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Crimean War page 4


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It was just as the Porte, yielding to the advice of England, had satisfied the Austrian demands touching Montenegro, and just as the question of the Holy Places seemed to be dying away, that Prince Menschikoff, at the end of February, landed at Constantinople. His coming had been heralded by a Russian war steamer and a Russian colonel. Nothing could be learned of the object of his mission. An air of mystery was thrown studiously over his advent. He came like a portent. All that could be gleaned by industrious seekers was that he had visited fleets and armies, and that he was coming clothed almost in the panoply of war, but with "pacific intentions." He came. In his suite were, among others, the son of Nesselrode and Prince Galitzin, an aide-de-camp of the Czar. At his heels, in another ship of war, came Admiral Korniloff, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, and a general, holding the rank of Chief of the Staff to General Rüdiger, who commanded two corps-d'armée on the frontier. With them came rumours of the march of troops and the fitting out of fleets, and everything was done to frighten the Turks, and impress them with a due sense of the vast power of the Emperor. It cannot be wondered at that the Divan was in a fever of alarm; the forces of friends were so far off, and those of the Czar so near.

Nor did Prince Menschikoff's first act tend to mitigate the terror of the Porte. The Turks had made all the preparations required for the reception of an envoy from a potentate so mighty. Prince Menschikoff sent in his credentials to Fuad Effendi, the Foreign Minister, and diplomatic etiquette demanded that he should first visit the Grand Vizier, and then the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Attended by his showy suite, but himself plainly attired, the Prince went to the Porte and presented himself to the Grand Vizier. One of the Sultan's household then invited him to visit Fuad Effendi, whose offices were next to those of the Turkish Premier. But the Prince said he should not, as Fuad Effendi had broken faith with the Emperor; and, having put this slight on Fuad, he passed by the line of troops and the very door of the minister, which had been opened to receive him. To add to the mortification of the Turks, this affront was given in the presence of a crowd of Greeks, and it made a " great and painful sensation." The blow had been struck without a previous complaint, and without any kind of warning, and yet Prince Menschikoff did not hesitate to say that he did not intend in any way to offend the Sultan. Fuad Effendi might, if he chose, be present at the ceremonial audience between the Sultan and the Russian, but with him Prince Menschikoff would not negotiate.

For a moment there was a panic in high places at Constantinople. The Grand Vizier was indignant and terrified, and, fearing the worst, trembling lest a mortal blow should be struck before help could arrive, if help were deferred, he asked Colonel Rose to request Admiral Dundas to bring up the British squadron to Vourla Bay. Colonel Rose did not hesitate. He knew how forward were the warlike preparations of the Czar, and he immediately complied with the wish of the Grand Vizier. But this bold step was premature. The Czar had not made up his mind to strike a sudden blow, and Count Nesselrode told Sir Hamilton Seymour that the tendency was rather to slacken than to push on military preparations - a statement destitute of truth. Fuad Effendi, of course, refused to hold office any longer, and the Sultan, for the first time, accepted the resignation of a public servant, replacing him by Rifaat Pasha. When Admiral Dundas received the request of Colonel Rose, he declined to act upon it, and his Government, brimming with faith in Nicholas, notwithstanding the tenor of the secrets in their possession, approved of the conduct of the Admiral, and disapproved of the bold haste of Rose. But the French Government, hearing of what had occurred, without consulting the British Ministers, ordered their fleet at once to set out on a "cruise in Greek waters." The fleet sailed, and Lord Clarendon instantly expressed the regret of his Government that France had taken so strong a measure. Her Majesty's Government, he said, had received from the Czar his most solemn assurance that he would uphold the Turkish empire, and not change his policy without notice of his intention; and, as no such notice had been received, the British Government were "bound to believe, until they had proofs to the contrary, that the mission of Prince Menschikoff was not of a character menacing to the independence and integrity of Turkey." Lord Clarendon feared that the arrival of the French fleet near the Turkish capital would give " a hostile character to Russian policy " - as if the character of Russian policy were not, at that very time, as overbearing as it professed to be moderate, and as warlike as it professed to be pacific. But the British statesman was quite right in his fears. The movement of the French fleet to Salamis did not change the character of Russian policy, but it quickened the Czar to wrath, and accelerated the progress of his occult designs. He was gratified to learn that the British Government did not share in the alarm and irritation which prevailed at Paris, and still had faith in his honour; and he must have been more gratified to know, as he was allowed to know, that, at this critical moment, it was the position of France, and the political feeling embarked in the question, which, in the opinion of England, afforded the only grounds for apprehending embarrassment in the East. And even from this cause little danger was apprehended, for Lord Cowley had informed his Government that the whole tenor of the recent correspondence between Paris and St. Petersburg showed that the Emperor of Russia had "no hostile feeling towards Turkey," and was "anxious for the maintenance of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire." This accorded well with the information received from Sir Hamilton Seymour; and thus the British Government, at least, was cradled in the hope of a peaceful settlement, alloyed only by some misgiving as to the effect on the mind of the Czar of the rush of the French fleet to Salamis.

In the meantime Prince Menschikoff conducted himself so mysteriously and so quietly at Constantinople, and Sir Hamilton Seymour received such positive assurances at St. Petersburg, that no one, except the French Chargé d'affaires, and perhaps the French Government^ suspected the bad faith of Russia. The Prince, it is true, could not explain away the threatening armaments of his master; but Count Nesselrode said, over and over again, that nothing would be demanded unpleasing to the French. The Prince did not unfold the object of his mission; but then, what he said, and said vaguely, did not agree with what was said at St. Petersburg. In short, there was mystification, reserve, equivocation in all that was said and done; yet the British Government continued to put faith in the Czar, while the French Government, in its communications with our own, continued to harp on the necessity of framing some common line of action, and had even sounded Austria with a similar object.

What was happening at the Porte served to justify French suspicions. It seems to have been the common talk in Pera and Galata that the Russian Minister was intent on obtaining from the Turks a secret treaty. But Prince Menschikoff went about the business in so strange a manner, that Rifaat Pasha, with whom he talked, did not appear to comprehend at what the Prince was driving. The Grand Vizier thought the mild manner and smooth language which the Russian employed was calculated to induce the Porte to agree to a secret compact. The fact is, the Turks already knew well enough at what the Czar aimed; and instead of being mild in his tone, his negotiator denounced upon the Turks severe penalties if they revealed his secret demands. Those demands went the length of endowing the Czar with a protectorate over the whole of the Greeks and Armenians in Turkey. This was the meaning of the phrase, that the Czar would not seek to deprive the Latins of what they had won. He sought a stronger position - that of master. This was the Emperor's example of forbearance to a weak power! It is not surprising that the pale Sultan grew paler, and that the Turkish Ministers trembled. For, ever and anon, came more and more decisive and more and more authentic reports of the advance of the Russian armies; while the British Government would not give up its faith in the good intentions and its trust in the personal honour of the Emperor.

Colonel Rose was indefatigable in his endeavours to worm out the exact nature of Menschikoff 's proceedings, and on the 1st of April the Grand Vizier made a clean breast of it. Prince Menschikoff offered the Porte 400,000 men and a fleet, in case she required them against any Western Power, provided the Porte would make such an addition to the treaty of Kainardji as would place the Greek Church entirely under the protection of Russia without reference to Turkey. The Grand Vizier regarded this as ruinous, and refused to keep secret the demand; on the contrary, he reported it to Colonel Rose, and begged him to communicate it without delay to the British Government, which Colonel Rose did not fail to do. How then, after the receipt of this news, could the British Government pretend that they had no reason to suspect the Czar P Their excuse is that from St. Petersburg they received persistent statements that Prince Menschikoff sought nothing but reparation for the wrong done in the matter of the Holy Places. The suspicions of England were lulled asleep by the extravagant praises the Russian Cabinet bestowed upon the noble, the confiding attitude of her Government, as contrasted with the ardent spirit, the precipitation, the menaces of the French. It is evident that the sailing of the French fleet, notified to all the world in the Moniteur, rankled in the heart of the Czar. He felt under pressure; his pride was wounded; but that did not prevent him from dissembling. How well he and his servants dissembled may be seen from the fact that Lord Clarendon, in the middle of April, believed that the secret treaty demanded by Prince Menschikoff would be simply "a written agreement respecting the Holy Places." In the meantime, the naval and military measures of Russia were vigorously pushed on, and all the satisfaction Colonel Rose could get to his remonstrances was the reply from Prince Menschikoff - " All that I can tell you is, that I have the most pacific intentions! "

Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had not yet arrived; for there had been delays on the road, and he had travelled by a circuitous route from London to the East. But he was now near at hand. " On the morning of the 5th of April," to borrow a striking passage from Mr. Kinglake, "the Sultan and his Ministers learned that a vessel of war was coming up the Propontis, and they knew who it was that was on board. Long before noon, the voyage and the turmoil of the reception were over, and except that a frigate under the English flag lay at anchor in the Golden Horn, there was no seeming change in the outward world. Yet all was changed. Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had entered once more the palace of the English Embassy. The event spread a sense of safety, but also a sense of awe. It seemed to bring with it confusion to the enemies of Turkey, but austere reproof for past errors at home; punishment where punishment was due, and an enforcement of hard toils and painful sacrifices of many kinds; and a long farewell to repose. It was the angry return of a king whose realm had been suffered to fall into danger." For Sir Stratford Canning had been a stanch but an exacting friend to the Turks, and had exercised more real power in Turkey than any man of foreign birth; and the power which he possessed as Sir Stratford Canning had not gone from Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, nor had age diminished his ability, or deprived the strong man of his force. The crisis into which he plunged was one just suited to his nature, and before the sun had set he had put his hand to the work. He was fated to encounter again the Czar of all the Russias, and he was fated to foil him as he had often foiled him before.

The first step of Lord Stratford - and he took it at once - was to discover the actual position of affairs, and to learn how far the demands of Prince Menschikoff were moderate or threatening. On the day after he landed, Lord Stratford saw the Grand Vizier and Rifaat Effendi; but while he learnt from their conversations that there was some prospect of settling the tiresome question of the Holy Places, he could gain no distinct statement respecting the ulterior views of the Czar. The Turks were not so frank with him as they had been with Colonel Rose. Nevertheless, they admitted the existence of ulterior demands, and they were pressing in their requests for advice. Lord Stratford gave it willingly. He recommended them to keep the question of the Holy Places separate from the ulterior proposals, and he set before them a variety of considerations carrying comfort with them, in case the ulterior demands took an inadmissible form. On the 7th he saw the Sultan and offered his good offices, and, alluding to the secret Russian demands, said he was convinced the Sultan, in making reasonable concessions, "would be careful to admit no innovation dangerous to his independence." This from Lord Stratford's lips meant more than the mere words convey. It meant support in case that independence were menaced, and the Sultan knew he could rely upon the speaker. For some reason Prince Menschikoff became less offensive in manner, and men were able to entertain hopes that the clouds hanging over Turkey would disperse without a storm.

Acting on Lord Stratford's advice, the Turkish Government applied themselves steadily to the settlement of the minor question. Projects were drawn up, designed, modified, and debated again with persevering energy. Lord Stratford found the new French Minister, De la Cour, disposed for concession, provided matters were "arranged for the satisfaction of French feelings of honour," and he did not despair of bringing the Russian to reason. It is not necessary, nor would it interest the reader, to follow the ins and outs of what still remained in 1853, as it was in 1851, a vexatious and uninteresting question. The old points rise up over and over again - the keys and stars, and cupolas and gardens, the great doors and little doors, the door-keepers and the questions of precedence - but behind these there is a dark and threatening cloud, and it is that, and not the disputes of churches, which formed the groundwork of men's anxieties. Lord Stratford's earnest entreaties, his diplomatic skill and deep insight, the energies of the goaded Porte, the elasticity of the French Minister's instructions, all working together, although obstructed by the growing proportions of the larger question, soon overcame Prince Menschikoff, who did not see the vantage ground he was losing in allowing the conflict about the Holy Places to be settled. When the French and Russian seemed to be on the verge of a rupture, Lord Stratford, intent on the mightier game, thought it advisable " to adopt a more prominent part." Accordingly he brought the two Ministers face to face, and in a short time sent them away, and with them the settlement of the dispute, so that nothing remained to be done but to embody the compromise in a firman. In little more than a fortnight after his arrival, the points raised by General Aupick in 1850 were put to rest, but out of them had grown a huger quarrel, which it was soon found could be only appeased by an appeal to arms.

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