Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Mahrattas, the Sikhs, and the Gurkhas, had extended up to the frontiers of Afghanistan; but there was
always the fear lest another sword should take away dominion won by the British, and in British eyes it

was an offence that any other power should expand in Asia. The Russian and British spheres of influence

advanced till they met in Kabul; and for fifty years the two powers contested, by more or less diplomatic

methods, the control of the Amir of Afghanistan. Turkey flanked the overland route to India; and hence

the protection of Turkey against Russia became a cardinal point in British foreign policy. On behalf of

Turkey's integrity Great Britain fought, in alliance with France and Sardinia, the futile Crimean War of

1854-1856, and nearly went to war in 1877.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 introduced a fresh complication. Relations between England and
France had since Waterloo been friendly, on the whole; but France had traditional interests in Egypt,

which were strengthened by the fact that a French engineer had constructed the Suez Canal, and by

French colonies in the Far East, to which the canal was the shortest route. Rivalry with England for the

control of Egypt followed. The Dual Control, which was established in 1876, was terminated by the

refusal of France to assist in the suppression of Egyptian revolts in 1882; and Great Britain was left in

sole but informal possession of power in Egypt, with the responsibility for its defence against the Mahdi

(1884-1885) and for the re-conquest of the Sudan (1896-1898), which is now under the joint Egyptian

and British flags.

Meanwhile, British expansion to the east of India, the Burmese wars, and annexation of Burma (1885)
brought the empire into a contact with French influence in Siam similar to its contact with Russian in

Afghanistan. Community of interests in the Far East, as well as the need of protection against the Triple

Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy produced the entente cordiale between France and

Russia in 1890. Fortunately, the dangerous questions between them and Great Britain were settled by

diplomacy, assisted by the alliance between Great Britain and Japan. The British and Russian spheres of

action on the north-west, and the British and French spheres to the east, of India were delimited; southern

Persia, the Persian Gulf, and the Malay Peninsula were left to British vigilance and penetration, northern

Persia to Russian, and eastern Siam to French. Freed from these causes of friction, Great Britain, Russia,

and France exert a restraining influence on the predominant partner in the Triple Alliance.

The development of a vast dominion in India has created for the British government problems, of which
the great Indian mutiny of 1857 was merely one illustration. No power has succeeded in permanently

governing subject races by despotic authority; in North and South America the natives have so dwindled

in numbers as to leave the conquerors indisputably supreme; in Europe and elsewhere in former times the

subject races fitted themselves for self-government, and then absorbed their conquerors. The racial and

religious gulf forbids a similar solution of the Indian question, while the abandonment of her task by

Great Britain would leave India a prey to anarchy. The difficulties of despotic rule were mitigated in the

past by the utter absence of any common sentiments and ideas among the many races, religions, and

castes which constituted India; and a Machiavellian perpetuation of these divisions might have eased the

labours of its governors. But a government suffers for its virtues, and the steady efforts of Great Britain

to civilize and educate its Eastern subjects have tended to destroy the divisions which made common

action, common aspirations, public opinion and self-government impossible in India. The missionary, the

engineer, the doctor, the lawyer, and the political reformer have all helped to remove the bars of caste

and race by converting Brahmans, Mohammedans, Parsees to a common Christianity or by undermining

their attachment to their particular distinctions. They have built railways and canals, which made

communications and contact unavoidable; they have imposed common measures of health, common

legal principles, and a common education in English culture and methods of administration. The result

 

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