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our country's destiny, we should examine into the past, and spend our time in judging of that which cannot be recalled.
But I think that such objections are unreasonable. We depend in one of the greatest crises through which our country has ever passed on the wisdom and decision of those who guide our counsels, and we can only judge of what dependence is rightly to be placed by examining their conduct in the past, and seeing whether what they have done justifies us in continuing that confidence in the difficulties which are to come.
Now, whatever else may be said of the conduct of her Majesty's government, I think those who examine it carefully will find that it follows a certain rule and system, and that in that sense, if in no other, it is consistent. Their conduct at the beginning of the Egyptian affair has been analogous to their conduct at the end; throughout there has been an unwillingness to come to any requisite decision till the last moment.
There has been an absolute terror of fixing upon any settled course, and the result has been that, when the time came that external pressure forced a decision on some definite course, the moment for satisfactory action had already passed, and the measures that were taken were taken in haste, with little preparation, and often with little fitness for the emergencies with which they had to cope. The conduct of the government has been an alternation of periods of slumber and periods of rush. The rush, however vehement, has been too unprepared and too unintelligent to repair the damage which the period of slumber has effected.
I do not wish to go far back into the Egyptian question, but it is necessary to point out the uniformity of the character and conduct of the government.
The first commence
ment of our trouble was the height to which Arabi's rebellion was allowed to go. The government knew very well the danger of Arabi while he was yet a small man and had little influence. They were perfectly aware of the mischief he was brewing, but they not only declined to act themselves, but, unless they have been greatly maligned, they prevented the local authorities from acting. They also prevented Arabi from being removed, as he should have been, from the confines of Egypt, by which, had it been done, all the evil would have been averted.
While this enterprise was going on the government reposed in absolute security, and took no effective measure till the pressure of public opinion forced upon them the movement of the fleet into the harbor of Alexandria. That was a very fair illustration of the vice which characterized their policy. That movement was made suddenly, with no preparation, and forced us into what followed. The fleet was moved in; as a matter of course Arabi resisted, and the fleet, as was inevitable, suddenly replied; and then it was found that there were no forces to land and back up the action that was taken.
The result of that imprudence was that not only was the Khedive's throne shaken and the fidelity of his army utterly destroyed, but the town and fortifications of Alexandria were grievously injured, and that tremendous debt for the injury to Alexandria was incurred which still remains as a burden upon Egyptian finance, and a hindrance to all negotiations for the settlement of foreign claims. That was the first specimen of their period of slumber, followed by a sudden and unprepared rush.
Then came the question of the Soudan. It was no new question, for before the battle of Tel-el-Kebir the Mahdi
was already in arms. It was a matter with which anybody. who undertook to deal with the destiny of Egypt ought to have been familiar and ready with a decision. But none was at hand, and matters were allowed to drift. The government, plunged in absolute torpor, seemed to have but one care that they should escape the nominal responsibility, though real responsibility must inevitably attach to their action. Their despatches, one after another, during that period, merely repeated the old burden, that the government had no responsibility.
The result was that the unhappy Hicks went into the Soudan wretchedly equipped, with an army beneath the number he ought to have had, and composed of men turned out as worthless from the Egyptian army. The inevitable result followed - a result at which her Majesty's government had no reason to be surprised, for they were warned of the danger by their own confidential agents, yet absolutely declined to interfere. They hoped by disclaiming responsibility to escape the consequences of their own neglect.
Hicks's army was totally destroyed, and not a man escaped to tell the tale, and then the government awoke from the period of slumber, and the period of rush began. They adopted two measures, both of them as inadequate and inapplicable to the circumstances as it was possible to conceive, and both big with future trouble.
In the first place they announced suddenly to the world and to Egypt that Egypt must abandon the Soudan. It was impossible to have conceived a more stupendous political blunder. It was a proclamation to our enemies that they should enjoy impunity, and to our friends that they would be handed over without mercy to those who claimed to overcome them. But that announcement was made, and from
that moment the fate of the garrisons scattered over the Soudan was sealed. The fate of the garrison of Khartoum was brought home to them forcibly, but did they take any reasonable measures for its relief? Did they send any troops on which they could rely to defend the garrison ?
No, they adopted the absurd and Quixotic plan of taking advantage of the chivalry and devotion of one of the noblest spirits our age has seen, by sending him forward on the impossible and hopeless errand of accomplishing by mere words and promises that which they had not the courage to - do by force of arms. From that commencement, the abandonment of the Soudan to the mission of General Gordon, all our subsequent troubles arose.
But that was not all, for among those garrisons in the Soudan were those of Sinkat and Tokar, which, so far back as November, 1883, were severely pressed by the Mahdi's lieutenants, and their danger was announced to the government as extreme. But for three months they took no notice of that danger. They allowed the matter to be left to General Baker and a body of Egyptians, whose worthlessness was denounced in every page of the correspondence that was laid before them. Of course General Baker with such a force was inevitably defeated; but it was not until April or May I think not till a vote of censure was announced that the government determined on making an effort to do that which they ought to have done, and which, if they had not been asleep, they would have done, three months before namely, to relieve the garrisons of Sinkat and Tokar. And when the resolution came at last -- when the necessity dawned upon their minds -- they plunged into it with their usual imprudence and want of plan. They sent men down to Suakim apparently with no idea as to what those men
were to do, and before they could take effective measures Sinkat had fallen and the garrison of Tokar, giving up in despair, had surrendered themselves.
Then the aimlessness of the government was revealed. Having landed their forces they would not expose themselves to the ridicule of taking them away without doing anything, so they slaughtered 6,000 Arabs, and then came away absolutely without any result for the blood of their friends and their enemies shed. They came away guilty of all this bloodshed, because they had plunged into the enterprise without any definite view or any fixed plan by which they proposed to guide themselves.
Now, my lords, these three things, the case of the bombardment of Alexandria, the abandonment of the Soudan, and the mission of General Graham's force — they are all on the same plan, and they all show that remarkable characteristic of torpor during the time that action was needed, and of impulsive, hasty, and ill-considered action when the moment for action had passed by.
Their future conduct was modelled on their conduct in the past. So far was it modelled that we were able to put it to the test which establishes a scientific law. The proof of scientific law is when you can prophesy from previous experience what will happen in the future. It is exactly what took place in the present instance. We had had these three instances of the mode of working of her Majesty's government before us. We knew the laws that guided their action, as astronomers, observing the motions of a comet, can discover by their observations the future path which that comet is to travel; and we prophesied what would happen in the ease of General Gordon.
My right honorable friend Sir Stafford Northcote prophe