Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[graphic]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Government for the first two years without interest; but after that period the loans must be repaid by installments, plus 3 per cent. interest. According to the principles of international law defined at the Conference of The Hague, all private property seized or destroyed during the campaign on the plea of the necessities of war ought to be paid for when the war is over. But the British Government, at the close of the war as at the beginning, has shown a cynical indifference to the recommendations which they made at the conference of peace.

THE MEANING OF BRITISH FEDERATION.

The future of South Africa depends upon the spirit in which its masters carry out the provisions of the settlement concluded with the Boers. If the King's ministers were to boldly adopt a wide and comprehensive constructive policy, they might even now secure South Africa for that loose confederation of self-governing republics which, by a somewhat absurd misnomer, is described as the British Empire. If they were to announce that, as the fortunes of war had compelled them to provide a new constitution for South Africa, they had decided to organize the country as an organic whole on the basis of federation, and if they were, as a proof of this determination, to summon a nominated constituent convention, to which all the more prominent representatives of the Dutch were invited for the purpose of framing the future constitution of South Africa, there ought to be some hope, even if, as a first step, Lord Milner's advice was taken, and the Cape constitution was formally suspended for eighteen months or two years. The constituent convention would have to decide upon the areas of the federated colonies, to name the period within which representative government should be established in each state, and to recommend how the various functions of government should be divided between the federal assembly and the local legislatures. If such a constituent convention ever met, it would probably frame a constitution for South Africa very much on the lines of the Constitution of the United States, and in the near future the only symbol of British domination would be the union jack. In all South African affairs, the federal and the state legislatures would be as free to govern South Africa in the interest of the Afrikanders as if the British flag no longer fluttered over Cape Town and Pretoria. In the natural but inevitable evolution of the English-speaking race, the British flag tends more and more to become a mere symbol of a race alliance, based solely upon sentiment and interest. It is an alliance from which each partner may secede at his discretion; but

while it lasts it secures for all the allied nations the protection of the armed forces of all the members of the alliance. Whether the common center of such an alliance of the English-speaking commonwealths of the world will be at Westminster or at Washington, time alone can decide.

THE CROWNING AT WESTMINSTER.

For the moment, however, the political center of all English-speaking states outside the ring fence of the United States of America is at Westminster, and this midsummer the fact that the center has not yet shifted westward is being advertised to the world at large, and to the English-speaking world in particular, by the coronation of Edward VII. In this world, in which uneducated man is so largely influenced by symbol, it is impossible to deny the utility of ceremonial. In former times, the consecration and coronation of a sovereign was a thing almost too solemn to be merely human. As in the mass the consecrated wafer and the juice of the grape were believed to be transformed into the very Body and Blood of the Lord, so a ruler, who was merely human at his accession, became transfigured at his coronation, thenceforth remained a semi-divine personage, vested with semi-miraculous privileges and prerogatives, with right divine to govern wrong. The cynical observer may mutter Lowell's sarcastic couplet, "A mountain stream that ends in mud, methinks, is melancholy," as he contemplates the changes that have converted the magic, mystic, miracle-working ceremony of the middle ages into a mere pageant for the advertisement of the importance of the crown in the imperial system. No one of all the thousands who in the crowded Abbey will witness the crowning of the King, not even one of the millions who will read about it in the newspapers, will be for a moment deluded by the scenic splendor of the stately ceremonial into a belief that the central figure experiences the slightest change as the result of all the genuflexions, presentations, consecrations, and coronation of which he will be the subject. Even the King himself, although naturally prone to the common delusion of royalties that he is made of different clay from that of ordinary mortals, is too mundane a man of the world to be deceived by the elaborate make-believe of the coronation so far as to imagine that he is invested with any power beyond that of influence.

THE KING'S REAL POWER.

That power resulting from a privileged position which makes him privy to all the counsels of his ministers, and which also makes him the most conspicuous symbol of imperial unity. is un

doubtedly much greater than most political men are willing to admit. The British colonies, year by year, become more and more independent nations. The most loyal among them would revolt tomorrow if it were required to submit to the domination of the Imperial Parliament. But one and all submit eagerly to the supremacy of the British crown. There is nothing which angers a nativeborn colonist so much as to suggest that he is in any way the subject of the inhabitants of the mother country. The complacent talk in London newspapers about our empire" provokes nothing but resentment among colonists, who, sometimes with oaths and curses, repudiate the arrogant assumption that they in any way belong to the mother country. But inasmuch as the power of the crown has long since been reduced to a mere shadow impotent to harm, and as the throne of Alfred the Conqueror, of Richard the Lion Heart, and of Edward III. still looms large on the horizon of history, they are most profuse in their protestations of loyalty to the King. He never does them any harm, he interests them as a picturesque human figure, raised sufficiently above the heads of the common crowd as to be visible all round the world; he is in their eyes the symbol of unity, and honors bestowed by him acquire an added grace by the fact that they have passed through his hands. Hence it is doubtful whether the empire would survive the disappearance of the monarchy.-anachronism though the crown may appear to the matter-of-fact American, it nevertheless serves a practical end, and any attempt to replace it would have far-reaching results.

Even if we grant that the monarchy has become a mere fetich, the fact that it has been so completely deprived of any real executive authority in the state is a reason the more for exhausting the resources of advertisement in order to give to the fetich the semblance of authority. The survival of the British monarchy is an instance of the determination of the ordinary man both to eat his cake and have it. He has long since appropriated to himself all the important prerogatives of royal power; but although he possesses the substance, he is not less solicitous about preserving the shadow. Hence Britain is both an empire and a republic, an empire in its shiny trappings, and in all the paraphernalia of royal pomp, but an essential republic in that all real power to legislate, to levy taxes, to make war or peace, is placed in the hands of the people. The monarchy, in short, is a historic fiction diligently preserved in nominal being because of its exceeding usefulness in keeping up appearances and preserving the continuity of the administration. From a legal point of view, the monarchy

was so necessary in England that the whole force of English lawyerdom was used for the purpose of investing Oliver Cromwell with the regal status. The old monarchical ruts were worn so smooth and deep that the state coach jolted horribly when an attempt was made to drive it along a republican track.

AN INDUSTRIOUS MONARCH.

The more the institution is exalted, the more the individual dwindles. The ancient dignity and famous associations of the throne suffice to weave a glamour even over royal rascals and imbeciles. Albert Edward VII. is not a Victoria, neither is he a George IV. He is as fond of the turf as Richard Croker, he goes regularly to the theater, he plays at bridge, and his frank enjoyment of the society of ladies of the type of Mrs. Keppel exposes him to animadversions in many quarters,-not usually censorious of the amusements of kings. But the recreations of royalty bulk much more conspicuously before the eyes of their subjects than the amount of hardcollar work which the occupancy of the throne entails. Edward VII. takes himself seriously, discharges the work of his exalted office. punctiliously, and, under the yoke of empire, is learning to restrain his former flea-like disposition to jump about fitfully from subject to subject in conversation as the whim of the moment dictated. Sir Harry Johnston told me that when he returned from Uganda, he found the King much more intelligently informed concerning the burning questions of Central Africa than any of his ministers. In the British Empire there are many Ugandas. The King must meet the governors of each of them; and if he masters all their dispatches sufficiently to discuss them with their authors on their return to the capital of the empire, he must often burn the midnight oil and spend laborious days.

THE FIRST "IMPERIAL" CORONATION IN LONDON.

The coronation has preoccupied public attention in London for months past. There has not been a coronation in Westminster for sixty years. When Victoria was crowned, one-half of the present area of the empire lay outside her dominions, and the number of the subjects of the Queen on her accession were hardly more than half those who acclaimed the coronation of the King. The British Empire, as we know it, was practically the creation of the Victorian age. The colonial premiers, the Indian princes, and many others who will figure conspicuously in the Abbey at the King's crowning were conspicuous by their absence at the last coronation. When the last reign began, the peers traveled up from

their country places in coaches; the railway sys. tem was but in its cradle, and the concentration of millions from the whole country around one center of public interest was practically impossi. ble. The age of steam is giving place to the age of electricity, and both steam and electricity combined to enable the lieges to gorge the crowded metropolis with myriads of sightseers.

On Thursday, June 26, the coronation; on June 27, the great procession through the capital; on Saturday, the 28th, the inspection of the fleet in the Solent. So the great festival opens, and all the following week the royal and imperial junketings will continue. The conduits freely running wine, which used to be so conspicuous a feature of similar festivals, have disappeared; but the public houses amply supply the need for alcoholic stimulus, and the abandonment of semiintoxicated crowds of men and women to manifestations of maudlin enthusiasm, of which there has been too much of late years, furnishes at least a rude object lesson as to the immensity of the task that awaits the rural reformers who would dare to try to civilize the brute mass of British barbarism.

THE EDUCATION BILL AND THE

There is little prospect of this task being attempted by the present ministers. As the eyes of the fool are at the ends of the earth, so ministers have squandered so many millions in the destruction of the Boer republics in South Africa that they have no resources left for educating, civilizing, and moralizing the poor savages of the slums. The education bill, which was originally presented as an attempt to improve or create a system of secondary schools, is now generally recognized as a measure whose sole aim is to strangle the system of public elementary education established by Mr. Foster and Mr. Gladstone in 1870, and hand over the whole duty of primary education to the denominationalists; that is to say, five schools out of six to the Anglican clergy, one half of whom teach doctrines of sacerdotalism from which our forefathers would have recoiled as "flat popery."

NONCONFORMISTS.

To deliver over the primary schools of Great Britain to Anglican priests may no doubt be defended as an indispensable means of weaning England from the heresies of the Protestant Reformation, but the pretence that such a measure is conceived in the interest of public education is too transparent. A fierce wrangle has begun over the bill, which, it is now evident, cannot be carried this session. To hold an autumn session in coronation year for the purpose of permanently handicapping nonconformists, by placing the control of public education in the hands of their

Anglican enemies, was hardly regarded as one of the boons which the present ministry would confer upon the nation. The attempt to give the schools to the Church will have one excellent result. Of late years many nonconformists have been backsliding from the political faith of their fathers. Forty years ago,—nay, twenty years ago, -an English nonconformist who was not a devoted Liberal was rare indeed. But, with the removal of most of their special grievances, and the growth of wealth among dissenters, the chapel lost its special character of a Liberal stronghold. The Church now, as ever, was a rallying center of the Conservative forces, only inferior to the public house. The anti-papal prejudices of some of the pseudo-nonconformists drove them over into the Unionist ranks; but it was not until last general election that the Liberal debacle was complete. The nonconform ists were hopelessly divided by the war, and nonconformity as a distinct political force, almost ceased to exist. The education bill is evidence that the Church party realizes its opportunity. It is striking when the iron is hot, and availing itself of an opportunity not likely to recur for the purpose of establishing the ascendency of the Anglican sect and permanently reducing the nonconformists to a position of galling inferiority. If the bill passes, the chapel will once more become the rallying point of the forces of Liberalism; and the Church, at some not distant day, may be disestablished and disendowed in revenge for this Jameson raid on the public schools.

LORD SALISBURY'S RETIREMENT.

This, however, is an affair of the future. What is of more immediate political importance is the resignation of Lord Salisbury and its immediate consequences. Lord Salisbury, for a year past, has privately given out his determination to lay down the premiership when the war ended and the King was crowned. He is an old man and heavy with fat. He has achieved everything in the way of personal success that a British politician can aspire to. He is weary of the possession of power, and wished to retire altogether some time ago. Of late, as the hour of his intended resignation draws near, he has been singularly reserved as to his intentions, and so great is the fear and the awe of him that overshadows his colleagues none of them dares to ask him what he means to do. It is assumed, however, that he will resign after the coronation, and leave the task of carrying on the govern ment of the realm to his nephew, Arthur Balfour. There has been some discussion of late as to whether or not the new ministry will dissolve Parliament and appeal to the country for new

lease of power. Such a step is extremely unlikely. A dissolution, like death, is usually postponed to the last moment, even by the miserable who contemplate suicide. The ministers have a a solid majority, elected on the khaki cry, that is admittedly much greater than any they could hope to secure now that the war is over. Why, then, dissolve?

HIS SUCCESSOR ?

The opposition would, no doubt, like a dissolution. They could not fail to improve their position. But the fact that the opposition desires it is an additional reason why the supporters of the ministry dislike it. We may take it then that Mr. Balfour will not dissolve, but will carry on, with a reconstructed ministry, very much on the old lines. There has been some talk of Lord Lansdowne being selected as Lord Salisbury's Such an arrangement would only have one advantage,-it would release the premier from the drudgery of leading the House of

successor.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Commons. But Lord Lansdowne, although an estimable man of considerable ability, has no standing in the country. He is an indifferent speaker. At the War Office he was not remarkable for strength, and although as foreign minister he has done fairly well, his selection by the King would excite some surprise, and in the Unionist party would occasion much dissatisfaction, for the Tories do not care to be led by the Liberal Unionists. If the Duke of Devonshire were not so indolent by nature, he would have a chance far superior to that of Lord Lansdowne. Mr. Chamberlain is stronger than either, but he is a Liberal Unionist. He could not lead the House of Commons with success, and he would not press his claims against Mr. Balfour. We may expect, therefore, that Mr. Balfour will succeed his uncle, and that the long-suppressed differences among the Unionist majority will ripen under his rule, until at last the Liberals, having come together, the long reign of the Unionist party comes to its natural end.

[graphic]

WESTMINSTER ABBEY, THE CENTRAL SHRINE OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE.

« AnteriorContinuar »