31 December 1904

We have come to the last day of 1904, and a few hours more will see us launched upon 1905. While we were as it were waiting for the coming of the New Year, we may cast a retrospective glance over the old year.

It has not been a year over which there has been much reason for congratulation. Trade has been specially bad in the earlier months in the cotton districts. Short-time has been general owing to the inflated price of the raw material. Of late this has been going down by leaps and bounds in the prospect of abundant supplies in the near future, and the possibility of still greater supplies coming from competing cotton fields. The prospect for 1905 is, therefore, more cheering than it has been for several years.

Politically the most momentous issue before the country during the year has been that raised by Mr Joseph Chamberlain. Many hoped that this expiring year would have seen the verdict of the nation pronounced upon the question at a general election; but the matter has been held back from that supreme test in the hope, we may suppose, that lapse of time may bring the country round to a more favourable view of Protection.

It cannot be said that the country has shown any disposition to turn round to Protection. Only a qualified success has been gained even in the Conservative ranks. Conservative candidates, recognising the difficulty of answering Free Trade arguments, have frequently professed themselves Free Traders, and considered they were doing quite enough service for Protection if they refrained from exposing its fallacies and repeated now and again a few of the catch phrases which Conservative gatherings are wont to applaud.

On the other hand, many of the best Unionists have repudiated the Protection propaganda in the most emphatic manner, while the Liberal ranks have been consolidated in defence of Free Trade. The by-elections have all along been going against the Government in a manner rarely if ever witnessed before, and present indications point to a sweeping victory for them cause of Free Trade at the general election.

Towards this the deplorable results of the Sugar Convention will largely contribute. Such a disastrous example of Conservative statesmanship is enough to determine the country to have nothing more to do with it.

One of the great controversies of the year has been over the introduction of thousands of Chinese coolies into the mines of the Transvaal for the purpose of lessening expenses by dispensing as far as possible with white labour, and keeping the wages of the Kaffirs down.

The argument on the other side is that the more coolies there are employed the more work there will be for white men, but this appears to be merely a temporary pretext to serve until the coolies have been installed in all the places they can fill, even those of overseerships, which the white men were to have reserved for them, but which the yellow men have already been occupying.

Another great controversy carried on has been regarding the Licensing Bill of the Government, now an Act of Parliament. It was opposed with great vehemence by the advocates of temperance, but forced through the House of Commons with equal determination as a measure due to the liquor interest for its support of the Conservative cause.

The new Education Act has come into operation throughout the country, and whatever may be said about its educational merits, it has unquestionably increased the local rates very considerably at a time when the poorer class of ratepayers could ill afford the additional burden. The controversy over the sectarian teaching in the primary and secondary schools goes on apace, and does not show the slightest sign of settlement.

The Passive Resisters go to prison as of yore, or have their goods sold up; and it is just on the carpet that if the Liberals attain power and change the present arrangements, there will be equally sturdy Churchmen who will embrace a like voluntary martyrdom in order to vindicate their determination to instruct the young in the Church Catechism.

Looking abroad, the desperate struggle going on in the Far East has occupied a great share of the world’s attention during the year. Port Arthur still holds out, although the power of resistance is dwindling away. There is small prospect that the fleet despatched from the Baltic will be in time to render any assistance to the heroic garrison. The gallant defenders have endured much loss, but have inflicted still more loss on their terrible assailants, whose dreadless intrepidity has been an astonishment for the whole world.

On the Shaho the armies in face of each other appear to be so evenly balanced that neither can venture a step against the other. Meanwhile both the Japanese and the Russians talk largely about the enormous reinforcements they expect to have ready for the spring, but it is devoutly to be hoped that peace may be attained at an earlier date.

The discontented state of the Russian people tells better than anything else could do the true opinion of the people on the war. It has been a great national disaster for Russia, and the best thing that can now come out of it that their should be such a reform of the autocratic institutions of the country that the voice of the people will have a powerful control over the Government and preserve it henceforth from such calamities as have been brought upon it during the present year.

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