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

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

Count Esterhazy arrived in St. Petersburg on the 24th of December. During his journey a very singular incident had occurred. The Cabinet of Russia had either guessed, or had been duly informed of, the nature of the trial to which they would be subjected. The probability is, that the Austrian court gave the requisite information unofficially to Count Nesselrode. That astute politician was not long in making use of the opportunity. On the 22nd of December, while Count Esterhazy was journeying through Russian Poland, Count Nesselrode dispatched a circular, embodying terms of peace to which his Government would agree. This was an adroit manoeuvre, as it gave to Russia the appearance of dictating terms of peace. In this document it was laid down that Russia had always desired peace; that it was not her fault, but the fault of the allies, that peace had not been made in 1855; and that the wish for a prompt and durable peace openly expressed by the Emperor Napoleon was the dearest wish of the Emperor Alexander. Russia had, in the summer of 1855, accepted the four points as a basis, and still accepted them: but they were susceptible of different interpretations. As long as his enemies appeared resolved to substitute the right of might for the spirit of justice, the Czar felt bound to remain silent; but as soon as His Majesty learned that his enemies were disposed to resume the negotiations for peace, he did not hesitate to meet them; and he was willing to put the most liberal interpretation on the third point, relating to the so-called neutralisation of the Black Sea. The liberal interpretation put by Russia on this point was, that no war-ships should enter the Black Sea except those which, by a separate agreement between Russia and Turkey, those powers should think proper to retain. By this step it was made to appear for a moment that it was not Russia, but the allied powers, who were seeking peace. In one sense, no doubt, this was true. The Emperor Napoleon desired peace, and took care that all the world should know it; but the dexterous move of Count Nesselrode did not prove to be of much avail, and events speedily showed that Russia was under a strong pressure.

The Austrian envoy was, indeed, the bearer of something more than conditions. He carried in his pocket instructions which amounted to a menace Russia could not afford to despise. If he did not obtain an acceptance of his conditions within a limited time, he was to quit St. Petersburg, taking with him the whole of the Austrian Legation. On the 27th he saw Count Nesselrode, read to him the despatch of Count Buol, and handed in the paper of conditions. The Russian minister had been a principal performer in many critical scenes, and it was not likely that he would show any emotion, if he felt any, and probably he felt none. He was cool and courteous, and undertook to obtain the orders of the Emperor. There were at this time two other arrivals in St. Petersburg. Baron Seebach rushed in from the courts of the minor German powers, and M. de Fonton, a well-known and trusted servant of the Czar, arrived from the head-quarters of Prince Paskiewitch at Warsaw. There was in St. Petersburg deep and serious debate. The Russian Cabinet fought hard against the conditions. They wished to modify this Austrian ultimatum - for such was its real character - and thus sustain that claim to independent action put forward by Count Nesselrode on the 22nd of December. They wished to make the allies accept Kars and the surrounding country for Sebastopol, Kertch, Kinburn, Eupatoria, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azoff, and parts of Mingrelia and Immeritia. They wished to avoid the unforeseen demands that might lurk in the fifth point. They desired to hold fast to the left bank of the Danube, and keep the Isle of Serpents. But the Czar was made aware that he could look for no aid from any German power. France and England had just concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with Sweden under certain conditions very adverse to Russia; and the Czar, like the rest of the world, knew it. Sardinia was certain to act with the Western Powers as long as the war lasted. England was just acquiring that strength which would enable her blows to tell in another campaign. This the Czar knew also, and, moreover, he knew that France would do everything to make the terms of the treaty as little distasteful as possible. To crown all, the Austrian Government demanded an unconditional acceptance of the five points, the alternative being an instant rupture of diplomatic relations. Count Esterhazy was forbidden to discuss the contents of the ultimatum. He had simply to demand an answer, yes or no. Russia first sent an answer to Vienna; but as it was not a categorical reply, but a series of counter- propositions, Count Buol told the Russian Minister at Vienna that, unless the ultimatum were accepted on or before the 18th of January, the whole of the Austrian Embassy would quit St. Petersburg without a moment's delay.

This was a great deal to bear. The Russian Government delayed their answer until nearly the last moment. The time for decision allowed to them by Austria had not quite expired before the Czar made up his mind. The public anxiety in every capital of Europe was extreme; but while on the Continent the anxiety was for an affirmative, in England there was a sort of dread lest it should be an affirmative answer which proceeded from the cabinet of the Czar. Three weeks had passed away in these negotiations on the Neva. On the 16th of January, 1856, Count Nesselrode informed the Austrian envoy that the Czar had given way. Russia had complied with the demand of Austria, and had given her unconditional assent to the Austrian ultimatum. This was Count Buol's greatest triumph. The next day the fact was known in every capital in Europe.

It is but justice to the Emperor Alexander to record that he showed moral courage of the highest order in accepting this ultimatum. There was a war party in Russia. " My nobles," the Czar is reported to have said to Baron Seebach, "are not prepared to bow their heads. I do not deceive myself on the gravity of the events in the Crimea, nor upon the possible results of an attack in the Baltic [and perhaps, who knows, in Poland?], but believe me, whatever may be likely to arrive, it is much more difficult for me at this moment to make peace than to continue the war. I encounter, in deciding for war, ten times less resistance among my nobles and my people." But, at the same time, the Czar learned from Baron Seebach and from the court of Berlin, that Russia would run the greatest risk if she did continue the war. The King of Prussia had sought at Vienna to ascertain the actual policy and intentions of Austria, and he learned enough there to make him understand that Prussian interests would be so far imperilled that the King would be obliged to place his policy more in harmony with that of the Western Powers. The influence thus brought to bear on the cabinet of the Czar, coupled with the stringent demands of Austria, at length overcame, not only his faint resistance to those demands, but also convinced the war party that the time had arrived when they must lay down their arms. As might be expected, the Russian Government declared to Europe and the Russian people that they had yielded only out of deference to the wishes of friendly powers, out of regard for the interests of Europe, and not from any just apprehensions of a continuance of hostilities. But this deceived no one except the Russian people. The statesmen of all parties knew better, and could not fail to appreciate an act of prudence which the Russian Government wished to represent as an act of disinterestedness. In fact, the wisest statesmen of Russia longed for peace, and eagerly seized the opportunity offered by Austria.

Just four-and-twenty hours before Russia had sullenly yielded, 14,000 French soldiers - Imperial Guards and Linesmen - who had returned from the Crimea, were drawn up in front of the Tuileries; and their officers, in the presence of the Emperor and Empress, received from the hands of the Duke of Cambridge a silver medal bearing the inscription, Victoria Regina à l'Armée Française. But this was an episode marking the apogee of an alliance which, no doubt in good faith, the Duke in his address to the troops prayed might continue for ever. In spite of the prospects of peace, the Emperor Napoleon had presided over almost daily sittings of a Council of War, at which English officers were present. But the news which arrived two days after the distribution of medals must have made the council feel that its cogitations had been in vain; in fact, after the 21st this council sat no more. Two days afterwards Lord Cowley, in the name of his sovereign, held an Investiture of the Order of the Bath, and bestowed orders on a number of French officers. In the evening there was a brilliant dinner at the Embassy, and the Moniteur was instructed to announce that the whole ceremonial formed "another link between the two armies and the two peoples, upon whose alliance rests the destinies of the civilised world." Such was the fond belief of 1856.

There was another triumph in store for the Emperor Napoleon. When Russia had accepted the Austrian proposals, it became necessary to determine where the Conference or Congress of the treaty-making powers should be held. This occasioned some little difficulty. There was a talk of Brussels and Dresden; and it was said that London, Paris, and Vienna were out of the question. There is little doubt now that it was intended the Congress should be held in Paris. The Governments took to paying each other compliments. France suggested London, and England suggested Paris. Russia, for good reasons of her own, settled the amicable dispute by adopting the suggestion of England. Therefore, it was in Paris, where famous peaces had been made, that this peace was to be made. Then came another question. Who should sit at this European council? Prussia put in a claim based on her share in determining the Czar to yield. But - independently of the fact that Prussia had all along acted like an ally of Russia, and had only taken engagements hostile to Russia on behalf of German interests; and, therefore, would enter the Congress as a friend of Russia - Prussia had really no right at all to sit with the belligerent powers, because she had separated from them in the summer of 1855. Therefore Prussia was not invited to the Paris Congress. The other power whose right was for a moment questioned, but only for a moment, was Sardinia. But Sardinia was a belligerent. One of the inducements which led her to take an active part in the war was the opportunity of showing herself as a European power. For that she had incurred the expense and the risk. Much oppressed by Austria, ambitious of liberating Italy from foreign rule, ambitious of winning rank and consideration, and earning by her services a right to speak on behalf of Italy, Sardinia, under the far-sighted guidance of Count Cavour, had joined her small but perfect contingent to the armies of the allies. Therefore she was admitted, with the reluctant assent of Austria. The powers to be represented at the Congress, therefore, were England, France, Austria, Sardinia, Turkey, and Russia. Each power sent a special plenipotentiary, and each plenipotentiary was to be assisted by the resident ambassador. The English plenipotentiary was the Earl of Clarendon, assisted by Earl Cowley; France was represented by Count Walewski and Baron de Bourqueney; Austria sent the cautious and much-pondering Count Buol Schauenstein and the clever Baron Hübner; Sardinia confided her interests to her greatest statesman, Count Cavour, whose second was the Marquis of Villamarina; Turkey was present in the person of Aali Pasha, one of her ablest men, and Mehemed Djemil Bey; the Czar sent his father's friend, Count Orloff, and Baron Brunnow, cool, astute, and experienced. Some time elapsed before these men- some of them travelling from the extremities of Europe - could reach Paris; and before they could meet there was an important step to take. It is usual to frame a preliminary treaty. In this case, to save time and avoid the chances of discord, it was agreed, at a meeting of the ministers of France, England, Austria, Russia, and Turkey, at Vienna, on the 1st of February, that they should sign a protocol, recording the acceptance of the Austrian proposals by Russia, as a basis of peace, and that this should be regarded as a preliminary treaty. It was further agreed that the Congress should open a; Paris on the 26th of February.

The British Parliament was opened by Queen Victoria in person on the 31st of January. The public were not certain that the signs of peace could be depended on. They were doubtful of the sincerity of Russia; they were eager to hear the explanations of Ministers. The Queen's speech was anxiously awaited - the more anxiously because the contents were not permitted to appear in the newspapers of the morning. There was nothing in the gorgeous ceremonial which differed from other openings of Parliament, except that an unusual number of ladies thronged the House of Peers. Yet men listened more intently even than usual to the clear voice of Her Majesty as she read the speech; but, as usual, it told them no more than they knew. While determined to prosecute the war with vigour, Her Majesty said she deemed it her duty not to decline any reasonable overture promising peace. "Accordingly," she continued, "when the Emperor of Austria lately offered to myself and to my august ally, the Emperor of the French, to employ his good offices with the Emperor of Russia, with a view to endeavour to bring about an amicable adjustment of the matters at issue between the contending powers, I consented, in concert with my allies, to accept the offer thus made; and I have the satisfaction to inform you that certain conditions have been agreed upon, which I hope may prove the foundation of a general treaty of peace. Negotiations for such a treaty," Her Majesty added, " will shortly be opened at Paris." And she continued - "In conducting these negotiations, I shall be careful not to lose sight of the objects for which the war was undertaken; and I shall deem it right in no degree to relax my naval and military preparations until a satisfactory peace shall have been concluded." There was here nothing the country had riot a right to expect, but there was a phrase which should never have found its way into the speech of a Queen of England. When Her Majesty was made to say that she had accepted the offer of the Austrian Emperor to employ his good offices with the Czar, she was made to confess herself a suppliant for peace. That was not the meaning of her Ministers. The country was ready to accept a sound peace, because it was right to do so; but certainly neither the country nor the Parliament were ready to go before the throne of the Czar, in the frame of mind implied by this unhappy choice of terms.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

Count Orloff
Count Orloff >>>>
Count Walewski
Count Walewski >>>>
The Empress of the France
The Empress of the France >>>>
The Hall of ambassadors
The Hall of ambassadors >>>>

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