« PreviousContinue »
coarsest concrete forms, as of animals and monsters. The most devoted believer in symbolism, on the other hand, ought to be aware that most of the phenomena which he explains as symbolic are plain matters of fact, or supposed fact, among hundreds of the lower peoples. However, Egyptologists are seldom students of the lower races and their religions.
The hypothesis maintained here is that most of the Egyptian gods (theriomorphic in their earliest shapes), and that certain of the myths about these gods, are a heritage derived from the savage condition. It is beyond doubt that the Egyptian gods, whom Plutarch would not call gods, but demons, do strangely resemble the extra-natural beings of Hottentots, Iroquois, Australians, and Bushmen. Isis, Orisis, Anubis do assume animal shapes at will, or are actually animals sans phrase. They do deal in magical powers. They do herd with ghosts. They are wounded, and mangled, and die, and commit adulteries, rapes, incests, fratricides, murders; and are changed into stars. These coincidences between Cahroc and Thlinkeet and Piute faiths on one side, and Egyptian on the other, cannot be blinked. They must spring from one identical mental condition. Now, either the points in Egyptian myth which we have just mentioned are derived from a mental condition like that of Piutes, Thlinkeets, and Cahrocs, or the myths of Thlinkeets, Cabrocs, or Piutes are derived from a mental condition like tbat of the Egyptians. But where is the proof that the lower races possessed the wisdom of the Egyptians,' and their splendid and durable civilisation ? 63
63 A curious example of a choice to make between the symbolical and historical methods occurs when we read (in Diodorus, i. 85) that Osiris, like the daughter of Mycerinus (Herodotus, ii. 129), was buried in a wooden cow. The symbolical method explains the cow as the goddess of the space under the earth.' The historical method remembers that, in Abyssinia, the dead of a certain tribe are still sewn up in cows' hides, placed in a boat, and launched on the waters (Lefébure, quoting Speke). Professor Sayce thinks the cow 'must have been a symbol of Isis-Hathor.' What do the Abyssinians think?
OUR SUPERSTITION ABOUT
A MODERN humorist tells us of an unhappy man who, having been cast into a loathsome dungeon, there lingered in darkness and suffering for twenty years, at the end of which period he opened the door and went out. For a very much longer period than twenty years the energies of England have been imprisoned in the grim circle of European quarrels, with the apparently impenetrable gate of the Eastern question shutting her off for ever from a free use of her natural powers. Beyond doubt it would be an extraordinary deliverance if we were able to follow the example of the hero of the romance alluded to, to open the door and walk out ;' and, animated by the example and encouraged by the result, I am tempted to ask, • Why not?'
But before attempting to answer the inquiry it will be worth while to recall some of the conditions of the case as it stands, to review the loss and danger which are involved in the continuance of the existing state of facts, and to appreciate the tenacity of the tradition which keeps us spellbound in a servitude to which it is no longer either our duty or our interest to submit.
For many years past the very phrase the Eastern question has had a sinister sound for Englishmen. That its ramifications were endless was admitted, that its ultimate solution by fire and sword was inevitable was, and still is, an axiom; that, whatever wisdom might be displayed in postponing the end, England must, beyond all power of escape, be involved in the final catastrophe, has always been an equally uncontroverted article of every Englishman's political faith.
That the Eastern question exists is a sorrowful fact, that its solution can only be accomplished by force of arms is probably no less certain ; that we are intimately and necessarily concerned in its solution is another, and by no means equally evident proposition. Yet that we are and must be so concerned has been assumed by almost every English statesman during the present century: the assumption is equally general and equally sincere among the leaders of both parties at the present day. For England the Eastern question has always meant and still means the possession of Constantinople; and, indeed, all its developments are practically subordinate to this one central idea. Half a dozen times we have armed, and nearly as often we have fought on the occasion of some new Eastern panic ; but Constantinople has always, and under every disguise, been the real cause of our alarm.
It is neither wise nor profitable to indulge in general criticisms of the policy of our forefathers. It is not necessary to deny, and it is perhaps respectful to admit, that they knew their own business best. But there can be no doubt as to what they thought their business was, namely, to preserve the balance of power in Europe, and to maintain the position of England as one of the Great Powers of their time. If we admit the correctness of their aim, there can be no doubt that successive Governments fought with admirable tenacity and a great measure of success to attain it. But the result of their exertions has in one respect been far from satisfactory. The policy, which in their hands was possibly a wise and certainly a practical one, has outlived the conditions of its creation, and has survived as a baneful legacy to a time when all the facts which gave it any reality have passed away.
There can be no doubt of the survival. With very few exceptions there is not a public man in England who would hesitate to pledge this country to a war on behalf of Constantinople, and who would not on any platform or in any debate assume as an incontrovertible proposition that the final settlement of the south-eastern corner of Europe could not possibly be accomplished without this country being involved in the conflagration by which it must be preceded.
It is hardly necessary to seek for much further illustration of this truth. Every act of our foreign policy demonstrates it; the disposition of our scanty forces is a testimony to it; the fact that the too nunierous class of politicians and journalists who live by parading the irreconcilable unorthodoxy of their views on every question on which there is general agreement have not yet made a reversal of our Eastern policy a part of their répertoire is an overwhelming confirmation of it.
And yet, at the risk of being classed forthwith among the detestable class to which I have just referred, I venture to believe that the almost universal consensus of opinion which undoubtedly exists on this subject is wrong, and will eventually give way to a new and far more hopeful view with regard to our dangers and our duties in the East. I should certainly not venture to hold this somewhat presumptuous opinion in the face of a reasoned and living faith ; but the dull weight of acquiescence, which is pushing us once more down the perilous incline which ends in war, is not a living faith, but is a survival of form over a spirit and an idea which have long passed away. The conditions under which our Eastern policy was formed are gone, but the policy still guides us, and will end in guiding us to a catastrophe, unless we open our eyes to the facts of the situation. The awakening may come after the disaster. It will be a thousand times better if by some means or other it may be produced in time to enable us to avoid it.
For England the Eastern question means Constantinople. "The Russians shall not have Constantinople’ is the popular summary of a foreign policy sanctioned for many years by the most correct and diplomatic forms. As to who shall have it that is another question, which the British public and the British Foreign Office have not as yet quite made up their minds about.
For a long time there was no difficulty upon this point either. The Turks had it, and there was no reason to wish that anybody but the Turks should have it. But by the light of recent events it has gradually begun to dawn upon the British mind that the forces which were put in motion under the walls of Vienna in 1683 are not quite extinct yet, and that the fee-simple of Constantinople is not vested in the Ottomans by a tenure which can be depended upon. It has gradually come to be admitted that a final grand catastrophe is in store, which will end in the Crescent being removed from St. Sophia. As to the particular nature of the catastrophe nobody is agreed; who will come out of it alive is also a point of much uncertainty; but that among the nations who by the force of an irresistible law will be compelled to go into it England must be the foremost there seems to be no sort of doubt in the mind of anybody.
Undoubtedly this is a very mournful prospect. It is disheartening to have to sit still without an effort swirling down the rapid stream till we find ourselves carried in one fearful leap over the great cataract into the unfathomable whirlpool of war, and suffering, and misery beyond it. But “it is inevitable' say the statesmen and diplomatists, “it is inevitable' echoes the public with a marvellous resignation, it is inevitable' is the answer written in every military and naval depôt, in every warlike preparation, in every diplomatic despatch. It is idle to fight against Fate and the immortal gods. But ministers, diplomatists, and a phase of uninstructed public opinion do not represent either Fate or the immortal gods. And when I am told that these things are inevitable, and that the interests of England are inextricably bound up in the solution of the Eastern question, I simply ask, Why? And I hope and believe that before many months are over the British public will have awakened from its lethargy, and will have propounded in much more importunate tones, and with a very much greater certainty of getting prompt attention, my inquiry, and before they move a man or spend a shilling will ask, Why?
I believe that the true answer to the question is not far to seek, nor difficult to uphold. The implication of England in the final catastrophe of the Eastern question is not inevitable, and can only result from an entire misapprehension of our true interests and our true strength. On every ground of policy and common sense we ought to put ourselves definitely outside the area of disturbance, and to refuse positively and doggedly to be drawn into it on any pretext whatsoever.
In stating the reasons which lead me to this conviction it may be well to begin with one which is exceedingly cogent, but somewhat distasteful to our national pride. We ought not to try and settle the Eastern problem because, to put the matter in its simplest form, we should fail if we tried. The English people do not devote much attention to foreign affairs, and it is usually a long time before changes which are patent to foreign observers are brought home to the mass of the public in this country. Since 1855 we have fortunately been engaged in no European war, and during the thirty years that have elapsed since the fall of Sebastopol the military organisation of every country in Europe has undergone a radical alteration. The conditions which existed in 1855 exist no longer, and it is indeed doubtful whether in forming our opinions as to the military power of England we quite take into account the limitations under which we accomplished a fairly successful campaign a quarter of a century ago.
In 1854 the Eastern question had reached an acute stage, and England interfered in arms to secure a satisfactory solution for the time being. To a certain extent our intervention succeeded. This much is remembered by the public, but the most important facts of the situation are forgotten. We fought the Crimean war in alliance with the greatest military power then existing, and in addition to French aid we had the assistance of Turkey and Sardinia, and the more than benevolent neutrality of Austria. At no time had we 30,000 men in line during the war. At the end of the campaign we were ourselves buying soldiers in Switzerland and Germany. In two years, with the help of our allies, and by the expenditure of an incredible amount of life and money, we succeeded in reducing a fortress at the extremity of the Russian Empire, with which there was no existing internal communication, and which could only be reinforced or relieved by regiments which had lost 90 per cent. of their strength on the road to the front. Every condition under which we obtained this qualified and costly triumph is changed at the present day. We were able to get rather under 30,000 men under arms at the Alma; we could probably get rather more than 30,000 under the same conditions at the present day. But at Gravelotte the number of killed and wounded alone was three times the total of the army of the Alma.
For many and most conclusive reasons England has stood still in the matter of military preparation. Europe, for reasons which may be good or may be bad, has not stood still, but on the contrary has