|XXIX, 12||<<||Chateaubriand's memoirs||>>||XXIX, 14|
LETTER TO MONSIEUR LE COMTE DE LA FERRONAYS
- ‘Rome, this 30th of November 1828.
- My noble friend, in your private letter of the 10th of November, you said:
- “I send you a short summary of our political situation, be kind enough to let me know your thoughts in return, which are always so useful to know in like matters.”
- Your friendship, noble Count, is too indulgent towards me; I doubt I will enlighten you at all in sending you the memoir below: I simply obey your orders.’
‘At the distance I am from the theatre of action, and finding myself in almost total ignorance of the state of negotiations, I am scarcely in a position to judge appropriately. Nevertheless, since I have long-settled ideas regarding France’s internal politics, and as I have so to speak been the first to call for the emancipation of Greece, I willingly submit my ideas to your consideration, noble Count.
There was no question yet of the treaty of the 6th of July when I published my Note on Greece. That Note contained the seeds of the treaty; I proposed to the five great European powers that they send a collective despatch to the Divan to demand the immediate cessation of hostilities between the Porte and the Hellenes. In the event of a refusal, the five powers would have declared that they recognised the independence of the Greek government, and that they would establish diplomatic ties with that government.
The Note was read in various cabinet offices. The place I have occupied as Foreign Minister gave my views some value: and one noteworthy thing was that Prince von Metternich appeared less hostile to the spirit of my Note than Mr Canning.
The latter, with whom I had enjoyed warm relations, was more of an orator than a great politician, more man of talent than statesman. He was generally jealous of success and especially that of France. When the parliamentary opposition wounded or elevated his self-esteem, he precipitated unnecessary action, and overflowed with sarcasm and boastfulness. Thus after the war in Spain, he rejected the request for intervention that I had wrung so painfully from the Madrid government in order to sort out affairs abroad: his private reason was that the request had not been made by himself, and he simply wished it seen that according to his own system of ideas (if indeed he had one), England represented in a general congress could in no way be bound by the acts of that congress and would always remain free to act independently. It was thus that he, Mr Canning, sent troops into Portugal, not to defend a charter which he was the first to ridicule, but because the Opposition reproached him for the presence of our soldiers in Spain, and he wished to be able to tell Parliament that an English army occupied Lisbon as the French army occupied Cadiz. Thus he ultimately signed the treaty of the 6th of July, which was unfavourable to the Greek cause, against his better judgement, against his own country’s judgement. If he agreed to the treaty, it was solely because he feared us taking the initiative with Russia over the issue and reaping the sole glory for a generous decision. The Minister, who after all will leave a great name behind him, also thought by the same treaty to hinder Russian freedom of movement; however it is clear that the actual text in no way bound Emperor Nicholas, and did not oblige him to specifically renounce war with Turkey.
The treaty of the 6th of July is a shapeless thing, brokered in haste, in which nothing is foreseen, and which seethes with contradictory agreements.
In my Note on Greece, I presupposed the solidarity of the five great powers; Austria and Prussia being separately united, their neutrality left them free, according to events, to declare themselves for or against one of the belligerent parties.
It is not a question of returning to the past, but of grasping things as they are. All that the governments were obliged to do was to take the best course of action as events unfolded. Let us examine those events.
We occupy the Morea, the strategic positions in that peninsula fall into our hands: thus for what concerns us.
Varna is taken: Varna becomes an outpost three days march from Constantinople. The Dardanelles are blockaded; the Russians seize Silistria in the winter and several other fortresses; numerous recruits will arrive. In the first days of spring, they set out on a decisive campaign; in Asia, General Paskevich invades three Pashalics (jurisdictions of the Pashas), he commands the sources of the Euphrates and threatens the route to Erzerum: thus for what concerns Russia.
Would the Emperor Nicholas have been better undertaking a winter campaign in Europe? I think so, if that was possible. By marching on Constantinople, he would have cut the Gordian knot, he would have put an end to the diplomatic intrigue; one sets oneself on the side of success; the means of winning allies, is to conquer.
As for Turkey, it is obvious to me that we would have had to declare war if the Russians had failed to take Varna. Will she have the good sense now to enter into negotiations with England and France to at least relieve herself of both? Austria willingly invites her to take that course; but it is quite difficult to foresee how a race of men lacking European concepts will conduct themselves. At the same time cunning as slaves and proud as tyrants, anger among them is never tempered by fear. Sultan Mahmud II, by all accounts, appears to be a superior Prince among recent Sultans; he has shown obvious political courage; but has he personal courage? He is content to conduct reviews in the streets of his capital, and is beseeched by the great not to travel even as far as Adrianople. The populace of Constantinople would be better pleased by triumphs than by the presence of its master.
Let us assume however that the Divan consents to talks on the basis of the treaty of the 6th of July. The negotiations will be quite thorny; when they have established the borders of Greece that is not the end. Where will the borders be set on the continent? How many islands are to be liberated? Will Samos, which has so valiantly defended its independence, be abandoned? Let us go further, let us suppose the conference is established: will it paralyse Emperor Nicholas’ armies? While the plenipotentiaries of Turkey and the three allied powers negotiate in the Archipelago, every invading step taken by the troops in Bulgaria will alter the state of affairs. If the Russians were to be repulsed, the Turks would break up the conference; if the Russians reach the gates of Constantinople, it would augur well for the freedom of the Morea! The Hellenes would have no need of protectors or negotiators.
So, to lead the Divan to occupy itself with the treaty of the 6th of July is to retreat from the difficulty, and not resolve it. The simultaneity of the emancipation of Greece and the signature of the peace treaty between the Turks and the Russians is, in my opinion, necessary to extract the governments of Europe from the embarrassment in which they find themselves.
What conditions will Emperor Nicholas set for peace?
In his manifesto, he declares that he renounces his conquests, but he speaks of indemnities for the costs of the war; that is vague and could lead anywhere.
Will the St Petersburg cabinet, in setting out to regularise the treaties of Akerman and Jassi, not demand firstly the complete independence of the principalities, secondly freedom of commerce in the Black Sea, as much for the Russian nation’s benefit as for others, and thirdly the reimbursement of the sums expended in the recent campaign?
Innumerable difficulties present themselves if peace is concluded on such a basis.
If Russia wishes to grant the principalities sovereigns of its choice, Austria will regard Moldavia and Walachia as Russian provinces, and will be opposed to that political transaction.
Will Moldavia and Walachia pass into the hands of an independent Prince with complete powers, or a Prince installed under the protectorate of several sovereigns?
In that case, Nicholas would prefer Hospodars (Governors of Wallachia and Moldavia) nominated by Mahmud, since the principalities, not ceasing to be Turkish, would remain vulnerable to Russian arms.
The freedom of commerce in the Black Sea, the opening of that sea to all the fleets of Europe and America, would shake the power of the Porte to its foundations. To grant the access of warships to the waters near Constantinople, is, with respect to the geography of the Ottoman Empire, as if one were to recognise the right of foreign armies to pass beneath the walls of Paris at any time.
Finally, where will Turkey get the means to pay the expenses of the campaign? The supposed treasure of the Sultans is an old fable. The provinces conquered beyond the Caucasus might, it is true, be ceded, as mortgaged to the amount demanded: of the two Russian armies, the one in Europe, seems to me to be charged with Nicholas’ affairs of honour; the other, in Asia, with his pecuniary interests. But if Nicholas does not consider himself bound by the declarations in his manifesto, will not England view Muscovite soldiers advancing on the road to India with a different eye? Has she not already taken fright, when in 1827, they made a further advance into the Persian Empire?
If the twin difficulties, which arise both from the actions in train, and the relevant conditions required of a peace between Turkey and Russia; if those twin difficulties render useless the tentative efforts to overcome so many obstacles; if a second campaign is opened in the spring, will the European powers take part in the quarrel? What role should France play? That is what I will consider in the second part of this Note.’
‘Austria and England have common interests; they are natural allies in foreign policy, however different their forms of government may be otherwise and however opposite their principles of internal government. Both are enemies of, and jealous of, Russia, both desire to halt the advance of that power; in an extreme situation they may well unite; but they feel that if Russia will not accept imposition, she can defy such a union which is more formidable in appearance than reality.
Austria has nothing to ask of England; the latter in turn is no use to Austria except to provide her with funds. Now, England, crushed by her weight of debt, has no funds to lend to anyone. Abandoned to her own resources, Austria cannot, given the present state of her finances, launch any military action, especially with her obligation to police Italy and remain on watch on the borders of Poland and Prussia. The present position of the Russian troops would allow them to enter Vienna more swiftly than Constantinople.
What could England do against Russia? Close the Baltic, stop buying hemp and timber in the northern markets, destroy Admiral Heyden’s fleet in the Mediterranean, land engineers and soldiers at Constantinople, transport to that capital military provisions and munitions, penetrate the Black Sea, blockade the Crimean ports, and deprive the Russian troops in the field of the assistance of their merchant and naval fleets?
Let us suppose all that is done (which it cannot be without a vast initial expenditure that would not be compensated or underwritten); Nicholas would still have his immense army of ground troops. An attack by Austria or England against the Cross and in support of the Crescent would increase the popularity of a war already deemed national and religious in Russia. Wars of that nature are fought without money; they are those which, through the force of public opinion, pit nations against one another. Let the Church Fathers once start to evangelise in St Petersburg as the Ulemas (Muslim scholars) Islamise in Constantinople, and they will find only too many soldiers; they would have more chance of success than their adversaries in that appeal to the passions and beliefs of men. The invasions which pass from north to south are more rapid and far more irresistible than those which gravitate from south to north: the population pressures incline them to flow towards the better climate.
Would Prussia remain an indifferent spectator of this great struggle, if Austria and England declared for Turkey? There is no way that could be.
Certainly a party exists in the Berlin government that hates and fears the government in St Petersburg; but that party, which anyway is beginning to age, finds the anti-Austrian party an obstacle and above all the social ties.
The bonds of family, normally fragile between sovereigns, are very strong in the Prussian Royal family: King Frederick-William III tenderly loves his daughter, the Empress of Russia, and likes to think that his grandson will mount Peter the Great’s throne; the Princes Frederick, William, Charles and Henry Albert, are also very attached to their sister Alexandra; the Prince Royal had no difficulty latterly in Rome in declaring himself hostile to the Turks.
In analysing the various interests thus, one can see that France is in an admirable position politically: she can act as the arbiter in this great debate; she can as she wishes maintain her neutrality or declare for one of the parties, according to time and circumstance. If she were ever obliged to countenance that extremity, if her advice was ignored, if the nobility and moderation of her conduct could not secure the peace she desired for herself and others; in the event that she found herself taking up arms, all her interests would lead her to side with Russia.
Let an alliance be established between Austria and England against Russia, what benefit can France gather from joining that alliance?
Will England lend France ships?
France is still, after England, the premier maritime power in Europe; she has more ships than she needs to destroy, if necessary, the Russian naval forces.
Will England provide us with subsidies?
England has no funds; France has more than she does, and France has no need to be in the pay of the British government.
Will England assist us with soldiers and weapons?
France has no lack of weapons, still less of soldiers.
Will England guarantee us an expansion of our island or continental territories?
Where could we acquire that expansion, if we made war on Russia, to the benefit of the Grand Turk? Will we attempt to swoop on the coasts of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or the Bering Strait? Is there any other prospect? Should we consider attaching ourselves to England in order that she might hasten to our aid if ever our internal affairs became tangled?
God preserve us from such a prospect and from foreign intervention in our domestic affairs! England, moreover, has always put little store by kings and the freedom of nations; she is always ready to sacrifice monarchies or republics to her own specific interests, without regret. Not long ago, she proclaimed the independence of the Spanish colonies, at the same time as she refused to recognise that of Greece: she sent her fleet to support the Mexican insurgents, and held back on the Thames several humble steamboats destined for the Hellenes; she admitted the legitimacy of Mahmud’s rights, and denied those rights to Ferdinand; devoted in turn to despotism or democracy according to the wind that blows the ships of City merchants to her ports.
Finally, in associating ourselves with the military plans of England or Austria against Russia, where shall we go to meet our former adversary at Austerlitz? He is not on our borders. Shall we then send a hundred thousand well-equipped men at our cost, to assist at Vienna or Constantinople? Should we maintain an army at Athens to protect the Greeks from the Turks, and an Army at Adrianople to protect the Turks from the Russians? Shall we bombard the Ottomans in the Morea, and embrace them in the Dardanelles? What is devoid of common sense never succeeds in human affairs.
Let us nevertheless, despite all likelihood, assume that our efforts were crowned with complete success in that unnatural triple alliance, let us suppose that Prussia remained neutral during all disturbances, with Holland, and that, freed of committing forces there, we were not obliged to fight a hundred and eighty miles from Paris: well, what profit might we gather from our crusade for the deliverance of the tomb of Mahomet? Knights of the Turk we would return from the Levant in a cloak of honour; we would have the glory of having sacrificed a billion in money, and two hundred thousand men, to calm Austria’s terrors, satisfy England’s jealousies, and in the best part of the world retain the pestilence and barbarism owing to the Ottoman Empire. Austria would perhaps have expanded its territory on the borders with Walachia and Moldavia, and England would perhaps have gained commercial privileges from the Porte, privileges of little interest to us if we participate in them, since we have neither the same size of merchant navy as the English, nor the same manufacturing output to trade in the Levant. We would be the complete dupes of that triple alliance which might fail in its objective, and which, if it succeeded, would only attain it at our expense.
But if England has no obvious means of benefiting us, would she not at least act on the government in Vienna, and commit Austria, in compensation for the sacrifices we had made for her, to our regaining the former departments situated on the left bank of the Rhine?
No: Austria and England will always oppose equivalent concessions; Russia alone can achieve them for us, as we will see later. Austria detests us and is terrified of us, even more than she hates and dreads Russia; worse still, she would prefer that the latter power acquired territory in Bulgaria, than France in Bavaria.
But would not the freedom of Europe be threatened if the Tsars made Constantinople the capital of their Empire?
You must explain what you intend by the freedom of Europe: do you mean that, all equilibrium being destroyed, Russia, after having conquered European Turkey, would seize Austria, subjugate Germany and Prussia, and finish by enslaving France?
Firstly, every Empire which extends itself endlessly loses its vigour; almost always it divides; one would soon see two or three Russias, each an enemy of the others.
Then, does the balance of Europe exist for France since the recent treaties?
England has retained almost all the colonial conquests that she made in three quarters of the world during the Revolutionary War; in Europe she acquired Malta and the Ionian islands; it is not only by her Electorate of Hanover that she has expanded her Royalty and increased her Lordship.
Austria has added to her possessions with a third of Poland and slices of Bavaria, part of Dalmatia, and Italy. She no longer has Holland, true; but that province has not devolved on France, and has become a redoubtable ally of England and Prussia against us.
Prussia has gained the Duchy or Palatinate of Poznan, a fragment of Saxony and the Principal circles of the Rhine; her outposts are on our own territory, ten days march from our capital.
Russia has regained Finland and is established on the banks of the Vistula.
And we, what have we gained from these divisions? We have been despoiled of our colonies; not even our ancient soil has been respected. Landau separated from France, Huningue sliced away, leaving a gap of more than a hundred and fifty miles in our frontier; the little State of Sardinia found no shame in donning the stolen tatters of Napoleon’s Empire and Louis XIV’s kingdom.
In this situation, what interest do we have in reassuring Austria and England about Russian victories? If the latter were to expand towards the Orient and alarm the government in Vienna, would we be in danger? Have they been so gentle with us, that we should be so sensitive to our enemies’ anxieties? England and Austria have always been and will always be France’s natural adversaries; we will see them tomorrow wholehearted allies of Russia, if it is a question of fighting and despoiling us.
Let us not forget that, while we were taking up arms with the intention of saving Europe, put in peril by Nicholas’ supposed ambitions, Austria, less chivalrous and more rapacious, would probably listen to the St Petersburg government’s proposals: a brisk change of policy would cost them little. With Russia’s consent, she would seize Bosnia and Serbia, leaving us the satisfaction of wearing ourselves out on behalf of Mahmud.
France is already in a state of partial hostility against the Turks; she alone has already spent several millions and risked twenty thousand soldiers in the cause of Greece; England would only lose a few words betraying the principles of the treaty of the 6th of July; France would lose honour, men and money: our expedition would be nothing less than true political disaster.
But if we do not unite with Austria and England, will the Emperor Nicholas not reach Constantinople and the balance of Europe be upset?
To repeat, once more, let us leave these real or pretended fears to England and Austria. Let their prime concern be that of Russia seizing the Levant trade and becoming a maritime power: that matters little to us. Is it so essential that Great Britain retains its monopoly over the seas, that we shed French blood to keep the destroyers of our colonies, our fleets and our commerce in possession of the Ocean sceptre? Should the legitimate race mobilise its forces in order to protect a house which is allied to the illegitimacy and which may be reserving for a moment of discord the means it believes it possesses to trouble France? A fine balance for us is that of a Europe where all the powers, as I have shown, have increased their weight and with common accord diminished that of France! Let them retreat to their former borders as we have; then we can rush to the aid of their freedom, if that freedom is threatened. They have show no scruples in joining with Russia to dismember us and garner the fruits of our victories; let them now suffer, as we strengthen the links we have formed with that same Russia, in order to reset appropriate boundaries and re-establish the true balance of power in Europe!
Moreover, if the Emperor Nicholas wishes and is able to sign a peace treaty with Constantinople, would the destruction of the Ottoman Empire be the inevitable consequence of that action? Peace has been signed, under arms, in Vienna, Berlin and Paris; almost all the capitals of Europe have been captured in former times: have Austria, Bavaria, Prussia, France, or Spain perished? Twice the Cossacks and Pandours have camped in the courtyard of the Louvre; the kingdom of Henry IV was under military occupation for three years, and yet we would be disturbed to see Cossacks in the seraglio, and would show for the honour of that barbarism the susceptibility we have not shown towards the honour of civilisation and our own country! Let the Porte’s pride be humbled, and then perhaps it will be obliged to recognise some of the human rights that it flouts.’
‘Now you can see where I am heading, and the consequence that I am about to draw from what has gone before. This is the consequence:
If the belligerent powers cannot arrive at an arrangement this winter; if the rest of Europe thinks to meddle in the quarrel by the spring; if various alliances are proposed; if France is absolutely obliged to choose between these alliances; if events force her to move from a position of neutrality; all her interests must lead her to prefer joining with Russia; a union into which it would be safer and easier, by offering certain advantages, to bring Prussia.
There is sympathy between Russia and France; the latter has virtually civilised the higher echelons of society of the former; she has transferred to them her language and manners. Placed at the two ends of Europe, France and Russia have no common frontier; there is no field of battle on which they can meet; they are not engaged in commercial rivalry, and Russia’s natural enemies (the English and the Austrians) are also those of France. In times of peace, let the government in the Tuileries remain allied to the government in St Petersburg, and nothing in Europe can be at odds. In times of war, the alliance of the two governments will dictate the rules of engagement.
I have also pointed out that an alliance of France with England and Austria would be a false alliance, which would merely result in the loss of our blood and our wealth. An alliance with Russia, on the contrary, would lead directly to us obtaining possessions in the Archipelago and pushing back our frontiers to the banks of the Rhine. We could say this to Nicholas:
“Your enemies solicit us; we prefer peace to war, we desire to remain neutral. But if in the end you can only solve your differences with the Porte by arms, if you intend to advance to Constantinople, enter into a partition of European Turkey among the Christian powers. Those powers which are not in a position to expand on their eastern borders will receive compensation elsewhere. We wish to establish our frontier on the Rhine, from Strasbourg to Cologne. Such are our valid pretensions. Russia has an interest (your brother Alexander said so) in what makes France strong. If you consent to this arrangement and the other powers refuse, we will not tolerate them intervening in your issue with Turkey. If they attack you despite our remonstrance, we would fight alongside you always, on the same conditions we have just expressed.”
That is what we might say to Nicholas. Austria and England will never grant us a border on the Rhine as the price of our alliance with them: now, sooner or later it is there, nevertheless, that France must set her frontier, as much for honour as for security.
A war with Austria and England has numerous possibilities of success and few chances of failure. Firstly it is a means of paralysing Prussia, and even forcing her decision to unite with Russia and ourselves; if that happened, Holland could not declare herself an enemy. In the present mood, forty thousand Frenchmen defending the Alps would rouse all of Italy.
As to hostilities with England, if they were ever to commence, we would need to send twenty-five thousand more men to the Morea, or rapidly recall our troops and our fleet. Give up the idea of squadrons and disperse your ships individually over the oceans; order them to sink all prizes after having stripped out their equipment, multiply your letters of marque in the ports at the four corners of the earth, and Great Britain would soon sue for peace, obliged to do so by bankruptcies and commercial crisis. Have we not seen them capitulate before the United States Navy in 1814, which even today only consists of nine frigates and eleven other vessels?
Considered under the headings of both the general interests of society and our own private interests, Russia’s war against the Porte ought not to do us any harm. According to the noblest concept of civilisation, the human species can only gain from the destruction of the Ottoman Empire: the dominance of the Cross in Constantinople rather than the Crescent is a thousand times better for the nations. All the elements of morality and social politics are present in Christianity; all the seeds of social destruction lie in the religion of Mahomet. They say the Sultan has taken steps towards civilisation: is that because he has tried, with the aid of renegade Frenchmen, and English and Austrian officers, to submit his fanatical hordes to military exercises? And since when has a routine apprenticeship in warfare been considered civilisation? It is a great error, almost a crime, to have initiated the Turks in our tactical science: the soldiers one disciplines should be baptised, unless you wish to elevate the destruction of society into a grand design.
There is a great lack of foresight: Austria which has applauded the organisation of the Ottoman army would be the first to feel the pain of its approval: if the Turks fought the Russians, they would be much more capable of measuring themselves against their Imperialist cousins; this time Vienna would not escape the Grand Vizier. Would the rest of Europe, which thinks it has nothing to fear from the Porte, be safe? Short-sighted and passionate men wish Turkey to be a normal military power, for her to participate in the usual rights of war and peace among civilised nations, all to maintain who knows what balance, the emptiness of the phrase allowing men to avoid grasping the concept: what would be the consequences if these wishes were realised? When it pleased the Sultan, on some pretext or other, to attack a Christian government, a fleet from Constantinople, effectively positioned, augmented by the fleet of the Pasha of Egypt, and a maritime contingent of barbarian powers, would declare a blockade of the coasts of Spain or Italy, and disembark fifty thousand men at Cartagena or Naples. Choose not to plant the Cross on St Sophia: continue to train the hordes of Turks, Albanians, Negroes, and Arabs, and within twenty-five years the Crescent may gleam on the dome of St Peter’s. Then will you call Europe to a crusade against the infidel armies of plague, slavery and the Koran? It will be too late.
Thus the general interest of society relies on the success of the Emperor Nicholas’ armies.
As for the specific interests of France, I have shown adequately that they depend upon an alliance with Russia and that they may be particularly favoured by the very war that power is undertaking now in the Orient.
I will summarise:
1. If Turkey consents to act on the basis of the Treaty of the 6th of July, nothing would be decided, there being no lasting peace between Turkey and Russia; the chances of war in the defiles of the Balkans would alter at every moment the assumptions and position of the plenipotentiaries occupied with the emancipation of Greece.
2. The probable conditions for peace between the Emperor Nicholas and Sultan Mahmud are subject to major objections.
3. Russia could defy an alliance between England and Austria, an alliance more formidable in appearance than reality.
4. It is probable that Prussia would rather ally with the Emperor Nicholas, a relative of Frederick-William III, than with the Emperor’s enemies.
5. France would have everything to lose and nothing to gain by an alliance with England and Austria against Russia.
6. The freedom of Europe would not be threatened by Russian conquests in the Orient. It is quite absurd, and does not take account of the obstacles, to imagine the Russians hastening from the Bosphorus to impose their yoke on Germany and France: all empires are weakened by over-extension. As to the balance of forces, it is a long time since it has been disturbed on behalf of France; - she has lost her colonies, she is contained within her ancient borders, while England, Prussia, Russia and Austria are greatly increased.
7. If France was obliged to lose her neutrality, to take up arms for one party or the other, the general interests of civilisation, as the specific interests of our country, ought to lead us to prefer an alliance with Russia. Through her we could obtain the course of the Rhine as our border, and colonies in the Archipelago, advantages which the Courts of St James and Vienna would never accord us.’
‘Such is my summary of this Note. I can only argue hypothetically; I am unaware of what England, Austria and Russia are proposing or have proposed even as I write; perhaps there is information, a despatch which reduces the truths exposed here to useless generalisations: that is the difficulty of distance and political conjecture. Nevertheless it remains certain that France is in a strong position; that the government is in a position to take a major role in events if it pays attention to what it desires, if it does not allow itself to be intimidated by anyone, if, to speak forthrightly, it joins vigour to action. We have a king who is venerated, an heir to the throne who with three hundred thousand men would, on the banks of the Rhine, increase the glory he gathered in Spain; our expedition to the Morea enables us to play a role full of honour; our political institutions are excellent, our finances are prospering in a manner without parallel in Europe: with that one can advance, head raised. What country but ours possesses genius, courage, soldiers and wealth!
Further, I do not pretend to have said the last word, to have foreseen everything; I lack the presumption to give out that my policy is the best; I know that there is something mysterious, intangible in human affairs. While it is true that one can articulate the ultimate generic results of a revolution, it is equally true that one will be wrong in detail, and specific events will often alter things in unexpected ways; and that while seeing the goal, one arrives there by paths whose existence one did not even suspect. It is certain, for example, that the Turks will be driven from Europe; but when and how? Will the present war deliver the civilised world from that scourge? Are the obstacles to peace which I have signalled insurmountable? Yes, if one follows an analogous process of reasoning; no, if one introduces into these calculations different circumstances to those which have occasioned the taking up of weapons.
Hardly anything these days resembles what has been: outside religion and morality, the realities have altered in a major way, if not in their essence, at least in relation to men and things. D’Ossat remains an able negotiator still, Grotius a publicist of genius, Puffendorf a prudent spirit; but one would not apply their rules of diplomacy to our age, nor return to the treaty of Westphalia to set a valid policy for Europe. The people are now involved in matters once only carried out by governments. The people no longer feel as they once felt; they are no longer affected by the same events; they no longer see things from the same point of view; reason has made progress among them at the expense of imagination; positivism has won out over enthusiasm and passionate tendencies; a modicum of reason rules everywhere. On most thrones, and in the majority of the cabinet offices of Europe, sit men who are weary of revolutions, have had their fill of war, and are antipathetic to the spirit of adventure: here are emblems of hope for peaceful negotiation. There may also exist among nations internal obstacles which dispose them towards conciliatory measures.
The death of the Dowager Empress of Russia may give rise to the seeds of disturbances which have not been completely suppressed. That Princess was hardly involved with foreign policy, but she was a link with her sons; she appears to have exercised a substantial influence over the transactions which granted the crown to the Emperor Nicholas. However, it must be confessed that if Nicholas begins to be afraid once more, it would be one more reason for him to send soldiers outside his native land and seek safety in victory.
England, independently of her debts which constrain her actions, is embarrassed by affairs in Ireland: whether the Catholic Emancipation Bill is passed by Parliament or not, it will be of immense significance. The health of King George is fragile, that of his immediate successor is no better; if the incident foreseen arrives soon, there would be a new convocation of Parliament, perhaps a change of Ministers, and capable men are rare at present in England: a Regency of long duration could occur. In that precarious and critical situation, it is probable that England would sincerely desire peace, and would be afraid of risking a major war, in the midst of which she might be surprised by internal problems.
Finally we ourselves, despite our real and indisputable prosperity, even though we might appear splendid on the field of battle, if we are summoned are we ready to appear? Are our defences in order? Have we the supplies required to support a large army? Is that army still wholly on a peace footing? If we were brusquely wakened by a declaration of war from England, Prussia and Holland, could we oppose a third invasion effectively? Napoleon’s wars made known our fatal secret: that after a fortunate battle Paris could be reached in a few days; Paris cannot defend itself; that same Paris is far too near the frontier. The capital of France will only be defensible when we hold the left bank of the Rhine. We therefore need some time to prepare.
Let us add to all that, that the vices and virtues of Princes, their moral strengths and weaknesses, their character, their passions, even their habits, are the cause of actions and events contrary to calculation, and which belong to no political formula: sometimes the meanest of influences determines the greatest of occurrences in a sense opposed to all known likelihood; a slave can trigger the signing in Constantinople of a peace treaty which all Europe, begging on its knees, could not obtain.
What then if one of these causes beyond human prediction leads, this winter, to demands for negotiation, should those demands be rejected if they are not in accord with the principles in this Note? Certainly not: to gain time is a great thing when one is not ready. One may know what would be better, and be content with what is the least worst; political realities, especially, are relative; absolutism, in matters of State, produces serious difficulties. It would be best for the human species if the Turks were driven into the Bosphorus, but we are not charged with that expedition and perhaps Islam’s hour has not yet tolled: hatred should be set aside to avoid stupidity. Nothing then must prevent France entering into negotiations, taking care to approach them as far as possible in the spirit in which this note is written. It is for the men at the tillers of empires to direct them, according to the winds, but avoiding the reefs.
Assuredly, if the powerful sovereign of the North consented to limit the conditions of peace to the execution of the Treaty of Akerman and the Emancipation of Greece, it would be possible to make the Porte see reason; but what probability is there of the Russians limiting themselves to conditions which they could obtain without firing a cannon? How can they abandon pretensions so loudly and publicly expressed? One means alone, if it is practical, presents itself: propose a general Congress at which the Emperor Nicholas would bow, or appear to bow, to the wishes of Christian Europe. A successful method among men is to salve their self-esteem, to give them a reason for breaking their word, and a way of retreating from a false step with honour.
The greatest obstacle to the idea of this Congress arises from the unexpected success of the Ottoman armies during the winter. If, because of the rigour of the season, the lack of provisions, the insufficiency of troops or some other cause, the Russians were obliged to abandon the siege of Silistria; if Varna (which however is hardly probable) fell into Turkish hands once more, Emperor Nicholas would find himself in a position which would preclude him from listening to any propositions, under pain of descending to the lowest rank of monarchs; then the war would be continued, and we would return to the eventualities deduced in this Note. If Russia lost its place as a military power, if Turkey were to replace it in that respect, Europe would merely face a different risk. Now, the danger threatened by Mahmud’s scimitar, would be of a much more formidable nature than that of Emperor Nicholas’ sword. If by chance fate established a Prince of note on the Sultan’s throne, he may not live long enough to change laws and manners, as he has otherwise intended. Mahmud will die: to whom will he leave his Empire with its disciplined and fanatical soldiers, with its Ulemas holding in their hands, through their initiation in modern tactics, a fresh means of conquest for the Koran?
While Austria, terrified ultimately of all these false calculations, would be obliged to defend its frontiers, where the Janissaries would leave them nothing to fear, a new military insurrection, resulting possibly from the humiliation of Nicholas’ armies, would perhaps break out in St Petersburg, and be gradually communicated, setting Northern Germany on fire. This is what men who rely, for policy, on vulgar fears and commonplaces, do not see. Trivial despatches, petty intrigues, are the obstacles with which Austria intends to oppose an action that threatens us all. If France and England adopted a stance worthy of them, if they informed the Porte that, in the event of the Sultan closing his ears to all peace proposals, he would find himself at war by the spring, then that resolve would soon put an end to Europe’s anxieties.’
News of the existence of this Memoir, having been leaked to the diplomatic world, brought me an attention that I did not reject, but did not at all seek. I do not see much that would have surprised the positivists: my war in Spain was a very positive thing. The incessant workings of the broad revolution which is taking place in our old society, by leading among us to the fall of the Legitimacy, has upset all calculations based on the permanence of the situation which existed in 1828.
Do you wish to convince yourself of the vast difference between the worth and glory of a great writer compared with a great politician? My diplomatic efforts had been crowned by what is recognised as the greatest talent: that is to say by success. Yet whoever was to read this Memoir would doubtless have skipped through it swiftly, and I would have done the same in the readers’ place. Well, suppose that instead of this little masterpiece of legalistic reasoning, they had found in my effort an episode in the style of Homer or Virgil, heaven having granted me their genius, do you think they would have been tempted to skip the love of Dido in Carthage or the tears of Priam in Achilles’ tent?