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

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It is here the place to remark that the stringent naval measures of the Western Powers brought into high relief the nature of the relations between them and Austria and Prussia. It showed clearly that the concert established at Vienna was purely diplomatic; for when Austria complained that she had not been consulted respecting this step, the answer was, that France and England had undertaken to defend the Sultan, Austria and Prussia had only undertaken to mediate for a peace. There was a concert of the Four Powers for the latter; there was an alliance of two for the former. Until Austria declared herself ready to aid in repelling Russian aggression, she could not expect to be consulted on the measures necessary to ensure its success. In short, the European concert was imperfect, and Russia knew it, and drew encouragement from this." The statement of some writers that the European concert was perfect, and that the precipitate naval measures of the Western Powers thwarted its action, would be just, if all the Powers had been acting on the same basis. That was not so. The German Powers would not peril anything at this period in defence of the Sultan.

We have already recorded the steps taken at Vienna and Constantinople to restore peace, and have described how the Four Powers, by their agents, sanctioned and forwarded to St. Petersburg a plan for resuming negotiations on bases agreed upon by them and the Porte. The messenger bearing them left Vienna on the 13th, and arrived at St. Petersburg on the 20th. The next day the Austrian Minister, Baron Lebzeltern, presented them to Count Nesselrode. At first, incredible as it appears, the Czar resolved not to answer the overture of the Conference, but to leave the Four Powers to infer that their terms were beneath his attention. His passion cooled down, and he allowed his Minister to frame a reply. The answer, rejecting them, and proposing a new basis on the old plan, was returned in due course to Vienna, and on the 2nd of February it was formally considered, and formally rejected by the Conference. The counter-propositions were declared to be essentially different from those of the Conference, and unfit to be forwarded to the Sultan. Pending this transaction, the Czar had sent Count Orloff to Vienna on a secret mission, which, of course, was revealed as soon as it was known to Austria. Count Orloff - one of those men to whom Czar’s appeal when in distress - was almost a personal friend of the Emperor Nicholas, and he was now chosen as the direct intermediary between that monarch and the Emperor of Austria. Count Orloff reached Vienna on the 29th of January, and on the 30th he had a long interview with Francis Joseph, during which he tried his utmost to detach Austria from the Western Powers, and bind her to Russia. What the Czar demanded was, that Austria should pledge herself to be neutral in the war. When this was asked of him, Francis Joseph inquired, in his turn, whether the Czar would undertake not to pass the Danube; whether he would evacuate the Principalities after the war, and do nothing to disturb the state of things then existing in Turkey. The answer to this challenge was, that the Emperor Nicholas would take no engagements. Thereupon, Francis Joseph replied that he also would take no engagements; and when Count Orloff came to see Count Buol, he learned further that not only would Austria not give the desired guarantee to be neutral, but that, if the troops of the Czar passed the Danube, Austria would be forced to consider what line of conduct her interests required her to take. The same attempt was made upon Prussia. Even Baron Manteuffel resisted what he described as a means of handing over to Russia the destinies of Prussia in the event of a war. Seeing diplomacy failing all around her, Austria took some precautions in her own interest, and at the same time gave the Czar a hint of what she could do if she chose. In addition to the small corps of observation already at Temesvar, orders were sent for the concentration of 25,000 men on the frontiers of Wallachia.

During this interlude at Vienna, the Czar had adopted a decisive course with regard to the Western Powers. When he heard the unwelcome news that the Black Sea had been cleared of his fleet, he seemed at first inclined to temporise, to gain time. But just at that moment, a sharp circular, from the pen of M. Drouyn de Lhuys, to French agents abroad, published in the Moniteur, on the 6th of January, reached St. Petersburg, and on the back of it a courier brought a copy of the notification addressed by the allied admirals to the Russian admiral. The Emperor gave way to passion, and was for sending their passports to the French and English Ambassadors; but Count Nesselrode interposed prudential considerations, and the Czar agreed that a demand for explanations should be sent to London and Paris, while Count Orloff essayed his skill as a tempter at Vienna. He also bought up at once all the lead and sulphur he could obtain, and sent orders to the 6th corps, at Moscow, to march at once towards the south. The demand for explanations was made in London on the 23rd, and in Paris on the 24th of January, 1854. Baron Brunnow placed in the hands of Lord Clarendon a despatch from Count Nesselrode, in which the Chancellor vindicated the conduct of the Russian fleet at Sinope, and declared that Russia could not look upon the exclusion of her flag from the Black Sea in any other light than that of a violence offered to her belligerent rights. He protested against the notification, and refused to admit its legality. " The Emperor," said his Minister, "cannot but regret to see the peace with France and England, which he has never been desirous of interrupting, put in jeopardy by this fresh extension given to a system of pressure which the two Maritime Powers have deemed it their duty to adopt towards him, and which, advancing step by step, involving each time more and more his dignity, as well as their own, at the same time that it encouraged the Porte to push matters to extremities, has ended by bringing the affairs of the East to their actual state of tension." Baron Brunnow asked, in writing, whether it was intended to establish a system of reciprocity in the Black Sea - that is, whether Russian ships as well as Ottoman ships were to be allowed to keep up communication with their respective coasts? Lord Clarendon, in answer, while professing peaceful sentiments, re-stated, in precise terms, the order given to clear the Black Sea of the Russian flag. But while striving for peace, England would not shrink from the duty imposed on her by Russia. "Turkey," he wrote, on the 31st of January, "is the aggrieved and weaker Power; a portion of her territory has been forcibly occupied and retained, while military preparations on a scale of the greatest magnitude are made by Russia." In defending Turkey, England upheld that fundamental principle of European policy which all the Powers, including Russia, had repeatedly proclaimed. And then, he added - " The extent to which this defence may be carried, and the nature of the operations it may entail, must depend on the course which may be pursued by Russia." In a letter written on the same day to Sir Hamilton Seymour, Lord Clarendon branded the Czar as "the disturber of the general peace," and traced to his unprovoked conduct all the evil consequences that had already ensued. On the 4th of February, Baron Brunnow, firing a parting shot, announced his departure; and, on the 7th, Sir Hamilton Seymour was directed to quit St. Petersburg. The same scenes had been enacted in Paris. M. de Kisseleff departed, and M. de Castelbajac was recalled. Whatever may have been the feelings of the French people, the British nation openly expressed its joy that the season of suspense was over, and that a double-dealing, not to say fraudulent potentate, who represented at that time the principle of despotism, was about to be called to account for his conduct by the combined might of England and France.

At this time the Emperor of the French had taken a remarkable step on his own account, and without consulting his allies. He wrote a letter himself to the Emperor Nicholas, in the hope of averting the dangers which menaced the peace of Europe. It was dated January 29, five days after M. de Kisseleff had demanded explanations, but before that envoy had announced his determination to quit Paris. The Emperor Napoleon began his letter, "Sire" - not "Sire, my brother," the usual form - for Nicholas had never addressed him in the usual form. He ended it by styling himself his Majesty's "good friend," and good friend was long a cant name at St. Petersburg for the Emperor Napoleon. In this extraordinary Imperial missive, the French Emperor coolly recapitulated the history of the Eastern Question, not from the beginning, but from the time of the Menschikoff mission; and he told it in a manner showing, and intended to show, that the Emperor Nicholas had by his acts caused the Maritime Powers to adopt what Russia called a system of pressure; but what the Emperor Napoleon said was a system "protecting, but passive." It was the Czar, he said, who, by invading the Principalities, took the question out of the domain of discussion into that of facts. It was the offensive, the unexpected affair at Sinope, which, by touching the military honour of the Western Powers, obliged them to place an interdict on the Russian fleet. The Czar, he implied, ought to have known that the 3,000 pieces of Anglo-French cannon in the Bosphorus were a pledge that the protecting Powers would not permit Turkey to be attacked by sea. Now, there must be a prompt understanding or a decisive rupture. He offered the Czar peace or war. Let him sign an armistice, and let all the belligerents' forces be withdrawn. Then he politely told the Czar, in direct terms, that, as he desired, he "should" send a plenipotentiary to negotiate with a plenipotentiary of the Sultan, respecting a convention to be submitted to the Four Powers. "Let your Majesty," the letter went on, "adopt that plan on which the Queen of England and myself are perfectly in accord, and tranquillity will be re-established, and the world satisfied. If, from a motive difficult to be comprehended, your Majesty should refuse, in that case, France as well as England will be obliged to leave to the fate of arms, and to the hazards of war, what might be decided at present by reason and justice."

Now, without questioning the sincerity of the writer, we need know but little of the nature of the Emperor Nicholas, to be certain that no missive he received, no despatch he read, could be more calculated to inflame his passions. Should he, the Czar of all the Russias, accustomed for thirty years to have his will, and to dictate to others, submit to a lecture from the upstart at Paris? What one Minister said or wrote to another was of little moment, compared with what one Emperor wrote to another; and when one Emperor dictated to another, and offered him courteously an alternative, how could it be borne? It is not to be supposed that this singular production of the Napoleonic mind destroyed any chance of preserving peace: the last chance had long been blown to the winds. Properly speaking, there never had been any chance except one - submission to Russia. But the letter, published as it was in the Moniteur, served only two purposes: it enraged the Czar; it glorified the Emperor Napoleon. It was a purely spontaneous act of the latter for his own benefit, and it repaid the small cost of producing it; for its terms pleased the French, who were enchanted with the spectacle of their Emperor, and two-year old empire, loftily pointing out to the mighty occupant of an ancient throne, how he should perform his duties, and satisfy reason and justice. What England had a right to complain of in this French speculation, was the use of the name of the Queen of England in connection with that of Napoleon. That was a liberty and a solecism: a liberty because permission was not asked; a solecism because the Queen of England never acts at all except through her Ministers, and the Emperor Napoleon was not one of these. He had no right to link his own name with that of the Queen.

This imperial caprice had no influence, except on the fortunes of Napoleon and the temper of Nicholas. It neither hurried nor delayed events. Parliament had met, and there was much talk of peace; but this was not the language which drew forth cheers in both Houses. The conduct of Ministers was criticised severely, and Mr. Disraeli went so far as to accuse them of " credulity or connivance." But the House scouted an accusation which was preceded and followed by a cheerful assent to the votes of supplies for increasing the land and sea forces of the empire. Mr. Disraeli, in fact, performed an act of opposition, as in duty bound; but Lord Derby had in his place already declared he would sacrifice the interests of party to patriotism; and even Lord Grey, hostile to the war, insisted that it should be carried on with a resolute determination to strike heavy blows, the heaviest that could be struck. The country was still more hot and resolute than the Parliament, and the protracted cheering which followed Lord John Russell's famous exclamation at the close of a spirited vindication of the course pursued by Ministers - " May God defend the right! " - only faintly expressed the depth and heartiness of the national resolve.

The diplomatists still talked of peace, and gossipped over schemes of accommodation; but the Governments of the West and North prepared for inevitable war. The Western Powers entered upon an intimate alliance; Sir John Burgoyne and Colonel Ardent were sent on a military mission to Turkey, and in the middle of February it was notified to the Porte that England and France would send a considerable force to Constantinople. Greece, which showed a disposition, and more than a disposition, to take sides actively with the Czar, was told, in so many words, to choose between the goodwill of France and England, and the blockade of Athens. Servia, where Russian agents invoked the spirit of disaffection, was warned to be upon her good behaviour. Austria and Prussia were implored to adopt a bolder policy, and unite with the Maritime Powers. From his vast resources the French Emperor proceeded to select a choice army, taking by preference the picked troops which had been seasoned in Algerian warfare; and England, with smaller means, laid hands on whatever regiments were nearest. The fleet was not forgotten, and seamen were rapidly raised to man a squadron for service at the earliest moment in the Baltic. England, in fact, grown rusty during a long peace, was ill-prepared for the work she had undertaken. Neither her military nor her naval establishments were up to the exigencies of war; while her administration was a painful chaos of routine and contradiction. But her energy and goodwill were never doubtful, and with a steadfast heart, but unready hand, she plunged into a war with that Northern Empire which boasted of its destiny to control the fortunes of the East of Europe by land and sea.

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