CONSTANTINOPLE, APRIL 23
Mr Kinglake’s Invasion of the Crimea was a long time in finding its way to Constantinople. On its first appearance, however, in the few book-stalls which are to be found here, it was natural — seeing that the events with which it deals are still fresh in the memory of the public — that it should have been seized upon and perused with the interest and avidity which the subject calls forth. In the investigation of the details which have more direct reference to the negotiations at Constantinople which preceded the war there was nothing to indicate a predisposition to criticize minutely or harshly the statements contained in it; on the contrary, the fame of the author of Eothen pointed to the other extreme; but his greatest admirers — and they are not a few in number — have not been able to repress their astonishment at the new light which is thrown upon these negotiations, and seeing that some of the persons to whom I allude were not only parties to them, but active agents in their prosecution, it naturally follows that their version of the case must be accepted in preference to his.
It is not becoming or useful in a letter of this sort to enter fully into the discussion of these details; but as Mr Kinglake’s book seems by its tone and in the form in which it is laid before the public to aim at historical precision and historical fame, it would not be right to withhold certain observations which forcibly present themselves on its perusal. In that portion of the narrative that relates to the diplomatic proceedings which occurred here, Mr Kinglake gives himself considerable trouble in investigating the causes which led to Prince Menschikoff’s mission. He travels out of his path, and goes so far back as 1830 to trace the link of events which terminated in the rupture of the peace of Europe; and it is surpassing strange that he should have omitted to make the least mention of the events of 1849, which so nearly brought on a war between Russia and Austria on one side and Turkey on the other. These events exercised such a vast influence on the policy of Russia, and bear such direct relation to its subsequent proceedings, that I must be permitted briefly to allude to the leading features of the case.
It is well known that after the defeat of the insurrection in Hungary a body of Hungarians took refuge in the Ottoman dominions, and were, to the standing honour of the Turks, provided, not only with a safe asylum, but also with the means of subsistence. Russia and Austria — flushed with victory, and eager for vengeance — formally demanded their extradition, under penalty of declaring war on the Porte. The Turkish Government, from the first, resisted these demands; but it is not known how long they would have remained firm under the threats and intimidations of the two great Powers. They desired to know, therefore, if, in the case of their being involved in war, they might rely upon the support of the Western Powers. Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, did not hesitate for a moment to promise the desired support on the part of England; and it is well known that any wavering on the part of the Turks was set aside by a private instruction of Lord Palmerston to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe (then Sir Stratford Canning), and communicated to the Turkish Ministers in the middle of the night. This was confirmed in an official despatch of the 6th of October 1849, in which “the moral and material support” of England was pledged in any emergency arising out of the refusal of the Turks to give up the Hungarian refugees. The firm attitude observed on this occasion, in which France also participated, succeeded in averting the war with which the Turks were threatened. The demands of Russia and Austria were rejected, and, although this led to a cessation of diplomatic relations with those Powers, subsequent negotiations brought about a resumption of intercourse. Such a defeat could not but be looked upon as a bitter humiliation by Russia and Austria; and I venture to assert that no one at all versed in the question will dispute that the anger raised by that defeat and that humiliation, although suppressed for a time, was kept smouldering until the fit moment should arrive to give it vent. Such an opportunity was created, at the instigation of Russia, by the mission of Count Leiningen on behalf of Austria, having reference to the occupation of Montenegro by the Turks, to which Mr Kinglake refers, but without connecting it in any way with the important link which I have described. This opportunity was also lost, for the Porte determined to yield to the demands of Count Leiningen, and concentrated all its powers of resistance to the subsequent mission of Prince Menschikoff. By that mission the Russians sought by a great diplomatic triumph to recover their former prestige and to make up for the galling defeat which they previously sustained.
If I have permitted myself to enter in too general a way into these transactions, it is because I am satisfied, grounding my assertion not only upon the opinions of eminent men who participated in them, but also on the avowal of Russian officials and the conviction of the public generally, that the defeat of Russian and Austrian diplomacy in the matter of the Hungarian refugees was the main and primary cause and the most important link in the events which brought about the eastern war. On this important subject Mr Kinglake might have enlightened himself by reference to the Blue-book containing the “Correspondence relative to the Affairs of Hungary, 1847-49.” His omitting to deal with this transaction betokens a carelessness of research quite inconsistent with the pretensions of his work and the time which has been devoted to its publication. Without entering into a refutation of Mr Kinglake’s account of the negotiations at Constantinople, I would point attention to the following inaccuracies:— He says that Lord Stratford, at the outset of these transactions, had been absent from his embassy “nearly two years.” Lord Stratford left Constantinople the latter end of June 1852, and returned on the 5th of April 1853; consequently he had only been away nine months; a well-known member of the Russian Legation is alluded to by Mr Kinglake as “Prince Garan;” it should be “Gagarin.” These blunders are not of paramount importance, but when they come to be added to the long list of errors of which Mr Kinglake has already been convicted they contribute to divest the book of that accuracy to which it lays claim.
The day of the Sultan’s return is not positively known. It is believed that he will be here on Saturday or Sunday next. He is now at Smyrna, where he will remain to attend mosque to-morrow. The news received at the Porte states that he is highly pleased with his voyage, and that he has been particularly struck by the sight of a railroad. It is considered probable that, with his usual impulsiveness and impetuosity, he will on his return devote himself to schemes of railway extension in his dominions. It is to be hoped that this will not degenerate into a mania; and that his eagerness will be limited to a desire to offer every legitimate inducement for public enterprise; but if to his extensive hobbies of military and naval preponderance were to be added the costly one of constructing railways out of the public revenue, he would soon find that the resources of the country will not bear such a burden.
Great preparations are being made to celebrate in a becoming manner the return of the Sultan. The quays, the heights in the suburbs commanding the entrance to the Golden Horn, and the barracks of Pera are bristling with cannon, which are to fire imperial salutes; and the glaziers will, no doubt, derive much benefit by the damage which will thereby be occasioned to the windows of the neighbouring houses.
The following intelligence has just been received from Circassia:— The Grand Duke Michael arrived at Anapa on the 28th (Ramazan) in order to make a grand military promenade, and visit the chain of forts erected by the Russians between Anapa and the Kouban, through the Shapsukh country. On his road he was first attacked by a body of 250 Circassian horsemen, who took prisoner an aide-de-camp of the Grand Duke and killed 180 Russian dragoons. Afterwards, in a plain between the forts Haplkalch and Shebzkalch, his force was assaulted by a body of 3,000 Circassians, who completely routed the Russians, killing a great number. The Grand Duke, with the remains of his force, fled in disorder to the Russian camp on the Kouban river. The Russian Generals commanding in this engagement were Jokimoff, the same to whom Schamyl surrendered, and Babootch.