr. Kruger from the country he had ruined, has proved to be more serious than any of us anticipated. In Commander De Wet the Boers have discovered a general of the highest capacity, who seems able to escape from the most perilous positions with an ease and certainty that recall the numberless evasions accomplished at the other end of Africa by our old enemy Osman Digna. To and fro throughout the vast territory that we have now annexed he has moved, apparently at his own pleasure: raiding here, tearing up the lines of railway there, capturing a transport train in one direction, and a military contingent in another. Nor has he been the mere guerilla, trusting solely to his swiftness of movement for his power of escaping us. He has shown that he can fight, and fight well; and though in almost every regular encounter we have come off victorious, it has been at a cost that has darkened too many British homes.
It would be idle now to discuss the causes of the new phase upon which the struggle has entered. Some critics find the reason in the mildness of the treatment accorded by Lord Roberts to the population of the annexed territory; others blame him for having insisted upon unconditional' surrender when he was in communication with Botha and De Wet after the collapse of the regular Boer Government. For the present these discussions are beside the question. The melancholy fact we have to confront, as the year draws to a close, is that our troops are still engaged in a costly and painful struggle with a foe which, if gradually drawing nearer to the point of exhaustion, is certainly not yet beaten; and that this foe during the last fortnight of December has not merely been able to capture considerable bodies of British troops but to invade Cape Colony itself and revive the fires of sedition among the Queen's subjects there. To meet this dangerous situation we are sending further reinforcements to Capetown, and, at a cost which makes the military expert shudder, are adding to the force of cavalry in South Africa the few squadrons we had retained in this country during the height of the war.
The man in the street and the writers in the ministerial newspapers still preserve an appearance of confidence, almost, indeed, of self-satisfaction, in presence of these events. But it has been manifest of late that Ministers are no longer in the optimistic mood. Lord Salisbury's recent speeches have been couched in a tone of depression that has startled his admirers, and other Ministerial utterances have been in the same key. Some have concluded from this fact that the Government is in possession of exclusive news from South Africa of the most unfavourable kind, news so bad that it dare not give it to the public. This is an absurd idea. It is true that Lord Kitchener, upon whom the chief command of our forces has devolved, maintains the chill reticence which distinguished him during the Soudan expedition, and that there are few
correspondents left in the field to supply the deficiencies in the official despatches. But every week brings us not only thousands of letters from the front, but men of intelligence and experience who have actually seen what is passing there. No Ministry in these circumstances could hide the truth, even if it desired to do so, and this Ministry has not laid itself open to the charge of seeking to conceal our misfortunes from us. The depression which has undoubtedly fallen upon those who are behind the scenes may be ascribed to the disappointment of the hopes which they formed after the occupation of Pretoria, and to the uniformly gloomy stories which are brought back from the field by the officers and civilians who have recently returned from South Africa to England. It is too soon to dwell upon the tales that come from the actual scene of operations; but it may be said at once that the miscalculations which have been made at home have had their counterpart in South Africa. The splendid valour of our men and the self-sacrificing heroism of our officers are as great as ever; but the task laid upon them has increased in difficulty as time has passed, and, though the end of the long struggle is now confidently anticipated in the early spring, it is too soon for those who know the truth to regard the situation with the complacent self-satisfaction of the ignorant. The unmistakable hint conveyed to the nation when the thanksgiving service which was arranged for the day on which Lord Roberts returned to London was abandoned can neither be ignored nor misunderstood.
But if the month has brought us depression and even misfortune at the seat of war, it has seen an unexpected improvement in our fortunes in another quarter. At the close of November ex-President Kruger was still in Paris, where he was the object of demonstrations of popular enthusiasm to which few parallels are to be found. He was, in fact, floating on a tide of public favour that still seemed to be rising, and that conceivably might have swept before it all the restraining influences of diplomacy and statecraft. Even the French Ministry, in spite of its desire to create no fresh cause of irritation between France and this country, was compelled to temporise with the popular passion; and there were signs that the dangerous excitement was spreading over the Continent. It was at this moment that, owing to two specific causes, the whole situation was changed, and the gravest perils averted not merely from Great Britain but from Europe. One of these causes was the fatal blunder committed by Mr. Kruger and his adviser Mr. Leyds when they thought that with popular feeling in their favour they could force. the hand of the German Emperor, and the other was the foresight and resolution of that remarkable man himself. His refusal to receive Mr. Kruger, equivalent to a prohibition of the latter's proposed visit to Berlin, was, as he has declared through the mouth of his Chancellor, inspired solely by his sense of what the interests of