Page images
PDF
EPUB

pocket, by supposing that the anonyinous friend had put them there without his knowledge, finding their possession tended to compromise his own character. He would surely not claim them as his property, far less to have them restored, thus owning himself not only guilty in reference to the past, but impenitent in reference to the future.

And suppose that Russia had wished to prove herself innocent, through her mouthpiece Prince Gortchakoff, of burglarious intentions with respect to Turkey, what would she have said to the wiseacres of Vienna? She would have said something of this kind -Gentlemen, you do me cruel wrong by suspecting that I am actuated by any selfish motives of aggrandisement against Turkey, by imputing any other motive to me in recent transactions than a laudable desire to rescue oppressed Christianity from the delirious grip of the sick man-sick even unto death-who, notwithstanding his weakness, seems to possess some unaccountable and probably supernatural power of wrong-doing; but notwithstanding that you do me cruel wrong in suspecting my motives, I am willing to prove the purity of my intentions, if not by quite allowing you to draw my teeth and cut off my claws, at all events by promising to keep the former to myself and not allowing the latter to grow any longer, abstaining at the same time from sharpening them as heretofore against the nearest tree. In plain terms, I will not build any more ships of war than are just enough to patrole the Black Sea as a protection against pirates, to keep up military communications with Caucasus and Georgia, and to defend Odessa against any sudden freak of the said sick man, who appears, notwithstanding his weakness, to be in a normal state of dangerous delirium. By refusing all concession to this just demand of the Allies to give up the tools of her burglarious trade, or even to abstain from increasing their number, she at once proclaims definitely and distinctly that her object is to have Constantinople by fair means or foul; and in pursuance of this object, with the spirit of Hamlet, to "make a ghost of him that lets" her. For what else

should Russia want with a great fleet in the Black Sea, or with the fortifications of Sebastopol? It is plain that, if she had not looked to enlarging her territory to the south, even when the first stone of Sebastopol was laid, she would have made of it not a military so much as a commercial port.

There would have been some sense in building an impregnable Gibraltar near the heart of her territory, or as, in the case of our own Mediterranean fortresses, on the high-road to outlying possessions; but there is only one evident purpose for which Sebastopol was built-namely, the shelter of an aggressive fleet. Its place on the map is enough to condemn it. It is just placed so that from it a blow could be struck most quickly and effectively on the vital parts of Turkey, and the fleet that had struck the blow most quickly and readily withdraw into shelter before the avenger came. Such a blow was struck at Sinopemight have been struck at Stamboul instead, if the allied fleet had lingered a little longer outside the Bosphorus. It was the recognition, on a large scale, of a principle applied on a small one in the art of self-defence, to spring quickly to the guard after having struck the punishing blow, and not to overbalance the body by the effort, so as to open it to the blow of the adversary in return. It is a wonder that there ever was any mistake about the meaning of Sebastopol. Russia might have found a better excuse for Bomarsund. She might have said that Bomarsund was an outwork of Cronstadt, and that she was strengthening it against some contingent coalition of the three nations of maritime Scandinavia; a coalition not altogether improbable at any time, and which we should think at present highly desirable.

But how could she be menaced through the Crimea? Any force invading her, and making for St. Petersburgh, would surely not begin there, nor would any nation build a firstclass fortification to protect a pretty little district of summer residence and sea-bathing. We should not think it worth while to build a Sebastopol at the Needles, even though Majesty herself honours the Isle of Wight by

making it a temporary residence. It was always plain enough that Sebastopol was built against Constantinople, just as much as Decelea was built against Athens in the Peloponnesian War. It is singular how little, for a long time-how little, in fact, till this war broke out-Europe seemed aware of this fact. That word, now in everybody's mouth, full of hope and fear, and anxiety to all, to some of triumph or of life-long sorrow, was a word hardly ever heard before, even among educated people. How many of us knew of the existence of Sebastopol at all? Probably some of us just knew so much about it, that, had they been asked where it was, they would have said it was a place somewhere in Southern Russia.

The Black Sea being sealed to our fleets in time of peace, it fell under the cognisance of none but chance travellers. Our fighting sailors-a thinking and reading set of men, who commit their observations on both hemispheres to paper in so interesting a manner-never went near it; and our commercial sailors went no nearer than Odessa; and when they went there, their time was probably too much taken up with business to allow of their feeling much curiosity about Sebastopol. So this place, being well out of the way, was generally forgotten, until, by the attack on Sinope, it reminded the world of its presence in a manner so peculiarly disagreeable.

The case of Corfu, or Corcyra, on the outskirts of Greece, growing in darkness into a power dangerous to its neighbours, and overlooked till its misdoings precipitated the Peloponnesian War, was precisely similar in ancient times. It was of this nest of pitates that the Corinthian envoy said in his speech before the Athenian assembly: "The independent position of their city, in case of their wronging any one, enables them to be the judges of their own case, and precludes fair arbitration, since they, least of any, sail out to visit their neighbours, and more than all others are made the unsought hosts of strangers, who are driven to them by stress of some kind. And this being their habit, they make a specious pretence of objecting to alliances, on the ground that they do not wish to join

others in wrong, but really object that they may have the wrong-doing all to themselves, that they may carry matters with a high hand where they are strong enough; and where they are not, but can escape notice, take advantage of others in other ways; and also that they may the more easily brazen out the matter, when they have been successful in any annexation. And yet, if they had really been honest people, as they say they are, just in proportion as they were less subject to the attacks of their neighbours, had they an opportunity of displaying a more conspicuous example of virtue, by giving and taking what was just and right." The sense of these words, if not the words themselves, would exactly apply in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to the undermining and encroaching policy of Russia, and especially those encroachments carried on in that corner of the Black Sea which was always reputed by the ancients as one of the most out-ofthe-way places in the world. Now, although this encroaching policy of Russia has been evident all along to far-sighted men, she has endeavoured until now, by various means, to keep it out of sight. If, at the Vienna conferences, she had consented to the limitation of the number of her ships of war, this would have been scarcely a guarantee for her good behaviour, for she might have augmented them in secret at the first opportunity, and taken the chance of Europe finding it out or not. However, whether encouraged by the defence of Sebastopol, by the self-disparagement of the English press, or by the chance of the alliance being broken by the assassination of Louis Napoleon, the attempt at which certainly took place under circumstances of great mystery, she has chosen to throw off the mask, and, by refusing to keep her means of defence within bounds, she has declared, in a manner intelligible to the most obtuse, the nature of her intentions.

We propose in these papers to select certain points in Russian history which illustrate this now unconcealed policy of encroachment and aggression, at the same time endeavouring to fix the blame on the right party, by showing in what element of the constitution the spirit of aggrandisement may be

supposed chiefly to reside, which will naturally lead to our attempting, though we confess the task a bold one, to show what limits must be fixed, and what guarantees taken, to make any treaty sincere, and any peace durable. We have spoken of the Russian constitution, not unadvisedly. A constitution may exist in fact though not in theory. Though the theory of the Russian government is a pure autocracy, yet a French writer has said that it is limited by assassination; and if so, there must be a person or persons to assassinate, and he or they must be considered a fact in the constitution; and if a monarch be never so absolute, it must be remembered that he is relative to those he rules, and that he rules because they choose quietly to submit themselves; and in doing so they exercise an act of private judgment, as those Protestants who bow their necks to the Church of Rome, of the most emphatic description. Where the physical force of society is stronger than the individual slave, as in America, the slave cannot be taken as an element in the constitution; but where slaves possess the full power to be slaves or not as they please, as must be the case where they are sixty millions, and the master is only one, it would be treating them with great disrespect not to consider them as exercising one at least most powerful act of free will, and as being in fact, if not in theory, a most important element in the constitution of a country. We may thus then, in fact, consider the present constitution of Russia, quite as much as that of this country, as three-fold. We have the monarch who rules, the courtiers who assassinate, and the serfs who obey. But the constitution of Russia has been what it is for little more than a century and a half, since the time that Peter the Great effected his so-called reforms. Before that time, the nobles and landed proprietors were a strong body in the state, and the military organisation was in a great measure feudal. In many cases, certainly, the monarch was practically absolute, and occasionally able to exercise a tyranny of the worst description; but this state of things depended on the character of the individual monarch: there was not, as now, a fixed state-machinery

which perpetuated a pure despotism, and forced a rod of iron into the hands of every ruler, whatever his inclination to wield it. It is right, however, to state that the establishment of the autocracy in Russia is originally ascribed by Karamsin, a native historian, to the temporary subjugation of that country by the hordes of Genghis Khan and the Tartar princes-a visitation which was attended with every kind of calamity, the effects of which were permanently felt, and from which Russia rose again, indeed, but no longer with the same face or features as before. Her old civilisation was gone, her freedom and self-respect had passed away with it; her spirit was broken; her religion, indeed, adopted from Greek Constantinople, remained, but debased into bigotry, and ready for use as a corrupt instrument of dynastic corruption. She had ceased to be European, and had become Asiatic, which she had remained, in great part, in spite of Peter, ever since. If it was not yet true that autocracy was established as a principle, the people were at all events ready to receive it, and a nation of slaves called out with impatience for a tyrant to put his foot on their necks. Their prayer was granted to the full in that incarnation of superhuman evil, Ivan IV., or the Terrible. From him and his successors they were handed over into the abler hands of Peter, the son of Alexis, who, not satisfied, like Ivan, with reposing in simple wickedness, thought that he saw in the ultrasubmissive dispositions of his subjects the instruments of achieving worldwide dominion. On the other side of this dark cloud of Tartar dominion, we look back, according to the native historians, on a sunny distance of peace, and wealth, and light, and happiness-a Sclavonian golden agesuch as we read of in story and fable as existing when King Arthur ruled England, and Ireland was still the Isle of Saints. "There was a time," say they, "when Russia, formed and elevated by the singleness of the sovereign authority, yielded not in strength or civilisation to any of the first-rate powers formed by the Germanic tribes on the ruins of the Western Empire. Having the same character, the same laws, the same customs, the same

political institutions as those which had their origin with the early Varégues or Normans, she naturally took up her position in the new-born European system with real titles to a high consideration, and with the rare advantage of having undergone the influence of Greece, the only power which, though occasionally shaken, was never overturned by the waves of barbarism which swept over Europe in those days. The happiest part of this period was the reign of Jaroslav the Great. Russia then, never in the possession of pure religion and public order, had schools, laws, an important commerce, a numerous army, a fleet, singleness of administration, yet civil liberty. And this was at the beginning of the eleventh century, when Europe was the scene of feudal tyranny, of the weakness of sovereigns, the insolence of barons, the slavery of the many, and, with these, of utter superstition and ignorance. In that darkness the genius of an Alfred and a Charlemagne shone out, but soon disappeared. They passed away with their beneficent institutions and benevolent intentions, leaving their names alone. Alas for us! The dark shadow of barbarism, as it drew a veil over the horizon of Russia, took from us the light of Europe, just at the time when intelligence began to spread itself abroad, when the peoples began to emancipate themselves from slavery, when the towns began to contract mutual alliances as a guarantee against oppression, when the discovery of the compass extended commerce and navigation, when universities began to be founded, and men's manners to soften and to sweeten. What was our fate then? Russia, oppressed and torn to pieces by the Mongols, was obliged to strain every nerve to prevent her life from becoming extinct. It was not for Russia a question of civilisation, or barbarism, but of existence or annihilation."* Such is the melancholy and somewhat apologetic tone in which native historians speak of the Tartarisation of Russia. We may easily believe them as to the dismal fact and its effects, of which we see abundant evidence even now; we may be more sceptical as to the sunny

golden age said to have preceded the Irruptions of the barbarians. Such a national calamity, like the great fire at Wolf's Crag, may be a convenient way of accounting for the disappearance of a splendour that never existed at all. However, there is every reason to believe that these Tartar invasions had a very great influence in altering for the worse the character of the Russians. We may judge of this by reference to old notices of the wild races from whom the mass of them descended.. It is with nations as with streams; when the river has flowed for some distance, its identity is easy enough to prove at every step; its character and course is determined; but when you go up to the springheads, it is hard to say which little source, out of so many, has a right to bear the high-sounding name of the great Rhone, or Rhine, or Danube, to which it contributes. Some of the little tributaries have no visible origin but damp moss and grass, from which the collected moisture trickles when it reaches a slope; some of them come out mysteriously from under the caverns of glaciers, and thus will not allow the nakedness of their birth to be beheld. So it is with nearly all of those mighty nations which now hold in their hands the destinies of Europe and of the world. When the fountains have been ascertained from which we spring, it is hard to say which best deserves to bear the national name; but in most cases the fountains are hard of access as those of the Nile and Niger, and the wondrous perseverance of the antiquarian is tasked in the one case as much as the heroic fortitude of the discoverer in the other. To judge from the accounts of historians, the European world was visited at the decline of the Roman Empire by troops of spectres, each more horrible than the last, who crowded one upon another, innumerable as the shadows which passed before the eyes of the mortal adventurer in the Hades of Homer or the Inferno of Dante, coming and going in such guise as to leave doubts as to their reality, though none as to their hideousness-doubts which may have re mained as of the reality of the figures

* TOURGUENEFF, La Russie et les Russes

of nightmare, but for the unmistak- seem to have esteemed much as the

able signs they left of their unhallowed presence; for, like the locusts of Scripture in their passage, the land may have been as the garden of Eden before them, while behind them was nothing left but expiring embers, expiring lives, a howling wilderness of misery and desolation. These spectres were called Goths, Huns, Alans, Avars, Bulgarians, Slavonians, and by many other names. On nearer insight, some of the horror attached to them passed off. They were men, after all, some of them of ancient nobility and rude virtues, some not entirely destitute of gentleness, but all fiercely hungry. When their hunger was sated-when they became men of property, as would happen to many of our own outcasts, if they had the same opportunity-they became not unfrequently what we should call respectable members of society. They married and were given in marriage with Greeks and Romans, and these degenerate peoples ended with considering the barbarians their betters, and themselves rather honoured than otherwise by such alliances. For one thing only was wanted to show which were the nobler races, and this was soon acquired from the conquered Christianity. A mawkish and effete civilisation the conquerors would not take from them, and they preferred becoming civil by degrees much in their own way. Now, although many races must have contributed to the population of Muscovy, or Russia Proper, by the concurrent testimony of her principal writers, the base of the Russian nation is Sclavonic. This name, said to be derived from " Sclava," "Glory," would indicate the selfchosen appellation of a conquering tribe,to distinguish themselves from the conquered; just as the German tribes, which overran Gaul, called themselves the Franks-noble or free men-in opposition to the subjected, who bore a less ostentatious name. These ancient Sclaves had, it appears, a chivalry of their own, as almost all conquering races have, but, as we may gather from the records, not the exquisite sense of honour or knightly instincts which distinguished the old Goths and Germans. They were chiefly deficient in gallantry towards women, whom, exnt in the matter of polygamy, they

Turks, a nation in many other respects eminently chivalrous. This deficiency would in itself point to Tartar affinities, were it not that the Greeks altogether, and Romans in part, with all their refinement, were as great barbarians in this matter as the Tartars themselves. It is diffi cult to say whence the Sclaves origi nally came, but at one time their sway extended from the Baltic and the Elbe to the Theiss and the Black Sea. Their descendants still remain in Russia, Poland, Bohemia, Moravia, Croatia, Selavonia Proper, Turkey, and Greece. We should suppose, on the whole, that the Pole or the Croat, rather than the Russian, is to be taken as the type of the Sclavonic character. Contemporary historians say of the ancient Sclaves, says Karamsin, that, strangers to falsehood, they preserved in their manners the inno cence of the first age of man, a thing unknown to the Greeks. Their hospitality was such that every traveller was a sacred being to them. Every Sclave, when he left home, left his door open to invite in the wayfarer or the casual poor, and he was by law or custom bound to leave a supper out for them. There was no nation to which, on account of their honesty, travelling merchants resorted with greater pleasure than to the Sclaves. If they ever were dishonest, it was from excess of hospitality, for a poor man, who had not the wherewithal to entertain a friend on the road, was allowed to steal what he wanted for that exceptional purpose. Nor are the Sclaves praised only as honest men, but as the husbands of honest women in every sense of the word. Indeed, so completely are the wives devoted to their husbands, that, like the Indian widows, they were accustomed to burn themselves on their funeral piles. The Russian historian uncharitably sup posed this custom to have had its origin in the wish to provide a check on wives getting rid of their husbands by unfair means. But the women, in spite of their devotion, were regarded as slaves, which circumstance is supposed to have arisen from the custom of buying them practised in those barbarous tribes, a custom still observed among the Illyrians. And we

« PreviousContinue »