31 December 1904
THE OLD YEAR
We have come to the last day of 1904, and a few hours
more will see us launched upon 1905. While we were as
it were waiting for the coming of the New Year, we may
cast a retrospective glance over the old year.
It has not been a year over which there has been much
reason for congratulation. Trade has been specially bad
in the earlier months in the cotton districts. Short-time
has been general owing to the inflated price of the raw
material. Of late this has been going down by leaps and
bounds in the prospect of abundant supplies in the near
future, and the possibility of still greater supplies
coming from competing cotton fields. The prospect for
1905 is, therefore, more cheering than it has been for
Politically the most momentous issue before the country
during the year has been that raised by Mr Joseph Chamberlain.
Many hoped that this expiring year would have seen the
verdict of the nation pronounced upon the question at
a general election; but the matter has been held back
from that supreme test in the hope, we may suppose, that
lapse of time may bring the country round to a more favourable
view of Protection.
It cannot be said that the country has shown any disposition
to turn round to Protection. Only a qualified success
has been gained even in the Conservative ranks. Conservative
candidates, recognising the difficulty of answering Free
Trade arguments, have frequently professed themselves
Free Traders, and considered they were doing quite enough
service for Protection if they refrained from exposing
its fallacies and repeated now and again a few of the
catch phrases which Conservative gatherings are wont to
On the other hand, many of the best Unionists have repudiated
the Protection propaganda in the most emphatic manner,
while the Liberal ranks have been consolidated in defence
of Free Trade. The by-elections have all along been going
against the Government in a manner rarely if ever witnessed
before, and present indications point to a sweeping victory
for them cause of Free Trade at the general election.
Towards this the deplorable results of the Sugar Convention
will largely contribute. Such a disastrous example of
Conservative statesmanship is enough to determine the
country to have nothing more to do with it.
One of the great controversies of the year has been over
the introduction of thousands of Chinese coolies into
the mines of the Transvaal for the purpose of lessening
expenses by dispensing as far as possible with white labour,
and keeping the wages of the Kaffirs down.
The argument on the other side is that the more coolies
there are employed the more work there will be for white
men, but this appears to be merely a temporary pretext
to serve until the coolies have been installed in all
the places they can fill, even those of overseerships,
which the white men were to have reserved for them, but
which the yellow men have already been occupying.
Another great controversy carried on has been regarding
the Licensing Bill of the Government, now an Act of Parliament.
It was opposed with great vehemence by the advocates of
temperance, but forced through the House of Commons with
equal determination as a measure due to the liquor interest
for its support of the Conservative cause.
The new Education Act has come into operation throughout
the country, and whatever may be said about its educational
merits, it has unquestionably increased the local rates
very considerably at a time when the poorer class of ratepayers
could ill afford the additional burden. The controversy
over the sectarian teaching in the primary and secondary
schools goes on apace, and does not show the slightest
sign of settlement.
The Passive Resisters go to prison as of yore, or have
their goods sold up; and it is just on the carpet that
if the Liberals attain power and change the present arrangements,
there will be equally sturdy Churchmen who will embrace
a like voluntary martyrdom in order to vindicate their
determination to instruct the young in the Church Catechism.
Looking abroad, the desperate struggle going on in the
Far East has occupied a great share of the world’s
attention during the year. Port Arthur still holds out,
although the power of resistance is dwindling away. There
is small prospect that the fleet despatched from the Baltic
will be in time to render any assistance to the heroic
garrison. The gallant defenders have endured much loss,
but have inflicted still more loss on their terrible assailants,
whose dreadless intrepidity has been an astonishment for
the whole world.
On the Shaho the armies in face of each other appear to
be so evenly balanced that neither can venture a step
against the other. Meanwhile both the Japanese and the
Russians talk largely about the enormous reinforcements
they expect to have ready for the spring, but it is devoutly
to be hoped that peace may be attained at an earlier date.
The discontented state of the Russian people tells better
than anything else could do the true opinion of the people
on the war. It has been a great national disaster for
Russia, and the best thing that can now come out of it
that their should be such a reform of the autocratic institutions
of the country that the voice of the people will have
a powerful control over the Government and preserve it
henceforth from such calamities as have been brought upon
it during the present year.