Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

treasonable bluster, could hardly be paralleled outside burlesque opera or a Spanish-American republic. An eye-witness thus records his impressions of this disgracefully silly pronunciamento :

“The spectacle on all sides was in many respects excruciatingly comic, if it had not been so tragical. Amid all this uproar the Johannesburghers were to be seen drilling in the public squares, forming up into fours, with badges and ribbons and most of the paraphernalia of war. But among them one could plainly see many clerks, shopmen, and people of every white nationality, who were supplying by panic and agitation the real pirit of belligerents. Many among them were holding their rifles as if they had been umbrellas or walking-sticks, their captains and lieutenants vainly shouting to the chaos in hope of reducing it to order. I suppose there might have been picked out of the mob of noisy insurgents some thousand good men and true, of real colonial grit; but the rest were the merest riff-raff. The National Committee had lied to them and to the world about the arms in its possession. I do not believe they had more than 3,000 serviceable rifles, carried for the most part by a set of rowdies, described by a Cape politician as 'having a half-crown cigar in their mouths, a quart of champagne in their stomachs, and their brains in their pockets.' Against this unwieldy mass was silently ranged 8,000 Boers closing round the town, and so strong is the spirit of gambling in the place that bookmakers were betting on the event, and laying a hundred to one that Dr.

Jim' would come through safely. Great nervousness, however, prevailed among some of these heroes. A noted financier got away by bribing a Boer guard to let him through the ladies' lavatory on payment of £25 sterling. Another evaded the troops by dressing up as a black woman.”

The conduct of the Chartered raiders, though a trifle more dignified, was almost as foolish as that of these Johannesburg Bobadils. Rather too much has been made of the bravery of the little force. Brave men, no doubt, these troopers were ; but courage is not an uncommon quality with Englishmen, and it can be exhibited without being combined with reckless fatuity. The bravery of military leaders who will take a troop of cavalry upon a four days' ride under a blazing sun, without supplies, provisions, or forage, and then thrust them into a fight against three times their own number of well-posted marksmen, might be better described by another name. The affair was a miserable and disgraceful fiasco from first to last; and the raiders were as completely outgeneralled by the rough but effective strategy of General Joubert and the Boer levy, as the revolutionists were outwitted by the shrewd and far-seeing policy of President Krüger.

It is that cautious and sagacious old ruler who emerges with

all the honours of the situation, except such as are rightly taken by the Colonial Secretary. Jingoism itself could not put much heart into the outcry against the Boers, in face of the fact that the Pretoria Government showed a prudence and conciliation which equalled the military promptitude and adroitness of its subjects in defending their country against the invader. The wounded freebooters were treated with the utmost humanity and consideration; and the President at once relieved himself of an awkward difficulty, and avoided aggravating racial feuds in South Africa, by agreeing to hand over Dr. Jameson to the Imperial Government, instead of exercising his undoubted right of shooting or hanging that misguided rioter. The future position of the majority of the Transvaal population is not yet settled ; but President Krüger has, on the whole, shown himself so moderate and conciliatory, and the understanding between himself and Mr. Chamberlain is so good, that there is every hope of a satisfactory arrangement. In the end the Transvaal is, no doubt, destined to be English ; the few thousands of the stout Dutch farmers must find themselves swamped by the crowd of immigrants of Anglo-Saxon or mixed nationality. Krüger is too shrewd a man not to recognise this; but we can hardly blame him if he desires to make the process slow and gradual, and to put off as long as possible the time when the last home of the veldt trekkers must be transformed into the complete likeness of a bustling, pushing, progressive British Colony. But the grievances of the Outlanders were not, as I have said, absolutely intolerable ; and we may leave their fate, with some confidence, in the hands of Pretoria and Downingstreet.

Unhappily more difficult questions remain behind as the legacy of Jameson's raid. It is not so much the future of the Transvaal that it has menaced as the future of all the English dominions in Southern Africa. The crisis has, at least, brought home to Parliament and the nation the monstrous error that was committed when territories as large as several European States, together with the uncontrolled command of armed forces, were entrusted to the hands of a body of financiers and company promoters. The Chartered Company can no longer be permitted to expose the Empire to the risks which Mr.

Rhodes's favourite lieutenant brought upon it. The responsibility of Mr. Rhodes himself and his colleagues remains to be determined. Mr. Hofmeyr, the leading Africander statesman in Cape Colony, and long an ally and coadjutor of Mr. Rhodes, has plainly intimated his belief in the ex-Premier's complicity; and Mr. Chamberlain has replied to Mr. Hofmeyr with a pledge that full investigation shall take place. As to that there can be no question. Mr. Rhodes, though he thought it right to resign the Cape premiership almost as soon as Jameson's attempt was heard of, has absolutely disclaimed all foreknowledge of the unhappy affair ; and so have the directors of the Chartered Company. It remains to be ascertained whether either he or they took sufficient precautions to prevent a nefarious project which could hardly have been prepared, one would have supposed, without their knowledge. In any case, the charter must be revoked, and the vast territories which the Company has nominally administered must be placed under the direct control of the Crown. The terms which the Company will obtain largely depend upon its success in clearing its character. But it may be observed that when the charter of the Hudson's Bay Company was revoked (for no misconduct on the part of the Company, but solely because its territorial authority would have conflicted with that of the newly established Dominion of Canada) it did not retain its trading monopoly, and was only permitted to take up a fractional portion of the land which had been secured to it under the old charter. If the British South Africa Company is shown to have assisted Jameson's lawless act, by their own negligence or lâches, it may perhaps be thought that it can scarcely be rewarded by being allowed a perpetual lien on the output of what may turn out to be one of the richest gold-fields of the world.

It is fortunate that for the settlement of this and other difficult Colonial questions the country has at its command the services of a Minister who has proved that he possesses many of the most admirable qualities of statesmanship. The events of the past few weeks have raised Mr. Chamberlain, with a bound, to the very foremost position in the public estimation. Nobody ever doubted his ability. It remained to be seen, till he became Colonial Secretary, whether he had the breadth of

view, the large grasp of affairs, and the decisive firmness in action, which go to make up a great administrator. He has come through the test with triumphant success. The temptation to go wrong by faltering, by hesitation, by waiting to consult colleagues, was great in those closing hours of 1895, when it was still uncertain whether Jameson might not succeed in his dash, and whether if he did-perhaps with Rhodes behind him-he might not become the idol of the hour. Mr. Chamberlain did not hesitate. He instantly denounced and recalled Jameson, forced the Chartered Company to repudiate that adventurer, ordered Sir Hercules Robinson to go to Pretoria at once, and with a sure instinct recognised that the way to avoid foreign complications was to settle the crisis in close conjunction with President Krüger, in whose hands all the cards had been placed by the criminal folly of the militant doctor. At the same time he took the very earliest opportunity to warn off ambitious foreign potentates from meddling with our South African enclave. In all this he has shown himself the man of the hour. It is not too much to say that there is no member of the Cabinet, perhaps no man in public life, who excels him in popularity and influence.

Fortunate it is for England at this moment that she possesses an undeniably strong Government, and an Opposition which, through the mouth of the ex-Premier, has declared its patriotic purpose to abstain from embarrassing the Administration. The Transvaal imbroglio was not allowed to pass without an incident which showed how necessary it is for England to be strong and united. Without it this wretched Johannesburg business would perhaps have been no more than one of our brief sensations. It was the German Emperor's message to President Krüger which made it memorable. That startling telegram suddenly revealed the international situation to Englishmen, as a whole landscape may open for a moment under a flash of lightning. It showed the nation what some of us have long seen and long said : that England stands practically isolated in Europe, and that no great Power now cares to conceal its hostility. From Russia and France Englishmen have long known that they had little to expect ; recent

[graphic]

events have seemed—it may be hoped wrongly—to menace the amity of the two great English-speaking peoples, and for the second-rate Powers we have long since abandoned our rôle of patron and protector. But that Germany should go out of her way to show us such unfriendliness was a shattering blow to many Englishmen. It was an unpleasant surprise; but its effect on the English public was much more that of indignation than alarm. It is possible that Continental observers may have been deceived by the tone of pained but not undignified remonstrance with which all authoritative exponents of English opinion received President Cleveland's Message. Distress rather than anger was the prevalent feeling over the prospect of a conflict which to most Englishmen seems impious and unnatural. A quarrel with Germany, unwelcome and disastrous as it would be, stands on a different footing. Englishmen felt themselves under no special obligation to conceal the sentiments which the German Emperor's gratuitous attack had aroused; and express them they did, with a directness and unanimity which have hardly been paralleled in our time. The Emperor had touched the sensitive nerve of national pride, and the whole country was pulsing with a throb of patriotic emotion which could easily enough have been translated into action. The Government responded to the German affront in a quieter but more effective fashion. Mr. Chamberlain took the first opportunity to intimate to the German Emperor that England would not suffer any departure from the Transvaal Convention of 1884, which according to the best legal interpretation reaffirms the suzerainty of England secured by the Convention of 1881, and gives the Imperial Government a veto on negotiations by the Transvaal with all foreign countries except the Orange Free State. But a more important task was left to another Minister. Mr. Goschen hurried to the Admiralty, and a hasty consultation with his departmental advisers led to a series of rather impressive naval movements. The Admiral in command of the African station was ordered to take all available ships to Delagoa Bay. At the time, Admiral Rawson with his flagship was on the West Coast; but he immediately steamed under forced draught round the Cape towards the Portuguese

« AnteriorContinuar »