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Chapter XIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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This burst of temper had not its origin entirely in the unheard-of audacity of the Porte. The Emperor, in accepting the note, felt that the Four Powers, in drawing it up, had outwitted themselves, and had placed the Porte in his power. That is why he lost no time in acceding to the note; that is why he insisted that it should not be altered. Except that it was proposed by the Four Powers, and not presented at the sword's point by Russia alone, the Porte might as well have signed the original Menschikoff note, as this product of the wits of the Four Powers. The wrath of the Czar soon compelled Count Nesselrode to make that manifest, and soon converted at least England and France to the views of the Porte. For Count Nesselrode wrote such fierce despatches on the subject, and placed such an interpretation on the Vienna note, as permitted the Powers to see that they had made a blunder in recommending it to the Porte. When he came to discuss it, the Chancellor was forced to show that the note, as understood by Russia, affirmed the protectorate, whereas the changes made by the Porte refused to notice or to admit the existence of any protectorate at all. Moreover, the Czar advised Austria and the Powers to abandon these intractable Turks to the tender mercies of Russia, as the only way of cutting the matter short; then the Turks would be obliged to give way: advice which could have only opened further the eyes of the Western Powers.

Nothing shows more clearly how far, although still professing identical views, the German Powers were separated from England and France, than the fact that Count Buol and Baron Manteuffel, after they were aware of the interpretation put on it by Russia, moved by the emphatic language of Count Nesselrode, did once more urge the Porte to sign the original note, and thus to sign away its independence. Far from being in real concert in August, they were less in concert with the Western Powers in the middle of September. The only power which acted straight through with England was France, and the only divergence of policy apparent was this - the French Government did not seem to think the pace of the alliance fast enough, and were constantly urging the transmission of orders to the admirals to enter the Dardanelles. The plea was that the anchorage at Besika was unsafe. But this was seen to be absurd, and twice Lord Clarendon resisted the appeals sent by Louis Napoleon with the view of forcing the fleets upon the Sultan, and depriving Lord Stratford of any discretion in the matter. This occurred during the negotiations on the new aspect imparted to affairs by the Russian acceptance and the Turkish rejection of the note. The German Powers, knowing what was the interpretation put upon the note by Russia, persisted in pressing it upon the Sultan. The Western Powers, always more respectful to Turkey, would not take part in this move: indeed, they could not do so. Count Nesselrode's comments on the modified note, showing that the Emperor of Russia did desire to seek new rights and extended power in Turkey, had proved to England and France that the apprehensions of the Porte, so far from being groundless, were justified by the Russian construction. Instead of asking the Porte, as they were disposed to do before they were in possession of the Russian views, to re-consider its decision, they now asked the Emperor to re-consider his. Austria, on the contrary, declared that if the Porte again disregarded her counsels, she should consider her efforts to effect a reconciliation at an end; further, that if England and France would not support her in this step, there would be an end to the conference at Vienna. In this opinion, perhaps to the regret of Count Buol, England and France agreed, and the conference at Vienna came to an end accordingly. The German Powers went one way, the Western Powers another; both professed to be hastening towards the same goal, but the German Powers went astray, whereas the Western Powers kept in the straight path. The secret of this was the personal ascendancy which the Czar exercised over the German Courts, and which diverted them from their true course on the Eastern question.

It may here be proper to describe in more detail the Vienna Note, on the terms of which, and on its modification, and the circumstances attending and following both, the preservation of peace depended. This note began by setting forth the desire of the Sultan to re-establish friendly relations between himself and the Czar; and then went on to state the terms of the proposed compromise. A difference arose on the first practical clause. As worded at Vienna, the note implied that immunities and privileges of the orthodox Church existed as something independent of the Sultan's will, and declared that the Sultans had never refused to confirm them by solemn acts. The Turks could not subscribe to this. It was not historically true. It impeached the sovereign power of the Sultan. It implied that the Czar was protector by right of the Greek Church. Accordingly, the Porte, in modifying the note, took care to use words showing that these immunities and privileges had been " granted spontaneously," and confirmed spontaneously from time to time by the Sultans. This was the first amendment. The second practical clause, the origin of which was referred to the complaints of Prince Menschikoff, needed other corrections. The Vienna Note made the Sultan say that he would remain faithful " to the letter and spirit of the treaties of Kainardji and Adrianople, relative to the protection of the Christian religion." Here was established an active protectorate. Now the treaty of Kainardji applied only to one church in existence, and to one that was to be built, and gave Russia no rights to protect the Christian religion. This clause in the note would then have actually given an extension to that treaty. The Porte demurred, and rightly, modifying the clause by undertaking to remain faithful " to the stipulations of the treaty of Kainardji, confirmed by that of Adrianople, relative to the protection by the sublime Porte of the Christian religion." No one who knows the meaning of words can fail to see the practical distinction existing between the two forms of expression. In the Vienna Note the Sultan was made to declare that he would cause the Greek rite to share in the advantages granted to other Christian rites by convention or special arrangement. The Porte substituted the words, " granted or which might be granted to the other communities, Ottoman subjects," for the last words of the note. This was also an important and a needful change. Under various treaties Austria enjoyed large rights of interference respecting the Roman Catholic subjects of the Sultan. The terms of the original note would have conferred similar rights on Russia. " Such a concession," wrote Lord Stratford on the 20th of August, " when practically claimed by Russia, would leave her nothing to desire as to the means of exercising a powerful influence on all the concerns of the Greek clergy, and interfering even on behalf of the Greek laity, subjects of the Porte.... Confined to Austria, the privilege m question may be exercised with little inconvenience to the Porte; but in the hands of Russia, applicable to twelve millions of the Sultan's tributary subjects, the same right becomes a natural object of suspicion and well-founded apprehension." In fact, the original Vienna Note was as huge a diplomatic blunder as could possibly have been devised; Count Nesselrode's comments confirmed the view taken of it by the astute Turks; and combined with the temper displayed by Russia, convinced England and France that they had been flagrantly in the wrong when they assented to Count Buol's note, and pressed its acceptance on the Porte. It is no wonder the Czar was so eager to clutch at such a document, and not surprising that the failure of the scheme, especially as it failed because the Turks saw through it, should have provoked him to a burst of passion. It will be seen from this statement that the final rupture did not take place on mere verbal differences, nor in mere caprice on the part of the Porte. There were valid, nay, imperative reasons operating to prevent the Sultan from conceding to the Four Powers, acting in haste and under wrong impressions, that which he had refused to concede to Prince Menschikoff. And although the act of the Porte led to war, the war was as just as it was unavoidable.

In the middle of September matters had come to a crisis. On the 22nd news arrived at Paris, in the shape of a telegraphic despatch from M. de la Cour, stating that the Porte was apprehensive of a "catastrophe," in consequence of the excitement among the Turkish population. The lives and properties of Europeans, and even the throne of the Sultan, were, in the opinion of the Grand Vizier, in danger. M. de la Cour also reported that ho and Lord Stratford, in order to afford protection to the Europeans, had ordered up four steamers from Besika Bay. This was very vague and indefinite news. It was alarming, because it was indefinite. No account of the affair was sent by Lord Stratford; and the British Government, to whom the news was reported, were compelled to rely upon the view of M. de la Cour. What should they do F The French Government, always eager for a movement of the fleet, at once proposed that in addition to the four steamers, the whole of the united fleet should be directed to proceed to Constantinople. Count Walewski was instructed to request from Lord Clarendon an immediate decision, and was further to state that the Emperor's Government regarded the advance of the fleets as "indispensably necessary." The British Government agreed "without hesitation," and orders went out at once from both capitals to Admiral Dundas and Admiral Hamelin. This was undoubtedly a serious step. Had the Government waited for the usual despatches of Lord Stratford, they would have seen that the danger reported by M. de la Cour disappeared very rapidly, and that Lord Stratford, in describing the circumstances, took a cooler view of the dangers, and did not even suggest the advance of the fleet. It may be doubted whether the British Government did not act with as much precipitation as M. de la Cour. For it cannot be denied that this fresh move of the fleet - a move so decisive, so completely pledging the two Powers to the defence of Turkey, and so irritating to Russia - lessened the chances of peace, if any were remaining. On the other hand, the chances of peace were few; in fact, it is difficult to discover any. The Czar was obstinately attached to the Vienna Note. The German Powers insisted on thrusting the note for signature before the Porte, while the Western Powers would have nothing more to do with that unlucky offspring of laborious diplomacy. The German Powers were for leaving Turkey to get out of the scrape as she could; the Western Powers would not desert the Sultan. On the other hand, Russia was certain to take fresh offence, and did in fact take offence at once, and charged the Western Powers with breaking the treaty of 1841 by entering the Dardanelles in time of peace. The all- sufficing answer to this was that a state of war, though ignored by the Porte, had existed ever since the first Russian soldier crossed the Pruth. On the whole, and considering the course of events, it was perhaps a wise decision on the part of the British Government, though it looked like a rash one, to send the fleet to Constantinople.

At this time there were two contemporaneous sets of incidents going on which influenced largely the course of events. The scene of the one set was Olmutz; that of the other, Constantinople. At the first named place the Emperors of Russia and Austria, and their Ministers, were still trying to find a peaceful issue; at the second, the Sultan, and his Ministers, and his Grand Council were deliberating on war.

Throughout the summer the Czar had not neglected to court the German Powers of all dimensions. At some of the smaller courts his influence was supreme. At the larger, after the first shock occasioned by the discovery of Prince Menschikoff's designs, he contrived to recover the ground lost, and did recover it in a great degree. September afforded him an opportunity of exerting his direct personal influence upon the Sovereigns of Austria and Prussia. The Austrian Emperor, ambitious of military distinction, had assembled about 50,000 men in a camp at Olmütz, for purposes of field exercise on an extensive scale. The Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia resolved to be present on the occasion, not only to witness what they had seen before - a fine military display - but to discuss the affairs of the East, the Czar hoping to gain thereby. The Czar carried with him his son and Count Nesselrode, and, of course, Count Buol attended his Emperor, and the British and French Ministers went also. There was thus established a conference at Olmütz, and it did not fail to bring forth its scheme. It was here that the Czar disclosed a new plan of action. Through his Minister he declared that he did not intend his refusal to entertain the Turkish modifications of the Vienna Note as putting an end to negotiation. He desired peace. He was " annoyed and hurt " at the current suspicions of his good faith. He still insisted that he sought no new right, and no increase of power in Turkey, and he was ready to give that assurance. His plan was based on this. He proposed that the Turks should accept the Vienna Note unaltered, and that in return, he should give the assurances described above. But he did not propose to give these assurances directly from his own Minister. The Four Powers were to take upon themselves to transmit to the Porte "a declaration founded upon assurances given by the Emperor of Russia." Count Buol and Count Nesselrode drew up a draft of the note, and sent it to the other Powers. This was a very notable scheme. The Czar wished to make the Four Powers his sponsors at the Porte; and, in fact, as Lord Cowley observed to M. Drouyn de Lhuys, convert the Four Powers into the advocates of Russia. But it was open to more serious objections. In the first place, its terms were ambiguous. In the second place, its value, as far as it had any, was neutralised, if not quite destroyed, by the famous interpretations placed by Count Nesselrode upon the Vienna Note. The plan gave Russia the advantage of two documents, contrary to each other, which she might use as she pleased. When the project was submitted to the French Government, the Emperor would not decide what he would do. He thought it might be sent to the Porte; but he could hardly recommend it, and he desired first to know the opinion of the British Government. No one could be more careful than the Emperor Napoleon not to commit himself to any course alone. The British Government decided at once. They rejected the project, because, under no circumstances, would they recommend the Porte to accept the Vienna Note; because it would be useless, as the Turks would not accept it; because Count Nesselrode's analysis of that note left no doubt that Russia intended through the note to establish rights and influences she never before possessed in Turkey; because " no settlement was possible by notes requiring explanations, and accompanied by vague assurances." Thus this last Russian scheme fell through; and Austria again, now siding with Russia, advised the Western Powers to abandon Turkey. The fruit of the Czar's visit to the Emperor at Olmütz was this further separation of Austria from the Western Powers. As to the French Emperor, seeing England so resolute, he was bent on arriving at some plan of action for the fleets which had been sent up to the Bosphorus. He thought they should play a part in the defence of the Ottoman Empire, and the British Government were not slow to signify their assent.

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