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Chapter XXXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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When the address came under debate, Lord Gosford, the mover, expressed the feeling of the country when he said he found himself reluctantly an advocate of peace. That sentiment prevailed in both Houses. There were some who, like Mr. Roebuck, gave utterance to a positive condemnation of peace. But Mr. Roebuck was only continuing his career as accuser-general. The feeling of both Houses, and all parties, may be summed up in few words. England was ready to make a peace on solid and honourable terms; but if these could not be obtained, all parties declared their willingness to support the Government to the uttermost in carrying on the war. No Ministry ever entered upon negotiations with a more unanimous nation at its back, for the Opposition even announced the intention of suspending hostilities during the negotiations, so far as those hostilities might affect the work in hand. But that engagement did not extend to the transactions of the past, and, on the very first night of the session, it was plain that the Opposition intended to found a party attack upon the loss of Kars.

It is proper to place on record the reasons wherewith Ministers defended the course they had adopted. Lord Clarendon pointed out that when the Austrian Government offered its good offices to bring about a peace, the British Government could not refuse them. "However confident," he said, speaking for his colleagues, "they might have been that another campaign would have increased the military fame of England, and might have led to a treaty of a different and more comprehensive character, yet such anticipations would have been wholly unjustifiable, if they had induced us to prolong the war when a prospect appeared of obtaining the objects for which the war was undertaken." On the Continent, where we are not beloved, the common belief was that our Government was insincere. This Lord Clarendon denied in explicit terms, and there is no reason to believe he did not express the sentiment of the nation. Lord Palmerston was far more emphatic than his foreign secretary in repudiating the notion, that England desired to go on with the war for the sake of glory. " No doubt," he said, " the resources of the country are unimpaired. No doubt the naval and military preparations which have been making during the past twelve months, which are now going on, and which will be completed in the spring, will place this country in a position, as regards the continuance of hostilities, in which it has not stood since the commencement of the war. We should, therefore, be justified in expecting that another campaign - should another campaign be forced upon us - would result in successes which might, perhaps, entitle us to require - perhaps enable us to obtain - even better conditions than those which have been offered to us, and have been accepted by us. But if the conditions which we now hope to obtain are such as will properly satisfy the objects for which we are contending - if they are conditions which we think it is our duty to accept, and with which we believe the country will be satisfied - then, undoubtedly, we should be wanting in our duty, and should not justify the confidence which the country has reposed in us, if we rejected terms of that description, merely for the chance of greater successes in another campaign. These were the feelings which actuated Her Majesty's Government. We felt, like many others in this country, that the future chances of the war were in our favour; we felt, like many others in this country, that the available resources of the enemy with whom we are contending were daily diminishing, while our resources, our preparations, and our means of carrying on the war were continually increasing. But we felt that we should not be justified in rejecting overtures which promised the possibility of a safe and honourable peace, merely for the prospect of obtaining even greater successes in another year of war. Sir, I think the country will approve the course which we have pursued." The country - that is, the judgment of the country - approved; but, as Lord Gosford said, with reluctance, much doubting whether the work undertaken had been finished. The reluctance sprang from that feeling, and by no means from a thirst for naval and military glory. The nation accepted the proposal to make peace, trusting, but not too blindly, that it would be safe and honourable; and whether it would be so remained to be seen.

In the meantime Russia, who had yielded, but yielded with misgivings, was very anxious it should be understood that she would not stand any very stringent development of that fifth point, those special conditions which the allies had reserved their right to demand. She would not pay any indemnity to Turkey; she hoped that no one would think of prohibiting the re-fortification of the Aland Islands; she even suffered her organs to talk of keeping Kars and part of Turkish Armenia. But this was all bravado; the loud-talking being intended to cover the fact that Russia had been worsted, and to make it appear that she would enter Congress as a power proposing conditions. Prussia was very busy; very anxious to be invited to the Congress; very eager to demonstrate that it was her influence which finally induced a benevolent Czar to grant peace to Europe. Austria did not fail to submit her peace propositions to the German Diet, and to obtain the assent of that singularly- constituted and abortive political corporation. Prussia again made a bid for a seat in the Congress, by supporting the proposals of Austria before the Diet; and Austria, to please the minor German Powers, dwelt on the effect of the expression of their opinions at St. Petersburg. Count Rechberg, who then represented Austria at the Diet, expressed his firm conviction that the right of proposing new conditions reserved in the fifth point would not be exercised in a sense likely to frustrate the hopes of peace. Neither Prussia nor the Diet was invited to the Congress; but this mysterious discussion of the fifth point raised doubts in the minds of the public, who were not told that the Powers had already determined that there should be no difficulties, and that peace should be made.

February had nearly passed away before the plenipotentiaries began to assemble. Lord Cowley had come over to London from Paris; and on the 16th he returned thither with Lord Clarendon. The next day they had an audience of the Emperor. About the same time Count Buol and Count Cavour reached the French capital, and paid their respects to the lord of France. Baron Brunnow also arrived, but Count Orloff and Aali Pasha did not enter Paris until the 21st. It was the unavoidable delay of the Grand Vizier and the trusted Orloff that set back the meeting of the Congress. Besides these accredited envoys, a number of Russian ladies of quality suddenly flocked to Paris. The new game of the Russian Court was to make friends of France; and it was not unwisely thought that clever and charming Greek and Russian ladies might do not a little to forward the views of the Czar. The leaning of France towards Russia was manifest, in a few months to become a positive twist to that side. So Nesselrode sent his daughter, wife of Baron Seebach; his niece, wife of General Kalergi; and the Princess Lieven, and other ladies of Russian quality, to do battle in behalf of his and their imperial master.

The Congress met on the 25th of February, one day earlier than the time fixed upon provisionally at Vienna. A large room, in the French foreign office, called the Salon des Ambassadors, or Hall of the Ambassadors, having three large windows looking on to the Seine, was set apart for the sittings. On the walls, opposite the windows, were two large full-length portraits: one was the counterfeit presentment of his astute Majesty Napoleon III., and the other of his beautiful Empress, now about to present him with a Hope of the House of Buonaparte. The curtains, the walls, and the furniture were resplendent with crimson satin; a fine Aubusson carpet covered the floor, and the ceiling was richly painted. In the centre of this room was a circular table, covered with green cloth, and round it were twelve arm-chairs. Between the windows was a table for the secretaries, and another table for the use of plenipotentiaries desirous of writing notes in the intervals of business. That circular table was an excellent device for quenching disputes on the score of precedence. In the beginning of the eighteenth century there was a sort of diplomatic conference held in one of the towns of Lower Hungary, to compose one of the many troublesome differences cropping up between Imperial Austria and Hungary. The Dutch and English were the prime movers in it, and among the envoys was a grave old Pasha. But the conference could not meet, because the would-be conferrers could not solve the question of precedence. Looking gravely on this frivolous quarrel, and smiling with grim humour, as we may imagine, the Turk volunteered to settle the question for the bickering envoys, if they would allow him. His colleagues agreed to the proposal; whereupon the Turk caused a round house to be built, and had it pierced with as many doors as there were plenipotentiaries. In the centre he placed a round table and chairs for the proper number opposite the doors. Then assembling his colleagues, and throwing open the doors, he gave a signal; at sound or sight of which, all marched gravely in, none first, none last; and so the question of precedence was settled in this ingenious fashion by the mother wit of a grey-bearded infidel. At this Congress of Paris the round table - happy invention! - came again into play, but the Ministers sat round it in the order of their presentation to the Emperor; that is, France, England, Austria, Sardinia, Russia, Turkey.

The plenipotentiaries were to meet between one and two. Count Walewski and Baron de Bourqueney, of course, were already there to receive them. " At precisely three minutes past one," writes an eye-witness, determined to see how great diplomatists made their entrance on this famous stage; "at three minutes past one, on the 25th of February, 1856, a modest-looking brougham, scarcely remarked till it was within a few yards of the Ministry, drove into the front gate, and halted at the foot of the grand staircase. The carriage contained the Sardinian plenipotentiaries, Count Cavour and the Marquis Villamarina; a single chasseur was their only attendant. They, like all the plenipotentiaries who followed, were dressed in plain morning costume. As they ascended the staircase, a squadron of M. Walewski's footmen, who were on the look-out, threw wide open the glass doors, and the Piedmontese representatives entered the hotel first. A few minutes afterwards came Turkey. Aali Pasha, the Grand Vizier, and Mahomet Bey, were dressed just like Europeans, except that they wore, of course, the inevitable red fez. The Grand Vizier wore a talma that might have been bought in Regent Street. England and Austria followed very shortly afterwards in remarkably unpretending carriages. There was then a pause of several minutes. People began to ask whether Russia would not find some excuse not to come. But at a quarter past one, a handsome carriage, with two chasseurs behind it, drove up at a rapid pace, containing the Russian plenipotentiaries. Count Orloff stepped out first; and although he is seventy years of age, ran up the steps like a boy. I had an opportunity of seeing him well; for when he arrived on the top landing, he took off his hat, as if to return the salute of the servants in waiting, and then turned round to see what had become of his colleague. Baron de Brunnow got out of the carriage very slowly; his face was enveloped in an ample comforter; he walked up the stairs with a somewhat faltering step, and his spare and bent form presented a striking contrast to that of his coadjutor. Count Orloff is a wonderful- looking man for his age. He is of large size, very erect, and his countenance denotes robust health and great resolution. He has a very large head, covered with iron grey hair cropped close. The expression of his features is quite Calmuck; but as he smiled at Baron de Brunnow slowly mounting the stairs after him, he had a good- natured look."

And so they vanished from the gaze of the inquiring mind through the glass doors, and ascended the stairs, and took their places at the round table in the big room we have described. It was a matter of course that Count Walewski should preside over this meeting. It is the custom for the minister of that sovereign to preside in whose capital a congress is held. Count Buol had presided at Vienna, and Count Walewski presided at Paris. But this was not done without a formal motion, made in this case by the Austrian plenipotentiary, and assented to unanimously by all present. Then the Congress settled what are called the preliminaries - that is, they gave their sanction to the transaction at Vienna on the 1st of February. Next they resolved that an armistice should be concluded between the belligerents, to terminate on the 31st of March, unless renewed; but not to extend to any blockade established or to be established. It was understood, however, that no hostilities should occur off the coasts of the enemy. Wherefore the British sent a light squadron again into the Baltic, but merely as a measure of precaution; and, of course, the Black Sea and Sea of Azoff remained in the hands of the allies. It was also resolved that the plenipotentiaries should not divulge what occurred, nor allow any reports of progress to ooze out, except, of course, the fact that an armistice should be immediately agreed on.

Leaving the plenipotentiaries in their closed room for a time, let us note two facts - the opening of the French chambers, and the proclamation of a firman by the Sultan, touching the rights of his Christian subjects.

The Emperor Napoleon opened the session of 1856, on the 4th of March, with one of those speeches from the throne now become so remarkable in European history. This special speech was not wanting in the true Napoleonic ring. He contrasted the state of affairs, the last time he had met them - "Europe, uncertain, awaiting the issue of the struggle before taking sides" - with their state at the time he was addressing them, when the struggle for Sebastopol had been decided in favour of the allies, and had brought Europe over to their side openly. As a "fact of high political significance" - truly, very high to him and his - he reminded his subservient hearers of the visit of "the Queen of Great Britain " to his court, and cited it as " a proof of her confidence in and esteem for our country." He told them also of the visit of the King of Piedmont - a visit more significant, if his hearers could only have foreseen - and then he said: - " These sovereigns beheld a country some time so disturbed and fallen from her rank in the councils of Europe, now prosperous, peaceable, and respected, making war, not with the hurried delirium of passion, but with that calm which belongs to justice, and all the energy of duty. They have seen France, which had sent 200,000 men across the sea, at the same time convoke at Paris all the arts of peace, as if she meant to say to Europe - 'The present war is but an episode for me, and my strength is always in great measure directed towards peaceful occupations. Let us neglect no opportunity of coming to an understanding, and do not force me to throw into the battle-field the whole resources and power of a great nation.' " [Words very significant, if read aright; meaning, "do not provoke me or thwart me, for I can raise the slumbering passions of what you call the Revolution, and shake all your thrones."] The appeal, the Emperor went on, seems to have been heard; and then, in his own fashion, he told how the cabinets and courts had besought the Emperor of Russia to defer to the wish of Europe, in dread, as the Emperor allowed it to be inferred, of the mighty resources of France - an inference very grateful to the French people. " At this moment," he said - and he must have felt a deep glow of pride when he said it - " the plenipotentiaries of the belligerent and allied Powers are met in Paris to decide on the conditions of peace." He looked for a favourable result, but equal to either fortune, kept his hand on his sword. "Whatever happen," he said, "let us busy ourselves with all matters which tend to augment the power and wealth of France. Let us draw still closer, if that be possible, the alliance which," &c. - the alliance with England, which, having made so much profit by, he was just beginning, even while he spoke, to think of supplementing by an alliance with Russia. Such was the attitude, as it is called, of the Emperor Napoleon in the spring of 1856. The alliance with England, the glories of the Crimea, the Congress of Paris, had firmly established his throne, and had made him respectable in 'the eyes of his people, and for the future dreaded in Europe.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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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