Baring, Evelyn, first Earl of Cromer 1841-1917, statesman, diplomatist, and administrator, was the sixth son of the second marriage of Henry Baring, M.P., with Cecilia, eldest daughter of Admiral William Windham, of Felbrigge, Norfolk. He was born 26 February 1841 at Cromer Hall, Norfolk. His father died in 1848, and Evelyn was brought up by his mother, a remarkable lady who is said to have sung Anacreon to her children. Destined for the Artillery, he passed through the Rev. F. A. Bickmore's hands into the Ordnance School, Carshalton. After objection had been taken to his defective eyesight, he entered at Woolwich in August 1855, and three years later was commissioned, and accompanied his battery to the Ionian Islands, a station which was to affect his future life. The local vernacular, which he learned passably, led him on to read Homer and Anacreon with M. Romanos, a Corfiote scholar; at Corfu he met his future wife, Ethel Stanley, then seventeen years old, the daughter of Sir Rowland Stanley Errington, of the elder Roman Catholic line of the Stanleys and holder of an ancient baronetcy; and there, too, becoming aide-de-camp to the high-commissioner, Sir Henry Knight Storks [qv.], he was introduced to diplomacy. The times were stirring: he assisted at the reception of Otho, the fugitive king of Greece, at the welcome offered by a British squadron to the new king, George, and at the transference of the Islands to the Greek crown. He followed his chief to Malta and thence in 1864 on a special mission to Jamaica, taking occasion to spend some weeks in General Grant's camp before Petersburg. By the time young Baring had returned by way of Malta to England, in 1867, he had seen men and cities and acquired a working knowledge of at least three foreign languages.
He entered the Staff College, where, to judge by his three Staff College Essays published in 1870, he must have been a student of unusual industry, intelligence, and knowledge. Passing next into that department of the War Office which later became the Intelligence Division, he translated for publication two German manuals, one on Kriegspiel, the other on military training. Memories of his libido sciendi and almost inconvenient zeal long survived in the office. Nevertheless Captain Baring, when offered, in 1872, a choice between military or civil employ, chose the latter, and went out to India with his cousin, Lord Northbrook, the viceroy, as private secretary. He found his reward in varied experience of every headquarter department, and of much provincial administration, especially during the Bengal famine of 1874, which he investigated in Behar. His hand is said to be discernible in many of his chief's dispatches, and he wrote the official memoir on the Northbrook viceroyalty. In May 1876 he returned, with the decoration of C.I.E., to London. His mother had died in 1874 and the home at 11 Berkeley Square was broken up. He resumed work at the War Office and, in June, married Miss Errington, their union having been facilitated by inheritances on both sides. Sir Louis Mallet of the India Office and others in the Whitehall world had marked him for civil promotion; but he was little known outside. Some astonishment was expressed, therefore, early in 1877 that Mr. Goschen, commissioned by the holders of Egyptian bonds to advise Khedive Ismail how to meet his liabilities, should nominate Captain Baring, R.A., to be first British commissioner of the Caisse de la Dette. The inquiring public, knowing no more than that he had a way with him which had fluttered Indian dovecotes and earned him the nickname of Overbaring, wondered what other qualifications, besides his family connexion, he might have for diplomatic finance.
In April 1876 Egypt, owing to the criminal extravagance of Khedive Ismail since 1863, failed to pay her foreign coupon, and had to submit her finance to international control. France, whose nationals held at home the bulk of the bonds and in Egypt the most important material interests, was the power chiefly interested; and her government, regarding the situation with complacency as a guarantee of French dominance, gratified financiers and electors by claiming her full pound of flesh. The British government, with fewer bondholders, but more humanitarians to consider, preferred to leave on Ismail the onus of skinning Egypt by methods for which it hoped to avoid responsibility. A year earlier it had refused to nominate any commissioner. Now, apprehensive of the imminent Berlin Congress, it accepted Baring.
The British commissioner joined the Caisse in March 1877, but kept in the background awhile to study the sources of revenue, ignorance of which had brought Goschen's settlement to nothing. Little seen in Cairo society, he soon knew more than his colleagues, and his masterful will began to impose itself. He it was who, early in 1878, inspired the damning exposure of provincial maladministration which led to the four members of the Caisse being constituted by the powers a special commission of inquiry under Sir Charles Rivers Wilson [qv.] and Riaz Pasha. Their inquisition proved at once too much for the prime minister, and by the spring of 1879 for Ismail. The first report was followed by a show of compliance, to be nullified presently by a military mutiny fomented ad hoc. It was succeeded by a second report, drafted by Baring in March 1879, which declared Egypt bankrupt, and proposed liquidation. Ismail repudiated the imputation, beat the patriotic drum, and closured the inquiry. Baring waited a month to see if any power would intervene, and finding none, resigned his membership of the Caisse and went home. Hardly was he in London before Bismarck roused the powers to action. Ismail was unseated in June and Tewfik was preferred in his room. France and Great Britain revised and revived their dual control, and Baring was summoned, from thoughts of standing in the liberal interest for East Norfolk, to see Lord Salisbury, and to consider the post of British controller. He hesitated, but, being advised by Mr. Gladstone to eschew home politics, accepted, and went out to join M. de Blignières in September.
Ignoring the formalists at the Quai d'Orsay, Major Baring agreed quickly with his colleague to pool functions rather than delimit them, and proceeded to set the direction and pace of the control. The country, he held, must be morally healed by administrative reform before being politically regenerated. By March 1880 he had put the work in hand, but not without offering to France the unpleasant spectacle of a British controller openly preferring fellahin to bondholders and dominating the dual control. Under the circumstances it is hardly surprising that, after little more than six months' tenure, he should have been offered another post, which, perhaps, his government, committed to France in the matter of the dual control, did not intend him to decline. He was asked by Lord Ripon to be financial member of the viceroy's council in India, and on acceptance he went home in April. Repassing Cairo in early December he warned Riaz to keep his eye on the army, but was assured all was well. He reached Bombay before Christmas.
Baring's earlier sojourn in India had left a memory, and his Egyptian fame had preceded him. A suggestion of autocracy in his brusque speech and manner excited the ready jealousy of the Civil Service. They seem to regard me, he wrote, as an Incarnation of the Devil and the India Office. But his conservative attitude in financial matters quickly conciliated the opposition. There was nothing sensational in any of his three budget statements, but much to show his appreciation of the Indian peasant's singular dependence on the state, and of the balance of profit and loss under progress of the European type—the sort of calculation which would always interest Baring. It was a period of monetary stringency, of heavy calls for the recent Afghan War, of depreciated currency and an unsatisfactory fiscal system. But the financial member, deprecating revolutionary changes, had not only established his authority, but had won sympathy from natives as well as British when, in August 1883, he received a fresh call. The pot that he had left simmering in 1880 had boiled up and over.
After a series of events which need not be recounted here, Great Britain found herself saddled with sole responsibility for constructing in Egypt an administration to replace one that she had destroyed. A few months' experience of chaos under the khedivial restoration, and reports from Lord Dufferin, who had been commissioned to outline a policy, convinced Whitehall that it must find some one to patch up the civil administration before troops could be withdrawn. Since there was no longer any question of dual control, Baring, who had been in correspondence with Sir Garnet Wolseley, the commander of the British troops in Egypt, might be entrusted with the mission. He landed at Alexandria on 11 September 1883.
Thus Sir Evelyn—for he had been gazetted K.C.S.I.—came to the chief task of his life at forty-two. Not a man of genius, he possessed unusually powerful and versatile talents, whose full exercise was ensured both by a strong character matured in a varied school of experience, and also by the vigorous physical constitution of a tall upstanding man. Level judgement was the qualification he most valued, and quick to discern it in other men, he was, as a rule, magnificently served. Though an optimist, he suspected enthusiasm; fantasy, rhapsody, and all kinds of unstable exuberance he cordially disliked. Whiggery, inborn and confirmed by his career, convinced him of his right to lead. Lord Rosebery once told him he was a good man to go tiger-shooting with; but perhaps in other adventures he was a better leader than colleague, his strength of purpose presenting, as was said of him, a rather granitic surface to persuasion. But he was no Cato to champion causes well lost, and, at his own moment, he could be the soul of reasonable compromise; and he was always confident that past experience of his loyalty, which never defrauded a subordinate of credit due, would reassure those whom he might be compelled to sacrifice for the time being. His air of conscious superiority and his habitual disinclination for small talk made him appear somewhat difficult of approach; but le Grand Ours, as Cairene society nicknamed its master, could be genial enough and keenly appreciate cultivated converse and both humour and wit.
He was British agent and consul-general, with plenipotentiary diplomatic rank, the junior of the other similarly accredited representatives of the powers; but as representative of the one power occupying the country in force, he was de facto to impose the British will. To be a tyrant were easy; to be aught else than a failure would tax all the talents. He began in an evil hour. A summer of epidemic cholera had bared the nakedness of the land and its leaders. He found Charles Clifford Lloyd [qv.] established as inspector-general of reforms, compromising the whole situation by futile attacks on the jealous ministry of the interior, and dissipating what local cordiality had been bred by the Dufferin report. Two days before Baring landed, the hapless William Hicks [qv.] had set forth to perish (5 November) at Shekan, near el-Obeid, and the news of his catastrophe arrived soon afterwards.
The year-old revolt in the Sudan had suddenly passed beyond Egyptian capacity of control. Baring did not grasp yet the full significance of the Hicks disaster, for he could still indite to Lord Granville a forecast of a speedy reduction of the British garrison and its withdrawal to Alexandria, and promise a politique de replâtrage on Dufferin lines; but he did see at once that it raised a most serious question of finance. Was Egypt to cripple herself still further by undertaking other adventures of this sort? Avoidance of bankruptcy was his first commandment; and his reason and experience forbade increase of taxation as a means. The Egyptian ministers, blind to inevitable consequences, were eager to throw the little good money they had after the bad already sunk in the Sudan. Such waste Baring decided must at all hazards be prevented. A characteristic request for instructions, which he himself dictated in the second part of the telegram, went to London to be answered promptly by orders to ‘advise’ the government of Egypt to withdraw for a time from the Sudanese provinces. The pride of the pashas was outraged; the prime minister resigned; the khedive protested. But, as Lord Milner said, Baring, when his mind was made up, intervened ‘with an emphasis which broke down all resistance’. It was his first grave intervention, and he clinched it by procuring from Lord Granville the famous dispatch which defined what the occupying power intended should be understood by its representative's ‘advice’ on all occasions. One concession he made, however, and this he had cause to regret. He allowed Valentine Baker [q.v.] to undertake with a raw gendarmerie the ignominious Suakin expedition which faltered and failed at el-Teb.
To prescribe withdrawal was one thing; to withdraw another. Some garrisons and civilians in the equatorial region were known to be already shut in. The rest could not leave safely without efficient organization and leading. The political question about the Sudan had made much noise; the practical problem was widely canvassed. British responsibility, which had been disclaimed for Hicks, by what Baring held then and later to be a criminal error, could not be ignored for a result of British ‘advice’. Little was known at Cairo, and less in London, about actual conditions in the Sudan. The popular name of General Charles George Gordon [q.v.], who had served in various parts of the world since the termination of his governorship of the Sudan in 1879, was suggested to ministers. Baring knew little of him except by report; but he suspected an embodiment of much that he admired¾courage, magnetism, military genius¾and of more that he disliked¾fantasy, fanaticism, action on impulse. He had an alternative in his mind—an Egyptian ex-governor, whose fortunes would entail less British responsibility—and twice he refused to agree to Gordon. Then finding withdrawal from the Sudan too unpopular in Egypt for any decent Egyptian to wish to undertake it, and himself left alone in his objection to Gordon, he gave way and asked for the man he mistrusted. How Gordon left London on 18 January 1884, commissioned by an informal meeting of ministers to proceed up the Nile (Baring vetoed his going to Suakin, and lived to repent) and to report from Khartoum on ways and means of withdrawal; how, bethinking himself on the voyage that evacuation must not mean abandonment, he asked for the supreme command, was supported in his request by Baring, and in the latter's presence interviewed his blood-foe, Zobeir, with a view to calling him up later to take over evacuated Khartoum; how he pledged himself to arrange withdrawal as soon as possible, and to submit in all things to Baring's instructions¾these facts are well known. Less certain is it what happened to bring Gordon's mission to naught after he had departed up the river with Colonel Stewart. Meanwhile, over and above the arduous task of listening to Gordon at the end of a wire and of endeavouring, by analysis of ten messages a day, to recommend to London what an erratic Bayard really desired, Baring had the finance, and consequently the irrigation, of Egypt ever on his mind. To increase the taxable area, not the taxes, was his policy, but to that end capital must first be found for new canals and drains. Further, the clamour for Alexandrian indemnities, overdue since 1882, threatened a financial crisis, which could hardly fail to end in fresh international control. Baring took a bold line. In the face of an annual deficit he projected a loan, and referred the proposal to London for discussion in the summer. All other matters of reform he deferred sine die, whether at the ministry of the interior, whence he suffered Nubar Pasha to oust Clifford Lloyd, or in justice, or education, or sanitation, or the army.
What could not stand over was withdrawal from the Sudan. By the end of March 1884 it was clear that the mission of Gordon had only added to the imprisoned Egyptians a man, in whom all Europe was interested, for some one else to rescue. The question now, wrote Baring to the Foreign Office, ‘is how to get Gordon and Stewart out of Khartoum’. He saw no way but a British relief expedition, to which, since February, Gordon had been trying to force the hand of Whitehall. By whose fault, if any one's, things had come to this pass, it is not easy to determine. Gordon, faithful to a self-imposed duty not to abandon the Sudan to the Mahdi's mercies, made no serious effort to withdraw, waiting assent to one proposition after another, which he made through Baring to London, to be, one after the other, rejected. He might not have Zobeir, because Mr. Gladstone and the British public would not hear of a slave-raider being preferred to power under their joint ægis. He was not to retire southwards, because so he would be committing Egypt to hold equatorial provinces. Turkish troops must not be used except under conditions that the Sultan would not accept. A British-Indian force operating about Suakin was able to relieve Tokar at the end of February; but only if the road were opened by co-operation from Gordon's end could it send a flying column to Berber. Baring tardily supported this last scheme, but failed to persuade the War Office. Gordon, proclaiming to the Sudan that a British advance-guard was even now at Wadi Halfa, dug himself in. His fighting instinct, his pride of race, his sense of high command, made him refuse all thought of abandoning Khartoum to howling savages, in whose permanent cohesion he did not believe. He railed at Baring and every one else, sent off Stewart, and held on. Mr. Gladstone's government reluctantly admitted Baring's logic, and referred to the War Office the question by what route the relief should go.
Baring himself, over-worked and exasperated by international intrigue, came home in April to push his loan, and hurry the relief expedition, which, however, was delayed till the autumn. The loan, also, hung fire, France refusing to strengthen British hands in Egypt; and Baring had to return in the autumn only to take in financial sail. Nor dared he hope anything from the mission of his cousin, Lord Northbrook, who arrived presently to report to Mr. Gladstone on ‘the exigencies of Egyptian finance’. Cordially sympathizing with the ex-viceroy's desire to free Egypt from internationalism and foreign privileges, Baring watched without surprise another report go the way of many predecessors to the pigeon-hole. That winter saw the zenith of French obstruction and the nadir of Egyptian powers. The Caisse ignored Lord Northbrook's recommendation that Egypt should have the spending of her own savings, and pocketed all the surplus of provincial receipts; Nubar and Baring suffered a fall when together they tried to suppress the scurrilities of a Franco-Egyptian Egyptian journal, the Bosphore Egyptien. Over the turn of the year 1884 hung the lengthening shadow of impending tragedy at Khartoum, which Baring could only watch as a spectator, chafing at the heavy cost of the straining relief force. He cared little that the world imputed to him and to (Sir) Edwin Egerton, his chargé d'affaires during the past summer, futilities which they had had to transmit from London, such as the ‘hope of Her Majesty's Government’ that the trapped hero would ‘remain some time longer at Khartoum’, or Mr. Gladstone's faith in an appeal to ‘the Mahdi's reason’. But, when the worst was known, in the early days of February 1885, he did care profoundly that, against his own judgement, he had sent Gordon to his death.
It was never Baring's way to cry over spilt milk; and insisting, when none remained to be rescued, on effectual evacuation of all the Sudan except Suakin, he turned once more to finance and irrigation. In this (Sir) Colin Scott-Moncrieff, in that (Sir) Edgar Vincent, had forged ahead, in spite, rather than by grace, of Nubar, whose hostility increased towards both and towards Baring who championed them. Nubar continued, however, to work with the latter, in fair accord, in order to lighten the peasant's burden by remission of the corvée for canal clearance. But if he detected any hand put out to touch the sanctuary of the interior his jealousy blazed forth.
Yet it was in this sad summer of 1885 that the dawn broke. The powers, outworn by the importunities of their nationals, consented after all on reasonable terms to a loan of nine millions, wherewith Egypt might pay the indemnities and spend a million on works of irrigation. Unwittingly France further lightened Baring's burden by procuring the dispatch of Sir Henry Drummond Wolff [q.v.] to negotiate with the Sultan a British withdrawal in three years' time. When he came on from Constantinople to Egypt at the end of the year, he absolved Baring from so much responsibility for external affairs that for nearly two years the latter could see to the laying out of his hard-won million which was to bring in cent. per cent. from the land; and he could even think of calling other plans for reform out of abeyance¾plans for justice, police, and so forth. Nubar scented danger to the interior and stiffened. He had watched Granville's star pale in London and Salisbury's rise. How would it fare with Baring now? Nubar challenged him in 1887 over the succession to Valentine Baker in the command of the police and affronted him to his face in London, only to discover that, in the everlasting flux of parties, the imperial policy of Great Britain remains ever the same. Once his man was down, Baring compromised the quarrel. There was not money yet for any serious reform at the interior; and also¾it was his way.
The dawn brightened. Thanks to new canals and a patched-up barrage, the yield from arable lands steadily swelled a revenue on which no extraordinary call had been made for three years. The Treasury accounts of 1888 all but balanced; in 1889 a surplus appeared; while the victory of (Lord) Grenfell at Toski guaranteed relief from further expenditure on Nubian defence. With luck in avoiding other entanglements Egypt had won her race against bankruptcy and international control. Two years earlier, the British occupation had been stabilized by the Sultan's refusal, at the instigation of France, to ratify the clause of the Wolff Agreement giving right of re-entry after withdrawal; and since then foreign capital had entered Egypt more boldly. With Nubar gone and Riaz in his room, Baring could attend to railways, justice, education, and other matters crying for reform, with money in hand and promise of more. He procured the almost complete abolition of the corvée, and on the advice of (Sir) John Scott [q.v.], constrained Riaz to abolish the ‘brigandage commissions’ which had dealt as courts-martial with agrarian crime, by use of torture and the forbidden kurbash. Now that more and better judges could be paid, he directed official attention to reform of the native courts, and, in 1890, at the price of the resignation of Riaz, had Scott created adviser to the department of Justice. Signs of approval and support had been lavished by Whitehall. He was gazetted C.B. in 1885, K.C.B. in 1887, and G.C.M.G. a twelvemonth later. Force of character, unflinching reasonableness, strength to compromise, and intellectual superiority had already given him dominance over every one in Egypt, his diplomatic colleagues not excepted. The French consul-general, the Marquis de Reversaux, confessed it more candidly than the Quai d'Orsay could approve.
Baring's work was growing under his hand, and his politique de replâtrage was beginning to be forgotten in a policy of perfection. Greater projects were in his mind than were consistent with any immediate realization of the end for which he had pressed at first. ‘The Egyptians’, he now held, ‘should only be permitted to govern themselves after the fashion in which Europeans think they ought to be governed’; and no longer expecting this consummation from the existing generation of Egyptian officials, his mind postponed evacuation sine die, and grew somewhat less averse from the introduction of more British officials. But to the end he would always require very good reason for every British official the more, well knowing the danger of tutelage retarding, rather than promoting, the political education of a backward people. His own personal authority, which, backed by the small army of occupation, was the one effective power in the country, taking the place of an organized system, had to be exerted through the action of his forceful personality upon another, sagacious but not forceful¾that of the Khedive Tewfik. ‘I had not to govern Egypt,’ he was to write, ‘but to assist in the government without the appearance of doing so, and without any legitimate authority over the agents with whom I had to deal.’ Only the khedive could without friction make his labours of practical effect. Therefore, he attached supreme (as the event showed, too great) importance to continued co-operation with a prince of Tewfik's character and disposition; and he received with lively consternation, as he himself confessed, the sudden intelligence, in 1892, that the khedive was dying. To forestall the Sultan or any other would-be wrecker, he lost not a moment in summoning Tewfik's eldest son from Europe. By European reckoning Abbas would still be a minor for some months to come; but Baring grasped at a suggestion that a Moslem prince's age should be counted by lunar years, and Abbas was duly installed. The Sultan laid by his rival candidate against a better day, and ordered a firman of investiture to be sent to Cairo. The delays and mysteries of its dispatch, arrival, and communication made sport for the world, whose amusement reached its height when the precious document proved to deprive Egypt of Sinai. Baring supported Abbas, and the chanceries tackled the Porte, with the usual result. When the dust had subsided, Abbas ruled all that his father had ruled, with Baring overruling as before, but under the new style of Baron Cromer.
For awhile all seemed well. Cromer buttressed the young khedive against the Sultan's commissioner, Mukhtar Pasha¾sole and sore legacy of the Wolff negotiations¾as effectively as against the Sultan himself. But as Abbas began to feel his feet, he turned from the authoritative tutor to counsellors of the closet. Tigrane Pasha expounded nationalism in admirable French, and Abbas wondered that an Armenian could be ‘so good an Egyptian’. The country, said Tigrane, had now acquired all the knowledge and all the resources requisite for its admission to the comity of nations. Let the occupying power be dismissed with thanks. But its congé could be given effectually by the sovereign alone. Therefore a deputation of notables should go quietly to Constantinople, and the khedive must follow to confirm their prayers. The Sultan would grant anything to get the British out of Egypt.
Cromer suffered Abbas to listen and obey; for he foresaw how Abdul Hamid would deal at Constantinople with such inconvenient precedents as a nationalist deputation, and a visit from an autonomous viceroy. He knew something of Turks, and to learn their tongue had been at pains which he declined to expend on Arabic, thinking the Turkish of the local pashas would help him, where the vernacular of the million might embarrass. As he expected, Abbas returned in autumn, sore and sulky, ready to vent his spleen in peevish complaints of British officials. These carried to Cromer incessant protests against the consequent insolence of subordinates; but he refused to move, and even compromised the dismissal of his ally, Mustapha Fehmi. It was not reasonable to expect as yet the confidence and friendship, which Tewfik, his equal in age and greatly beholden to him in the past, had shown. Moreover, the British public, which Cromer understood and kept always in view, would not, in the case of a boy still in his 'teens, distinguish necessary firmness from unnecessary bullying on any issue yet raised. Lord Rosebery, a reputed radical, had come to the Foreign Office in London, and Cromer saw that Nubar's mistake was being repeated by Tigrane. He had but to wait, and a better occasion would be offered by the court cabal.
It came in January 1894. On parade at Wadi Halfa, before the sirdar, and the listening ranks, Abbas rebuked British officers whom, to a man, their countrymen held to have performed a miracle in creating an army out of fellahin. The sirdar, Kitchener, tendered his resignation, and Cromer cleared decks for action. With no more demur than any previous foreign secretary, Lord Rosebery remitted as orders from Her Majesty's government the instructions suggested to him by its representative in Egypt; and a British battalion, homeward bound, was diverted from the Canal and marched to Cairo for an outward and visible sign. Abbas ate his bitter words, and nationalism went to ground again. Reviewing his stewardship in after years Cromer judged this to be the last round he had to fight against official obstruction; and in fact all serious opposition above ground ceased henceforward. Abbas, saying he understood that he might sit on the box of the state coach, but not touch the reins, consoled himself with private finance. Ministers, lapsing into ciphers, took their tone from Mustapha Fehmi, who replaced Nubar in the autumn of 1895. Cromer, once more confident of the future, reverted to the great projects of Tewfik's last years. Surveys for a Nile dam were put in hand with the cordial approval of every husbandman in Egypt, and a curtain of masonry began to rise above the cataract. Cromer had intended to await its completion and the expansion of revenue which was certain to follow, before allowing the eager sirdar to begin the realization of an even greater project, the reconquest of the Sudan. But the disaster of Adowa in 1895, leading Italy to press for some Egyptian action in the rear of Abyssinia, caused London to force Cromer's hand. Money was tight and only by a majority vote was half a million obtained from the commissioners of the Caisse, the French and the Russian commissioners forming the minority. With this the sirdar got to work, and when, on a subsequent appeal, the courts declared that the grant must be refunded to the Caisse, Cromer hardly persuaded the British Treasury to cover a debt incurred by following British instructions. Preparations were made with much secrecy. After noting the progress of the Upper Egypt railway to Sohag, to Girgeh, to the crossing of the river at Nag Hamadi, Cromer added, in his published report for 1896, that, while the restoration of Karnak engaged his attention, he had ‘nothing of military interest’ to write about. Then, suddenly, Egypt heard that there was an up-Nile campaign afoot, and that Kitchener was bound for Dongola, which, though few but soldiers knew the fact, was no place to stay in long. Cromer had urged Suakin as first objective, but had been overruled.
Throughout the further advances, which that first step inevitably entailed¾to Abu Hamed, to the Atbara, and to Omdurman¾the British agent, recalling his half-forgotten military terminology and tactics, and sinking a habitual distrust of soldier strategists, which he shared with Lord Salisbury, had to play minister of war, as well as to support the sirdar against both the Egyptian Cabinet and Whitehall. On all policy and plans of the campaign he was asked for and gave advice. Kitchener, if not congenial to Cromer's heart, satisfied his head (though there was to be some friction later, when the sirdar had become governor-general of the Sudan), and from Dongola in 1896 to Fashoda in 1898 Cromer accorded him his absolute trust. The conduct of the last and most perilous act of the campaign, the Fashoda meeting with the Frenchman, Marchand (Cromer had long ago warned Kitchener and London that it might happen), he was content to leave to his subordinate with only the briefest general instruction. In the final hour of their joint triumph, he was far away in northern Scotland beside the sick-bed of his wife.
He returned in the autumn of 1898, to enforce the singular Anglo-Egyptian arrangement which he had devised for excluding internationalism from the reconquered Sudan; and troubled consuls-general were advised that their nationals south of the twentieth parallel must look to British protection alone. Cromer intentionally discouraged the company promoter and all others who might exploit native populations. Lady Cromer survived her return to Cairo by a few weeks only. Bereaved and alone, her husband went to Khartoum in December to find comfort where capitulations and mixed courts were not. In Egypt, however, the clouds of internationalism were breaking. The Franco-British Agreement of 1899, defining zones of influence in Africa, cleared the way for the definitive pact of 1904, by which the burden of dualism was lifted from most of the foreign-controlled administrations just in time to save the railways. It looked as if the capitulations themselves might go, as Cromer had desired long and devoutly, because he held autonomy impossible in Egypt until there were not only more good citizens but more citizens¾until, in fact, the resident Europeans both obeyed and made Egyptian laws. But this consummation he would not live to see.
He bestrode the local world with none to let or hinder. The Boer War disturbed Egypt no more than the Armenian massacres had done. While some Moslems undoubtedly welcomed our early ill success, the resident Greeks supported us from first to last. Cromer had seen land assessment revised, land survey completed, land tax lowered, a land bank created, and the interior and education subjected to advisers since 1896. His long postponement of educational reform has often been criticized; and even so intelligent an Egyptian patriot as Sheikh Mohammed Abdu accused him of keeping the people ignorant in the interest of British imperialism. His own explanation was that he waited till money was plentiful before embarking on experiments in pedagogy, none of the systems proposed at an earlier stage being suitable to Egyptian conditions or promising finality. He used to cite results of our education system in India as instances of the eddies which too rapid a current can produce in the stream of progress; and he was particularly averse from the creation of an urban intelligentsia. In the sphere of primary education progress was retarded by the lack of qualified teachers, and by religious tradition and prejudice; and it was not before Cromer's last years in Egypt that much advance could be attempted. Even then but little reduction resulted in the obstinate illiteracy of the fellahin.
Cromer's formal relations with Abbas, whose attitude was improved by a visit to London, remained friendly, and a step in the peerage in 1899 assured him that his word was still law in Downing Street. In 1901 he was created an earl, and he gratified his friends by marrying Lady Katherine Thynne, second daughter of the fourth Marquess of Bath. By his first wife he had had two sons; now a third was born. A little volume of his Paraphrases from the Greek Anthology had been issued privately before his second marriage; an enlarged edition, published later, was received with favour as the diversion of a man of affairs. In Cairo he had attained to a sort of Pharaonic apotheosis, becoming ‘The Lord’ simply; and sly profanity rang changes on this style. But one thing was already troubling his peace¾the ever-growing clamour of nationalists in a hurry. The old whig was not surprised; but he grew more and more apprehensive, lest those at home whom he called sentimental radicals should listen and try to hustle his administrative jog-trot. His health, hitherto robust, began to deteriorate in 1905, indisposing him to listen to a suggestion that he should take the Foreign Office in the Campbell-Bannerman ministry formed late in that year. In 1906 an unexpected ebullition of Egyptian sympathy with a second attempt by Abdul Hamid to revise the Sinaitic boundary added to his uneasiness, though he minimized its import; and atop of it came a wave of native anger at certain death-sentences passed upon natives of the Delta village of Denshawai, who had been convicted of attacking a shooting party of British officers. These sentences he himself (he was in England at the time) judged too severe. He landed from leave in the autumn to find Egyptian society turned topsy-turvy by bubble-speculation and buzzing with malevolent criticism. Ill with chronic indigestion and feeling his age, he held on a little longer. King Edward wrote with his own hand to dissuade the old proconsul from resignation; but Cromer felt too much enfeebled to face the political experiment of speeding up autonomy, which he suspected to be imminent. He delivered an apologia and a counsel of perfection in the Cairo opera house in May 1907, and then went down the side of the ship which he had rescued, refitted, and piloted for nearly a quarter of a century.
Parliament acknowledged handsomely his great use of great talents. Universities offered degrees and societies their presidential chairs. But it was from a private study, out of touch with Whitehall, that he watched his first successor, Sir (John) Eldon Gorst [q.v.], sail the new course he had foreseen would be set, and his second, Lord Kitchener, abruptly put up the helm and steer for such direct control, as he himself had often threatened but never practised. As health returned he began to attend the House of Lords, where he made a maiden speech in February 1908, and took the lead of the free traders. Subsequently he spoke fairly often, and was listened to with respect; but he had no natural gift of oratory, and nervousness in public speaking never left him. In that same year appeared the account of his stewardship (Modern Egypt, 2 vols.) which his first wife had encouraged him to write. The style of the book has the unhurried lucidity of diplomatic dispatches. The British public read it avidly, but Egyptians looked askance at a mirror held up to their nature.
Lord Cromer's old love of the Greek and Roman classics deepened and the range of his reading broadened with his increased leisure. He searched the past assiduously for modern instances, and from the chair of the Classical Association delivered, in 1910, an address on Ancient and Modern Imperialism which makes the best of his smaller books. Chance in 1912 led the editor of the Spectator to encourage him to review new books. Three consequent volumes of Political and Literary Essays attest omnivorous reading, a memory singularly retentive of all stages in a long experience, and an apostolic desire to impart all that he knew, or thought. Impatient of inactivity, he was eager at seventy years to preach free trade or denounce anti-vivisection and votes for women. The public, which had long labelled him man of action, was a little disconcerted by this fresh foliage budding on the eve of winter; and malice sneered that the new laurels were torn from his old crown. But unheeding he went on his masterful way, fulfilling a green old age.
In 1913 he broke long silence about Egypt by calling attention, in the Nineteenth Century and After, to the continued curse of the capitulations. Next year the outbreak of the European War found him ready to do any service that still in him lay. From various experience he expounded German policy and methods, and in 1915 issued a supplement to his Modern Egypt, embodying notes, long discreetly suppressed, on his relations with Abbas Hilmi, ex-khedive. A more arduous service was to be his last. He was invited, in 1916, to preside over the Dardanelles Commission; and overcoming a Thucydidean distaste for such inquisitions in time of war, he put on government harness again. Assiduous in attendance at the sittings, he would summon the commission to meet at his own house if he were forbidden to go out of doors. After one such meeting in December he collapsed. During rallies he demanded always the draft report, and in January 1917 seemed about to renew his lease of life. But the flicker was brief, and on the 29th, a month short of his seventy-sixth birthday, he died.
Lord Cromer's portrait was painted by J. S. Sargent, R.A., in 1903; a memorial tablet, with a medallion portrait in relief on the base, was designed by Sir W. Goscombe John, R.A., for Westminster Abbey; there are also drawings made by William Strang in 1908 and J. S. Sargent in 1912.
Lord Sanderson, Memoir in Proceedings of the British Academy, 1917;
Lord Cromer, Annual Reports, 1884-1906;
Modern Egypt, 2 vols., 1908;
Abbas II, 1915;
minor writings, especially ‘Capitulations in Egypt’, Nineteenth Century and After, July 1913, and Ancient and Modern Imperialism, 1910.
Appreciations published by colleagues and contemporaries from A. Milner, England in Egypt, 1892, to Sir J. Rennell Rodd, Social and Diplomatic Memories, ii, 1923;
personal knowledge; private information.
Contributor: D. G. H. [David George Hogarth]