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ASS—ASSAM

and his mastery of statistical detail and argument made his appointment as chancellor of the exchequer part of the natural order of things when in December 1905 Mr Balfour resigned and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (q.v.) became prime minister.

During Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman’s premiership, Mr Asquith gradually rose in political importance, and in 1907 the prime minister’s ill-health resulted in much of the leadership in the Commons devolving on the chancellor of the exchequer. At first the party as a whole had regarded him somewhat coldly. And his unbending common-sense, and sobriety of criticism in matters which deeply interested the less academic Radicals who were enthusiasts for extreme courses, would have made the parliamentary situation difficult but for the exceptional popularity of the prime minister. In the autumn of 1907, however, as the latter’s retention of office became more and more improbable, it became evident that no other possible successor had equal qualifications. The session of 1908 opened with Mr Asquith acting avowedly as the prime minister’s deputy, and the course of business was itself of a nature to emphasize his claims. After two rather humdrum budgets he was pledged to inaugurate a system of old-age pensions (forming the chief feature of the budget of 1908, personally introduced by him at the beginning of May), and his speech in April on the Licensing Bill was a triumph of clear exposition, though later in the year, after passing the Commons, it was thrown out by the Lords. On the 5th of April it was announced that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had resigned and Mr Asquith been sent for by the king. As the latter was staying at Biarritz, the unprecedented course was followed of Mr Asquith journeying there for the purpose, and on the 8th he resigned the chancellorship of the exchequer and kissed hands as prime minister. The names of the new cabinet were announced on the 13th. The new appointments were: Lord Tweedmouth as lord president of the council (instead of the admiralty); Lord Crewe as colonial secretary (instead of lord president of the council); Mr D. Lloyd George, chancellor of the exchequer (transferred from the Board of Trade); Mr R. McKenna, first lord of the admiralty (instead of minister of education); Mr Winston Churchill, president of the Board of Trade; and Mr Walter Runciman, minister of education. Lord Elgin ceased to be colonial secretary, but Lord Loreburn (lord chancellor), Lord Ripon (lord privy seal), Mr H. Gladstone (Home Office), Sir E. Grey (foreign affairs), Mr Haldane (War Office), Mr Sinclair (secretary for Scotland; created in 1909 Lord Pentland), Mr Burns (Local Government Board), Lord Carrington (Board of Agriculture), Mr Birrell (Irish secretary), Mr S. Buxton (postmaster-general), Mr L. Harcourt (commissioner of works), Mr John Morley (India) and Sir Henry Fowler (duchy of Lancaster) retained their offices, the two latter being created peers. The Budget (see Lloyd George) was the sole feature of political interest in 1909, and its rejection in December by the Lords led to the general election of January 1910, which left the Liberals and Unionists practically equal, with the Labour and Irish parties dominating the situation (L. 275, U. 273, Lab. 40, I. 82). Mr Asquith was in a difficult position, but the ministry remained in office; and he had developed a concentration of forces with a view to attacking the veto of the House of Lords (see Parliament), when the death of the king in May caused a suspension of hostilities. A conference between the leaders on both sides was arranged, to discuss whether any compromise was possible, and controversy was postponed to an autumn session.  (H. Ch.) 

ASS (O.E. assa; Lat. asinus), a common name (the synonym “donkey” is supposed to be derived either by analogy from “monkey,” or from the Christian name Duncan; cf. Neddy, Jack, Dicky, &c.) for different varieties of the sub-genus Asinus, belonging to the horse tribe, and especially for the domestic ass; it differs from the horse in its smaller size, long ears, the character of its tail, fur and markings, and its proverbial dulness and obstinacy. The ancient Egyptians symbolized an ignorant person by the head and ears of an ass, and the Romans thought it a bad omen to meet one. In the middle ages the Germans of Westphalia made the ass the symbol of St Thomas, the incredulous apostle; the boy who was last to enter school on St Thomas’ day was called the “Ass Thomas” (Gubernatis’s Zoological Mythology, i. 362). The foolishness and obstinacy of the ass has caused the name to be transferred metaphorically to human beings; and the fifth proposition of Book i. of Euclid is known as the Pons Asinorum, bridge of asses.

ASS, FEAST OF THE, formerly a festival in northern France, primarily in commemoration of the biblical flight into Egypt, and usually held on the 14th of January. A girl with a baby at her breast and seated on an ass splendidly caparisoned was led through the town to the church, and there placed at the gospel side of the altar while mass was said. The ceremony degenerated into a burlesque in which the ass of the flight became confused with Balaam’s ass. So scandalous became the popular revels associated with it, that the celebration was prohibited by the church in the 15th century. (See Fools, Feast of.)

ASSAB, a bay and port on the African shore of the Red Sea, 60 m. N. of the strait of Bab-el Mandeb. Assab Bay was the first territory acquired by Italy in Africa. Bought from the sultan of Raheita in 1870, it was not occupied until 1880. (See Eritrea, and Italy: History.)

ASSAM, a former province of British India, which was amalgamated in 1905 with “Eastern Bengal and Assam” (q.v.). Area 56,243 sq. m.; pop. (1901) 6,126,343. The province of Assam lies on the N.E. border of Bengal, on the extreme frontier of the Indian empire, with Bhutan and Tibet beyond it on the N., and Burma and Manipur on the E. It comprises the valleys of the Brahmaputra and Surma rivers, together with the mountainous watershed which intervenes between them. It is situated between 24° 0′ and 28° 17′ N. lat., and between 89° 46′ and 97° 5′ E. long. It is bounded on the N. by the eastern section of the great Himalayan range, the frontier tribes from west to east being successively Bhutias, Akas, Daphlas, Miris, Abors and Mishmis; on the N.E. by the Mishmi hills, which sweep round the head of the Brahmaputra valley; on the E. by the unexplored mountains that mark the frontier of Burma, by the hills occupied by the independent Naga tribes and by the state of Manipur; on the S. by the Lushai hills, the state of Hill Tippera, and the Bengal district of Tippera; and on the W. by the Bengal districts of Mymensingh and Rangpur, the state of Kuch Behar and Jalpaiguri district.

Natural Divisions.—Assam is naturally divided into three distinct tracts, the Brahmaputra valley, the Surma valley and the hill ranges between the two. The Brahmaputra valley is an alluvial plain, about 450 m. in length, with an average breadth of 50 m., lying almost east and west. To the north is the main chain of the Himalayas, the lower ranges of which rise abruptly from the plain; to the south is the great elevated plateau or succession of plateaus known as the Assam range. The various portions of this range are called by the names of the tribes who inhabit them—the Garo, the Khasi, the Jaintia, the North Cachar and the Naga hills. The range as a whole is joined at its eastern extremity by the Patkai to the Himalayan system, and by the mountains of Manipur to the Arakan Yoma. The highest points in the range are Nokrek peak (4600 ft.) in the Garo hills, Shillong peak (6450 ft.) in the Khasi-Jaintia hills, and Japva peak (nearly 10,000 ft.) in the Naga hills. South of the range comes the third division of the province, the Surma valley, comprising the two districts of Cachar and Sylhet. The Surma valley is much smaller than the Brahmaputra valley, covering only 7506 against 24,283 sq. m.; its mean elevation is much lower and its rivers are more sluggish.

Physical Aspects.—Assam is a fertile series of valleys, with the great channel of the Brahmaputra (literally, the Son of Brahma) flowing down its middle, and an infinite number of tributaries and watercourses pouring into it from the mountains on either side. The Brahmaputra spreads out in a sheet of water several miles broad during the rainy season, and in its course through Assam forms a number of islands in its bed. Rising in the Tibetan plateau, far to the north of the Himalayas, and skirting round their eastern passes not far from the Yang-tsze-kiang and the great river of Cambodia, it enters Assam by a series of waterfalls and rapids, amid vast boulders and accumulations of rocks. The gorge, situated in Lakhimpur