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CHAPTER XIX. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. V 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. V.
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The period of the King's recovery has been described, probably with truth, as that in which the fortunes of Pitt attained their acme. There was indeed a later period when his opponents became much fewer than in 1789, but the horizon was then thickly overcast with foreign dangers; the extreme hopefulness which characterised the early years of the Administration had passed away, and admitted failures and popular discontent threw dark shadows over the prospect. Less than four years had to run their course before the great French War broke upon England, and for some time before that event the proceedings in France had produced a general indisposition to reform. Yet in these years something of importance was done, and some great questions were at least raised which it shall be the object of this chapter to examine.
Several years had elapsed, during which no questions relating to religious liberty had been brought before Parliament. I have shown, in former volumes of this work, the slow but steady progress which had been made towards the abolition of the chief grievances of the Protestant Dissenters and of the Catholics; and the spirit of the time, and especially the prevailing tone of the law courts, did much to discourage any attempts to enforce such remnants of intolerance as remained. But the grievance of the Test and Corporation Acts, though much mitigated by the Annual Indemnity Acts, was still felt by the Protestant Dissenters, and at a meeting held in London, in the beginning of 1787, the deputies of the three great denominations—the Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists—agreed to bring it again before Parliament. Their claim had been considerably strengthened by the repeal of the Test Act in Ireland in 1779, and also by the warm support which they had given to Pitt in the critical election of 1784, and they wisely entrusted their cause to Mr. Beaufoy, a member of the Church of England and a steady supporter of the ministry. He brought it before Parliament in speeches of remarkable ability in 1787 and 1789. Having recounted the well-known history of the Acts that were complained of, having dilated upon the acknowledged, unvarying and zealous attachment which from the time of the Revolution the Dissenters had shown to the dynasty and the Constitution, he proceeded to give a startling account of the disabilities and penalties to which, by the strict letter of the law, they were still liable. They could hold no commission in the army or navy, no civil office, no seat in a corporation, no corporate office; they could not take part in the direction of the Bank of England, of the Indian, or Russian, or South Sea, or Turkish companies though their whole fortune might be invested in these stocks. Any Dissenter convicted of having accepted any of these offices, who still refused to qualify by taking the Anglican sacrament, was not only liable to a heavy fine, with the alternative of imprisonment, but was also, like the worst of criminals, placed almost beyond the protection of the law. He was disabled for the rest of his life from bringing any action in law, from prosecuting any suit in any court of equity, from being guardian to any child, from being an executor, from receiving a legacy. In 1745, when the enemy was marching into the heart of England, and when the Government was in the utmost danger, a great body of Protestant Dissenters took arms for its defence. Their reward was a special Act of Grace pardoning them for the offence they had committed.
It was true that these laws were in some respects constantly violated, and that Annual Acts of Indemnity were passed to shelter those who violated them; but Beaufoy was able to show that these Acts were far from being a complete and effectual protection to men who had accepted office, and who were determined at no time to take the Anglican sacrament. It was pretended that these penalties were necessary for the protection of the Established Church. But no such protection for the Established Church existed either in Scotland or Ireland. The Roman Catholic, whose hostility to all Protestant Churches, and the Quaker, whose hostility to all religious establishments, might be justly feared, were already excluded from power and office by the oaths of supremacy and allegiance. The other Dissenters were few, diminishing, and, for the most part, singularly unfanatical; and by a strange fatuity the Legislature, which pronounced it dangerous to allow them to be tide-waiters, or directors of the Turkish company, allowed them to sit in Parliament and to exercise the franchise.
Turning to another aspect of the subject, Beaufoy expatiated with great force and eloquence on the extreme profanity of these laws. They did not, it is true, stand alone. The Legislature, by its reckless and lavish multiplication of oaths, ‘by compelling every petty officer of the revenue and every collector of turnpike tolls to swear deeply on his admission into office, has made the crime of perjury more frequent than it ever before was in any age or country.’ In the Sacramental Test, however, there was a profanity which was almost worse than perjury. ‘The Saviour of the world instituted the Eucharist in commemoration of His death—an event so tremendous that afflicted Nature hid herself in darkness; but the British Legislature has made it a qualification for gauging beer-barrels and soapboilers’ tubs, for writing Custom House dockets and debentures, and for seizing smuggled tea.’ History furnishes no other example of the Legislature of a country deliberately, and by express enactment, prostituting the most sacred ordinance of their own faith, converting the temple into an antechamber to the excise office, degrading the altar into a qualification desk for tax-gatherers and public extortioners, and pleading as a reason for this impious defilement the interests of the Church. How could a clergyman be expected to fulfil his duty of rejecting from the sacred table open ill-livers, if they came only to fulfil a legal obligation, to qualify for offices which they had received from the Crown? As a matter of fact such men were never rejected; were it otherwise an action for damages would ensue. Nor is it surprising that the most conscientious clergyman should shrink from the responsibility that was imposed on him. ‘Our fleet is preparing to sail; the enemy is already in the Channel; the officer appointed as our admiral is a man of the highest professional merit, and is called to the command by the general voice of the people. Debauched, however, in private life, living in avowed fornication, and notoriously profane, he approaches the holy table. If the sacrament be administered to him, in what situation is the clergyman? If it be refused, in what situation is the kingdom?’
The motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts at once divided the chiefs of the Opposition. North, who was now nearly blind, and very infirm, came down to oppose it, and on both occasions he spoke against it with a strong accent of sincerity. The principle he maintained, that all offices of power should be entrusted to men who either belonged to or were, at least, not actively hostile to the Established Church, is essential to its security, and an Established Church is an essential part of the British Constitution. When James II. conspired against the religion and liberty of the English people, he did so chiefly by introducing into office men who were hostile to both; and the Test Act contributed largely to his defeat. In absolute monarchies, like France or Prussia, where the sovereign may at any moment remove officials, it may perhaps be safe to promote men who are not in harmony with the dominant religion; but in a limited monarchy such promotions will always be dangerous to the Church. Fox, on the other hand, while reproaching the Dissenters with having, in the election of 1784, abandoned the principles of liberty, strongly and eloquently supported their claim. He had no difficulty in showing that the existing legislation amounted to a penalty, and a very serious penalty, imposed on a particular class for their conscientious adherence to their religion, and that this class was in morals one of the most respectable, in political antecedents one of the most meritorious in England.
Speaking of the alleged dangers to the Church, he said that, in his opinion, every country should have an Established Church, and that Church ought to be the Church of the bulk of the people. The establishment of the Kirk in Scotland and of Episcopalianism in England rested on this firm foundation. It was very unlikely that anything but a great change of opinions could shake them, and ‘if the majority of the people of England should ever be for the abolition of the Established Church, in such a case the abolition ought immediately to follow.’
The issue of the contest depended mainly on the attitude of Pitt. Personally he had not the Smallest antipathy to Dissenters, or the faintest leaning towards intolerance; but he was not prepared to enter into a serious conflict with the Church for the purpose of removing disqualifications that were of little practical importance. He requested the Archbishop of Canterbury to collect the opinions of the bishops, and at a meeting held at the house of the archbishop the maintenance of the Acts was voted by ten to two.1 Pitt determined therefore to throw out the motion of Beaufoy, but he did not attempt to answer all his arguments, and his speeches were of a kind that left it fully open to him, on another occasion, to change his course. He entirely agreed, he said, that religious opinions should never be restrained or limited by law, unless they were likely to prove a source of civil inconvenience. He warmly eulogised the Dissenters, but denied that the Acts that were complained of were of the nature of a stigma or a penalty. In all societies and constitutions there must be some restriction of right, some mode of qualification; and it is not unreasonable that governments should retain a discretionary power of excluding from offices of trust and influence men who, though personally in the highest degree respectable, are on principle opposed to the ecclesiastical side of the Constitution. The object of the Sacramental Test was not to make the offices to which it applied exclusively tenable by Churchmen, nor had it that effect. It was only to make it possible to exclude the comparatively small section of Nonconformists, who thought so ill of the Church, and were so disaffected to it, that they refused to communicate with it.2 ‘The alliance of the Church and State is founded on expediency; this restriction is the price which the State pays the Church for it,’ and its removal would certainly alarm a large and respectable section of the community. All over Europe the animosities and passions that spring from religious differences are subsiding, and in England there is now a happy quiet. But no policy is so likely to interrupt it as one which would revive the competition of sects, and thus rekindle the smouldering embers of their ancient virulence.
There was little in these speeches to discourage the Dissenters; and while Beaufoy was defeated in 1787 by 178 to 100, in 1789 he was only defeated by 122 to 102. If events had gone on in their accustomed course, it is probable that the Test Act would have been speedily abolished; but the French Revolution, and the wholesale confiscation of Church property, which was one of its first incidents, produced an immediate and a most powerful reaction. In 1790 the question was again introduced, and this time the Dissenters, not very judiciously, entrusted their motion to Fox, and thus gave it a more distinctly party complexion. Fox spoke with his accustomed eloquence and force, and was powerfully supported by Beaufoy; but it was evident that the conditions of the debate had changed. The language of Pitt was now that of decided and uncompromising hostility. There were constant allusions to what was passing in France, and the spirit of the House was manifestly hostile to the Dissenters.
The debate was especially remarkable for a speech of Burke, which discloses very clearly the manner in which events in France were influencing his mind. The profanation of the sacrament by employing it as a political test, which appears to have been viewed with perfect equanimity by the bishops and clergy, struck Burke as forcibly as Beaufoy, and he proposed another form of test as a substitute. Of the Dissenters, as a body, he spoke temperately and generously. On the abstract question of religious tests he refused to argue. Abstract principles he said he had always detested, and, above all, abstract principles of natural right seemed to him among the most idle and useless topics that could be introduced into political discussion. They had long since been given up, when men for their mutual benefit formed themselves into societies and consented to accept the restrictions and limitations of the law. The real and sole question was, whether the test was expedient or the reverse. Ten years ago he would have readily voted for its repeal. In 1787 and 1789 he had left the House when the question was agitated, being unable to take any settled decision; now he was reluctantly convinced that the circumstances were such that a test must be maintained. He showed how Priestley, who was perhaps the chief writer of the Dissenters, had lately expressed his detestation of the Establishment and his determination to do all in his power to subvert it; how Price, who was the most popular preacher of the Dissenters, had in a well-known sermon warmly eulogised the recent events in France; how catechisms had been published and circulated by authority through the Dissenting bodies, breathing the strongest hostility to the Established Church, and he inferred that this was at present the acknowledged sentiment of their leading preachers. No proposition appeared to him more clear than that an Established Church was of vital importance to England, and he believed that at the present time there were strong and warrantable grounds for serious apprehension for its safety. Only two years ago, what hierarchy in Europe seemed safer or more powerful than that of France, and where was it now?
The weight that was attached to these considerations was clearly shown by the division. Fox was defeated by no less than 294 to 105, and the current now flowed so strongly against the Dissenters that nearly forty years elapsed before the broad question of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was again agitated, though Sir Gilbert Elliot, supporting a petition of the Scotch General Assembly, made an unsuccessful attempt in 1791 to exempt members of the Scotch Established Church from the provisions of the former Act.
A similar fate attended a very comprehensive Toleration Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords in 1789 by Lord Stanhope. It was not intended to affect the Test and Corporation Acts, and Roman Catholics were expressly excluded from its operation; but it proposed to repeal a number of ancient and, for the most part, obsolete laws, which were plainly inconsistent with religious liberty, and to establish the principle that all persons except papists, who were excepted on account of their persecuting and dangerous principles, should have full liberty to teach and exercise their religion, and by speaking, writing, printing, and publishing to investigate religious subjects. In introducing it, Lord Stanhope gave an extremely curious account of the persecuting laws, that still remained on the Statute-book. The laws which he especially desired to repeal were those making attendance at Divine service compulsory. By the Act of Uniformity, every person who, without reasonable and lawful cause, did not attend church, both on Sundays and holy days, might be fined one shilling for each occasion on which he was absent. By another law of Elizabeth the fine was raised to 20l. a month. By a third law, any person who obstinately refused to go to church was to be committed to gaol till he conformed; but if after three months he persisted in his refusal he was to be banished from the realm, his property was to be confiscated, and he was liable to death if he returned. Under James I. it was provided that the fine of 20l. might be refused; that two-thirds of the lands of the offender might be taken instead; that every householder was liable to a fine of 10l. a month for every servant, visitor, or visitor's servant who abstained from church, and that informations, suits, or actions against those who did not attend church might be laid in any county and at the pleasure of any informer. The Toleration Act had indeed relieved Protestant Dissenters who believed in the Trinity from these penalties, by authorising their places of worship, but it did not include those who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and it left those who from conscientious reasons, or from taste, abstained from attending any form of public worship liable to all the ancient penalties.
In addition to these laws, there were several others which Stanhope desired to repeal. The laws of Elizabeth rendering it compulsory to eat fish on fast days had expired, but to eat meat on fast days was still an ecclesiastical offence, punishable in ecclesiastical courts. The power of excommunication, with all the penalties I have enumerated in a former chapter, still remained. An Act of Charles II. still made any peer who went to Court, or remained in the King's presence, without having taken the Oath of Supremacy and Declaration against popery, a popish recusant, though it had become so perfectly obsolete that, as Stanhope observed, the whole bench of Protestant bishops had violated it. The Canons of 1603, breathing a spirit of implacable intolerance, were still believed to be binding on the clergy, and any writing which impugned the supernatural character of the Christian creed was a criminal offence.
The measure of Stanhope never reached the House of Commons, for it was thrown out in the Upper House on the second reading, chiefly through the opposition of the bishops. They could not, indeed, defend all the Acts that it was proposed to repeal, but they protested against the sudden removal of so many ancient laws from the Statute-book, and inveighed in the strongest terms against the proposal to authorise men to abstain from any form of public worship, or to publish writings impugning the Trinity or the Christian faith. ‘Such a measure,’ said Bishop Horsley, ‘would leave our mutilated Constitution a novelty in the annals of mankind, a prodigy in politics, a civil polity without any public religion for its basis.’ It is indeed a singular and characteristic fact that the laws of Elizabeth making it a criminal offence not to attend public worship in England were not repealed until 1844 and 1846.1
The greater part of this legislation had no doubt become completely inoperative, and one of the most common complaints of the religious writers of the eighteenth century was the general and systematic neglect of public worship by a large section both of the upper and of the lower class.2 It is impossible to write the history of English religious liberty with any accuracy from the Statute-book, for its different stages had often been attained in manners or practice long before they received the sanction of the law. On the other hand, several of these laws might be employed by individual fanaticism or private malevolence, and Stanhope was able to cite more than thirty cases in which persecuting laws about religion had been put in force during the twenty-six years before he spoke, sometimes against Roman Catholics, sometimes against Protestant Dissenters, sometimes against persons who simply abstained from going to church.3 Nor can it be said that the evil was altogether a diminishing one. A great outburst of religious passion had accompanied the Methodist and Evangelical revival, and on the subject of Sunday observance a stricter code was coming into fashion. Sunday card parties now began to fall into disfavour.4 There were already signs among the upper classes of a more regular attendance on public worship, which increased greatly a few years later owing to the panic which was produced by the French Revolution.5 A declaration was largely signed binding the subscribers to observe Sunday strictly; to give and accept no entertainment on that day, to abstain from travelling on it except in cases of urgent necessity.1 Bishop Porteus tried, though unsuccessfully, to induce George III. to suppress the Sunday bands at Windsor, Kensington, and Weymouth; and Wilberforce made an equally unsuccessful attempt to induce the Speaker to give up his custom of receiving members of the House of Commons on Sunday evenings.2 There were bitter complaints that ‘Sunday was selected by the fashionable for travelling to their country seats or to the watering-places;’ that ‘on no other day do so many coaches with coronets pass through the country towns and villages;’ that multitudes of the middle or poorer classes persisted in availing themselves of the facilities which improved roads and vehicles gave them for Sunday excursions,3 and there was in some quarters an evident disposition to enforce strictly the laws relating to Sunday, and even to extend their scope. In the winter of 1780 houses were opened in London for Sunday promenades, and for debating societies, in which religious questions were freely discussed, but the new entertainment was at once brought before Parliament by Bishop Porteus, and an Act was passed to suppress it.4 Bishop Horsley, in opposing Stanhope's Bill, urged against it, as a decisive argument, that, if it passed, ‘stage coaches and waggons will travel the road, watermen will ply upon the Thames, and hackney-coachmen in the streets upon the Lord's Day as upon any other, under the express sanction of the law.’1 In 1784 Sir R. Hill suggested, among other taxes, Sunday tolls and a special tax on Sunday newspapers.2 A society, imitated from the ‘Societies for the Reformation of Manners,’ which had been so active under Anne, was founded by Wilberforce and some other leading Evangelicals about 1787, and spread widely over England, and one of its special objects was to enforce by prosecutions the existing laws against ‘the profanation of the Sabbath,’ and against ‘licentious publications,’ and to induce the magistrates in these matters to act with greater strictness and activity.3 The Evangelical theology, which was now acquiring an ascendency in the most religious classes, was widely separated both in doctrine and in temperature from the school of Tillotson, and from the school of Hoadley. Salvation by belief, and the sinfulness of religious error, were held with a definiteness and an emphasis which had long been unknown in England, while the French Revolution produced among the upper classes an enormously increased estimate of the practical and political dangers that may result from speculative opinions.
In spite, however, of these influences, the spirit of English government in the eighteenth century was but slightly affected by theological considerations, and the great change which had in this respect been for some centuries in operation was almost completed. The old Catholic theory of the duties of government in matters of religion had been, in my opinion, perfectly logical and consistent. It rested on the doctrines of the infallibility of the Church and of the damnable criminality both of religious error and doubt. When governors believed themselves to be, beyond all possibility of mistake, in possession of absolute religious truth, and when they were equally certain that heresy in the sight of the Divinity was a crime entailing eternal damnation, they had no difficulty in believing that all the resources of government should be exerted in maintaining religious orthodoxy. If these resources can be efficaciously employed without the possibility of error in the promotion of the highest of human interests, such an employment must be a duty, nor is there anything strange or startling in punishing with the heaviest known punishment a crime of the deepest possible dye and entailing the greatest possible calamities. To minds in this condition the butcheries of De Montfort, of Torquemada, or of Mary Tudor could give no greater shock than the execution of ordinary murderers. It was, indeed, early seen that the power of governments over opinion was not unlimited. A convinced heretic could not be really converted, though he might be turned into a hypocrite by penal laws. Persecution kindles a heroism of resistance. The martyr's death inspires many to follow in his steps; and when opinions have found a lodgment in the minds of a large section of a nation, it is not in the power of the civil authority to destroy them. But when all this is admitted, both reason and experience show that the power of government, when uncompromisingly employed in maintaining particular opinions, is enormously great. It may extirpate the most active centres of adverse propagandism. It may immensely restrict, if it cannot absolutely prevent, the circulation of opposing arguments or opinions. It may direct the whole gigantic force of education exclusively in one direction, and if it cannot prevent a change of doctrine, it may at least postpone it for generations. As a consequence of these principles, the maintenance of religious orthodoxy at home, and the support of religious orthodoxy abroad, were considered the most incontestable duties of government; and all tolerance of heresy, and all alliances with non-Catholic powers, were deemed criminal.
With the Reformation, however, a new set of principles came into action; but it was only very slowly, and with innumerable logical inconsistencies, that they triumphed. If private judgment is the basis on which all religious opinions must be founded, its free and honest exercise cannot, it was said, be a crime, but must be a duty and a right of the most sacred kind. Every influence of power which deflects or restricts it must be an evil. The unrestrained comparison of arguments and opinions is necessary to the discovery of truth, and as governments have no special means of knowing what is true they have no right to proscribe opinions. There grew up, too, among many a belief that great portions of very widely received opinions were doubtful, or untrue; that religious unity is not only impossible, but not even desirable, as different sets of opinion are specially adapted to different types of mind and stages of civilisation; that opinions may be theologically or historically untrue, and yet very conducive to human happiness and goodness. On the other hand, the more zealous adherents of the Protestant Churches neither admitted that there was any material uncertainty in their opinions, nor abandoned the doctrines of salvation by belief and of the criminality of religious error, and they endeavoured to reconcile them with their principle of private judgment by drawing a distinction between fundamental and non-fundamental doctrines. The first were certain and essential to salvation, and they ought therefore to be enforced by law. The second were uncertain, comparatively unimportant, and the proper subject for toleration.
A number of political influences at the same time came into play, some of them acting in the direction of intolerance and some in the direction of religious liberty. Kings and parliaments inherited a great part of the spiritual power which had passed away from the Pope, and they naturally endeavoured to promote the more subservient Churches, to crush forms of belief which had revolutionary or anarchical tendencies, to impose some check upon the disintegrating influences of Protestantism. The fierce antagonism between the Catholic Church and the Protestant communities was carried on not merely or mainly by argument or preaching, but by open war, rebellions, persecutions, conspiracies, and assassinations, and it made a great mass of coercive legislation a political necessity. Many of what were termed persecuting laws were intended in reality not to enforce or propagate opinions, but to guard against sedition or hostile political influences. On the other hand, one of the effects of the Eeformation was to throw great masses of men of different creeds into juxtaposition, and it was necessary to arrive at some system under which they could live together in peace. Political necessities compelled nations of different religions to enter into close bonds of friendship and alliance; and as the religion which was in a minority in one country was in a majority in another, persecution had an obvious tendency to produce retaliation. Multitudes of refugees, also, drawn for the most part from the very flower of the industrial classes, were scattered by persecution over Europe, and it became a great object to attract them, which could only be done by giving them full liberty of practising their religion. As time rolled on, classes that were essentially secular in their spirit rose to power; material interests and political habits of thought began to dominate, and the theological temperature in Europe gradually cooled.
Under all these various and conflicting influences a large extension of toleration was slowly attained, and governments, by the force of circumstances, were compelled, or induced, to restrict their action to the temporal interests of mankind. Francis I. by allying himself with the Turks, Richelieu by allying himself with Protestants, Elizabeth by supporting Dutch Calvinists, terminated the system of exclusively orthodox alliances. Grotius, while admitting that alliances with non-Christian powers may be permitted in cases of extreme necessity, deplored bitterly the facility with which the governments of his day contracted them, to the great detriment of Christianity, and he recalled the history of an old Duke of Savoy, who is said to have lost Cyprus rather than accept the alliance of the Turks.1 The Peace of Westphalia put an end to active political war between Protestants and Catholics, as such. In England an attempt had been made with much skill to maintain a religious uniformity in a national Church, partly by drawing up the formularies of that Church in such a way as to include men of widely different tendencies and opinions, and partly by coercive legislation directed against Nonconformists. This system, however, after many vicissitudes, completely broke down under the Stuarts, and was finally abandoned at the Revolution, when Presbyterianism was established in Scotland, and when most English Dissenters obtained a legal position through the Toleration Act. From this time it became a settled maxim of English politics that government is intended solely to promote the civil or temporal interests of the community, that the salvation souls is not within its legitimate functions, and that in promoting or restricting religious tenets it should be governed altogether by a consideration of the effect of those tenets on the temporal happiness of mankind.
It is obvious that this is an essentially different theory from that which formerly prevailed; but it is also obvious that it is a theory which admits of many shades of actual policy. The points of contact between religion and the temporal interests of society are very numerous, and each can act upon the other in many obscure, complicated, and indirect ways. It was generally admitted by the most accredited exponents of the principles of the Revolution that the establishment and endowment of one form of religion was fully within the proper functions of Government. Religion, considered as the supreme regulator of human conduct, passions, and motives, is of the very highest importance to the well-being of society. It gives law its moral sanction. It reinforces it by the prospect of infinite rewards and punishments administered by an Omniscient Judge. It extends the empire of duty over wide tracts of conduct and feeling which positive law can never touch. It is therefore a matter of the highest political and social importance that there should be in every parish an instructed clergyman, set apart for the purpose of carrying the teaching and the moralising influence of religion to all classes, especially to those who would never provide it for themselves. Nor was it forgotten that the alliance of Church and State enabled the governors in some measure to regulate and moderate a force which, though of inestimable value, is peculiarly liable to dangerous excesses and aberrations, and that it established a close union between the Government of the country and the strongest moral influence in society. In selecting, however, from among contending sects, the clergy who were to be entrusted with this function, the ruler is to consider not his own opinion, but that of the nation. The end to be attained is utility, and both Warburton and Paley strongly maintained that the Established Church should be that of the bulk of the nation.
The next question is whether, or to what extent, the power of governments may be legitimately employed in repressing religious opinions. Locke, who more than any other man framed the theory of the English Government of the Revolution, devoted his ‘Letters on Toleration’ chiefly to an examination of this question, and he maintained with great force of reasoning that the suppression of opinion as being theologically erroneous, can never be within the legitimate sphere of Government, and that the free exercise of private judgment in matters of religion is a sacred and an inalienable right. At the same time, he contends that no opinions should be tolerated by the magistrate which make men necessarily hostile to the State, or which subvert those moral rules that are essential to the preservation of civil society. Under these denominations he would include both the papist and the atheist. No sect, he says, will openly maintain that men are not obliged to keep their promises, or that princes may be dethroned by those who differ from them in religion; but if a Church teaches that all who are not in communion with her are heretics, and that ‘faith is not to be kept with heretics;’ if it asserts that ‘kings excommunicated forfeit their crowns and kingdoms;’ if ‘all those who enter into it do ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince … who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire,’ the members of that Church have no right to claim toleration from a Government of another creed. Locke does not specifically state that these opinions are held by Roman Catholics, and he would have probably subscribed to the distinction which it was afterwards customary to make between Roman Catholics and papists; but the general application of his words cannot be mistaken. In speaking of atheists his language is still more decisive: ‘Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, commands, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.’1
This letter was published in 1689. A substantially similar doctrine was maintained just fifty years later by Bishop Warburton, in that treatise on the ‘Alliance of Church and State’ which is perhaps the most really valuable of his works. Warburton lays down in the strongest terms the natural right of every man to worship God according to his conscience, and the criminality of every attempt on the part of the State to interfere with his religion. ‘With religious errors, as such, the State has no concern,’ and it may never restrain a religion, except when it produces grave ‘civil mischiefs.’ In asserting, however, that ‘religion, or the care of the soul, is not within the province of the magistrate, and that consequently matters of doctrine and opinion are without his jurisdiction, this must always be understood with the exception to the three fundamental principles of natural religion—the being of a God; His providence over human affairs; and the natural essential difference of moral good and evil. These doctrines it is directly his office to cherish, protect, and propagate, and all oppugners of them it is as much his right and duty to restrain as any the most flagrant offenders against public peace.’ And the reason of this exception is obvious. ‘The magistrate concerns himself with the maintenance of these three fundamental articles, not as they promote our future happiness, but our present.’ ‘They are the very foundation and bond of civil policy.’ Without them oaths and covenants, and all the ties of moral obligation, upon which society is founded, are dissolved.
The laws against popery are likewise justifiable ‘not as being directed against the religious errors of the Church, but against the political usurpations of the Court of Rome, which, when these laws were made, exhorted men by papal edicts to parricide and rebellion.’ ‘The papist who owns a foreign ecclesiastical power superior to all temporal dominion’ may at any time become a political danger, and therefore, though such men have at present a liberty of connivance under suspended penal Acts, those Acts are justly left on the Statute-book. Tests and disqualifications for the benefit of the Established Church are not penalties, but securities wisely intended to strengthen an institution which is of great utility to the nation.
The next very important work which appeared in England on this subject was the ‘Moral and Political Philosophy’ of Paley. It was published in 1785, and therefore followed the work of Warburton by almost the same interval as that which separated the works of Warburton and Locke.
It has been, I think, the fortune of this work to be of late years very unduly depreciated, partly because, in consequence of the singular charm and lucidity of its style, it has been so widely read, studied, and criticised that all its weak points have been fully disclosed, and partly also because the particular type of the utilitarian theory of ethics which it teaches has been generally abandoned. It is, however, both in form and substance, one of the masterpieces of the eighteenth century, and the author was much too shrewd a man not to know that the doctrines which he taught were not likely under George III. to lead a clergyman to the bench. In this work Paley rejects as a fiction or unproved hypothesis the theory of a social contract, on which Locke and Warburton based much of their reasoning; but, like them, he reduces the questions of an establishment and of toleration to simple utility. He shows the extreme importance of stationing in each district of the country an educated man, exclusively employed in teaching religion; of setting a class of men apart by public authority for the study as well as for the teaching of an historical religion, and of making the clergy in some degree independent of their flocks. The Church, however, thus selected should always be that of the bulk of the people, and it should be made as comprehensive as possible, consistently with the maintenance of order in the celebration of Divine worship. If subscriptions are not altogether abolished—if a mere promise to conform to the rites, liturgy, and offices of the Church is not found to be sufficient—the articles which are admitted should at least be made as simple and easy as possible. They ‘should be adapted from time to time to the varying sentiments and circumstances of the Church in which they were received.’ They should be articles of peace, only binding men not to preach against certain doctrines. Creeds and confessions may sometimes be necessary, but they are always an evil. ‘They violate liberty. They ensnare the consciences of the clergy, by holding out temptations to prevarication;’ by' reason of the changes which are wont to take place in the judgment of mankind upon religious subjects, they come at length to contradict the actual opinions of the Church whose doctrines they profess to contain, and they often perpetuate the proscription of sects and tenets from which any danger has long ceased to be apprehended.’
Passing, then, to the question of toleration, the views of Paley show a great advance on those of his predecessors. Laws like the Test and Corporation Acts, excluding Dissenters in the interests of the Established Church from certain offices of trust and emolument in the State, rest, he admits, on a different ground from laws forbidding the profession or exercise of some form of religion; but they are inconsistent with perfect toleration, obstacles to the unbiassed pursuit of truth, and only to be justified on the ground of a clear preponderance of utility. No such utility, in the opinion of Paley, exists. If the Established Church contains an overwhelming majority of the English people, it will be strong enough to maintain itself. If the Dissenters ever become a majority, the Establishment itself ought to be altered, or qualified. If there exists among the different sects such a parity of numbers or power as to make the choice of one sect a matter ‘of hazardous success and of doubtful election,’ some form of concurrent endowment should be adopted.
The only example of such an endowment, with which Paley was acquainted, was in the newly formed States in North America, and the experiment was evidently one which excited great interest in his mind. Judging it from a distance, it seemed to him very difficult on such a scheme to arrange the parochial system, which he considered the chief advantage of an establishment, and he feared that it would lead to excessive Government expenditure, and a feverish and unhealthy competition of sects. The principle, however, he says, is a just one, and when sects are nearly balanced, it ought, if possible, to be adopted. Religious disqualifications in politics appear to him altogether unsound. It is no doubt true that enthusiasts who believe that Christianity has abolished all distinctions of property should not be made judges or magistrates, and that Quakers should not be trusted with military administration or command; but on the whole, among existing sects of Christians, ‘with the single exception of refusing to bear arms,’ there is no tenet which incapacitates men from serving the State. ‘I perceive,’ he writes, ‘no reason why men of different religious persuasions may not sit upon the same bench, deliberate in the same council, or fight in the same ranks, as well as men of various or opposite opinions upon any controverted topic of natural philosophy, history, or ethics.’
The case of atheists, or other unbelievers, he does not deal with directly, but only by implication. He fully adopts the modern doctrine, that the law is concerned only with the actual conduct of men, and not with the course of conduct which may seem logically deducible from their principles. He makes no exception to his claim for toleration, and says, ‘Under the idea of religious toleration, I include the toleration of all books of serious argumentation.’ He adds, however—and surely with good reason—‘I deem it no infringement of religious liberty to restrain the circulation of ridicule, invective, and mockery upon religious subjects.’
Nor does he find anything in Catholicism to exclude it from toleration. The only ground upon which the Legislature at the time of the Revolution can have been justified in proscribing this Church was the belief that its members were altogether, or for the most part, hostile to the present settlement of the Crown. If this be the case, and if the legislator can find no other test of men's inclination to the State equally certain and notorious, he is justified in enacting restrictive laws against popery. It should be remembered, however, that in this case it is not popery to which the laws object, but popery as the mark of Jacobitism; that the connection of popery and Jacobitism is their sole justification; that as this connection was accidental in its origin, so it will probably be temporary in its duration;’ and that these restrictions ought not to continue one day longer than some visible danger renders them necessary to the preservation of public tranquillity.’1
It is greatly to the credit of the liberal spirit of England that, in spite of the reaction produced by the French Revolution, a book containing these opinions should have passed through fifteen editions in the life of the author, and that it should have been made, almost immediately after its publication, a textbook at Cambridge.2 Paley was, indeed, one of the ablest representatives of a school of divines which is the pre-eminent glory of the English Church in the eighteenth century—a school distinguished throughout Europe for its unflinching love of truth, its masculine and sober reasoning, its wide and generous tolerance. In some respects he stood greatly in advance of the leading politicians, and among others of Burke. Seventeen years before the outbreak of the French Revolution—at a time when the free-thinking spirit in Europe, and especially in England, seemed as far as possible from allying itself with any form of sedition or political turbulence—Burke, in a letter to Lady Huntingdon, expressing his hostility to the movement which had been set on foot for relieving the clergy of the Established Church from subscription to the Articles, added these very remarkable words: ‘I am happy in coinciding with your ladyship in attachment to the Established Church. I wish to see her walls raised on the foundations laid in the volume of Divine truth, that she may crush the conspiracy of atheism and those principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration.’1
In the following year, Burke strongly supported the measure for relieving the Protestant Nonconformist ministers from the obligation, which had been imposed on them by the Toleration Act, of subscribing to the greater part of the Anglican Articles; but, while defending the Dissenters, he turned aside to make a most violent attack upon the atheists. He was replying to those who, arguing for connivance rather than legal toleration, contended that, if the Nonconformists were formally freed from the obligation of subscription, attacks on Theism and on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity might easily be made under the shelter of Nonconformity. ‘If this danger is to be apprehended,’ replied Burke, ‘if you are really fearful that Christianity will indirectly suffer by this liberty, you have my free consent: go directly and by the straight way, and not by a circuit; … point your arms against these men who do the mischief you fear promoting; point your arms against men … who, by attacking even the possibility of all revelation, arraign all the dispensations of Providence to man. These are the wicked Dissenters you ought to fear; these are the people against whom you ought to aim the shaft of the law; these are the men to whom, arrayed in all the terrors of Government, I would say, You shall not degrade us into brutes. These men—these factious men, as the honourable gentleman properly called them—are the just objects of vengeance, not the conscientious Dissenter. … Against these I would have the laws rise in all their majesty of terrors to fulminate such vain and impious wretches, and to awe them into impotence by the only dread they can fear or believe. … The most horrid and cruel blow that can be offered to civil society is through atheism. Do not promote diversity: when you have it bear it; have as many sorts of religion as you find in your country: there is a reasonable worship in them all. The others—the infidels or outlaws of the Constitution, not of this country, but of the human race—they are never, never to be supported, never to be tolerated. Under the systematic attacks of these people I see some of the props of good government already begin to fail—I see propagated principles which will not leave to religion even a toleration. … Those who hold revelation give double assurance to their country. Even the man who does not hold revelation, yet who wishes that it were proved to him, who observes a pious silence with regard to it, such a man, though not a Christian, is governed by religious principle. Let him be tolerated in this country. Let it be but a serious religion, natural or revealed—take what you can get—cherish, blow up the slightest spark. … By this proceeding you form an alliance, offensive and defensive, against those great ministers of darkness in the world who are endeavouring to shake all the works of God established in order and beauty. Perhaps I am carried too far, but it is in the road into which the honourable gentleman has led me. The honourable gentleman would have us fight this confederacy of the powers of darkness with the single arm of the Church of England. … Strong as we are, we are not equal to this. The cause of the Church of England is included in that of religion, not that of religion in the Church of England.’1
This passage is in more than one way remarkable. It shows how far Burke was from acknowledging that unlimited right of serious religious discussion which has become the received doctrine of the latter part of the nineteenth century. It shows that, as early as 1773, he looked forward to some such convulsion, as that which was at its height in France twenty years later; and it is one of the many proofs that his attitude during the French Revolution was in reality only what might have been expected from the principles he had laid down in the earlier portion of his career.
In 1792 an attempt was made by Fox to repeal the Act of William III. under which the Unitarians were still liable to punishment, and to secure for them the legal position which other Protestant Dissenters had obtained by the Toleration Act. Their exclusion from the benefits of this Act seemed especially anomalous at a time when anti-Trinitarian opinions were notoriously rife, both among the Nonconformists and in the Established Church; and in 1774 Theophilus Lindsey, a very estimable clergyman who had lately seceded for conscience' sake from the Church, set up the first avowedly Unitarian place of worship in London.2 He officiated there alone, and without molestation, for about twelve years, and afterwards in conjunction with Dr. Disney. Priestley's work on the ‘Corruptions of Christianity,’ which appeared in 1782, gave a considerable impulse to the movement. Some of the Unitarians adopted Arian opinions, and admitted the pre-existence of Christ, though not His equality with the Father; but the greater number, following in the steps of Socinus, believed with Priestley that Christ was a mere man, though they fully admitted His Divine mission, His miracles, and His resurrection. It was very unfortunate for their claims to toleration that Priestley, who more than any other man had given them importance, was a warm admirer of the French Revolution and a vehement opponent of Church establishments.
It is remarkable, that in the debate which was raised on the Unitarian petition Lord North had himself brought down to the House to support Fox. On the subject of the Test and Corporation Acts, the old Tory chief said his opinions were unchanged. These laws were laws of security, intended to protect the established Church, and they were both necessary and just. But the laws making it penal to reject the doctrine of the Trinity were laws of persecution, and as such directly opposed to the spirit of Christianity. The Unitarians, he said, were not turbulent or seditious; and if they ever became so, it was for the ordinary law to punish them. Pitt, on the other hand, opposed the relief, chiefly on the ground of the ferment which the French Revolution had produced. No practical evil had resulted or was likely to result from these laws to any description of men. It was always wise to touch old laws relating to religion with extreme caution, and it would be especially foolish at this time to give encouragement to avowed enemies of the established Church and of the Constitution. The great body of the English people, he was convinced, were firmly attached to the Constitution under which they lived; but an active section were animated by different principles, and if the measure of Fox were carried, these men would most certainly represent it as a first step to the gradual abolition of all the establishments and fundamental principles of the Constitution.
The principal speaker, however, against the motion was Burke; and his speech was evidently most carefully prepared. His own very copious notes for it are preserved, and they are well worthy of careful study, though in a work like the present I must confine myself to a brief summary and a few extracts. He began by his favourite doctrine that no rational politician will ever govern himself by abstractions and universals, by general rules or inflexible principles. ‘Circumstances are infinite, and infinitely combined, variable, and transient;’ and a statesman who refuses to be guided by them and to attend to the exigencies of the moment may ruin his country for ever. To a great part of the current speculation about the relations of Church and State he expressed himself decidedly opposed. The doctrine of Warburton, that Church and State are two distinct bodies, which have entered into an alliance for their mutual advantage, he wholly rejected. Like Hooker he maintained that ‘in a Christian commonwealth the Church and the State are one and the same thing, being different integral parts of the same whole,’ and the laity are as much an essential part of the Church as the clergy. Nor had he any sympathy with the doctrine of the school of Hoadley, that the State has no right to interfere with religious opinions. ‘Government representing the society, has a general, superintending control over all the actions, and over all the publicly propagated doctrines of men, without which it could never provide adequately for all the wants of society.’ ‘Religion is so far from being out of the province and duty of a Christian magistrate, that it is, and it ought to be, not only his care, but the principal thing in his care; because it is one of the great bonds of human society, and its object the supreme good, the ultimate end and object of man himself. … It is his right and duty to watch over it with an unceasing vigilance; to protect, to promote, to forward it, by every rational, just, and prudent means. It is principally his duty to prevent the abuses which grow out of every strong and efficient principle that actuates the human mind. … It is the interest, the duty, and the right of Government to attend much to opinions, because, as opinions soon combine with passions, even when they do not produce them, they have much influence on actions. Factions are formed upon opinions, which factions become in effect bodies corporate in the State.’ ‘A reasonable, prudent, provident, and moderate coercion may be a means of preventing acts of extreme ferocity and rigour; for by propagating excessive, and extravagant doctrines, such extravagant disorders take place as require the most perilous and fierce corrections to oppose them.’
What, then, is the nature and amount of coercion that may be justly employed? In order to answer this question at any time it is necessary for the legislator to know ‘the peculiar and characteristic situation of a people, their opinions, prejudices, habits, and all the circumstances that diversify and colour life.’ ‘I am not,’ said Burke, ‘fond of defining with precision what the ultimate rights of the sovereign supreme power in providing for the safety of the commonwealth may be, or may not extend to.’ ‘If religion related only to the individual, and was a question between God and the conscience,’ human authority would certainly have no right to intervene. If men ‘limited their principles to their own congregations, and were satisfied themselves to abstain from what they thought unlawful, it would be cruel to molest them.’ ‘It would not be just even to trace consequences from principles, which, though evident to me, were denied by them.’ But on the other hand, the legislator ‘ought to look strictly to it when men begin to form new combinations, to be distinguished by new names, and especially when they mingle a political system with their religious opinions.’ ‘When religion is embodied into faction, and factions have objects to pursue, it must, more or less, become a question of power,’ and governors have no right to permit religion, which ought to be one of the bonds of society, ‘to be made the pretext of destroying its peace, order, liberty, and security.’
These principles, Burke argued, had been hitherto adopted in English religious legislation. Parliament had never laid down any general maxim that religion was not its concern, but directly the contrary. It had always examined particular grievances, and, with a due regard to times and circumstances, had remedied them by carefully limited laws. The Catholic had not been freed from the obligation of an oath; the Quaker had not been empowered to say mass, but an amount of liberty had been given to each which was strictly measured by his requirements. Catholics, Presbyterians, Anabaptists, Independents, Quakers, were all in possession of defined liberties, and possession is a great title in human affairs. Nor were any serious dangers to be apprehended from them. ‘Old religious factions are volcanos burnt out; on the lava and ashes and squalid scoriae of old eruptions, the olive and the vine are now growing. Such was the first, such the second condition of Vesuvius. But when a new fire bursts out, a face of desolation comes on, not to be rectified in ages.’ When, therefore, any new religious body rises up, claiming to be recognised by law, its character and designs should be carefully scrutinised.
It was on these principles that he opposed the petition of the Unitarians to be relieved from the laws directed against those who denied any Person of the Trinity, and to be suffered to constitute themselves into a distinct sect. The records of Parliament, he said, know nothing of any religious congregation or association, bearing the name which these petitioners had assumed. It was a new society which was to be called into legal existence; a society formed for the express purpose of proselytism; a society, whose leading members openly avowed their sympathy with French principles, and especially their implacable hostility to an established Church. The writings of Priestley and Dr. Kippis abundantly proved this, and Burke quoted from an apparently authorised report of a recent dinner of ‘the Unitarian Society’ which had been held at the King's Head Tavern, under the presidency of Priestley. It had been arranged on that occasion to celebrate July 14, the anniversary of the taking of the Bastille. The speeches were filled with eulogies of the proceedings in France; and among the toasts drunk were ‘The National Assembly of France; and may every tyrannical Government undergo a similar revolution!’ ‘Thomas Paine, and the Rights of Man;’ ‘May no society, civil or religious, claim rights for themselves, that they are not ready to concede to others.’1 It is evident, Burke argued, that this sect is political, and not merely theological. ‘The principle of your petitioners is no passive, conscientious dissent on account of an over-scrupulous habit of mind. It is fundamental, goes to the very root, and is at issue not upon this rite, or that ceremony, but upon this one question of an Establishment as unchristian, unlawful, contrary to Gospel, and to natural right, popish and idolatrous. These are the principles viclently and fanatically held and pursued.’
Ought Parliament to suffer a society animated with these principles to acquire the augmented influence which would result from a legalised existence? The question, he says, resolves itself into a question of facts. Is there a real danger? Is it true that there is a design against the Constitution of this country, carried on by a restless faction with increasing vigour and activity? If this be so, Parliament is justified in being on its guard, and ‘early and provident fear is the mother of safety.’ The bulk of the people were still sound, but, in the opinion of Burke, about a fifth part were infected with the new doctrines. Considering what had happened, what was happening, in France, could it be said that under these circumstances there was not a grave danger? It was idle to assert that the Establishment must be in security, because the majority were in favour of it. Majorities are always composed chiefly of men of sluggish tempers, and with little promptness or decision of action, and nearly all revolutions are the work of resolute and active minorities. For these reasons, and with a sole view to political expediency, he refused to give the Unitarians an organic existence. ‘Let them disband as a faction, and let them act as individuals; and when I see them with no other views than to enjoy their own conscience in peace, I for one shall most cheerfully vote for their relief.’1
The arguments of Burke and the authority of Pitt prevailed. The motion of Fox was defeated by 142 to 63, and it was not till 1812 and 1813 that the Unitarians obtained in England a legal toleration for their opinions and their worship.2 Like most of the more important speeches of Burke, his speech on this occasion contained principles of a much wider interest and application than the immediate subject of debate, and the extracts I have given will sufficiently show his theory of the relations of Church and State, and the extent, the nature, and the grounds of his intolerance. It will, however, perhaps, mitigate the surprise with which some portions of his speeches in 1773 and in 1792 may be read, to compare them with the views of some of the most advanced and most popular leaders of thought upon the Continent. Thus Montesquieu, who has written with admirable force on the iniquity of penal laws in matters of religion, while he maintains that it is the duty of a governor to tolerate all the religions which he finds established in his nation, to prevent them from injuring one another, and to secure every citizen from molestation on account of his creed, adds nevertheless that the introduction of a new religion into a country is an evil which he is perfectly justified, if possible, in preventing.3 Voltaire wrote against persecution with greater persistence and success than any other writer of the eighteenth century, but he had no sympathy with the doctrine that the regulation of religion lies outside the sphere of Government. Actuated chiefly by his hatred of the papacy, but partly also by his strong leaning to authority, he maintained in one of his works that the prince ought in every country to be absolute master of the whole ecclesiastical system; that his relation to ecclesiastics is the same as that of the head of a family to the tutor who is employed to teach his children, and that he has a right to direct them authoritatively, in everything in any degree relating to public order. ‘Religion which teaches a pure and useful morality the philosophical prince will encourage, but he will prevent his subjects from disputing on dogmas, as such disputes have never produced anything but evil.’1 ‘The functions of the ministers of religion,’ he elsewhere says, ‘their persons, their possessions, their pretensions, their manner of teaching morals, preaching dogma, and performing ceremonies, their spiritual punishments, everything in a word which affects the civil order, should be submitted to the authority of the prince and to the inspection of the magistrate.’ The sovereign has, indeed, no right to employ force to bring men to any religion, nor is he a competent judge of the truth of dogma, but he has a full right to take cognisance of dogma if there is anything contrary to the public good either in its essence or in the manner in which it is taught. Dissenters from the established religion should always be obliged to apply to him for an authorisation to hold their religious assemblies. When they are so authorised, no one should be suffered to molest them, but the sovereign has a right at all times to know what passes in their assemblies, to reform abuses that may arise and to dissolve their congregations if they lead to disorder, and the whole of their worship, their formularies, and their public instruction should be submitted to constant Government inspection.2
Views at least equally removed from the modern ideal of religious liberty were held by other conspicuous leaders of French thought. Thus Bernardin de St. Pierre, while strongly asserting in general terms the right of religious tolerance, proceeds to argue that no legislator should tolerate a superstitious religion which makes men subject to men rather than to God; or an intolerant religion, which teaches them to avoid, hate, or oppress one another.1
Mably, in some respects, pushed the spirit of speculative innovation further than any of the other great precursors of the Revolution, and some of the most important and most valuable chapters in his works are devoted to an examination of the relations of religion to politics and morals He had himself shown the sincerity of his tolerance by sacrificing a political career and the patronage of the Cardinal de Tencin rather than acquiesce by his silence in the determination of that prelate to dissolve a Protestant marriage, and he strenuously maintained that all religions which have acquired a footing in the nation should be tolerated, and that legislation on religious matters should be inspired solely by the interests of society. He at the same time contended that all atheists, materialists, and epicureans, who persisted in maintaining their views, should be imprisoned for life; that all deists who attacked the religion of the country should be punished by shorter periods of imprisonment, and that it is the duty of the legislator to prevent the introduction into the State of any new religions or any alterations of existing ones.2
Rousseau held substantially the same opinions. He professed and believed himself to be a warm advocate of toleration, but he states that every Government has a right to impose certain articles of belief as essential qualifications of a good citizen and a faithful subject. The articles of this civil religion are the existence of a powerful, intelligent, and benevolent Divinity; a providential government; a future life; the happiness of the good; the punishment of the bad; the obligation of the social contract and of the laws. Whoever refuses to declare his belief in these doctrines should be banished from the realm. Whoever, having publicly accepted them, acts as if he did not believe them, should be punished with death. One doctrine only should be proscribed by law, but it is a doctrine that is professedly held by a vast section of the Christian world: ‘Whoever dares to say, Outside the Church there is no salvation, should be banished from the State,’ unless the State is a theocracy governed by a pontiff. It is impossible that any man who holds such a belief can live in harmony with those who are not his co-religionists.1
Although the efforts of the English Unitarians and other Protestant Nonconformists were at this time unsuccessful, an important step was taken in the direction of religious liberty by the Catholic Relief Bill of 1791, which removed some of the extraordinary hardships and anomalies of the position of Catholics in England. The Act of 1778 had repealed, for the benefit of those who took an oath prescribed by the statute, the legislation of William III., which subjected to perpetual imprisonment every priest found guilty of celebrating mass, and every papist who kept a school; which offered a large reward for the apprehension and conviction of popish priests, and which disabled papists from either purchasing or inheriting land. It did not, however, as might have been supposed, give the Catholics a legal toleration, for it left untouched a number of laws of Elizabeth and the early Stuarts, which made any priest found in England guilty of high treason, and punished with fine or imprisonment any person who heard mass, absented himself without lawful reason from the Anglican service, kept or attended a Catholic school, or sent his children to be educated as Catholics on the Continent. It is true that these laws had been virtually, though not legally, abolished by the laws of William, under which all the eighteenth-century prosecutions before 1778 appear to have taken place, but while they remained on the Statute-book the position of the Catholics could hardly be otherwise than precarious, and there were many existing grievances of a most practical kind. Catholics were still obliged to pay a double land tax, and to enroll by an expensive and inquisitorial process the deeds of their estates, and they were subject to an almost universal disqualification. They were excluded from the army and navy; from the whole legal profession;1 from all civil and military posts; from the right of sitting in either House of Parliament; from the right of voting for representative peers or for members of the House of Commons.
As early as February 1788, a committee of English Catholics had presented a memorial to Pitt, enumerating their grievances and asking his assistance. Pitt answered them favourably, but urged great pressure of business as a reason for delay, and recommended them, as a preliminary step, to collect authentic evidence of the opinions of the Catholic clergy and universities with respect to the existence and extent of the Pope's dispensing power. Opinions were accordingly obtained from the Universities of the Sorbonne, Douay, Louvain, Alcala, and Salamanca, asserting that neither the Pope, cardinals, nor any individual or body of men in the Church of Rome had any civil authority, jurisdiction, or pre-eminence whatsoever within the realm of England, or any power of releasing on any pretext the King's subjects from their oath of allegiance, and denying that there was anything in the belief of Catholics which could justify them in not keeping faith with heretics. At the suggestion of Lord Stanhope, the great body of the English Catholics, ‘including the four Vicars-Apostolic who then governed the Catholic Church in England and almost all the Catholic clergy, signed a protestation which was laid before Parliament with their petition for relief. It was intended to disabuse the Protestant mind of the belief that there was something in Catholicism necessarily hostile to the civil power in a Protestant country. The protesting Catholics denounced in the strongest terms the doctrines that either the Pope, or the Pope and General Council combined, had any power of deposing kings; of causing excommunicated kings to be murdered; of absolving subjects from the oath of allegiance; of commanding subjects, under pain of damnation, to take up arms against their sovereign; of making any act justifiable which is in itself immoral or dishosent of releasing Catholics from the obligation of any oath or compact whatsoever. With equal energy they repudiated as contrary alike to religion, morality, and common honesty, the doctrine that faith is not to be kept with heretics or infidels, and they very boldly asserted that, except when there is ‘a sincere sorrow for past sin, a firm resolution to avoid future guilt, and every possible atonement to God and the injured neighbour,’ neither Pope nor priest had, according to their belief, any power whatever to forgive sins.1 ‘We acknowledge,’ they said, ‘no infallibility in the Pope.’ The Catholic Church has no power over Protestants except that of excluding them from its sacraments and other religious privileges; ‘no jurisdiction or authority whatsoever within this realm, that can directly or indirectly affect or interfere with the independence, sovereignty, laws, constitution or government thereof, or the rights, liberties, persons, or properties of the people.’
This protestation was afterwards thrown into the form of an oath, and embodied in the Relief Bill as it was first introduced into Parliament; but a dispute, into the details of which it would be too long to enter here,2 arose between the bishops and the great body of the Catholics, chiefly about the exact terms in which the Pope's jurisdiction should be disclaimed. The Bill was introduced by Mr. Mitford, and it had the full assent of the Government. The only part of the existing disqualifications which it touched was that relating to the legal profession, which, from the rank of barrister downwards, was now thrown open to Catholics; but the Bill abolished for the benefit of the protesting Catholics the statutes against Popish recusants. It granted a legal toleration to the Catholic worship and schools, and it freed Catholics from the necessity of enrolling their deeds and wills, and from some obsolete but insulting liabilities to which they were still exposed. They could no longer be summoned by magistrates to take the oath of supremacy and declaration against transubstantiation. Peers who had not taken this oath and declaration were no longer forbidden to enter the King's presence, and it was no longer to be in the power of the Government to order the removal of papists from London and Westminster. It was provided, however, that not only Catholic chapels and schools, but also the names of all schoolmasters and officiating priests, must be registered; that no Catholic assembly might be held with locked doors; that no Catholic chapel should have a steeple or a bell; that no priest should wear the habits or perform the rites of his religion in the open air, or anywhere except in authorised buildings or in private houses where not more than five persons, in addition to the household, were present; that no child of a Protestant parent should be admitted into a Catholic school; that no monastic order should be established in England; that no Catholic school or college should be endowed. Subject to these numerous restrictions and limitations, the position of Catholics who took the prescribed oath was now a secure one.1
The double land tax, being imposed by the annual Land-tax Act, could not be included in the Relief Bill; but fróm this time the clause imposing it was regularly omitted.
The Bill passed the Commons without a division, and in the House of Lords the only alteration made was one which was desired by the Vicars-A postolic. The oath, formed with very little change out of the Protestation, had been condemned by the bishops, and another and somewhat simpler form of oath was in consequence substituted, which was taken almost without alteration from the oath in the Irish Relief Act of 1774. With this change the Bill passed unanimously through both Houses.
The Catholics were indeed singularly fortunate in the time at which they urged their claims. The Relief Bill was warmly supported as a measure of religious liberty by the whole body of the Protestant Nonconformists,1 and by all those classes who welcomed the French Revolution. Under the Stuarts, and for a long period after the Revolution of 1688, the Whig party had been intensely anti-Catholic, and clear traces of this spirit may be seen even in the speeches of Chatham; but under the leadership of Fox it completely passed away. From this time religious liberty, without exception or restriction, became the watchword of the party; and during many years of unpopularity and adversity they defended the Catholic cause with a consistency and self-sacrifice which have been rarely equalled in the history of parties, and for which they have often been repaid by the basest ingratitude. As might have been expected, the Bill was not all that Fox could have desired. He entirely objected to religious tests; he wished an unlimited toleration, irrespective of any oath, except the oath of allegiance; but he wisely abstained from dividing the House. ‘His sentiment,’ he said, ‘was that the State had no right to inquire into the opinions of people, either political or religious; they had a right only to take cognisance of their actions.’ ‘The public might prescribe what qualifications and restrictions they pleased for any person, before the King could employ them in their service, but … toleration in religion is one of the great rights of man, and a man ought never to be deprived of what was his natural right.’ ‘He rejoiced that in a few years they must come to a general toleration, for the times were too much enlightened to suffer men's minds to remain shackled. There was one plain road to pursue; keep in. if they pleased, all their statutes for the Establishment … but let the Statute-book be examined, and strike out all the others which relate merely to opinions.’2
While these were the views of the chief of the Opposition, the other side of the House on other grounds almost equally shared them. The no-Popery panic had been superseded by a new danger. The French Revolution, which had startled and alarmed all the supporters of monarchical and ecclesiastical establishments, had been directed at first mainly against a branch of the Catholic Church, and that Church was now regarded as the most powerful bulwark of the Conservative party throughout Europe. The Anglican bishops fully supported the Relief Bill, and it was Bishop Horsley who induced the House of Lords to change the form of oath in order to meet the objections of the Vicars-Apostolic.1 Burke very strongly supported the measure. Without the smallest disposition to believe Roman Catholic theology, he had always a strong sympathy with the Catholic Church, which is easily explained by the circumstances of his family and his nationality, and by his marked natural leaning towards antiquity and authority. The French Revolution greatly strengthened it, and, as we shall hereafter see, the advocacy of the claims of the Irish Catholics was one of the last works of his great and admirable career. It was his firm conviction that the political dangers that had sprung from the papacy in the sixteenth, and in some measure in the seventeenth, century, were now completely extinct, and that Catholicism must for the future be regarded as one of the chief conservative elements in Europe. ‘It is a great truth,’ he wrote to an Irish member of Parliament, ‘that if the Catholic religion is destroyed by the infidels, it is a most contemptible and absurd idea that this, or any Protestant Church, can survive the event;’ and speaking of the Irish, he added, ‘Let them grow lax, sceptical, and careless, and indifferent with regard to religion, and, so sure as we have an existence, it is not a zealous Anglican or Scottish Church principle, but direct Jacobinism which will enter into that breach.’2
Pitt had himself no anti-Catholic feeling, and the Relief Bill of 1791 would probably have been much more extensive but for one unfavourable influence. It could hardly be argued with any approach to plausibility that there was serious political danger to be apprehended from the English Catholics—a small, harmless, insignificant, and most pacific class, who in political matters were generally guided by the representatives of a few old and highly respected aristocratic families. In Ireland, however, where property, political power, and the established Church were in the hands of a Protestant minority, the situation was very different, and the Irish Government at this time was exceedingly anti-Catholic. They continually represented to Pitt that an extended Relief Act in England would immensely strengthen the demand for a similar measure in Ireland, and that dangers of a most serious kind might thus be created. This consideration appears to have chiefly decided him to restrict the English measure to the provisions that have been described.
The English Act produced no popular ferment, and in less than two years a measure was carried for the relief of the Catholics in Scotland. In that country, as in England, a practical toleration appears to have been at last attained,1 though no Relief Bill had as yet been passed, as Scotland was not included in the English Acts of 1778 or 1791. At the beginning of the French Revolution, the Scotch Catholics were reduced to great distress by the confiscation of the Scotch establishments in France, from which the payment of their priests was largely derived. It is a curious illustration of the changed spirit of the time that a Catholic bishop brought this fact before the English Government, and that the Government for two or three years gave secretly small salaries to all the Catholic priests in Scotland, besides contributing to two Catholic seminaries.2 The toleration, however, which the Scotch Catholics enjoyed was still of a very precarious kind. Among the laws that were unrepealed was one enabling the nearest Protestant relation to tender an oath which was inconsistent with Catholicism to any Catholic landowner, and if he refused to take it, to appropriate the estate. The law was so odious, that it was very rarely put in force, and the law courts appear to have done everything in their power, by technical difficulties, to make it inoperative; but a case of this kind was actually before the courts when the Relief Bill of 1793 was carried, which placed the Scotch Catholics in a position substantially similar to that of the Catholics of England.1
One other measure remains to be noticed in this review of religious legislation. The entire extinction of Jacobitism rendered the severe laws that had long been in force against the Protestant Episcopalian Church in Scotland wholly unnecessary. The death of Charles Edward in 1788 took away the last pretext for Jacobitism, and the Scotch bishops, assembled in synod at Aberdeen, agreed to submit, and to pray for the King by name. A measure was accordingly. framed in 1795, repealing the stringent and persecuting Acts of the first two Georges, and giving the Scotch Episcopalians a perfect toleration, provided their ministers took the usual Scotch oaths and prayed for the King. No clergyman, however, in Scotch orders, could hold a benefice, or even fill a curacy, in England.2
We may now pass to other classes of questions which were agitated in Parliament between the King's recovery and the beginning of the great French War. In the constitutional history of England this period is comparatively barren; but two important questions were settled by the concurrence of the leaders on both sides. Among the extreme remedies provided by the Constitution for extreme abuses, one of the most serious is parliamentary impeachment; and it is obviously essential to its efficacy that Parliament should have the power of carrying it through to its end. The right claimed by the Crown of arresting impeachment by a pardon was condemned by a vote of the House of Commons immediately after the Revolution, and the Act of Settlement finally enacted ‘that no pardon under the Great Seal of England be pleadable to an impeachment by the Commons in Parliament.’ It was still, however, undecided whether the Crown might not put an end to impeachments by proroguing or by dissolving the House of Commons. The first of these questions was raised in 1717, on the occasion of the impeachment of the Earl of Oxford, and it was then formally resolved that a prorogation of Parliament does not determine an impeachment. The second question was decided in connection with the impeachment of Warren Hastings. There was a dissolution in the summer of 1790, and when the new Parliament met it was contended that the proceedings of the former House of Commons against Hastings were null and void, that the impeachment was at an end, and that it must be either abandoned or begun again from the beginning. It is remarkable that Pitt, on this occasion, held a conference with Fox and Burke, the only occasion, it is said, since the Coalition Ministry, on which the two great rivals were brought together in private life.1
Erskine maintained, in a long and elaborate speech, that the impeachment was at an end, and the great preponderance of lawyers, including the Chancellor, the Chief Justice of the King's Bench, the Master of the Rolls, the Attorney-General, and the Solicitor-General, were on the same side.2 They argued partly from precedents, which, however, they were obliged to admit to be conflicting, and partly from analogies drawn from the proceedings of the Common Law Courts. Pitt, Fox, and Burke, however, concurred in the opposite view. The speech of Pitt on this occasion is an extraordinary instance of the superiority with which, on an essentially legal question, he could contend with the foremost lawyers of his time; and in accordance with his opinion, it was resolved by a great majority that a dissolution does not terminate an impeachment, and that a new House of Commons has a right to take up the proceedings at the point at which they had been left by its predecessor.
The second question, which was now finally settled, was the long dispute about the rights of juries in cases of libel. We have seen in a former part of this work how Hardwicke, Mansfield, and many less distinguished judges had uniformly contended that in cases of libel the province of the jury was merely to determine the fact of the publication, and the meaning of the allusions; and that when these points were established, it was for the judge alone to pronounce whether the incriminated document was libellous. A Bill, drawn up by Burke and introduced by Dowdeswell, had been brought before Parliament in the beginning of 1771, with the object of giving juries the right of deciding on the whole question; but it was defeated, and Fox was one of the majority that threw it out. After the lapse of twenty years, however, his opinion was changed, and he now introduced a declaratory Bill, to the same effect as the measure which he had opposed in 1771, and he carried it with the full assent of Pitt. The Chancellor, Lord Thurlow, vehemently opposed it, and signed a protest describing its doctrine as ‘contrary to the determination of the judges and the unvarying practice of ages.’ It is curious to observe, that this great triumph of the liberty of the press only preceded by a very short time a series of press prosecutions, that were certainly the harshest since the accession of the House of Hanover.
The question of parliamentary reform continued almost dormant, and the outbreak of the French Revolution had strongly indisposed the nation to reopen it. In 1790, however, Flood brought forward a scheme for adding to the House a hundred members elected by the resident householders of the counties, and he suggested, though he did not formally propose, that if this addition to the numbers of the House were deemed too large, the balance might be redressed by taking half the members from a hundred minute boroughs which returned two members each. The motion, though it had the usual fate of great constitutional changes proposed by private members, at least led to an interesting debate. Quoting the saying of Machiavelli that ‘no free government can last that is not often brought back to its first principles,’ Flood stated that the English Constitution had so far receded from the ideal of popular representation, that from six to eight thousand electors actually returned a majority of the members of the House of Commons. He cited the opinion of Blackstone, that the Crown, since the Revolution, had gained more in influence than it had lost in prerogative; the prediction of Hume that arbitrary government was likely to be the euthanasia of the British Constitution; the argument of Bishop Sherlock, who had defended the Test and Corporation Acts on the ground that the petty boroughs were so numerous that, if the Dissenters ever obtained an ascendency in them, they might, though only a twentieth part of the English people, command a majority in the House of Commons. He contended that the middle class, which was so feebly represented in English politics, and which it was his special object to strengthen, was more likely than any other class to exercise political power soberly, honestly, and independently, and that the great increase of taxation was a strong reason for enlarging the area of representation. About eight millions of Englishmen, he said, were now burdened with a debt of 240 millions, and paid annually in taxation fifteen and a half millions, or about fifty shillings a head. The evil that might result from the present system was shown by the conflict between the House of Commons and the public opinion of the nation during the Middlesex election and by the calamitous American War which, Flood maintained, would have been impossible if the House had adequately represented the popular will. He denied that the disturbances in France furnished any just argument against reform. Very moderate reforms under the Tudors might have prevented the civil war under Charles I. Very moderate reforms under Charles II. might have made the Revolution unnecessary; and ‘those who oppose reform may be enemies to revolution in their hearts, but they are friends to it by their folly.’
The keynote of the opposition was struck by Windham, when he asked whether any wise man would ‘select the hurricane season to repair his house.’ Pitt said he must oppose the motion as inopportune, though he was still a friend of reform; and Fox, while supporting Flood, frankly confessed that he did not believe that the majority, either within or without the House, were at this time in favour of reform. He still held his old opinion that the unpopular side of the Middlesex election question was the true one, and he acknowledged his belief that public opinion in England was in favour of the commencement of the American War, though a popular Parliament might have shortened its duration. Even the latter proposition was denied by Burke. ‘The American War,’ he said, ‘was originally the war of the people, and was put a stop to, not by them, but by the virtue of a British House of Commons, who, without any petitions from the people, without their interference, and almost without their consent, had the magnanimity to take upon themselves to put an end to it.’1
Flood's motion was superseded by an adjournment, and from this time, for nearly forty years, the stream flowed steadily against the reformers. Grey, indeed, as the representative of the ‘Society of the Friends of the People,’ brought the subject before Parliament in 1792, 1793, and 1797, but only to encounter complete and ignominious defeat, and there is little doubt that Pitt, in opposing every attempt at this time to touch the framework of the Constitution, represented the genuine sentiment of the greater part of the nation.
An important constitutional measure, however, was carried in 1791, in the Quebec Government Act, which established representative government in Canada. Since 1774, the administration of affairs in this colony had been in the hands of a council nominated by the Crown,2 but the time, it was thought, had now come to create free institutions and to place the Government on a permanent basis. The presence of a great French majority in the colony, and the fact that the French colonists were attached to French laws, while the English preferred those of their own country, complicated the problem, and it was met by the division of Canada into two distinct provinces—upper and lower, corresponding roughly, but substantially, with the nationalities.
The new Constitution was framed partly on the model of the old Crown colonies in America, and partly on that of the British Constitution. There was to be a governor and a lieutenant governor, and in each province a council and an assembly. The assemblies were to be elected chiefly by freeholders, or 10l. leaseholders, and to be renewed by septennial elections. The members of the councils were nominated by the governor for life, and a power was at the same time reserved to the Crown of annexing to certain honours an hereditary right of sitting in the council. The Catholic majority had already obtained a full title to their old Church lands, but it was provided in the Bill that, instead of tithes, a seventh portion of all the newly allotted lands should be assigned to the Protestant clergy, as an endowment. In cases of judicial appeal, the judgment of the Privy Council was no longer to be final. There was to be a still further appeal to the House of Lords. The possibility of disputes like those which had produced the severance of the other American colonies from England was carefully guarded against. It was distinctly provided that the British Parliament could impose no taxes on Canada, except those that were necessary for the regulation of trade and commerce, and that even those must be levied and disposed of exclusively by the Canadian Legislature.
A great part of the debate on the Quebec Bill was exceedingly discursive and disorderly. The French Revolution now coloured every discussion, and a passing sarcasm of Fox turned it for a time almost wholly in that direction. Fox accused the Government of endeavouring to call into existence in the New World the blue and red ribands which had so lost their lustre in the Old World, the titles of honour and the spirit of chivalry, whose extinction in the neighbouring country had been so greatly deplored. Burke retorted by accusing Fox of endeavouring to introduce French principles into Canadian government, and he entered into an elaborate disquisition on the enormities of the French Revolution. A stranger who listened to the debate might easily, during many hours, have imagined that it was the affairs, not of Canada, but of France that were under discussion. Member after member vainly tried to turn it back to the Quebec Bill. The Speaker seems to have remained perfectly passive, and Pitt, while maintaining that a discussion of the French Constitution was very inexpedient, denied that it was disorderly, as the question before the House was the creation of a new form of government and the principles on which it should be based. It was in the course of this debate that the famous breach between Fox and Burke took place, and the interest attaching to this episode has diverted the attention of most historians from the merits of the Bill.
The Quebec Government Bill, however, was quite important enough to be considered on its own merits, and it raised questions of the most far-reaching interest. Nearly every part of the Government scheme was objected to by Fox. He objected to the division of the provinces, to the septennial elections, to the small number of members in the Legislature, to the regulation of appeals, to the amount of land which was allotted to the clergy; but the part against which his most serious arguments were urged was the composition of the councils, or upper chambers. He argued, with great force, that it was an act of folly to attempt to create hereditary aristocracy in a new country, and he recommended the example of the United States, in which the councils were elective. At the same time he strenuously disclaimed the levelling principles that were ascribed to him. The modern democratic creed that no special weight should be given in the elective system either to property or to intelligence; that property can be permanently secure where the poor have an unchecked and unlimited power of taxing the rich; that a great, highly complex, and heterogeneous empire can be maintained, and safely and wisely administered, where vast majorities of the most ignorant classes of the community are the ultimate source of all political power and control, finds no countenance in the speeches of Fox. His language on this subject is clear and decisive, and it marks out the true principles of the Whig party.
‘It was always,’ he said, ‘his wish rather to give the Crown less power and the people more, where it could be done with safety;’ and ‘he was decidedly of opinion that the Constitution of this country was more liable to be ruined by an increase of the power of the Crown than by an increase of the power of the people.’ But, on the other hand, he laid it down ‘as a principle never to be departed from, that every part of the British dominion ought to possess a government, in the constitution of which, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy were mutually blended and united; nor could any government be a fit one for British subjects to live under which did not contain its due weight of aristocracy, as this is the proper poise of the Constitution—the balance that equalised and meliorated the powers of the two other extreme branches, and gave stability and firmness to the whole.’ ‘Aristocracy,’ he continued, ‘in its true sense, is an indispensably necessary part of a mixed government under a free Constitution, and it ought to be made as essential a part of the Canadian Constitution as either the monarchical or the popular branch. But aristocracy, in its true meaning, does not rest solely, or even mainly, upon birth. In England the House of Lords formed the aristocracy, and it consisted partly of ancient families, and partly of peers newly created on account of their extended landed property. That prejudice for ancient families, and that sort of pride which belonged to a nobility, were right to be encouraged in a country like this; otherwise one great incentive to virtue would be abolished, and the national dignity as well as its domestic interests would be diminished and weakened.’ ‘The British House of Lords stands on the hereditary, known, and acknowledged respect of the country for particular institutions.’ It would be folly to abolish it, and exceedingly unwise to mingle the hereditary peers with life peers, as such a measure would enable the Crown ‘to overwhelm the hereditary peerage, and thus destroy the constitutional control of the aristocracy, in case they attempted to resist it.’ ‘It was impossible, however, to put an infant Constitution on the same footing’ as the House of Lords. Hereditary dignities which in an old country would command universal respect, in the colonies would be ridiculous; and the French ‘seigneurs,’ who were the nearest approach to a nobility, ‘were utterly unfit, and were not respected enough, to be made hereditary nobles.’
Under these circumstances, the true method of creating in the Canadian Constitution a strong and permanent aristocratic balance was to seek it, not in birth, but in the other great element of aristocracy. ‘Property,’ he said, ‘was, and had ever been held to be, the true foundation of aristocracy.’ In order ‘to put the freedom and stability of the Constitution of Canada on the strongest basis, he proposed that the council should be elective. But how elective? Not as the members of the House of Assembly were intended to be, but upon another footing. He proposed that the members of the council should not be eligible unless they possessed qualifications infinitely higher than those who were eligible to be chosen members of the House of Assembly. And in like manner the electors of the members of council must possess qualifications also proportionately higher than those of the electors of representatives in the House of Assembly. By this means they would have a real aristocracy, chosen by persons of property from among persons of the highest property, and who would thence necessarily possess that weight, influence, and independence from which alone could be derived a power of guarding against any innovation that might be made, either by the people on the one part, or the Crown on the other.’ ‘A true aristocracy,’ he concluded with great emphasis, ‘gave a country that sort of energy, that sort of spirit, and that sort of enterprise which always made a country great and happy.’1
This very remarkable speech was intended by Fox as an answer to those who accused him of being a mere demagogue, or republican, and if it had represented the general tenor of his speeches it would be difficult to understand how such an impression could have prevailed. The truth seems to be, that his vehemence and indiscretion often betrayed him into expressions in advance of his real and deliberate opinions, and he had strangely little of that tact in observing times and seasons which is essential to a successful statesman. As Burke happily said, a very moderate speech on the merits of Protestantism and the demerits of popery might be dangerous and incendiary if it had been delivered when the Gordon riots were at their height. Fox was perpetually expressing his gratification at the French Revolution at a time when English public opinion was not only horrified by its atrocities, but also panic-stricken by the dangers to Church and State which might ensue from its example; and he was perpetually dilating on the necessity of reform, and on the danger of the excessive power of the Crown, when, in the opinion of the great mass of the English people, all the pressing dangers were from the opposite quarter. His private letters show that he was far from insensible to the horrors that were being perpetrated in France, but, through his indignation at what he deemed opposite exaggerations, he gave no adequate expression to his feeling. The founding of the ‘Friends of the People,’ and Grey's most unfortunate campaign in favour of reform, were contrary to the judgment of Fox, though he confessed that he had not the resolution to discourage them. In his own real opinions on constitutional questions there was little that was exaggerated, and they often showed a singularly sound political judgment. Few persons will now dispute the justice of his opinion that it was inexpedient to introduce hereditary aristocracy into a country which had none of the materials, traditions, or sentiments out of which true aristocracies are formed; and although the power of creating hereditary honours in Canada was reserved to the Crown, it was never exercised. The division of French and English Canada may have been the best expedient under the circumstances, but it ultimately led to grave disaffection and dissension; and the union of 1840, which put an end to it, proved perhaps the most successful measure in Canadian history. In deference to the wish of Fox, Pitt consented to increase the number of members in the Assembly of Lower Canada, and to abolish the appeal from Canadian law courts to the Privy Council, but with these exceptions the original scheme of the Quebec Government Bill was carried without alteration,1 and it governed Canada till the rebellion of 1837 and 1838 led to the revised Constitution of 1840.
There is one characteristic of the Quebec Government Act which does not appear to have been adverted to in debate, but which is peculiarly worthy of the attention of historians. It is the complete abandonment of all attempt to induce or compel Canada to contribute to the military or naval forces of the Empire. It cannot be too clearly understood that the essential object of George Grenville in his colonial policy was not to establish the right of the English to tax America, but to establish the principle that America should contribute something to her own military defence. The example of Ireland, where 15,000 men were maintained by the local Parliament, 12,000 of whom could not be moved from Ireland without the consent of the Irish Parliament, while the remainder were at the full disposal of the English Executive, was continually before his eyes; and if he endeavoured to establish some such system in America, by means of the Imperial Parliament, it was merely because there was no single legislature for the American colonies. If, however, by any kind of negotiation or arrangement he could have induced the colonies to undertake a part of their own military defence, and of the defence of the neighbouring islands, he would have been fully satisfied. It is difficult to exaggerate the degree in which the British Empire would have been strengthened if each of its more important parts could have been persuaded to maintain a permanent force sufficient to secure it from the danger of a sudden attack, and perhaps, in times of extreme need and difficulty, to give some small help to the parent State. Manifold and inestimable as are the advantages which England derives from her scattered possessions in time of peace, no serious statesman can fail to perceive how many vulnerable points those possessions present in time of war; how grave may be the dangers resulting from the dispersion of the national forces which is necessary for their defence; how greatly they increase the temptations, pretexts, and probabilities of war; how easily an attack upon them, without any attempt at annexation or occupation, might lead to the disruption of the empire. The attachment of the most loyal colonists to the mother country could hardly fail to be dangerously strained if they found their coasts invaded and their towns bombarded on account of an Imperial policy in which they had no voice or interest; while the cost, difficulties, and dangers of colonial defence form the most plausible argument of those who have sought to alienate England from the Greater Britain beyond the seas. Before the American Revolution, it seemed by no means impossible that by tact and patience a system of colonial defence might have been established which, without imposing a serious burden on the English colonies, would have rendered them practically secure against attack. But the unfortunate conduct and issue of the American dispute made such an attempt impossible, and the policy of Grenville was abandoned. At last, however, towards the middle of the nineteenth century an attempt has been made in another form to realise it in part. England still undertakes the full naval defence of her colonies, but she has withdrawn from them all, or nearly all, their Imperial garrisons, and they in their turn have established large militia and volunteer forces which are intended at once to secure them from the possibility of successful attack, and to relieve the mother country from the burden of their military defence. Still later unequivocal signs appeared that those intelligent, patriotic, and vigorous communities which have grown up under the shadow of the British rule were not indifferent to their position as members of a great historic empire and were fully prepared to take their part in its defence. Dispositions of this kind have of late years shown themselves in some of the Colonial Legislatures which form, in an age of much political discouragement and scepticism, the most auspicious omen for the future of the empire.
I have now enumerated the principal measures of internal policy which were carried during the years we are considering; but perhaps the most valuable part of the work of Pitt was that complete restoration and reorganisation of English finance which we have already in part considered. The fears of bankruptcy which had pressed so heavily upon English statesmen in the closing years of the American War had been completely dispelled, and at a time when France was plunged in hopeless financial embarrassments the English finances were steadily flourishing and improving. In his Budget speech of 1790, Pitt was able to state that since 1786 only 1,000,000l. had been raised in the form of loan, and that, in spite of very considerable extraordinary expenses beyond those of a peace establishment, 5,184,000l. of the 3 per cent, loan had been discharged since 1785, and annuities amounting to 200,000l. had fallen in. ‘The country,’ he said, ‘at this moment is in a situation of prosperity far greater than in the most flourishing period before the last war.’
England was so far from ruined by the loss of America that the export of British manufactured goods in the last year exceeded by more than 3,000,000l. the average of the six prosperous years which immediately preceded the American War, while the imports into British harbours were larger than in any previous year, and the number of ships and sailors had proportionately increased.1 The taxation was no doubt very heavy. Nearly 16,000,000l. had been raised during each of the last three years,2 but the wealth of the country was fully able to bear it, and in nearly all its branches the revenue showed a tendency to increase. In the preceding year the shop tax, which had proved exceeding unpopular, was repealed, and some other taxes were imposed to replace it, among others a tax on newspapers and advertisements. Tobacco, which had become the great article for smuggling, had been transferred from the Customs to the Excise. It was computed that the revenue would gain no less than 300,000l. a year by this change, and several other measures had been taken to annihilate smuggling.
The budget of 1791 was in one respect less favourable, for the danger of a war with Spain had rendered necessary large and rapid armaments, and an additional and exceptional expenditure of more than 2,800,000l. had been incurred. But in spite of this expense Pitt was able to assert that the credit of the country had never stood higher, and, unlike most of his predecessors, he determined to discharge the new debt by taxation, spread over four years.1 The anticipations respecting the produce of these new taxes were amply verified, and the long and splendid speech with which he introduced his budget in February 1792 glowed with the richest colours of hope and exultation. It was indeed a magnificent picture of the growing prosperity of England; a noble monument of his own skill, both in financial statement and financial legislation; and, at the same time, a mournful illustration of the fallacy and imperfection that mingle with all human predictions. The total revenue of the country, he said, from January 5, 1791, to January 5, 1792, was 16,730,000l., irrespectively of the newly imposed temporary taxes; that of the preceding year had been 16,418,000l., and the average of the last four years had been 16,212,000l. Looking back to a longer period and comparing the condition of the country with that of 1783, the first year of peace after the American War, the revenue had increased to the extent of little less than 4,000,000l. Of this, rather more than 1,000,000l. was due to the additional taxes which he had imposed; 1,000,000l. had been gained in those articles in which special and separate regulations had been made for the prevention of smuggling and other fraud; the remainder was diffused over articles of general consumption, and was the consequence and the proof of the rapidly increasing prosperity of the country. He showed that the imports which in 1782, the last year of the war, amounted to 9,714,000l., had increased in every succeeding year, and amounted in 1790 to 19,130,000l. The total of the exports in 1782 was 12,239,000l. After the Peace, it rose, in 1783, to 14,741,000l, and in the year 1790 it was 20,120,000l. The last additional duty, included in the Post Office Revenue, had been imposed in 1784. In 1785, the Post Office yielded 238,000l. Last year it produced 338,000l. In the mean time, a progress unprecedented in any former period had been made in diminishing the National Debt, and he calculated that in fifteen years the period contemplated in the Act of 1786 would have arrived, when the Sinking Fund would amount to 4,000,000l. a year, and when its further disposition would have to be determined by fresh legislation. He announced that he had now a surplus of rather more than 400,000l. to dispose of; and he proposed to apply it in equal proportions to the diminution of taxes and the reduction of debt, selecting for special diminution those taxes which weighed upon the poorer classes. The reduction of the debt, he still maintained, should be the cardinal object of financial policy; and not content with the very considerable steps which had been already taken, he now announced his intention to introduce a prospective law intended to provide a permanent remedy against the danger of future accumulations of debt, by enacting that every additional loan should be accompanied by a separate sinking fund, sufficient to pay it off in a defined number of years, and appropriated exclusively to that purpose.
He concluded his speech in a strain of justifiable exultation. ‘The present prosperity of England,’ he said, ‘was unexampled.’ ‘The season of our severe trial is at an end, and we are at length relieved not only from the dejection and gloom which a few years since hung over the country, but from the doubt and uncertainty which, even for a considerable time after our prospects had begun to brighten, still mingled with the hopes and expectations of the public. … As far as there can be any reliance on human speculations, we have the best ground from the experience of the past to look with satisfaction to the present and with confidence to the future.’ Much of this prosperity, he said, was due to causes which lay beyond the sphere of political acts; to the spontaneous enterprise and industry of the country, and to the normal increase of capital; but much also must be ascribed to the commercial treaty with France, and to the wise adjustment of the whole system of customs and taxation on principles which had never before been so well understood or so skilfully elucidated. ‘The great work of Adam Smith,’ said Pitt, ‘will, I believe, furnish the best solution to every question connected with the history of commerce and with the systems of political economy.’ But above these immediate causes of industrial prosperity lay others which were still more important. Sound politics are the essential condition of permanent material prosperity. The security and prosperity of England; the solidity of credit; the rapid increase of capital; the rapid expansion of industry, are all ‘necessarily connected with the duration of peace, the continuation of which on a secure and permanent footing must ever be the first object of the foreign policy of this country,’ and with the maintenance of a constitution in which liberty and law are indissolubly united; which ‘practically secures the tranquillity and welfare both of individuals and of the public, and provides, beyond any other frame of government which has ever existed, for the real and useful ends which form at once the only true foundation and only rational object of all political societies.’1
No one can read this speech without perceiving that it was the speech of a man who was pre-eminently marked out, both by his wishes and by his talents, to be a great peace minister. Pitt had, however, learnt too much from his father to suffer an exclusive attention to financial considerations to make him indifferent either to the security or to the dignity of England. One of the most serious dangers of modern popular politics is that gambling spirit which, in order to lower estimates and reduce taxation, leaves the country unprotected, trusting that the chapter of accidents will save it from attack. The reduction of taxes is at once felt and produces an immediate reputation, while expenditure which is intended to guard against remote, contingent, and unseen dangers seldom brings any credit to a statesman. It is very possible for an English minister to go on year by year so starving the military and naval estimates as to leave the country permanently exposed to invasion, without exciting any general popular apprehension. The warnings of a few competent specialists are easily drowned; each successive reduction of taxation produces increased popularity, and if, owing to the course of politics, an invasion does not take place, writers are sure to arise who will maintain that the event has justified the wisdom of the statesman. It would be as reasonable to argue that, because a house does not happen to have been burnt, the owner had shown wisdom and prudence in refusing to insure it. Among the many noble characteristics of the ministry of Lord Palmerston, none is more deserving of admiration than the consistency and resolution with which he maintained the principle that it is the first duty of an English minister to provide at all costs that his country shall be practically secure from the possibility of a successful invasion, and shall not be found in a condition of impotence if unforeseen danger should suddenly arise. Pitt was of the same school, and he never allowed the armaments of the country to sink into neglect. He was much impressed with the fact that, in 1761 and 1762, Martinique, with a garrison of only 800 men, had held out by means of its fortifications for a whole year against a large English army, and that in the last war Dominica had been taken by the French merely because the English soldiers had no fort to retire to till the fleet could afford them relief. He accordingly carried in 1789 an important scheme for extending the fortifications of the West Indies; he at the same time strengthened the naval forces both in the East Indies and in the Mediterranean; and when, two years later, serious complications had arisen with Spain, it was the promptness and efficiency of the British naval force that chiefly averted the danger.
The dispute was of the same kind as that which had led to the Spanish War under Walpole. Some English merchants had begun to seek for the Chinese market furs and ginseng, a vegetable largely employed for medicinal purposes in China, along the north-west coast of America, and had planted an English trading settlement at Nootka Sound, on Vancouver's Island, near the coast of California. It was a country which had been discovered by Magellan, and first seriously explored by Captain Cook, and it had hitherto been entirely unoccupied by Europeans. The Spaniards had never penetrated to it, but by virtue of a bull of Alexander VI. they claimed a sovereignty over all lands comprised between Cape Horn and the 60th degree of north latitude—in other words, the entire western coast both of South and North America, and when after a considerable interval they discovered the existence of a British settlement in these distant parts, they determined to suppress it. Two Spanish ships of war accordingly hastened to Nootka Sound, took possession of the British settlement, hauled down the British flag, replaced it by the flag of Spain, captured four English vessels, and treated their crews with extreme harshness and indignity.
These events took place in the April of 1789. A few months later, accounts, at first dim and confused, but afterwards more complete, arrived in Europe, and it soon appeared likely that the affair would assume a most formidable character. Complaints were made on both sides. The Spanish ambassador in London was instructed to desire that the subjects of Great Britain should no longer be allowed to trade, settle, or fish on the western coast of America, while the English denied the rights of Spain to this unoccupied coast, and demanded a restitution of the captured vessels, with their properties and crews, an indemnification for the losses they had suffered, and a reparation to his Majesty for the insult that had been offered to the British flag. The money value of the Nootka Sound trade and settlement was very small, and certainly not sufficient to compensate for a week of war; but a question of honour and a question of future right of settlement had been raised, which could not be suffered to drop. The Spaniards answered the remonstrances of England by stating that the English vessels had been already released and their offence condoned on the ground of their ignorance of the rights of Spain, but they would give no satisfaction or indemnification; they asserted in the strongest terms their exclusive sovereignty over the whole of the western coast of America, and they rapidly collected and equipped a great fleet. Pitt promptly replied by a general impressment of sailors, and by a message to Parliament asking for assistance to defend the honour and interests of the country. A vote of credit for a million was at once passed; the fleet was put upon a war footing; each party began to seek for alliances; and it seemed possible that this petty dispute would lead to a general conflagration. Holland and Prussia were appealed to by England, in conformity with the late treaty of alliance. Spain, on the other hand, negotiated with Russia, which was now on bad terms with England; but she especially relied on the assistance of France, which was bound to her by the treaty of 1762. The Revolution was now running its course in that country, and the direction of its policy was very doubtful. Montmorin, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, appears to have inclined to war, and a considerable party hoped that it would give a new turn to the popular passions which had become so formidable at home. Montmorin, in obedience to the treaty of alliance, prepared a French fleet, but he held an ambiguous and undecided language, and offered or suggested a French mediation. Lafayette, whose influence was at this time very great, and who detested England, was a strong partisan of war, but the Jacobin opposition vehemently repudiated it. Nothing, they maintained, could be now more dangerous to the Revolution, nothing would be more likely to save the monarchy, than a foreign war. D'Aiguillon, Robespierre, Lamotte, and above all Barnave, denounced the policy which, in order to stifle the Revolution, was about to plunge France into bankruptcy, and invoke the spirit of conquest in opposition to the spirit of liberty, and they desired to take the power of declaring war from the King. Mirabeau on other grounds was opposed to war, and it was finally agreed that peace and war should for the future be voted by the Chamber, though only on the proposal and with the sanction of the King.1
This decision made it certain that France would not assist Spain in the war, and the latter country therefore found it absolutely necessary to recede. A skilful negotiator, named Fitzherbert, had been sent to Madrid, and, after some hesitation, a convention was drawn up and signed in October 1790, which substantially satisfied the English demands. It was agreed that Spain should restore the buildings and tract of land taken from British subjects on Nootka Sound and make reparation for all subsequent acts of violence; and the right of navigating and fishing in the Pacific Ocean, and making commercial settlements on its coasts, was secured to both nations under the following restrictions. British vessels were forbidden to approach within ten sea leagues of any part of the coast actually occupied by the Spaniards. The Spaniards and British subjects were to have equal and unrestricted liberty to trade in all parts of the north-west of America and of the adjacent islands situated to the north of the settlements already occupied by Spain; but neither were to form any settlement on the east or west coasts of South America southward of the Spanish settlements. The success of this negotiation added greatly to the reputation of Pitt and to the prestige of England in Europe, though the cost of the episode, amounting, as we have seen, to nearly three millions, remained to be provided for in the Budget of 1791.
In other quarters the aspect of affairs outside England was menacing and disquieting. In September 1786 Lord Cornwallis had taken possession of power as Governor-General of India. His administration is memorable in Indian history for many important internal reforms, and especially for a settlement of land ownership and land taxation, which has been a fertile source of controversy to our own day. It is also memorable for one of the most formidable native wars in which England has ever been engaged. We have seen, in a former volume, the long, desperate, and doubtful conflict which Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore, had waged against the power of England, and we have seen also that after his death it was continued for a year by his son Tippoo Sahib, with such indecisive results that the Peace of Mangalore, which terminated it in 1784, left both of the contending parties the whole territory they had possessed before the war began. In 1790, an attack which Tippoo Sahib had made some mouths before, upon the Rajah of Travancore, who was allied with the English, again brought the old antagonists into the field. The English were assisted by powerful native alliances, but the war was conducted by Tippoo with extraordinary courage and ability, and it was marked by several vicissitudes. At first the English carried everything before them, but they encountered a serious reverse at a place called Sattimungul, and several well-fought conflicts in the latter part of 1790 left the fortunes of the war still divided and ambiguous. Tippoo Sahib brought armies of more than forty thousand men into the field, and he showed no inconsiderable skill in strategy. Cornwallis commanded the English in person during the greater part of the war, and after several bloody and obstinate battles, which it is not necessary here to describe, he succeeded, in March 1792, in bringing it to a complete and glorious termination. Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore, was invested and reduced to extremities, and Tippoo Sahib was obliged to sign a peace, surrendering half his dominions to the allies, paying a sum of more than four millions sterling in compensation for the war, releasing all his prisoners of war, and giving up two of his three sons as hostages to the English.
In Europe, foreign politics had long been obscured and troubled by the ambition of Catherine II. This extraordinary woman, the daughter of a poor Prussian prince, had obtained, by the deposition and murder of her husband in 1762, a wider and more perfect range of absolute authority than any other European sovereign, and, in spite of a levity and a caprice which were the despair of foreign statesmen and diplomatists, and which often induced them greatly to underrate her capacities,1 her reign was one of the greatest and most successful in the eighteenth century. Assimilating with extraordinary rapidity the noblest political ideas of the most advanced thinkers of her time, thoroughly conversant with their writings in a country where serious study was almost unknown,2 enlightened, tolerant and generous, good-natured and forgiving almost to a fault, a warm and steady friend, delighting in the happiness of those who were immediately about her,3 perfectly free from all kinds of superstition, and perfectly undazzled by the unrealities and conventionalities of her position,—she retained, amid all the excesses of an abandoned and shameless life, a strange power of wisely measuring and employing the capacities of men, and of pursuing, with rare political judgment and indomitable resolution, certain great lines of policy. In a few years she made the dreams of Peter the Great all but a reality. The internal administration of Russia in nearly all its branches was reformed. A new code of legislation was established; torture was abolished; religious toleration was extended; hospitals and other institutions of benevolence were extensively founded; measures were taken to encourage the arts and sciences, and improve agriculture; the army and navy were reorganised; an attempt was even made to form a third estate, and at the same time a skilful, ambitious, and perfectly unscrupulous foreign policy gave the Empress a complete ascendency in Northern and Eastern Europe. ‘I came to Russia,’ she once said, ‘a poor girl; Russia has dowered me richly, but I have paid her back with Azof, the Crimea, and the Ukraine.’ In 1772, by the first iniquitous partition of Poland, she acquired a territory comprising an area of 2,500 geographical square miles, and a population of about one and a half millions; and by steadily maintaining anarchy in the remainder of the kingdom she prepared the way for its future downfall. In 1774 she terminated her first Turkish War by the Treaty of Kainardji, which severed the Crimea from Turkey, constituted it into a separate khanate, and, beside some accession of territory, gave Russia a protectorate over Greek Christians at Constantinople and admitted Russian commerce to the Black Sea.
In the beginning of 1784 she took another gigantic stride, and without a war she succeeded in incorporating the whole of the Crimea in the Russian Empire. Her position in the war which grew out of the American Revolution was beyond comparison the proudest in Europe, for her help was equally and almost abjectly courted by both sides; while, as the originator of the armed neutrality, she placed herself at the head of the neutral Powers. Her commercial treaty with England in 1766, with Denmark in 1782, with Austria in 1785, and with France in 1787 increased her influence and power; and now her great object was the total destruction of the Turkish Empire, the partition of its territory, and the construction of a Greek empire, which would be subservient to her influence.
The policy was not altogether a new one. Turkey, Catherine once said, is the natural enemy of Russia, as France is of England; and the gradual extension of Russian dominion along the shores of the Black Sea toward the Mediterranean had been, from the days of Peter the Great, a favourite object of Russian policy. By the conquest, in 1696, of the strong fortress and port of Azof, by the fortification of the port of Taganrog on the Black Sea, and by the commencement of a Black Sea fleet, Peter himself had done much for its accomplishment; but a few years later a great Russian defeat in Moldavia undid the work, and in 1711 the Peace of the Pruth deprived him of all that in this quarter he had won. The campaigns of Munich between 1735 and 1739 gave the Russians for a time Azof and Oczakow, and complete dominion over Moldavia, and a Russian army penetrated into the Crimea; but at the Peace of Belgrade in 1739 the tide was again rolled back. With the exception of Azof, which was deprived of its fortifications, Russia retained scarcely a vestige of her Turkish conquests; and an article of the peace specially forbade the formation of a Russian fleet in the Black Sea. The struggle between the two rivals was not renewed till the war of Catherine, and it was at this time that the project of making serious use of Greek discontent seems first to have arisen.1 The Orloffs, whose star was then in the ascendant, warmly supported it; and a Russian fleet from the Baltic, commanded by Alexis Orloff, the murderer of Peter III., entered the Mediterranean in 1770, defeated a Turkish fleet at Scio, burned it at Tchesme near the Bay of Smyrna, and provoked in the Morea some abortive but bloody risings, which were savagely repressed. The expulsion of the Mohammedans from Europe, which had long been the favourite dream of Christian fanaticism, now somewhat strangely found its warmest advocate in Voltaire, who, in letters both to Catherine and to Frederick, set forth the independence of Greece and the partition of the other Ottoman dominions in Europe as the noblest objects for their ambition. In a little work, called ‘Le Tocsin des Rois,’ which was written in 1771, he endeavoured to overcome the opposition of Maria Theresa, and to enlist her services in the cause. If the Continental Christian Powers would only, he said, lay aside for a short time their jealousies and join against the Turkish barbarians, a single campaign would undoubtedly give Bosnia and Bulgaria to Austria, while the victorious armies of Catherine would march upon Constantinople. The project of establishing a Greek empire which would be practically dependent on Russia was passionately adopted by Potemkin, who for many years had the greatest influence over Russian foreign policy, and in the latter years of his life it was almost the only object at which he aimed.
The attitude of other nations on the Eastern question presents some singular contrasts. From the time when Francis I. defied the theological passions and prejudices of Europe by allying himself with the Turks, France had usually openly or secretly favoured them, and she had gradually obtained the greater part of the Levant trade, which was one of the chief elements of the prosperity of Marseilles. To Russia she was almost always hostile. As the leading Continental Power she was keenly sensible to the dangers of Russian ambition and aggression. She usually inspired the anti-Russian party at Constantinople, at Stockholm, and in Poland; and the complete temporary eclipse of French influence that followed the fall of Choiseul was one of the chief causes of that great crime and calamity, the first partition of Poland. As the leading Mediterranean Power, France was especially interested in protecting Turkey, and she was quite resolved that Russia should obtain no footing in the southern seas.
England, on the other hand, during the greater part of the eighteenth century was closely allied to Russia, both commercially and politically. Her commerce with Russia was extremely profitable. She brought to her the goods of the Indies and of Western Europe, and received in return the maritime stores that were essential to her fleet. Politically, English statesmen, who were mainly governed by jealousy of France, looked upon Russia as a great counterpoise to that State, and saw with pleasure the very considerable part which in the eighteenth century she had begun to take in Western politics. In 1766 Chatham made an earnest, though unsuccessful, attempt to form a Northern Alliance of Russia, Prussia, and Great Britain to counteract the family compact of the House of Bourbon.1 In 1770, when a Russian fleet for the first time appeared with hostile intentions in the Mediterranean, Choiseul proposed to despatch a French fleet to destroy it, and Spain would probably have supported him; but England interposed in this very critical moment of the Eastern question, and informed the cabinets of Versailles and Madrid that she would regard any attempt to arrest the progress of the Russian fleet as an act of hostility to herself.2 Three years later, when the war against the Turks was at its height, Chatham wrote to Shelburne: ‘Your lordship well knows I am quite a Russ. I trust the Ottoman will pull down the House of Bourbon in his fall;3 and he always maintained that it ought to be an essential part of English foreign policy to enter into no kind of connection with the Turks.4 In 1781, when England was reduced to almost the lowest state of depression by the American War and by the hostility of France, Spain, and Holland, she endeavoured to purchase the mediation and assistance of Russia by offering a perpetual defensive alliance and the island of Minorca, which would have given her a secure position in the Mediterranean; but after much hesitation, and contrary to the advice of Potemkin, Catherine rejected an offer which would have probably involved her in an immediate war.1 The resentment produced in England by this refusal, and by the unfriendly conduct of Russia in the matter of the armed neutrality, was still further increased by the crushing duties which Russia imposed, in 1783, on most articles of British produce, and by a navigation law which, in the same year, cut off the profitable carrying trade between Russia and Southern Europe, which had hitherto been enjoyed by British vessels.2 Still the permanent policy of England and France remained unchanged. In 1783 and 1784, when Russia took complete possession of the Crimea, France strongly and earnestly remonstrated; England used her political influence steadily in favour of Russian aggrandisement; and it was probably in a large degree owing to that influence that Russia was able without a war with France to establish at Sebastopol her ascendency on the Black Sea.3
The annexation of the Crimea was chiefly accomplished during the brief period of the Coalition Ministry, and Fox, who then directed English foreign affairs, showed himself as Russian as Chatham had been. ‘My system of foreign politics,’ he wrote to Harris, ‘is deeply rooted. Alliances with the Northern Powers ever have been, and ever will be, the system of every enlightened Englishman.’1 His favourite policy, he said, was an alliance of England with Prussia, Denmark, and Russia; but if the dissension between Russia and Prussia rendered this impossible, he was prepared to enter into an alliance with Denmark, Russia, and the Emperor.2 One of the reproaches which Fox brought against Shelburne was that he appeared at this time to prefer a French to a Northern alliance, and that he was believed to share the views of Vergennes about the Eastern question.3
What those views were may be gathered from a very remarkable confidential paper on the dangers impending in Eastern Europe, which was drawn up by Vergennes in October 1782, shortly before the termination of the American War, for the instruction of Montmorin, who was then French ambassador at Madrid. The Emperor and the King of Prussia, he said, were competing for the favour of Catherine, and although Russia was at this time occupied with troubles in the Crimea, it was probable that those very troubles might lead in the near future to most serious dangers. If the three Powers should ever agree to give a mortal blow to the Turks, France would soon bitterly regret that she had been unable to prevent it. If an active and enlightened Power obtained possession of the Eastern provinces which touched the Adriatic, she would soon become the mistress of Italy, and there would be a total change in the Continental system and in the balance of power. France alone was not strong enough to oppose it, but France and England united might do so, and it was plainly for the interest of England also, that the balance of power in Europe should not be overturned. For these reasons Vergennes considered that it was of great importance to France that the war with England should be speedily terminated, and that the latter Power should not be so weakened or so hopelessly alienated as to be unable or unwilling to co-operate with France in maintaining the European Continental system.1
A triple alliance of Russia, Prussia, and the Emperor for the partition of Turkey, which Vergennes so greatly feared, and which Voltaire had done his best to effect, seemed at one time very probable. In 1769 such an alliance had actually been proposed by Russia, and in 1772, when the partition of Poland was impending, Austria had suggested the partial dismemberment of Turkey. It was a suggestion of aggravated treachery, for scarcely a year had passed since Austria had allied herself with Turkey, had promised to obtain the restoration of the territory which Russia had invaded, and had received a considerable Turkish subsidy.2 Frederick the Great, however, entirely rejected this policy. He calculated that Turkish assistance might be very useful to Prussia in a war either with Russia or with Austria, and that another field of spoliation might be more easily and more profitably secured. In the beginning of the reign of Catherine he had been her close ally, and he spared no flattery to win her favour and no expense to secure her counsellors. Count Panin was especially at the head of the Prussian party at St. Petersburg, and the alliance had two consequences of great importance. The first partition of Poland was mainly due to Frederick and Catherine, for although, when it had become inevitable, Maria Theresa reluctantly acquiesced in it and consented to accept a portion of the territory, the whole initiative lay with the other two conspirators. It is difficult to exaggerate the extent to which it shook the political system, lowered the public morals, and weakened the public law of Europe, for it was an example of strong Powers conspiring to plunder a feeble Power, with no more regard for honour, or honesty, or the mere decency of appearances than is shown by a burglar or a footpad. The Prussian alliance had also a very serious and persistent influence in alienating Russia from England during the very critical years of the American struggle, for Frederick, from the time when he was deserted by Lord Bute, looked upon England with a more than political malevolence. On the other hand, the alliance gave Russia no assistance in her projects upon Turkey, while Maria Theresa, as sovereign of Austria and Hungary, was vitally interested in preventing a Russian ascendency in Eastern Europe. In Catherines first Turkish War the Russians occupied Moldavia and Wallachia, but the Austrians at once prepared to ally themselves with the Turks, and these provinces were in consequence relinquished.
The death of Maria Theresa in 1780 and the accession of Joseph II. to his full power gave a complete change to Eastern politics. The character of Joseph is a curious study. He was undoubtedly superior in intelligence to the average of European monarchs; he was as exemplary as his mother in the industry with which he devoted himself to the duties of his office, and he had a most real desire to leave the world better than he found it; but a deplorable want of sound judgment, of moral scruple, and of firmness and persistency of will, made him at once one of the most dangerous and most unfortunate sovereigns of his time. Ambitious, fond of power, and at the same time feverishly restless and impatient, his mind was in the highest degree susceptible to the political ideas that were floating through the intellectual atmosphere of Europe, and he was an inveterate dreamer of dreams. Large, comprehensive, and startling schemes of policy—radical changes in institutions, manners, tendencies, habits, and traditions—had for him an irresistible fascination; and when he saw, or thought he saw, the bourne to which political forces were tending, it was his natural impulse to endeavour to attain it at once. Sometimes skilful in designing, but never skilful in executing, the sarcasm of Frederick, that Joseph always took the second step before he had taken the first, was well justified. What obstacles traditions, prejudices, manners, settled beliefs and tones of thought place in the path of the most powerful reformer—how necessary it is even for a despotic sovereign to consult times and seasons, and to seek in his reforms for the line of least resistance—Joseph never understood, and the result was that his policy in nearly all its parts was a deplorable failure. In foreign affairs it consisted chiefly of daring and adventurous enterprises, rashly undertaken and fitfully and irresolutely conducted. In domestic affairs it consisted partly of great reforms in perfect accordance with the most enlightened political speculation of his time, but forced into a precipitate maturity, with no regard for the habits, wishes, and prejudices of his subjects, and partly of a series of unjustifiable attempts to destroy the restraints which, in some parts of his dominions, custom and law had imposed upon his authority.
In 1780 he first met Catherine in Poland, and he afterwards accompanied her to St. Petersburg. His object was to weaken the Prussian influence, and in this he succeeded; but he soon fell under the spell of the great Empress, and his romantic nature caught up with eagerness Voltaire's idea of a Greek empire and a partition of Turkey. In 1783, in direct opposition to the settled policy of Austria, and especially to the policy of his mother during the last Turkish War, he assisted with all his influence the Russians in acquiring the Crimea, and even sent an army to the frontier to intimidate the Turks.1 The death of Panin in 1783, and the death of Frederick the Great in August 1786, strengthened the alliance, and in 1787 Joseph accompanied Catherine in her triumphant journey to Kherson and the Crimea. The determination to revive a Greek empire at Constantinople was no longer concealed. Catherine had already named her second grandson Constantine, clothed him in Greek dress, procured Greek nurses to instruct him in the language of his future subjects, ordered a medal to be struck representing on one side the head of the young Prince and on the other a cross in the clouds, from which a flash of lightning descended upon the mosque of St. Sophia.2 The Turkish names of the newly acquired territory on the Black Sea were abolished, and their Greek names revived. A great body of troops was collected to welcome the Empress. At Kherson she made her public entry through a magnificent arch, which bore the inscription, ‘The way to Byzantium,’ and at Sebastopol she reviewed the considerable Russian fleet which now rode triumphantly upon the waters of the Euxine.
Throughout the Turkish Empire, Russian agents were incessantly employed in preparing the way for the intended enterprise. They excited, or assisted, an insurrection which had broken out in Egypt. They steadily sowed dissension in Greece. The Hospodar of Moldavia had long been in the pay of the Courts of St. Petersburg and Vienna, and when his treachery was discovered, he fled to Russian territory and the Empress refused to surrender him. Russian consuls were the special centres of intrigue, and the Government insisted on establishing one at Varna, within 120 miles of Constantinople. There were constant complaints of injustices done to Turkish commerce, of violences done to Turkish sailors, and no redress could be obtained. Demands were now put forward by Russia for a total renunciation of Turkish sovereignty over Georgia; for the surrender of Bessarabia, on the ground that it had once belonged to the Tartar khans; for the establishment of hereditary governors in Moldavia and Wallachia, which would have made these provinces virtually independent of the Porte.1
As early as 1786 the Porte had issued an address to the Mohammedan world describing in touching and eloquent terms the seizure of the Crimea in time of peace; the steady encroachments of Russia on the Black Sea coast; the attempts of Russian agents to withdraw Turkish vassals from Turkish rule and to produce insurrection among the beys of Egypt; and he had warned true believers that a struggle was at hand, when their religion and all that was dear to them would be at stake.2 The condition of Europe seemed in the highest degree unfavourable to them. Poland was now perfectly tranquil, and was likely to afford no assistance and no diversion, and France could no longer be counted on as a friend, and might possibly even be feared as an enemy. There was, indeed, a party in the French ministry who contended, in accordance with the ideas of Vergennes, that it was an essential French interest to join with England for the preservation of the Turkish Empire,3 but other counsels seemed likely to prevail. In October 1787, Pitt wrote confidentially to Eden, who was then envoy in France, asking whether there was any foundation for the idea prevalent at Paris, that France, instead of supporting Turkey, was meditating a junction with Austria and Russia, and he intimated that such a policy might drag England into the Eastern question, in which she desired to take no part.1 Soon after, alarming intelligence was received from St. Petersburg of French negotiations in that city with the object of forming a triple alliance of France, Austria, and Russia against Turkey, and there were rumours that France might possibly be bribed by the possession of Egypt.2 She appears in truth to have been undecided and divided on the Eastern question, but on other grounds very desirous of the friendship of Russia. The close union of England, Prussia, and Holland naturally inclined her in that direction, and it was a significant fact that Russia refused to renew her commercial treaty with England, which expired in 1786, and a few months later negotiated one with France.3 The policy of the Emperor was not doubtful, and it was certain to be hostile to Turkey. For a long period there had been formal and perfect peace between the two Empires, and the Turks had fulfilled their treaty obligations with the most scrupulous and honourable fidelity. During the whole of the long and often most disastrous war of Maria Theresa, when the House of Austria had been reduced to the most desperate straits, when Hungary had been again and again left open and unprotected, the Turks had never suffered either cupidity, or fanaticism, or a desire to regain their ancient power, or the example of Christian princes, to persuade them to break their plighted word or to attack their defenceless neighbour. Their reward was that, without a shadow of provocation and through mere greed of territory, the son of Maria Theresa was now preparing to invade them.
It was evident that the cloud which was gathering must soon burst. Thousands of Tartars, driven homeless and ruined from the depopulated plains of the Crimea, spread the flame of indignation through the Mussulman population, and the manifest provocation of the proceedings of the Empress in the Crimea, and the new Russian demands that were sent to Constantinople, still further increased it. The Turks met the danger like a military and semi-barbarous people. They rejected absolutely and haughtily the Russian demands; they made a counter-demand for the restoration of the Crimea; they imprisoned the Russian ambassador; and in August 1787 they declared war against Russia.
It was a bold step, and it soon involved half Europe in war. France, indeed, declared her determination to be neutral; she announced that she would throw no obstacles in the way of a Russian fleet in the Mediterranean; she made an unsuccessful attempt at mediation, and for a few months the struggle was confined to the two original combatants. It consisted chiefly of wholly unsuccessful attacks by the Turks on Kinburn, which guards the mouth of the Dnieper, and which was defended with great skill by Suwarrow. But in February 1788, Joseph, having completed his preparations, declared war against the Porte, and immense forces, both of Austrians and Russians, streamed across the frontier. In the war between the Russians and Turks in 1788 the former were almost uniformly successful. The chief events were the total defeat by the Russians of a Turkish fleet in the Liman, and especially the capture of Oczakow by Potemkin. The siege lasted from July to December. Both the attack and the defence were carried on with extraordinary resolution; but the Russians had almost relinquished their enterprise in despair, when a stray shell blowing up a magazine made the fortifications untenable, and the town was taken, after a scene of appalling carnage.
On the Austrian side, however, the course of events was very chequered. Up to this period, the eighteenth century had proved exceedingly disastrous to the position and influence of Austria in Europe. In the beginning of the century, Prussia was a small German duchy, and Russia scarcely counted in Western politics; but both of these nations had now grown into military Powers of the first rank. France had experienced many vicissitudes, but she had at least consolidated her territory by acquiring the important Duchy of Lorraine; she had put an end to the chief peril that menaced her by severing Spain from the Austrian dominions and establishing a branch of the House of Bourbon on the Spanish throne; she had still further strengthened her connection with Spain by the family compact of 1761; she was a great homogeneous kingdom situated amid weak and dependent States, and if signs of decadence and danger might now be traced, they were at least half concealed by the brilliant empire which French literature and ideas exercised over the world. But the House of Austria during this long period had gained nothing of importance, except a section of Poland; it had lost Spain and Naples and Sicily, Belgrade and Silesia, Parma, Placentia, Guastalla and a part of Lombardy; and a great part of the vast hereditary dominions which it retained were so scattered, isolated, and defenceless that they were rather a source of weakness than of strength. On the side of Turkey the vicissitudes of Austrian power had been peculiarly galling to statesmen at Vienna. The great victories of Eugene and the Peace of Passarowitz in 1718 had given Austria, Belgrade, Temeswar, Bannat and a part of Servia and Wallachia as far as the Aluta. But the war of 1736 had been disastrous to Austria, and at the Peace of Belgrade in 1739 she lost everything except the Bannat which the Peace of Passarowitz had given her.
To the Turkish War the Emperor looked for compensation for the losses of his House, and he had hopes of acquiring not only Bosnia and Servia, but also Moldavia and Wallachia, and thus extending his borders to the Dmester. The army he brought into the field was estimated at not less than 200,000 men, with 2,000 pieces of artillery; but partly through great dilatoriness and indecision, and partly through the excessive prolongation of his line of operations, he effected nothing this year at all commensurate with the magnitude of his preparations. London and the Prince of Coburg succeeded indeed, at great cost of life, in capturing several important fortresses, and at the close of the year a large part of Moldavia was in the hands of the Austrians; but, on the other hand, two wholly unsuccessful attempts—one of them before the declaration of war—were made to capture Belgrade. A victorious Turkish army devastated a great part of the country near the Bannat. More than one Turkish governor who had seemed to waver in his allegiance turned finally against the Austrians, and in September a successful attack was made on the camp of Joseph near Slatina. The Emperor fled precipitately by night, leaving 4,000 men on the field, and a great part of his baggage and artillery in the hands of the enemy; his hopes of making a military reputation were blasted, and he returned to Vienna disenchanted and profoundly discouraged, carrying with him the seeds of a mortal illness.
Difficulties and discouragements were indeed multiplying rapidly round his path—the refusal of Poland to suffer Imperial troops to march through her territory; the refusal of the Republic of Venice to join in the league against Turkey or to depart from the strictest neutrality; the refusal of the King of Piedmont to allow any recruiting in his dominions; the failure of an attempt to negotiate an Imperial loan in the Low Countries; the formidable discontents that had shown themselves in Hungary, where Joseph had subverted the ancient Constitution; the spreading insurrection in Austrian Flanders, which threatened dangers of the gravest kind. Potemkin was hostile to the Austrian alliance, and lost no occasion of ridiculing the defensive system of his ally, and the Emperor was soon made aware that Russia was resolved under no possible circumstances to suffer him to retain Moldavia and Wallachia.1 It had become evident, from the powers of resistance displayed by the Turks, that a Greek empire at Constantinople was a distant dream, but a less ambitious project might probably be attained. Catherine now determined to unite Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia in a single kingdom, governed by a prince of the Greek rite, who would certainly be the vassal of Russia. It was not openly avowed, but it was well known, that the crown was reserved for Potemkin.2 Bulgaria, therefore, and some moderate acquisitions in Bosnia, seemed all that Joseph could reasonably expect.
In the meantime the circle of the war was rapidly widening. A century before the time of which I am now writing, Sweden had been indisputably the foremost Power of the North; but the disastrous day of Pultawa had shattered her sceptre, and the Peace of Nystadt, which, terminated her long contest with Peter the Great, stripped her of her most valuable provinces and made Russia, supreme in the Baltic. From that day Sweden was never the successful rival of Russia. She was sometimes little more than her obsequious vassal. In 1743 another disastrous war was terminated by another humiliating peace, and Russia had gradually overcome the influence of France and acquired a dominating authority over the poor and numerous nobles who chiefly directed the government of the country. The royal authority, after the death of Charles XII., had fallen into extreme debility; but at last, in Gustavus III., the young nephew of Frederick the Great, the Swedes obtained a sovereign boundless in his ambition and his courage, and with extraordinary powers both of popular eloquence and of intrigue. Relying largely on the support and subsidies of France, but constituting himself at the same time the special representative and champion of the democracy of Sweden, he accomplished, in 1772, one of the most daring and successful revolutions of the eighteenth century. The army, with the exception of a few officers, readily followed him; the populace, who detested the corrupt aristocracy, and who were electrified by the eloquence of the King, welcomed the change with enthusiasm. The senators were arrested in their chamber. Stockholm was placed under martial law. The Diet, meeting in a hall surrounded by soldiers and commanded by cannon, gave its sanction to a new Constitution produced by the King, which swept away the old oligarchical ascendency and greatly strengthened the royal authority, and the whole change was effected within three days, without the effusion of a drop of blood, and with the manifest approval of the great body of the nation.1
It at once broke the influence of Russia in the internal affairs of Sweden, and in the Russo-Turkish War Gustavus saw a chance of regaining some of her lost provinces. He armed rapidly by land and sea; he made a secret treaty with the Turks, by which he agreed to draw the sword in consideration of a Turkish subsidy, and in the summer of 1788, after short and angry preliminaries, Russia and Sweden were at war. In June a large but very ill-equipped Swedish army, under the command of the King, passed the frontier of Swedish Finland, captured Nyslot and besieged Frederickshamn, while on sea two Russian ships of war were taken, and a formidable fleet threatened St. Petersburg.
The attack furnished a powerful diversion in favour of the Turks, and it appears to have been strangely unexpected. Though rumours of Swedish armaments had occasionally arrived at St. Petersburg,1 no serious apprehension seems to have been felt till the Swedish army was on the eve of marching. Russia was making preparations for a great naval expedition to the Mediterranean; she had officially informed Sweden of her intention, and Finland was so slightly defended that at the outbreak of the war there was a serious question of detaching 15,000 men from the army of Potemkin, and sending them through the whole length of the empire to defend it. To those, indeed, who did not fully understand the character of the Swedish King, an attack seemed very improbable. Russia was by far the stronger Power; she had given no kind of provocation; Sweden had no ally except the Turks; she was still torn by the dissensions produced by the revolution of 1772; her exchequer was almost empty and, through the expense of a Court out of all proportion to the wealth of the nation, and the King's extreme passion for operas and plays, a great debt had been contracted. The army consisted chiefly of militia, with little discipline and few efficient officers;2 and an article of the Constitution which had been so recently adopted expressly forbade the King, except in case of invasion, from engaging in war without the formal sanction of the Diet.
For a time, however, the uneasiness was very great, and there was some panic in the Russian capital. The Russian navy had of late years been greatly strengthened, and it contained several able foreign officers. Elphinstone, Greig, and Dugdale, who were all English or Scotch, had borne a very prominent part in the defeat of the Turkish fleet in the Mediterranean in 1770. The famous corsair, Paul Jones, had been introduced into the Russian service by Ségur, and he was employed on the Black Sea in the summer of 1788, but in the following year he committed a disgraceful offence and was obliged to fly from Russia.1 Greig, who had now become an admiral, and who was an officer of great ability, commanded the Russian fleet in the Gulf of Finland, and he prepared promptly to encounter the Swedes. The intended expedition to the Mediterranean was at once abandoned; a most obstinately contested naval battle was fought for several hours with no decisive result; but the Russians, who had the advantage of being nearer to their naval arsenals, quickly re-equipped, augmented their shattered fleet, and succeeded in shutting up the Swedes in the harbour of Sweaborg.
Nearly at the same time, the operations in Finland were totally paralysed by the mutiny of the Swedish officers, who belonged to the noble class. They had been brought to Finland, they said, on the pretence that the Russians were preparing to attack the Swedish territory, and they were quite ready to sacrifice their lives to defend that territory from invasion. They saw, however, with their own eyes that the representations of the King were absolutely false—that no Russian troops had been collected; that there were no signs of Russian hostility to Sweden; that they were expected to engage in an offensive war, contrary to the plain letter of the Constitution to which they had sworn. The mutiny began with a few men, but it soon spread through almost the whole body of the officers, and it was evident that without their assistance nothing could be done. They compelled the King to withdraw his army within his own frontiers, and they actually sent a deputation to St. Petersburg to make a truce, preparatory to a peace. The Empress, who had probably promoted the mutiny, received them very favourably, and an armistice was actually signed.
The ambitious scheme of Gustavus was thus suddenly blighted. The shock was so great that when he first heard of the mutiny he fell into a fit and lay for some time unconscious.1 He soon, however, recovered and formed his resolutions. Abandoning his Finland army to the care of his brother, he returned hastily by a circuitous route to Sweden, where another and a most formidable danger had arisen.
This danger sprang from Denmark. There had been for generations a bitter national animosity between the Danes and the Swedes, which more than sixty years of peace had not allayed, and the disaffection of Norway, which then belonged to Denmark, and which was believed to be coveted by Sweden, kept the wound open. Russia and Denmark, on the other hand, were close allies. By the politic generosity of Russia, Denmark had obtained on very easy terms the important provinces of Schleswig and Holstein; and she had in her turn bound herself to furnish an auxiliary force whenever Russia was attacked in the North. Gustavus III. had, however, laboured, as he hoped with success, to sever the alliance, and to acquire a complete influence over his nephew the young Prince Royal, who governed Denmark, as the King was out of his mind. He had represented to him the dangers arising from the growing power and the equally growing ambition of Russia, and the identity of interests that should bind the two Scandinavian nations, and he imagined that he had at least secured the neutrality of Denmark. He soon found that he was mistaken. The Danish Prince determined to fulfil his treaty obligations, and in September 1788 a large Danish army, under the command of Prince Charles of Hesse Cassel, invaded Sweden from Norway. The King appealed to his people to rise against the invaders, and the appeal was at once responded to, but nearly the whole Swedish army was in Finland. It was utterly impossible to organise in time any force that could cope with any chance of success with the Danes; and the position was so desperate that it seemed as if the last vestige of Swedish independence must have perished.
It was at this point that England appeared upon the scene, and an obscure and difficult, but very important, period of English foreign policy begins. In order to understand it clearly it will be necessary to revert for a moment to events which have been described in the last chapter.
We have seen that the policy of Joseph II., in abolishing the divided sovereignty which the Barrier Treaty had established in the Belgic provinces, in beginning a course of open hostilities against Holland, and in endeavouring to exchange his Flemish dominions for Bavaria, which would have given Austria an overwhelming power in Germany and would have been accompanied by the cession of Luxembourg and Namur to France, had excited the gravest alarm in both England, Holland, and Prussia, and had drawn those three Powers closely together. The troubles, almost amounting to civil war, which distracted Holland in 1785 and the two following years, and the successful interposition of Prussia and England in favour of the House of Orange, strengthened the connection, and led to the Triple Alliance which was signed in the summer of 1788. This treaty bound the three contracting Powers to an unalterable defensive alliance for ‘preserving the public tranquillity and security, for maintaining their common interests, and for their mutual defence and guaranty against every hostile attack;’ and it stipulated in great detail the assistance which each was to furnish to the other. The first great task which the allies undertook was the pacification of Europe in such a manner as to leave substantially unchanged the existing balance of power.
The phrase ‘the balance of power’ is one which has now fallen into great disfavour, and it is certain that in many periods of history it has been grossly abused. The belief that no State should be suffered to add anything to its territory without a corresponding adjustment of the frontier of its neighbours, or even of distant States, has done much more to subvert than to promote the security of Europe, and it has produced far more warfare than it has prevented. Political prescience is at best so limited and imperfect a thing, that it is rarely wise to encounter the certain evils of a European war in order to avert dangers that are distant, doubtful, and obscure; and unforeseen influences of dissolution or of adjustment continually neutralise the effects of the most formidable political combinations. At the same time, within certain limits the wisdom of maintaining a balance of power is self-evident. Europe is a comity of nations, in which no one can completely isolate itself from the others. It is possible that one European State may (as in the period of Roman greatness) attain such an inordinate supremacy that all others may be at its mercy; and if the ascendencies of Charles V., Lewis XIV., and Napoleon had been consolidated when at their height, this would most probably have occurred. It is possible for a similar power to be attained by an alliance or coalition of two or more States, and it is also possible that there may be a local disturbance of the balance, which places certain quarters of Europe entirely under a single influence, to the great injury of other nations. In addition to the evils which inevitably follow from the existence of a European war, there was, at the time I am writing of, much probability of a partition of territory, which, in both the East and the North, would profoundly alter the relative position of European nations. The Emperor and the Russian Empress were conspiring to partition the dominions of the Porte, while the Swedish provinces were in great danger of falling into the possession of Russia and Denmark.
The latter danger was the most pressing. Denmark was completely under Russian influence, and if the independence and power of Sweden were destroyed the Baltic would become little more than a Russian lake. To England and Holland this was a very serious commercial question. To Prussia it was a question of security, for she had a long line of unprotected coast. With the Swedish army inactive in Finland; with the Swedish fleet beleaguered in Sweaborg; with a Danish army marching rapidly into Sweden, the position seemed nearly hopeless; and the capture of Gothenburg, which appeared certain and imminent, would have probably made it irremediable by placing the chief commercial town of Sweden in the hands of the Danes. But the intervention of the allies was prompt and decisive. Their mediation was offered to and accepted by the King of Sweden, and the Danes were informed that unless they at once desisted from their operations, and withdrew from the Swedish territory, a Prussian army would enter Holstein and an English fleet would appear in the Sound. The force which lay behind these threats was irresistible, and to the great disappointment of the Swedish King, who would have gladly continued the war with the assistance of such powerful allies, and whose conduct at this critical moment was evidently designed to rekindle the contest,1 an armistice was signed between Sweden and Denmark in October 1788. It was prolonged by successive extensions till the definite peace, and the Danish army retired beyond the frontier.
The conduct of Hugh Elliot, the English minister at Copenhagen, who was chiefly employed in conducting this difficult business, received and deserved much praise, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the very existence of Sweden as an independent Power was probably due to the rapid and decisive intervention of the allies. The supposition that Gustavus in first declaring war had been prompted by them2 is, I believe, entirely untrue. Their intervention was mainly due to an anxiety to maintain the political balance in the Baltic, and partly, perhaps, to the fact that France, which had always tried to maintain a kind of protectorate over Sweden, had already offered her mediation.3 Russia, not unnaturally, bitterly resented it. There had already been many complaints at St. Petersburg of an order which had been issued in England forbidding the hire of English transports to carry Russian troops from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and of English pilots to guide the Russian fleet, and it was acknowledged that military stores had been occasionally sent by English merchants to Constantinople. The English Government replied that the former measure was essential to their neutrality, and that it was impossible to prevent private merchants sending their stores to an advantageous market. Russia had in fact profited largely by this very trade, and more than one English ship laden with military stores had discharged its cargo at Cronstadt.1 It was added, as a proof that England did not lean unduly to the Turks, that the Emperor of Morocco had actually declared war against her on the pretence that she was assisting the Russians.2 The proceedings relating to Sweden caused a much more serious alienation. Count Ostermann, the Russian Vice-Chancellor, complained in strong terms, both through the Russian minister in London and through the English minister at St. Petersburg, of the unfriendly conduct of England and Prussia. He dwelt upon the unprovoked aggression of the King of Sweden; upon the palpable falseness of the pretexts he had advanced; upon the necessity of at least taking measures to prevent a recurrence of such attacks. The proposed mediation was courteously but firmly declined.3 The Empress would not make peace on the terms of the status quo, or on any terms that were dictated by other Powers. For the present, however, her energies were mainly directed to the Turkish War, and for some months an unquiet peace reigned in the Baltic.
As Russia refused to accept the mediation of the allies, their next attempt was to negotiate a separate peace between the Emperor and the Turks. It was the ambition of the Emperor which had first drawn England and Prussia into connection, and it was soon found that the task of effecting a peace was greatly aggravated by the at least equal ambition of the King of Prussia. It was only gradually that the full extent and significance of the Prussian designs were disclosed, and they threatened to change the whole aspect of the war.
At the end of January 1789, Ewart, the English representative at Berlin, wrote to Lord Carmarthen an account of instructions which had been sent to Alvensleben, the Prussian minister at the Hague, and which had been communicated to him by order of the King of Prussia. The Prussian minister was instructed to act in close harmony with the ministers of Great Britain and Holland, and at the same time he received a sketch of the wishes and plans of his Court. The first task of the allies had been to save Sweden from being overpowered by the Danish invasion, and thus to preserve the balance of the Baltic. So far this task had been achieved. The Danes had retired from Swedish territory and had signed an armistice, and the conduct of the Court of St. Petersburg in dispensing with Danish assistance by land seemed to indicate more moderate views. The neutrality of Denmark, however, must be clearly and definitely established, and if there was any refusal to admit it, on the part either of Russia or of Denmark, it might be necessary for Great Britain and Holland to threaten to send a fleet to the Baltic. With regard to Sweden, the object should be to restore peace on the same footing as before the war began. The King of Sweden is much to be blamed for his instability, and England and Prussia must endeavour to establish a permanent interest at Stockholm. In dealing with Russia, they must also very closely co-operate, and the King of Prussia earnestly hoped that Poland, where Prussian influence now preponderated, might be included in the negotiations. It was not, however, his desire that the war between Russia and Turkey should be at once terminated. On the contrary, it ought to be made a main object to prevent the Turks from making ‘a precipitate peace without the concurrent intervention of the two Courts.’ The Russians and Turks ought to be left to themselves, unless the Turks should be overpowered; but the Russians ought if possible to be prevented from sending a fleet to the Mediterranean. Once, however, the mediation of the two Courts was accepted by the Porte, ‘our influence so established might afterwards be employed in the manner best suited to the circumstances and to our common interests. The guarantees of the remaining possessions of the Turks after the conclusion of the peace, and their subsequent accession to our defensive alliance, continue likewise to be considered as probable consequences, and at least the Porte may be encouraged to expect those advantages, provided it relies solely on the mediation of England and Prussia.’ The King of Prussia will be obliged to resist all attempts of the Emperor to make acquisitions of territory; but this significant qualifying clause is added—‘He trusts England will concur in approving this resolution, or in contributing to make such an arrangement as may procure a compensation.’ ‘In all probability,’ it is added, ‘Great Britain and the King of Prussia will have it in their power to settle both the succession of Poland and the election of the King of the Romans, in the manner best suited to promote their common interests.’
It was already evident that the Prussian views extended much beyond a simple and speedy re-establishment of peace, and it was added that a military demonstration of Prussia and a naval demonstration of England and Holland would probably be needed. It was not likely, the Prussian ministers thought, that the actual employment of force would become necessary, for the two Imperial Courts were much exhausted, but the appearance of force might be very useful. ‘The line of conduct,’ continued Ewart, ‘pursued towards France, in the affairs of Holland, is adduced as a recent and striking proof in support of this conclusion and of the great probability of such an attempt being completely successful, since the risks would be much smaller than in the case alluded to.’1
In the course of the spring and summer of 1789 the Prussian designs took a more definite shape. The King of Prussia believed himself to be in possession of overwhelming military power; he was extremely desirous to renew the long contest with Austria which had been carried on by Frederick the Great, and he was determined to avail himself of the present war to obtain special advantages for Prussia. He had two great objects in view. One was to compel Austria to relinquish, in favour of Poland, Galicia and its other possessions in that country which, the Prussian ministers said, ‘from their situation are so extremely embarrassing to Prussia.’2 The other was to obtain from Poland, as a compensation for this cession, the important towns of Dantzig and Thorn, both of which, but especially the former, seemed from their position to belong naturally to Eastern Prussia.3 In order that these objects should be attained, it was the strong wish of the King ‘to see the two Imperial Courts, and particularly the Emperor, embarked in a second campaign with the Porte,’1 and he himself resolved to make a demonstration on the frontiers of Galicia and Bohemia. ‘It is not possible,’ wrote Ewart, ‘for his Imperial Majesty to assemble an army of 50,000 men at present in these provinces, whereas the King of Prussia has actually 200,000 men, in the very best order and discipline, ready to take the field.’2 Galicia was ripe for revolt. Hitherto, the King of Prussia said, he had discouraged insurrectionary movements, but they would probably break out without his concurrence as a consequence of the revolt in the Austrian Netherlands, and they would also probably be directed and assisted by the Polish States. In this case the Emperor would hardly be able to subjugate this detached portion of his dominions. Poland would become a party to the war, and Prussia would be bound to support her.3
But this was not all. The very grave resolution was now taken at Berlin of offering under certain circumstances direct assistance to the Turks. The Sultan had died in the spring of this year; his successor-was determined to carry on the war with energy, and the Prussian minister at Constantinople was now directed to negotiate an alliance with him on the following terms. If victorious, the Turks were to consider the interests of Poland, Sweden, and especially Prussia; but if fortune declared against them, and they were driven beyond the Danube, the King of Prussia engaged to assist the Porte with his whole force until the Porte regained ‘all his ancient provinces, situated beyond the Danube and the Cuban, as well as the greatest possible security for Constantinople on the side of the Black Sea.’ If, however, the Ottoman Court was ultimately obliged to make cessions to that of Vienna, the Prussian minister was enjoined to stipulate that this should only be on the express condition ‘that the Court of Austria should be obliged to restore to the Republic of Poland, in exchange, Galicia and all the provinces which, by the treaty of partition, she had secured from Poland; and that the Courts of Vienna, of St. Petersburg, and of Poland should arrange at the same time with the King of Prussia about their respective differences and interests in a manner conforming to the interests of the King of Prussia, as the principal friend and ally of the Porte.’1
This very serious step was taken by Prussia without any concert with her allies. It was, however, at once frankly communicated to the English minister, and the Prussians distinctly stated that they did not consider that it in any way bound or implicated England and Holland under the terms of the Triple Alliance. They added, at the same time, that one result of the Prussian policy would probably be that Turkey would become a party to the defensive alliance under a guarantee of her dominions.
Even this, however, was not the full extent of the Prussian designs. For some time affairs in the Austrian Netherlands had been becoming rapidly worse. The disturbances which had been originally produced by the rash, and for the most part wholly unjustifiable, encroachments of Joseph upon the ancient privileges and customs of his Flemish subjects had been composed at the close of 1787; but after a short interval they revived with redoubled violence. An obscure quarrel, which has long since lost its interest, about the constitution of the University of Louvain, was the immediate cause, and after many acts of violence, disorder, and military repression, a serious insurrection broke out. The revolutionary ideas that were seething in France were in full vigour in Austrian Flanders; an insurrection in the neighbouring bishopric of Liége still further strengthened them, and the Flemish insurgents were so successful, that by the end of 1789 the Austrian garrison was completely driven out of Flanders, the dominion of the Emperor was thrown off, and in January 1790 an Act of Union of the Belgian United Provinces was drawn up and signed at Brussels.
For some time before this triumph had been achieved the separation of these provinces from the Empire seemed a probable contingency, and it soon appeared that, provided they did not fall into the hands of France, Prussia was prepared both to welcome and to accelerate it. If Austria could be deprived on one side of her Polish, and on the other side of her Flemish, dominions, while Prussia obtained Dantzig and Thorn, it was plain that the relative position of the two great German Powers would be materially changed; and it was insinuated to the English minister that a Prussia so aggrandised would give a much greater weight and importance to the Triple Alliance.1
It was reported in the April of 1789 that France was endeavouring to negotiate an alliance with Russia, and that the Emperor strongly supported her; and there were rumours and suspicions at Berlin that the cession of the Austrian Netherlands to France might form part of the arrangement.2 Under these circumstances the Prussian Government represented confidentially to England that the three Powers should form some plan of concert about the affairs of the Netherlands. It was generally admitted that the acquisition of these provinces by France must be resisted at the cost of war; and the Prussians urged that, in the not improbable contingency of the French entering Flanders as the allies of the Emperor, the three allied Powers should actively support the insurgents in resisting them. But there was another contingency to be feared. Was it not probable that if the allies now refused to support them, the insurgents might throw themselves into the arms of France, and that a French alliance, or protectorate, or annexation might be the result? On the whole, the Prussians suggested that the best settlement of the question might be the union of Austrian Flanders and Holland into a single republic. This must, however, be left to the determination of the people and to discussion with Holland. All that was at present urged was that the existing system seemed likely to be overthrown, and that the common interests of the allies would suffer extremely if Austrian Flanders were ‘annexed to France, of which there seems to be so much danger, as a considerable party in the country is already inclined to adopt this measure, and their French neighbours use every means to encourage it.’ England and Holland, in the opinion of the Prussian King, ought at once to consult together about the possibility of carrying out such a union of the Low Countries as was suggested. By the Peace of Utrecht and the Barrier Treaty they were expressly authorised to prevent Austrian Flanders from falling into the hands of France, and Prussia had also a right to interfere as a party to the Peace of Utrecht, and as a member of the German Empire ‘to which the Austrian Netherlands belonged from their origin.’1
These considerations opened to the English Government a long vista of dangerous and embarrassing complications. The two objects of England in interfering with the existing war had been to bring about as speedily as possible a European peace on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, and to induce as many Powers as possible to join in a defensive alliance which might for the future secure the peace of Europe from aggressive enterprises. The Prussian alliance was the very keystone to this defensive system, and the King of Prussia had signally displayed his good-will to England by consenting that a war in the East Indies in which any European Power attacked the English possessions should be esteemed a casus foederis.2 In conjunction with Prussia, England had already in some degree committed herself to the task of restricting, with a view to ultimately extinguishing, the present war. But the policy which the Prussian ministers had announced was almost certain both to prolong and to extend it, by suggesting new objects of contention which could hardly be settled except by arms, and which might very easily draw every important country in Europe into the contest. It was in the highest degree improbable that Austria could be induced to abandon her Polish dominions, unless she were conquered by a Prussian army; and it was very probable that a war with France would be the consequence of any attempt to alter the political position of the Austrian Netherlands. The original object of the Triple Alliance had been to maintain and consolidate the peace of Europe, and it was with this object that England and Holland had joined in it. There was now, however, an obvious desire on the part of Prussia to employ it with the object of remodelling the map of Europe at the great risk of an extended war, and in the interests of Prussian ambition. At the same time, it was difficult to draw back without seriously endangering or weakening the alliance.
Sir Robert Keith, who was English minister at Vienna when the war between the Emperor and Turkey began, has furnished us with an extraordinary illustration of the laxity and negligence with which English foreign politics were at this time sometimes directed. He mentions that the first intelligence he received of the impending alliance between England and Prussia, which so profoundly changed the attitude of England towards the Emperor, was derived not from his own Government, but from the Prussian minister; that at the time when this alliance and the entry of the Emperor into the Turkish War had made the relations of England to the Court of Vienna peculiarly delicate, critical, and difficult, he was left for five whole months without a single line of instruction on public affairs, and that no less than fifty-two successive despatches which he had written remained unanswered. On an average, he said, he obtained one answer to about forty despatches.1 On very grave occasions, however, Pitt appears to have himself intervened in foreign politics,2 and his hand may, I think, be traced in the admirably reasoned, courteous, but at the same time somewhat sarcastic despatches in which the English Government now dissected the Prussian proposals and indicated their own policy.
The first of these despatches relates exclusively to the Polish and Turkish questions It expresses warm appreciation of the courtesy of the King of Prussia in communicating the instructions to the Prussian minister at Constantinople to the English minister, and also of his care in avoiding implicating England and Holland in his policy. The chief object, the writer continues, of Prussian policy appears now to be, first of all, to deprive the Empire of those provinces which Austria acquired by her share in the partition of Poland; and, secondly, ‘the acquisition of some considerable place, such as Dantzig and Thorn, with their adjacent territory, in the more northern parts of Poland. Other arrangements beneficial to Prussia may be in contemplation, but I state these as the most essential objects in the present system of acquisition of that Power.’
It seemed to the English Government highly improbable that the Porte could secure these ends, or that she would secure them if it were in her power. It can hardly be reasonably supposed that the Ottoman arms could be so successful ‘as to render the Porte equal to the task of not only making terms for herself and Sweden, but likewise of settling the affairs of the four remaining Powers to the satisfaction of Prussia and Poland;’ and it is almost equally improbable that, in case of a serious defeat, she would be able to carry out the Prussian design of making any cession of territory she was obliged to make to Austria conditional on that power restoring Galicia and the other Polish provinces to Poland. The King of England would be delighted at any advantages that could be attained by Prussia ‘without danger of extending those hostilities it is so much the interest of all Europe to put an end to.’ It is, however, very plain, that the intentions now disclosed go ‘much beyond the spirit of our treaty of alliance, which is purely of a defensive nature, and by which we of course cannot be considered as in any degree bound to support a system of an offensive nature, the great end of which appears to be aggrandisement rather than security, and which from its very nature is liable to provoke fresh hostilities, instead of contributing to the restoration of general tranquillity.’ The future guarantee of the Turkish dominions is a point which can only be practically and beneficially discussed at the peace. England has no wish to act in such a manner as to make a future connection with Russia impossible. She is persuaded that the Prussian policy would greatly diminish the chance of detaching Russia from Austria. ‘In discussing these points,’ the minister continues, ‘and indeed upon every other occasion, I must beg you, sir, to remember that it is by no means the idea of his Majesty and of his confidential servants to risk the engaging this country in a war on account of Turkey, either directly or indirectly. I am to desire you would be particularly careful in your language to prevent any intention of that nature being imputed to us.’1
The same pacific counsels were reiterated in a despatch which was sent about three months later. England, Leeds said, fully admitted the pernicious consequences that would ensue if the Austrian Netherlands became absolutely dependent on France, and she was quite prepared to co-operate with Prussia and Holland in preventing it. But it was necessary that this danger should be clear and imminent. ‘As yet,’ said the English minister, ‘nothing in these provinces appears to call for such a degree of interference on the part of the allied powers as to threaten the interruption of that tranquillity which it is so much their interest, and I trust their intention, to preserve.’ The Emperor is very dangerously ill, and his death would probably produce a change of system which might alter materially the problem in the Netherlands. ‘The idea of separating Galicia from the Emperor is certainly one which is in all respects tempting to the Court of Berlin, and in proportion as it would add to the security and strength of that Court, it would certainly be considered here as beneficial to our general system. But the advantage might be purchased at too dear a rate. It would be so if the attempt led to involve the allies, or any of them, in a war. For the station they hold at present, and the benefits to be derived from a continuance of peace, seem likely to contribute more to the real prosperity of their dominions than the most brilliant successes which could be expected to attend their arms. These considerations make it appear wiser that the King of Prussia should avoid taking any such part in the events which may arise in Galicia as may lead to a rupture with the Emperor. … On the whole, therefore, it is his Majesty's earnest wish to prevail on the Court of Berlin to desist altogether from any enterprise in the Netherlands or in Galicia, and at all events it is impossible to pledge this country beforehand to the consequences of measures which go beyond the line of a defensive alliance, and which might incur, without any sufficient justification, the risk of a general war.’ ‘When the independence of Sweden seemed in danger of being immediately and totally subverted, there appeared to be an evident and urgent interest which called for the effectual interposition of the allies. But it does not in the present situation of things appear likely that any event should arise in the war between the two Imperial Courts and Turkey which can be considered as calling upon the allies in the same manner, or which can properly induce them to become parties in the war.’1
The campaign of 1789 was on the whole very disastrous to the Turks. In addition to several less important fortresses, Belgrade was at last taken, after a long siege, by the Austrians, and Bender by the Russians, and some very considerable battles were fought and won. The Russian forces moved triumphantly through Moldavia; while the Austrians took possession of Bucharest, the capital of Wallachia; overran the greater part of Servia, and captured most of its fortresses, though they at length received a check at Orsova. These successes, combined with the rapidly extending insurrection in Austrian Flanders, were watched very keenly at Berlin, and a few extracts from the letters of Ewart to the English Government will show how near Europe was to a great and general war at the close of 1789 and in the first months of 1790.
In October he reminded the Duke of Leeds that in the event of the Turks being in danger of being pushed beyond the Danube, the Prussian minister at Constantinople was authorised to offer them effectual support, and that this would become almost inevitable if Belgrade and Bender fell. ‘On the other hand,’ he continued, ‘positive advices have been received by this Court that the Emperor has again represented strongly to the Empress of Russia the necessity of making peace, proposing, at all events, that Oczakow, Belgrade, and Bender should be restored to the Porte, on condition of the fortifications of the two former being raised; that he would keep Chotzim, a district in Wallachia, and another in Bosnia, and that the Turks should reimburse to both the Imperial Courts all the expenses of the war. But, however moderate these terms may appear to the Emperor, this Court is persuaded they will not be accepted by the Porte.’2
The English advice, which had been already given, was received very courteously by the King of Prussia. For the present, he fully agreed, nothing short of a French interference in the affairs of the Austrian Netherlands would require the interposition of the allies; he promised not to make any enterprise either in Galicia or the Netherlands without English advice, but he represented that it was already extremely difficult to prevent the inhabitants of Galicia from revolting, although the leading patriots in Poland had been exhorted to use their influence in the cause of peace. If, however, Poland were committed with Austria, if the Emperor made acquisitions dangerous to Prussia, especially if he took possession of Moldavia and Wallachia, Prussia would be obliged to intervene. For the present the King said he had no such intention. Russia was strongly opposed to the Emperor obtaining Moldavia and Wallachia, and the two Courts, but especially Austria, were so impoverished that if the war continued in the following year a favourable crisis would probably arise. If the King engaged in the war he would only ask of his allies to maintain the neutrality of France and Spain.1
In November and December the prospect darkened. Count Horn had arrived at Berlin on a mission from the States of Brabant, and the Prussian minister now maintained that if the insurgents prevailed so completely as to have a decisive majority, the allies ought to recognise their independence, in order to prevent their possible union with the French provinces of Flanders. The King was exceedingly elated with the success of the insurgents, and Ewart was now convinced beyond all doubt that he hoped to deprive Austria both of the Netherlands and Galicia, and that an insurrection in Galicia would speedily break out, stimulated by the success of the revolt in Brabant. In Bohemia and Hungary discontent was spreading. Prussia would obtain Dantzig and Thorn when Poland got back Galicia; the King contemplated an immediate alliance with Poland and Turkey, and he was much alienated from England, on the supposition that she was opposed to the severance of Galicia and the Netherlands from the empire. ‘His Prussian Majesty continues much occupied with the idea of taking advantage of the present favourable conjuncture to diminish the power of his rival as much as possible, but his ministers hope they have succeeded in convincing his Majesty that he can do nothing with regard to the Netherlands without the concurrence of his allies.’ He is, however, strongly in favour of the independence of the Austrian Netherlands; he thinks it unavoidable, and is delighted to hear that the Dutch Pensionary is not against it. The allies in his opinion ought at once authoritatively to interpose to prevent either France from interfering, or the Emperor himself from sending troops into the Netherlands.1
This policy evidently meant an immediate war. Leeds wrote briefly in reply, urging delay. The British Government agreed with Prussia, that the insurrection in the Austrian Netherlands seemed likely to produce ‘their total separation from their present sovereign, and, of course, establishing a new, separate, and independent power amongst the States of Europe.’ As, however, an armistice had been established between the contending Powers in the Netherlands, there seemed for the present nothing to be done. Leeds earnestly hoped that England, Prussia, and Holland might remain closely united on the question; he expressed without disguise his own opinion, that the best solution would be a reconciliation of the Netherlands with the Emperor, coupled with a full acknowledgment of their ancient privileges; and he strongly represented that the questions relating to the Netherlands and the questions relating to Galicia were completely distinct, and that it would be very unwise to connect them.2
Prussia at this time took a decisive lead, and in January 1790 the Prussian minister proposed that the two Imperial Courts should be summoned to make an immediate peace at the mediation and under the guarantee of England, Holland, and Prussia, on the condition that all the conquests from the Porte should be restored. While making these propositions the King was determined to assemble two armies, one on the frontiers of Galicia, the other in Livonia, and to make a diversion on the side of Galicia, while the Turks directed their principal efforts towards Croatia and Styria on the one side and the Crimea on the other. As the price of this active assistance the Porte was to be asked to agree not to make peace without including Prussia, and without Prussia obtaining such advantages as the circumstances admitted, particularly the restoration of Galicia to Poland.1
The answer of Leeds disclaimed emphatically on the part of England and Holland any responsibility for such a policy. ‘The measures which his Prussian Majesty seems determined to adopt, with a view to force the two Imperial Courts to make peace with the Porte upon moderate terms, not having been adopted in consequence of any concert between the allies, cannot with justice be ascribed to the councils either of Great Britain or Holland; and whatever the consequences of so very active an interference may be, our system of defensive alliance cannot fairly be responsible for it.’ At the same time Ewart was instructed to make no useless complaints: The flourishing condition of the finances and of the army of Prussia makes her success very probable, and England will hope for it, but it is very possible that the war may be extended rather than terminated by her policy. The immediate recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces seemed to the English ministers very unwise. They may become independent, but it is important not to precipitate matters; and there is much reason to fear that when severed from the Austrian rule they may become wholly subservient to France.2
For a few weeks there appears to have been a pause in active diplomacy. Ewart wrote that the King was now almost certain to acknowledge the independence of the Belgic states and to intervene in favour of Turkey; that the proposed alliance with Turkey was actually drawn up, and that the relations with Poland were becoming closer.3 Some time before Prussia had proposed that each of the allies should lend a small sum to the King of Sweden in order that he should be enabled to continue his struggle.4
The Prussian ministers determined to make one more effort to obtain the co-operation of the two allies, and if this object could be attained, they professed themselves ready to sacrifice some part of their scheme of aggrandisement. Their proposal, however, was one which was hardly likely to be peacefully effected, and if it failed, England and Holland could not have refused, after accepting it, to draw the sword. It was sent by Ewart to England on February 25. The Prussian Government, he stated, had arrived definitively at the following conclusions:
1. It was indispensably necessary for the allies to assemble an army in the neighbourhood of the Netherlands in order to secure the direction of events, and especially the two great objects of preventing France from interfering with the Austrian Netherlands, and of preventing the Emperor from subduing them by force and abolishing their ancient privileges.
2. If this step were taken, the King of Prussia will then consent to Great Britain and Holland entering into a negotiation with the Court of Vienna for restoring the Netherlands, on the condition of that part of Galicia which lies at this side of the Krapack or Carpathian mountains being given back to Poland, and in that case Austria may likewise have the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz restored on the side of Turkey. By this last provision Austria would obtain Belgrade, and a portion of Servia and Wallachia which had been ceded by the peace of 1739. They were already by conquest in her hands, but Turkey was to be asked or compelled to surrender them formally at the peace, in order to facilitate the acquisition by Poland of the chief part of Galicia.
3. If the Emperor should refuse these conditions the Netherlands ought not to be restored. Prussia in this case will support England and Holland against any bad consequences that may arise from this refusal, while, on the other hand, if Prussia should be engaged in war with the two allied Imperial Courts, Great Britain was expected to enforce the neutrality of France and Denmark, and to prevent any Russian fleet from attacking the Prussian coast.
4. If the Emperor refuses to negotiate on the above-mentioned conditions, the independence of the Belgic provinces must at once be acknowledged. The King of Prussia declared that he would even prefer to allow them to be dependent on France, rather than permit ‘such an opportunity as the present to pass without taking advantage of it in diminishing the power of his dangerous rival.’1
The extreme seriousness of the situation disclosed in these despatches is very plain. Prussia evidently desired and was determined on war; and England, which had originally entered into the Triple Alliance for the purpose of maintaining the peace of Europe, was now almost driven to the alternative of breaking it up at a time of great European complication and danger, or of embarking in a very serious and extended struggle, of which the real object would be the aggrandisement of Prussia and Poland. The difficulty was especially great, because the fate of the Belgic provinces, which was now hanging in suspense, had always been esteemed a matter of capital importance in English foreign policy; while the question of the frontier of Turkey on the side of Austria, and of the frontier of Poland on the side of Prussia, lay almost wholly beyond the range of English interests. Before, however, the despatch which has just been quoted arrived in England, the English Government sent a long and very able despatch to Berlin, defining and defending the policy they had adopted. The draft of this despatch, if I mistake not, is in the writing of Pitt, and I have little doubt that it was his composition.
It began with a full discussion of the Prussian proposal for the immediate recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces. Having reminded the Prussian minister that ‘the object of the convention concluded by the allies on this subject was that no step should be taken in a point of so great importance but by common consent,’ the writer proceeded to state that the leading men in Holland were strongly opposed to the Prussian proposal, and that the English ministers fully shared their view. They opposed immediate recognition because there was still such confusion and dissension in these provinces, that it was impossible to predict any permanence of government, constitution, or alliance, and because the whole state of affairs might be changed by the death of the Emperor, which appeared imminent. There were two dangers which the allies unanimously agreed must be guarded against. Europe, for great purposes of public order and security, had placed these provinces under the Austrian sceptre, but she had given the House of Austria only a limited, divided, and conditional authority over them; and that House must not be suffered to establish despotic authority in them, and to make an unrestrained use of their wealth and population. Under the present circumstances, however, this danger was exceedingly remote. It was also agreed that ‘neither under the dominion of the House of Austria nor under any other circumstances should these provinces be allowed to become an accession to the power of France.’ ‘On this subject,’ the despatch continued, ‘it is to be observed that whatever may have been the intrigues or the promises of individuals, no public encouragement has been held out by France to the independence of the Netherlands; that the recent example of what has passed in that country must necessarily inspire the noblesse and clergy of the provinces with an apprehension of the danger to them from the introduction of a French system, and that the present apparent and increasing weakness and distraction of that country must prevent any body of men from looking to that quarter for any present and effectual support. It is also a material circumstance that while the provinces feel their independence in danger from the possible attacks of the Emperor, they will be fearful of taking any measures which might be offensive to those powers, by whom alone they can, under the present circumstances, be effectually protected against him; and it may even be doubted whether, if this fear were once removed, by the allies having decisively committed themselves on that important point, the intrigues of France would not have a better field to work in, by the French being enabled to avail themselves of those points of jealousy and difference which must be expected to arise.’ All that seems necessary is to maintain a party attached to the allies, just as there is a party attached to France, and the allies have in this respect quite as good chances and means as the French. It is true that the Belgic provinces are for the present de facto independent; but there has as yet been no public declaration that the Emperor will not in the next season endeavour to regain his dominion in them.
It is said that, as guaranteeing Powers, we have a right to interpose. We undoubtedly have for the support of the ancient constitution, but not for the establishment of independence ‘without having in some regular mode expressed our sense of the invasions of that constitution, and without having sufficient proof that no measures short of independence can prevent its subversion.’ If we now recognise Belgic independence, we should act like France when she declared the independence of America. England treated that declaration as ‘a direct and open avowal of hostilities,’ and she could therefore not blame the Emperor if he regarded the recognition of Belgic independence as equivalent to a declaration of war. The English ministers earnestly hope that Prussia will not take this step, for England cannot concur in it.
Turning then to the other aspects of the question, the English Government fully agreed with Prussia that the object of the allies should be ‘the establishment of a pacification on the grounds of the status quo,’ and they were prepared to concur with Prussia and Holland in drawing up a memorial to that eifect for the Courts of Sweden and Constantinople. ‘If this representation should be unsuccessful, we would willingly comply with the King of Prussia's request by engaging to take measures to prevent his being attacked either by France or Denmark … considering such attack on these grounds as a casus fœderis. … If no such attack should take place, it is conceived that such demonstrations might be made by this country and by Holland as would materially assist the King of Prussia by the uncertainty and uneasiness which they would occasion to his enemies.’ It must, however, be distinctly understood that ‘the circumstances and interests of this country do not permit us to join in offensive operations to which we are not bound by treaty. This has already been clearly explained in several of the communications which have passed between the two Courts. But the circumstances of the present moment and the good faith which is due from this country require that, at a time when the King of Prussia appears to be on the eve of embarking on so extensive a plan of operations, he should again distinctly understand the degree of assistance which he may expect from this country.’ Prussia then may expect the approbation of England in all efforts to make peace on the basis of the status quo. She may expect when pursuing this enterprise to be defended from attacks by France and Denmark; ‘the necessity for enabling Sweden to defend herself by another campaign against Russia would also induce this country to take her share in such reasonable pecuniary aid as might be requisite for this purpose, and to exert herself for securing the neutrality of Denmark.’ But hostilities against the Imperial Courts, either indirectly by recognising Belgic independence, or directly ‘by our joining in the measures of offensive operations which Prussia may feel it her interest to adopt, would go beyond the line which this country has uniformly laid down.’ If a peace on the basis of the status quo is made, England will be ready ‘to include Turkey, Poland, and Sweden in the alliance, and to guarantee to them the terms of that pacification.’1
This despatch laid down the principles of English policy with a distinctness that left little to be desired. But almost immediately after it was written the whole aspect of affairs was changed by the news of the death of Joseph II. He had not yet completed his forty-ninth year, but the deadly illness which he had brought back from the Turkish frontier had never passed away, and those who were about him saw clearly how greatly disappointment and sorrow and anxiety had aggravated and accelerated its effects. A Turkish war raging; a war with Prussia and Poland manifestly impending; the Netherlands for the time completely lost; Hungary on the verge of revolt; bitter discontents and animosities revealing themselves in every part of his dominions—the dying Emperor saw but too plainly that his life had been one long failure, and that almost all his schemes had been abortive. The words that fell from him in his last days painted vividly his profound dejection. ‘Your country,’ he said to the Prince de Ligne, speaking of the Flemish revolt, ‘has killed me.’ ‘God, who knows the heart, knows that in all I have done I have sought only the good of my people. May His will be done!’ ‘Here lies a sovereign who, with the best intentions, failed in everything he undertook.’ He had a strong craving for the affection of his subjects, and he had made it his aim to relieve the poor from serfdom and feudal burdens, to break the power of ecclesiastical tyranny and establish universal toleration throughout his dominions. Something of what he had done remained, and with a longer and more quiet reign much more might have been permanently accomplished, but as yet he had reaped little but hatred and insurrection. He spent his last days partly in rewarding his soldiers and his old servants, and partly in endeavouring to undo some of the measures which had proved most unsuccessful. The ancient constitution of Hungary was reestablished. The Holy Crown of St. Stephen was sent back from Vienna and carried in triumph to Buda. Orders were issued to restore privileges which had been taken away in the Tyrol and in Galicia,1 and proposals for a peace with Turkey were sent to England. His favourite generals, Lacy and London, with a few other attached friends, gathered round the deathbed of the childless Emperor, but his brother and successor was absent, and his favourite niece, the Archduchess Elizabeth, to whom he was passionately attached, was now rapidly approaching her confinement. The anxiety with which she followed his sufferings produced a premature delivery, and on February 18 she died in childbirth. The blow was more than the Emperor could support. He bowed his head in an agony of grief, and two days later he was numbered with the dead.
It is probably no exaggeration to say that his death saved Europe from a great extension of the war; for the animosities that had attached to him were such that a policy of conciliation in his hands would at this time have almost certainly failed. His brother Leopold, who succeeded to the title of King of Hungary, had already shown, as Grand Duke of Tuscany, great administrative ability, and he made it his first object to arrive at a peace. For several months, however, the prospect was exceedingly doubtful and menacing, and just before the death of Joseph, Prussia had fulfilled her threat and taken a step which made a general war almost inevitable. At the end of January the Prussian minister at Constantinople had signed an offensive alliance between Prussia and Turkey. It declared that the enemies of the Turks in crossing the Danube had disturbedthe bala nce of power; that the King of Prussia had determined to declare war in the following spring against Russia and Austria; and that he would not desist till the Porte had obtained a desirable peace and been placed in perfect security by sea and land; while the Turks, on their side, engaged to do all in their power to compel Austria to restore at the peace Galicia and her other Polish territory to Poland. If the Ottoman Court was successful, its intention was not to make peace till it had regained all its lost fortresses and territory, and especially the Crimea. The Prussian Court, recognising this intention, now bound itself not to make peace until Turkey did, and under any circumstances to guarantee to Turkey all the territory which was in her hands at the conclusion of the war; to endeavour to induce England, Holland, Sweden, Poland, and other Powers to join in the guarantee, and to enter into a close defensive alliance with Turkey. The Turks, on their side, promised to make no peace with the Austrians and Russians without including Prussia, Poland, and Sweden, and under certain circumstances to support those Powers in the field.1
Such were the principal articles of this very important document—a document which was in the highest degree displeasing to the English ministers, and which greatly aggravated the seriousness of the situation. It was pretended, however, at Berlin that the Prussian minister at Constantinople had exceeded his instructions in making the treaty offensive, and for the present its ratification was withheld.
The Prussians at the same time strengthened their connection with Poland. Their first object was the acquisition of Dantzig and Thorn, and they accordingly proposed a treaty of commerce, by which these towns were to be given to them, as an equivalent for a considerable reduction of commercial duties. But it soon appeared that the proposal was exceedingly unpopular in Poland, and the treaty was rejected by the Diet.2 A close treaty of alliance, however, between the two countries was concluded at Warsaw on March 29. Each State guaranteed the territories of the other, but it was agreed that this guarantee was not to prevent an amicable arrangement of some controversies relating to questions of frontier which had existed before the conclusion of the treaty. The contingents to be furnished by each State in case of attack were carefully regulated.1
The strong feeling which the proposed cession of Dantzig and Thorn excited in Poland threatened to throw considerable difficulties in the way of the Prussian projects of aggrandisement, while at the same time some very formidable dissensions which broke out between the aristocratic and the democratic parties in the newly emancipated Belgic provinces, and the evident desire of the latter party to imitate and ally themselves with the French, alarmed the allies, and shook their confidence in the permanence of the new independence.2 England and Holland, in opposition to Prussia, strongly favoured the reconciliation of these provinces with the Emperor, accompanied by an amnesty and a guarantee of their ancient constitution, and the more conciliatory dispositions of Leopold made this policy seem less hopeless. Leopold at the same time desired earnestly to terminate the Turkish war. He had never favoured it. He was sensible of the great dangers rising on the side of Prussia, and he desired the vote of the King of Prussia at the ensuing election for the position of King of the Romans, to which the dignity of Emperor was attached. Almost immediately after his accession he wrote to the King of Prussia in very amicable terms, asking his good offices, regretting the dissensions which had arisen between Austria and Prussia, disclaiming all views of aggrandisement, and stating that he would be content if, as a compensation for the expenses of the war, the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz were restored.3
He was at the same time quite aware of the dangers of a sudden attack from Prussia, and, carrying out a design of his brother, he withdrew a portion of his army from the Danube, and concentrated a powerful force under Loudon in Bohemia and Moravia.4 As Russia was at this time expressing wishes for peace, as Sweden was ready to place her interests in the hands of the allies, and as the Turks were exhausted by successive defeats, there seemed much hope that if Prussia could be induced to pursue an unselfish policy, peace might be soon restored.
Such was at least the opinion of Ewart, who wrote that a negotiation might now soon be brought to a successful issue. Russia's ‘increasing embarrassments would make her satisfied with Oczakow and its district.’ The Porte might be induced to accept the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz, and there would be still less difficulty with Sweden.1
The King of Prussia accepted on the whole favourably the English despatch of February 26. He expressed his satisfaction at learning the exact limits of the assistance that might be expected from England, approved of the English proposal of a joint memorial in favour of the status quo, and agreed to postpone the recognition of Belgic independence, and to join with England in furnishing some pecuniary aid to Sweden; but he still thought that an allied army should be assembled on the frontiers of the Low Country. Ewart adds, however, somewhat ominously, ‘Should the King of Prussia be engaged in a war, by the refusal of the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg to make peace on the principle of the status quo, and should Galicia then be recovered by force of arms, some equivalent would be expected from Poland beyond the cession of Dantzig and Thorn. But even this would consist in an amicable arrangement of frontier of no great extent, and all idea of obtaining the Palatinates of Posen and Kalish has been abandoned, since it was decidedly preferred to have a preponderant influence in Poland, rather than entertain views of acquisition.’2 The King had no objection to Great Britain taking the lead in endeavouring to effect a reconciliation in the Netherlands ‘by re-establishing the ancient constitution and guarantee,’ but he endeavoured to sow dissension between Russia and Austria by communicating to the Russians the plan of peace which Joseph a few days before his death had sent to London without consulting with St. Petersburg. He also endeavoured to ascertain whether the Courts of Vienna and St. Petersburg would negotiate jointly or separately, either on the basis of the status quo or on the basis of the cession of Galicia. For his own part he earnestly hoped that Galicia might be ceded in the manner that had been so often stated, and suggested that ‘such an arrangement might be rendered more acceptable to the King of Hungary than the humiliating alternative of the status quo towards the Porte, especially as the fate of the Netherlands still remained uncertain.’ At the urgent request of the English minister he still delayed the ratification to his treaty with Turkey.1
The English ministers saw clearly that Prussia had no real wish for peace, and that in this very critical moment a more decided policy must be pursued. Their first step was to send a confidential despatch to Berlin, representing that the King of Hungary ‘appears sincerely desirous to conclude peace upon fair terms, having no object of ambition or aggrandisement in view;’ that he had none of the leaning towards Russia, jealousy of Prussia, or dislike to English mediation that characterised his predecessor; and that in the opinion of the English Government ‘a general pacification, or at least a separate one between Austria and the Porte (in case Russia still persists in her exorbitant pretensions),’ may soon be concluded on the terms of ‘the status quo, or nearly such.’2 They soon after informed the Prussian ministers of the King's determination to bring matters to an issue by proposing, on his own authority, an armistice to each of the belligerent Powers in order to give time for negotiation. ‘The basis of a negotiation,’ writes the minister, ‘ought of course to be the status quo, or as near that state as the circumstances of the several Powers will admit. At the same time his Majesty is ready to mediate a separate peace on this basis, and to press its immediate conclusion between any two of the belligerent Powers who may be ready to accede to it without waiting for the rest.’ Keith was authorised to make this proposal at Vienna, and to state that if the King of Hungary accepted it; if he agreed in no case to attempt anything in the Netherlands contrary to the ancient constitution; and if he also admitted the renewal of the guarantees of the allied Powers in those provinces, England would enforce this proposal to the utmost at Constantinople. This step appeared to the King especially urgent on account of the use which the Prussian Government had thought fit to make of the secret proposal for peace made by the late Emperor a few days before his death. If it became known at Vienna that this most confidential Austrian communication to the allies had been betrayed to Russia, in order to sow dissension, a distrust and a resentment would be aroused which might easily be fatal to peace.
The English minister expressed his great gratification that the King had withheld his ratification from the treaty which had been signed at Constantinople, but he commented in a strain of grave and measured severity on the schemes of aggrandisement which Prussia had put forward. Ewart was directed to repeat to the Prussian ministers ‘that the status quo appears to be the only fair and natural idea which can be proposed as the general basis of pacification. Such an idea, however, does not necessarily preclude any reasonable modifications of it, should any such come in question in the course of the negotiations. It will, however, be proper to state explicitly that at all events the idea of proposing sacrifices on the part of the Porte by re-establishing with Austria the Peace of Passa-rowitz, and by making cessions of some sort or other to Russia, on condition that Austria shall agree to relinquish Galicia, &c., seems totally inconsistent with the essential object (which every day renders more pressing) of re-establishing the general tranquillity. Nothing but the most extreme necessity could bring Austria to agree to such a proposal, and that Court would certainly first try the event of a contest. There appears, indeed, to be so little justice in insisting upon such an arrangement between Powers not engaged in the war as a condition of peace between those who are parties in it, and it is so evidently contrary to our defensive system, that on the principles already repeatedly stated it would be impossible for this country to give any expectation of supporting Prussia in a contest on such grounds.’ How could the Prussian King, it was asked, defend himself from the gravest reproach if, having just made an offensive alliance with Turkey, he proceeded to sacrifice Turkish interests ‘for the purpose of gaining an acquisition for Poland and an additional security for his own frontier?’
Most amicably, but at the same time most explicitly, Ewart was directed to press these considerations on the King of Prussia, to beg that instructions conformable to them should be sent to Vienna, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, and Constantinople, and to urge that measures should be at once taken in the latter capital ‘for setting aside by mutual consent the late alliance, and for procuring an immediate armistice, at all events between that Court and Austria.’1
This despatch very nearly broke up the Triple Alliance. The King of Prussia angrily blamed England for proposing an armistice to the belligerent Powers without any previous concert or communication with his allies; and several long and acrimonious discussions ensued.2 He now saw clearly that if Prussia provoked a war she would be isolated, and would obtain neither moral nor material support from England; and he resolved reluctantly to follow the English line of policy, but to insist upon applying it with such a degree of severity that a rupture was likely to take place in which England would be involved. He agreed to support the proposal for an armistice, but insisted, in opposition to the English ministry, that it should be limited to two months, and also that the Emperor should send no troops to the Netherlands during the negotiation. He consented at last that the treaty with Turkey should be set aside if the Court either of Vienna or of St. Petersburg agreed to make peace on the basis of the status quo. He consented that this should be put forward as the basis of pacification; but he would not hear of the qualifications suggested in the English despatch, and insisted ‘on the strict acceptance of the status quo without any modification.’3 If this was not adopted, the alternative must be either war, or a negotiation founded on the Prussian plan of an extended exchange of territory. The chief object of the war party was now to provoke a refusal from the King of Hungary.4
The feeling between the ministers of the two countries was at this time extremely hostile, and in the opinion of the English Government the tortuous and ambitious policy of Prussia formed the main danger to European peace. ‘His Prussian Majesty,’ Lord Auckland wrote confidentially to Keith, ‘has brought himself to acquiesce in our objections to declaring the Independence; but I have the fullest evidence that nothing less than an absolute and inevitable necessity will induce him to contribute by word or deed to replacing the Netherlands under their old government. But, besides, his treaty with the Porte commits him almost irrevocably to everything that can tend to increase the confusion of the world; and without any other provocation than the Count de Hertzberg's desire to deprive Austria of Galicia and the Netherlands, and to give to Prussia Thorn and Dantzig, as an equivalent for Galicia from the Poles.’ Auckland spoke bitterly of the extreme danger of a new and wanton war, the indecency of the grounds that were put forward, ‘the utter unreasonableness of expecting England and the United Provinces to support these projects, to which they are not called by any sense, either of interest, or of policy, or of justice.’1
It was necessary for the King of Prussia to answer the Austrian invitation to exercise his good offices, and he did so by a full exposition of his views. The Russian proposal to establish, under a prince of the Russian rite, a new kingdom, including Wallachia, Moldavia, and Bessarabia, was pronounced perfectly inadmissible; and the only feasible plan for making peace was the status quo, advocated by England, or ‘an arrangement.’ The meaning of the latter term was fully developed in a confidential communication made to the Austrian minister. The King of Prussia, it was said, has negotiated, but not yet ratified, a treaty with Turkey, which involved the recovery of Galicia. This would probably bring Poland into the field, and would lead to a Prussian recognition of the independence of the Belgic provinces. Galicia must always, while in the hands of Austria, be a danger to Prussia, and if it is not amicably ceded, sooner or later Russia and Prussia would combine to drive her out. It was suggested, under these circumstances, that Austria, Russia, and Prussia should make an arrangement on these lines. The two Imperial Courts should restore Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia to the Porte. Austria should restore Galicia to Poland, with the exception of a tract contiguous to Hungary, on condition that Poland should cede Dantzig and Thorn to Prussia; and, in that case, Prussia would oblige the Turks to restore the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz, would abstain from recognising the independence of the Flemish provinces, and would even induce them to submit to Austrian rule on the guarantee of their Constitution. The Porte, on receiving back Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia, was formally to abandon all his claims to the Crimea, and was to cede to Russia the district and town of Oczakow to the Dniester, on condition of Russia re-establishing in favour of Sweden the limits of Finland, on the footing of the Peace of Nyslot. If the King of Hungary agrees to support this arrangement, the King of Prussia will vote for his election as Emperor. He must consent, however, with little delay; otherwise Prussia will ratify her treaty with Turkey, and will acknowledge the Belgic independence.1
These negotiations were not favourably received. The cession of Galicia was entirely rejected by Leopold, and he declared that it was impossible for him, without the consent of Russia, to accept the armistice which England demanded. Prince Kaunitz, who was now past eighty, and whose judgment and temper were said to have been somewhat impaired by age, still retained great respect and influence at Vienna as the most illustrious of the ministers of Maria Theresa, and he threw serious obstacles in the way of peace; but his policy in this respect was counteracted with skill, and at the same time with singular delicacy, by the Vice-Chancellor, Count Cobenzel, who enjoyed the special confidence of Leopold.2
For some weeks, however, Europe was on the verge of a new war, and Ewart, in reporting the doubts entertained at Berlin of the possibility of a peaceful solution, added ‘that this circumstance is by no means disagreeable here, as his Prussian Majesty, his generals, and his confidants are daily more convinced of the actual superiority of the forces and resources of this country over both Austria and Russia, which of course increases the inclination for war.’ ‘The ill-humour and complaints of Great Britain continue very violent amongst the officers about his Prussian Majesty's person.’1 The Russian troops were at this time very inactive; but the Austrians, in spite of the diminution of their forces in Turkish territory, continued to press on the war. In consequence, it is said, of the panic produced by an earthquake, Orsova, which had been blockaded during the whole winter, was suddenly abandoned by the Turks. The Austrians prepared to besiege Widdin and Giurgevo, two strongly fortified places on the Danube; but they encountered near the latter fortress a severe defeat. It was feared at Berlin that they would protract the negotiation till a decisive blow had been struck, and the Prussian King accordingly insisted on receiving an answer from Vienna within three weeks, placed himself at the head of a great army which he had concentrated in Silesia, negotiated actively for co-operation with Sweden,2 and secretly despatched a messenger to Constantinople to ratify his treaty with the Turks. The ratification omitted all mention of the Crimea; but it bound the King of Prussia to do the utmost in his power to restore to Turkey all the provinces that had been lost in the present war. As Ewart observed, this promise was made at the very time when Prussia was endeavouring to make an arrangement with Austria for her own benefit at the expense of Turkish territory.3 ‘I observed to the Prussian Minister,’ he continued, ‘that this measure, however modified, was expressly contrary to the former assurances I had so often received in official papers, and verbally. He said he had received positive orders from the King, his master, to take this step, though he concealed it from me.’4 Shortly afterwards, in consequence of the renewed representations of the English minister on the impropriety of ratifying this treaty, the Prussian minister agreed to write to M. de Knobelsdorff to represent to the Porte the expediency of setting it aside for the present, with a view to concluding a defensive alliance after the peace;1 but the treaty, notwithstanding, subsisted, not only signed, but duly ratified, and it pledged Prussia to a speedy declaration of war.
It was evident to the English minister at Berlin that the King desired war and detested the policy of the status quo, though, having once accepted it, he found it difficult to recede.2 On the Austrian side, too, there seemed some slight prospect of ‘an arrangement’ being preferred to the status quo, for the King of Hungary, though he would not hear of the abandonment of Galicia, wished to keep Belgrade and two or three other frontier places, and appears to have at one time thought that this might be attained by giving a part of Moldavia to Poland.3 At another time he made overtures to the Turks for a separate negotiation, and the King of Prussia learned with great indignation that he had informed the Turks of the Prussian proposals to make peace at their expense.4
Amid this maze of conflicting interests and intrigues, England, supported loyally by Holland, laboured steadily for the pacification of Europe. A speedy peace on the basis of the status quo was her object, and she hoped that it might be effected through the intervention of the allies, and followed by the inclusion of Turkey, and perhaps Sweden, in the defensive system. If, however, the belligerents chose to make a suitable peace without mediation, England would gladly acquiesce; nor did she wish to insist upon the status quo with an extreme or pedantic severity. ‘Such moderate alteration as may be substituted by common consent,’ without altering the relative strength of the belligerent Powers, she was ready, with the consent of Prussia, to accept, and she trusted that small and unimportant deviations from the status quo would not be made a cause of war. She had accepted, however, the status quo as the basis of negotiation, and, as Prussia interpreted it strictly, England would so far support her as to prevent France and Denmark from attacking her while pursuing this end. On the other hand, the Prussian Government was again distinctly warned that it must expect no assistance from England in an aggressive war undertaken to deprive Austria of Galicia and the Netherlands; that the treaty between Prussia and Turkey was wholly opposed to the original policy of the allies; and that an attempt to deprive Turkey of what she had gained since the Peace of Passarowitz would very naturally make the Turks believe themselves sacrificed and betrayed. Dantzig and Thorn were the chief objects of Prussian policy. If they could be obtained by an amicable negotiation, and not by a forced cession or exchange, England would rejoice; and Leeds threw out the suggestion, that the cession might be coupled with, and effected by, a treaty of commerce connecting Poland with England and Holland by lowering transit duties in Prussia. Such a treaty would be a great advantage to both Poland and England, and would make English commerce independent of Russia.1
The idea, however, was not pressed, and the main object of English foreign policy was simply to put an end to the war between Turkey and the King of Hungary, and to prevent the struggle from extending to Prussia and Poland. These ends were at last accomplished. Leopold, perceiving the dangers that surrounded him, resolved at last to consent to peace without obtaining any increase of territory; and in the August of 1790 a convention was signed at Reichenbach, by which the Emperor agreed to enter into an armistice with the Turks, to open a negotiation for peace under the mediation of the maritime Powers on the basis of the strict status quo, as before the war, and to secure the ancient constitution and privileges of the Belgic provinces under the guaranty of the allied Powers. Prussia abandoned for the present her designs on Dantzig and Thorn, though Hertzberg succeeded in obtaining a clause that, if Austria extended her frontiers on the side of Turkey, Prussia should obtain some equivalent advantage.
By this convention, and the armistice that followed it, the great evils and dangers that grew out of the war between Austria and Turkey were terminated. A considerable period, however, still elapsed before the formal peace was signed. It was negotiated by a congress which sat for about eight months at the little village of Sistova in Bulgaria. The letters of Keith, who very ably represented England at this congress, give a vivid picture of the innumerable delays and difficulties that were encountered in accomplishing a task which the convention of Reichenbach seemed to have rendered most simple. Many of them arose from causes that were childishly futile. Minute questions of form and precedence were elaborately disputed, and more than once the proceedings of the congress were postponed because the Turks desired important steps to be taken only on days which their astrologers deemed propitious. There were objections, however, of a more serious character, raised chiefly by Austria, and this Power showed a manifest desire to protract or obstruct the negotiations, in hopes of obtaining more favourable terms. The last and most formidable difficulty arose from a subtlety which could hardly have been surpassed by the Jesuit casuists. The Austrians had accepted the ‘strict status quo as it existed before the war’ as the basis of pacification, but they now raised a distinction between the status quo de facto and the status quo de jure, and demanded not a simple re-establishment of the frontiers as they actually existed before the war, but the establishment of a line of frontier which they maintained ought to have existed according to a disputed or violated article of the Peace of Belgrade. On this ground they claimed old Orsova and a little band of Croatia which, long before the war, had been in Turkish hands. The dispute rose so high that the congress was for a time broken up, and a renewal of hostilities appeared inevitable; but the Austrians at last receded, and the Treaty of Sistova was signed on August 4, 1791, restoring peace on the basis of an exact reestablishment of the frontier before the war. By a separate convention, however, with Turkey, Austria obtained what she desired, though with the restriction that old Orsova must not be fortified.1
The troubles in the Austrian Netherlands were also appeased, but very slowly and with great difficulty. There was a long dispute about the Constitution which was to be restored; Leopold contending that it was the Constitution as it existed under Maria Theresa, Prussia and the maritime Powers insisting upon the more perfect Constitution of Charles VI. The population in the Flemish provinces were violently divided; and the question was ultimately settled by force. The insurgents elected the Archduke Charles, third son of the Emperor, hereditary Grand Duke of Belgium, on condition that their provinces should no longer belong to the dominions of the Emperor; but they were soon subdued by an overpowering Austrian army. A convention, signed by the Austrian minister with the ministers of the three mediating Powers, in December 1790, granting the Constitution of Charles VI., was not ratified by the Emperor, who consented only to restore the Constitution as it existed at the close of the reign of Maria Theresa, and on this basis peace was at last established. The three mediating Powers, however, finding their counsels rejected, refused their ratifications, though Prussia at a later period gave her adhesion to the policy of the Emperor.1
The arrangement was not all that the allies desired; but it at least established a peace when a most dangerous war had appeared inevitable, and it was the more acceptable on account of the manifest desire of the Flemish democrats to unite their cause with that of the French. It also reacted speedily upon affairs in the North, where a peace between Russia and Sweden had been one of the first results of the convention of Reichenbach.
In order to understand the circumstances that produced it, we must retrace our steps and take up the threads of Swedish history where we dropped them in October 1788. At that period the intervention of the three allied Powers had arrested the Danish invasion of Sweden at a time when it would otherwise almost certainly have succeeded, and by securing the neutrality of Denmark had saved Sweden from imminent ruin. The position, however, of Gustavus III. continued to be very critical. His chief fleet was confined in Sweaborg. His army in Finland was paralysed by the mutiny of its officers. His exchequer was nearly empty, and Russia and Sweden were still at war, though Russia as yet abstained from aggressive measures. The King, however, was in no mood for peace. A policy of adventure, no matter how wild, had always an irresistible charm to his mind; and he had two great objects in view. He hoped to draw the three allied Powers into the war, to restore by their assistance the ascendency of Sweden in the Baltic, and recover all or nearly all that had been lost in 1721 and in 1743; and he also hoped to make a second revolution in the Constitution, which would break the power of the nobility and make his own power almost absolute.
Gustavus III. had none of the solidity and seriousness of a really great politician; he had neither the patience, the industry, the judgment, nor the economy that are necessary for ordinary government, but in that peculiar turn of mind and character that fits men for a revolutionary career, he has seldom been surpassed, and he was in fact the most successful revolutionist of the eighteenth century. He was a most skilful, daring, and unscrupulous political gambler; wonderfully quick and adroit in seizing opportunities, availing himself of the ebb and flow of popular passion, disguising personal ambition under popular pretexts. He had already, in 1772, directed and carried through with complete success one great revolution, and he now saw the possibility of winning a new victory in the same field.
At the time when the Danes invaded Sweden, his fortunes had sunk to the lowest point. In the wild province of Dalecarlia, it is true, the people had risen with enthusiasm at his summons to oppose the Danish invasion, and among the lower classes he still enjoyed a great popularity; but Stockholm was full of his enemies. The equestrian order was violently hostile to him. The burghers distrusted him and were haunted with constant fear lest he should seize the bank. Edicts of toleration and frequent invasions of ecclesiastical privileges had offended the clergy, while the financial embarrassments, which were largely due to his excessive extravagance, and still more the unpopular monopoly by the Government of the distilleries, had excited a wide-spread discontent. The last two Diets had been stormy and hostile, and immediately after the mutiny in Finland the Senate strongly urged the necessity of convoking the States. The King hesitated, without absolutely refusing. It was impossible with any colour of reason to deny that, in beginning without the authority of the States an offensive war against Russia, he had broken the plain letter of the Constitution. It was equally certain that by this unconstitutional act he had brought his country into a position of the gravest peril.
The intervention of Prussia and England, however, produced an immediate and most powerful reaction of opinion, and was popularly regarded as fully justifying the foresight of the King. ‘The offer of our mediation,’ wrote the English consul at Stockholm, ‘has made a very great impression, and visibly damped the spirits of the anti-royalists.’ ‘An opinion prevails that we are only come forward to support the King and encourage him to continue the war with Russia. All those who oppose it, as being begun in an unjust and unconstitutional manner, seem now so much dejected that, if his Majesty should seize this opportunity of calling a Diet, he might, I am confident, make what change he pleased in the Constitution.’1
The King, like a skilful strategist, availed himself of every method of intensifying the feeling. The national animosity against the Danes was stimulated to fever-point by highly wrought descriptions of their treachery and of their violence during the late invasion; while, at the same time, the tide of popular feeling was turned with a tremendous force against the nobles. The mutiny of the officers in the face of the enemy was represented as an act of the basest treason, which had almost accomplished the ruin of the country, and which was due to the hostility of the nobles to the King. Texts from Scripture, denouncing vengeance against traitors who had sold themselves to the stranger, were posted up in the village churches. In the theatres every allusion hostile to the nobles was received with rapturous applause. Innumerable pamphlets of a similar tendency were circulated through all classes, and the King declared that the reign of monopoly must terminate, and that he would now throw the command of the army largely into the hands of the burghers, whom he could trust. On December 20, 1788, he entered Stockholm amid the acclamations of the people, and when the effervescence was still at its height the Diet was convoked. It was opened on February 2, 1789. In a speech, which was so eloquent and so admirably delivered that it excited the applause and admiration of all parties, the King urged the necessity of continuing the war till an honourable peace had been attained, deplored the conduct of ‘a few traitors in Finland’ who had yielded to the machinations of the enemy, and exhorted all classes to rally in defence of their country. He at the same time had the chief officers engaged in the mutiny seized and thrown into prison.
It soon appeared that he could count upon the unanimous adhesion of the order of the peasants, and upon commanding majorities in the orders of the burghers and of the clergy, while the nobles were irreconcilably hostile. A vote, thanking him for having secured the safety of the nation by declaring war, justified his recent conduct, and outside the Diet the populace and the common soldiers were strongly in his favour. By the order of the nobles, the conduct of the King was vehemently arraigned. They dwelt on his extravagance and his debts; on his alleged attempt to intimidate Stockholm by introducing a body of Dalecarlians as a garrison; on the persistent and virulent attacks which had recently been directed against themselves. Count Löwenhaupt, an old general who was a strong partisan of the King, was appointed by him Marshal of the Diet, and therefore president of the nobles; and he endeavoured by the King's orders, but without success, to check the attacks. A fierce wrangle ensued, and at length the old marshal, declaring himself insulted, withdrew from the Diet and laid his complaints before the King.
On February 17, at eight o'clock in the morning, the four orders of the Diet were suddenly summoned to assemble in the same hall, to meet the King. He received them in great state, and he delivered a brilliant but most singular speech. Fifteen days before, he said, he had addressed the Diet, representing the urgent and imperative necessity of taking immediate measures to defend the coast of Sweden from Russian invasion, and to wipe away the stain which the late treachery in Finland had left on the Swedish name. The clergy, the burghers, and the peasants had responded to his appeal, and, forgetting all other considerations, had shown themselves faithful representatives of the patriotism of Sweden. But the nobles had acted differently. And then, in a strain of the fiercest invective, he accused them of favouring the intrigues and interests of the enemy; of wasting in frivolous recriminations a time which was vital to the defence of the country; of grossly insulting the sovereign in the person of the old marshal who presided over their debates; of attempting to revive the hateful and hated aristocratic domination which had been shattered in 1772. He declared that if Finland was lost, if the coasts were devastated, and if the capital was menaced, the responsibility must rest upon those men who, rather than renounce their ambitions and their resentments, were ready to see the Russians enter Stockholm and dictate their terms; and he concluded by commanding the nobles, in an imperious voice and with a haughty gesture, at once to leave the hall and prepare a deputation to carry their apologies to the insulted marshal.
A few fierce words were bandied to and fro, but at length the nobles retired to draw up a protest in justification of their acts, and left the King with the other three orders. He again ardently eulogised their loyalty, directed them to prepare a deputation to receive the new privileges he intended to confer on them, and declared the necessity of changing the Constitution so as to make political power centre in those who were truly loyal to their country.
Two agitated days followed, during which the popular feeling ran strongly and evidently on the side of the King; and on the 20th the decisive blow was struck. More than twenty nobles of the first rank and fortune were arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned by order of the King; and the next day, the Diet having been summoned, the King read to it a revised form of the Constitution, which gave him little less than absolute power. The exclusive power of declaring peace and war was to reside with him. The estates were not to be permitted to discuss any subject which he had not laid before them, and most of the privileges of the nobles were taken away. The power of voting taxes almost alone remained of the ancient Constitution, yet even this was seriously impaired, for the King was enabled to make an agreement with any town or province when the Diet was not sitting. The new Constitution was accepted with acclamation by the three orders, and in spite of some feeble protests from the nobility the Marshal of the Diet signed it in their name, and it was received as law throughout the country.
It remained to extort from the Diet supplies for the war. The three orders readily voted the subsidies for an unlimited time, but the order of the nobles, though broken and greatly intimidated, attempted to limit the vote to two years. The night before the decisive vote, a thousand of the rabble were entertained at the King's expense, and they marched half drunk upon the house of the nobles. The military and the burghers were put under arms, and sixteen rounds of shot were distributed to each man. Under these circumstances, the King, accompanied by a clamorous crowd, entered the chamber of the nobles, demanded an immediate vote of credit, and declared that anyone who opposed it was a traitor to the country. After some vain protests, and amid a scene of wild confusion and irregularity, the nobles yielded, or were alleged to have yielded; and next day the Diet was dissolved. Three weeks later, the few senators who had not already resigned were dismissed. The Senate, which, though crippled and enfeebled by the revolution of 1772, still retained some shadow of its old independence, was abolished, and a new council, composed partly of nobles and partly of commoners, appointed by the Crown.1
In this manner Gustavus III. had the almost unexampled fortune of accomplishing for the second time and with perfect success a violent revolution in the Constitution of his country. The nobles who had been imprisoned without any colour of law on February 20 were soon released, but many of the more important officers who had revolted in Finland were brought to trial; several were condemned to death, and a few were actually executed. The King hastened to his army in Finland, where the armistice signed in the previous year had expired, and he took part in a victorious battle which was fought on June 28. The campaign of 1789, however, produced no results. There were many skirmishes, with various fortunes, and the King exposed himself with great courage and temerity, but he acquired no hold upon Russian Finland; while on sea, the Prince of Nassau, who had hastened from the Black Sea, inflicted a severe defeat upon the Swedes on August 24. This was the last naval battle of the year.1
In spite of the taxes that had been extracted, the King was now in desperate financial difficulties. The promised subsidy from the Turks had not arrived. Attempts to raise a loan in Holland failed; and in May 1789 the King of Prussia resolved to lend him a million of dollars, hoping that this would induce him to adhere to the system of the allied Powers.2
From this time till the close of the war the King of Prussia continued secretly at short intervals to supply the Swedish King with small sums to carry on the war, and he induced England to join in the subsidy. It was alleged that without this assistance Sweden must be completely crushed, and the balance of power in the Baltic annihilated, or that the King would negotiate a separate peace with Russia, which would retard a general pacification, or that he would throw himself, as he sometimes threatened, into the arms of France.3 Whatever Power, the English consul at Stockholm said, gave him the largest subsidies and most favoured his ambitious designs would secure his alliance, but the allies agreed that his schemes of aggrandisement should not be encouraged, and that their object should be to secure the independence of Sweden by a peace on the terms of the status quo as it existed before the war.4
The war between Sweden and Russia in 1790 consisted chiefly of naval battles desperately and skilfully contested. On May 13 the Russians repelled with severe loss an attempt to destroy the fleet which lay in shelter under the guns of Revel, but two days later Gustavus almost annihilated a great division of the Russian galley fleet at Frederikshamn. On June 3 and 4 there was another battle, indecisive in its results, but on the whole unfavourable to the Swedes; and the unexpected arrival of a second Russian fleet for a time made the total destruction of the Swedish fleet appear inevitable. It was extricated at last by a sudden change of wind and by the skilful manœuvres of its commander, the Duke of Sudermania; but a month later the Russians gained a decisive victory at Wyborg, and the losses of the Swedes were then so crushing, that their navy seemed irretrievably ruined. Yet, by an extraordinary display of skill and energy, the King of Sweden was able in less than a week to bring the remnant of his fleet again into battle; and, availing himself of a favourable opportunity, he closed the war by a brilliant victory.1 A few weeks later Europe was startled by the announcement that he had made a peace with Russia on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war.
The motives of both parties were very evident. The convention of Reichenbach had just deprived the Empress of the cooperation of Austria, and it seemed probable that Prussia, England, and perhaps Holland would soon be in arms against her, and that an English fleet would be in the Baltic. Under these circumstances, Catherine saw that it was necessary to yield something. Her main object was to acquire territory on the side of Turkey. She had never sought or eagerly pursued the Swedish war, which had proved most detrimental to her navy; and as early as the May of 1790 she had declared that she was quite ready to make peace with Sweden, ‘on condition of the former treaties being renewed, and a mutual amnesty being agreed upon.’2 She was most anxious to avoid what she deemed the humiliation of making peace through the intervention of foreign Powers, and a separate peace would probably baffle one of the chief designs of the three allies. They had hoped to include Sweden in their alliance, to isolate Russia and to secure one of the Baltic provinces in their system; but if a separate peace could be negotiated, Sweden would be at perfect liberty to ally herself with Russia and with Denmark for the protection of the Baltic. No sooner, therefore, had intelligence arrived at St. Petersburg that the agreement with Austria was about to be concluded, than the Empress despatched a courier to Finland with offers of peace to the King of Sweden. It is said that he had not yet heard of what had happened at Reichenbach; a Prussian subsidy had just been sent to him, and a squadron of seventeen English ships was lying in the Downs ready to sail for the Baltic.1
The Russian Empress in taking this step showed remarkable political sagacity, and Gustavus readily accepted her proposal. As she offered him peace on the exact terms which the allies had agreed to secure, he had very little prospect of gaining anything by continuing the war, and it was much more flattering to his vanity to obtain peace for himself than to obtain it through the intervention of the allies. To a man of his type of character there was indeed something exceedingly gratifying in the whole transaction. He had made war, without a shadow of provocation, against a Power much stronger than himself. He had conducted it without an avowed ally in the North of Europe, and in spite of the most formidable domestic dissensions. The last battle had been a Swedish victory, and he had now the satisfaction of making peace without any loss of territory, and at the invitation of his great opponent. On the other hand, Sweden had already lost 50,000 men, fifteen ships of the line, and a great many smaller vessels.2 Her finances were utterly exhausted, and she had everything to fear from a continuation of the war.
There was also another consideration which weighed upon his mind. For some time he had been watching with the keenest interest the great revolutionary drama which was unfolding itself in France. He had himself swept away almost every constitutional limit to his power amid the general applause of his subjects, and he had done so chiefly by carrying out, of his own free will one of the great objects of the French revolutionists, by destroying feudal and aristocratic privileges, and throwing open the highest positions in the Government to all ranks.3 He always maintained, and probably with justice, that if he had been at the helm instead of Lewis XVI., he would have weathered the storm. The interest of events in France had eclipsed that of his war; he was impatient at finding himself far from news in a distant province of his dominions, and he was now eagerly looking forward to the possibility of allying himself with Russia in a great counter-revolution in the interests of monarchy in Europe.1
The Peace of Warela was signed on August 15, 1790, and although some questions of detail remained to be settled between Sweden and Russia, it restored tranquillity to the North, and closed another chapter of the great work of the pacification of Europe. Gustavus, however, did not long survive his success. The implacable animosities which he had aroused among his nobles pursued him to the end; a conspiracy was formed against his life, and on March 16, 1792, he was shot by Anckarstrom at a masked ball in the theatre of Stockholm.
Up to the time of the Peace of Warela, the Triple Alliance between England, Prussia, and Holland, in spite of the many difficulties and differences that have been recounted, had proved on the whole eminently successful. Holland had been pacified, and the danger of French ascendency in her councils had been averted. Denmark had been compelled to withdraw from her attack on Sweden and to declare her neutrality during the war. The war between Austria and Turkey had been terminated, leaving the frontiers of the two empires almost unchanged. Austrian Flanders was rapidly regaining its tranquillity; its old customs and privileges had been substantially secured, and now peace had been established between Russia and Sweden, not indeed through the mediation of the allies, but at least through fear of their intervention and on the terms which they desired. In the beginning of 1789 there had been serious question of a quadruple alliance of France and Spain with Russia and the Emperor,2 and when the quarrel with England about Nootka Sound arose, Spain at once made overtures to Catherine;3 but these dangers seemed now to have faded away. The Emperor had made peace. France was too occupied with internal troubles to pay much attention to anything beyond her border. The dispute with Spain had been settled, and the Empress and the Turks remained alone at war. But the success of the allies, and the foreign policy of Pitt, now met with a great check. The attempt to induce or compel Russia to make peace through the mediation of the allies, on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, surrendering to the Turks Oczakow and its adjoining territory to the Dniester, proved a complete and somewhat ignominious failure.
From the very beginning of the war, the acquisition of this fortress and territory by the Russians seemed probable. As early as November 1787 Eden had discussed with Montmorin at Paris the probable course of the Eastern war, and the French minister had expressed his opinion that it would leave Constantinople secure and untouched, but would give Moldavia and Wallachia to the Emperor, Oczakow and one or two other places to Russia.1 The capture of Oczakow had been the first great success of Potemkin. It had been the result of a siege of extraordinary length, conducted with extraordinary resolution, and accompanied by extraordinary bloodshed; and from this time the contingency of its retention by Russia had been continually referred to. In February 1789, when the Russians had made comparatively few sacrifices, Whitworth, the English minister at St. Petersburg, wrote that Potemkin, who appeared of all Russian politicians the most favourable to the English alliance, would, he believed, gladly make peace at once through the intervention of the allies; that he hoped to keep Oczakow and the adjoining territory, but that, if necessary, he was prepared to ‘consent to the town and fortifications being razed, reserving the country between the Dniester and the Dnieper, which he justly considers the key to the Crimea.’2 In the last days of 1789 and in the beginning of 1790, Catherine had requested the interference of England, and expressed her willingness to make peace on the condition of including in her empire Oczakow and its territory to the Dniester, and of creating an independent kingdom consisting of Bessarabia, Wallachia, and Moldavia. The latter condition was emphatically and unequivocally rejected, and in the course of a few months it was dropped; but though the English Government suggested the status quo as the basis of peace, and described the article relating to Oczakow as ‘most doubtful’ and likely to induce the Turks to continue the war, their language was by no means that of unqualified hostility.1
On certain conditions, which were not in the least intended for the protection of Turkey, Prussia, as we have already seen, was at one time perfectly ready to acquiesce in the Russian demand. In March 1790 Ewart, in describing the negotiations for giving Prussia Dantzig and Thorn, and depriving Austria of Galicia, mentions the opinion of the King of Prussia that an armed interference of the allies would bring about a speedy peace. Russia's ‘increasing embarrassments would make her satisfied with Oczakow and its district, and … the Porte might be prevailed on to accept reasonable conditions, such as the cessions above mentioned, and the re-establishment of the limits of the Peace of Passarowitz.’2 If a peace could be negotiated on the basis of the cession of Galicia by Austria, the King of Prussia expressly stated that he ‘would have no objection to the Empress obtaining Oczakow.’3 I have mentioned also the Prussian project which was suggested about this time, that Russia should restore to Sweden the portion of Finland which she had lost by the Peace of Abo in 1743, and that Russia should be allowed in compensation to retain Oczakow and its territory. This proposal was actually sent by the Prussians to St. Petersburg, where it was peremptorily rejected.4
From the uniform language of the Russian Government, there could be little doubt that, unless the course of the war was completely reversed, it would insist on retaining Oczakow and its territory at the peace; nor was there anything unreasonable in this demand. Whatever provocations Russia may have given, Turkey had at least begun the war, and she had been almost invariably defeated. The Empress showed her moderation by receding from her first demand for the constitution of Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bessarabia into a separate kingdom, and by consenting to give up all her conquests between the Dniester and the Danube; and she could hardly, as a victorious Power, with any credit to herself or any regard to her people, surrender Oczakow, which had been most honourably won and which was of extreme importance to the security of her dominions. More than once Turks and Tartars had availed themselves of its shelter to devastate unprotected parts of the Russian territory; it enabled the Turks to cut off Kherson and the interior Russian dominions along the Dnieper from all communication with the Black Sea; and it placed the commerce of the Crimea almost at their mercy. These were sufficient reasons for the Empress insisting on retaining it, and it was not clear why England should object. Whatever might be the importance of Oczakow, it was certainly far less dangerous to Turkey than the Crimea, which Russia had seized with the full approval of England. Although the Russian arms had been steadily successful in 1788, 1789, and 1790, the speeches of the King to Parliament expressed no anxiety. On the contrary, while lamenting the continuance of the war, he ‘rejoiced that it did not endanger the power and interests of his kingdom.’ Under these circumstances, it was with great surprise that the English public learned that Pitt was determined to demand the restitution of Oczakow and its territory to Turkey, and to support his demand by force.
The explanation of this proceeding, which appeared very perplexing to contemporaries, will, I think, be found chiefly in the Prussian connection. In this, as in most of the plans of recent foreign policy, the two allies showed themselves widely different in their position and interests. England was a constitutional monarchy, directed by a minister who was prepared to go to war if necessary, who was always ready to act in difficult emergencies with promptitude and decision, but who deprecated war as a great evil, and who had attached his reputation mainly to certain schemes of financial and political reform which could only be realised by a continuance of peace. Prussia was a despotic monarchy, and its sovereign, believing himself to be in possession of the best army in Europe, was extremely anxious to distinguish himself in the field, and full of plans for enlarging his territory. On the other hand, Pitt regarded the defensive alliance which had been formed as the cardinal fact of his foreign policy. He believed it to be of the highest importance to the security and stability of the present system of Europe; and he hoped that if Turkey, Sweden, and perhaps the Emperor were included in it, he would have established an irresistible barrier against the ambition both of Russia and of the House of Bourbon, and would have guaranteed a long period of European peace. The alliance, however, had been already greatly strained. Prussia had with much difficulty been induced to abandon or defer schemes of ambition which she had most unexpectedly raised; and England, in her turn, had been obliged to agree with Prussia in demanding not merely an approximate, but a strict status quo as the basis of pacification.
This had actually been attained in the peace between Turkey and the Emperor, and in the peace between Russia and Sweden, and it was somewhat difficult not to ask the same terms in favour of the Turks. It was especially difficult, as the Turks were so elated by the prospect of a Prussian alliance that they now declared that they would not make peace till they had recovered the Crimea.1 England had resisted the Prussian project of making Turkey compensate the Emperor for the sacrifices he was asked to make in the interests of Prussia, and she had undertaken, in conjunction with Prussia, to negotiate with Russia in the interests of Turkey. Could she under these circumstances, and in opposition to the wishes of her ally, require Turkey alone of the belligerent Powers to make a cession of territory?
It is manifest that all the recent proceedings of the English Government had gone far beyond the strict terms of a defensive alliance; but so many steps had been already taken that it was difficult to recede. England and Prussia had practically undertaken in common the pacification of Europe, and it was scarcely possible for England at this stage, and after having herself repeatedly insisted on the status quo, to refuse her continued co-operation without sacrificing the Prussian alliance and all the benefits to be expected from it. How great those benefits might be had just been signally shown. When the quarrel about Nootka Sound had brought England to the verge of a war with Spain, the Prussian Government was reminded of the obligation of the defensive alliance. It would be impossible to conceive a question more unconnected with Prussian interests, and no free nation whose policy was controlled by national opinion would have permitted its rulers to go to war in such a cause. But the King of Prussia at once recognised his obligation, and Count Hertzberg was directed to assure the English envoy that ‘the King, his master, was determined scrupulously to fulfil his engagements with the Court of London; and that he (Count Hertzberg) had been expressly authorised to say that, if his Majesty should think proper to undertake a war against Spain, in case that Power should not comply with the terms his Majesty's ambassador at Madrid was instructed to propose, his Prussian Majesty would consider a commencement of hostilities under such circumstances a casus fœderis of his defensive alliance with his Majesty, and would not fail to furnish him the succours stipulated in the said alliance.’1
Such was the loyalty with which the Prussian King was prepared to fulfil his obligations, and it rendered it specially difficult for England to refuse to assist Prussia in procuring a restitution of Oczakow, which Prussian statesmen regarded as both a European and a Prussian interest.
It must be added that the importance of the Eastern question, the danger of Constantinople falling into the hands or under the influence of Russia, and the increasing probability of such an event, had of late been much more felt than formerly by English statesmen, and had given a direction to their foreign policy widely different from that of Chatham and of the Coalition Ministry.2 It must be added, too, that the design of sending a British fleet to the Baltic in order to enforce a peace had been formed at a time when Sweden and Russia were still at war,1 and English ministers believed that Russia was now so exhausted that a simple demonstration of force would be sufficient to attain their ends. Twice already within a very few years such a policy had been pursued, and on each occasion with eminent success. In 1787, when Prussia restored the House of Orange and crushed the French party in Holland, a French interference had been prevented by the decided attitude of England, and the still more recent difficulty with Spain had been settled triumphantly without a war, chiefly through the promptitude with which the English Government had prepared itself for the worst.
These considerations appear to me to supply the real motives that governed Pitt in a step which the event showed to be one of the great miscalculations of his ministry. The offer to Russia of the mediation of the allies to effect a peace with Turkey on the basis of the status quo, had been made by Prussia in September 1790.2 The answer, insisting on the retention of Oczakow and its district to the Dniester, had been given to Prussia alone. That to England was for some time delayed, and in the meantime the English Secretary of State, being evidently anxious if possible to avert violent measures, directed Whitworth to employ the most conciliatory language. The proposal of England, he was instructed to say, was a friendly proposal for the purpose of putting an end to a bloody and exhausting war. If, however, as there was some reason to believe, the Empress thought it beneath her dignity to accept peace through the mediation of other Powers, the allies had no wish to insist upon a formal mediation. They would gladly use their good offices informally, and if Russia thought fit to open direct negotiations with Turkey on the basis of the status quo they would do all in their power to assist her. They would go somewhat further. The Turks had never abandoned their claims to the Crimea, and they had made its recovery one of their chief reasons for declaring war. If Russia would accept a peace on the basis of the status quo England would use her influence to obtain from the Turks a formal renunciation of the Crimea under the guarantee of the allies. ‘A concession of this important object,’ wrote Leeds, ‘as it was the origin and an avowed purpose of the war, cannot be unacceptable to her Imperial Majesty, and should, I should hope, be sufficient to answer her wishes.’1
There are few things less beautiful than these eighteenth-century wars, begun in so many instances through the idle vanity and ambition of sovereigns who desired to round off their dominions; entailing in their course, over vast areas of population and territory, the most multifarious forms of suffering and ruin, and terminated at last amid a profusion of congratulations and compliments and decorations by treaties which left the relative position of the belligerent Powers unchanged. Catherine was fully resolved that her present war should not be of this description. Her Vice-Chancellor was directed to inform the English minister of the indignation that was felt by the Empress at the ‘unparalleled conduct’ of the allies in attempting to ‘dictate in so arbitrary a manner to a sovereign perfectly independent and in want of no assistance to procure the conditions which seemed to her best suited to satisfy her honour.’ Rather than tarnish the glory of a long and illustrious reign by accepting the terms of the allies, the Empress was ready to encounter any risk, and she would only accept the good offices of the King of England ‘inasmuch as they may tend to procure for her the indemnification she requires of Oczakow and its district.’2
It was soon seen that these were no idle words. The fortifications of Riga and Revel were at once strengthened, and orders were given to prepare thirty-six ships of the line for sea. Already, at the close of 1789, Whitworth had noticed how a ukase of the Empress was received as a voice from heaven, and how by five successive levies about every thirty-seventh man in the Empire had been drafted into the army.3 But although there were many signs of weariness and discontent, and many libels against the Empress, there could be no doubt that in the struggle she contemplated she could count upon all the forces of the nation. Nothing, Whitworth said, except absolute necessity would oblige her to yield; and he proceeded to describe the steps which were necessary to success. A British fleet must be in the Baltic early in spring. The King of Prussia must ratify his treaty with the Turks, and send an army into the field. Every effort must be made to draw the King of Sweden into the confederation. His harbours would be most important for the British fleet, and he might make an invaluable diversion in Finland. An expedition might be made against Archangel, and a British fleet should enter the Black Sea, where there were now lying, in the harbour of Sebastopol, eleven or twelve Russian ships of the line and as many frigates, all, it was said, in very bad condition. Something might also be done to stop the supplies of money, which Russian statesmen found it much more difficult to obtain than supplies of men. Russian loans were raised at Amsterdam by means of the great banker, Hope. If this source were stopped, she would soon, through want of funds, be obliged to make peace.1
While these communications were passing under cipher from the English minister at St. Petersburg to the Government at home, the English envoy at Berlin was in confidential communication with the Prussian ministers, and especially with General Mollendorf, whose opinions both on political and military questions weighed greatly with the King of Prussia. Their decided opinion was that the allies were bound on every ground to insist upon the surrender of Oczakow and its district, and upon a peace based on the status quo as it existed before the war. The Emperor and Sweden having made such a peace, the allies could not with honour demand less for the Turks. Turkey would probably refuse peace on any other terms: if she yielded to necessity she would consider herself betrayed, and would be so alienated from the three allies that there would be little or no prospect of including her in their alliance, while Russia would be more and more confirmed in the haughty dispositions she had of late displayed. The prompt and decisive intervention of the allies was imperatively needed. The Turkish army was now so broken and demoralised that, in the opinion of Prussian military men, it would not be able to resist for another campaign; and every day showed more clearly the danger of too great a share of the balance of power falling into the hands of Russia. The possession of Oczakow by Russia was a matter of some direct interest both to Prussia and England, for it would give her the command of the mouth of the Dniester, and enable her to combine the commerce of all the southern provinces of Poland with her other resources on the Black Sea; and its military importance, the most competent judges in Berlin were agreed, was very great. It was now evident that the total destruction of the Turkish Empire and the expulsion of the Turks from Europe was the ultimate object of Russia. The extension of her empire along the Black Sea was a great step towards its accomplishment; and Oczakow would materially assist the Russians in any future expedition against Constantinople. For these reasons, the allies ought promptly to intervene, and there could be no question that their intervention would be successful. A large Prussian force was already concentrated in Silesia, and when co-operating with the Turks it would prove irresistible. It must be the task of England to send a fleet to the Baltic, where she could easily crush all resistance. None of the Prussian ministers, the English envoy said, in urging these points, made use of the promise of Prussia to support England in her quarrel with Spain, as an argument, but he added that he knew ‘that the King of Prussia considered it as furnishing an additional claim to the assistance of Great Britain in the support of a system which he pledged himself to maintain.’1
The reply of the English Government to these representations was very cordial. Having lately been attempting to establish commercial relations with Poland, they admitted that they had some commercial interest in the restoration of Oczakow, and they fully concurred with the military authorities of Prussia in their high estimate of its military importance. The fact that in two successive Turkish wars the Russians had to undertake a long, tedious, and wasting siege of Oczakow clearly proved that it was a real barrier to Turkey. It would probably prove equally formidable on the other side, if it became a stronghold for Russian aggression, and it would certainly enable Russia to make a much more effectual military use of the Crimea. The English ministers were therefore prepared to co-operate with Prussia in insisting upon its surrender. They hoped at the end of April 1791 to send to the Baltic thirty-five ships of the line and a proportionate number of frigates, while a Prussian army marched into Livonia, and they would also send, if necessary, a squadron of ten or twelve ships of the line to the Black Sea. They desired, however, that in the first place a joint representation should be made to the Empress, that the opinions of the neutral Powers should be gathered, and especially that a secret treaty should be negotiated with the King of Sweden, stipulating his neutrality and the use of his ports in return for a secret subsidy of two or three hundred thousand pounds to be raised by England and Prussia. They added, too, their hope that both England and Prussia would agree to take nothing for themselves. If, as the result of the war, it was deemed necessary to insist on terms beyond the status quo, the allies should in these ‘look to no acquisition for themselves, but to procuring a still greater degree of security for the Porte on the Black Sea.’1
In this manner a plan of co-operation was laid for a new war. There were, however, still some misgivings and hesitations at Berlin. Count Hertzberg desired a war with Austria much more than a war with Russia. He rejected the commercial propositions of England relating to Poland. He declared that England would ruin Prussia by dragging her into a wholly unprofitable war, and he still contended that the acquisition of Dantzig and Thorn must be made the leading object of Prussian policy. As the Court of Berlin was in negotiation with Poland for the purpose of obtaining permission for Prussian troops to pass through that country to Russia, the English envoy thought that in some way the desired cession might be still attained.2
In Russia, military preparations were pushed on with desperate ardour. The finances of the country were so exhausted that paper money was at twenty-five per cent. discount; but the supply of men was inexhaustible, and in the hands of an imperious despot it was likely to be employed to the utmost. The philanthropist Howard had made his last journey through Russia in the autumn of 1789, and he has left an appalling picture of the reckless waste of life which he witnessed. In no other country, he said, had he found so little attention paid to the military. In the hospitals, the soldiers who had fought so bravely at Oczakow were dying by thousands on beds of hard coarse reeds, without linen or bedclothes or proper medicines or any but the coarsest food. Others, but half-recovered from wounds or sickness, were compelled to attempt long marches, till they sank dying along the roads. Upwards of 70,000 soldiers and sailors had died in the Russian hospitals in a single year.1 But the stream of recruits still poured in, and the Turkish war was pushed on with great vigour, and, of late, with brilliant success. On December 22, 1790, after a siege of about a month, Suwarrow succeeded in taking by assault the great fortified town of Ismail. More than 38,000 Turks perished in the terrible and indiscriminate butchery that ensued when the Russians poured over the battlements; but this, like many other hideous pages of Eastern warfare, would have been long since forgotten had not an old history describing the siege and massacre of Ismail chanced to fall into the hands of a great English poet, who has immortalised them in two admirable cantos of his ‘Don Juan.’ On the Cuban and in the Caucasus, the Russian arms were likewise successful, and Potemkin was busily employed in strengthening the Black Sea fleet and inducing skilful foreign officers to serve in it. Whitworth believed that he was resolved if possible to make peace at Constantinople, and that, if not speedily opposed, he might succeed in his design. The Empress delayed her final arrangements of territory with Sweden in order to draw that Power more closely to Russia, and she proposed a Baltic alliance of Russia, Denmark, and Sweden.
Among the many schemes that were about this time devised was one which, though hopelessly wild and impracticable, is curious as showing that an idea was already in the air which was destined at a later period to have great influence on international politics. In the ‘Secret History of the Court of Berlin,’ which was written by Mirabeau in 1786, there is a very remarkable letter on the possibility of Russian armies some day penetrating through Central Asia into India. He says that at the time when the advance of Hyder Ali beyond Orixa had deranged the course of commerce in Bengal, some Bengal merchants, seeking new markets, succeeded in penetrating to the frontiers of Siberia, and that this fact suggested to the Russian Government an enterprise which was unsuccessfully undertaken in 1783. Availing themselves of the long line of water communication by the Volga to the Caspian Sea, they had sent an expedition from Astrakan for the purpose of seizing and occupying Astrabad at the southern point of the Caspian, with the object of ultimately penetrating from that point into India. Though the expedition had not succeeded, the design was not abandoned, and Mirabeau predicted that it might one day be accomplished, and that by gravely menacing English power in India, Russia might produce a complete change in the European system of politics; and among other consequences a close alliance of England and France to repress her growing power.1 In 1791 the English minister mentions that a French adventurer named St. Ginier had lately arrived from France with particular recommendations from the Prince of Nassau. He proposed, in the event of a war between England and Russia, to go with a corps of 4,000 men from the northern extremity of the Caspian Sea, through Cashmere to Delhi, and from thence to attack the English settlements in Bengal. ‘This fine project,’ wrote Whitworth, ‘has been presented to the Empress by Monsieur Nassau, who, I must in justice to this country acknowledge, is the only man in it mad enough to think it practicable.’2
On March 28, 1791, a message was delivered to the English Parliament, stating that his Majesty's endeavours, in conjunction with his allies, to bring about a pacification between Russia and the Porte having failed, his Majesty deemed it necessary, for the purpose of adding weight to his representations, to make some further augmentation to his naval force, and on the following day Pitt moved an address, which was an echo of the message, and which pledged Parliament to give his Majesty the assistance he required. Pitt, in introducing it, dwelt much in generalities. A negotiation was in progress, and it could not yet be brought in detail before the House; but there were certain evident considerations which justified the necessity of the step which was to be taken. With perhaps something less than his usual felicity he based his defence mainly on the interests of Prussia and on our obligation of defending her. Prussia, of all European Powers, was the one who could be the most useful ally to England. She had already done us a good service by breaking the French ascendency in Holland, and we were bound to her, by a close defensive alliance, which was the best guarantee of the future security of Europe. The events that were taking place were very dangerous to her. The Turkish Empire is of great weight in the general scale of European Powers, and if that Empire is diminished or destroyed, or even rendered unstable and precarious, the situation of Prussia would be seriously affected, and so far from concurring with England in protecting the Dutch frontier, and in general the existing European system, she would be obliged to concentrate all her efforts on the defence of her own frontiers. Nor would the danger and diminution of Prussia be the sole consequence. ‘Would any man imagine that the aggrandisement of Russia would not materially affect the disposition of other Powers—that it might not produce an alteration in Poland, highly dangerous to Prussia? … If a powerful and ambitious neighbour were suffered to establish herself upon the very frontiers of Prussia, what safety was there for Poland; what safety for Denmark, or what for Sweden, when Prussia shall be no longer in a condition to assist them? The safety of all Europe might afterwards be endangered.’ ‘Many articles, the materials of manufacture, we received from Russia, but of these articles many could be obtained from other countries, from Poland for instance, and therefore we had a commercial interest in cultivating a trade with Poland, and preventing Russia from obtaining such a decided command of the articles we wanted as to give or withhold them at her pleasure.’1
These allusions to the danger of Poland, coupled with the fact that a few years later the final dismemberment of that unhappy kingdom was actually accomplished, have been sometimes cited as proofs of the prescience of Pitt, but there is not, I think, any sufficient reason for believing that the political security of Poland entered into the motives of his policy, though he did undoubtedly consider the importance of her obtaining a vent for her commerce through the Black Sea. Nor is there the smallest ground for believing that if Oczakow had remained a Turkish fortress, Turkey would have had either the power or the disposition to prevent the final partition. A conflict between Russia and Prussia might no doubt have retarded it, but even then it would probably have been carried out at the peace, to furnish an indemnity for the expenses of the war.2
It soon, however, appeared that the Opposition were prepared to resist with all their energies the anti-Russian policy of Pitt, and that they were likely to find a large amount of support in the country. The interest in Oczakow and in the barren strip of land that lies between the Bog and the Dniester, has long since passed away; but these debates have even now a real importance, for they bring us to the source of that Eastern question which is still one of the gravest cares of Western statesmen. Fox and his followers objected in the first place to an armament based on the scanty knowledge which was furnished to the House. The King had the undoubted prerogative of declaring war; but Parliament had an equally undoubted check upon that prerogative in its right of withholding supplies. If, then, Parliament was asked to raise the navy to a war footing, it had surely a right to demand some fuller account than had been vouchsafed, of the proposals of Russia; some real means of judging how far a war which was manifestly contemplated was becoming necessary. All that was known was that England was insisting on the surrender by Russia of Oczakow and its district, and this demand appeared to Fox in the highest degree unjust and impolitic. It was unjust, because Russia had not been the aggressor in the war, and because in spite of her great successes she was understood to have consented to concessions which displayed her signal moderation. It was impolitic; for the only result of an expensive and dangerous war would be to alienate, perhaps for ever, a most valuable ally without obtaining any object in which England had a real interest. Russia was the natural ally of England. She was the one considerable maritime Power who was likely to help her. She was in a great part of Europe the most serious counterpoise to the ascendency of France. She was one of the nations with which England had the closest and most profitable connection. Though the commercial treaty had not been renewed, our annual exports to Russia were still about 400,000l., and our annual imports from Russia about 2,500,000l. These imports consisted chiefly of implements of war, naval stores, and raw materials of manufacture, and above three-fourths of the Russian trade with England was carried on in English bottoms. It was impossible, therefore, for England to distress the trade of Russia without distressing herself in a much higher degree; and ‘so far from wishing to go to war with her, we ought rather to wish her success in those quarters from which the Turks have always excluded us, at least for the last fifty years, and where the French enjoyed an almost complete monopoly.’
And what had England to gain by this policy? Of all the countries in Europe, Turkey was the one with which she had least connection. Of all the seas in the world the Black Sea was probably the only one to which English ships never penetrated. In what way could English interests, or English power, be affected by the acquisition by Russia of a fortress on the Dniester and a strip of barren land along the northern shore of the Black Sea? A Russian conquest of Constantinople was too distant and too doubtful to be seriously contemplated. If it ever became imminent, it would be resisted by the Mediterranean Powers, whose interests would be affected much more directly than those of England. If it were ever accomplished, it would almost certainly be followed by a division of the Russian Empire, for all past history tended to prove the impossibility of a territory extending from Kamtchatka to the Mediterranean being held together under a single government.
And even if these predictions proved false, was it certain that Russian progress would be an evil to England? At present France and Spain were the two great maritime Powers of the Mediterranean. They had almost always been hostile to England, and in the last war they had effectually excluded her from that sea. Was, then, the intervention of a third naval Power, which was usually friendly to England and hostile to France, so great an evil? The assertion that we were bound by the spirit of our defensive alliance with Prussia to prevent Russia from obtaining Oczakow from the Turks, was denounced as in the highest degree dangerous and absurd. If defensive treaties were construed in such a manner, they would have all the evils of offensive ones, and they would involve us in every quarrel in Europe. We bound ourselves only, to furnish assisttance to Prussia if she were attacked. She had not been attacked. She was at perfect peace. She was absolutely unmenaced. It was doubtful whether the new acquisition of Russia could under any circumstances be injurious to her, and it was preposterous to maintain that it was the duty of England to prevent any other nation from acquiring any territory which might possibly, in some future war, be made use of against Prussia. That England, like other great nations, was bound to attend to the balance of power in Europe, was very true; but could any reasonable man maintain that, if this balance was not deranged when Prussia obtained the great province of Silesia lying in the very heart of Europe, it was likely to be disturbed because Russia obtained a fortress on the Dniester, and a tract of almost uninhabited territory along the remote shores of the Euxine?
The conduct of Fox during the American War, and still more his speeches during the great French War, make it impossible to acquit him of the most serious charge of employing foreign politics and great national disasters for purely party purposes He had, however, loyally supported the Government when they were appeasing the dissensions in Holland and when they were seeking redress for the Spanish outrage in Nootka Sound; and in his opposition to the present Russian policy of Pitt he faithfully represented the public opinion of England. Burke, who was now rapidly diverging from him on the question of the French Revolution, and who had a corresponding leaning towards Pitt, spoke vehemently and eloquently against the Russian armament. ‘Considering the Turkish Empire as any part of the balance of power in Europe,’ he said, ‘was new.’ The Turks were an essentially Asiatic people, who completely isolated themselves from European affairs, and ‘the Minister and the policy which should give them any weight in Europe would deserve all the bans and curses of posterity.’ For his own part, he confessed that he had seen with horror the beautiful countries that bordered on the Danube given back by the Emperor to devastation and ruin. ‘Are we,’ he asked, ‘now going to vote the blood and treasure of our countrymen to enforce similar cruel and inhuman policy?’ The extension of the power and territory, and the direction of the energies of Russia towards the south was not a danger, but a safeguard to Prussia; and if she ever conquered the Chersonese, its settlement would abundantly occupy her for ten or twenty years. It was impossible to say where the new policy might end. It might lead to an expenditure as great as the American War. The King of Prussia having thought fit to consider the Turks as useful to maintain his power, we might be asked to introduce them into Poland and the heart of Europe. That so wise a man as Pitt should endeavour on such slight and frivolous grounds to commit the country to a policy of unlimited adventure, sacrificing the friendship of one of our most useful allies, and casting to the wind the foreign policy of his own father, appeared to Burke the most extraordinary event that had taken place in Parliament since he had sat within its walls.
The question was brought before the House of Commons, in different forms, no less than four times. The Government majorities varied from ninety-four to eighty; but, large as they were, they were much below the normal figures in party divisions, and it was impossible to mistake the preponderance of ability and of independent opinion on the side of the Opposition.
In the confidential letters of the Ministers it was fully admitted that the armament and the prospect of a war with Russia were profoundly unpopular, and all the news that arrived from the Continent was discouraging. Prussia, alone of the three allies, was eager for a war, and it soon became plain that Holland would take no part in it.1 Like England, she was governed, not by a despotic sovereign, but by the will of a free, commercial, and pacific people, and the Dutch Ministers maintained that it could be of no possible consequence to Holland whether Oczakow belonged to the Russians or the Turks, and that it was absurd to contend that their defensive alliance with Prussia required them to join in an unprovoked attack upon Russia. Spain was now again on good terms with England, and Florida Blanca, who directed her policy, on being sounded by the English Envoy at Madrid, expressed a strong desire to see peace established between Russia and Turkey on the basis of the status quo as it existed before the war, and he directed the Spanish Minister at St. Petersburg to co-operate with the English Minister.2 It soon appeared, however, that this cooperation did not extend beyond the expression of an opinion and a wish, and the Spanish Minister at St. Petersburg distinctly informed Whitworth that his master would take no part in any act of menace or hostility.3 The Emperor, to the great disappointment of England, leaned strongly towards Russia, and there was much reason to fear that he would actively support her if Prussia entered into the field.4 Sweden, whose co-operation was very important, leaned to the same side, and was determined not to reopen her quarrel with Russia;5 while Denmark offered to mediate on the basis of some middle course described as ‘a limited status quo.’6 On the whole, with the exception of the Prussian Minister, Whitworth found no cordial co-operation among the Ministers at St. Petersburg.7 Lord Auckland, whose knowledge of the Continent was very great, wrote privately to Pitt, urging the dangers of a distant war; and the Dutch admiral, Kinsbergen, who was well acquainted with Oczakow and its territory, made a strong representation of the inadequacy of the proposed motive for war. Sebastopol, he said, was a real and serious danger to Turkey, and an active admiral might easily burn Constantinople by a sudden attack from that port; but Oczakow had but little real importance. Pitt appears to have been much struck by this opinion, and it contributed to shake his confidence in his policy.1
The situation was very perplexing, for England was already deeply committed. On March 27, the day before the King's message to Parliament had been delivered, the Duke of Leeds wrote to Whitworth informing him officially that Great Britain and Prussia had resolved upon an immediate interference, and directing him to present an ultimatum to the Russian Government and to insist upon an answer within ten days. In this ultimatum, the two Courts state the gratification with which they had seen the principle of the status quo accepted as the basis of pacification in the peace between Austria and Turkey, and in the peace between Russia and Sweden, and they added that any accession of territory by Russia on the side of Turkey ‘must essentially diminish the future security of the Turkish Empire, and must be attended with consequences highly detrimental to the interests of the two Courts and the future permanence of tranquillity in Europe.’2
Pitt, however, saw quickly and clearly that the country was against him, and he resolved to recede. The Duke of Leeds, who was most closely identified with the recent policy, retired from office;3 Lord Grenville, the Secretary for the Home Department, who had been originally the only minister in the Cabinet opposed to sending a fleet to the Baltic, was transferred to the Foreign Office; and Dundas, though still retaining the Presidency of the Indian Board, became Home Secretary. A messenger, hastily despatched to St. Petersburg, was in time to prevent Whitworth from laying the ultimatum before the Empress; and Grenville instructed Ewart to inform the Prussian ministers that although the strict status quo still seemed to the English Cabinet the most durable basis of pacification, the manner in which the recent Address had been received in Parliament and in the country, had convinced them that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to attain it. The King, desirous to meet the wishes of his people, wished to find a middle term, which might attain the great object of the Allies, ‘the future security of Turkey, and the maintenance of general and permanent tranquillity.’ The Danish proposition seemed to offer such an opening, and Spain had been making overtures in the same line, and appeared inclined, if peace could be established on some middle term, to join in guaranteeing the remaining dominions of the Porte.1
Pitt himself, in a letter to Ewart, which was intended to be brought before the Prussian Ministers, stated very forcibly and frankly the motives of his conduct. ‘No one,’ he wrote, ‘could be more eagerly bent than I was on a steady adherence to the line which we had at first proposed, of going all lengths to enforce the terms of the strict status quo; and I am still as much persuaded as ever that if we could have carried the support of the country with us, the risk and expense of the struggle, even if Russia had not submitted without a struggle, would not have been more than the object was worth. But, notwithstanding this was my own fixed opinion, I saw with certainty in a very few days after the subject was first discussed in Parliament, that the prospect of obtaining a support sufficient to carry it through with vigour and effect was absolutely desperate. … From what I know of the sentiments of the greatest part of the majority and of many of the warmest friends of Government, I am sure that if, persisting in the line of the status quo, we were to come to the point of actually calling for supplies to support the war, and were to state, as would then be indispensable, the precise ground on which it arose, we should either not carry such a question, or carry it only by so weak a division as would nearly amount to a defeat. … The obvious effect of our persisting would have been to risk the existence of the present Government, and with it the whole of our system both at home and abroad. The personal part of this consideration it would have been our duty to overlook, but … the overthrow of our system here … must have shaken the whole of our system abroad. It is not difficult to foresee what must have been the consequence to Prussia of a change effected by an opposition to the very measures taken in concert with that Court, and resting on the avowed ground of our present system of alliance. … My great object is that you should be able to satisfy the King of Prussia of the strong necessity under which we have acted, and that we really had no other choice, with a view either to his interests or to those which we are most bound to consult at home.’1 The determination of the English Government was received at Berlin with regret, but more graciously than might perhaps have been expected. The King of Prussia declared himself to be much impressed with the attitude of English public opinion, but he was extremely desirous that if the Baltic expedition was postponed, England should at least send a squadron to the Black Sea.2 Whitworth was, perhaps, not a very skilful, certainly at this time not a conciliatory or a successful diplomatist; and his relations with the Court of St. Petersburg were very strained. The Government resolved, without removing or superseding him, to send out a new envoy. Fawkener was accordingly sent first to Berlin and then to St. Petersburg, to endeavour to negotiate a peace. He was instructed to abstain from all language of menace, but to attempt to induce the Empress to accept some one of several proposed modifications of the original demand. It was suggested that the Oczakow district should be made neutral and a barrier between Russia and Turkey; or that it should be added to Russia on the condition that no towns or fortresses should be established, and that it should remain uninhabited; or that the cession should be confined to some boundary short of the Dniester, and accompanied with the condition that the fortress of Oczakow should be demolished and that no new fort should be raised; or, finally, that the cession should be unrestricted except by the condition that it should not extend to, or interfere with, the navigation of the Dniester.
It was soon found, however, that Catherine would listen to no such restriction, and everything contributed to encourage her. The definitive Peace of Sistova, between the Emperor and Turkey, had not yet been signed; and at this time the Emperor was strongly supporting Russia. He had just broken off the Congress by his unexpected demand for old Orsova and a Croatian frontier, and there was a strong probability that he would renew the war. On the other hand, the Turks were evidently completely broken, and in July 1791 the Russians won two more important victories. The attitude of Sweden, Denmark, and Holland was exceedingly encouraging to the Empress, and the news of the late proceedings in England and of the abrupt withdrawal of the intended ultimatum convinced her that there was little serious danger from that quarter.
For many years before the period with which we are now concerned, Catherine had professed a kind of romantic enthusiasm for Fox. She had placed his bust in her palace between the busts of Demosthenes and Cicero, and she was extremely desirous of seeing him again at the head of affairs.1 Fox appears to have to a considerable extent reciprocated the admiration, and a very grave charge relating to the negotiations about Oczakow was afterwards brought against him by Burke, in a letter to the Duke of Portland which was published without the consent of the writer. Burke has stated that Fox at this time, ‘without the knowledge and participation of any one person in the House of Commons with whom he was bound by every party principle, in matters of delicacy and importance, confidentially to communicate, thought proper to send Mr. Adair as his representative and with his cipher to St. Petersburg, there to frustrate the objects for which the minister from the Crown was authorised to treat;’ and that ‘he succeeded in this, his design, and did actually frustrate the King's minister in some of the objects of his negotiation.’1
This charge was reiterated some years later by Bishop Tomline, who stated that he had found its accuracy ‘attested by authentic documents among Mr. Pitt's papers.’2 It was, however, never substantiated, and Adair, whose character was beyond all suspicion, has positively denied it, and has at the same time clearly explained how it may have arisen. It is quite true that in the May of 1791 he made a journey to St. Petersburg; that he received some letters of introduction from Fox; that Fox requested him to send back to England all the news that he could gather, and that he recommended him, as his letters were likely to be opened, to employ a cipher which had been used by Burgoyne in the American War. But it is also true that Adair's journey was undertaken entirely of his own free will and without any prompting from Fox; and that Fox charged him with no message whatever. Adair, not very judiciously, held conversations with Russian Ministers before the pending dispute had been settled, on the advantages of a future Anglo-Russian alliance, but he spoke to them altogether from himself, and without any instructions from Fox, and did not even mention these conversations to Fox upon his return.3 Nor had they any of the importance that has been ascribed to them. The Empress was, no doubt, glad to display her sympathies by showing marked favour to the friend of Fox,4 but before Fawkener had left England she had received from her ambassador in London full information about the attitude and sentiments of the Opposition, about the tendencies of English public opinion, and about the great difficulties the English Minister was likely to encounter in Parliament if he entered into war.5
The truth is that everything, as the British envoy mournfully said, seemed at this time to conspire against the plans of the British Government. ‘The success with which the [Russian] campaign has opened; the vigorous measures which appear to be carrying on, on the other side of the Danube and of the river Cuban; the perfect concert with which this Court has acted with that of Vienna in a scene of the greatest duplicity; the nature of the demands made by the Emperor; the breaking up of the Congress and the consequent recommencement of hostilities, the blame of which will be thrown chiefly upon the Turks; the rancorous aversion of the Empress to the King of Prussia; her dislike and jealousy of England; … her hope of perhaps bringing about a change in his Majesty's administration,’ were all reasons for despondency.1 England, at last, reduced her terms to merely asking a promise from Russia that she would not molest the navigation of the Dniester, but in the meantime the Russians opened a direct negotiation with the Porte, and an agreement was made on the basis of the entire cession of Oczakow and its district to the Dniester, in full sovereignty, with a renewal of former treaties. No stipulation was made in the treaty about the navigation of the Dniester, but the Empress promised of her own free will that she would not interfere with it. The preliminaries of this peace were signed at Galatz on August 11. The definitive peace was concluded at Jassy on January 9, 1792.
The death of Potemkin, which took place near Jassy, rather more than two months before the definitive peace, threw a dark shadow over the mind of Catherine, but politically her triumph was very great. She had completely baffled both England and Prussia, had made peace on her own terms and had made it without the intervention of any foreign Power. This was the first great failure in the administration of Pitt, and it broke the spell of a long course of brilliant and uninterrupted triumphs. Russia was confirmed in her ascendency on the Euxine; neither Turkey, nor Sweden, nor the Emperor, were drawn into the defensive system; and the alliance between England and Prussia, on which Pitt had placed his chief hope for the security of Europe, came practically to an end. There was no open breach, but confidence and co-operation disappeared. The Prussian King and Ministers were extremely discontented at the course which European politics had lately taken. Though the youngest of the Great Powers, Prussia, they said, had in the last few years three times interposed, at serious risk and by considerable military demonstrations, to maintain the equilibrium of Europe. She had put down the revolution in Holland at the risk of a war with France. She had enforced by threats the neutrality of Denmark at the risk of a war with Russia. She had produced a peace between the Emperor and Turkey by massing her troops on the Austrian frontier. On each of these occasions a great service had been rendered, and on each of them heavy expenses had been incurred, yet Prussia had gained absolutely nothing for herself. England was accused at Berlin of having defeated the Prussian projects for acquiring Dantzig and Thorn and for expelling Austria from Galicia and from Flanders, and the final triumph of Russia was mainly due to the attitude of English parties and of the English Government. For some months Prussia and Austria had been gravitating towards each other. English diplomacy, desiring to isolate Russia, had encouraged the tendency, and the result was a close alliance which produced new political combinations in which England had no part, and, among other consequences, led to the invasion of France.
It is difficult even now to say whether the Ministry of Pitt can be reasonably blamed on account of the somewhat humiliating rebuff which it had experienced. In the long and intricate course of foreign policy which I have described, and which extended far beyond the terms of a defensive alliance, more than one step was taken of which the expediency may be contested; but in the last stage, Pitt seems to me to have acted the part of a wise and courageous statesman in promptly recognising, and frankly acknowledging the facts of the case. The collapse of Turkish resistance, the hostile attitude of the Emperor, and the decisive condemnation by English public opinion of a war for the recovery of Oczakow, made such a policy extremely dangerous; and considering the dispositions and designs of Prussia, a war with Russia would have almost certainly extended to Austria and Poland. Subsequent events have not shown that Oczakow possessed such European importance as to justify these risks; and although the close alliance between England and Prussia had been on the whole successful, it had already led to great dangers, and would probably have led to still greater in the following year. The French Revolution was now the main fact which began to colour and direct all the policy of Europe, and in little more than a year after the signature of the Peace of Jassy it involved England in a struggle which was the most desperate and dangerous in her whole history. It can scarcely be doubted that the conditions of that struggle would have been materially, perhaps fatally, modified if the events of 1793 had found England already trammelled and exhausted by a European war.
Watson's Anecdotet of his Own Time.
Parl. Hist. xxix. 509.
See Stephen's Hist. of the Criminal Law of England, ii. 483.
See much evidence of this in Abbey and Overton's English Church in the Eighteenth Centuary, ii. 457–459.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 114.
Wilberforce, however, complained in 1787 that he was asked to one by a person high in the King's service.— Life, i. 133.
See a curious account of the effect of the alarm produced by the Revolution on the religious deportment of the upper classes, in the Annual Register, 1798, pp 229, 230.
Hodgson's Life of Porteus, pp. 138, 139.
Abbey and Overton's English Church in the Eighteenth Century, li. 519; Wilberforce's Life, ii. 272.
I have collected some facts about the early history of Sunday coaches (vol. ii. pp. 532, 533). A writer in 1765 deplores the increasing number of coaches travelling on Sunday. ‘They are got to that height that there is not a stage within ten or twelve miles of London but what goes as regularly on that day as on the weekdays. The long stages are not suffered to do so, though the passengers travel out of necessity, but your Sunday traveller does it out of pleasure and many times to get drink I have had an opportunity of observing at a town about ten miles from the city, that there are two stages set out on the weekdays, but on Sundays four or five in the summer time, most of them crowded both within and without.’—Lloyd's Evening Post, March 22–25, 1765. See too the Connoisseur, So. 26. In 1802 James Mill wrote from London: ‘Another very fine sight is Hyde Park, especially on a Sunday, when all the nobility and gentry go to air themselves. You see thousands of carriages and horsemen, and the walks for miles filled with the finest dressed people.’—Bain's James Mill, p. 40. On the Sunday travelling of the upper classes, see the Essays of Vicesunus Knor, No XX.
21 Geo. III. c 49; Hodgson's Life of Posteus, pp. 71–83.
Parl. Hist, xxviii. 127.
Adolphus's Hist, of England, iv. 123. In 1799 Wilberforce made an unsuccessful attempt to carry a law suppressing Sunday newspapers. He pretends that Piit was induced to refuse his support because three out of the four Sunday newspapers supported the Government. — Wilber-force's Life, ii 338.
See Wilberforce's Life, i. 132–138; Hodgson's Life of Porteus, pp. 100, 101; Watson's Anecdotes of His Own Time, ii. 66.
De Jure Belli et Pacis, Book II. c. 15.
First Letter concerning Toleration.
Moral Philosophy, Book VI. 10.
Meadley's Life of Paley, pp 77,
Life of Lady Huntingdon ii. 287. This letter was written in 1772. Priestley, a few years earlier, wrote: ‘The most unrelenting persecution is to be apprehended no from bigots, but from infidels. A bigot, who is so from a principle of conscience, may possibly be moved by a regard to the consciences of others; but the man who thinks that conscience ought always to be sacrificed to political views has no principle on which an argument in favour of moderation can lay hold.’—Essay on the First Principles of Government, p. 290.
Burke's Works, x. 36–40.
See the Memoir appended to Belsham's ‘Sermon on the Death of Lindsey.’
See Annual Register, 1792, pp. 368, 369.
Burke's Works, x. 41–61.
Stephen's History of English Criminal Laru, ii. 469, 483.
Esprit des Lois, livre xxv. ch, 9–13.
La Voix du Sage et du Peuple (1750).
Dictionnaire Philosophique, art. ‘Droit Canonique.’
Varux d'un Solitaire—Voeux pour la Nation.
Traité de la Législation, livre iv. ch. 2, 3, 4.
Contrat Sucial, livre iv. ch. 8. In his letter to M. de Beaumont, Rous-sean says: ‘Je crois qu'un homme de bien, dans quelque religion qu'il vive de bonne foi, pent être sanvé. Mais je ne crois pas pour cela qu'on puisse légitimement introduire en on pays des religions étrangères sans la permission du souverain; car si ce n'est pas directement désobéir à Dieu, c'est désobéir aux lois, et qui désobéit aux lois, désobéit à Dieu.’
Lord Campbell, however, says: ‘At this time conveyancing was chiefly in the hands of Roman Catholics.’ Being long prevented by their religion from being called to the bar, they practised successfully in chambers; and being employed at first by their co-religionists, their industry and learning forced them into general business. Charles Butler, whom I well knew, may be considered the last of this race'—Campbell's Lives of the Chancellors, ix. 143.
Everyone who is acquainted with the administration of criminal law in Ireland can test this assertion. It is well known that the immense majority of Catholic murderers who are convicted in that country go to the gallows fortified by the religious rites of their Church, attended by a priest, and manifesting the most perfect submission to his teaching. Yet nothing can be more rare than for any Catholic murderer to make the one possible atonement to society and his neighbour by confessing his guilt and the justice of his sentence. Religious teachers of every other Christian creed enjoin such a confession as a matter of the plainest moral duty, and in the case of non-Catholic criminals it is the usual and the natural result of sincere peni-tence. Catholic priests alone do not enjoin, or require, or encourage it, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the pernicious influence they have had in this respect in weakening the respect for justice, and in perverting and lowering the moral feelings of the Irish people.
The whole history—which is a somewhat curious one—of the negotiations and differences of the Ca-tholics, previous to the Act of 1791, is given in great detail by Charles Butler, who bore a large part in them. See his Memoirs of the English Catholics, ii. 99–138; the Supplemental Memoirs of his opponent, Bishop Milner; and the recent work of Father Amherst, Hist. of Catholie Emancipation, vol. i. pp. 149–178.
31 Geo. III. c. 32.
See the speech of W. Smith, who chiefly represented the Dissenting interest in Parliament.—Parl. Hist. xxviii. 1376. See, too, Butler's Memoirs of the English Catholics, ii. 111.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 1267, 1365, 1368.
Parl Hist. xxix. 678.
Prior's Life of Burke, ii. 296, 297.
A writer who travelled through the Highlands in 1786, says: ‘While the Protestant clergy have neither dwelling houses nor places to preach in, those of the Catholic persuasion in the Highlands have both, and which (sic) are kept in excellent repair. On one estate only there are seven priests and a bishop, who, besides the contributions from their hearers, have a small allowance from the Church of Rome’—A Tour in the Highlands in 1786, by John Knox, p. clxiii.
Amherst's Hist of Catholic Emancipation, i. 279, 280,
33 Geo. III. c. 44; Butler's Memoirs of the English Catholics, ii. 459–466.
32 Geo. III. c. 63. For an enu-meration of the laws against the Scotch Episcopalians, see vol. ii. pp. 67–69. See, too, Perry's Hist. of the Church of England, in. 522, 523.
Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 80.
Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 196, 197.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 452–479.
14 Geo. III. c. 83
Parl. Hist. xxix. 419–424, 425.
31 Geo. III. c. 31.
Parl, Hist. xxviii. 698–700.
Parl. Hist. xxviii. 1005–1009. In a letter to Sir R. Keith, dated Feb 9, 1791, Lord Auckland wrote: ‘Notwithstanding the interruption arising from the Spanish business, the nett revenue of 1790 was sixteen millions, being near 400,000l more than ever was known; and a degree of opulence is now circulating through the country with an unexampled energy and activity both in agriculture and manufactures. … The measures for paying the late expenses are executing without trouble or any apparent sensation in the country.’—Smyth's Mems. of Sir R. Keith, ii. 377.
Parl. Hist. xxix. 816–838.
See Sybel, Hist. de I'Europe, i. 177–182.
See, e.g., the curious letters of Sir J. Harris in the Malmesbury Correspondence. That very able diplomatist, while acknowledging that Catherine was a woman of great talents, great courage, and sometimes of great resolution, evidently believed that her successes were in a large measure those of a fortunate gambler, and that she was wholly incapable of pursuing any one line of policy by system, or through a sober and unimpassioned calculation of interests
See the very emphatic remarks of that most competent judge, the Princess Daschkaw.—Memoirs of the Princess Daschkaw (edited by Mrs. Bradford), i. 13.
Much light has been thrown on these sides of the character of Catherine by the recent publication of her very confidential correspondence with Grimm. One passage I must quote as an illustration. The Empress (she is writing in 1791) complains to Grimm that she is getting so old that there are families about her of whom she has known the fifth or sixth generations. ‘Voilà de grandes preuves de vieillesse, et même ce récit en tient peutêtre, mais que faire? Et malgré cela jaime à la folie et comme un enfant de cinq ans à voir jouer au colin-maillard et à tous les jeux d'enfants possibles. Les jeunes gens et mes petits-fils et filles disent qu'il faut que j'y sois pour que la gaîté y règne à leur gré, et qu'ils sont plus hardis et à leur aise quand j'y suis que sans moi. C'est done moi qui suis le “Lustigmacher.”’—Corresp. de Cath. et Grimm, p. 592.
Some slight communications had before been kept up between the Russsians and the Greek priests under Turkish rule, but they do not appear to have had much importance. See Sorel, La Question d'Orient au XVIIIme siècle, pp. 11, 12.
Chattham Correspondence, iii. 30–32, 36, 37, 79, 86, 174, 175.
Malmesbury's Diaries and Correspondence, i. 256; Dyer's Hist. of Modern Europe, iv. 207; Ségur, Politique de tous les Cabinets de l'Europe, ii. 174.
Chatham Correspondence, iv. 298, 299.
Parl. Hist, xxix. 39, 52.
Malmesbury's Diaries and Correspondence, i. 345, 364, 373–375, 399–402, 438.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iv. 38, 39.
On June 30, 1783, Harris wrote from St. Petersburg: ‘The Emperor's communication of his having formed an alliance with Russia, and of the Empress's intentions on the Crimea, to France, has produced a strong representation from that Court to this, in which, after expressing directly their surprise at her Imperial Majesty's still forming new claims on the Turks, and indirectly denying the justness of their claims, the King of France makes a tender of his mediation … pointing out the uncertainty of the success of war, and the serious and ‘incalculable’ consequences with which her persisting in this measure may be attended. … The Empress is exceedingly angry.’ Eight weeks later, having received instructions from England. Harris reported to Fox his conversations with Russian ministers about the annexation of the Crimea and the attitude of France. ‘I confined myself to such general observations as naturally present themselves on such an occasion, and endeavoured to make them feel that, fatigued by a long and expensive war, the services my Court could render her Imperial Majesty by a strong exertion of its political influence would be both more efficacious and more agreeable than any others, however well disposed we might be to employ them in her behalf. I must, in justice to the Russian ministers, say that they admitted entirely these ideas, entered in the most proper manner into our situation, and gave me clearly to understand that, unless either of the Bourbon Courts should take such steps as would directly attack our interests, the Empress did not expect more from us than what we had done for her in the last Turkish War. On Sunday, previously to my taking leave, the Vice-Chancellor told me that he had her Imperial Majesty's orders to express the warmest gratitude for this undoubted mark of the King's attention to the interests of her Empire’—Malmesbury's Diaries and Correspondence, ii. 48, 56.
Malmesbury's Diaries and Correspondence, ii. 40. See, too, his own striking account of his policy at the time of the annexation of the Crimea.—Parl. Hist. xxix. 63.
Malmesbury's Diaries, ii. 51, 52.
Ibid. ii. 50, 51, 54.
Circourt, Hist. de l'Actwn commune de la France et de l'Améque, iii. 330–332. A saying of Vergennes on the Eastern question is reported to have greatly struck Joseph II.: ‘Une partition de l'Empire Ottoman n'est pas difficile, mais je ne vois pas la compensation pour Constantinople.’—Auckland Correspondence, i. 221. Vergennes had proposed to Fox to join him in his remonstrance to Russia against the seizure of the Crimea in 1783, but Fox peremptorily declined.—Parl. Hist. xxix. 63. It is one of the many proofs of the remarkable piescience of this French statesman, that he had expressed his alarm during the Turkish War of 1769 lest that war should lead to a partition of Poland—a prediction which was perfectly verified by the event. See Sorel, Question d'Orient au XVIIme siécle, p. 37.
Ibid. pp. 48–51, 208, 213, 217.
Coxe's House of Austria, ii. 593, 594.
Ibid. ii. 551.
See Annual Register, 1788, pp. 2–11.
Ibid. 1786, pp. 151, 152.
Auckland Correspondence, i. 220, 232, 215–249.
Auckland Correspondence, i 217.
Ibid. 222, 293, 302, 303.
Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, iv. 116.
Ewart to Leeds (Prussian Despatches, Record Office), 10, 17 Oct. 1769.
Whitworth to Leeds (Russian Despatches, Record Office), Feb. 12, 1790.
A graphic account of this coup d'état will be found in Geffroy, Gustave III. et la Cour de France. See too La Croix, Constitutions de l'Europe. Voltaire addressed a congratulatory epistle to Gustavus, in which he says:
Fraser to Carmarthen, April 11, June 10, 27, July 8, 1788.
See An Account of late Transactions in Sweden, sent by Keene to England, Oct. 1788.
Fraser to Carmarthen, July 8, 1788. Whitworth to Carmarthen, April 24, 1789. Sherburne's Life of Paul Jones.
Keene to Fraser, Aug. 29, 1788.
See Lady Minto's Life of Hugh Elliot.
This was asserted by Geffroy in his Gustave III. et la Cour de France, ii. 65, 66, and it has been often repeated. The confidential correspondence, however, of Keene, who was English consul at Stockholm when the war broke out (Swedish Correspondence, Record Office), and the letters in the Russian Correspondence from Fraser to Carmarthen, Aug. 29, and from Carmarthen to Fraser, Aug. 29, 1788, seem to me to show clearly that the allies had nothing whatever to say to the conduct of Gustavus in declaring war, and that they did not approve of it.
Keene to Carmarthen, Sept. 26; Fraser to Carmarthen, Oct. 10, 1788.
Carmarthen to Fraser, Feb. 1788; Carmarthen to Woronzow, March 29, 1788; Fraser to Carmarthen, June 3, 1788. Annual Register.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 209; Carmarthen to Fraser, April 29, 1788.
Ostermann to Woronzow, Oct 13; Whitworth to Carmarthen, Dec. 20, 1788.
Ewart to Carmarthen, Jan. 28, 1789
Ewart to Leeds, May 28, 1789. Carmarthen had just inherited the title of Duke of Leeds.
Hertzberg, Reoueil des Mémoires, &c. iii. 13–16.
Ewart to Carmarthen, Feb. 11, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, Aug. 10, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, May 28, 1789. See, too, the inclosed instructions (May 26) to Dietz, the Prussian minister at Constantinople.
Ewart to Leeds, Aug. 10, 1789.
Ibid. April 20, May 16, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, May 16, August 10, 1789.
Smyth's Memoirs of Sir Robert Keith, ii. 225.
Smyth's Memoirs of Sir Keith, ii. 219, 221, 225–232.
See p 24.
Leeds to Ewart, June 24, 1789.
Leeds to Ewart, Sept. 14, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, Oct. 1, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, Oct. 6, 10, 17, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, Nov. 7, 28, Dec. 1, 7, 22, 31, 1789.
Leeds to Ewart, Dec. 8, 14, 1789.
Ewart to Leeds, Jan. 26, 1790.
Leeds to Ewart, Feb. 9, 1790.
Ewart to Leeds, Feb. 11, 1790.
Ibid. Jan. 4, 1790.
Ewart to Leeds, Feb. 25, 1790.
Leeds to Ewart, Feb. 26, 1790.
Memoirs of Sir R. Keith, ii. 251, 252; Coxe's Hist of the House of Austria, vol ii. There is a singularly beautiful and discriminating essay on the reign of Joseph, in Herman Merivale's Historical Studies, a book which is far less known than it deserves to be.
See for the text of this treaty, Recued des Mémoires &c.du Comte de Hertzberg, iii. 37–42.
Ibid. iii. 8–29.
Hertzberg, iii. 1–8.
Ewart to Leeds, March 2, 8, 1790: Coxe's Hist. of the House of Austria, ii 688–690.
See the correspondence between the kings of Hungary and Prussia, in Hertzberg, iii. 50–71.
That this resolution had been taken just before the death of Joseph appears from a letter of Sir R. Keith (Keith's Memoirs, ii. 248).
Ewart to Leeds, March 2, 1790.
Ibid. March 8, 1790.
Ewart to Leeds, March 8, 18, 27, 1790. See too the letter of the King of Prussia to Leopold, April 15, 1790, and the accompanying proposal for peace, Hertzberg, iii 54–64.
Leeds to Ewart, March 19, 1790.
Leeds to Ewart, March 30, 1790.
Ewart to Leeds, April 18, 1790.
Ibid. April 18, 1790.
Ibid. July 18, 1790.
Memoirs of Sir R. Keith, ii. 267, 268.
Insinuation verbale lue au ministre d'Autriche, sent to England by Ewart in April 1790. See, too, Hertzberg, iii. 62–64. Ewart says to Leeds, April 18: ‘In regard to the reestablishment of the limits of the Peace of Nyslot in the 4th Article of the inclosed Insinuation, I have good reason to suspect that it relates to the idea of negotiating an arrangement with the King of Sweden respecting Pomerania, though the Prussian ministers do not avow the intention.’ It appears from Sybel that this conjecture was true, and that the Prussians hoped to obtain a part of Pomerania from Sweden.—Hist. de l'Eurepe, i. 172.
See the curious letters of Sir R. Keith.—Mems, of Sir R. Keith, ii. 277–293.
Ewart to Leeds, April 24, 1790.
Ibid. May 10, 25, June 16, 24, 1790.
Ibid. July 8, 1790; Hertzberg, iii. 42, 43.
Ewart to Leeds, July 8, 1790.
Ewart to Leeds, August 4, 1790.
Ibid. June 24, 1790.
Ibid June 16, 24, 1790.
Ibid. July 8, 1790.
Leeds to Ewart, May 21, July 20; Leeds to Jackson, Oct. 8, 1790.
See Coxe, vol. ii.; Hertzberg, tom. iii.; Sybel, Hist. de l'Europe; Mems. of Sir R. Keith; Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 196.
Koch, Hist, des Traités de Paix, tom. iv. 127–152; Coxe's House of Austria, ii. 690–698.
Keene to Carmarthen, Sept. 26, 1788; Keene to Fraser, Nov. 10, 1788; Jan. 9, 1789.
Compare the descriptions of this extraordinary scene by M Pons, the French ambassador, in Geffroy's Gustare III et la Cour de France, ii. 80–82; and in a letter in the Record Office from Keene to Fraser, May 5, 1789. In addition to Geffroy and the Record Office correspondence, I have made use of Geyer's Hist. de Suède; the Ecrits politiques de Gustave III; the account in the Annual Register and in De la Croix's Constitutions de l'Europe.
See Annual Register, 1789, pp. 196–200.
Ewart to Leeds, May 23, 1789.
These negotiations and subsidies may be traced in the Prussia Correspondence at the Record Office. Ewart to Leeds, Jan. 4, May 10, 1790. Leeds to Ewart, Feb. 26, May 21, 1790.
Leeds to Ewart, June 24, 1789; May 21, Aug. 14, 1790.
Annual Register, 1791, pp. 183–190.
Whitworth to Leeds, May 16, 1790.
See a very remarkable letter of Lord Malmesburv, Diaries and Correspondence, ii. 435–437
Geyer, Hist. de Suède, p 520.
See some striking remarks on this aspect of his policy in the Annual Register, 1791, p 179.
Geffroy, Gustave III et la Cour de France.
Correspondance diplomatique du Baron de Staél, pp. 97, 98. See, too, a letter of Ewart to Leeds, April 20, 1789.
Whitworth to Leeds, May 16, June 1, Nov. 11, 1790.
Auckland Correspondence, i. 273. As early as 1782, Sir James Harris had warned the English Government of the desire of Catherine and Potemkin to seize Oczakow.—Malmesbury Correspondence, ii. 13.
Whitworth to Carmarthen, Feb. 6, 1789.
See the letters of the Vice-Chancellor Ostermann, May 1790, and a letter of Leeds to the Russian ambassador in London, July 1790; also Parl. Hist. xxix. 906, 907, 960, 997.
Ewart to Leeds, March 2, 1790.
Ibid. May 25, 1790.
Ibid. April 18, 1790. See, too, some letters of Count Ostermann in the Russian Correspondence, dated May 1790. In another letter Ewart says: ‘It is much wished by this Court (Berlin) that Russia should be made to accept the status quo, or that she should not obtain Oczakow and its district without making a proportional arrangement with Sweden.’—Ewart to Leeds, June 4, 1790
Ewart to Leeds, Sept. 18, 1790.
Jackson to Leeds, Oct. 22, 1790. Jackson represented England at Berlin during the absence of Ewart.
Pitt, in the course of one of the debates on this question, urged ‘that the systematic political aim of Russia had been the establishment of a naval power in the Black Sea, and thence he drew the necessity of our forming a connection with Turkey He said that Montesquieu, who best understood the subject, expressly declared that the Turkish Empire, although it undoubtedly contained in it many symptoms of decay, must last much longer than was generally imagined, because when an attack of an alarming nature should be made upon it, the European Maritime Powers would feel it to be their interest to come instantly to its aid and rescue it from danger.’ —Parl. Hist. xxix. 996.
Leeds to Ewart, August 14, 1790.
Whitworth to Leeds, Sept. 10, 1790.
Leeds to Whitworth, Oct. 19, Nov. 14, 1790.
Whitworth to Leeds, Nov. 18, 1790; Jan. 10, 1791.
Ibid. Nov. 11, 1789.
Whitworth to Leeds, Nov. 18, Dec. 28, 1790; Jan. 10, Feb. 5, 18, 1791.
Ewart to Leeds, Sept. 26; Jackson to Leeds, Dec. 16, 21, 1790.
Leeds to Jackson, Jan. 8, March 27, 1791.
Jackson to Leeds, Feb. 6, March 1791.
Field's Life of Howard, pp. 456–465.
Mirabeau's Hist. secrète de la Cour de Berlin, lettre xxix
Whitworth to Leeds, Feb 25, March 25, April 8, 15, 1791. In July Whitworth sent home a circumstantial account of a plot to burn the English fleet at Portsmouth by means of several incendiaries of different nationalities who were in Russian pay. Two Irish Roman Catholics, named Keating and Swanton, who had been in the French service, and who were acquainted with England and with the town of Portsmouth, were to conduct the enterprise, and were at this time actually in London.—Whitworth to Grenville, July 5, 1791.
Parl Hist. xxix. 52–55, 70–75.
See the remarks of Lord Russell, Life of Fox, ii. 208.
Whitworth to Leeds, March 11, 1791; Leeds to Jackson, March 6, 1791
Leeds to Whitworth, Dec. 24, 1790
Whitworth to Leeds, Jan. 14, 1791.
Ibid. April 8, 1791.
Ibid. March 25, 1791.
Ibid. April 8, 1791.
Ibid. Feb 25, 1791.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 381–383. See too pp. 387, 388.
Leeds to Whitworth, March 27, 1791.
His Political Memoranda, edited by Mr. Oscar Browning, have lately been published by the Camden Society, and they contain several interesting particulars of the deliberations of the Ministers on this question.
Grenville to Ewart, April 20, 1791.
Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii. 115, 116. I should add, however, that Lord Malmesbury in a letter to the Duke of Portland gives a somewhat different view of the matter. He says. ‘It appears very clear to me, from some confidential communications which were made to me, that Lord Grenville was the cause of Mr. Pitt's giving way, and that he acted, not from the reason which was given, the nation's being against it, but from its being his fixed opinion that we should not interfere at all in the events of the Continent’ (Diarves and Correspondence of Lord Malmesbury, ii. 441). The Political Memoranda, however, of the Duke of Leeds show that Pitt, in opposition to Lord Grenville, cordially approved of sending a fleet to the Baltic, but was alarmed at the unpopularity of the measure.
Ewart to Grenville, April 30, 1791; Fawkener to Grenville, May 10, 1791.
Malmesbury's Correspondence, i. 325; Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii. 120.
‘Observations on the Conduct of the Minority,’ Burke's Works, vii. 227.
Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 309.
See the letter of Sir Robert Adair in Fox's Correspondence, ii. 383–387.
See Stanhope's Life of Pitt, ii. 120.
Whitworth to Grenville, May 2, 1791.
Fawkener to Grenville, July 5, 1791.