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In transcribing the following passage from I have followed the Hathi Trust Digital Library’s generally accurate online version, corrected errors in the OCR, and added links to material in the Victorian Web. — George P. Landow
he nation . . . counted with certainty, and it had a right to count, if pledges were to go for anything, on absolute freedom from disturbances abroad. Lord Beaconsfield had been too adventurous; he had thought too much about maintaining the Empire, and about the honour of the country. This, too, like everything else, was vanity, and it was our duty to renounce it. We did renounce it, and people rub their eyes even now when they think of what followed. The Ministry, after avowing a policy of universal surrender, have been driven to sacrifice life in a manner almost unheard of in recent years. They take good care that the public shall receive no official information as to the actual number of Arabs and Egyptians who have perished since the destruction of Alexandria; but it cannot be less, and is probably much more, than thirty thousand killed and wounded. No information on that subject — and not much on any subject — is vouchsafed. The Government resents the putting of a question, as vexatious, embarrassing, and obstructive. It claims the right of going to war without explanation of its causes and motives. A well-known Radical declared in the House, towards the end of March, that never before, since he had sat there, had he “known the case of a war in which the House was not told some reason or other why it was carried on.” The present Ministry evidently think it the wiser course to give no reasons. Let a simple question be put, and some official rises in anger, and complains that the “whole business of the House is to be interfered with in order that the questioner may may make a speech;” or the Prime Minister, with a great show of indignation, vows that he has never seen such conduct before in the House of Commons, and that the enquirer is “offering immense obstruction to important public business.” The right of putting questions to a Government is of ancient standing in this country, but it now appears that it is utterly repugnant to Liberal principles. No honest man can avoid wondering what would have been said by Mr. Gladstone and his colleagues, and by the press, if the proceedings which we have lately seen had taken place under Conservative rule. Lord Beaconsfield was accused of endeavouring to drag his country into war; his accusers and successors have actually plunged us into war, and war from which no honour is to be reaped, while the extremity of suffering is inflicted upon a gallant but over matched foe. The only excuse which is given is, that we are merely engaged in “military operations,” offensive, it may be, “in form” but not “in essence;” and this, we hope, will be satisfactory to the survivors and bereaved relatives of the slain.
Those who hold that justice works itself out, sooner or later, in human affairs, will trace in all that has been going on a righteous retribution. Every unfair weapon which Ministers took up against their predecessors is now piercing their own hands. A bitter expiation are they doomed to make for the wrong of which they were guilty. Lord Beaconsfield was turned out with ignominy, because the people were persuaded that he was a man reckless of blood, hungering after foreign conquest. His assailants came into power, and their steps, by some malignant destiny, were straightway marked in blood. . . .
But there was another force invoked by Mr. Gladstone and his followers against Lord Beaconsfield's Ministry, and it was the double appeal to the national “horror of war” and to the claims of “oppressed nationalities.” The cry of “struggling and downtrodden peoples,” to which Lord Beaconsfield turned a deaf ear, was no longer to go up in vain to Heaven. Noble instincts, generous sympathies, beautiful impulses — these were once more to be our guides. “It is painful to think,” said the Spectator, in a passage which we are never tired of admiring, “of the millions throughout the world — from the slaves who meditate escaping, to the wretched Christians whose daughters are carried off by the Kurds in Armenia — whose heartfelt thanks will go up to Heaven because the great friend of the oppressors [Lord Beaconsfield !] has been overthrown.” People who can indulge in such outbursts as this are not likely to be ashamed of them afterwards, but when they saw General Gordon's proclamation establishing slavery under the protection of the British flag — when they saw the wives and daughters of the garrison at Sinkat “carried off” into the mountains, and garrisons which trusted in us ruthlessly slaughtered — when they heard of the multitudes who were cut down while fighting for their freedom — then some misgiving, perhaps some pang of remorse, may have touched their consciences — such remains of conscience as extreme party spirit may by accident leave in the human breast.
The Radical party doubtless hoped, when they entered upon office, that the cry of some oppressed nationality would soon arise; and it did. It came, not from Bulgaria, but from Egypt. No one appears to doubt that there was the germ of a national party in that country, however mistaken it may have been in its aims, or however unfortunate in its leaders. The blackened ruins of Alexandria will serve to remind the traveller for years to come how it fared with the first “struggling people” which ventured to lift its head during Mr. Gladstone's rule. If it had been known that Mr. Gladstone was ready to support the Khedive, the revolt of Arabi would never have occurred. Even after it broke out, the insurrection could have been easily suppressed, by the authority of the Sultan, without our interference. But there were the magazine articles and the Midlothian campaign in the way. How could Mr. Gladstone ask aid from the unspeakable Turk — “the one great anti-human specimen of humanity,” whose track is “marked by a broad line of blood”? The Sultan stood aloof, and looked on at the futile attempts of the great English Minister to wipe out the consequences of his own acts. Whose track is it which of late has been marked by a “broad line of blood”? We wish we could get some good and discreet Dissenting minister, or even a progressive journalist, to give a frank and truthful answer to that question. At Tamasi alone it appears that ten thousand Arabs were killed or wounded, and in such a climate, without proper attendance or means of support, the dead are less to be pitied than many of the wounded. Compared with this, what are the stories which were dinned into the ears of the public a few years ago — stories of men in buckram whose heads were seen stuck on poles, unless the eyes of imaginative travellers deceived them? Day after day the Arabs were said to have all dispersed, and day after day we heard of the imperative necessity of fresh “military operations.” There was no enemy, and no war, but we had to fight, and many of our own brave soldiers were killed. And who were the people that were thus driven to destruction? Rebels — such was the answer. But against whom had they rebelled? Not, surely, against us; scarcely can it be contended against the Khedive; as for the Mahdi, they were his followers. We caused the Mahdi to be proclaimed Sultan of Kordofan on his own terms, and at the same time we set to work slaying his supporters, and pursuing to the death his most trusty lieutenant. No one professes to understand what Mr. Gladstone has been doing. The army itself revolts at the work which it is required to perform [See the war correspondent of the Daily News, 17th March, 1884.]. It sees that its foes are brave, but it cannot see any reason for being sent out against them. The “rebels” who were taken after the battle of Teb declared that they “did not know they were fighting against the English.” The whole affair is not a greater mystery to them than it is to the majority of people in this country. Scarcely a dozen persons in the great manufacturing districts could give any intelligible explanation as to why we went to war, or what harm the rebels had done us. But some broad outlines are visible to every eye.
Our victories — victories of which our soldiers at least are not proud — have been absolutely barren, for the Government still remains without a policy. It disclaims responsibility for the government of Egypt, and yet it has taken the authority out of the bands of the Khedive. The language used in the Queen's Speech is more conclusive on the latter point than anything which Mr. Gladstone has been pleased to say since. “I have also despatched Major-General Gordon to report on the best means of giving effect to the resolution of the Khedive to withdraw from the interior of the Soudan' — it being perfectly well known that the Khedive had come to no resolution which England had not forced upon him. “It should be made clear,” wrote Lord Granville, on the 4th of January, “to the Egyptian Ministers and Governors of provinces that the responsibility which for the time rests on England obliges Her Majesty's Government to insist on the adoption of the policy which they recommend, and that it will be necessary that those Ministers and Governors who do not follow this course should cease to hold their offices.” Thus the entire personnel of the Egyptian Government was informed that it held office during the pleasure of England, and yet we are free to repudiate all responsibility for the events which may take place in Egypt. We have brought chaos upon the country, and hatred and execration upon ourselves. “On every side,” wrote the Times correspondent at Cairo, on the 6th of April, “there is the same story — threats of resignation, and expressions of despair and of inability to achieve any success.” We will not let the Egyptians govern; we refuse to discharge the duty ourselves. If the Ministry had done absolutely nothing — if it had not been at so much pains to proclaim that the Khedive should be made to give up the Soudan — the hundreds of women and children at Sinkat might have been saved, and the Tamasi massacre would not have occurred. But even for the first false step which led us into our present position, the Ministry will not take any responsibility. Sometimes it is the fault of the Khedive; sometimes of the “bond-holders;” sometimes of Lord Beaconsfield's Government. So recently as the 3rd of April, Mr. Gladstone seriously contended in the House that he had only been carrying out the “covenants” of the late Government. Where the covenants are to be found, or why he has followed them — he having made an express vow to annul all Beaconsfieldian covenants — has not yet been explained. [552-56]
- The Quarterly Review on General Gordon
- “Slavery and the Slave Trade” from the 1881 Macmillan’s Magazine
- “No One Knew Why They Were Fighting” from the 1885 Westminster Review
- England and Egypt (homepage)
- The Nile Military Campaign and the Sudan (homepage)
“Parliamentary Papers of Egyptian Affairs.” The Quarterly Review. 127 (1884): 550-80. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the Princeton University Library. Web. 31 August 2020.
Last Modified 31 August 2020