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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


The British Government desires to prevent Hostilities - Pressure on the Porte - Suspension agreed to, but Hostilities break out in Asia, on the Danube - Action at Isaatcha - Position of England, of France, of the Czar - Another Vienna Project - Lord Stratford's Project progresses- Military Position of Russia - Omer Pasha on the Danube - Battle of Oltenitza - Seizure of Kalafat - The Turks victorious - Omer Pasha withdraws to the right bank, but keeps his ground at Kalafat - Massacre at Sinope: its Effects on Europe; why not prevented? - Lord Palmerston tenders his Resignation - Fleets ordered to enter the Euxine, and compel the Russians to keep within their Ports: was this wise? - Turkish Scheme of Peace (1854) - The Turkish Victory at Zetati - Russia will not hear of the Turkish Plan - Offers Counter Propositions, which are rejected at Vienna - Anger of Nicholas at the Entry of the Fleets - Count Orloff sent to Vienna: his Proposals - " Explanations" demanded in Paris and London - Diplomatic Relations between Russia and the Western Powers broken off - Letter of Napoleon to Nicholas - Warlike Spirit of England - The Guards embark for Malta - Western Powers summon Russia to quit the Principalities - " The Emperor does not think it becoming to answer " - Manifesto of the Czar - British Fleet sails for the Baltic - " For Faith and Christendom! God with us: who against us?"
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The first anxiety of the British Cabinet when they learned that the Sultan had determined on war, was to prevent the outbreak of actual hostilities. But this was no easy task. The warlike spirit of the Turks had been aroused. There was an eager desire for battle throughout the Sultan's dominions. The Russian Emperor had himself placed the quarrel on a religious footing, and the challenge he threw down the Turks were not slow to accept. The state of suspense in which they were kept by Western negotiators was growing unbearable. Even the mild Sultan, stung by the insults of Russia, awoke from his lethargy. It was the Turkish statesmen, however, who, seeing a fair chance of ridding themselves once for all of the grinding interference of Russia, most desired war. When, therefore, Lord Stratford, acting on pressing instructions from home, requested the Turkish Ministry to defer hostilities, and suspend them if they had begun, during a period of at least twelve days, while the Four Powers once more had recourse to notes and protocols, he met with unexpected resistance. His colleagues at Constantinople joined him in expressing the wish of the friends of Turkey; but their united efforts barely prevailed. The Council of Ministers, meeting at five in the afternoon of the 20th of October, sat and debated throughout the night. The war party offered an obstinate resistance; but at six the next morning, when the Council broke up, the peace party had prevailed. Orders were at once sent off to the commanders on the frontier to defer or suspend hostilities until the 1st of November. The orders, in. every case, arrived too late. The first shots were fired in Europe on the 23rd of October, and even at an earlier date there had been skirmishes in Asia. It was the attempt of the Russians to carry gunboats and troops from Ismail to Galatz which led to an artillery combat at Isaatcha on the Danube; it was the ardour of the Turkish commanders in Asia which brought on skirmishes near Gumri, and the surprise of Fort Nicholas close to Batoum. We reserve the military operations for more comprehensive treatment, and proceed to describe the growth of the quarrel between Russia and the Western Powers.

To most men, at this time, war appeared to be inevitable. By slow degrees it had come to be seen that peace could only be preserved by surrendering to Russia all she required, and that as this was precisely what neither Turkey, nor England, nor France would do, and as Russia would not yield, there was no issue but through war. Wherefore, then, did the British Government persist in devising schemes of settlement P Wherefore continue to draw up notes which, if they satisfied Turkey, proved offensive to Russia; and if acceptable to Russia, offensive to Turkey? Because Lord Aberdeen could not reconcile himself to the dreadful alternative of war. He felt bound to exhaust even fanciful plans of pacification before he drew the sword. His extreme morbid horror of bloody strife made him unable to appreciate, to weigh facts. He remembered, with a shudder, the scenes he had witnessed in Germany and France forty years before, and the pictures of calamity imprinted on his memory interposed between him and the real World of 1853. No man knew better than he the dangers involved in the overgrowth of Russian power in Eastern Europe. But his humane feelings opposed a stout, and, for a long time, an insurmountable resistance to his political convictions; and hence, in the teeth of the plainest facts, he persisted in striving to find a peaceful means of reconciling the incompatible exigencies of Russia and Turkey. The French Emperor was inclined to take a bolder and harder line of action. He would at an earlier period have brought a stronger pressure to bear upon the Czar. But he deferred to the wishes of England in favour of a " last effort," perhaps because he saw that the current of events, the equal obstinacy of the Porte and the Czar, would sooner or later lead to a rupture; but certainly because, rupture or no rupture, he desired above all things the English Alliance. The German powers desired peace, almost at any price, and they welcomed the renewal of negotiations with eagerness. It is worthy of remark how these dispositions on the part of the Four Powers suited the policy of Russia. The Czar was as determined as ever to keep possession of the Principalities until he obtained from the Porte some document which he might construe into an admission of his right to protect the Greek Church. But he was inclined, to temporise if he failed to obtain it, because, by gaining time, he would be able to concentrate a larger force in the Danubian Principalities; because he hoped that the Turkish army would melt away during the winter, and Turkish ardour die out; because he wished to secure at least the neutrality of the German Powers; and because he counted on time to bring about a coolness between England and France. In fact, he had already exerted a marked influence over the Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia. In the month of October these Sovereigns had visited him at Warsaw, and he had visited the Prussian King at Sans Souci. The result of these ' interviews appears in the changed tone of the Austrian despatches, and the increased tendency to exert a harsher pressure on the Porte. So far he had been partially successful at the German Courts; but he had failed to eradicate the jealousy with which Austria especially regarded the occupation of the Principalities, and he had made no way towards conciliating England and France. He was satisfied, however, because the German Powers were unconsciously aiding him in the execution of his wish to gain time. On the 14th of October, Count Nesselrode, in these words, described the then position of Russia: - "War," he said, "has been declared against us by Turkey; we shall, in all probability, issue no counter declaration, nor shall we make any attack upon Turkey; we shall remain with folded arms, only resolved to repel any assault made upon us, whether in the Principalities or on our Asiatic frontier, which we have been reinforcing; so we shall remain during the winter, ready to receive any peaceful overtures which, during that time, may be made to us by Turkey: that is our position." On no account would he take the first step. That Turkey must do. But if Austria thought she could induce the Turks to take it, and the Maritime Powers to accept an Austrian proposition, Austria might proceed. Acting on this suggestion, and finding the British Cabinet eager to negotiate once more, Count Buol renewed the lapsed conference at Vienna.

It were profitless to trace in detail the course of this fresh effort of diplomacy. There was a sudden creation of notes and declarations. The spur of actual war had quickened the inventive faculties of the men who would govern by the adroit use of words. Count Buol wrote out one prescription; Lord Clarendon framed another; Lord Stratford elaborated a third. The pen and the tongue were briskly plied, and the electric telegraph brought into play. Events, however, moved too swiftly for diplomacy; for no sooner was one scheme laboriously built up, than it was found to be no longer applicable to the facts. Besides, the notes and plans not only clashed with facts, but with each other. The wind of the cannon-shots on the Danube blew away the words of ministers and envoys. The poor diplomatists were obliged to work in an element disturbed by the roar of actual warfare, and the mutterings of a rising storm of popular indignation. As this element grew hotter, Count Buol grew more eager in his supplications for peace, the Western Powers more and more angry, and Russia more obstinate. Nor was it only against outbursts of popular feeling in England, and outbursts of actual war in Turkey, that the negotiators had to contend. While professing a desire for peace - providing his wishes were granted - the Czar was continually giving way to passionate impulses, and doing acts which made negotiation almost impossible. Thus, on the 3rd of November, he published a manifesto to his people, dated the 20th of October, which was received in Europe with a shout of astonishment. There was no truth in it. The Czar represented "Europe" as hostile to the Porte. The "Powers of Europe," he said, had vainly endeavoured to shake its blind obstinacy. The pacific efforts of "Europe" had been answered by a declaration of war. Russia was challenged to fight, and she would fight, to compel the Ottoman Government to respect treaties and grant reparation for offences. His cause the Czar pronounced to be "holy and just," and he ended with the prayer of the prophet, "In thee, Lord, have I trusted; let me never be confounded." This document was a tissue of falsity. The Powers of Europe had not endeavoured to shake the blind obstinacy of the Porte. "It is true," wrote Lord Clarendon, "that they endeavoured to mediate, and the Porte showed itself willing to adopt their advice, with certain modifications. Those Powers then attempted to shake the determination of Russia, but in vain; they received only proofs of how real were the dangers apprehended by the Porte." And Lord Clarendon went on to point out that, far from treaties having been broken, Russia had never put forward one specific charge to that effect. The Greeks had not invoked the protection of Russia; but they had thanked the Sultan for privileges confirmed. "No treaty had been violated," he continued, " except that which forbids the passage of the Priith to Russian soldiers;" and the Sultan had given "no offence to Russia beyond refusing to grant what Russia had no right to demand, and which it would have been fatal to his independence to concede." Had he chosen to do so, Lord Clarendon might have confronted Count Nesselrode with his own words on the question of the part the Powers had taken in dealing with Turkey. On the 27th, the Russian Chancellor had said that " all the difficulties " had arisen from the English Cabinet; that if "England had insisted, as she ought to have done, at Constantinople," the Porte would have given way long before; and that "England was solely to blame for the complications of the moment, and for those disastrous consequences to which they were likely to lead." How far such language was consistent with the words of the Imperial manifesto, the reader can judge for himself. England was to blame for not abandoning Turkey to the tender mercies of Russia - a blame she could well afford to bear. But the Emperor and his Minister said exactly what seemed best calculated to serve their turn for the moment. The manifesto, as Lord Clarendon said, did a signal service to Turkey, by forcing upon Europe a comparison of the good faith of the two Powers.

In spite of this indication of hostile views and confirmed obstinacy at St. Petersburg, the British Government still continued its labours for a peaceful settlement. For some reason - most likely to gain time - the Russian Government in the beginning of November thought that, as the war had begun, negotiation, until some decisive event had occurred, would be out of place. That was not the opinion of Count Buol and Lord Clarendon; and as Prussia watched and followed the course of Austria, and as France deferred to the opinion of England, the Conference went on with the elaboration of notes, although Russia appeared to be more intractable than ever. The Czar would not hear of a composition until the superiority of his army had been proved. He declared he would only hear of direct negotiations between Russia and Turkey. Russia would not appear before a European tribunal, at which a Turkish minister sat. Nevertheless, the Conference of the Four Powers proceeded, and brought its schemes to ahead. Their plan was to send a collective note, that is, a note signed by the representatives of the Four Powers at Vienna, to the Porte, stating that Russia was willing to treat, and asking on what terms the Porte would be willing to negotiate a treaty of peace. At the same time they signed a protocol, making a formal tender of their good offices, with the view of terminating the war. These measures were regarded as preliminaries to a treaty, and it was understood that if the Porte assented, and named reasonable conditions, the Four Powers should urge their acceptance at St. Petersburg.

But it so happened that Lord Stratford, seeing all the peril of the situation, and knowing the anxiety of his Government, had been, at the same time, exerting his influence on the Porte in favour of peace. He had, on the very day when the Vienna negotiators had completed their formal labours, induced Reschid Pasha to frame a basis for a peace. The Turkish Minister consulted his colleagues and the council, and made them feel how much Lord Stratford was in earnest. They resisted; the war party were furious at the thought of peace; but in the end the influences which the Bri tish Ambassador brought to bear prevailed, and on the 18th of December the Grand Council agreed to treat for peace. In the interim - indeed, just one day after Lord Stratford had set everything in trim - the identical note arrived from Vienna. It was too late, and Lord Stratford kept it in his pocket. The Austrians were much annoyed, but the French and English Governments prevailed on them to suffer the negotiations begun at Constantinople to proceed. They went on. But the Turkish divinity students learning that peace proposals were under discussion,, they held tumultuous meetings, uttered threats, and tried to overawe the Government. The Sultan's Ministers, however, feared the Allies more than the people, and the agitations were summarily suppressed, The Grand Council, for the second time, under pressure, it must be admitted, agreed to negotiate on bases recommended by the Four Powers. These were the evacuation of the Principalities, the renewal of ancient treaties, a reasonable arrangement respecting the religious privileges of non-Moslem subjects, the adoption and confirmation of the status quo in regard to the Holy Places, and the entry of the Porte into the European system. These bases Lord Stratford considered just and reasonable; and when they were submitted to the Conference at Vienna, they received the entire consent of that body. On the 13th of January, 1854, they were embodied formally in a protocol, signed by the agents of the Four Powers, and sent on to St. Petersburg by Count Buol, backed by the earnest recommendations of all the Cabinets. The Allies were sanguine of success, and already seemed to anticipate a peace.

But while these industrious diplomatists were engaged in their work, events had occurred, followed by acts on the part of the Western Powers, which helped to frustrate their benevolent designs,, and put an end, for a time, to their abounding use of the pen. The Turks had won victories; the Russians had exacted vengeance; the Western Powers had determined to occupy the Black Sea.

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Omer Pasha
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Church in Bucharest
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