We resume the narrative of events which led to the Russian war, as stated by Mr Kinglake in his first volume. In our last notice the rival diplomatists were left in an attitude of hostility which portended immediate rupture.
The representatives of the three great Powers, at Lord Stratford’s instance, made an effort through the Austrian Envoy to avert the danger by representations to Prince Mentschikoff. He expressed, indeed, his readiness to accept a Note instead of a Treaty or Convention, but even that concession was refused by Raschid Pasha after an interview with Lord Stratford. The representatives of the great Powers, however, resolved not to commit themselves to that refusal, for in their memorandum on the course taken by the Sultan’s Government they declared “they did not consider themselves authorized to pronounce an opinion upon it.” In the actual text of the Russian ultimatum submitted to the Divan it is very difficult to detect the supposed Protectorate which the eagle-eye of Lord Stratford found underlying these words, — “Le culte orthodoxe d’Orient, son clergé, ses églises, et ses possessions, ainsi que ses établissements réligieux, jouiront dans l’avenir sans aucune atteinte — sous l’égide de sa Majesté le Sultan — des privilèges et immunités qui leur sont assurés ab antiquo, ou qui leur ont été accordés à différentes reprises par la favour Impériale, et dans un principe de haute équité participeront aux avantages accordés aux autres rites Chrétiens, ainsi qu’aux légations étrangères accréditées près la Sublime Porte par convention ou par disposition particulière.” At all events the ultimatum was rejected, to the intense delight of the Ulema, of the anti-Christian party in Turkey, and of the fanatics generally, who saw that at least two great nations of infidels were prepared to stand by the Sublime Porte in resisting any attack of its ancient adversary. The Turks were triumphant. “And what said the Christians of the East to this?” might have asked my uncle Toby. And no doubt Mr Kinglake would give him a suitable answer. Lord Stratford had beaten the Russian, and the Russian departed after a residence of 11 weeks, of which 45 days had been passed in presence of the Eltchi. In all this time M de la Cour and the representatives of Austria and Prussia at Constantinople, who, no doubt, imagined they were doing a great deal, and wrote at least as many despatches as Lord Stratford, did, according to this history, nothing at all. The “ferocious Christianity” of the Czar was foiled, and “the Mahometan Prince” — that is, Abdul Mejdid, “seemed to represent the gentle precepts of the Gospel,” rather than the autocrat. The moral and intellectual nature of Nicholas was so affected by the influence of “ecclesiastical feelings” that he “ceased to be polite or even perhaps to be honest,” and was governed by a “tendency to act in a spirit of barbaric cunning” which must have been very distressing to the diplomatists of Therapia. Mr Kinglake sums up the result of the negotiations in this — that without the solemnity of a Treaty, without the knowledge of Parliament, without the sanction of the Prime Minister, Lord Stratford placed on England the responsibility of a defensive alliance with the Sultan against the Czar. Lord Aberdeen was led by his Eltchi into such a position, notwithstanding his inevitable hour and a half every day at the Foreign-office, that he could not recede with honour from the engagements which had been contracted by his Government under the form of giving advice. Parliament was not to blame, if blame there was, because nothing was known to it till the facts had been accomplished. Mr Kinglake, after he has taken the most elaborate and most thoroughly successful pains to persuade his readers that Lord Stratford was the be-all and end-all of the Turkish question, complains that the Czar and Count Nesselrode were of the same opinion as himself, and that they attributed all that happened to the unbending, implacable Eltchi. The Czar now resolved to seize the Principalities as a material guarantee, just as the garotter ‘puts on the hug’ as a material guarantee for getting the garottee’s purse and valuables. Unfortunately, it so happened when he came to that resolve there was only one Minister of the great Powers who represented anything at Constantinople, and France, Austria, and Prussia were represented at St Petersburg by mere courtiers of the Czar. One man, Sir Hamilton Seymour, and he alone, represented the judgment of the four Powers, and warned the Emperor Nicholas against the dangers of such an occupation.
The Czar, we are told, when Peace orators spoke, mistook the applause of the multitude for an expression of adhesion to peace doctrines, whereas it was the pure, racy, strenuous English and the animating ferocity of the speaker, blended with rough attacks on public men, which the crowd applauded. He did not know that the ‘hurrah’ of a Temperance meeting or of a Young Men’s Christian Society in a northern people’s land has in it a sound of conflict, forbidding peace and rest. Lord Aberdeen too, who abhorred war, held dangerously peaceful language till Baron Brunnow left London, and controlled and cancelled the firmer and wiser words of Lord Clarendon to the Russian envoy. When the news of the invasion of the Principalities became known, the great Powers at once sent round promises of mutual support, and a collective note was resolved on, pressing the Czar to put his claims in a shape in which they would be conformable to the rights of the Sultan. Everything, Mr Kinglake boldly declares, was working harmoniously in the interests of peace, when there suddenly supervened a policy which discarded the principles of peaceful intervention applied by all the Powers conjointly. A threatening alliance was raised in its stead, powerful enough to wage a bloody and successful war, but without that more wholesome strength in which, it appears, Mr Kinglake takes delight, and which can enforce justice without recourse to arms.
And now comes a very remarkable part of this very remarkable book. For some purpose which we cannot divine, with motives quite above or below conjecture, Mr Kinglake stops short in his interesting narrative of the events of July 1853. He suddenly considers it “necessary to glance at the operations of a small knot of middle-aged men, who, in the winter of 1851, were pushing their fortunes in Paris.” If the book were a great epic we could understand the episodical pieces which recorded the bravery of some Diomed or the baseness of a Thersites. But it is a history of the transactions which led to the Russian War. It is, indeed, impossible to read this interpolation without admiration for the power of the writer. Erinnys and all the Furies accompany him through every page, the lash and the flaying-knife, the scorpion’s sting, the angry tooth, the nail, irony, sarcasm, invective are used with unsparing, indiscriminating strength. But it strikes us that this exhibition of power and poetical rage belongs to another drama, or that it at one time was intended to appear alone, and that it has been incorporated here by a great mistake. If anything is to be deduced from the splendid fragment, it is this — that the Emperor Louis Napoleon, feeling his want of status after the coup d’état in 1851, prepared the war of 1854 as a means of stabilitating his throne, and of humiliating the Czar, who refused to fraternize with his ill-sprung Power. To that end he cajoled England, hoodwinked Ministers, statesmen, Parliament, and people, moulded them like wax to his purpose, and finally succeeded in securing for himself and his position the ineffably great support which the friendship of Queen Victoria and the entente cordiale between England and his Government must inevitably confer. And what manner of man was he who did all this — who overcame the cold jealousy of a proud and ancient race — who broke in on the guarded friendship of our gravest diplomatists — who wrapped Great Britain in the folds of an entangling alliance — who alienated our rulers from their natural allies and led them far away from safe traditional paths? Mr Kinglake describes him. And, if the description be true, surely two great nations were never so befooled, never before has Fortune been so blind, never has France been so degraded, never has England been such a miserable dupe, and never have our great statesmen in council exhibited such unmitigated foolishness. A man of blank, wooden looks, of opaque features, with the bearing and countenance of a weaver oppressed by long hours of monotonous indoor work, which makes the body stoop and keeps the eyes downcast, turning a greenish hue in moments of danger, with a sluggish flow of ideas, of dull intellect, passing the hours of a studious youth and the prime of a thoughtful manhood in contriving how to apply stratagem to the science of jurisprudence — with just enough of daring to lead him into dangerous enterprises, and without the nerve to behave well in or get well out of them — nay, it is more than insinuated by Mr Kinglake, a coward in the presence of an enemy — such is the man who, he says, succeeded in thoroughly conquering the prejudices and allaying the antipathies of the wisest and best men of England after the perpetration of the most atrocious and fiendish crimes. This is not our language; it is but a most meagre reflex of the tremendous sentences in which Mr Kinglake has exacted vengeance for some wrong done to his country, to humanity — or to himself. What the Emperor Napoleon III did in France is not so much to us as what, according to Mr Kinglake, one so ill gifted did with us in England. It may tend to raise suspicions respecting the impartiality of our historian’s estimate of the character of the man who now fills such a place in the eye of Europe — and who will probably go down to posterity without Mr Kinglake’s stigma — that the satirist does not, in his sketch of the last days of the Republic of 1848, say one word of the evils which afflicted France and appalled society and property. He is, indeed, obliged to confess that the army, the great body of the working men, the clergy, and some of the noblest intellects in France accepted the coup d’état with thankfulness, as a measure necessary to save the country from socialism and anarchy. But they are not France. They do not represent Mr Kinglake’s France, at least. It is not our intention to be the apologists of the Emperor Napoleon. We did not disguise our horror of the scenes which occurred in Paris after the 2d of December. We do not accept success as a divinity. Our honest sympathies cannot be with a rule which interferes with free speech and crushes the liberty of the press. But the Emperor has proved himself to be no vulgar, incapable impostor; to the outward eye, and before the world, he fills well the Imperial robes he has won. Surely it is a libel to say that the man who stood unmoved amid the bombs of the assassin is a poltroon, as it is unworthy of Mr Kinglake to measure the quality of the Emperor’s daring in the battle-field by the losses inflicted on his escort in the crowning victory of Solferino?
It is especially unworthy of Mr Kinglake to do this, because he represents Lord Raglan and his Staff at the Alma as being exposed to a fire — nay, to a cannonade, a bombardment — deliberate, well aimed, long continued, so powerful that, had it been brought to bear, he declares, on the English line, “it might have maimed it in a vital part of the field!” For three pages we have an elaborate description of the storm of shot and shell which was directed, as we are assured, from “a great number of guns” against the Head-quarters Staff, conspicuous by the white flowing plumes of the officers. Shells, “sometimes in a thick flight, exploding nearly at the same moment, or briskly, one after another, right and left, and all around,” followed the round shot, and whenever Lord Raglan and his Staff were obliged to cross the road “they rode at it briskly as at a leap, and spanned it with one or two strides, thus leaving the prepared storm of shells to burst a little behind them.” Of course the slaughter among the Staff was dreadful in such a fiery furnace of battle, and the wonder is how a man escaped from an “effort of the Russian artillery against Lord Raglan and the group surrounding him, which lasted a long time, and was carried on upon a scale better proportioned to the destruction of a whole division.” But Providence protected them, as it guarded the Emperor at Solferino. Not a man of the Staff was scratched, nor had one of them a hair of his head singed. As an introduction to the history of the coup d’état, after the metaphysical and personal sketches of the young Louis Napoleon and his studies, all written in the same spirit, the historian of the Invasion of the Crimea “considers it necessary” to give full and detailed accounts of the Prince’s attempts to overthrow the Government at Boulogne and Strasbourg, and reiterates his charge of something worse than want of personal courage. Mr Kinglake drags into this narrative, in the rudest manner an English gentleman can do it in words, the associates, the Ministers, and agents in the coup d’état, and introduces us with scant courtesy to “Fialin dit Persigny,” Fleury, Morny, Maupas, Magnan, and St Arnaud, whom Mr Kinglake seems to think it clever to call “formerly Le Roy” all through this part of his book. To none of them does he deign even an ‘M,’ and what he says of them had better be left unrepeated here. This chapter, no doubt, was written long ago, and has been since retouched and polished again and again, till it is as sharp as the serpent’s tooth. One hundred and thirteen pages, or nearly one fourth of the whole of the first volume, which purports to be an account of the “transactions which brought on the war of 1854-5,” are occupied in this ruthless onslaught on the Emperor of the French, his early associates, and the men of the 2d of December and 4th of December 1851.
At the close of this long chapter, wherein — every line abounding — are fullest traces of a labour of love in his work, he attempts to justify the digression by the remark that the policy of France was moulded by the personal exigencies of its new ruler and his friends. But he fails entirely to show that any change took place after the coup d’état in the general principles on which France had uniformly acted with respect to the Latin Church and the Eastern question. Although in 1853 the army, the clergy, the working classes — “the people” — of France were profoundly content, Mr Kinglake says that at this time the tranquillity of Europe “portended gaol and ill-usage and death” to the Emperor Napoleon! So he labours to prove that the language, which he admits to be temperate, just, and moderate, of the Emperor in the Courts of Europe, was but a cloak to his design to engage England in naval movements tending to provoke war. But, when the Turks in a panic flew to the representatives of England and France, the latter ordered their respective fleets to repair to the Levant. The English Admiral did not come. The French Admiral obeyed the summons. If we are to read history by the light of events which have occurred, and adopt Mr Kinglake’s summary (page 344) of the Emperor’s acts, there might be some reason for maintaining that he showed greater foresight than his ally, and that the adoption of his plans might have prevented the naval disaster at Sinope, which attached a certain disgrace to our arms and rendered war inevitable. Having in the first place accused the Emperor of a fixed design to create a war to cover his own necessities, Mr Kinglake is disingenuous enough to account for his support of the pacificatory Vienna Note by suggesting that if a Note “which had originated in Paris” became the basis of a settlement, he would have laid claim to the glory of having pacified Europe — or that he was “obeying the doubleness of mind which made him always do acts clashing one with another!” but the hopes of peace were vain, on whatever grounds they rested, unless Lord Stratford approved them.
“The Governments of all the four Powers, and their representatives assembled at Vienna, fondly imagined that they could settle the dispute and restore tranquillity to Europe without consulting Lord Stratford de Redcliffe. They framed and despatched the Note without learning what his opinion of it was, and it is probable that a knowledge of this singular omission may have conduced to make the Czar accept the award of the mediating Powers, by tempting him with the delight of seeing Lord Stratford overruled. But, on the other hand, the one man who was judge of what ought or ought not to be conceded by the Turks was Lord Stratford, and it is plain that any statesmen who forgot him in their reckoning must have been imperfect in their notion of political dynamics. It would be wrong to suppose that a sound judgment by the four Powers would be liable to be overturned by Lord Stratford from any mere feeling of neglect. He was too proud, as well as too honest, to be capable of such a littleness. What was to be apprehended was that, until it was ratified by the English Ambassador at the Porte, the decision of a number of men in Vienna, and Paris, and London, and Berlin might turn out to be really erroneous, or might seem to be so in the eyes of one who was profoundly versed in the subject; and no man had a right to make sure that, even at the instance of all Europe, this strong-willed Englishman would consent to use his vast personal ascendancy as a means of forcing upon the Turks a surrender which he held to be dangerous.”
The account of what followed is rather a caution to Governments in general not to put necessary men in places out of sight and beyond control; for the Turks, who knew how to read the meaning of Lord Stratford’s brow and the light which kindled beneath, would know that while he was apparently urging the adoption of the Note, in accordance with the letter of his instructions, his thought about the poor home Governments was “little else than an angry quos ego.” And so Turkey and Lord Stratford rejected the Vienna Note, and were in the right! — the four great Powers and Russia were in the wrong, and Rashid Pasha and the servant of the English Crown were ready to fight against the advice of their allies and of England, France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia! And as the Czar would not withdraw his troops from the Principality, the Sultan, after a notice of 15 days, on the 23d of October, declared war against him — wonderful to relate, not owing to some subtle contrivance of the Emperor Napoleon — and gratified the spirit of self-devotion which, according to Lord Stratford, bade “fair to give an extraordinary impulse to any military enterprise which might be undertaken against Russia by the Turkish Government.” The allied fleets entered the Dardanelles the day before, in consequence of instructions from home which Mr Kinglake disapproves, and the Czar also sent orders to the Russian fleet to commence active operations against the Turks. The day of Sinope came in due course, and Mr Kinglake is driven to confess, —
“The power and habit of concentrating all energy in a single channel of action was one of the qualities which gave force and grandeur to Lord Stratford in the field of diplomacy; but it also seems to have had the effect of preventing him from casting a glance beyond the range of his profession, and it is curious that, when the exigencies of the time called upon him to perform duties not commonly falling within the sphere of a diplomatist, his mind refused to act.”
Nothing but actual intelligence of the disaster was cogent enough to lift an anchor! And Mr Kinglake is fain to say that here the great Eltchi was at fault, and that he was readier at beating a Russian diplomatist than in sending a British fleet to save the Turks from a Muscovite admiral. The anger which this news caused in England was diverted from official persons and brought to bear on the Czar, and the French Government felt the bitterness of a disaster endured, as it were, under the guns of the allied fleets. The Emperor Napoleon proposed immediately to our Government to give Russia notice that her ships in the Euxine should be requested or constrained to return to Sebastopol. Both fleets were ordered to go into the Black Sea, and Mr Kinglake tells us that Lord Palmerston resigned because no definite instructions were given to the Admiral excepting a warning not to let Sinope happen again. We believe that Lord Palmerston’s colleagues have heard of this resignation for the first time since these volumes appeared. In fact, the resignation is a mere figment of the author’s manufacture. Mr Kinglake says the Emperor once more approached the Government of the Queen with his subtle and dangerous counsels. Would it not have been far more subtle and dangerous to have sent our fleets on roving commissions to do nothing in the Euxine? But “the contriver,” it appears, was always fortunate. Lord Palmerston was his dupe, and so were Lord Aberdeen and Mr Gladstone. By some potent agency, the nature of which is not vouchsafed to us to know, “the harsh and insulting scheme of action was forced on the acceptance of Lord Aberdeen’s Cabinet by the Emperor of the French.” (P. 386.) On the 4th of January the allied fleets passed up the Bosphorus to order the Russian squadron to remain in Sebastopol, and on the 21st of February diplomatic relations between Russia and the Courts of London and Paris were brought to a close.
The autograph letter which Napoleon III, on the 20th of January, addressed to the Czar in the interests of peace is attributed by the author to the theory that “when Europe was quiet the Emperor was obliged to become its disturber for his life’s sake.” But “the war was to be,” and all the delays which occurred seemed but to increase the certainty of its advent in greater force and fury. The account of the transactions which followed this stage of the diplomatic controversies, and of the attempts to keep the peace, is given at great length and with much minuteness, and brings the first volume to a close.
It would not be difficult to detect very grave inconsistencies in this carefully considered work, but it is not our object to do so. If it be true that “a huge obstacle to the maintenance of peace in Europe was raised up by the temper of the English people,” that “the English people desired war,” there is little need of painting the Emperor as the evil one who led them into it. This desire Mr Kinglake attributes to the nature of the people and the reaction which had set in against the teachers who “deliberately inculcated the habit of setting comfort against honour, which historians call ‘corruption.’” Their doctrines were fit for charity children, but “no mother would let them be taught to her own boy.” The country, too, imagined that as Lord Aberdeen’s face was steadfastly turned towards peace, he was doing all he could to maintain it, while he was in reality being carried — drifting — towards war. Other great English politicians and statesmen were responsible for the popular delusions. There was Mr Gladstone at the Exchequer, whose uncommon liveliness of conscience was a guarantee to the people that he would never consent to the smallest departure from right:—
“He had once imagined it to be his duty to quit a Government, and to burst through strong ties of friendship and gratitude, by reason of a thin shade of difference on the subject of white or brown sugar. It was believed that if he were to commit even a little sin, or to imagine an evil thought, he would instantly arraign himself before the dread tribunal which awaited him in his own bosom; and that, his intellect being subtle and microscopic and delighting in casuistry and exaggeration, he would be likely to give his soul a very harsh trial, and treat himself as a great criminal for faults too minute to be visible to the naked eyes of laymen. His friends lived in dread of his virtues as tending to make him whimsical and unstable, and the practical politicians, conceiving that he was not to be depended upon for party purposes, and was bent upon none but lofty objects, used to look upon him as dangerous — used to call him behind his back a good man — a good man in the worse sense of the term.”
The reasoning by which Mr Kinglake shows that Mr Cobden and Mr Bright were unable to do anything in the interests of peace at the time is very ingenious. Always inveighing against war in general, they had no influence in opposing any particular war. “He who altogether abjures the juice of the grape cannot usefully criticize the vintage of any particular year;” and the man who is the steady enemy of war will never be regarded as a sound judge of the question whether any one war in particular is wicked or righteous. In fact, the Peace party is only powerful when no one wants to fight. The conclusion deducible from Mr Kinglake’s account is, that Austria might have prevented the war by pressing the Czar, whose army of occupation was at her mercy. She suffered the Russian, whom she could have expelled with ease, to remain for months in the Provinces, wearying out the patience of the contracting parties, and inspiring Russia with who knows what hopes. At last the armies of England and France moved up towards the scene of action, and then and at last, when months had been wasted, and thousands of lives and millions of money sacrificed, Austria sent a summons to the Russians to leave. And the Czar retired, not because of the Austrians, for he was pretty sure about them, but because of the action of England and France, and the utter failure of his troops to force the Turkish positions. Instinct then pointed out that the best way of securing the independence of Turkey was to destroy the means of overturning it, and Austria and Prussia at once refused to join in that necessary act. This Mr Kinglake calls the separation of England and France from the common policy of the four Great Powers. Louis Napoleon had in this the most strenuous support of Lord Palmerston, who stood alone in Europe at the time of the coup d’état, and flung himself delightedly into the Emperor’s arms. He is now, it appears, restoring what he destroyed, and repairing the framework of the European system, which was shattered by the alliance. Mr Kinglake frankly avows his belief that Lord Palmerston is not ashamed of what he did, and that he would do it over again to-morrow. A very hardened man, indeed! In the distribution of blame on account of the war Russia stands first. The Turks, notwithstanding their early duplicity, had little to do with it. That “it was their duty to endeavour to embroil the other Powers of Europe, and that they laboured in that direction with much sagacity and skill” was, perhaps, a misfortune rather than a fault. Austria has to answer for the Leiningen mission — the precedent for the Czar’s conduct, and an “ill-effect upon the maintenance of peace.” She was also answerable for what may be styled the ‘flunkeyism’ of her Ministers to the Czar, evinced in such acts as Count Mensdorf’s presence at the Te Deum for Sinope. Finally, she did not warn us poor simple islanders against the “new Bonaparte.” Prussia must account for the opinion which the Czar had of his brother-in-law the King, and for Colonel Rochow’s praises to God for the destruction of the Turkish fleet offered in company with Nicholas. By her invincible love of metaphysical, or rather mere verbal, refinements, she destroyed the value attached to her remonstrances and weakened her influence. As might be imagined, the beginning of the dispute is fixed by the author upon France, but he is obliged to assign it to the Assembly, which sanctioned the acts of the President of the Republic. However, the Emperor stands in these pages charged with “a chief share in the kindling of the war.” In England the Peace party divides the blame with the French Emperor, and to them are joined Lord Aberdeen, Mr Gladstone, Mr Cobden, Mr Bright, and the Cabinet; but Mr Kinglake so philosophizes and refines away his theories rather than his arguments, that at last we are brought to the astonishing result in the words that end this volume, that Lord Palmerston caused the war by fostering the French alliance. He it was who by the weight of his touch levelled the barrier which stood between France and the Government of the Queen. “Thenceforth the hindrances that met him were but slight. As he from the first had willed it, so moved the two great nations of the West.”
Thus far we have accompanied the author page by page through his book, often struck by his literary power, frequently delighted by the terse vigour of his phrases, — constantly dissenting from his deductions, but always feeling the force of the language in which they are conveyed. But it must be confessed that there are a reiteration and minute prolixity which belong rather to the Annual Registrar than to the historian, and that now and then Homer nods over the stately procession of protocols, and the rages, furies, and thunders of Czars and Eltchis. The violent antipathies and prejudices of the writer destroy the value of his work as a trustworthy history of events; but the pungent details, the personal sketches, flavoured with much salt, the acrid, bitter allusions, and the glimpses into the inner chamber of his own mind which we catch at intervals, forming the most agreeable, if not the most amiable portion of the book, invest it with extraordinary interest. The volume contains very little that is absolutely new, but all the facts are reset, and its contents naturally lead us to turn with anxiety to the second portion of the work, in which the history of the invasion of the Crimea really begins.
* The Invasion of the Crimea: its Origins and an Account of its Progress down to the Death of Lord Raglan. By Alexander William Kinglake. Vol I. William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London. 1863