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agreed that if it could be proved that such an important link in the world's chain of railway network must lead to a strong unity of commercial interest between the two great powers of Asia, it would necessarily involve very serious consideration on both sides before such interests were thrown aside in favour of any warlike policy. I might take the influence of the Suez Canal on the world for peace as an analogous case in point, for it is to the interest of the whole civilised world that the Canal should be kept open.
The distance from London vid Moscow to the Caspian, and thence by Herat to the Indian frontier, is roughly about 4,000 miles, and it represents 4,000 miles of most interesting travelling through a climate which is favourable all the year round. Say that the journey would occupy ten days from London, allowing of rests once or twice en route, and that it could be done under pressure in a week at an average of 25 miles per hour (even allowing for the steamer crossing of the Caspian), we have at once an interesting reduction on the 17 to 20 days' steamer time from London to Bombay. We might be justified in assuming that there would be no break on the Caspian, and that for a part of the route at least express rates of speed would be maintained. In that case the reduction in time would be even greater. Our mails would certainly arrive within a week from India. As regards expense, we are perhaps not so well justified in assuming that the general low rates maintained in Asiatic Russia would be continued for firstclass passengers; but if we take them as they stand at present, the cost through Russian territory would be something under
15. We might add another £15 for the two ends of the line, and £5 or £6 more for the restaurant car, and still be about half-way to the present cost of a first-class passage by the P. and O. Company, whose rates appear to be the same now as they were 25 years ago, and who are at present able to defy competition. As for traffic returns will anyone look at the weekly lists of passengers to India by our big steamers, and compare them with the lists of 30 years ago? He will then form some conception of the enormous increase in numbers of people journeying to India from the West in the traffic season. A through railway service in half the time, at half the expense, would soon double even the present figures; in short, it is impossible to say to what these figures might not extend. There would be no slack season such as is held to justify the charges for steamer
passages. It would flow, if not evenly, at least all the year round. I will say nothing about goods freight, for it is impossible to forecast its extent. We have only the experience of the Trans-Siberian Railway, which has had to be doubled to meet the increasing traffic over parts of the line. Nor need I refer to the local traffic between Herat and Kandahar, and the developments which might be expected there. So much for England. What would Russia gain? A well-informed Russian engineer told me that from the trade point of view they would expect to lose. We should draw off from Central Asia much of the goods traffic that now gravitates to Russian lines, because our seaports are so much nearer. However that might be, the gain to Russia of a steady flow of passenger traffic through the country would in itself be enormous. I wish I had time to enter into statistics showing the gain to any country accruing from the money spent in it, and the goods brought into it, over a long route with a continuous trans-continental flow of travellers. It is through traffic which in days gone by has enriched half the countries of Europe. Russians would be delighted to welcome Englishmen in their country. It may sound rather paradoxical to say so, but I believe there is no country in Europe in which the educated classes are so well affected towards the English, and so ready to make friends. If you do not believe it then ask any officer who has been to Russia, and lived amongst Russians. So far, however, the gain to Russia may strike you as problematical, but you must remember that under any circumstances she has little or nothing to risk. The construction of the line from Kushk to Herat would be a mere trifle, and the loss of local Afghan trade would not affect her seriously. But the real, solid, gain to Russia would be the mail contracts between England and India, and I do not hesitate to say that for those contracts she would risk a good deal. She is most anxious to get them. Now, if Russia effected a solid commercial gain by this arrangement; and if we on our side halved our expenses and our time in reaching India, would it, or would it not, be the case that there would be sound reason for keeping the peace between us? Even as things stand I never can agree with those who preach that India is in any great peril from Russia, although at the same time I agree entirely with the useful precaution of a buffer state. But I believe that with mutual commercial interests in (and very much beyond) Afghanistan such as I have outlined the chance of
any aggressive movement towards our borders would be shelved eternally.
You may ask “Why run the line through Herat? Why not make the connection through Persia? There are various ways by which this may be done." It is true that there are, but there is no way so short, so simple, so easy, so effective, so inexpensive, as that by Herat. I have said something on this subject elsewhere, and I am not going to enlarge on it now. I have spent much of my life in organising and directing surveys in this part of Asia, and I can only express my opinion that the Herat to Kandahar route is an inevitable link in the great chain of communication between East and West. There may be others eventually, but this will be the first and the best.
One last question. What prevents our making the connection? The answer is very simple. The Amir prevents it. He will not have a railway in Afghanistan at any price, and it would probably cost a war to induce him to change his mind. Therefore, such a line is ignored as a possibility, and is placed in the category of things outside the pale of practical politics. Consider the position of the Amir. He is the ruler of a country but half awake to the benefits of civilisation. He has heard of Europe but never seen it. He is the centre of a court of sycophantic adherents who will tell him that which he desires to know and nothing else; who persuade him that he is the responsible Power which is to weigh the pretensions of two great European Powers in the balance and decide on their destinies. He naturally asks which is the greater Power; and the answer is Russia-for Russia looms far more largely in the imagination of the Afghan than does England. It is true that he receives a subsidy from England, but he is often too proud to touch it, and ignores its existence for months, if not for years, in a spirit of proud and independent contempt. Shut off as he is from all communication with the world outside his own, his sense of his dignity and strength increases year by year with the increase of the homage which he receives and the accumulation of his forces and his weapons of war. He is no fool, or he would not be where he is, but he is ignorant, and the knowledge that no Englishman dare set foot in his country in itself assures him that he is practically an independent sovereign who can dictate terms rather than accept them. That is to say he is human; for you and I would be just the same
in his place. But is this right? Is this the position that a useful native ally should assume with reference to England? Is there no way short of war of teaching him that because England stays her hand from interference she is still a strong Power and a ruling power so far as Afghanistan is concerned? It seems to me that there is a way, and that way would be a direct agreement with Russia as regards this railway.
Habibulla feels himself equal to playing with either Power, but he would speedily recognise the futility of opposition to both. He might play with one against the other, but surely never play single-handed against both. This, then, seems to point to a solution of a problem in frontier politics, with which, after all, I have nothing to do, and which may possess other aspects of which I am ignorant. But under present conditions it does not appear impossible; and should it prove to be the real solution-the end of our everlasting difficulties with Afghanistan-then, indeed, we should find that our commercial relations with that country underwent a most marvellous change. I have said that only in certain directions do I consider that the country itself is capable of further development; but I do not mean to suggest that we obtain the full value of such development as already exists. Judging from the fluctuating value indicated by statistics we do not get half of it, and the difficulty in the way is the difficulty of the Amir's restrictions on imports. Only persuade him that his own interest, as well as ours, is involved in freer intercourse and more open trade relations, and even Afghanistan may become an important factor in the gradual development of our own Imperial resources.
The CHAIRMAN said that in the paper there was little room for criticism, and a great deal of room for admiration. He thought, too, that there was very little room for difference of opinion. They were, probably, all agreed that it was most desirable to throw open Afghanistan, and, through Afghanistan, Central Asia, to trade and commerce, provided that they could do so without paying, politically or otherwise, too high a price. The proviso was an important one, for there was a political element as well as a commercial one; and who would deny that the political element dominated the situation, and that the commercial factor must take a back seat? We had deliberately and, he believed, wisely, made Afghanistan a buffer State between ourselves and
Russia; and, in order to be an effective buffer, it must be internally independent. Her ruler must be strong, and must be able to preserve order inside and upon his own frontier; and, in order to be strong, he must be respected and, indeed, feared by his subjects, and he must avoid ruffling the religious susceptibilities of the fanatics. If we obliged him to take another course we should become responsible, and we should be bound to maintain him and to interfere by force of arms in case of revolution. If such interference became necessary, annexation would follow as surely as the sun rose in the east, and then there would be an end of the buffer policy. No doubt there were some people who would favour such a result. Personally, he had always been in favour of the buffer policy, but still he recognised that it was merely a temporary and provisional policy, and that, sooner or later, the annexation of Afghanistan or a great part of it would probably be forced upon us. The policy of the buffer State depended upon the ruler of Afghanistan being strong and loyal. We should be living in a fool's paradise if we expected a succession of Habibullas. The day might come when there would be a weak and disloyal ruler, with disorder either inside the country or on its frontiers. Then we should be bound to interfere, and that annexation which we desired to postpone would follow, and our frontier would be coterminous with Russia. Then, and not till then, would be made the connection between the Indian and the Russian railways which the author of the paper wished to see; but no wise man would wish to precipitate that day by one hour. Consequently, there arose the question how far we could develop our commercial relations with Afghanistan without imperilling the policy of the buffer state. Sir Thomas had told them the Amir would not have a railway, and he had been a little hard on the Amir, and had attributed his refusal to arrogance and a desire to dictate to England. Could there not, however, be a more patriotic motive? Did anyone believe that a railway connecting India and Russia could run through Afghanistan without interference on our part with the interior administration ? And could anyone believe that Europeans could be allowed to visit Afghanistan and travel through it without misunderstandings, without collisions, and without interference? Then was the Amir wrong? Was he not wise in his generation when he tried to keep up the policy of isolation. He (the Chairman) was strongly opposed to Russia being called in to help in securing railways in Afghanistan. Russia must be kept out of that country. Afghanistan was outside the sphere of influence of Russia, and to invite her to interfere either morally or physically would be to repeat the story of the introduction of the wooden horse inside the walls of Troy, "I fear the Greeks and their gifts." The whole question was how far we could develop commercial relations with Afghanistan without jeopardising our wise policy of the buffer State. Possibly the Amir might be persuaded to allow a railway to Kandahar especially
under Afghan management. If he could be persuaded to do it by his own free will so let it be, but he ought not to be coerced. Again, something might be done to remove the vexatious transit duties, even if it were necessary to increase the subsidy by an equivalent amount. The enterprising planters of Ceylon had already made attempts to improve their tea trade in Afghanistan, and they had a paid agent there who was successfully selling their tea. It seemed that the only issue to be decided was how far commercial relations might be developed without endangering the present policy. It would not be wise to do anything in the pursuit of commerce which would have a prejudicial effect on the status quo. The game was not worth the candle.
Colonel C. E. YATE, C.S.I., C.M.G., said that he cordially concurred with what Sir Thomas Holdich had said about the friendship and hospitality shown to Englishmen in Russia. He knew of no country in the world in which the British officer, going as a traveller, was received with greater kindness and hospitality than in Russia. But, on the other hand, there was no country in the world in which the British officer who was on duty met with greater opposition. He could honestly say from a conversation which he had with a high Russian official that the Russians cordially wished for the railway through Kandahar and Herat to Russia territory, as advocated by Sir Thomas Holdich. While travelling through Russia he received a message that a certain General would be glad to see him. He was most kindly received by the General, who, presently began to dilate on the advantage of joining the Indian and Transcaspian Railways, if only to show to the world the friendship that existed between the British and the Russian Governments. After a time, he (Colonel Yate) said, "You have put a customs cordon all along the Russian frontier, and you have put an entire stop to all Indian trade. How are you going to make the railway pay?" The General replied, "We only tax manufactured articles. We do not tax raw material." He (the Colonel) then asked, "What raw material would you take from us?" The reply was, "Rice." "But surely rice mostly comes from Burma," he (the Colonel) answered, Surely it would be much cheaper to send it direct by sea to Odessa or Batoum, than across from Rangoon to Calcutta by sea, and then all across India and Afghanistan by rail." The General then suggested "Wheat." But he (the Colonel) answered, "India is a great wheat-producing country. We do not want wheat from Russia. Besides, you have not enough for yourselves, in Transcaspia, as it is." At last the General could suggest nothing to send but asafoetida, but to this his reply was, "One train a year would carry all the asafoetida that we require." At last the General said, "Such a railway is not a thing to be constructed by a company for the sake of gain. It is an Imperial work to be undertaken by the Governments concerned for Imperial purposes.
Look at us. We are building the Merv-Kushk Railway, and that will never pay a cent. in a century." When he (the Colonel) asked, "If the railway was made out of friendship for England?" The General saw the joke, and said, "No, we are buildit to defend our interests in China and on the Bosphorus." They parted the best of friends. Several years had elapsed. He did not think the commercial prospects of such a line were any brighter now than they were then.
Mr. J. D. REES, C.I.E., said that he wished to ask Sir Thomas Holdich a question about the tea trade. Did he mean by his statement regarding China tea that Indian tea did not penetrate into Afghanistan? The fact was that the trade over the extension of the Quetta Railway, at any rate, to which reference had been made, was chiefly in Indian tea, until the tariff was lately raised under the Russo-Persian Convention. Was there no Indian tea going into Afghanistan proper; and did the Amir's policy in any way impede the development of the tea trade? He used to hear a great deal in Moscow and other parts of Russia about the superior enterprise of the Ceylon tea planters, as compared with that of the Indian tea trade. If it was a fact that no Indian tea went into Afghanistan, he should be glad to be informed of it. It had been very interesting to hear Afghanistan described in the paper as a peaceful commercial and agricultural country. Most Englishmen who knew the country had been accustomed to look upon it, in the words of Sir Alfred Lyall, as—
"A land which is red with the blood of kin, Where brothers embrace on the warfield, And the reddest sword must win."
The aspect which had been put before them in the paper was a very delightful one, but in the interest of truth he was bound to say that he thoroughly disagreed with Sir Thomas Holdich and Colonel Yate in their statement that the English officer and Englishmen generally were popular and welcome in Russia. He made that statement with regret, for he felt a personal liking to the Russians, and particularly to the Russian peasants, having lived among them to qualify as an interpreter; but he must say that the position of Englishmen in Russia was very different from that which they occupied in every other country, and St. Petersburg was the only capital he knew of in which the English community were practically a separate caste, and did not mix in social intercourse with their neighbours, as was common in other capitals in Europe. The feeling for a long while after the Turkish war was strong against us. Though at this juncture he would be very unwilling to say a word unfriendly to the Russians, yet it was useless to shut our eyes to the existence of a keen and perpetual rivalry, and to a persistent endeavour to oust us from the hegemony of the East. With regard to the question of railways, he thoroughly agreed with the view of Sir West Ridgeway, and he doubted whether the Amir would be altogether pleased to hear of the
impending partition of his country, or to find that anybody at that meeting could contemplate an arrangement with Russia for making a railway through it. The Amir was exceedingly well posted in everything that took place in other countries, and everybody who knew the East must feel that he was truly patriotic in objecting to a railway going through his State. Even the limited independence which existed in the Native States of India disappeared in railway precincts when a railway went through the district. Every Englishman should in every way deprecate the making of a railway through Afghanistan. It was most to our interest to stick to the blue sea, and on this he hoped England would ever remain the greatest power.
The Hon. JOHN FERGUSON, C.M.G., asked whether Sir Thomas Holdich could give the meeting some idea of what would be the result of the commercial development, especially in respect of teas, supposing that the transit duties were reduced or removed. If there was a prospect of a large trade in tea, no doubt the desire to bring pressure on the Government to raise the subsidy and to remove the transit duties would be very much increased. With regard to Mr. Rees's remarks it should be known that there was no practical rivalry between the planters of Ceylon and those of India. They were all in exactly the same boat, and they were working together to increase the taste for tea throughout the world. Russian firms had opened branches to buy tea in Colombo, and had lately added branches in Calcutta. He only wished that the Mother Country could see her way to reduce the war duty on tea even to the extent of the transit duty, which was only 4d. a lb., while the Imperial duty on their staple was 6d.
Sir THOMAS HOLDICH, in reply, said that, with regard to the question about tea, he confessed that he was speaking from the statistics of some years ago. He knew nothing of what had been happening during the last few years. Three or four years ago the only tea which found its way through Afghanistan was China tea, and, while in that country, he never to his knowledge tasted any tea but that of China. If restrictions on import were removed, Afghanistan would be a splendid country for the tea trade. He could not think of a better field. Every Afghan notable of any consequence offered tea to his visitors. As to the Amir's objections to allowing a railway, it had been made pretty clear in the paper that those objections were solid ones. The object of the paper was to show that it might be possible to get the railway if England and Russia came to an understanding about it. The line would be on the extreme outside limits of the western boundary. If it was only shifted across the river it would run through Persia instead of Afghanistan. It would not be in the same category as a railway to Cabul would be. It would not be necessary to take the railway to Kandahar at all. It could go to India without that. As to the railway to
Merv, he knew that it was built for political purposes and not for commercial, but it would be equally useful for commercial purposes.
The CHAIRMAN said he thought that, when the Amir read the opinion that the annexation of his country could only take place in the event of a weak or disloyal ruler being on the throne of Afghanistan, he would be completely reassured as to the safety of his position. Sir West Ridgeway then moved a vote of thanks to Sir Thomas Holdich. The paper had been an admirable one, and contained a mass of most useful information in compendious form, concisely and precisely stated. The paper had been beautifully illustrated. The views must have brought home to the memory of some of the audience, and to the imagination of others, many charming and interesting scenes in Afghanistan.
The paper read was
MECHANICAL PIANO PLAYERS.
How does it What is a Piano-Player? work? and What is required to be done to play it ?
These are queries which all, who have no knowledge of pneumatic piano-player attachments, naturally require explained; and this I will endeavour to do.
The simplest form of mechanical pianoplayer is probably the familiar instruments of the streets, which hammers out well-known airs in unvarying fortissimo while an Italian maestro laboriously turns a handle. For those who do not wish to take any trouble whatever, there are the electric pianos of Messrs. Imhof and Mukle-that is to say, a lever-driven mechanism, the motive power of which is provided by electricity, attached to an ordinary piano. The performer can start the machine, lie down on the sofa, listen to the music, and watch the notes on the key-board bob up and down mysteriously, as though manipulated by a musical ghost; or, if he prefers it, he can work the loud and soft pedals of the piano in the usual manner, and, in the latest models, can exercise some control over the time.
The next type of machine is the one exemplified by the striking mechanism being actuated by levers, and the motive power provided by the performer working a pair of pedals. Various ingenious additions have been made to recent models. By the action of a skilfully pivotted bar the treble can be damped off from the bass and vice-versâ, and this without an arbitrarily abrupt break. The mechanism can also be fixed on to any piano under the keyboard, and need not be removed if the instrument is to be played on in the usual fashion. The performer has control of the time, and can work the loud and soft pedals by means of hand levers. The music consists of rather cumbrous rolls of perforated cardboard.
It is from the various types of pneumatic piano-players that some of the best artistic
results are obtained. There are several different makes. The main principle is alike in all of them.
In appearance they resemble a small harmonium, only instead of a key-board a row of hammer-fingers projects out at the back, over the notes of the piano. The instruments can be easily wheeled away, and do not interfere with the ordinary use of the piano. Among