« ElőzőTovább »
torch into peaceful villages, and renew the glorious days of pillage and conflagration.
But it is not only within our natural frontier of the Indus and the Himalaya that the necessity of continually advancing, if we would exist in safety, is felt in the British empire in the East. The same necessity is imposed upon it by its external relations with foreign powers. It is too powerful to be disregarded in the balance of Asiatic politics; its fame has extended far into the regions of China and Tartary; its name must be respected or despised on the banks of the Oxus and the shores of the Araxes. The vast powers which lie between the British and Russian frontiers cannot remain neutral; they must be influ enced by the one or the other power. "As little," said Alexander the Great, "as the heavens can admit of two suns, can the earth admit of two rulers of the East."
Strongly as all nations, in all ages, have been impressed with military success as the mainspring of diplomatic advances, there is no part of the world in which it is so essential to political influence as in the East. Less informed than those of Europe in regard to the real strength of their opponents, and far less prospective in their principles of policy, the nations of Asia are almost entirely go. verned by present success in their diplomatic conduct. Remote or contingent danger produces little impression upon them; present peril is only looked at. They never negotiate till the dagger is at their throat; but when it is there, they speedily acquiesce in whatever is exacted of them. Regarding the success of their opponents as the indication of the will of destiny, they bow, not only with submission, but with cheerfulness to it. All our diplomatic advances in the East, accordingly, have followed in the train of military success; all our failures have been consequent on the neglect to assert with due spirit the rights and dignity of the British empire. The celebrated Roman maxim parcere subjectis et debellare superbos, is not there a principle of policy; it is a rule of necessity. It is the condition of existence to every powerful state.
The court of Persia is, in an especial manner, subject to the influence
of these external considerations. Weakened by long-continued and apparently interminable domestic feuds; scarce capable of mustering round the standards of Cyrus and Darius twenty thousand soldiers; destitute alike of wealth, military organization, or central powers, the Kings of Tehran are yet obliged to maintain a doubtful existence in the midst of neighbouring and powerful states. The Ottoman empire has long pressed from the west upon them, and transmitted, since the era when the religion of Mahomet was in its cradle, the indelible hatred of the successors of Othman against the followers of Ali. In later times, and since the Cross has become triumphant over the Crescent, the Russian empire has pressed upon them with ceaseless ambition from the north. More permanently formidable than the standards of either Timour or Gengis Khan, her disciplined battalions have crossed the Caucasus, spread over the descending hills of Georgia, and brought the armies of Christ to the foot of Mount Ararat, and the shores of the Araxes. Even the south has not been freed from ominous signs and heart-stirring events: the fame of the British arms, the justice of the British rule, have spread far into the regions of Central Ásia; the storming of Seringapatam, the fall of Scindiah, the conquest of Holkar, have resounded among the mountains of Affghanistan, and awakened in the breasts of the Persians the pleasing hope, that from those distant regions the arms of the avenger are destined to come; and that, amidst the contentions of England and Russia, Persia may again emerge to her ancient supremacy among the nations of the earth.
The existence of Persia is so obviously threatened by the aggressions of Russia, the peril in that quarter is so instant and apparent, that the Persian government have never failed to take advantage of every successive impulse communicated to British influence, by their victories in Hindostan, to cement their alliance and draw closer their relation with this country. The storming of Seringapatam was immediately followed by a defensive treaty between Persia and Great Britain, in 1800, by which it was stipu lated, that the English merchant
of the British empire were loosened, and the strength of the British arms withered in the hands of conceding administrations. The consequences might easily have been foreseen: province after province was reft by the Muscovite invaders from the Persian empire; fortress after fortress yielded to the terrible powers of their artillery; the torrent of the Araxes was bestrode by their battalions; the bastions of Erivan yielded to their cannon; and Persia avoided total conquest only by yielding up its whole northern barrier and most warlike provinces to the power of Russia. It is immaterial to us whether these consequences took place under the nominal rule of Lord Liverpool, Mr Canning, or the Duke of Wellington; suffice it to say, they all took place during the government of the masses; and that the principles on which they were founded were those which had been advocated for half a century by the whole Whig party, and which were then, as they still are, praised and lauded to the skies by the whole Liberal leaders of every denomination.
should be placed on the footing of the most favoured nation, and that no hostile European force should be permitted to pass through the Persian territories towards Hindostan. Every successive addition made to our Indian empire; every triumph of our Indian arms, drew closer the relations between Great Britain and the court of Tehran; and it was not till the wretched days of economy and retrenchment began, till the honour of England was forgotten in the subservience to popular clamour, and her ultimate interests overlooked in the thirst for immediate popularity, that any decay in our influence with the court of Persia was perceptible. In those disastrous days, however, when the strong foundations of the British empire were loosened, in obedience to the loud democratic clamour for retrenchment, the advantages we had gained in Central Asia were entirely thrown away. With an infatuation which now appears almost incredible, but which was then lauded by the whole Liberal party as the very height of economic wisdom, we destroyed our navy at Bombay, thereby surrender- The consequences of this total deing the Red Sea and the Persian reliction of national character and inGulf to any hostile power that chose terests, in order to gratify the shortto occupy them; we reduced our In- sighted passions of an illiberal demodian army from two hundred and cracy, rapidly developed themselves. eighty, to one hundred and sixty Russia, encouraged by the success thousand men, thereby exposing ourwith which she had broken the barrier selves to the contempt of the native of Hindostan in Central Asia, conpowers, by whom respect is never tinued her aggressions on the Ottopaid but to strength, and weakening man power in Europe. The Turkish the attachment of the native popula- fleet was destroyed by the assistance tion, who found themselves in great of a British force at Navarino; the part shut out from the dazzling career Russian arms were carried across the of British conquest; and we suffered Balkan by British sufferance to AdPersia to combat, single-handed, the rianople; and the Ottoman empire, dreadful power of Russia in 1827, and trembling for its existence, was glad never sent either a guinea or a bay- to subscribe a treaty which virtually onet to save the barrier of Hindos- surrendered the Danube and its whole tan from Muscovite dismemberment. northern defences to the Russian These disgraceful deeds took place power. Not content with this, the during the halcyon days of Liberal rulers of England, during the halcyon administration; when the Tories no- days of the Reform mania, descended minally held the reins, but the Whigs to still lower degradation and unpareally possessed the power of govern- ralleled acts of infatuation. ment; when that infallible criterion the Pasha of Egypt revolted against of right and wrong, popular opinion, the Ottoman power, which seemed was implicitly obeyed; when the demo- thus alike deserted by its allies and cratic cry for retrenchment pervaded, crushed by its enemies, and the disaspenetrated, and paralysed every detrous battle of Koniah threatened to partment of the state; and when, bring the Egyptian legions to the shores amidst the mutual and loud comof Scutari, we turned a deaf ear to the pliments of the Ministerial and Op- earnest prayer of the distressed Sulposition benches, the foundations tan for aid. Engrossed in striving to
conquer Antwerp in northern, and Lisbon in southern Europe, for the advantage of revolutionary France, we had not a guinea nor a gun to spare to preserve the interests, or uphold the honour of England in the Dardanelles, and we threw Turkey, as the price of existence, into the arms of Russia. The rest is well known. The Muscovite battalions gave the requisite aid; the domes of Constantinople reflected the lights of their bivouacs on the mountain of the giant; the arms of Ibrahim recoiled before this new and unexpected antagonist, and the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi delivered Turkey, bound hand and foot, into the hands of Russia, rendered the Euxine a Muscovite lake, and for ever shut out the British flag from the navigation of its waters, or the defence of the Turkish metropolis.
The natural results of this timorous and vacillating policy, coupled with the well-known and fearful reduction of our naval and military force in India, were not slow in developing themselves. It soon appeared that the British name had ceased to be regarded with any respect in the East; and that all the influence derived from our victories and diplomacy in Central Asia had been lost. It is needless to go into details, the results of which are well known to the public, though the diplomatic secrets connected with them have not yet been revealed. Suffice it to say, that Persia, which for a quarter of a century had been the firm ally, and in fact the advanced post of the British power in India, deserted by us, and subdued by Russia, was constrained to throw herself into the arms of the latter. The Persian army was speedily organized on a better and more effective footing, under direction of Russian officers; and several thousand Russian troops, disguised under the name of deserters, were incorporated with, and gave consistency to, the Persian army. The British officers, who had hitherto had the direction of that force, were obliged to retire; insult, the invariable precursor in the East of injury, was heaped upon the British subjects; redress was demanded in vain by the British ambassador; and Sir John M'Neill himself was at length obliged to leave the court of Tehran, from the numerous crosses and vexations to which he was exposed. Having
thus got quit of the shadow even of British influence throughout the whole of Persia, the Russians were not long in following out the now smoothed highway towards Hindostan: the siege of Herat, the head of the defile which leads to the Indus, was undertaken by the Persian troops, under Russian guidance; and Russian emissaries and diplomacy, ever preceding their arms, had already crossed the Himalaya snows, and were stirring up the seeds of subdued but unextinguished hostility in the Birman empire, among the Nepaulese mountaineers, and the discontented rajahs of Hindostan.
There is but one road by which any hostile army ever has, or ever can, approach India from the northward. Alexander the Great, Timour, Gengis Khan, Nadir-Shah, have all penetrated Hindostan by the same route. That road has, for three thousand years, been the beaten and wellknown tract by which the mercantile communication has been kept up between the plains of the Ganges and the steppes of Upper Asia. Herat stands at the head of this defile. Its population, which amounts to one hundred thousand souls, and wealth which renders it by far the most important city in the heart of Asia, have been entirely formed by the caravan trade, which, from time immemorial, has passed through its walls, going and returning from Persia to Hindostan. When Napoleon, in conjunction with the Emperor Paul, projected the invasion of our Indian possessions by a joint army of French infantry and Russian Cossacks, the route marked out was Astrakan, Astrabad, Herat, Candahar, the Bolan pass, and the Indus, to Delhi. There never can be any other road overland to India; for to the eastward of it inaccessible snowy ranges of mountains preclude the possibility of an army getting through; while to the west parched and impassable deserts afford obstacles still more formidable, which the returning soldiers of Alexander overcame only with the loss of half their numbers. It is quite clear, therefore, that Herat is the vital point of communication between Russia and Hindostan ; and that whoever is in possession of it, either actually or by the intervention of a subsidiary or allied force, need never disquiet himself
about apprehensions that an enemy will penetrate through the long and difficult defile which leads in its rear to Hindostan.
Since our empire in India had waxed so powerful as to attract the envy of the Asiatic tramontane nations, it be came, therefore, a matter of necessity to maintain our influence among the nations who held the keys of this pass. Affghanistan was to India what Piedmont has long been to Italy; even a second Hannibal or Napoleon might be stopped in its long mountain passes and interminable barren hills. If, indeed, the politics of India could be confined only to its native powers, it might be wise to consider the Indus and the Himalaya as our frontier, and to disregard entirely the distant hostility or complicated diplomacy of the northern Asiatic states. But as long as India, like Italy, possesses the fatal gift of beauty; as long as its harvests are coveted by northern sterility, and its riches by barbarian poverty; so long must the ruler of the land preserve with jealous care the entrance into its bosom, and sit with frowning majesty at the entrance of the pass by which "the blue-eyed myriads of the Baltic coast" may find a way into its fabled plains.
There was a time when British influence might with ease, and at little cost, have been established in the Affghanistan passes. Dost Mahommed was a usurper, and his legal claims to the throne would not bear a comparison with those of Shah Shoojah. But he was a usurper who had conciliated and won the affections of the people, and his vigour and success had given a degree of prosperity to Affghanistan which it had not for centuries experienced. Kamram, the sultan of Herat, was connected with him by blood and allied by inclination, and both were animated by hereditary and inveterate hatred of the Persian power. They would willingly, therefore, have united themselves with Great Britain to secure a barrier against northern invasion; and such an alliance would have been founded on the only durable bond of connexion among nations -mutual advantage, and the sense of a formidable impending common dan
The states of Candahar and Cabool were in the front of the danger; the Russian and Persian arms could never have approached the Indus un
til they were subdued; and consequently their adhesion to our cause, if we would only give them effectual support, might be relied upon as certain. It is well known that Dost Mahommed might have been firmly attached to the British alliance within these few years by the expenditure of a hundred thousand pounds, and the aid of a few British officers to organize his forces. And when it is recollected that the Sultan of Herat, alone and unaided by us, held out against the whole power of Persia, directed by Russian officers, for one year and nine months, it is evident both with what a strong spirit of resistance to northern aggression the Affghanistan states are animated, and what elements of resistance they possess among themselves, even when unaided, against northern ambition.
The immense advantage of gaining the support of the tribes inhabiting the valley of Affghan, thus holding in their hands the keys of Hindostan, was forgone by the British power in India, partly from the dilapidated state to which the army had been reduced by the miserable retrenchment forced upon the Government by the democratic cry for economy at home, and partly from the dread of involving ourselves in hostility with Runjeet Sing, the formidable chief of Lahore, whose hostility to the Affghanistans was hereditary and inveterate; and there can be little doubt that the conclusion of a treaty, offensive and defensive, with the powers of Cabool, would have excited great discontent, if not provoked open hostility, at the court of Lahore. In relinquishing their hold of the Affghanistan states, from the dread of compromising their relations with the wily potentate of the Indus, the British Government in India were only acting upon that system of temporizing, conceding, and shunning present danger, which has characterised all their public acts ever since the influence of the urban masses became predominant in the British councils. But it is now apparent, that in breaking with the Affghans to conciliate the rajah, the British incurred the greater ultimate, to avoid the present lesser danger. Runjeet Sing, indeed, was a formidable power, with seventy thousand men, and one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon under his command. But his situation, between the
British territory on the one side, and the Affghans on the other, rendered him incapable of making any effectual resistance. His military force was by no means equal to what had been wielded by Tippoo or the Mahrattas, and his rear was exposed to the incursions of his hereditary and inveterate enemies in the Affghanistan mountains. Still, more than all, his territories were pierced by the great and navigable river of the Indus-the best possible base for British operations, capable of conveying both the muniments of war and the provisions for an army into the heart of his dominions. In these circumstances, it is evident that the submission of Runjeet Sing must soon have become a matter of necessity; or, at all events, even if we had been driven into hostilities with him, it would have been a far less formidable contest than that into which we have been driven, by abandoning the Affghans in the late expedition to Cabool. The one would have been what the subjugation and conquest of Prussia was to Napoleon, the other was an expedition fraught with all the cost and perils of the advance to Moscow.
Notwithstanding these perils and this cost, however, we have no doubt that, at the time it was undertaken, the expedition to Affghanistan had become a matter of necessity. We had been reduced to such a pass by the economy, concession, and pusil lanimity of former Governments, that we had no alternative but either to see the whole of Central Asia and Northern Hindostan arrayed in one formidable league, under Russian guidance, against us, or to make a desperate and hazardous attempt to regain our lost character. We have preferred the latter alternative; and the expedition of Lord Auckland, boldly conceived and vigorously executed, has hitherto, at least, been crowned with the most signal success. it was also attended with great and imminent hazard is equally certain; but the existence of that peril, imposed upon us by the shortsighted parsimonious spirit of the mercantile democratic communities which for fifteen years past have swayed the British empire, is no impeachment whatever, either of the wisdom or necessity of the adventurous step which was at last resolved on. It only shows the straits to which a great nation must speedily be reduced
when its Government, in an evil hour, yields to the insidious cry for democratic retrenchment.
Already the beneficial effects of this bold policy have become apparent. The crossing of the Indus by a powerful British army; the surmounting of the hills of Cashmere; the passage of the Bolan defile; the storming of Ghuznee; the fall of Candahar and Cabool, and the restoration of Shah Shoojah to the throne of his ancestors; have resounded through the whole of Asia, and restored, after its eclipse of fifteen years, the honour of the British name. The doubtful fidelity of the Rajah of Lahore has been overawed into submission; the undisguised hostility of the court of Persia has terminated, and friendly relations are on the eve of being re-established; and the indecision of the Sultan of Herat and his brave followers has been decided by the terror of the British arms, and the arrival of a train of artillery within its ruined bastions. Britons, we rejoice from the bottom of our hearts at these glorious successes; and we care not who were the Ministry at the head of affairs when they were achieved. They were undertaken in a truly British spirit—executed by whom they may, they emanated from Conservative principles. As much as the ruinous reductions and parsimonious spirit of Lord William Bentinck's administration bespoke the poisonous influence of democratic retrenchment in the great council of the empire, so much does the expedition to Affghanistan bespeak the felicitous revival of the true English spirit in the same assembly. At both periods it is easy to see, that, though not nominally possessed of the reins of power, her Majesty's Opposition really ruled the state. In the Affghanistan expedition there was very little of the economy which cut in twain the Indian army, but very much of the spirit which animated the British troops at Assaye and Laswarree;-there was very little of the truckling which_brought the Russians to Constantinople, but a great deal of the energy which carried the English to Paris.
In a military point of view, the expedition to Affghanistan is one of the most memorable events of modern times. For the first time since the days of Alexander the Great, a civilized army has penetrated the mighty barrier of deserts and mountains which