The Political Writings of Richard Cobden
Volume I, Part II.
THE foregoing statements, with reference to portions of the Russian acquisitions, founded upon unquestionable authority, are calculated to awaken some doubts as to the genuineness of those writings and speeches, upon the faith of which we are called upon to subscribe to the orthodox belief in the barbarising tendency of all the encroachments of that country; but these facts are unimportant, when we next have to refer to another of its conquests, and to bring before our readers Poland, upon which has been lavished more false sentiment, deluded sympathy, and amiable ignorance, than on any other subject of the present age. This is a topic, however, upon which it behoves us to enter with circumspection, since we shall have not only to encounter the prepossessions of the ardent and sincere devotee, but also to meet the uncandid weapons of bigotry and cant. Let us, therefore, as the only sure defence at all times against such antagonists, clothe our arguments from the armoury of reason in the panoply of truth. We will, moreover, reiterate, for we will not be misunderstood, that it is no part of our purpose to attempt to justify the conduct of the partitioning powers towards the Poles. On the contrary, we will join in the verdict of murder, robbery, treason, perjury, and baseness, which every free nation and all honest men must award to Russia, Prussia, and Austria, for their undissembled and unmitigated wickedness on that occasion; nay, we will go further, and admit that all the infamy with which Burke, Sheridan, and Fox laboured, by the force of eloquent genius, to overwhelm the emissaries of British violence in India, was justly earned, at the very same period, by the minions of Russian despotism in Poland. But our question is, not the conduct of the conquerors, but the present, as compared with the former condition of the conquered; the first is but an abstract and barren subject for the disquisition of the moralist; the latter appeals to our sympathies, because it is pregnant with the destinies of millions of our fellow creatures. Of how trifling consequence it must be to the practical minded and humane people of Great Britain, or to the world at large, whether Poland be governed by a king of this dynasty or of that—whether he be lineally descended from Boleslas the Great, or of the line of the Jagellons—contrasted with the importance of the inquiries as to the social and political condition of its people—whether they be as well or worse governed, clothed, fed, and lodged, in the present day as compared with any former period—whether the mass of the people be elevated in the scale of moral and religious beings—whether the country enjoys a smaller or larger amount of the blessings of peace; or whether the laws for the protection of life and property are more or less justly administered! These are the all-important inquiries about which we busy ourselves: and it is to cheat us of our stores of philanthropy, by an appeal to the sympathy with which we regard those vital interests of a whole people, that the declaimers and writers upon the subject, invariably appeal to us in behalf of the oppressed and enslaved Polish nation; carefully obscuring, amidst the cloud of epithets about "ancient freedom," national independence," "glorious republic," and such like, the fact that, previously to the dismemberment, the term nation implied only the nobles—that, down to the partition of their territory, about nineteen out of every twenty of the inhabitants were slaves, possessing no rights, civil or political—that about one in every twenty was a nobleman—and that this body of nobles formed the very worst aristocracy of ancient or modern times; putting up and pulling down their kings at pleasure; passing selfish laws, which gave them the power of life and death over their serfs, whom they sold and bought like dogs or horses; usurping to each of themselves the privileges of a petty sovereign, and denying to all besides the meanest rights of human beings; and scorning all pursuits as degrading, except that of the sword, they engaged in incessant wars with neighbouring states, or they plunged their own country into all the horrors of anarchy, for the purpose of giving employment to themselves and their dependants.
In speaking of the Polish nation*24 previously to the dismemberment of that country by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, we must not think of the great mass of the people, such as is implied by the use of that term with reference to the English or French nation of this day. The mass of the people were serfs, who had no legal protection and political rights—who enjoyed no power over property of any kind, and who possessed less security of life and limb than has been lately extended to the cattle of this island by the act of Parliament against cruelty to animals! The nobles, then, although they comprised but a mere fraction of the population, constituted the nation; the rest of the inhabitants, the millions of serfs who tilled the soil, worked the mines, or did the menial labour of the grandees, were actually, in the eye of the law, of no more rank—nay, as we have shown, they were accounted less—than our horses, which, after the toil of the day, lie down in security under the protection of Mr. Martin's benevolent act; whilst the slave of Poland possessed no such guarantee from the wanton cruelty of an arbitrary owner.
To form a correct estimate of the former condition of this country, it is not necessary to go back beyond the middle of the sixteenth century, previously to which the Poles, in common with the other northern states, were barbarians; and, if they attained to power, and exhibited some traits of rude splendour in their court and capital, they were merely results of incessant wars, which, of course, plunged the great mass of the people in deeper misery and degradation. At this early period of their country, we find them the most restless and warlike of the northern nations; and the Poles, who are now viewed only as a suffering and injured people, were, during the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, a most formidable and aggressive enemy to the neighbouring empires. They ravaged successively Russia, Prussia, Lithuania, Bohemia, and Hungary, and were, in turn, invaded by the Turks, Tartars, and Russians. They knew no other employment than that of the sword. War, devastation, and bloodshed were the only fashionable occupations for the nobility, whilst the peasants reaped the fruits of famine and slaughter. Yet the historian, whose volumes, perhaps, adorn the shelves of our colleges, and are deposited in the hands of the rising generation, points to the spectacle of intellectual and moral creatures grovelling in the abuse of a brute instinct shared equally by the shark and the tiger, and, pausing over the hideous annals of human slaughter, ejaculates—Glory!
At the death, in 1572, of Sigismund Augustus—the last of the Jagello race, in whose house the throne of Poland had been hereditary—a new constitution was framed by the nation (that is, the nobles), by which it was decreed that the monarchy should be elective, and the choice of the king was free and open to all the nation (i.e. the nobles). In this constitution—which was concocted for the exclusive benefit of the aristocracy, and did not even notice the existence of the great mass of the wretched people, the slaves—it was agreed, amongst other enactments, that the nobles should pay no taxes; that they should have the power of life and death over their vassals; that all offices, civil, military, and ecclesiastical should belong to them; and that, in choosing whom they would for a king, they were privileged to lay him under what restrictions they pleased.
The mode of electing their kings, after the promulgation of this new constitution, was characteristic of the nation. About 150,000 to 200,000 nobles, being the electors, assembled together in a large plain. Those who possessed horses and arms were mounted and arranged in battle array in the front, whilst such as were poor, and consequently came on foot, and without regular arms, placed themselves, with scythes or clubs in their hands, in the rear rank. Our readers will readily believe that such an assembly as this, composed of warriors accustomed to violence, and with their arms at hand, would form a dangerous deliberative body, and unless actuated by the loftiest feelings of patriotism and virtue, it would degenerate into two armies of sanguinary combatants. But what could we expect from these elections when we know that from the death of Sigismund down to the time of the partition, Poland became one universal scene of corruption, faction, and confusion? The members of the diet—the nobles who had usurped the power of electing their king—were ready to sell themselves to the best bidder at the courts of Vienna, France, Saxony, Sweden, or Brandenburg; nay, in the words of the learned and philosophical historian,*25 "A Polish royal election was henceforth nothing more than a double auction of the throne, partly in secret for the benefit of the voters, partly in public for the benefit of the state;" or, in the words of the same authority, when alluding elsewhere to the change in the constitution at the death of Sigismund—"A volcano, in manner, burst forth in the midst of Europe, whose eruptions at almost every change of government threatened in turn every country far and near. Of the eleven kings of Poland, from Henry of Valois, 1572, to Stanislaus, 1764, hardly three were unanimously elected: foreign influence, and a wild spirit of faction, continued from first to last."*26 In lamentable truth, almost every election became the signal for a civil war, which usually lasted during the greater portion of the next reign; and thus, for the whole period from 1572 down to 1772, when the first partition was perpetrated by the three neighbouring powers, Poland was the constant scene of anarchy and its attendant miseries—fire, bloodshed, and famine. There is nothing in the history of the world comparable for confusion, suffering, and wickedness to the condition of this unhappy kingdom during these two centuries. "War, even in its mildest form, is a perpetual violation of every principle of religion and humanity."*27 But foreign war is carried on with recognized laws for the mitigation of its evils, and under which the rights of person and property are, excepting in well understood cases, secured to the peaceable portions of communities. Should an invasion or a conquest take place, the army of the invader or conqueror is compelled, for self-defence, to preserve discipline, and to congregate as much as possible round one center, by which the enemy's country is preserved from the licentiousness of the victorious soldiers, and the more remote provinces almost entirely escape the miseries of war. Besides, it becomes immediately the policy and the interest of the victor to restore the newly acquired territory to its former condition of quietness and prosperity, and with this view laws for the protection of the inhabitants are generally enforced. But civil war, or intestine war, as we prefer to call it, allows of none of these palliations. It spreads throughout the entire length and breadth of a country, and devastates alike every section of the community, leaving no spot where the olive of peace may flourish and afford shelter to the innocent, and sparing no city which shall serve for a refuge to the timid. It desolates villages and farms, as well as towns and capitals, carries the spirit of deadly animosity into every relation of life, setting neighbours against neighbours, servants against masters, and converting friends into foes. Nay, it penetrates into the sacred precincts of domestic life, and often infuses a Cain-like hatred into the hearts of brethren of the same womb. Such is intestine war, which owns no law and permits no neutrality. And, in the midst of this description of warfare, Poland groaned and bled, with scarcely the slightest intermission, from 1572 down to 1772.
Many of those who will read this pamphlet have not the means or the leisure to investigate, as they otherwise ought undoubtedly to do, the history of the government ignorantly or mischievously praised by some of our writers and speakers, under the name of the republic of Poland. Instead of such a government as we now understand in speaking of the American republics, it was a despotism one hundred thousand time worse than that of Turkey at this time, because it gave to 100,000 tyrants absolute power over the lives of the rest of the community. The annals of republican Poland, previously to its dismemberment are nothing but a history of anarchy; and such is the title actually given to a work*28 that is only a horrible catalogue of tragedies, in which the nobles are the actors; who crowd the scenes with murders, fires, torturings, and famines, until the heart sickens with horror at the frightful spectacle. For nearly the whole of the century immediately preceding the downfall of Poland, religious discord was added to the other incalculable miseries of this country, owing to the rise of sects of dissenters from the prevailing religion. Devastated by foreign and civil wars, and by famine and the plague, that followed in their train, the exhaustion of peace itself now served but to develop new miseries.*29 Fanaticism and bigotry armed themselves with the sword, as soon as it was abandoned by the worshippers of Mars; and they waged a warfare against the souls and bodies of their enemies with a fury that knew no bounds; dealing out anathemas over wretches expiring at the stake, pulling down churches, and even tearing up the graves of the dead! The historian who recounts the calamities that were showered upon the unhappy millions, the slaves, during this career of rapine and sacrilege, exclaims—"Oh! that some strong despot would come, and in mercy rescue these people from themselves!"
The intrigues of Russia did not at first promote the growth of this terrible disorder, as might be objected by some of our readers. That power was itself struggling against powerful enemies, and contending with the difficulties of internal reforms, down to within half a century of the period when the partition of Poland took place. Those wise reforms*30 that gave to Russia, from the hands of Peter the Great, the seeds of a power which has since grown to such greatness, and which, if adopted by Poland, would have in all probability conducted her to a similar state of prosperity, were absolutely rejected by the profligate nobles, because they must necessarily have involved some amelioration of the fate of the people.
The picture we have drawn of Polish wickedness and corruption is not too highly coloured, or if so, it is not by us: we have given the names and works of the authors from whom we derive our information, and we appeal to them as the highest authorities in the literature of Europe. What have been the retributive consequences to empires, in all ages, of such a career of internal contention and profligacy as we have just described? What was the just fate of Persia, Greece, and Rome, after they had filled up the measure of their degeneracy? When the oak is decayed at its heart the tree yields to the wind and falls prostrate to the earth; a ship that is rotten no longer resists the pressure of surrounding water, and she disappears from the face of the ocean; if, in constructing a bridge, the foundation of the piers be despised and neglected, the entire edifice, superstructure and all, is overwhelmed in the stream. And knowing that the immutable laws of nature govern equally the destines of animated existence, shall we marvel to find that an empire which had for two hundred years been decaying to its very center, whilst its boundaries presented no bulwark against the influx of raging enemies, which had all that time exhibited the nobility wallowing in licentiousness, and the labouring population, that ought to be the foundation and support of a country, insolently despised and trampled under foot? ought we to wonder that such an empire at length reaped the sad harvest of its iniquities, and was prostrated or swallowed up by the force of surrounding nations? The fate of Poland was but a triumph of justice, without which its history would have conveyed no moral for the benefit of posterity. The annals of the world do not exhibit an example of a great nation—such, for instance, as Prussia, united, well governed, rising in intelligence, morals, and religion, and advancing in wealth and civilization—falling beneath the destroying hand of a conqueror. Such a catastrophe is reserved for the chastisement of the self-abandoned, depraved, disorganized, ignorant, and irreligious communities, and their anarchical governments—for Babylon and Persepolis—for Poland and Turkey! But though the punishment was a righteous infliction we need not vindicate the executioners. The murderer's sentence is just; but we are not therefore bound to tolerate the hangman.
But we have yet to show, in the case of Poland, that the rod of affliction is administered by the great Ruler of the universe, in a spirit not of vengeance, but of mercy. We are now to prove—and without claiming for the instruments of the amelioration the merit of designing such happy results, or presuming to say that the same or better effects might not have followed from more righteous causes—that the dismemberment of that empire has been followed by an increase in the amount of peace, wealth, liberty, civilisation, and happiness, enjoyed by the great mass of the people. We shall not touch upon the fate of those portions of the Polish territory which, at the partition, fell to the spoil of Austria and Prussia, further than to observe that the present condition of their inhabitants, particularly of those of the latter, is, when contrasted with that of any former era of their history, only to be compared to the state of the blessed in the Elysian regions, as opposed to the sufferings of Pandemonium.
Our business, however, lies with that portion of the (miscallea) Republic which fell to the share of Russia; and we shall, in the first place, allude to the present state of that section of the inhabitants which, from being by far the most numerous, ought, upon the soundest principle of justice, to attract the primary notice of the inquirer. Slavery no more exists in Poland; the peasant that tills the soil no longer ranks on a level with the oxen that draw his plough; he can neither be murdered nor maimed at the caprice of an insolent owner, but is as safe in life and limb, under the present laws of Poland, as are the labourers of Sussex or Kent. The modern husbandman is not restricted to mere personal freedom; he enjoys the right to possess property of all kinds—not even excepting land,*31 against which the nobles of ancient republican Poland opposed insuperable prohibitions. In a word, the peasantry of Poland now possess the control over their own persons and fortunes, and are at liberty to pursue happiness*32 according to their own free will and pleasure; which, after all that can be said for one Government in preference to another, is nearly the amount of freedom that can be felt to be possessed by the great mass of any nation. Let it not be supposed that we wish to convey the impression that the labouring classes of the country under notice are elevated to an equality with the mechanics or husbandmen of England and America; from the very nature of circumstances, and from no one more than our iniquitous corn-laws—which have often starved our artisans in the midst of idle looms, and, at the same time, doomed the ploughman of Poland to nakedness or sheep-skins, whilst surrounded by granaries bursting with the best corn in the world, such an equality is, in our day, impossible. But to show, in as few words as possible, what were the natural fruits, after fifteen years of peace and comparative good government, to a country that had, for two centuries, witnessed only the growth of discord, insecurity, and famine, let us quote from a volume*33 which bears intrinsic evidence of containing an authentic and candid compendium of the history of Poland:—
"The condition of the country had continued to improve beyond all precedent; at no former period of her history was the public wealth so great or so generally diffused. Bridges and public roads, constructed at an enormous expense, frequently at the cost of the Czar's treasury; the multitude of new habitations, remarkable for a neatness and a regard to domestic comfort never before observed; the embellishments introduced into the buildings, not merely of the rich, but of tradesmen and mechanics; the encouragement afforded, and eagerly afforded, by the Government, to every useful branch of industry; the progress made by agriculture in particular, the foundation of Polish prosperity; the accumulation, on all sides, of national and individual wealth; and, above all, the happy countenances of the inferior classes of society—exhibited a wonderful contrast to what had lately been. The most immense of markets, Russia—a market all but closed to the rest of Europe—afforded constant activity to the manufacturer. To prove this astonishing progress from deplorable, hopeless poverty to successful enterprise, let one fact suffice. In 1815 there were scarcely one hundred looms for coarse woolen cloths; at the commencement of the insurrection of 1830 there were six thousand."*34
But it will very naturally and properly be inquired—"How did it happen that the nation revolted against Russia in 1830, if the people enjoyed so much benefit from the connection with that empire?" We have thus far spoken only of the condition of the mass of the people; to answer this objection, it will be necessary to refer to another class, whose interests had always been opposed to the happiness and liberty of the population at large. From the moment when Poland was constituted a kingdom, at the treaty of Vienna, and made an appendage to the Russian crown, the nobles never ceased to sigh for their ancient liberty (license) of electing a king—i.e. of periodically selling themselves, by a "double auction," as Heeren asserts, to the highest bidder. They sighed also for those times when there was no law to protect the weak from their outrages, and when a reign of violence and disorder gave them perpetual occasions of making war upon each other, and of ravaging the unprotected provinces. The laws which were passed for the defence of the lives and properties of the peasants were regarded with jealousy*35 by the nobles, who viewed such enactments in the light of encroachments upon their privileges; and they looked back to the days when they alone constituted the nation, and all besides were but as the brutes of the field. It was not merely indirectly, however, that the privileges of the aristocracy were curtailed, one of the first acts of the Emperor Alexander being to restrict the use of titles to the possessors of property in that country where, previously, the rank had descended to every son,*36 and continued to all their successors, thus multiplying titles indefinitely, and adding a thousandfold to the mischiefs of conferring absolute power on a particular class, by suffering it to be frequently possessed by desperadoes or paupers. But the cause that, more than all others, had contributed to render the nobles discontented, was the long-protracted peace, which deprived them of their accustomed occupation and revenue; and which, however much it contributed to the happiness of the industrious agriculturists and traders, brought nothing but ruin and discontent to a body that retained too much of the pride and turbulence of character inherited from their warlike ancestors, to dream of descending to pursuits of a commercial or peaceful character. To present a clear view of the state of this order of society in Poland, we will extract a few lines upon the subject from the work of Mr.Jacob, before quoted. It will place his authority beyond question, if we remind our readers that he is the gentleman who was selected, by a Parliamentary Committee, to make a journey through the northern portions of Europe, for the purpose of making to his employers a report of the corn trade of those regions. This individual—who was, of course, not only selected for his efficient powers of observation, but also for his character for honour and fidelity—in speaking, incidentally, of the state of society of Russian Poland, in his official report, makes this observation upon the Polish gentry:—"The Polish gentry are too proud to follow any course but the military career; and the Government, by its large standing army, encourages the feeling, though the pay is scarcely sufficient to supply the officers with their expensive uniforms. Whatever difficulties may present themselves to the placing out young men of good family, none have had recourse to commerce; and if they had, such would be treated by others as having lost their caste, and descended to a lower rank of society. The consequence is, that all the trade and manufactures of the country are in the hands of the Germans, or the Jews. The former seek to return home with the fortunes they make—the latter do not possess the full rights of citizenship and cannot be expected to take great interest in the prosperity of the country."
The above account of the tone of feeling, and of the condition of the aristocratic party of Poland, written in 1825, accounts for the insurrection breaking out in 1830, when every other class of its inhabitants was in the enjoyment of unprecedented happiness and prosperity. And we hesitate not emphatically to assert, that it was wholly, and solely, and exclusively, at the instigation, and for the selfish benefit, of this aristocratic fraction of the people, that the Polish nation suffered for twelve months the horrors of civil war, was thrown back in her career of improvement, and has since had to endure the rigours of a conqueror's vengeance.*37 The Russian government was aware of this; and its severity has since been chiefly directed towards the nobility.*38 In the ukase of the 9th (21st) November, 1831, directing that five thousand Poles should be transported into the interior of the empire, it is expressly provided that they be selected from the disaffected of the order of the gentry. And, in the order issued to the Russian troops employed to quell the insurrection, they are required, under severe penalties, to respect the houses and property of the Polish peasants.
Now, we put it frankly to such of our readers as do not enjoy the leisure, or perhaps possess the taste for informing themselves of the subject in hand, excepting through the periodical press and the orations of public speakers, whether we were not justified in asserting that they have been cheated of their stores of compassion, by those who call forth public sympathy for the oppressed Polish people, by appealing to their former liberty, when the mass of the nation was in slavery; by deploring the tyranny of the Russian government, which has served to give security and protection to the great body of the poor, against the oppressions of the powerful nobles; by lauding the ancient prosperity, wealth, grandeur, and happiness of a country which, until the present age, was, at no period of its history, for fifteen successive years, exempt from civil or foreign war—from desolation, the plague, or famine;*39 and by imploring the Powers to restore the Polish nation to its condition previously to the first partition in 1772, which would be to plunge nineteen-twentieths of the inhabitants form freedom into bondage, from comparative happiness into the profoundest state of misery? But worse effects than the waste of a little misdirected philanthropy follow from these misrepresentations. The British indignation and hatred towards Russia*40 have been awakened, and those fierce passions have taken possession of the public mind throughout the kingdom so strongly as to place us in that most dangerous of all predicaments, where the majority is sufficiently excited, by national prejudice, to be brought within view of the hostile precipice, and only requires a further stimulus to plunge the country into the horrible gulf of war. And who and what are the writers and speakers that have made the subject of Poland the vehicle for conducting public opinion to the verge of such a catastrophe? Are they cognizant, or are they unaware of the merits of the question which we have now been faithfully discussing? In either case, out upon such quackery! The empiric who, under pretence of healing their bodily disorders, fires the blood or deranges the bowels of his patients, suffers the penalty of homicide for the death of his victim, without inquiry whether the destructive nostrum was ignorantly or knowingly administered. And how long shall political quacks be permitted, without fear of punishment, and with no better justification than the plea of ignorance, to inflame the minds and disorder the understandings of a whole nation by stimulating them to a frenzy of hatred towards a people more than a thousand miles distant, and preparing them for probably millions of murders, by administering unchecked, their decoction of lies, their compounds of invention and imposture, or their deadly doses of poisoned prejudice, gilded with spurious philanthropy?
We have thus (in allusion to the objections of those who take exceptions to Russian aggrandizement upon the ground that the encroachments of that power are always accompanied by the infliction of barbarous oppressions upon the conquered nations) shown that in all cases where neighbouring states have been annexed to that empire, the inhabitants have thereby been advanced in civilisation and happiness. We have in the case of Poland, which has undoubtedly benefited more than any other country by its incorporation with Russia, dwelt at greater length upon this point, both because we believe that the impression above referred to is all but universal in reference to this people, and because we are convinced that from this erroneous idea originates nearly all the hostility which, in just and generous minds—and they are the great majority—is entertained towards the Russian government and people.
In examining the various grounds upon which those who discuss the subject take up their hostile attitudes towards the Russian nation, we have—with infinite surprise and a deep conviction of the truth that a century of aristocratic government and consequent foreign interference have impregnated all classes with the haughty and arrogant spirit of their rulers—discovered that Great Britain has been argued into a warlike disposition against that remote empire, without one assignable motive or grievance which could have even engendered a tone of resentment from our public writers and speakers, had they been actuated only by the principles of common sense, modest forbearance, and a regard for the benefit of the people. We have sought in vain for cases of insult to our flag; for an example of spoliation committed upon English merchants; for the appearance of hostile fleets in British waters threatening our shores; for the denial of redress for injuries inflicted; for the refusal to liquidate some just debt. We have sought for such wrongs as these at the hands of the Russian Government to justify an appeal to menaces and a call for armaments from our Russo-maniac orators and writers; but we find only charges of spoliation of Turkish territory, assaults upon Poland, intrigues with Persia, designs upon Sweden, and conquests in Georgia—affairs with which we have less interest in embroiling ourselves than we have with the struggle now raging in the province of Texas between the Americans and Mexicans.
If we refer to the speech of Lord Dudley Stuart, before alluded to (which is a compendium of all the accusations, suppositions, fears, dangers, and suspicions of which the subject is susceptible), we shall find an alarming picture given of the future growth of Russia dominion. Turkey, it seems, is to be only the germ of an empire which shall extend not merely from "Indus to the Pole," but throw forth its arms over Europe and Asia, and embrace every people and nation between the Bay of Bengal and the English Channel! Turkey once possessed, and the devouring process begins. Austria and all Italy are to be swallowed up at a meal, Greece and the Ionian Islands serving for side-dishes. Spain and Portugal follow as a dessert for this Dando of Constantinople; and Louis Philippe and his empire are washed down afterwards with Bordeaux and Champagne. Prussia and the smaller German States, having wisely formed themselves into a trades union of some thirty or forty millions, might be supposed by some persons to be secure from this tyrannical master. Nothing of the kind! His lordship has discovered that this is a mere trick of Russia for making them a richer prey. The German goose is only penned in this Prussian league that it may fatten and be worthier of the fate that awaits it. When Michaelmas arrives it will be served up in due state to the Russian eagle. Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland are to be but as entremets for this national repast. And Persia, Egypt, Arabia, and India, in one large bouquet, will furnish the exotics to perfume and adorn this banquet of empires!*41 One trifling matter, however, Lord Stuart altogether forgets to take into account: he omits to say how all the viands shall be paid for; in other words, in what way the Russian Chancellor of the Exchequer will make good his budget when called upon to clothe, feed, and pay armies to conquer a dozen powerful nations, some of them richer than the conqueror; to meet the expenses of material to furnish the commissariat, hire baggage wagons, charter transports, and to cover the thousand other outgoings, including even the frauds and impositions incidental to a state of warfare. His lordship forgets this, and in doing so calls to our recollection a dream—our readers have probably experienced something of the kind—in which we found ourselves buoyed up in the air borne along we could not tell how. It was not walking, flying, or swimming; yet on we glided through space, quite independent of all the laws of nature—hills disappearing, rivers drying up, seas changing into terra firma, trees, walls, and castles vanishing at our approach; despising all the usual impediments of sublunary travelling, caring no more for inns than if we had been a shooting star, and regardless, like Halley's comet, of a change of horses. On we went, with no luggage to look after, or hotel bills to settle, or postillions to pay, till, alas! we awoke and discovered that we were only a mortal biped, trammelled by the law of gravitation, and enslaved by the rules of political economy, privileged but to travel along coarse, dirty roads, and compelled before starting, not only to calculate the cost of the journey, but to put the money in our purse for coaches, steamboats, turnpike gates, and inns, as well as their waiters, boots, porters, and chambermaids, besides a round sum to cover extortions, if we would keep our temper. Now, Lord Stuart's case was precisely similar to ours, with the exception that he did not wake to his vision of supernatural locomotion. But to be serious. To those who resort, as a crowning bugbear, to the threats of universal sovereignty as the ultimate aim of the Russian Government, we have already in some degree replied by showing the weakness of that empire, as exemplified in its uncultivated surface, in the scattered position of its uncivilized people—their poverty, ignorance, and diversified character—and in the circumstance of its being behind Great Britain and other countries in the march of improvement and discovery.
But we can appeal to other facts, and to experience, to disprove the exaggerated views that are put forth respecting the power of Russia; and in no instance were her weakness and inability to concentrate and support an army more fully illustrated than at the invasion of her territory by Bonaparte. At the battle of Borodino—which was the first great affair that took place between the French and the forces of the Czar—we find, notwithstanding the alarm of invasion had been trumpeted through Europe eighteen months previously, that the number of combatants brought, on that bloody day, to the defence of their native soil, only amounted to 120,000 men, of whom a large portion were without uniforms or arms, excepting scythes or other similar weapons. Now, to illustrate the very superior strength of a nation whose inhabitants are at once concentrated and rich, let us suppose so absurd a circumstance as that Russia, after eighteen months of open preparation and threatening, were to march an army of nearly half a million of soldiers into England; should we be found, after so ample a warning, opposing only 120,000 fighting men, and that number only half armed and clothed, in defence of our homes, our wives and daughters, in the first battle-field? London alone could furnish and equip such an army, in so great a cause, within six months! Nor did the deficiency of numbers arise from want of patriotism. On the contrary, the Russians fought with unequalled ardour and bravery;*42 and the only reason that Napoleon's troops were not on that occasion overwhelmed by ten times their force, is, that the Government had not money to pay for transporting its subjects from remote provinces to the scene of action, or funds to provide arms and support them when collected together.
It has been well observed by a very sound authority,*43 that China affords the best answer to those who argue that Russia meditates hostile views towards our Indian possessions. China is separated from Russia by an imaginary boundary only; and that country is universally supposed to contain a vast deposit of riches, well worthy of the spoiler's notice. Besides, it has not enjoyed the "benefit" of being civilised by English or other Christian conquerors—an additional reason for expecting to find a wealthy pagan community, waiting, like unwrought mines, the labours of some Russian Warren Hastings. Why, then, does not the Czar invade and Chinese empire,*44 which is his next neighbour, and contains an unravaged soil, rather than contemplate, as the alarmist writers and speakers predict he does, marching three thousand miles over regions of burning deserts and ranges of snowy mountains, to Hindostan, where he would find that Clive and Wellesley had preceded him? The reason for such forbearance is, at the present day, as it was when that splendid but immoral genius, Catherine, proposed to undertake this very expedition—that there was not in Russia sufficient available wealth to transport across its own surface an army large enough to subjugate the Chinese. How, then, will they reach India through enemies' territories, and in spite of the power and influence of England? To warrant the attempt, the Czar ought to possess, at least, the command of one hundred millions sterling. Last year, he required but one million and a quarter,*45 for which he was compelled to solicit the aid of the capitalists of western Europe, and found great difficulty, even after pledges of peace and protestations of good behaviour, in obtaining the necessary loan!
"Russia once in possession of Constantinople, and farewell to the liberties of Europe!" is the cry of those who are "possessed" with the dread of Muscovite ambition; and the very repetition of this prophecy is calculated to produce believers in its truth. How it is that Russia is to conquer one hundred millions of people, superior to her own population in wealth, freedom, instruction, and morality, and armed with all the superiority of power which an ascendancy in those qualities ever has, and always will bestow upon civilized communities over barbarous nations, not one of those writers and speakers has condescended to explain; the ways and means are studiously avoided, or disregarded as of no consequence. Yet that Russia possesses no superhuman properties, which enable her to disregard the ordinary impediments of nature, we have already shown, in the example of her inability, when attacked, to resist the invader, owing to the want of the money, food, arms, and clothing, necessary for the transport and maintenance of large armies. With such an example of her weakness in defensive operations as we have just given, we need not be surprised that we have very abundant proofs of the feebleness of that empire when engaged in aggressive warfare. All the hostilities carried on between Russia and her barbarous neighbours, Turkey and Persia, have been full of evidences of the difficulty with which the first Power achieved her successive conquests, and the precarious tenure by which she has held them. Indeed, the last war with Turkey was, from the combined causes of deficient means of transport, defective commissariat supplies, and want of hospitals—all arising from the poverty of the Government—protracted so long and attended with so great a loss of life to the invaders, that it left no doubt, with reflecting minds, of the incompetency of Russia to sustain a war of aggression with Prussia, Austria, or any other civilized State.
But Poland is the best and latest witness of the weakness and poverty of Russia. Notwithstanding that the insurrection in that country broke out at a moment when the preparations were not matured (owing to the rashness of the military youths of Warsaw), and although the natives possessed no strong places, as in Belgium, and their territory is destitute of mountain fastnesses, such as are found in Spain, Scotland, or Switzerland, yet a mere handful of insurgents baffled the whole power of the Czar for twelve months, several times defeating his ill-equipped armies with great slaughter, and at last were subdued only through the perfidy of the Prussian authorities. Surely with this experience of Russian weakness and poverty to appeal to, we need not refer to the dangers apprehended for France, Germany, and Spain, unless it be to ask whether a British Parliament, possessing so many unsatisfied claims upon its time and attention at home, from two millions of paupers in a neighbouring island, declared by authority to be without the means of subsistence; from the Dissenters of this kingdom and the Catholics of Ireland; and from the discontented taxpayers at large, whether the British legislature might not very properly leave the care of those independent and powerful empires to their own governments, at least for the present, until the business of the united empire shall have been more satisfactorily dispatched.
We shall, however, be told that in arguing for the weakness of this empire from past experience, we lose sight of the difference between Russia in the Baltic and Russia in the Mediterranean. "The Government of St. Petersburg once transferred to Constantinople, and Russia thenceforth becomes the first maritime power in Europe," is the universal cry of the alarmists. How? Oh! the oaks of Bosnia, which are the finest in the world for shipbuilding, would be then at her command! But where would the sailors be found by a power possessing no mercantile marine? Napoleon thought vainly to create a navy from these very forests; he ordered tools to be forged in the country, and roads to be cut, by which the French legions might penetrate into Illyria, and the oaks of Bosnia be thus transported to the harbours of the Adriatic. He, moreover, contrived to bring the forests of Switzerland to Antwerp, by constructing the famous shoot down the side of Mount Pilatus. The timber rotted in his harbours, for how could the navies arise, whilst England commanded the trade of the ocean? Napoleon Bonaparte was a madman in all that related to commercial science; and his disastrous fate was the inevitable consequence; but they, who with his example before them, can assume the existence of the largest navy in the world, in the possession of a people whose carrying trade is in the hands of another nation, without the previous growth of manufactures and commerce are, in that particular, more hopelessly mad than the Corsican usurper. As well and as wisely might they assume the existence of the ripened harvest when no seed had been sown, or reckon on the growth of a city where neither builders nor inhabitants had ever existed! Until Russia becomes a great trading empire, she will not be in even the path for surpassing us in naval power. We have elsewhere shown that she cannot enlarge her commerce without thereby enriching us, even more than any other people; how then can Russia hope to become equal to ourselves upon the ocean, unless England should, for the purpose of enabling her to do so, resolve to stand still?*46
But supposing that Russia were to seize the first moment of her occupancy of Turkey to begin to build ships of war, and by the aid of Greek sailors to man a fleet at Constantinople; and presuming, moreover, that having obtained violent possession of Norway, she were to employ similar means for erecting a naval power in the Baltic: let us then call the attention of our readers to the defenceless and dependent position in which her territory would be placed, owing to the peculiar geographical features of those quarters of the globe. The sole outlet for the waters of the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea is by the canal of the Dardanelles, called the Hellespont; a passage whose navigable width scarcely exceeds two thousand yards for a length of thirty miles. To blockade the entrance of this Strait would require that a couple of ships of the line, a frigate, and a steamer, should be stationed at its mouth, and with no larger force than this might the egress of any vessel be prevented from the interior seas; and not only so, but as these four men-of-war would constitute, in the eyes of all foreign powers, and according to the law of nations, a sufficient blockade, they would deprive Constantinople and the whole Turkish empire of all foreign trade, besides shutting out from the commerce of the Mediterranean Sea, and the rest of the world, the entire coast of the Euxine, and its thousands of miles of tributary rivers. If we now transfer our attention to the northern portions of the Russian empire, we shall find that the passage of the Sound, through which all the trade of the Baltic is compelled to pass, is scarcely less narrow than that of the Hellespont; and provided Russia had gained possession of the interior of these Straits, according to the supposition of the alarmists, then half a dozen ships of war might hermetically seal the whole of northern Europe against the trade of the world. In short, Russia, with the addition of Turkey, would possess but two outlets, each more contracted than the River Thames at Tilbury Fort; and as these could be declared in a state of blockade by less than a dozen vessels of war, it is clear that nature herself has doomed Russia to be in a condition of the most abject and prostrate subjection to the will of the maritime powers. This is a point of paramount importance in estimating the future growth of the country under consideration. It should never be lost sight of for a moment, in arguing upon the subject, that Russia, in possession of Turkey and all the coasts of the Black Sea, besides her present stupendous expanse of territory, would still be denied, by the hand of Nature herself, a navigation of more than three miles in width, to connect her millions of square leagues of territory with the rest of the globe—a peculiarity the more striking since it could not be found to exist in any other quarter of the earth. It is deserving of notice, that these two narrow straits, which guard the entrances to the Black Sea and the Baltic, are nearly six months' sail distant from each other; and the track by which alone they can communicate lying through the Straits of Dover and of Gibraltar, it must be apparent that, were Russia the mistress of those channels, she could not pass from the one to the other, unless she were in amicable connection with Great Britain.*47
There remains but one more point requiring our consideration in connection with the abstract question of Muscovite aggrandisement. They who predict the unbounded extension of Russia, forget the inevitable grow of weakness which attends the undue expansion of territorial dominion.*48 Not only can they foresee without difficulty the conquest of Germany, France, Spain, Persia, and India, but they are, at the same time, blind to the dangers which must attend the attempt to incorporate into one cumbrous empire these remote and heterogeneous nations. In all ages and climes nature has given the boundaries for different communities; and we find that not only are the several families of the earth generally enclosed by seas or mountains to mark the limits of their respective territories, but the rivers usually flow through lands inhabited by people of one language—thus constituting a double natural line of demarcation. For example, the Alps and the Pyrenees afford the barriers beneath the opposite sides of which repose the French, Spanish, and Italian nations—within which arise the Rhone and Garonne of France, the Tagus and Guadalquiver of the Peninsula, and the Po and Adige of Italy; each of which may be almost said to water integral countries. And, seeing that these allotments of the earth's surface are sufficiently defined by the hand of nature to have drawn together in the earliest ages the scattered seed of Adam into separate and distinct families, how infallibly shall the same natural limits suffice to preserve those distinctions, when aided by those potent safeguards of nationality, the diversified histories, religions, languages, and laws of ancient and powerful empires! These are reflections that do not seem to have occurred to those writers who assign the sovereignty of Europe and Asia over to Russia; and, even if they had crossed their minds, such trifling impediments could hardly have discouraged them, after having surmounted so much greater obstacles. For assuredly they who can bestow upon Russia the supremacy of the seas, whilst her carrying trade is in the hands of England—or who can award her the victory over rich, united, and powerful nations, without the previous possession of money, materiel, or provisions for her armies—need not be daunted by such trifling natural difficulties as the Himalayas or the Alps present against the concentrations of government over her conquests; or feel a moment's alarm about regulating with the same tariff the commerce of the Rhine, Danube, Neva, and Ganges.
We have now, we believe, noticed every argument with which it has been the custom to urge us to participate in Russian and Turkish quarrels and intrigues; and we have endeavoured to show, by a candid appeal to facts, that the dangers with which we are threatened in our commerce, colonies, or national dominion, from the power of Russia, are chimerical. We have likewise shown that the prejudices existing in the minds of the British people against that Power, and which have been industriously fostered by the writers and speakers of the day, are founded in delusion and misrepresentation; that the spread of Russian Empire has invariably increased, instead of diminishing the growth of civilisation and commerce; that she owes her extension less to her own forces, which we have shown to be weak, than to the disunion or barbarism of her neighbours; and that the very nature of her geographical position must always keep her in dependence upon the goodwill of other maritime powers. Where, then, are the motives—seeing that Russia has not inflicted the slightest wrong upon us, or even contemplated one substantial injury to our people—for the warlike spirit which now pervades the current writings and speeches upon the subject of the nation? We do not know—for we have not been able in our researches upon the subject to discover—one solitary ground upon which to found a pretence, consistent with reason, common sense, or justice, for going to war with Russia.
Notes for this chapter
"Never was this corruption of the state so fearful as here, where the nobility constituted the nation; and where morals alone had made the want of a constitution less perceptible. Everything, therefore, deteriorated. The time for awakening from this lethargy could not but come; but what a moment was it to be!"—Heeren's Manual, vol. i., p. 370. "By the constitution of 1791, which changed the government from an elective to a hereditary monarchy, all the privileged of the nobility were confirmed; some favours, though very small, were accorded to the peasants; these were slight, but more could not be granted without irritating the former nation, the nobility."—Heeren, vol. ii., p. 231.
"Manual of the State Policy of Modern Europe," by Professor Heeren, vol. i., p. 262.
Heeren, vol. i., pp. 191 and 192.
"Histoire de l'Anarchie de Pologne et du Démembrement de cette République." Par C. Rublière. Paris: 1807. 4 vols. 8vo. The History of the Anarchy of Poland, in four volumes octavo!
"The flame of religious discord was now added, and the Jesuits took care that the fire should not be extinguished."—Heeren, vol. i. p. 334.
"The nation (the nobles) carefully guarded against any reforms, such as was taking place in Russia."—Heeren, vol. i. p. 328.
"The whole of the lands are now alienable, and may be purchased by the peasants, and all other classes, except the Jews."—Jacob's Report to the Lords, 1826, p. 66.—This is the shameful exception in England!
"Some rare instances of perseverance, industry, and temperance, are to be found; and, unfavourable as their circumstances may be for the creation of such habits, they are here attended by the usual correspondent results. Some few peasants have been enabled to purchase estates for themselves."—Jacob's Report, p. 66.
Cabinet Cyclopædia—History of Poland, p. 269.
"Wherever Russia extended her sovereignty, there prevailed overwhelming tyranny, grinding oppression, unblushing venality, odious corruption, treacherous espionages, spoliation, moral degradation, and slavery. (Hear, hear.) What good did Russia ever accomplish? It was said that she might civilise the barbarian Turks; he believed they would hear no more about that after the conduct of Russia towards Poland. The Poles did not, as the House well knew, rise until goaded into madness by a series of oppressions before unheard of; the country was watered by the tears of its inhabitants."—Lord Dudley Stuart's Speech, House of Commons, Feb, 19, 1836.
Heeren, vol. ii. p. 231.
Jacob's Report, p. 60
The peasants joined, to a considerable extent, the standard of revolt; but this was to be expected in consequence of the influence necessarily exercised over them by the superior classes. Besides, patriotism or nationality is an instinctive virtue, that sometimes burns the brightest in the rudest and least reasoning minds; and its manifestation bears no proportion to the value of the possessions defended, or the object to be gained. The Russian serfs at Borodino, the Turkish slaves at Ismail, and the lazzaroni of Naples, fought for their masters and oppressors more obstinately than the free citizens of Paris or Washington did, at a subsequent period. in defence of those capitals.
We cannot help alluding to the unfortunate natives of this country who are now seeking an asylum in England, and who belong entirely, we believe, to the class here referred to. Our allusion is to the system which sacrificed millions to hundreds of thousands, and not to persons, or even to generations of persons. Above all, we would except the unfortunate stranger that is now within our gates, imploring our help in a season of distress. In throwing himself upon our shores, the unhappy Pole evinced his generous belief that we would protect and succour him, and he will not discover that we want the power or the will to do either; nor will we wait to inquire whether he be peer or peasant. The bird that, to escape from the tyrant of the skies, flies trembling to the traveller's bosom is secure; base, indeed, would he be first to examine if his fluttering guest were a dove or a hawk. We cannot, however, approve of the lectures upon Polish history and literature, which have been delivered, in many parts of the kingdom, by some of these refugees. They convey erroneous pictures of the former condition of that country; glossing over the conduct of the nobles, and suppressing all mention of the miserable state of the serfs.
See Appendix for extracts from history of Poland.
The terms of abuse showered upon Nicholas in the British legislature are new in taste; and, we think, when applied to a potentate at peace with us, such epithets as monster, Herod, miscreant, &c., are not improvements upon the terms that we find in the earlier volumes of Hansard. In any case, would such language be honourable to the Parliament? Supposing a war should follow, is it dignified to precede hostilities with vituperative missiles? Spring and Langan set to with a better grace, by shaking hands at the scratch: the rules of the Fives-court had better be transcribed for the benefit of St. Stephen's. We are told, indeed, that it is a just manifestation of public opinion. We have heard similar expressions of opinion at Billingsgate and Clare Market, and have observe that they sometimes lead to blows, but never to conviction.
"Russia, as honourable members must be well aware, was not at the least pains to disguise her dissatisfaction at the present state of affairs in the Peninsula; and with a frontier so far advanced as hers now was, could any man living doubt that she would very soon adopt plain modes of making that dissatisfaction felt? He repeated that, with a frontier so far advanced, Italy was not safe from her grasp, and Russia once established there the consequences to Austria must be tremendous. Russia was surrounding—was enveloping Austria. Turkey would soon fall a prey to her lust of extended dominion. Greece would be a mere province of Russia; indeed, already Greece was subjected to her influence, and she scarcely hesitated to menace France.... He would again say that the whole of the Prussian league was at the instigation of Russia, the former being the mere creature of the latter. When the present designs of Russia were accomplished, they would soon see how she was becoming jealous of Prussia, and a pretext would not be long wanting for the destruction of that instrument which the great northern power had used in erecting and confirming its own ascendancy. Prussia was prepared to do everything which Russia might dictate for the purpose of forwarding her designs; but she might fully anticipate this—that as soon as the plans of the Autocrat were matured, he would in a day (!) dismember and pull down his present allies, and after that Austria could not long resist. Then in another quarter of her great empire, let them only look at the advantages possessed by Russia. She had military stations within thirty miles of the western coast of Norway.... That country could furnish sailors inferior to none in the world, and the whole kingdom abounded with timber of the best quality. Russia would then become a naval power of the first order (!) and might be joined by the Americans or the Dutch to the manifest disadvantage of England." (!!)—Times, report of Lord Dudley Stuart's Speech, Feb. 19. 1836.
These sentiments appear to have been delivered with gravity, and listened to by the House of Commons without a smile!
Regiments of peasants, who till that day had never seen war, and who still had no other uniform than their grey jackets, formed with the steadiness of veterans, crossed their brows, and having uttered their national exclamation, "Gospodee pomiloui nas!"—God have mercy upon us!—rushed into the thickest of the battle.—Scott's Napoleon, chap. 77.
Spectator newspaper, No. 386.
Unless his Muscovite Majesty should adopt this suggestion quickly, there appears some chance that England may be before him at Pekin. We perceive that some of our writers are anxious that we should send some ships of war to compel the Chinese Government to open other ports to our vessels besides Canton, and to dictate certain other regulations for carrying on trade with us, which they are good enough to suggest to his Celestial Majesty. Could not our ships of war call in on the way, and compel the French people to transfer the trade of Marseilles to Havre, and thus save us the carriage of their wines and madders through the Straits of Gibraltar? Why should not they force the Americans to restrict the export of their cotton to New York, rather than to suffer the growth of Savannah and Mobile? Well may the Chinese proclaim us "outside barbarians;" for, verily, this is outside barbarous morality!
Double the amount might be raised without difficulty, upon sufficient security, in Manchester, in less than forty-eight hours, if the profit or other motive offered an adequate inducement.
When the measures for conciliating the respective commercial interests of parties in the Irish Union were arranging, the opinion of practical men was taken as to the period at which the cotton manufacture of Ireland might be able to go on, in competition with that of England, without the help of protecting duties; and Mr. William Orr, of Dublin, who had introduced the manufacture into that country, was asked if he thought it likely that in ten years the Irish manufacturers would overtake the English in skill? Mr. Orr replied:—"Yes, if the English can be persuaded during that time to stand still."
During the war between Russia and the Porte, in 1791, the Government of St. Petersburg, anxious to send a fleet to attack the Turkish power in the Archipelago, requested permission of the Dutch and English to be allowed to refit the vessels and take in stores at one of their ports; and failing in this application, the expedition was abandoned.
"In large bodies the circulation of power must be less at the extremities: Nature herself has said it. The Truck cannot govern Egypt as he governs Thrace, nor has he the same dominion in the Crimea and Algiers which he has at Brusa and Smyrna. Despotism itself is obliged to truck and huckster; the Sultan gets such obedience as he can; he governs with a loose reign that he may govern at all: it is the eternal law of extension and detached empire."—BURKE.
Volume I, Part II, Essay III
End of Notes
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