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Crimean War page 5


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It was during the closing days of the combat about the Holy Places that Lord Stratford became aware of the arrival of despatches expressing the keen dissatisfaction of the Czar at the slow progress made by his envoy. He also learned that the warlike preparations of the Emperor, far from being "slackened," as Count Nesselrode had said they were, on the contrary were being urged on. The 5th Corps d'Armée was actually marching on the Pruth, and the 4th was ready to move up in support as soon as the deep roads of Volhynia were hard enough to bear the passage of guns and baggage. A division at Sebastopol and another at Odessa were exercised in embarking and disembarking, and the fleet was prepared to carry them. Immense quantities of biscuit were cooked. It was these preparations which both Count Nesselrode and Prince Menschikoff said were not in progress. Lord Stratford, on the 22nd of April, learned that, four or five days before, "fresh and pressing instructions" had reached Prince Menschikoff from St. Petersburg. In fact, Rifaat Pasha placed in the hands of the English Minister a document called a note verbale, which Prince Menschikoff had put in. In this note the Prince demanded a categorical answer on certain points, some of which were settled by the agreement come to in regard to the Holy Places, but the main demand for a protectorate remained, of course, to be dealt with. And this had now to be taken in hand. The British Government, it should be remarked, persisted in believing that Prince Menschikoff had no authority to make these ulterior demands which so disturbed Europe. Her Majesty's Government, they said to Baron Brunnow on the 16th of May, "were compelled either to think that Prince Menschikoff had exceeded his instructions, or to doubt the assurances they had received" personally from the Emperor; and they blindly preferred the first alternative. The French Government were not deceived. But they affected to regard the demand of Russia for a protectorate as one affecting all the other Powers, and they declared themselves ready to consult and act with them, but not to act alone. The conduct of the British Government is the more remarkable, as Lord Stratford pointed out, in a despatch which reached Lord Clarendon on the 6th of May, that the omission of Count Nesselrode, in his remarks to Sir Hamilton Seymour, to make any mention of the ulterior demands, corresponded with the endeavours of Prince Menschikoff to insulate the Porte. The Austrian Minister at the Porte had no doubts respecting the intentions of Russia, and told the British Minister that he could only advise the Porte to give its unqualified assent to the Czar's demands. This drew from Lord Stratford the severe remark that he was " not prepared to take part in placing the last remains of Turkish independence at the feet of any foreign power;" and he warned the Internuncio that he would find Count Buol held the same determination - a curious fact, which seems to show that at this stage Austria had not made up her mind sufficiently to enable her to give the Internuncio distinct instructions. But it will be seen that the Austrian Government, like the British Government, had been deceived, and that the extreme duplicity of Russia took Count Buol by surprise.

In the meantime events had been marching rapidly at Constantinople. There was an end of all reserve. Urged on by the impatient orders of his master, Prince Menschikoff, on the 5th of May, sent by a common messenger a note to the Porte, having all the character, though it did not bear the name, of an ultimatum. It embodied the obnoxious demand for a protectorate in a most offensive form, and it gave the Porte only five days of grace. If an answer did not arrive in five days, Prince Menschikoff would consider that his Government had been treated with disrespect, and on their behalf he said he should have to execute a painful duty. "What that meant no one was permitted to doubt - the Czar had ordered his envoy to obtain his demands at once, or quit Constantinople. Lord Stratford now applied himself to the task of turning the Prince from his purpose, by striving to induce him to negotiate in the usual way; at the same time he gave the Porte advice affording the best chance of leading the Prince into that line of action. In vain: the French Minister did the same, but with less energy. He was instructed to express his objections to the Russian demands, but not to excite the Porte to refuse them. The Turks appeared to be firm, but showed some trepidation; yet they had the courage to refuse compliance. Before all was over, Prince Menschikoff committed one further act of violence. As an ambassador, he had access to the Sovereign when he pleased, and thinking the Grand Vizier was the main obstacle to his designs, he compelled the Sultan to receive him at a private audience, and forced upon him the dismissal of thas functionary. The Sultan, it is said, yielded, in order that the Prince might know that the rejection of the Russian demands was the act, not of a Minister, but of the whole Government. This led to a large modification of the Ministry but to no change in its policy. Lord Stratford had also had a private audience of the Sultan. In this interview he described the position of the Porte in forcible terms, pointing out the consequences of refusing the demands of the Czar; hinting even at the possible occupation of the Danubian Principalities; but expressing his opinion that the Emperor Nicholas could not, without forfeiting his word, resort to war. He counselled the Porte to take up a position of moral resistance, and to rely on a good cause and the sympathy of friendly and independent Governments. And then he gave the Sultan the comforting assurance, that in case of danger, he was empowered to direct Admiral Dundas to hold his squadron in readiness. One can easily imagine how the Sultan must have drunk in these words; privately uttered, it is true, but soon to be imparted to his anxious Ministers.

Prince Menschikoff, although he broke off all negotiations on the 15th, made one more effort to carry his point. He agreed to suspend his departure three days, but did not substantially alter his ultimatum. The Austrian Ambassador now undertook to mollify the Prince, but, like the others, he failed. On the 22nd of May the arms of Russia were removed from the Embassy, and the Prince and his whole suite embarked on board a man-of-war and steered for Odessa. Thus one act of the drama was finished, and the nations were one step nearer to war.

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Louis Napoleon
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The Emperor Nicholas of Russia
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