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OCTOBER seems to have been a month of mystification, in two countries at least. Germany has had its own special source of bewilderment in the remarkable telegram addressed by the Emperor William to Count Leopold, the acting Regent of Lippe-Detmold. On the face of it, this telegram contained a blunt refusal on the part of the Emperor to acknowledge the validity of the Count's assumption of the office of Regent on the death of his father. It is difficult to see how any other interpretation of this telegram was possible, so long as words retain their accepted meaning. Yet when it was found that public opinion in Germany was almost wholly adverse to the Emperor, on the ground that the position he had taken up was a distinct aggression on the rights of the independent Sovereign States of Germany, Count von Bülow, as German Chancellor, came forward with an explanation of the Emperor's words which seemed to reduce them to something like nonsense, and which only mystified the German public still further as to the Emperor's position and intentions. The affair of Lippe-Detmold is, of course, to Englishmen, as to most people outside Germany, a very trivial one, and it is the comic rather than the serious side of the attempt of the Chancellor to explain away his Imperial master's autocratic message that attracts the attention of the outside public. But in Germany, where so much jealousy exists with regard to the maintenance of the rights of even the smallest independent sovereignties, it is otherwise, and during the month the Empire has witnessed a controversy almost as fierce as that which preceded the Civil War in the United States on the question of the rights of the different States. Germany, however, has had no monopoly during the month of misunderstandings caused by official statements which appear to mean one thing, and are subsequently explained as really meaning something altogether different. If, to Englishmen, the misunderstanding about the Emperor William's intentions as to the Regency of Lippe-Detmold seems to be a matter of no particular importance, the case is very different with regard to Mr. Balfour's statement at Edinburgh of his present position on the Tariff question. To the plain man, who is not accustomed to the niceties of a game of finesse, and who does not appreciate it, however skilfully it may be played, Mr. Balfour's speech to the Edinburgh Conservative Club seemed upon the surface to have only one meaning. Parenthetically, I may remark that the speech itself was a surprise to everybody. There had been no previous announcement of the Prime Minister's intention to deliver an important political address. It came suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, but its significance was enhanced by the fact that two days later Mr. Chamberlain was to fulfil an engagement at Luton which had been announced some weeks beforehand. To some of Mr. Balfour's friends, and to the majority of his critics of both parties, it appeared, not unnaturally, that his unexpected appearance in the field was due to his wish to have his say before Mr. Chamberlain spoke at Luton. It was known that the member for West Birmingham intended to leave England immediately after fulfilling his engagement at Luton, and that he meant to remain away until after that meeting of the Unionist caucus at which it was understood a fresh attempt was to be made to capture the party in the interests of his scheme of Fiscal Reform. A year ago, when a similar attempt failed, it did so because the Prime Minister gave it to be understood that its success would involve his retirement from the leadership of the party. Naturally enough, the world put two things together, and came to the conclusion that Mr. Balfour's sudden intervention was due to his wish to warn, not only his followers, but Mr. Chamberlain himself, that the success of any fresh attempt, like that which was made at Sheffield twelve months ago, would be followed by the consequences which he threatened at that time. I have said that the Edinburgh speech seemed, on the surface at least, to be plain and simple enough. It contained an explicit declaration that the Prime Minister was no Protectionist, and that if Protection were to be adopted as the policy of the Unionist party he did not feel that he could with any advantage remain its leader. To the man of ordinary intelligence such a statement seemed to be as clear as noonday, and it was accepted accordingly as a direct repudiation of the policy of which Mr. Chamberlain is the mouthpiece. But no sooner had the Edinburgh speech appeared in the newspapers than a bewildering discussion arose in the Conservative and Protectionist press as to its true significance. It cannot be said that the discussion was from any point of view edifying. Differences of opinion between rival parties over political utterances are what everybody expects; but when an Oracle in the position of a Prime Minister speaks at a critical moment in the history of his party, and his own followers quarrel amongst themselves as to the meaning of his speech, there is clearly something wrong somewhere. To the plain man, as I have said, the apparent meaning of the speech is evident,
but the Ministerial press wrangled over it with something like ferocity. The Standard, backed up by Lord Hugh Cecil, insisted that it was a repudiation of Mr. Chamberlain and his proposals ; the Times saw in it a continuation of the game of skill,' an adroit movement secretly intended to favour the member for West Birmingham. Other organs of Unionist opinion went further, and maintained that the speech proved there were no differences between the Prime Minister and his late colleague, but that, on the contrary, both were marching with equal steps to a common end. The one indisputable fact in connection with this curious episode is that we must apparently change the meaning that has hitherto been attached to certain words. Mr. Balfour declared that he was no Protectionist; Mr. Chamberlain, when he came to speak at Luton, repudiated Protection with almost equal fervour; whilst it was left to Mr. Victor Cavendish, who is apparently a supporter of Mr. Balfour, if not of Mr. Chamberlain as well, to proclaim with emphasis that he was a Free Trader from the bottom of his heart. And these are the gentlemen who are supporting in some cases retaliatory tariffs and in others the taxation of food ! Presumably they believe that there is some mysterious difference between * Protection ' printed in inverted commas and spelt with a capital P, and protection pure and simple. The ordinary intelligence toils after these refinements of diction in vain. They suggest more strongly than anything else the old allegory of the distinction between a chestnut horse and a horse-chestnut.
Mr. Chamberlain, it is true, at Luton did his utmost to induce his audience to believe that there was no difference between himself and Mr. Balfour. Protection, according to his view, was the last thing desired by either of them. But he did not ta kle the Prime Minister's assertion that taxes on food are impossible in this country; and, whilst he welcomed Mr. Balfour's proposal in favour of a conference between ourselves and the Colonies and India, he dissented from the idea that the results of such conference, if it were to take place, could not be acted upon until after a second general election. Meanwhile the Unionist press continued to be divided as to the true inwardness' of Mr. Balfour's declaration. So the situation remains, and it is hardly likely to undergo a change until the meeting of the Conservative associations at Southampton on the 28th of October. As that meeting will be a thing of the past when these lines appear in print, I can do little good by attempting to forecast its result; but if one wished for further proof of the disunion and disintegration of the once united Unionist party it might be found in the conflicting rumours and hopelessly divided opinions as to what would happen at Southampton which prevailed among the supporters of the Ministry down to the very eve of the meeting. Whether any party can congratulate itself upon such a condition of Vol. LVI-No. 333
things, and upon the sterile ambiguities propounded by those who ought to be its leaders when they are asked for an explicit declaration of policy, is a matter of opinion on which it might be presumptuous for me to pronounce. I cannot, however, recall any other period within my recollection when such confusion prevailed in the ranks of any party, nor do I think it possible to acquit Mr. Balfour of the chief responsibility for that confusion. His own friends declared with confidence on the eve of his speech at Edinburgh that he meant to put his foot down and make his position absolutely clear. He intended, we were assured, to act up to his declaration at Sheffield that he would either be a real leader or would cease to lead. If such were his intentions, his courage was hardly equal to them, and the main result of his speech has been to make confusion worse confounded.
In the meantime it must be remembered that time is passing, and that every week brings us nearer to the moment when the grand inquest of the nation will be held. There are, of course, wiseacres who contend that the House of Commons has still two years to live, and that, no matter what may happen in the country, it will live its life out to the very last day permitted by the Septennial Act. Those who hold this opinion apparently believe that in some curious and unexplained fashion Ministers are quickly to retrieve themselves, and to regain the lost confidence of the nation. One would have thought that the experience of the last two years would have convinced even the least intelligent of the folly of this desperate expedient by which Ministers are to cling to life so long as they can command a bare majority in the House of Commons. The position of the Government and its strength, both in Parliament and in the country, has by common admission not been improved during these two years. On the contrary, we have seen the feeling out of doors against Ministers growing steadily, and in the House of Commons the party difficulties have day by day become greater. Those who imagine that now, by some curious transformation on their own part, they can regain their lost ascendency in the country, and restore unity and loyalty to their party in the House, must be at once the most sanguine and the most simple of mortals. If, by any impossible chance, the two years of additional life which is promised by their flatterers to Ministers were to be secured, they would probably be left at the end of that term weaker than ever an English Ministry was left before, and they would find that the whips with which they are now threatened had been changed to scorpions. The practical men who control the business arrangements of the Unionists clearly do not believe in this theory of two years' further life, and, at Birmingham at least, the first steps have been taken in preparation for a General Election, which, it is assumed, may take place early in the coming year--if nothing happens at Southampton to bring it about at a still earlier date. It is not unreasonable to assume that the rumours (officially contradicted) as to Lord Milner's impending resignation and return from South Africa are not wholly unconnected with this question of an impending dissolution. Whatever may be the opinion of the more devoted adherents of the Government, no doubt is entertained by the Opposition, and, apparently, by a considerable proportion of those who have not hitherto been opponents of the Ministry, as to the result of an appeal to the country. Mr. Asquith, for example, has spoken with absolute confidence of the disappearance of the present Government from the scene, and those acquainted with the feeling in the innermost circles of Conservatism know that hardly less uncertainty prevails even there as to the result of the General Election. Viscount Milner has, probably, more by stress of circumstances than by his own intention, been placed in a position which would hardly permit him to retain his present post under a Liberal Government, and it has consequently been understood for some months past that he would tender his resignation whenever the present Ministry met with a defeat. It is not yet the time for summing up his work in South Africa. His lot has undoubtedly been a hard one, and even those who have been unable to approve of much in his policy must render homage to his intense devotion to his duty, his courage and force of character, and the genuine ability he has shown as the representative of the British Government in one of the great crises in the history of the Empire. Whether he intends to resign, as rumour affirms, before Christmas, or to wait until a General Election takes place, the task of choosing his successor, upon whomsoever it may fall, will be no light one.
The war in the Far East has entered upon a new phase since I last wrote. A month ago I ventured to hint that many of our newspaper strategists had gone wrong in their anticipation of events in Manchuria, and that they were, above all, gravely mistaken in treating, as not a few of them did, the capture of Liao-yang as being a defeat instead of a victory for Field-Marshal Oyama. There was a strong disposition at that time, both in this country and on the Continent, to believe that the tide had turned, and that General Kuropatkin, whose masterly retreat upon Mukden had made so strong an impression upon the mind of the public, was about to turn and pay off the score he owed to the Japanese. Popular as this view was, it did not happen to fit in with the facts. The loss of Liao-yang was no accident, any more than was its choice by General Kuropatkin as his field of battle. There he had the advantage of position, and of the great fortifications which he had raised for the protection of his army. He stood on the defensive there, on the spot chosen by himself, and it was a splendid achievement on the part of Oyama to turn him out of his position and to drive him to Mukden