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He thus declared his acceptance of the invitation:—
PEMBROKE LODGE: February 11, 1855.
MY DEAR CLARENDON,-I have reflected further on the proposal you made me yesterday; and, as not only you but the Queen and Palmerston think I might be of use in such a mission as you contemplate, I feel it a duty not to decline it. It is right, however, that I should tell you my views upon two points of great importance, in order that you may, even now, withdraw your proposal if these views appear to you erroneous or inadmissible. In the first place, I think the admission of Prussia to the conferences will be a less evil than excluding her from them. Admitted, she will be partial to Russia, but held in check by the opinion of Germany, and the representations of the Western powers. Excluded, she will be altogether alienated. . . . But, putting aside policy, I think that, considering all our proposals are to be made with a view to the balance of power, and that Prussia has taken a part in all great consultations for this purpose since 1814, it would not be right to exclude her now. If you concur in these views, I should expect you to support them at Paris and Vienna; but, if they are not approved by France and Austria, I do not know that we could insist upon their adoption, and we certainly could not decline to enter upon negotiations because Prussia was not represented at the Conference. The next point is one of still more importance. You say very truly that the alternative to be desired is either peace to Europe or the negotiations broken off leaving Austria in the field. But in order to attain this latter result we must be prepared to carry Austria with us in the negotiations. If she could say to us, ‘You have refused fair terms of peace, she would also say, ‘Therefore I must keep my neutral position.’ Buol has given his hearty assent to the principle of putting an end to Russian preponderance in the Black Sea, and we must endeavour to concert with him at the moment of negotiations the mode of carrying that principle into effect. If Austria, France, and England make this mode, in whatever shape it may be, the subject of a joint proposition to Russia, and Russia rejects it, Austria cannot refuse to go with us. If we make a separate proposition on the part of the Western powers, and Austria does not support us, we lose Austria. If, on the other hand, out of compliance with the pacific dispositions of Austria, we make an unsafe peace, we lay the seeds of humiliation to England and France and danger to Europe. This appears to me the difficult problem to be solved. If you agree with me I shall feel sure of your support in the mission, and I will at once undertake it. But, if you disagree, it is better that I should not go than that I should fail in executing your instructions, and be disavowed at home. Let me add that in my opinion, if the first conference gives fair hopes of success, an armistice should be established. If you concur in the early part of this letter, I would propose to go by Berlin, and see the King of Prussia. I have seen the Emperor Napoleon and M. Drouyn de Lhuys so lately that going to Paris would be only a loss of time.—I remain, yours very sincerely, J. RUSSELL.
Lord Clarendon and Lord Palmerston warmly concurred in Lord John's views, and Lord John at once accepted the mission.
His acceptance gave great satisfaction. Lord Palmerston Wrote—
Your having undertaken the conduct of this matter will be a plain proof to all the world that England goes into the negotiation in earnest and in good faith; and, if we do not succeed, it will be demonstrable that the impediment lies with Russia and not with us.
Sir Charles Wood wrote—
The best news I have heard is what Clarendon tells me. You have a field open at Vienna which may do more good both to your country and Europe than it has often been in any man’s power to achieve. And you have advantages for doing it which no one else has.
The Duke of Argyll wrote—
I have heard nothing in the way of politics for a long time which gave me so much pleasure as the announcement that you would undertake the mission of peace-maker at Vienna. . . . God grant you success in this great work—the noblest which any man can undertake: and I look to the straightforward way in which you will set about it . . . as the best ground of hope for your success.
But a long chapter might easily be filled with the letters of honest joy at Lord John’s acceptance of the mission.
These letters did not blind Lord John to the difficulties before him. As he wrote years afterwards—
The circumstances of the time were unfavourable to the prospects of peace. With Sebastopol untaken, and the pride of Russia unchecked, it was not probable that she would consent to terms which, in the opinion of the allies, would afford security to the integrity and independence of Turkey. Before the mission was proposed to me I remember that, in pointing out in conversation the difficulties of such a mission, I said, ‘It would be awkward to go to Vienna with a return ticket. . . . Still, however unfavourable the prospect, I thought it my duty not to decline a task which offered even a possibility of peace. The circumstances which had recently occurred—my abrupt retirement from the Queen's service was a reason the more for not avoiding the arduous duty thus imposed on me. Be it observed, however, once for all, that, in appointing a person to negotiate at Vienna who had held for several years the highest station in the Queen's political service, the Ministers appeared to give a pledge that they really meant peace : that is to say, that they meant to accept such terms as the state of the war would warrant them in demanding from the enemy. . . . One more remark by way of introduction. It seemed to me probable that there would arise, after various propositions had been discussed, some new plan of pacification which would not exactly square with the views of any of the belligerents, but which might form a basis for fresh conciliatory proposals. In that case, I determined beforehand to leave Vienna, and bring home the proposals. I even communicated this intention to one person high in the confidence of the Government.
Almost at the moment at which he accepted this important mission, Lord John received news of his sister-in-law's—Lady Harriet Elliot's—death at Paris. The circumstance made Lord John's parting from his family more painful, and, as a matter of fact, he lingered a few days in England before setting out on his journey." He left London on the 20th, * Lord John had an additional reason for not starting at once, since he had reached Paris that evening, and had long and important conversations with the Emperor, Lord Cowley, M. Drouyn de Lhuys, Baron Hubner, and Count Hatzfeld. These conversations confirmed the impression which he had formed that the best chances of success at Vienna lay in bringing Austria into line with the allies; and that the action of Austria depended, to a great degree, on the position of Prussia, since the former power feared to move while her flank was exposed to a possible attack from the latter. These considerations suggested that the key of the situation lay at Berlin; and Lord John wrote to Lord Clarendon and told him that he was pressed to make his stay there a little longer than the single day he had originally contemplated.
the misfortune to catch a severe cold which confined him to bed. While he was thus laid up, on February 15, he wrote to Lord. Clarendon, and suggested that the opening conference, at which Russia would only be formally asked to adhere to the general basis which had been agreed upon by the allies, might as well be managed by Lord Westmorland, the Ambassador at Vienna. ‘It has occurred to me that Westmorland, when he gets his full powers, might have a first conference [at which Gortchakoff's signature to the bases might be obtained]. Walewski has some notion that he [Gortchakoff] would refuse this. If he were to do so my going to Vienna would be a fool's errand. Lord John sent this letter to Lord Ciarendon by Lord Minto, who had just returned from Paris, and who was surprised at the annoyance which Lord Clarendon displayed on reading it. His annoyance was really due to the circumstance that he thought that Lord John wanted, under Lord Minto's advice, to recede from the mission he had undertaken. But Lord John wanted nothing of the kind. He only thought it would be wise for the Government to obtain such preliminary guarantee as Prince Gortchakoff's signature would afford, that Russia was in earnest in her desire to treat. The event, it will be seen below, very much justified Lord John's hesitation. - f
While Lord John was still in Paris, an event took place in London which materially changed his position. The Palmerston Cabinet made up its mind to accept—as it could indeed hardly have refused—Mr. Roebuck's inquiry; and the immediate friends of Lord Aberdeen, Mr. Gladstone, Sir J. Graham, and Mr. Sidney Herbert, at once resigned. Lord Palmerston wrote to Lord John—
This being the present state of things, we have come back to the position in which we were on the Monday after the Sunday when I received the Queen’s commands to endeavour to form a Government, and when I addressed myself to you. I now, therefore, with the unanimous concurrence of all my colleagues, address myself to you again. We do not ask you to forego your journey to Berlin and Vienna, because we think that great public evil would arise from your doing so. But your stay at Vienna will probably not be very long. . . . Our wish then is to know whether, under the peculiar circumstances in which the Government and the country are placed, you would be induced to give us your assistance in any way, and in any office, in either House of Parliament. The Colonial Office has been suggested by some as one to which you have paid great and successful attention; Granville places the Presidency of the Council entirely free; George Grey would readily leave the Home Office and go to some other. Let me know by return of messenger your feelings and intentions. We suspend till your answer any definite arrangements.
Lord Clarendon wrote by the same messenger, urging Lord John in any event to go on to Vienna, and adding—
I shall say nothing except repeating what I have often said before, that no Government calling itself Liberal has a chance of standing without you.
Lord John replied to Lord Palmerston
PARIS : February 23, 1855. MY DEAR PALMERSTON,—I have received your letter by messenger, and, having had a telegraphic message last night, was tolerably prepared for your communication. The causes of the resignations of your colleagues I will not enter into, but it is obvious the decision to resign is more hurtful to your Government than if they had persisted in declining to join you. . . . In these circumstances I feel bound to give you any assistance in my power, and I also feel that such assistance as I can give will be most effective in the House of Commons. I am not very particular as to the office I may fill; but, as I know the business of the Colonial Office, as I shall not have to bear, in addition to the labours of that office, that of leading the House of Commons, and as the Colonial Office can be placed in my hands without displacing any one, I prefer that office to any other. . . .—I remain, yours faithfully, J. RUSSELL.
By the same messenger he wrote to Lord Clarendon—
- PARIS : February 23, 1855. MY DEAR CLARENDON,-I have accepted the Colonial Office