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PIERROT ABROAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 80, 3 April 1909
THE PEACEFUL PLAYGROUND.
Switzerland is like a peaceful parkland in the midst of a roaring, tumultu-
ous city. The Swiss looks on European politics from a point of view apart and peculiar; the point of view of a peaceful 01-d gentleman watching a drunken brawl. And "a drunken brawl" happens at this moment to describe the state of European relations. Europe was never madder and more reckless; never played with fire with more insouciance and foolhardiness. If I am to believe the French papers (which, despite the alleged volatility of the race, tend usually to peSlimism), no peaceful solution is possible. And meantime the worthy Swiss is pessimistic also, but -with the cheerful pessimism of the little boy -who thinks his big brothers may come to blows. One of them, a man of education and many languages (even for a Swiss) told mc that Switzerland must be quick in changing her steam railways to electric-, as a war between at least England and Germam' was imminent, and it would be difficult to get coal in war time. That is the tone of Swiss opinion. You may fight if you like, and we don't care much, so long as you don't leave us hungry or cold. But, at least, let us tak-e care that the coal-man comes round. It reminds one of the child who cries for its dinner in a house of sorrow or of tragedy. But it is human nature after all—and one is not disposed to be resentful even of the calm assurance that we are soon to be fighting for hearth and home.
Similarly Lucerne at least is out of the vortex of the economic struggle. Poverty, no doubt, exists, but it is kept well out of sight. Nothing is more striking than the contrast with the England I have just left—with its daily processions of famished unemployed, its pinched children, its tatterdemalion street corner men of the outstretched hand. Indeed, as a Frenchman remarked to mc yesterday, it is difficult to be sure even that a man is a working-man since there is a striking absence in Switzerland of those differences of dress that denote the various solid grades in the larger countries. The vast majority of the.people look healthy and wellfed, and are certainly well-clad. Begging is a penal offence, punishable by committal to special labour colonies, where Weary AVilly has at least to pursue the semblance of an active life. And without undue cynicism, one may well allege that there are in this happy world those who have not even sufficient energies to simulate work.
But if one is a little out of the world at -Lucerne the very fact has its manifest advantages. The critic needs sometimes to stand back from the picture to judge it aright; and in this case the distance is not excessive. Moreover, he ha 6 the advantage of hearing almost simultaneously the defence of the most conflicting points of view. It is easy in one day to converse in French with Germans, Frenchmen, and Italians; and once a week one may encounter an Englishman or a Russian (both of whom make up for their summer devotion to Switzerland by a striking neglect in winter). One feels one is on neutral territory, and, perhaps, there is no country in the world where one could eventually attain a juster estimate of European politics.
The sensation of the moment comes from Paris sources, and I don't ask you to place much reliance upon it, but at least it has its interest. It is stated on what is claimed to be good authority that immediately after the death of Queen Victoria, England deliberately set to work to cultivate the friendship of Germany. Both Lord Salisbury and Mr. Chamberlain were Germanophile, a-t least as a matter of expediency; and then the British Prime Minister, it is averred, after admitting that English isolation endangedsred her position, stated bluntly that Great Britain had to choose between a.n entente with the Tripllce (Germany, Austria and Italy), and association with the FrancoRussian alliance. Germany, after much hedging, failed to respond to the British overtures, and we then entered into negotiations with our immediate neighbours and present allies. lam inclined to think that this story is inspired from a hostile source with ail obvious purpose, but it is interesting as probably containing a grain of truth —that Germany was Anglophobe before England ceased to- teecome Germanophile.
The event of the week in. Anglo-Ger-man relations is undoubtedly the visit of i.he King to Berlin. People in this part of the Continent are gently sceptical ot any good likely to accrue at this moment from British demonstrations of friendship. And with all respect to the advisers of His Majesty, so am 1. We all know that in cases of a private rupture it is sometimes better to leave matters alone a little, rather than to resort to cordial professions which are liable to be repulsed. It is not only that we may fail of a reconciliation, but it is that the rebuff may further irritate the wound. Arid that is where I feel that there is ft certain element of danger in inviting a better understanding with the Germans, And the tone of the German Press tends to uphold this view. If only one or two papers maintain a semi-hostile attitude, ■the greater number of them are very cold, and nearly the whole of the remainder quite lukewarm in the phrasing of their editorials. Thej- will be polite to our King, as the guest of their Kai3er, they say (always in effect and sometimes by direct statement); but too much must not be exppctec from the visit. And some of them, with what I claim to be a quarrelsome sensitiveness, strongly resent the fact that a. large British fleet should be within reach of the German coast at such a time —blissfully ignoring the fact that His Imperial Majesty, their Emperor, has never yet visited England without a fine escort of battleships and cruisers. It is an old device of nations as of individuals to make wounds by finding them.
Meantime Germany and France have come to at least a partial and temporary understanding—the full value of which it is difficult to estimate half an hour after reading the despatches. The French comments are guarded, but favourable, and they could hardly be very unfavourable in view of the very vague and general nature of the mutual assurances. Whether Germany will aim at sapping the allegiance of France to England and developing an understanding having for its ultimate purpose the placing of England in its position of the "nineties"—in its '"splendid isolation, , ' that is to say—it is too early as yeb to forecast. For myself I think France is too acute to be so- duped. French and German interests are profoundly opposed, not for the moment, but for so long as their nationalities exist. It would be a fool's policy to humour the Germans by helping to dry their powi der.
PIERROT ABROAD., Auckland Star, Volume XL, Issue 80, 3 April 1909
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