Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

administration, are not very creditable, and have tended to damage very much that respect in which Englishmen should always be held. Unjust accusations often fail in producing the desired object; but they are never without some effect, for they recoil on him who makes them, and throw a stain on the quarter whence they proceed. We allude more particularly to certain articles which have appeared in the Bombay press, emanating, probably, from interested parties, in which advantage is taken of certain accidents incidental to the season, as the heat and want of water, both in the Nile and the Mahmoudiyah, to denounce the whole conduct of the transit, and to declare that it is virtually at an end. We are in a position to contradict these statements, having not only performed the journey ourselves, but having had opportunities of hearing the opinions of many hundreds of persons who have done so likewise. The following, then, we believe, is a fair representation. The transit is far from perfect; both in matters of detail and in the general plan fault may be found and improvements suggested ; the journey, especially that across the Desert, is always fatiguing, and great hardships are sometimes encountered. People who travel between Alexandria and Suez must not expect to find, especially in manners, the same facilities and comforts as between London and Liverpool. Egypt is still a semicivilized country, whatever some sycophants may pretend. But we can bear testimony to the fact that the employés, high and low, are polite and obliging; so that we never heard a single complaint made by any passenger of personal incivility. The inconveniences and hardships that are experienced, chiefly during two months of the year (June and July), are the result of the same system of mismanagement which causes much of the misery of Egypt. It has always, for example, been a custom in that country to neglect public works when once completed, and the Mahmoudiyah Canal, therefore, has been suffered to choke up in many places; but, we can assure the complainants, not out of any desire to impede the transit. The same cause which has compelled many of our countrymen to undergo so much fatigue between Alexandria and Atfeh, has also offered serious impediments to the whole commerce of the country, and acted as a great discouragement to agriculture. But these things are not, as they are represented to be, quite new. In 1845 there were similar obstacles encountered, though not in the same degree; because we have this year had a very low Nile, and because Said Pasha thought or found it necessary to irrigate his rice fields with the water that was intended to serve the purpose of navigation. We are aware, that if a hundredth part of the energy were exhibited in cleaning that was exhibited in making the canal, it might always be kept tolerably open; but we can scarcely expect this in a country where the principle is, never to put a new piece of cloth on an old garment. In saying this, we do not mean that we despair of ever seeing any improvement, that we must always be content to be tugged along in more or less discomfort in heavy truck-boats, or wheeled across the desert in two-wheeled vans, at an enormous expense of animal life. On the contrary, our object in the present paper is to show that vast improvements may and must be made; but, at the same time, the course many have pursued is both unjust and impolitic. It is unjust, because the complaints are in many instances unfounded, or misdirected; it is impolitic, because if a man like the Pasha finds that what he does do is ill appreciated or misrepresented, he may take it into his head to do nothing at all. However this may be, one thing is certain, that having gone to so great an expense in perfecting that portion of the route to India which lies over her proper domain, the sea; having succeeded to a certain extent in opening a new line of communication through the centre of Europe, England cannot rest satisfied until every possible improvement is introduced into the transit through Egypt. Luckily there has for a long time existed in the mind of Mohammed Ali a desire to lend himself in this particular to the views of Great Britain. Twelve years ago, Galloway Bey, his engineer in chief, laid before him a project, of which he instantly appreciated the importance. It was proposed to him to construct a railway from Cairo to Suez, which would not only save a great deal of valuable time, but enable passengers to escape from that i. disagreeable portion of the journey, the crossing of the eSert. The history of this project, and of the cause of the delay that has taken place in its accomplishment, is a curious one; but we cannot at present undertake more than a sketch, or rather a notice, of some of the most important heads. The first step, naturally, was to have the ground surveyed, which was done very minutely by the projector himself. It was soon ascertained that instead of any engineering difficulties existing, there scarcely ever was a line which held out hopes of being completed at so small an expense. The peculiar conditions under which labour was to be procured being taken into consideration, it appeared more than probable that the whole work could be executed for £300,000. Every encouragement therefore was offered on this score; and, in fact, the difficulties that have been thrown in the way of the construction of the railway have never had reference to the cost of its construction; they have all been political, within the province of diplomatists, not of engineers—of consuls general, not of surveyors. Before the establishment of the Overland Route in its present state, it required some sagacity to see that such a line as that we mention would be of the importance it must now acquire. It is not every mind that can look forward and estimate the probabilities of the future. Men are too apt to follow in the train of events, to be led by circumstances instead of moulding them. It does therefore some honour to Mohammed Ali that he early perceived and acknowledged the value of the Suez railroad, and took steps for its construction. In 1834 Galloway Bey received instructions from Mohammed Ali to carry out the proposed undertaking, and proceeded to England to make the necessary arrangements, purchase of rail, &c. At the same time he was deputed by his Highness to acquaint the British Government with the circumstances. All he required by way of remuneration was a common transit duty on merchandise of 4 per cent. Confident that so reasonable a proposition could not fail of being fully acceded to, Galloway Bey lost no time in laying it before the government, who unfortunately treated the communication with indifference. This of necessity disgusted the Pasha, and served the interests of foreign powers, in dissuading him from carrying on the work. . Political events now crowding round him, and being repulsed by the power most interested in the construction of the railway, Mohammed Ali suffered the idea for a long time to sleep, though twenty miles of rail, with locomotives, were actually brought over from England by Messrs. Galloway ; and instead of resuming at the final settlement of the Egyptian question this once favourite project, he allowed himself to be drawn by French influence into others of doubtful utility or apparent absurdity. The fortifications of Alexandria, which are crumbling at one end whilst they are unfinished at the other, attest the prevalence of idea opposed to sound improvement ; and the Barrage—a project truly barbarian, in which means are employed vastly disproportionate to the end

proposed—typifies the kind of civilization which the Gallic race are introducing into the land of the Pharaohs. Is this unfortunate country destined never to be the scene of reasonable achievements? Obelisks, pyramids, a barrage, are these the only works on which Egyptian hands can be employed? Within the last four or five years, however, the Pasha has reverted to the idea of a railway, the advantages of which are now more apparent, more easily appreciable. A great change has taken place in Egypt. Instead of an occasional passenger content to traverse the desert on the awkward dromedary or the humble ass twice a month, there is a regular influx of strangers from Asia, as well as from Europe, into the country. The products of the gorgeous East are once more beginning to find their way to the Mediterranean through this channel; and through it likewise the civilization, the science, the wisdom of the West, are continually flowing back towards their supposed sources. Every year increases the number of persons that ply on the route, so that it is impossible not to see that as soon as the work is finished it will afford an amply remunerative return; and then when the principle that railways make traffic has operated the profit will be very great indeed. In 1843, accordingly, Mohammed Ali again came to a determination to proceed with this project, and actually requested Mr. R. Galloway to proceed to England for the purpose of completing the necessary arrangements. There appeared now no prospect of any change taking place; and the next steamer was positively to carry out the final order, which having once left Egypt could with difficulty be recalled. It was necessary therefore that those who were interested in suppressing this useful undertaking should vigorously exert themselves, employ every resource of diplomacy, or even descend into the mazy paths of intrigue. Such exertions were made, and the result was that as Mr. R. Galloway was about to embark the order previously given was countermanded, and from that day to this scarcely any real progress has been made towards the accomplishment of this important object. It is scarcely necessary to point to the French consulate as the quarter whence the opposition which was so successful proceeded. In many instances England has been reduced to guess at the machinations of her rival; she has found herself in presence of a secret enemy, and being compelled to fight him with his own arms has often been defeated for want of an opportunity of a fair hand to hand struggle. In Egypt it is otherwise. There the rivalry, the hostility, the opposition of France are undisguised. Her consuls have openly avowed, for example, their determination to prevent, if possible, the railway from ever being carried out; and as England unfortunately has not taken up the subject in a tone sufficiently peremptory the railway has necessarily miscarried or at least been postponed. No great penetration is required to divine the motives that urge the French Government to adopt the line of policy at which we have above hinted. In addition to the ever-living jealousy that exists between the two nations, Egypt is too important a country for England, and still possesses too much of the traditional affection of France, to allow the latter to behold us quietly running a railway through its territory. Without certain precautions this work might of course, if such were our desire, open a way to conquest. But we know the Pasha too well to suppose that he would not take every precaution to prevent us from acquiring any military advantage by means of a railway. It is evident that Louis Philippe, whatever he may attempt to promise the Pasha, must know that no improvement in the transit of our mail and passengers can directly contribute to the establishment of British authority on the banks of the Nile. A superior degree of sagacity to that which he possesses might teach him indeed that danger to the independence of Egypt can arise not from facilities given to the transit, but from obstacles thrown in its way, that there is no surer means of inducing us to lay aside any ambitious pretensions he may suppose us to entertain than to give us the fruits of victory without its dangers. A safe and rapid transmission of travellers and intelligence through Egypt, secured by binding treaties, will quite satisfy England; whereas, if she is to be irritated there is no better way of doing it than by the cunning conduct at present pursued by the French agents in Egypt. We are not among those inclined ever to give the most Machiavellian interpretation to the actions of men. In this instance, as we have before hinted, jealousy of Great Britain, a desire to impede her movements, to embarrass her merely for the sake of doing so, seem chiefly to impel France to action. She loves, without any immediate purpose of advantage to herself, to cast little stumbling-blocks in the path of that gigantic power whose greatness overshadows and alarms her. For this purpose her agents, especially in the East, present themselves everywhere

« AnteriorContinuar »