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Lord John Russell
by Stuart J. Reid
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Even if it be granted that neither Russell nor Palmerston was admissible as leader, it was a palpable blunder to exclude from Cabinet rank men of clean-cut convictions like Cobden and Bright. They had a large following in the country, and had won their spurs in the Anti-Corn-Law struggle. They represented the aspirations of the most active section of the Liberal Party, and they also possessed the spell which eloquence and sincerity never fail to throw over the imagination of the people. They were not judged worthy, however, and Milner Gibson, in spite of his services as a member of the Russell Cabinet, was also debarred from office; whilst Mr. Charles Villiers, whose social claims could not be entirely overlooked, found his not inconsiderable services to the people rewarded by subordinate rank. The view which was taken at Court of the Aberdeen Ministry is recorded in the 'Life of the Prince Consort.' The Queen regarded the Cabinet as 'the realisation of the country's and our own most ardent wishes;'[29] and in her Majesty's view the words 'brilliant' and 'strong' described the new Government. Brilliant it might be, but strong it assuredly was not, for it was pervaded by the spirit of mutual distrust, and circumstances conspired to accentuate the wide divergence of opinion which lurked beneath the surface harmony. However such a union of warring forces might be agreeable to the Queen, the belief that it realised the 'most ardent wishes' of the nation was not widely held outside the Court, for 'England,' to borrow Disraeli's familiar but significant phrase, 'does not love Coalitions.' In the Aberdeen Cabinet, party interests were banded together in office; but the vivifying influences of unity of conviction and common sentiment were absent from its deliberations. After all, as Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton drily remarked when the inevitable crisis arose, there is 'one indisputable element of a Coalition Government, and that is that its members should coalesce.' As a matter of fact, they not only drifted into war but drifted apart. 'It is a powerful team and will require good driving,' was the comment of a shrewd political observer. 'There are some odd tempers and queer ways among them.'

[Sidenote: ABERDEEN AS DRIVER]

Lord Aberdeen had many virtues, but he was not a good driver, and when the horses grew restive and kicked over the traces, he lacked nerve, hesitated, and was lost. Trained for political life at the side of Pitt,[30] after a distinguished career in diplomacy, which made him known in all the Courts of Europe, he entered the Cabinet of the Duke of Wellington in 1828, and afterwards held the post of Secretary for the Colonies in the first Peel Administration of 1834, and that of Secretary for Foreign Affairs during Sir Robert's final spell of power in the years 1841-46. He never sat in the House of Commons, but, though a Tory peer, he voted for Catholic Emancipation. He swiftly fell into line, however, with his party, and recorded his vote against the Reform Bill. He never, perhaps, quite understood the temper of a popular assembly, for he was a shy, reserved man, sparing in speech and punctilious in manner. Close association with Wellington and Peel had, of course, done much to shape his outlook on affairs, and much acquaintance with the etiquette of foreign Courts had insensibly led him to cultivate the habit of formal reserve. Born in the same year as Palmerston, the Premier possessed neither the openness to new ideas nor the vivacity of his masterful colleague; in fact, Lord Aberdeen at sixty-eight, unlike Lord Palmerston, was an old man in temperament, as well as conservative, in the sense of one not given to change. Yet, it is only fair to add that, if Aberdeen's views of foreign policy were of a somewhat stereotyped kind, he was, at all events at this period in their careers, more progressive on home policy than Palmerston, who was too much inclined not to move for the social welfare of the people before he was compelled.

The new Ministry ran well until it was hindered by complications in the East. In the middle of February, a few days after the meeting of Parliament, Lord John retired from the Foreign Office, and led the House through the session with great ability, but without taking office. It is important to remember that he had only accepted the Foreign Office under strong pressure, and as a temporary expedient. It was, however, understood that he was at liberty at any moment to relinquish the Foreign Office in favour of Lord Clarendon, if he found the duties too onerous to discharge in conjunction with the task of leadership in the Commons. The session of 1853 was rendered memorable by the display of Mr. Gladstone's skill in finance; and the first Budget of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer was in every sense in splendid contrast with the miserable fiasco of the previous year, when Mr. Disraeli was responsible for proposals which, as Sir George Cornewall Lewis said, were of a kind that flesh and blood could not stand. The trade of the country had revived, and, with tranquility, some degree of prosperity had returned, even to Ireland. Lord John Russell, true to his policy of religious equality, brought forward the Jewish Disabilities Bill, but the House of Lords, with equal consistency, threw out the measure. The Law of Transportation was altered, and a new India Bill was passed, which threw open the Civil Service to competition. Many financial reforms were introduced, a new proposal was made for a wider extent of elementary education, and much legislative activity in a variety of directions was displayed.

[Sidenote: THE COALITION GOVERNMENT]

Lord Aberdeen had taken office under pressure and from a sense of duty. It had few attractions for him, and he looked forward with quiet satisfaction to release from its cares. Lord Stanmore's authority can be cited for the statement that in the summer of 1853 his father deemed that the time had come when he might retire in Lord John Russell's favour, in accordance with an arrangement which had been made in general terms when the Cabinet was formed. There were members of the Coalition Government who were opposed to this step; but Lord Aberdeen anticipated no serious difficulty in carrying out the proposal. Suddenly the aspect of affairs grew not merely critical but menacing, and the Prime Minister found himself confronted by complications abroad, from which he felt it would be despicable to retreat by the easy method of personal resignation. There is not the slightest occasion, nor, indeed, is this the place, to recount the vicissitudes of the Aberdeen Administration in its baffled struggles against the alternative of war. The achievements of the Coalition Government, no less than its failures, with much of its secret history, have already been told with praiseworthy candour and intimate knowledge by Lord Stanmore, who as a young man acted as private secretary to his father, Lord Aberdeen, through the stress and storm of those fateful years. It is therefore only necessary in these pages to state the broad outlines of the story, and to indicate Lord John Russell's position in the least popular Cabinet of the Queen's reign.

Lord Shaftesbury jotted down in his journal, when the new Ministry came into office, these words, and they sum up pretty accurately the situation, and the common verdict upon it: 'Aberdeen Prime Minister, Lord John Russell Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is it possible that this arrangement should prosper? Can the Liberal policy of Lord John square with the restrictive policy of Lord Aberdeen? I wish them joy and a safe deliverance.'

FOOTNOTES:

[26] Sir William Gregory, K.C.M.G.: an Autobiography, edited by Lady Gregory, pp. 92, 93.

[27] Mr. Gladstone's comment on this statement is that it is interesting as coming from an acute contemporary observer. At the same time it expresses an opinion and presents no facts. Mr. Gladstone adds that he is not aware that the question of re-union with the Conservative party was ever presented to him in such a way as to embrace the relations to Mr. Disraeli.

[28] Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, by the Right Hon. Sir George Otto Trevelyan, M.P., vol. ii. p. 340.

[29] Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort, vol. ii. p. 483.

[30] Pitt became guardian to the young Lord Haddo in 1792.



CHAPTER X

DOWNING STREET AND CONSTANTINOPLE

1853

Causes of the Crimean War—Nicholas seizes his opportunity—The Secret Memorandum—Napoleon and the susceptibilities of the Vatican—Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and the Porte—Prince Menschikoff shows his hand—Lord Aberdeen hopes against hope—Lord Palmerston's opinion of the crisis—The Vienna Note—Lord John grows restive—Sinope arouses England—The deadlock in the Cabinet.

MANY causes conspired to bring about the war in the Crimea, though the pretext for the quarrel—a dispute between the monks of the Latin and Greek Churches concerning the custody of the Holy Places in Palestine—presents no element of difficulty. It is, however, no easy matter to gather up in a few pages the reasons which led to the war. Amongst the most prominent of them were the ambitious projects of the despotic Emperor Nicholas. The military revolt in his own capital at the period of his accession, and the Polish insurrections of 1830 and 1850, had rendered him harsh and imperious, and disinclined to concessions on any adequate scale to the restless but spasmodic demands for political reform in Russia. Gloomy and reserved though the Autocrat of All the Russias was, he recognised that it would be a mistake to rely for the pacification of his vast empire on the policy of masterly inactivity. His war with Persia, his invasion of Turkey, and the army which he sent to help Austria to settle her quarrel with Hungary, not only appealed to the pride of Russia, but provided so many outlets for the energy and ambition of her ruler. It was in the East that Nicholas saw his opportunity, and his policy was a revival, under the changed conditions of the times, of that of Peter the Great and Catherine II.

Nicholas had long secretly chafed at the exclusion of his war-ships—by the provisions of the treaty of 1841—from access through the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, and he dreamed dreams of Constantinople, and saw visions of India. Linked to many lawless instincts, there was in the Emperor's personal character much of the intolerance of the fanatic. Religion and pride alike made the fact rankle in his breast that so many of the Sultan's subjects were Sclavs, and professed the Russian form of Christianity. He was, moreover, astute enough to see that a war which could be construed by the simple and devout peasantry as an attempt to uplift the standard of the Cross in the dominions of the Crescent would appeal at once to the clergy and populace of Holy Russia. Nicholas had persuaded himself that, with Lord Aberdeen at the head of affairs, and Palmerston in a place of safety at the Home Office, England was scarcely in a condition to give practical effect to her traditional jealousy of Russia. In the weakness of her divided counsels he saw his opportunity. It had become a fixed idea with the Emperor that Turkey was in a moribund condition; and neither Orloff nor Nesselrode had been able to disabuse his mind of the notion.

[Sidenote: NICHOLAS AND THE 'SICK MAN']

Everyone is aware that in January 1853 the Emperor told the English Ambassador, Sir Hamilton Seymour, that Turkey was the 'sick man' of Europe, and ever since then the phrase has passed current and become historic. It was often on the lips of Nicholas, for he talked freely, and sometimes showed so little discretion that Nesselrode once declared, with fine irony, that the White Czar could not claim to be a diplomatist. The phrase cannot have startled Lord Aberdeen. It must have sounded, indeed, like the echo of words which the Emperor had uttered in London in the summer of 1844. Nicholas, on the occasion of his visit to England in that year, spoke freely about the Eastern Question, not merely to the Duke of Wellington, whose military prowess he greatly admired, but also to Sir Robert Peel and Lord Aberdeen, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs. He told the latter in so many words that Turkey was a dying man, and did his best to impress the three English statesmen with the necessity for preparation in view of the approaching crisis. He stated that he foresaw that the time was coming when he would have to put his armies in movement, and added that Austria would be compelled to do the same. He protested that he made no claim to an inch of Turkish soil, but was prepared to dispute the right of anyone else to an inch of it—a palpable allusion to the French support of Mehemet Ali. It was too soon to stipulate what should be done when the 'sick man's' last hour had run its course. All he wanted, he maintained, was the basis of an understanding.

In Nicholas's opinion England ought to make common cause with Russia and Austria, and he did not disguise his jealousy of France. It was clear that he dreaded the growth of close union between England and France, and for Louis Philippe then, as for Louis Napoleon afterwards, his feeling was one of coldness if not of actual disdain. The Emperor Nicholas won golden opinions amongst all classes during his short stay in England. Sir Theodore Martin's 'Life of the Prince Consort,' and especially the letter which is published in its pages from the Queen to King Leopold, showed the marked impression which was made at Windsor by his handsome presence, his apparently unstudied confidences, the simplicity and charm of his manners, and the adroitness of his well-turned compliments. Whenever the Autocrat of All the Russias appeared in public, at a military review, or the Opera, or at Ascot, he received an ovation, and Baron Stockmar, with dry cynicism, has not failed to record the lavish gifts of 'endless snuff-boxes and large presents' which made his departure memorable to the Court officials. Out of this visit grew, though the world knew nothing of it then, the Secret Memorandum, drawn up by Peel, Wellington, and Aberdeen, and signed by them as well as by the Emperor himself. This document, though it actually committed England to nothing more serious than the recognition in black and white of the desperate straits of the Porte, and the fact that England and Russia were alike concerned in maintaining the status quo in Turkey, dwelt significantly on the fact that, in the event of a crisis in Turkey, Russia and England were to come to an understanding with each other as to what concerted action they should take. The agreement already existing between Russia and Austria was significantly emphasised in the document, and stress was laid on the fact that if England joined the compact, France would have no alternative but to accept the decision.

[Sidenote: A FRIEND AT COURT]

There can be no question that Nicholas attached an exaggerated importance to this memorandum. It expressed his opinion rather than the determination of the Peel Administration; but a half-barbaric despot not unnaturally imagined that when the responsible advisers of the Crown entered into a secret agreement with him, no matter how vague its terms might appear when subjected to critical analysis, England and himself were practically of one mind. When the Coalition Government was formed, two of the three statesmen, whom the Emperor Nicholas regarded as his friends at Court, were dead, but the third, in the person of Lord Aberdeen, had succeeded, by an unexpected turn of the wheel, to the chief place in the new Ministry. Long before the Imperial visit to London the Emperor had honoured Lord Aberdeen with his friendship, and, now that the Foreign Minister of 1844 was the Prime Minister of 1853, the opportune moment for energetic action seemed to have arrived. Nicholas, accordingly, now hinted that if the 'sick man' died England should seize Egypt and Crete, and that the European provinces of Turkey should be formed into independent states under Russian protection. He met, however, with no response, for the English Cabinet by this time saw that the impending collapse of Turkey, on which Nicholas laid such emphatic stress, was by no means a foregone conclusion. Napoleon and Palmerston had, moreover, drawn France and England into friendly alliance. There was no shadow of doubt that the Christian subjects of Turkey were grossly oppressed, and it is only fair to believe that Nicholas, as the head of the Greek Church, was honestly anxious to rid them of such thraldom. At the same time no one imagined that he was exactly the ruler to expend blood and treasure, in the risks of war, in the role of a Defender of the Faith.

Count Vitzthum doubts whether the Emperor really contemplated the taking of Constantinople, but it is plain that he meant to crush the Turkish Empire, and England, knowing that the man had masterful instincts and ambitious schemes—that suggest, at all events, a passing comparison with Napoleon Bonaparte—took alarm at his restlessness, and the menace to India, which it seemed to suggest. 'If we do not stop the Russians on the Danube,' said Lord John Russell, 'we shall have to stop them on the Indus.' It is now a matter of common knowledge that, when the Crimean War began, Nicholas had General Duhamel's scheme before him for an invasion of India through Asia. Such an advance, it was foreseen, would cripple England's resources in Europe by compelling her to despatch an army of defence to the East. It certainly looks, therefore, as if Russia, when hostilities in the Crimea actually began, was preparing herself for a sudden descent on Constantinople. Napoleon III., eager to conciliate the religious susceptibilities of his own subjects, as well as to gratify the Vatican, wished the Sultan to make the Latin monks the supreme custodians of the Holy Places. Complications, the issue of which it was impossible to forecast, appeared inevitable, and for the moment there seemed only one man who could grapple with the situation at Constantinople. Lord Palmerston altogether, and Lord John Russell in part, sympathised with the clamour which arose in the Press for the return of the Great Elchi to the Porte.

[Sidenote: LORD STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE]

In the entire annals of British diplomacy there is scarcely a more picturesque or virile figure than that of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. Capacity for public affairs ran in the blood of the Cannings, as the three statues which to-day stand side by side in Westminster Abbey proudly attest. Those marble memorials represent George Canning, the great Foreign Minister, who in the famous, if grandiloquent, phrase 'called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old;' his son Charles, Earl Canning, first Viceroy of India; and his cousin, Stratford Canning, Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe, who for a long term of years sought to quicken into newness of social and political life the broken and demoralised forces of the Ottoman Empire, and who practically dictated from Constantinople the policy of England in the East. He was born in 1786 and died in 1880. He entered the public service as a precis-writer at the Foreign Office, and rose swiftly in the profession of diplomacy. His acquaintance with Eastern affairs began in 1808, when he was appointed First Secretary to Sir Robert Adair, whom he succeeded two years later at Constantinople as Minister Plenipotentiary. The Treaty of Bucharest, which in 1812 brought the war, then in progress between Russia and Turkey, to an end, was the first of a brilliant series of diplomatic triumphs, which established his reputation in all the Councils of Europe, and made him, in Lord Tennyson's words, 'The voice of England in the East.' After services in Switzerland, in Washington, and at the Congress of Vienna, Canning, in 1825, returned to Constantinople with the rank of Ambassador.

He witnessed the overthrow of the Janissaries by Sultan Mahmoud II., and had his own experience of Turkish atrocities in the massacre which followed. He took a prominent part in the creation of the modern kingdom of Greece, and resigned his appointment in 1828, because of a conflict of opinion with Lord Aberdeen in the early stages of that movement. Afterwards, he was gazetted Ambassador to St. Petersburg; but the Emperor Nicholas, who by this time recognised the masterful qualities of the man, refused to receive him—a conspicuous slight, which Lord Stratford, who was as proud and irascible as the Czar, never forgave. Between the years 1842 and 1858 he again filled his old position as Ambassador to Constantinople, and during those years he won a unique ascendency—unmatched in the history of diplomacy—over men and movements in Turkey. He brought about many reforms, and made it his special concern to watch over the interests of the Christian subjects at the Porte, who styled him the 'Padishah of the Shah,' and that title—Sultan of the Sultan—exactly hit off the authority which he wielded, not always wisely, but always with good intent. It was an unfortunate circumstance that Lord Stratford, after his resignation in 1852, should have been summoned back for a further spell of six years' tenure of power exactly at the moment when Nicholas, prompted by the knowledge of the absence from Constantinople of the man who had held him in check, and of the accession to power in Downing Street of a statesman of mild temper and friendly disposition to Russia, was beginning once more to push his claims in the East. Lord Stratford had many virtues, but he had also a violent and uncertain temper. He was a man of inflexible integrity, iron will, undeniable moral courage, and commanding force of character. Yet, for a great Ambassador, he was at times strangely undiplomatic, whilst the keenness of his political judgment and forecasts sometimes suffered eclipse through the strength of his personal antipathies.

[Sidenote: FAREWELL TO THE FOREIGN OFFICE]

Meanwhile, Lord John Russell, who had expressly stipulated when the Cabinet was formed that he was only to hold the seals of the Foreign Office for a few weeks, convinced already that the position was untenable to a man of his views, insisted on being relieved of the office. The divergent views in the Cabinet on the Eastern Question were making themselves felt, and Lord Aberdeen's eminently charitable interpretation of the Russian demands was little to the minds of men of the stamp of Palmerston and Russell, neither of whom was inclined to pin his faith so completely to the Czar's assurances. When Parliament met in February, Lord John quitted the Foreign Office and led the House of Commons without portfolio. His quick recognition of Mr. Gladstone's great qualities as a responsible statesman was not the least pleasing incident of the moment. In April, Lord Aberdeen once more made no secret of his determination to retire at the end of the session, and this intimation no doubt had its influence with the more restive of his colleagues.

When Parliament rose, Lord John Russell's position in the country was admitted on all hands to be one of renewed strength, for, set free from an irksome position, he had thrown himself during the session with ardour into the congenial work of leader of the House of Commons. The resolution of the Cabinet to send Lord Stratford to Constantinople has already been stated. He received his instructions on February 25; in fact, he seems to have dictated them, for Lord Clarendon, who had just succeeded to the Foreign Office, made no secret of the circumstance that they were largely borrowed from the Ambassador's own notes. He was told that he was to proceed first to Paris, and then to Vienna, in order that he might know the minds of France and Austria on the issues at stake. Napoleon III. was to be assured that England relied on his cordial co-operation in maintaining the integrity and independence of the Turkish Empire. The young Emperor of Austria was to be informed that her Majesty's Government gladly recognised the fact that his attitude towards the Porte had not been changed by recent events, and that the policy of Austria in the East was not likely to be altered. Lord Stratford was to warn the Sultan and his advisers that the crisis was one which required the utmost prudence on their part if peace was to be preserved.

The Sultan and his Ministers were practically to be told by Lord Stratford that they were the authors of their own misfortunes, and that, if they were to be extricated from them, they must place the 'utmost confidence in the sincerity and soundness of the advice' that he was commissioned to give them. He was further to lay stress on palpable abuses, and to urge the necessity of administrative reforms. 'It remains,' added Lord Clarendon, 'only for me to say that in the event, which her Majesty's Government earnestly hope may not arise, of imminent danger to the existence of the Turkish Government, your Excellency will in such case despatch a messenger to Malta requesting the Admiral to hold himself in readiness; but you will not direct him to approach the Dardanelles without positive instructions from her Majesty's Government.' The etiquette of Courts has to be respected, especially by Ambassadors charged with a difficult mission, but Lord Stratford's diplomatic visits to Paris and Vienna were unduly prolonged, and occupied more time than was desirable at such a crisis. He arrived at Constantinople on April 5, and was received, to his surprise, with a remarkable personal ovation. In Kinglake's phrase, his return was regarded as that 'of a king whose realm had been suffered to fall into danger.'

The Czar's envoy, Prince Menschikoff, had already been on the scene for five weeks. If Russia meant peace, the choice of such a representative was unfortunate. Menschikoff was a brusque soldier, rough and impolitic of speech, and by no means inclined to conform to accepted methods of procedure. He refused to place himself in communication with the Foreign Minister of the Porte; and this was interpreted at Stamboul as an insult to the Sultan. The Grand Vizier, rushing to the conclusion that his master was in imminent danger, induced Colonel Rose, the British Charge d'Affaires, to order the Mediterranean Fleet, then at Malta, to proceed to Vourla. The Admiral, however, refused to lend himself to the panic, and sent back word that he waited instructions from London, a course which was afterwards approved by the Cabinet. The commotion at Stamboul was not lost upon Napoleon, though he knew that the English Cabinet was not anxious to precipitate matters. Eager to display his newly acquired power, he promptly sent instructions to the French Fleet to proceed to Salamis. Meanwhile Prince Menschikoff, who had adopted a more conciliatory attitude on the question of the Holy Places, with the result that negotiations were proceeding satisfactorily, assumed shortly before the arrival of Lord Stratford a more defiant manner, and startled the Porte by the sudden announcement of new demands. He claimed that a formal treaty should be drawn up, recognising in the most ample, not to say abject, terms, the right of Russia to establish a Protectorate over the Christian subjects of the Porte. This meant, as Lord Clarendon pointed out at the time, that fourteen millions of people would henceforth regard the Czar as their defender, whilst their allegiance to the Sultan would become little more than nominal, and the position of the Turkish ruler would inevitably dwindle from independence to vassalage.

[Sidenote: TAKING THE BULL BY THE HORNS]

Lord Stratford at once took the bull by the horns. Acting on his advice, the Porte refused even to entertain such proposals until the question of the Holy Places was settled. Within a month, through Lord Stratford's firmness, Russia and Turkey came to terms over the original point in dispute; but on the following day Menschikoff placed an ultimatum before the Porte, demanding that, within five days, his master's claim for the acknowledgment of the Russian Protectorate over the Sultan's Greek subjects should be accepted. The Sultan's Ministers, who interpreted the dramatic return of Lord Stratford to mean that they had England at their back, declined to accede, and their refusal was immediately followed by the departure of Prince Menschikoff. Repulsed in diplomacy, the Czar, on July 2, marched forty thousand troops across the frontier river, the Pruth, and occupied Moldavia and Wallachia. The Imperial manifesto stated that it was not the Czar's intention to commence war, but only to obtain such security as would ensure the restoration of the rights of Russia. This was, of course, high ground to take, and a conference of the Great Powers was hastily summoned, with the result that the French view of the situation was embodied by the assembled diplomatists in the Vienna Note, which was despatched simultaneously to Russia and Turkey. Lord John Russell, even before the arrival of Lord Stratford at Constantinople, had come to the conclusion that the Emperor of Russia was determined to pick a quarrel with Turkey; but Lord Aberdeen and his Peelite following were of another mind, and even Lord Clarendon seems for the moment to have been hoodwinked by the Czar's protestations.

A month or two later the Foreign Minister saw matters in a different light, for he used in the House of Lords, in the summer of 1853, an expression which has become historic: 'We are drifting into war.' The quarrel at this stage—for the susceptibilities of France and of Rome had been appeased by the settlement of the question of the Holy Places—lay between Russia and Turkey, and England might have compelled the peace of Europe if she had known her own mind, and made both parties recognise in unmistakeable terms what was her policy. Lord John Russell had a policy, but no power to enforce it, whilst Lord Aberdeen had no policy which ordinary mortals could fathom, and had the power to keep the Cabinet—though scarcely Lord Stratford de Redcliffe—from taking any decided course. The Emperor Nicholas, relying on the Protocol which Lord Aberdeen had signed—under circumstances which, however, bore no resemblance to existing conditions—imagined that, with such a statesman at the head of affairs, England would not take up arms against Russia. Lord Aberdeen, to add to the complication, seemed unable to credit the hostile intentions of the Czar, even after the failure of the negotiations which followed the despatch of the Vienna Note. Yet as far back as June 19, Lord John Russell, in a memorandum to his colleagues, made a clear statement of the position of affairs. He held that, if Russia persisted in her demands and invaded Turkey, the interests of England in the East would compel us to aid the Sultan in defending his capital and his throne. On the other hand, if the Czar by a sudden movement seized Constantinople, we must be prepared to make war on Russia herself. In that case, he added, we ought to seek the alliance of France and Austria. France would willingly join; and England and France together might, if it were worth while, obtain the moral weight, if not the material support, of Austria in their favour.

[Sidenote: CAUTION HAS ITS PERFECT WORK]

Lord Aberdeen responded with characteristic caution. He refused to entertain warlike forecasts, and wished for liberty to meet the emergency when it actually arose. Lord Palmerston, a week or two later, made an ineffectual attempt to persuade the Cabinet to send the Fleet to the Bosphorus without further delay. 'I think our position,' were his words on July 7, 'waiting timidly and submissively at the back door, whilst Russia is violently threatening and arrogantly forcing her way into the house, is unwise, with a view to a peaceful settlement.' Lord Aberdeen believed in the 'moderation' of a despot who took no pains to disguise his sovereign contempt for 'les chiens Turcs.' Lord Palmerston, on the other hand, made no secret of his opinion that it was the invariable policy of Russia to push forward her encroachment 'as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness' of other Governments would allow. He held that her plan was to 'stop and retire when she was met with decided resistance,' and then to wait until the next favourable opportunity arose to steal once more a march on Europe. There was, in short, a radical divergence in the Cabinet. When the compromise suggested in the Vienna Note was rejected, the chances of a European war were sensibly quickened, and all the more so because Lord Stratford, with his notorious personal grudge against the Czar, was more than any other man master of the situation. What that situation had become in the early autumn of 1853 is pithily expressed in a letter of Sir George Cornewall Lewis's to Sir Edmund Head: 'Everything is in a perplexed state at Constantinople. Russia is ashamed to recede, but afraid to strike. The Turks have collected a large army, and have blown up their fanaticism, and, reckoning on the support of England and France, are half inclined to try the chances of war. I think that both parties are in the wrong—Russia in making unjust demands, Turkey in resisting a reasonable settlement. War is quite on the cards, but I still persist in thinking it will be averted, unless some accidental spark fires the train.'[31]

[Sidenote: THE VIENNA NOTE]

The Vienna Note was badly worded, and it failed as a scheme of compromise between the Porte and Russia. When it was sent in a draft form to St. Petersburg the Czar accepted it, doubtless because he saw that its statements were vague in a sense which might be interpreted to his advantage. At Constantinople the document swiftly evoked protest, and the Divan refused to sanction it without alteration. England, France, and Austria recognised the force of the amendments of Turkey, and united in urging Russia to adopt them. The Emperor Nicholas, however, was too proud a man to submit to dictation, especially from the Sultan, with Lord Stratford at his elbow, and declined to accede to the altered proposals. Lord John deemed that Turkey had a just cause of complaint, not in the mere fact of the rejection of her alterations to the Vienna Note, but because they were rejected after they had been submitted to the Czar. He told Lord Aberdeen that he hoped that Turkey would reject the new proposals, but he added that that would not wipe away the shame of their having been made. In a speech at Greenock, on September 19, Lord John said: 'While we endeavour to maintain peace, I certainly should be the last to forget that if peace cannot be maintained with honour, it is no longer peace. It becomes then but a truce—a precarious truce, to be denounced by others whenever they may think fit—whenever they may think that an opportunity has occurred to enforce by arms their unjust demands either upon us or upon our allies.'

England and France refused to press the original Vienna Note on Turkey; but as Austria and Prussia thought that their reasons for abandoning negotiations were scarcely of sufficient force, they in turn declined to adopt the same policy. The concert of Europe was, in fact, broken by the failure of the Vienna Note, and the chances of peace grew suddenly remote. There is a saying that a man likes to believe what he wishes to be the fact, and its truth was illustrated at this juncture by both parties to the quarrel. The Czar persuaded himself that Austria and Prussia would give him their aid, and that England, under Aberdeen, was hardly likely to proceed to the extremity of war. The Sultan, on the other hand, emboldened by the movements of the French and English fleets, and still more by the presence and counsels of Lord Stratford, who was, to all intents and purposes, the master spirit at Constantinople, trusted—and with good reason as the issue proved—on the military support of England and France. It was plain enough that Turkey would go to the wall in a struggle with Russia, unless other nations which dreaded the possession of Constantinople by the Czar came, in their own interests, to her help. With the rejection by Russia of the Turkish amendments to the Vienna Note, and the difference of opinion which at once arose between the four mediating Powers as to the policy which it was best under the altered circumstances to pursue, a complete deadlock resulted.

[Sidenote: HOSTILITIES ON THE DANUBE]

Lord John's view of the situation was expressed in a memorandum which he placed before the Cabinet, and in which he came to these conclusions: 'That if Russia will not make peace on fair terms, we must appear in the field as the auxiliaries of Turkey; that if we are to act in conjunction with France as principals in the war, we must act not for the Sultan, but for the general interests of the population of European Turkey. How, and in what way, requires much further consideration, and concert possibly with Austria, certainly with France.' He desired not merely to resist Russian aggression, but also to make it plain to the Porte that we would in no case support it against its Christian subjects. The Cabinet was not prepared to adopt such a policy, and Lord John made no secret of his opinion that Lord Aberdeen's anxiety for peace and generous attitude toward the Czar were, in reality, provoking war. He believed that the Prime Minister's vacillation was disastrous in its influence, and that he ought, therefore, to retire and make way for a leader with a definite policy. The Danube, for the moment, was the great barrier to war, and both Russia and Turkey were afraid to cross it. Lord John believed that energetic measures in Downing Street at this juncture would have forestalled, and indeed prevented, activity of a less peaceful kind on the Danube. Meanwhile, despatches, projects, and proposals passed rapidly between the Great Powers, for never, as was remarked at the time by a prominent statesman, did any subject produce so much writing. Turkey—perhaps still more than Russia—was eager for war. Tumults in favour of it had broken out at Constantinople; and, what was more to the purpose, the finances and internal government of the country were in a state of confusion. Therefore, when the concert of the four Powers had been shattered, the Turks saw a better chance of drawing both England and France into their quarrel. At length, on October 10, the Porte sent an ultimatum to the commander of the Russian troops which had invaded Moldavia and Wallachia, demanding that they should fall back beyond the Pruth within fifteen days. On October 22 the war-ships of England and France passed the Dardanelles in order to protect and defend Turkish territory from any Russian attack. The Czar met what was virtually a declaration of war by asserting that he would neither retire nor act on the aggressive. Ten days after the expiration of the stipulated time, Omar Pacha, the Ottoman commander in Bulgaria, having crossed the Danube, attacked and vanquished the Russians on November 4 at Oltenitza. The Czar at once accepted the challenge, and declared that he considered his pledge not to act on the offensive was no longer binding. The Russian fleet left Sebastopol, and, sailing into the harbour of Sinope, on the southern coast of the Black Sea, destroyed, on November 30, the Turkish squadron anchored in that port, and slew four thousand men.

A significant light is thrown on the crisis in Sir Theodore Martin's 'Life of the Prince Consort,'[32] where it is stated that the Czar addressed an autograph letter to the Queen, 'full of surprise that there should be any misunderstanding between her Majesty's Government and his own as to the affairs of Turkey, and appealing to her Majesty's "good faith" and "wisdom" to decide between them.' This letter, it is added, was at once submitted to Lord Clarendon for his and Lord Aberdeen's opinion. The Queen replied that Russia's interpretation of her treaty obligations in the particular instance in question was, in her Majesty's judgment and in the judgment of those best qualified to advise her, 'not susceptible of the extended meaning' put upon it. The Queen intimated in explicit terms that the demand which the Czar had made was one which the Sultan could hardly concede if he valued his own independence. The letter ended with an admission that the Czar's intentions towards Turkey were 'friendly and disinterested.' Sir Theodore Martin states that this letter, dated November 14, was submitted to Lord Aberdeen and Lord Clarendon, and was by them 'thought excellent.' Scarcely more than a fortnight elapsed when Russia's 'friendly and disinterested' feelings were displayed in her cruel onslaught at Sinope, and the statesmen who had prompted her Majesty's reply received a rude awakening. It became plain in the light of accomplished events that the wisdom which is profitable to direct had deserted her Majesty's chief advisers.

[Sidenote: MAKING HASTE SLOWLY]

Lord Aberdeen always made haste slowly, and when other statesmen had abandoned hope he continued to lay stress on the resources of diplomacy. He admitted that he had long regarded the possibility of war between England and Russia with the 'utmost incredulity;' but even before Sinope his confidence in a peaceful solution of the difficulty was beginning to waver. He distrusted Lord Stratford, and yet he refused to recall him; he talked about the 'indignity' which Omar Pacha had inflicted on the Czar by his summons to evacuate the Principalities, although nothing could justify the presence of the Russian troops in Moldavia and Wallachia, and they had held their ground there for the space of three months. Even Lord Clarendon admitted that the Turks had displayed no lack of patience under the far greater insult of invasion. The 'indignity' of notice to quit was, in fact, inevitable if the Sultan was to preserve a vestige of self-respect. Lord Aberdeen was calmly drafting fresh plans of pacification, requiring the Porte to abstain from hostilities 'during the progress of the negotiations undertaken on its behalf'[33] a fortnight after Turkey had actually sent her ultimatum to Russia; and the battle of Oltenitza was an affair of history before the despatch reached Constantinople. Lord Stanmore is inclined to blame Lord John Russell for giving the Turks a loophole of escape by inserting in the document the qualifying words 'for a reasonable time;' but his argument falls to the ground when it is remembered that this despatch was written on October 24, whilst the Turkish ultimatum had been sent to Russia on October 10. Sinope was a bitter surprise to Lord Aberdeen, and the 'furious passion' which Lord Stanmore declares it aroused in England went far to discredit the Coalition Ministry.

Unfortunately, all through the crisis Lord Aberdeen appears to have attached unmerited weight to the advice of the weak members of his own Cabinet—men who, to borrow a phrase of Lord Palmerston's, were 'inconvenient entities in council,' though hardly conspicuous either in their powers of debate or in their influence in the country. Politicians of the stamp of the Duke of Newcastle, Mr. Sidney Herbert, and Sir James Graham played a great part in Downing Street, whilst for the moment men of superior ability like Palmerston and Russell found their advice unheeded. More than any other man, Sir James Graham, now almost a forgotten statesman, was Lord Aberdeen's trusted colleague, and the wisdom of his advice was by no means always conspicuous; for rashness and timidity were oddly blended in his nature. 'The defeat of the Turks at Sinope upon our element, the sea,' wrote the Prince Consort to Baron Stockmar, 'has made the people furious; it is ascribed to Aberdeen having been bought over by Russia.'[34] The rumour which the Prince mentions about Lord Aberdeen was, of course, absurd, and everyone who knew the lofty personal character of the Prime Minister laughed it at once to scorn. Nevertheless, the fact that the Prince Consort should have thought such a statement worth chronicling is in itself significant; and though no man of brains in the country held such a view, at least two-thirds of the educated opinion of the nation regarded the Prime Minister with increasing disfavour, as a man who had dragged England, through humiliating negotiations, to the verge of war.

[Sidenote: ENGLAND RESENTS SINOPE]

The destruction of the Turkish squadron at Sinope under the shadow of our fleet touched the pride of England to the quick. The nation lost all patience—as the contemptuous cartoons of 'Punch' show—with the endless parleyings of Aberdeen, and a loud and passionate cry for war filled the country. Lord Stanmore thinks that too much was made in the excitement of the 'massacre' of the Turkish sailors, and perhaps he is right. However that may be, the fact remains that the Russians at Sinope continued to storm with shot and shell the Turkish ships when those on board were no longer able to act on the defensive—a naval engagement which cannot be described as distinguished for valour. Perhaps the indignation might not have been so deep and widespread if the English people had not recognised that the Coalition Government had strained concession to the breaking point in the vain attempt to propitiate the Czar. All through the early autumn Lord Palmerston was aware that those in the Cabinet who were jealous of Russia had to reckon with 'private and verbal communications, given in all honesty, but tinctured by the personal bias of the Prime Minister,' to Baron Brunnow, which were doing 'irreparable mischief' at St. Petersburg.[35] The nation did not relish Lord Aberdeen's personal friendship with the Czar, and now that Russia was beginning to show herself in her true colours, prejudice against a Prime Minister who had sought to explain away difficulties was natural, however unreasonable. The English people, moreover, had not forgotten that Russia ruthlessly crippled Poland in 1831, and lent her aid to the subjugation of Hungary in 1849. If the Sultan was the Lord of Misrule to English imagination in 1853, the Czar was the embodiment of despotism, and even less amenable to the modern ideas of liberty and toleration. The Manchester School, on the other hand, had provoked a reaction. The Great Exhibition had set a large section of the community dreaming, not of the millennium, but of Waterloo. Russia was looked upon as a standing menace to England's widening heritage in the East, and neither the logic of Cobden nor the rhetoric of Bright was of the least avail in stemming the torrent of national indignation.

[Sidenote: THE CONCLUSION OF THE WHOLE MATTER]

When the Vienna Note became a dead letter Lord Aberdeen ought either to have adopted a clean-cut policy, which neither Russia nor Turkey could mistake, or else have carried out his twice-repeated purpose of resignation. Everyone admits that from the outset his position was one of great difficulty, but he increased it greatly by his practical refusal to grasp the nettle. He was not ambitious of power, but, on the contrary, longed for his quiet retreat at Haddo. He was on the verge of seventy and was essentially a man of few, but scholarly tastes. There can be no doubt that considerable pressure was put upon him both by the Court and the majority of his colleagues in the Cabinet, and this, with the changed aspect of affairs, and the mistaken sense of duty with regard to them, determined his course. His decision 'not to run away from the Eastern complication,' as Prince Albert worded it, placed both himself and Lord John Russell in somewhat of a false position. If Lord Aberdeen had followed his own inclination there is every likelihood that he would have carried out his arrangement to retire in favour of Lord John. His colleagues were not in the dark in regard to this arrangement when they joined the Ministry, and if not prepared to fall in with the proposal, they ought to have stated their objections at the time. There is some conflict of opinion as to the terms of the arrangement; but even if we take it to be what Lord Aberdeen's own friends represent it—not an absolute but a conditional pledge to retire—Lord Aberdeen was surely bound to ascertain at the outset whether the condition was one that could possibly be fulfilled. If the objection of his colleagues to retain office under Lord John as Prime Minister was insurmountable, then the qualified engagement to retire—if the Government would not be broken up by the process—was worthless, and Lord John was being drawn into the Cabinet by assurances given by the Prime Minister alone, but which he was powerless to fulfil without the co-operation of his colleagues. Lord Aberdeen was therefore determined to remain at his post, because Lord John was unpopular with the Cabinet, and Palmerston with the Court, and because he knew that the accession to power of either of them would mean the adoption of a spirited foreign policy.

FOOTNOTES:

[31] Letters of Sir George Cornewall Lewis, Bart., edited by his brother, Canon Frankland Lewis, p. 270.

[32] Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort, ii. 530, 531.

[33] Lord Stanmore's Earl of Aberdeen, p. 234.

[34] Sir Theodore Martin's Life of the Prince Consort, ii. 534.

[35] Life of Lord Palmerston, by the Hon. Evelyn Ashley, ii. 282.



CHAPTER XI

WAR HINDERS REFORM

1854-1855

A Scheme of Reform—Palmerston's attitude—Lord John sore let and hindered—Lord Stratford's diplomatic triumph—The Duke of Newcastle and the War Office—The dash for Sebastopol—Procrastination and its deadly work—The Alma—Inkerman—The Duke's blunder—Famine and frost in the trenches.

ALL through the autumn of 1854 Lord John Russell was busy with a scheme of Parliamentary reform. The Government stood pledged to bring forward the measure, though a section of the Cabinet, and, notably Lord Palmerston, were opposed to such a course. As leader of the House, Lord John had announced that the question would be introduced to Parliament in the spring, and the Cabinet, therefore, took the subject into consideration when it resumed its meetings in November. A special committee was appointed, and Lord John placed his proposals before it. Every borough with less than three hundred electors was to be disfranchised, and towns with less than five hundred electors were to lose one of their representatives. Seventy seats, he argued, would be gained by this plan, and he suggested that they should be divided between the largest counties and the great towns. He proposed greatly diminishing the qualifications alike in counties and boroughs. He laid stress on the necessity of calling into existence triangular constituencies, in which no elector should have the power to vote for more than two of the three candidates, and wished also to deprive the freemen of their guild qualification. Lord Palmerston had no relish for the subject. His predilections, in fact, leaned in quite the opposite direction. If his manner was genial, his temper was conservative, and he was inclined to smile, if not to scoff, at politicians who met such problems of government with other than a light heart. He was therefore inclined at this juncture to adopt Lord Melbourne's attitude, and to meet Lord John with that statesman's famous remark, 'Why can't you let it alone?'

[Sidenote: PALMERSTON AND REFORM]

Devotion to one idea, declared Goethe, is the condition of all greatness. Lord John was devoted from youth to age to the idea of Parliamentary reform, and in season and out was never inclined to abandon it. Probably Lord Palmerston would have adopted a less hostile attitude if he had been in his proper element at the Foreign Office; but being Home Secretary, he was inclined to kick against a measure which promised to throw into relief his own stationary position on one of the pet subjects of the party of progress. Whilst the Cabinet was still engaged in thrashing the subject out, tidings of the battle of Sinope reached England, and the popular indignation against Russia, which had been gathering all the autumn, burst forth, as has already been stated, into a fierce outcry against the Czar. Two days after the news of Russia's cowardly attack had been confirmed, Palmerston saw his opportunity, and promptly resigned. Doubtless such a step was determined by mixed motives. Objections to Lord John's proposals for Parliamentary reform at best only half explains the position, and behind such repugnance lay hostility to Lord Aberdeen's vacillating policy on the Eastern Question. The nation accepted Lord Palmerston's resignation in a matter-of-fact manner, which probably surprised no one more than himself. The Derbyites, oddly enough, made the most pother about the affair; but a man on the verge of seventy, and especially one like Lord Palmerston with few illusions, is apt to regard the task of forming a new party as a game which is not worth the candle. The truth is, Palmerston, like other clever men before and since, miscalculated his strength, and on Christmas Eve was back again in office. He had received assurances from his colleagues that the Reform proposals were still open to discussion; and, as the Cabinet had taken in his absence a decision on Turkish affairs which was in harmony with the views that he had persistently advocated, he determined to withdraw his resignation.

The new year opened darkly with actual war, and with rumours of it on a far more terrible scale. 'My expectation is,' wrote Sir G. C. Lewis on January 4, 'that before long England and France will be at war with Russia; and as long as war lasts all means of internal improvement must slumber. The Reform Bill must remain on the shelf—if there is war; for a Government about to ask for large supplies and to impose war taxes, cannot propose a measure which is sure to create dispersion and to divide parties.' France, in spite of the action of the Emperor over the question of the Holy Places, had not displayed much interest in the quarrel; but a contemptuous retort which Nicholas made to Napoleon III.'s final letter in the interests of peace put an end to the national indifference. The words 'Russia will prove herself in 1854 what she was in 1812,' cut the national pride to the quick, and the cry on that side of the Channel as on this, was for war with Russia. The Fleets were ordered to enter the Black Sea, and on February 27 England and France sent a joint ultimatum to St. Petersburg, demanding that the Czar's troops should evacuate the Principalities by April 30.

[Sidenote: AN INDIGNANT PROTEST]

The interval of suspense was seized by Lord John to place the Reform proposals of the Government before the House of Commons; but the nation was by this time restless, dissatisfied, and preoccupied, for the blast of the trumpet seemed already in the air. The second reading of the measure was fixed for the middle of March; but the increasing strain of the Eastern Question led Lord John to announce at the beginning of that month that the Government had decided not to bring forward the second reading until the end of April. This announcement led to a personal attack, and one member, whose name may be left in the oblivion which has overtaken it, had the audacity to hint that the leader of the House had never intended to proceed with the measure. Stung into sudden indignation by the taunt, Lord John promptly expressed his disdain of the opinion of a politician who had no claim whatever to speak in the name of Reform, and went on, with a touch of pardonable pride, to refer to his own lifelong association with the cause. When he turned to his opponent with the words, 'Does the honourable gentleman think he has a right to treat me——,' the House backed and buried his protest with its generous cheers. Lord John Russell, in power or out of it, was always jealous for the reputation of the responsible statesmen of the nation, and he did not let this occasion pass without laying emphasis on that point. 'I should be ashamed of myself if I were to prefer a concern for my own personal reputation to that which I understood to be for the interests of my country. But it seems to me that the character of the men who rule this country—whether they be at the moment in office or in opposition—is a matter of the utmost interest to the people of this country, and that it is of paramount importance that full confidence should be reposed in their character. It is, in fact, on the confidence of the people in the character of public men that the security of this country in a great degree depends.'

A few days later it became plain that war was at hand, and a strong feeling prevailed in Parliament that the question of Reform ought to be shelved for a year. Lord John's position was one of great difficulty. He felt himself pledged on the subject, and, though recognising that a great and unexpected emergency had arisen, which altered the whole political outlook, he knew that with Lord Palmerston and others in the Ministry the question was not one of time, but of principle. The sinews of war had to be provided. Mr. Gladstone proposed to double the income tax, and Lord John urged that a period of increased taxation ought to be a period of widened political franchise. He therefore was averse to postponement, unless in a position to assure his Radical following that the Government recognised that it was committed to the question. Lord Aberdeen was only less anxious than Lord John for the adoption of a progressive and enlightened home policy; in fact, his attitude in his closing years on questions like Parliamentary reform was in marked contrast to his rigidly conservative views on foreign policy. He therefore determined to sound the Cabinet advocates of procrastination as to their real feeling about Reform, with the result that he saw clearly that Lord John Russell's fears were not groundless, since Lord Palmerston and Lord Lansdowne bluntly declared that they meant to retire from office if the Government went forward with the Bill.

[Sidenote: 'GOD DEFEND THE RIGHT']

Lord John felt that he could not withdraw the Bill unconditionally, and therefore resignation seemed the only honourable course which was left. After deliberate consideration he could see no other choice in the matter, and, on April 8, relinquished his seat in the Cabinet. The Court, the Prime Minister and his colleagues saw at once the gravity of the position, for the Liberal party were restive enough under Lord Aberdeen, without the withdrawal from his Cabinet of a statesman of the first rank, who was not anxious for peace at any price. Lord John's position in the country at the moment rendered it probable that a quarrel with him would bring about the downfall of the Government. His zeal for Reform won him the respect and support of the great towns, and the determination which he shared with Palmerston to resist the intolerable attitude of the Czar made him popular with the crowd. A recent speech, delivered when Nicholas had recalled his Ambassador from London, had caught, moreover, the sympathies of all classes of the community. 'For my part, if most unexpectedly the Emperor of Russia should recede from his former demands, we shall all rejoice to be spared the pain, the efforts, and the burdens of war. But if peace is no longer consistent with our duty to England, with our duty to Europe, with our duty to the world, we can only endeavour to enter into this contest with a stout heart. May God defend the right, and I, for my part, shall be willing to bear my share of the burden and the responsibility.'

John Leech, in one of his inimitable cartoons in 'Punch,' caught the situation with a flash of insight which almost amounted to genius, and Lord John became the hero of the hour. One verse out of a spirited poem entitled 'God defend the Right,' which appeared in 'Punch' at the time, may be quoted in passing, especially as it shows the patriotic fervour and the personal enthusiasm which Lord John Russell's speech evoked in the country:

'From humble homes and stately domes the cry goes through the air, With the loftiness of challenge, the lowliness of prayer, Honour to him who spoke the words in the Council of the Land, To find faith in old England's heart, force in old England's hand.'

A week before the appearance of these lines, the cartoon in 'Punch' represented Lord Aberdeen, significantly arrayed in Windsor uniform, vainly attempting to hold back the struggling British lion, which sees the Russian bear in the distance, and exclaiming, 'I must let him go.'

Lord John's resignation meant much, perhaps everything, to the Government. Great pressure was put upon him. The Queen and the Cabinet alike urged him to abandon his intention of retirement; whilst Lord Palmerston, with that personal chivalry which was characteristic of him, declared that in a moment of European crisis he could be better spared, and was ready to resign if Lord John insisted upon such terms, as the price for his own continuance in office. Every day the situation abroad was becoming more critical, and Lord John saw that it might imperil greater interests than any which were bound up with the progress of a party question to resist such appeals. He, therefore, on April 11 withdrew his resignation, and received an ovation in the House of Commons when he made it plain that he was willing to thrust personal considerations aside in the interests of his colleagues, and for the welfare of his country. Mr. Edward Miall has described the scene. '"If it should be thought that the course he was taking would damage the cause of Reform"—the noble Lord paused, choked with the violence of his own emotions. Then arose a cheer from both sides of the House, loud and long continued.... Every eye was glistening with sudden moisture, and every heart was softened with genuine sympathy.... The effect was electric. Old prejudices long pent up, grudges, accumulated discontents, uncharitable suspicions, all melted away before that sudden outburst of a troubled heart.'[36]

[Sidenote: THE PLAN OF CAMPAIGN]

Throughout the spring diplomacy was still busy, though it became every week more and more apparent that hostilities were inevitable. Lord Stratford achieved, what Lord Clarendon did not hesitate to term, a 'great diplomatic triumph' when he won consent from the Porte to fresh terms in the interests of peace, which met with the approval, not only of England and France, but also of Austria and Prussia. The Czar began at length to realise the gravity of the situation when Austria moved in February fifty thousand men to the frontier of the territory which Russia had seized. When the Russian troops, a few months later, evacuated the Principalities, Austria and Prussia, whose alliance had been formed in defence of the interests of Germany, were no longer directly concerned in the quarrel. Thus the war which England and France declared at the end of March against Russia was one which they were left to pursue, with the help of Turkey, alone. Lord John Russell urged that it should be short and sharp, and with characteristic promptitude sketched out, with Lord Panmure's help, a plan of campaign. He urged that ten thousand men should at once be raised for the Army, five thousand for the Navy, and that the services of fifteen thousand more be added to the Militia. He laid stress on the importance of securing the active aid of Austria, for he thought that her co-operation might make the difference between a long and a short war. He proposed that Sweden should be drawn into the Alliance, with the view of striking a blow at Russia in the North as well as on her southern frontier. He also proposed that English and French troops should be massed at Constantinople, and submitted a plan of operations for the consideration of the Cabinet.

Lord John knew perfectly well that radical changes were imperative in the administration of the Army. The Secretary for War was, oddly enough, Secretary for the Colonies as well, and there was also a Secretary at War, who controlled the finances at the bidding of the Commander-in-Chief. The Ordnance Department was under one management, the Commissariat under another, whilst the Militia fell within the province of a third, in the shape of the Home Office. Lord John Russell had seen enough of the outcome of divided counsels in the Cabinet, and insisted, in emphatic terms, on the necessity of separating the duties of the War and Colonial Departments, and of giving the Minister who held the former post undisputed control over all branches of the executive.

It was perhaps an undesigned coincidence, but none the less unfortunate, that the statesmen in the Aberdeen Government who were directly concerned with the war were former colleagues of Sir Robert Peel. Lord Aberdeen's repugnance to hostilities with Russia was so notorious that the other Peelites in the Cabinet fell under the suspicion of apathy; and the nation, exasperated at the Czar's bombastic language and high-handed action, was not in the mood to make fine distinctions. The Duke of Newcastle and his friend, Mr. Sidney Herbert, were regarded, perhaps unjustly, as lukewarm about the approaching campaign; but it was upon the former that the brunt of public censure ultimately fell. The Duke was Secretary for War and the Colonies. It was an odd combination of offices which had existed for more than half a century. The tradition is that it had been brought about in order that the Secretary for the Colonies, who at the beginning of the century had comparatively little to do, but who possessed large patronage, might use that patronage on behalf of deserving military men.

[Sidenote: THE DUKE OF NEWCASTLE'S FAILURE]

In the immediate prospect of hostilities, it was felt to be imperative that two posts of such responsibility should not be held by the same Minister; but the Duke was adverse to the proposed change. It was, however, brought about in the early summer, and the Duke was given his choice of the two posts. He decided to relinquish the Colonies, and thus the burden of the approaching conflict fell upon him by his own deliberate act. Sir George Grey was appointed to the vacant office. The Duke of Newcastle's ambition outstripped his ability, and the choice which he made was disastrous both to himself and to the nation. Because some men are born great, they have greatness of another kind thrust upon them; and too often it happens that responsibility makes plain the lack of capacity, which the glamour neither of rank nor of place can long conceal. The Duke of Newcastle was born to greatness—for in the middle of the century the highest rank in the Peerage counted for more in politics than it does to-day—but he certainly did not achieve it as War Minister.

There is no need to relate here the more than twice-told story of the Crimean War. Its incidents have been described by historians and soldiers; and, of late, gallant officers who took part in it have retraced its course and revived its memories. In one sense it is a glorious chapter in the annals of the Queen's reign, and yet there are circumstances connected with it which every Englishman, worthy of the name, would gladly forget. Although the nation did not take up arms with a light heart, its judgment was clouded by passion; and the first great war since Waterloo caught the imagination of the people, especially as Lord Raglan, one of the old Peninsular heroes, was in command of the Army of Invasion. England and France were not satisfied merely to blockade the Black Sea and crush the commerce of Russia. They determined to strike at the heart of the Czar's power in the East, and therefore the Allies made a dash at the great arsenal and fort of Sebastopol. It did not enter into their reckoning that there might be a protracted siege. What they anticipated was a swift march, a sudden attack, and the capture of the stronghold by bombardment. The allied forces—25,000 English soldiers, 23,000 French, and about 5,000 Turks—landed in the Crimea in September, 1854, and stormed the heights of the Alma on the 20th of that month. Then they hesitated, and their chance of reducing Sebastopol that autumn was lost. 'I have been very slow to enter into this war,' said Lord Aberdeen to an alderman at a banquet in the City. 'Yes,' was the brusque retort, 'and you will be equally slow to get out of it.'

[Sidenote: BALACLAVA AND INKERMAN]

Divided counsels prevailed in the camp as well as in the Cabinet. Cholera attacked the troops, and stores began to fail. Prince Menschikoff, defeated at Alma, seized the opportunity which the delay gave him to render the harbour of Sebastopol impassable to hostile ships; and General Todleben brought his skill as an engineer to the task of strengthening by earthworks the fortifications of the Russian stronghold. The Allies made the blunder of marching on Sebastopol from the southern instead of the northern side of the harbour, and this gave time to the enemy to receive strong reinforcements, with the result that 120,000 men were massed behind the Russian fortifications. Meanwhile a rumour that Sebastopol had fallen awakened short-lived rejoicings in England and France. The tidings were contradicted in twenty-four hours, but most people thought, on that exciting 3rd of October, that the war was virtually at an end. The Emperor Napoleon announced the imaginary victory of their comrades in arms to his assembled troops. Even Mr. Gladstone was deceived for the moment, and there is a letter of his in existence to one of the most prominent of his colleagues, full of congratulation at such a result. The chagrin of the nation was great when it learnt that the Russians were not merely holding their own, but were acting on the aggressive; whilst the disappointment was quickened by the lack of vigour displayed by the Cabinet. The Allies fought, on October 25, the glorious yet indecisive battle of Balaclava, which was for ever rendered memorable by the useless but superb charge of the Light Brigade. Less than a fortnight later, on November 5, the Russians renewed the attack, and took the English by surprise. A desperate hand-to-hand struggle against overwhelming odds ensued. Then the French came to the aid of the English troops, and the battle of Inkerman was won.

As the winter approached, the position of the Allies grew perilous, and it seemed likely that the plans of the invaders would miscarry, and the besieging Allies be reduced to the position of the besieged. Before the middle of November winter set in with severity along the shores of the Black Sea, and a hurricane raged, which destroyed the tents of the troops, and wrecked more than a score of ships, which were carrying stores of ammunition and clothing. As the winter advanced, with bleak winds and blinding snow, the shivering, ill-fed soldiers perished in ever-increasing numbers under the twofold attack of privation and pestilence. The Army had been despatched to the Crimea in the summer, and, as no one imagined that the campaign would last beyond the early autumn, the brave fellows in the trenches of Sebastopol were called to confront the sudden descent of winter without the necessary stores. It was then that the War Office awoke slowly to the terrible nature of the crisis. Lord John Russell had made his protest months before against the dilatory action of that department, and, though he knew that personal odium was sure to follow, endeavoured at the eleventh hour to persuade Lord Aberdeen to take decisive action. 'We are in the midst of a great war,' were his words to the Premier on November 17. 'In order to carry on that war with efficiency, either the Prime Minister must be constantly urging, hastening, completing the military preparations, or the Minister of War must be strong enough to control other departments.' He went on to contend that the Secretary of State for War ought to be in the House of Commons, and that he ought, moreover, to be a man who carried weight in that assembly, and who brought to its debates not only vigour of mind but experience of military details. 'There is only one person belonging to the Government,' added Lord John, 'who combines these advantages. My conclusion is that before Parliament meets Lord Palmerston should be entrusted with the seals of the War Department.'

[Sidenote: INCAPACITY IN HIGH PLACES]

This was, of course, an unwelcome proposition to Lord Aberdeen, and he met it with the declaration that no one man was competent to undertake the duties of Secretary of State for War and those of Secretary at War. He considered that the latter appointment should be held in connection with the finances of the Army, and in independence of the Secretary for the War Department. Lord John replied that 'either the Prime Minister must himself be the acting and moving spirit of the whole machine, or else the Secretary for War must have delegated authority to control other departments,' and added, 'neither is the case under the present regime.' Once more, nothing came of the protest, and, when Parliament met on December 12, to indulge in the luxury of dull debates and bitter personalities, the situation remained unchanged, in spite of the growing sense of disaster abroad and incapacity at home. The Duke of Newcastle in the Lords made a lame defence, and his monotonous and inconclusive speech lasted for the space of three hours. 'The House went to sleep after the first half hour,' was the cynical comment of an Opposition peer. As the year ended the indignation in the country against the Duke of Newcastle grew more and more pronounced, and he, in common with Lord Aberdeen, was thought in many quarters to be starving the war. The truth was, the Duke was not strong enough for the position, and if he had gone to the Colonial Office, when that alternative was offered him, his reputation would not now be associated with the lamentable blunders which, rightly or wrongly, are laid to his charge. It is said that he once boasted that he had often kept out of mischief men who, he frankly admitted, were his superiors in ability. However that may be, the Duke of Newcastle ignominiously failed, at the great crisis in his public career, to keep out of mischief men who were his subordinates in position, and, in consequence, to arrest the fatal confusion which the winter campaign made on the military resources of the nation. Lord Hardinge, who on the death of the Duke of Wellington had succeeded to the post of Commander-in-Chief, assured Lord Malmesbury in January 1855 that the Duke of Newcastle had never consulted him on any subject connected with the war. He added, with considerable heat, that not a single despatch had been submitted to him; in fact, he had been left to gather what the War Minister was doing through the published statements in the newspapers.

The Duke of Newcastle was a sensible, well-intentioned man, but allowed himself to be involved in the management of the details of his office, instead of originating a policy and directing the broad course of affairs with vigour and determination. He displayed a degree of industry during the crisis which was praiseworthy in itself, and quite phenomenal in the most exalted branch of the Peerage, but he lacked the power of initiative, and had not sufficient force and decision of character to choose the right men for the emergency.

The Cabinet might falter and the War Office dawdle, the faith of the soldiers in the authorities might be shaken and their hopes of personal succour be eclipsed, but the charity of womanhood failed not to respond to the call of the suffering, or to the demands of self-sacrifice. Florence Nightingale, and the nurses who laboured at her side in the hospital at Scutari not only soothed the dying and nursed the sick and wounded, but thrilled the heart of England by their modest heroism and patient devotion.

Before Parliament met in December, Lord John Russell, in despair of bringing matters to a practical issue, informed his colleagues that, though he was willing to remain in the Cabinet, and to act as Leader of the House during the short session before Christmas, it was his intention to relinquish office at the close of the year. The objection was raised that it was unconstitutional for him to meet Parliament in a responsible position if he had arrived at this fixed but unannounced resolution. He met this expression of opinion by requesting Lord Aberdeen to submit his resignation to the Queen on December 7. The correspondence between Lord Lansdowne and Lord John, and the important memorandum which the latter drew up on December 30, which Mr. Walpole has printed, speak for themselves.[37] It will be seen that Lord John once more insisted that the Secretary of State for the War Department ought immediately to be invested with all the more important functions hitherto exercised by the Secretary at War, and he again laid stress on the necessity in such a crisis that the War Minister should be a member of the House of Commons. He complained that, though he was responsible in the Commons, Lord Aberdeen did not treat him with the confidence which alone could enable a Leader of the House to carry on the business of the Government with satisfaction. He declared that Lord Grey treated Lord Althorp in a different fashion, and that Lord Melbourne, to bring the matter nearer home, had shown greater consideration towards himself. He added that he felt absolved from the duty of defending acts and appointments upon which he had not been consulted.

[Sidenote: LORD LANSDOWNE AS PEACEMAKER]

[Sidenote: A FRANK STATEMENT]

Lord Lansdowne succeeded for the moment in patching up an unsatisfactory peace, but it was becoming every day more and more obvious that the Aberdeen Government was doomed. The memorandum which Lord John drew up, at the suggestion of Lord Lansdowne, describes in pithy and direct terms the privations of the soldiers, and the mortality amongst men and horses, which was directly due to hunger and neglect. He shows that between the end of September and the middle of November there was at least six weeks when all kinds of supplies might have been landed at Balaclava, and he points out that the stores only needed to be carried seven or eight miles to reach the most distant division of the Army. He protested that there had been great mismanagement, and added: 'Soldiers cannot fight unless they are well fed.' He stated that he understood Lord Raglan had written home at the beginning of October to say that, if the Army was to remain on the heights during the winter, huts would be required, since the barren position which they held did not furnish wood to make them. Nearly three months had, however, passed, and winter in its most terrible form had settled on the Crimea, and yet the huts still appeared not to have reached the troops, though the French had done their best to make good the discreditable breakdown of our commissariat. 'There appears,' concludes Lord John, 'a want of concert among the different departments. When the Navy forward supplies, there is no military authority to receive them; when the military wish to unload a ship, they find that the naval authority has already ordered it away. Lord Raglan and Sir Edmund Lyons should be asked to concert between them the mode of remedying this defect. Neither can see with his own eyes to the performance of all the subordinate duties, but they can choose the best men to do it, and arm them with sufficient authority. For on the due performance of these subordinate duties hangs the welfare of the Army. Lord Raglan should also be informed exactly of the amount of reinforcements ordered to the Crimea, and at what time he may expect them. Having furnished him with all the force in men and material which the Government can send him, the Government is entitled to expect from him in return his opinion as to what can be done by the allied armies to restore the strength and efficiency of the armies for the next campaign. Probably the troops first sent over will require four months' rest before they will be able to move against an enemy.' Procrastination was, however, to have its perfect work, and Lord John, chilled and indignant, told Lord Aberdeen on January 3 that nothing could be less satisfactory than the result of the recent Cabinets. 'Unless,' he added, 'you will direct measures, I see no hope for the efficient prosecution of the war;' for by this time it was perfectly useless, he saw, to urge on Lord Aberdeen the claims of Lord Palmerston.

FOOTNOTES:

[36] Life of Edward Miall, M.P., by A. Miall, p. 179.

[37] Life of Lord John Russell, by Spencer Walpole, vol. ii. 232-235.



CHAPTER XII

THE VIENNA DIFFICULTY

1855

Blunders at home and abroad—Roebuck's motion—'General Fevrier turns traitor'—France and the Crimea—Lord John at Vienna—The pride of the nation is touched—Napoleon's visit to Windsor—Lord John's retirement—The fall of Sebastopol—The Treaty of Paris.

PARLIAMENT met on January 23, and the general indignation at once found expression in Mr. Roebuck's motion—the notice of which was cheered by Radicals and Tories alike—to 'inquire into the condition of our Army before Sebastopol, and into the conduct of those Departments of the Government whose duty it has been to minister to the wants of that Army.' Lord John, in view of the blunders at home and abroad, did not see how such a motion was to be resisted, and at once tendered to Lord Aberdeen his resignation. His protests, pointed and energetic though they had been, had met with no practical response. Even the reasonable request that the War Minister should be in the Commons to defend his own department had passed unheeded. Peelites, like Sir James Graham and Mr. Sidney Herbert, might make the best of a bad case, but Lord John felt that he could not honestly defend in Parliament a course of action which he had again and again attacked in the Cabinet. Doubtless it would have been better both for himself and for his colleagues if he had adhered to his earlier intention of resigning; and his dramatic retreat at this juncture unquestionably gave a handle to his adversaries. Though prompted by conscientious motives, sudden flight, in the face of what was, to all intents and purposes, a vote of censure, was a grave mistake. Not unnaturally, such a step was regarded as a bid for personal power at the expense of his colleagues. It certainly placed the Cabinet in a most embarrassing position, and it is easy to understand the irritation which it awakened. In fact, it led those who were determined to put the worst possible construction on Lord John's action to hint that he wished to rid himself of responsibility and to stand clear of his colleagues, so that when the nation grew tired of the war he might return to office and make peace. Nothing could well have been further from the truth.

[Sidenote: ROEBUCK'S MOTION]

Lord John's retirement was certainly inopportune; but it is almost needless to add—now that it is possible to review his whole career, as well as all the circumstances which marked this crisis in it—that he was not actuated by a self-seeking spirit. Looking back in after life, Lord John frankly admitted that he had committed an error in resigning office under Lord Aberdeen at the time and in the manner in which he did it. He qualified this confession, however, by declaring that he had committed a much greater error in agreeing to serve under Lord Aberdeen as Prime Minister: 'I had served under Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne before I became Prime Minister, and I served under Lord Palmerston after I had been Prime Minister. In no one of these cases did I find any difficulty in allying subordination with due counsel and co-operation. But, as it is proverbially said, "Where there is a will there is a way," so in political affairs the converse is true, "Where there is no will there is no way."' He explained his position in a personal statement in the House of Commons on the night of Mr. Roebuck's motion. 'I had to consider whether I could fairly and honestly say, "It is true that evils have arisen. It is true that the brave men who fought at the Alma, at Inkerman, and at Balaclava are perishing, many of them from neglect; it is true that the heart of the whole of England throbs with anxiety and sympathy on this subject; but I can tell you that such arrangements have been made—that a man of such vigour and efficiency has taken the conduct of the War Department, with such a consolidation of offices as to enable him to have the entire control of the whole of the War Offices—so that any supply may be immediately furnished, and any abuse instantly remedied." I felt I could not honestly make such a declaration; I therefore felt that I could come only to one conclusion, and that as I could not resist inquiry—by giving the only assurances which I thought sufficient to prevent it—my duty was not to remain any longer a member of the Government.' In the course of a powerful speech Lord John added that he would always look back with pride on his association with many measures of the Aberdeen Government, and more particularly with the great financial scheme which Mr. Gladstone brought forward in 1853.

[Sidenote: OPEN CONFESSION]

He refused to admit that the Whigs were an exclusive party, and he thought that such an idea was refuted by the fact that they had consented to serve in a Coalition Government. 'I believe that opinion to have been unjust, and I think that the Whig party during the last two years have fully justified the opinion I entertained. I will venture to say that no set of men ever behaved with greater honour or with more disinterested patriotism than those who have supported the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen. It is my pride, and it will ever be my pride to the last day of my life, to have belonged to a party which, as I consider, upholds the true principles of freedom; and it will ever be my constant endeavour to preserve the principles and to tread in the paths which the Whig party have laid down for the guidance of their conduct.' Lord John made no attempt to disguise the gravity of the crisis, and the following admission might almost be said to have sealed the fate of the Ministry: 'Sir, I must say that there is something, with all the official knowledge to which I have had access, that to me is inexplicable in the state of our army. If I had been told, as a reason against the expedition to the Crimea last year, that your troops would be seven miles from the sea, and that—at that seven miles' distance—they would be in want of food, of clothing, and of shelter to such a degree that they would perish at the rate of from ninety to a hundred a day, I should have considered such a prediction as utterly preposterous, and such a picture of the expedition as entirely fanciful and absurd. We are all, however, forced to confess the notoriety of that melancholy state of things.' Three days later, after a protracted and heated debate, Mr. Roebuck's motion was carried in a House of 453 members by the sweeping majority of 157. 'The division was curious,' wrote Greville. 'Some seventy or eighty Whigs, ordinary supporters of Government, voted against them, and all the Tories except about six or seven.' There was no mistaking the mandate either of Parliament or of the people. Lord Aberdeen on the following day went down to Windsor and laid his resignation before the Queen, and in this sorry fashion the Coalition Government ignominiously collapsed, with hardly an expression of regret and scarcely a claim to remembrance.

The Queen's choice fell upon Lord Derby, but his efforts to form an Administration proved unavailing. Lord Lansdowne was next summoned, and he suggested that Lord John Russell should be sent for, but in his case, also, sufficient promises of support were not forthcoming. In the end Her Majesty acquiesced in the strongly-expressed wish of the nation, and Lord Palmerston was called to power on February 5. For the moment Lord John was out of office, and Lord Panmure took the place of the Duke of Newcastle as War Minister, but all the other members of the defeated Administration, except, of course, Lord Aberdeen, entered the new Cabinet. Lord Palmerston knew the feeling of the country, and was not afraid to face it, and, therefore, determined to accept Mr. Roebuck's proposals for a searching investigation of the circumstances which had attended the conduct of the war. Loyalty to their late chief, as well as to their former colleague, the Duke of Newcastle, led Sir James Graham, Mr. Sidney Herbert, Mr. Gladstone, and other Peelites to resign. Lord John, urged by Lord Palmerston, became Colonial Secretary. Palmerston shared Lord Clarendon's view that no Government calling itself Liberal had a chance of standing without Lord John. Sir G. C. Lewis succeeded Mr. Gladstone as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Sir Charles Wood took Sir James Graham's vacant place at the Admiralty.

[Sidenote: 'GENERAL FEVRIER TURNS TRAITOR']

Changes of a more momentous character quickly followed. Early in the winter, when tidings of the sufferings of the Allies reached St. Petersburg, the Emperor Nicholas declared, with grim humour, that there were two generals who were about to fight for him, 'Janvier et Fevrier;' but the opening month of the year brought terrible privations to the Russian reinforcements as they struggled painfully along the rough winter roads on the long march to the Crimea. The Czar lost a quarter of a million of men before the war ended, and a vast number of them fell before the cold or the pestilence. Omar Pasha defeated the Russian troops at Eupatoria in the middle of February. The fact that his troops had been repulsed by the hated Turks touched the pride of Nicholas to the quick, and is believed to have brought on the fatal illness which seized him a few days later. On February 27, just after the Emperor had left the parade-ground on which he had been reviewing his troops, he was struck down by paralysis, and, after lingering in a hopeless condition for a day or two, died a baffled and disappointed man. The irony of the situation was reflected with sombre and dramatic realism in a political cartoon which appeared in 'Punch.' It represented a skeleton in armour, laying an icy hand, amid the falling snow, on the prostrate Czar's heart. The picture—one of the most powerful that has ever appeared, even in this remarkable mirror of the times—was entitled, 'General Fevrier turned Traitor,' and underneath was the dead Emperor's cruel boast, 'Russia has two generals on whom she can confide—Generals Janvier and Fevrier.' Prior to the resignation of the Peelites the second Congress of Vienna assembled, and Lord John Russell attended it as a plenipotentiary for England; and France, Austria, Turkey, and Russia were also represented. The 'four points' which formed the basis of the negotiations were that Russia should abandon all control over Moldavia, Wallachia, and Servia; that the new Czar, Alexander II., should surrender his claim to command the entrance of the Danube; that all treaties should be annulled which gave Russia supremacy in the Black Sea; and that she should dismiss her pretensions to an exclusive right to protect in her own fashion the Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Nicholas, though at one time favourable to this scheme as a basis of peace, eventually fell back on the assertion that he would not consent to any limitation of his naval power in the Black Sea. Though the parleyings at Vienna after his death were protracted, the old difficulty asserted itself again, with the result that the second Congress proved, as spring gave way to summer, as futile as the first.

Although subjects which vitally affected the Turkish Empire were under consideration, the Turkish Ambassador at Vienna had received anything but explicit directions, and Lord John was forced to the conclusion that the negotiations were not regarded as serious at Constantinople. Indeed, he had, in Mr. Spencer Walpole's words, 'reason to suspect that the absence of a properly credited Turk was not due to the dilatory character of the Porte alone but to the perverse action of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe.'[38] Lord Clarendon did not hesitate to declare that Lord Stratford was inclined to thwart any business which was not carried on in Constantinople, and the English Ambassador kept neither Lord John in Vienna nor the Cabinet in Downing Street acquainted with the views of the Porte. Lord John declared that the Turkish representative at Vienna, from whom he expected information about the affairs of his own country, was 'by nature incompetent, and by instruction silent.' Two schemes, in regard to the point which was chiefly in dispute, were before the Congress; they are best stated in Lord John's own words: 'One, called limitation, proposed that only four ships of the line should be maintained in the Black Sea by Russia, and two each by the allies of Turkey. The other mode, proposed by M. Drouyn de Lhuys, contemplated a much further reduction of force—namely, to eight or ten light vessels, intended solely to protect commerce from pirates and perform the police of the coast.' Although a great part of the Russian fleet was at the bottom of the sea, and the rest of it hemmed in in the harbour of Sebastopol, Prince Gortschakoff announced, with the air of a man who was master of the situation, that the Czar entirely refused to limit his power in the Euxine.

[Sidenote: COUNT BUOL'S COMPROMISE]

At this juncture Count Buol proposed a compromise, to the effect that Russia should maintain in the Black Sea a naval force not greater than that which she had had at her disposal there before the outbreak of the war; that any attempt to evade this limitation should be interpreted as a casus belli, by France, England, and Austria, which were to form a triple treaty of alliance to defend the integrity and independence of Turkey in case of aggression. Lord Palmerston believed, to borrow his own phrase, that Austria was playing a treacherous game, but that was not the opinion at the moment either of Lord John Russell or of M. Drouyn de Lhuys. They appear to have thought that the league of Austria with England and France to resist aggression upon Turkey would prove a sufficient check on Russian ambition, and did not lay stress enough on the objections, which at once suggested themselves both in London and Paris. The Prince Consort put the case against Count Buol's scheme in a nutshell: 'The proposal of Austria to engage to make war when the Russian armaments should appear to have become excessive is of no kind of value to the belligerents, who do not wish to establish a case for which to make war hereafter, but to obtain a security upon which they can conclude peace now.' Lord John Russell, in a confidential interview with Count Buol, declared that he was prepared to recommend the English Cabinet to accept the Austrian proposals. It seemed to him that, if Russia was willing to accept the compromise and to abandon the attitude which had led to the war, the presence of the Allies in the Crimea was scarcely justifiable. M. Drouyn de Lhuys took the same view, and both plenipotentiaries hastened back to urge acquiescence in proposals which seemed to promise the termination of a war in which, with little result, blood and treasure had already been lavishly expended.

Lord Palmerston and Lord Clarendon, backed by popular sentiment, refused to see in Russia's stubborn demand about her fleet in the Black Sea other than a perpetual menace to Turkey. They argued that England had made too heavy a sacrifice to patch up in this fashion an inglorious and doubtful peace. The attitude of Napoleon III. did more than anything else to confirm this decision. The war in the Crimea had never been as popular in France as it was in England. The throne which Napoleon had seized could only be kept by military success, and there is no doubt whatever that personal ambition, and the prestige of a campaign, with England for a companion-in-arms, determined the despatch of French troops to the Crimea. On his return, Lord John at once saw the difficulty in which his colleagues were landed. The internal tranquility of France was imperilled if the siege of Sebastopol was abandoned. 'The Emperor of the French,' he wrote, 'had been to us the most faithful ally who had ever wielded the sceptre or ruled the destinies of France. Was it possible for the English Government to leave the Emperor to fight unaided the battle of Europe, or to force him to join us in a peace which would have sunk his reputation with his army and his people?' He added, that this consideration seemed to him so weighty that he ceased to urge on Lord Palmerston the acceptance of the Austrian terms, and Lord Clarendon therefore sent a reply in which Count Buol's proposals were rejected by the Cabinet. Lord Palmerston laid great stress on Lord John's presence in his ministry, and Mr. Walpole has shown that the latter only consented to withdraw his resignation after not merely an urgent, but a thrice-repeated personal request from the Premier.

[Sidenote: PRESSURE FROM PALMERSTON]

He ought unquestionably, at all hazards to Lord Palmerston's Government, to have refused to remain a member of it when his colleagues intimated that they were not in a position to accept his view of the situation without giving mortal offence to the Emperor of the French. Under the circumstances, Lord Palmerston ought not to have put the pressure on Lord John. The latter stayed in order to shield the Government from overthrow by a combined Radical and Tory attack at a moment when Palmerston was compelled to study the susceptibilities of France and Napoleon III.'s fears concerning his throne. There is a published letter, written by the Prince Consort at this juncture to his brother the Duke of Saxe-Coburg, which throws light on the situation. The Prince hints that the prospects of the Allies in the Crimea had become more hopeful, just as diplomatic affairs at Vienna had taken an awkward turn. He states that in General Pelissier the French 'have at last a leader who is determined and enterprising, and who will once more raise the spirit of the army, which has sunk through Canrobert's mildness.' He adds that the English troops 'are again thirty thousand men under arms, and their spirit is excellent. At home, however, Gladstone and the Peelites are taking up the cry for peace, and declaring themselves against all further continuation of the war; whilst Lord Derby and the Protectionists are all for making common cause with Layard and others, in order to overthrow Palmerston's Ministry.' Disraeli, significantly adds the Prince, has been 'chiefly endeavouring to injure' Lord John Russell.

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