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Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2


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The note of Count Nesselrode, dated May 31st - enclosing the ultimatum of Prince Menschikoff, and demanding its acceptance within eight days, on pain of seeing its provinces occupied by a foreign force, with the object, as Nicholas put it, of obtaining without a war what the Porte would not give up spontaneously - reached Reschid Pasha on the 9th of June. Its contents required no deliberation. The Porte determined to reject the ultimatum, and incur the penalty, but of course it did not refrain from availing itself of the whole of the days of grace. In adopting this course the Porte was supported by the envoys of all the Powers at Constantinople. That the ultimatum would be rejected was known in London and Paris on the 17th of June. This issue of the "last effort" had been anticipated by the Four Powers, and they had simultaneously arrived at an opinion respecting the course which it would be most expedient for Turkey to follow. Although an act of war, the Sultan was advised to refrain, should it occur, from declaring it to be such, and to content himself by publishing a solemn protest. This was particularly pleasing to the German Courts. Count Buol urged the Czar not to cross the Pruth, pointing out the dangers of that step; and at the same time he rather lectured the Porte on the propriety and expediency of doing everything possible to satisfy Russia. Baron Manteuffel took the same line. On the part of France, M. Drouyn de Lhuys dwelt on the concert established between England and France, on their determination to defend the integrity and independence of Turkey, and desired to be informed how far, in all eventualities, the Maritime Powers could count upon the support of Prussia and Austria. There was in the negotiations of France a more eager tone than in those of England; Lord Aberdeen's aversion to war imparting something of weakness to the despatches of Lord Clarendon. The attitude of England at this time was that of a Power whose policy was "essentially pacific," a Power which had just somewhat over-confidently regulated its finances for seven years, but which had an uneasy consciousness that it would, after all, be compelled to draw the sword, and throw down the flood-gates of the Exchequer, yet could not bring its mind to face the dread contingency, and prepare to meet its obligations. And in this England was more like the German Courts. But France - meaning the Government - though resolved not to act alone, and probably even ready, should it seem expedient, to act with Russia, was keener in pursuit and more ready for the fray, foreseeing the great moral gain that would accrue from a war in defence of a European policy waged in company with England, and not indifferent to the prestige to be derived from the laurels of anticipated victory. These feelings and calculations were confined mainly to the Governments; for though there was a latent hatred of Russia in England, and France, and Germany, it had not yet been called forth and blown into a flame.

When the second Russian ultimatum arrived, the Turkish Government did not hesitate a moment respecting the answer which it should receive - they determined at once to reject it. But being now assured, by the coming of the fleets, of the support of England and France, they betrayed no anxiety in so doing, and Lord Stratford had no difficulty in obtaining the assent of the Sultan to the suggestion that he should protest, but not declare war, and should, on the contrary, offer to open fresh negotiations by sending an Ambassador to St. Petersburg. It was not supposed that the Emperor would assent to this, but the offer was in unison with the policy of the friendly Powers, and placed the aggressor still further in the wrong. On the 16th of June, the date of the answer to Count Nesselrode, when the step taken by the Porte was irrevocable, Lord Stratford waited on the Sultan. His ostensible object was to present a letter from Queen Victoria announcing the birth of Prince Leopold, and to offer Her Majesty's condolence on the severe affliction the Sultan had sustained in the loss of his mother, the Sultana Validé. Having accomplished this, he gave the Sultan what, perhaps, was more substantial comfort, by informing him with what friendly sentiments and " eventual intentions " the powerful fleet of Admiral Dundas, then at anchor in Besika Bay, had been placed at the Ambassador's disposal. At the same time, and in obedience to his instructions, Lord Stratford told the Sultan that peace was the great object of British policy, and that the fleet would be used only to protect the Sultan from foreign aggression. On the 17th of June, M. Balabine quitted Constantinople, carrying with him to Odessa the answer to Count Nesselrode's ultimatum, and the whole of the archives and correspondence of the Russian Legation.

The answer was received in St. Petersburg about the 25th of June. It had been anticipated by the Russian Court, and orders were at once issued for the troops to cross the Pruth. On the 27th the Czar published a manifesto, which bore the date of the 26th. Its object was to inform the Russian people and Europe that the Russian army would enter the Principalities. This manifesto was a crafty document. The Czar reminded his subjects that he was the hereditary defender of the orthodox Church; that in his dealings with the Turks he had always been devoted in the fulfilment of his holy obligations; but that now, to his great grief, the Porte had arbitrarily infringed the rights and privileges of the Church, and that the Sultan, so he told his subjects, had "perfidiously" broken his pledged word. Wherefore he had found it needful to advance his armies into the Danubian Principalities, to show the Ottoman Porte to what its obstinacy might lead. But, even then, outraged as he was, so great was his magnanimity, he would not begin war. He desired not conquest, but satisfaction, and he laid hands on a "material guarantee." If the Porte would grant him his will, he would arrest the movement of his armies. If "blindness and obstinacy " led the Porte still to refuse, then, "calling God to our aid," and " in full confidence in his omnipotent right hand, we shall march forward for the orthodox Church." Such was the purport, such were some of the terms of the Czar's manifesto, as published in the Russian tongue; the French translation thereof, for the be hoof of Europe, was the same, with one important exception - the Czar did not, in the document intended for European enlightenment, venture to accuse the Sultan of perfidy. But the shabby act did not avail him, and it soon became known that he who had acted so perfidiously towards all the Powers, in order to evoke the passions of his people, did not scruple, when addressing them, to affix the stigma on the monarch he was about to attack. It will be seen how careful the Czar was to make it appear to his people that he was about to engage in a religious war; and at a time when his minister, and even himself, had been discussing the probable downfall of Turkey and the division of the spoil, the Czar had attended divine service publicly in the Church of St. Isaac, wearing his full uniform, and bearing conspicuously on his breast the great Greek cross, the symbol of his pontifical authority. For the Czar of all the Russias is a Pope as well as an Emperor; and Nicholas wore his uniform to signify his temporal might, his blazing cross to display his spiritual power. Face to face with the European Powers, he was worldly, and worldly-minded; face to face with his subjects, he appeared as the leader of a crusade. To European Governments he spoke of his honour; to his people, of his faith, and their faith- and the orthodox religion of holy Russia. And thus, while his legions streamed over the frontier, and spread through the Principalities, and the flag of Russia floated over the Black Sea, the Czar sought to stir up that hatred of the Moslem instinctive in Russian breasts. Nor was he wholly insincere. He had so wrought and blended together his temporal and spiritual passions - his pride as an Emperor and his pride as a Pontiff - he had so long looked upon himself as the arbiter of the destiny of Turkey and as the defender of the faith, that he had come to believe in the extravagant pretensions which he put forward. Yet, if he were pious, he also seemed to be politic; and, as he said, he hoped to force concession from the Sultan without going to war. The mistake made by Europe was in thinking that, without going to war, he might be induced to forego his object, or even accept a fair compromise.

On the contrary, the Czar was blind and obstinate. He had made a series of mistaken calculations, and he was under the dominion of a dangerous passion. He had calculated that the Ottoman Empire was in the agonies of death, and only needed a "fillip," as his minister said, to give it the finishing blow. He had calculated that when he lifted the sacred banner of the orthodox Church, the Greek Christians would rise in revolt. He had calculated that England, loving peace so much, and having Lord Aberdeen at the head of the Cabinet, would not have the courage to go to war. He knew that if England refrained, Austria and Prussia would refrain, and he looked with scorn upon France. And even if England grew restive, he thought that his great influence in Germany would keep down any vagrant desire to restrain his will. By entering the Principalities he calculated that he should awe Europe and humble Turkey to the dust, and obtain the coveted power he sought in the Sultan's dominions.

In all these calculations he was wrong. Turkey was far from being at the point of death. There remained in her a good deal of the old martial fire which had carried her banner so far into Europe. The call of the Sultan could still muster a formidable host, not to be dispersed by a crack of the Czar's whip. The Greek Christians, although glad to have friends, either in the north or the west, were not ready for revolt, and were not sure that the yoke of the much-governing Czar would not be heavier than that of the lax Sultan. England was busy with her affairs, and not bent on martial deeds; but the old spirit was strong in her, too, and needed only the right kind of stimulus to call it forth. The rough demands of the Czar at Constantinople had roused an angry feeling among the people, who did not yet appreciate as her statesmen did the profound duplicity of Russia. But when the Russian troops crossed the Pruth, the Czar, if he could have read the signs of the hour, would have seen the angry feeling growing more angry, and the British nation becoming inflamed by passions which the spectacle of oppression and violence provoke among a free people. There were words uttered, too, in Parliament which he would have done well to heed; and when he saw that, under the influence of this new feeling, the people were overcoming their repugnance to France - -nay, almost welcoming steps towards an alliance between their Queen and Louis Napoleon - even the Emperor Nicholas might have seen that he had taken a false step, and that if he did not wish for war, it would be well to retreat with honour. He also trusted too much to that delusive ascendancy which he had taken so much pains to set up in Germany, and even in the beginning of July he had in his hands proofs that he could wholly count neither on the subservience of Prussia nor on the politic calculations of Austria. But he had gone too far to recede, and he was too much bent on making the Sultan his vassal, to heed signs of hostility or accept the means of escape so plentifully provided for him.

The Russian troops crossed the frontier on the 1st of July, and on the 2nd, Count Nesselrode issued a manifesto to the diplomatists, as the Emperor had issued one to the people; he immediately published it, and it did not calm the irritation already excited. Count Nesselrode, besides recurring to hackneyed arguments, had the coolness to accuse the Governments of England and France of aiding and abetting the Porte in the high crime and misdemeanour of resisting the Czar. They had not thought fit to defer to his opinions. They had taken the initiative, they had anticipated the Czar, and had sent their fleets to the neighbourhood of Constantinople - already they were in the waters of Turkey, within reach of the Dardanelles. Wherefore, the resolution of invading the Principalities, only announced as an eventuality, the Czar could not, under this kind of pressure, refrain from executing. The Principalities would be occupied, and the Russian troops would not withdraw until Turkey had accepted the Menschikoff note, and the Maritime Powers had ceased to exercise a pressure on the Czar. This strange perversion of facts excited universal reprobation. It served as matter for questions in the British Parliament, and not only questions, but cutting speeches, even from those hitherto regarded as not unfavourable to Russia. It was known to all men that the fleets were not sent to Besika Bay until Russia had declared that, unless the Porte submitted within eight days, she would occupy the Principalities. So that it was false to say that the sailing of the fleets provoked, or that their destination justified, the invasion of Moldavia and Wallachia. Nor was there any similarity in the two acts. The fleets of England and France in Besika Bay were a friendly force in friendly waters. The troops of the Czar in the Principalities were a hostile and aggressive force in an enemy's country. Russia had committed an act of war; England and France had not committed an act of war. The falsity of the Russian despatch was seen of men, and it gave a new impulse to the rising wind of popular indignation.

But although the British Government had ceased to trust the Czar, although the Cabinet was indignant alike at the menaces and the meannesses which he put forward through Count Nesselrode, they were quite as strongly determined to spare no honourable means of preserving peace. They were eager to agree to any plan which should prove acceptable to the Czar and the Sultan; which should save the honour of the first, and preserve the independence of the second. They were more eager after the occupation of the Principalities than before that rash step had been taken, because of course they felt that the Emperor had imperilled everything by crossing the Pruth. Count Nesselrode thought it would be easier to make terms after the 1st. of July, but in that opinion he and his master stood alone. It did not improve the prospects of peace to know that the Czar persisted in thinking that the Powers really approved of his demand for a protectorate, that they thwarted him out of a desire to bring him low, and that they had used Lord Stratford, whom he hated, merely to heighten the affront. No views could be more unsound, but, unhappily, in this world, the effects of unsound views are not confined to those who form them, and nations suffer manifold evils because a despot makes a wicked blunder.

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