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At home, from the beginning of our disasters, our rulers ever looked up to this great Lady for relief. In better times, and when she wanted us, she had promised it us; and a reliance on these promises, joined to the intimate union both of the commercial and political interests of the two Empires, made them sanguine in their hopes. Experience, however, soon taught them on how sandy a foundation these hopes were grounded. Our requisitions for succours were at first evaded, then declined, and at last rejected without ceremony. Our proposals for an Alliance for purchasing these succours by adequate compensations, shared universally the same fate; and we uniformly have met reserve, coolness, and even something worse, where we expected, and with so much reason, at least invisible, if not ostensible, acts of friendship and support.
The motives of this conduct, as contrary to the real interests of Russia as derogatory to the character of its Sovereign, must not be sought for in the abstruse mazes of diplomatic intrigue, they arise from prejudice and human weakness ; for this great Lady, with many eminent and superior qualities, frequently degenerates into an ordinary woman, and she often plays her fan when she thinks she is wielding her sceptre. France had learnt the art of cajoling her, and she was afraid of incurring the displeasure and censure of a nation who writes memoirs and epigrams. She also, with all her boasted strength, dreaded standing forth, and to commit her glory to the hazard of a general quarrel ; and perhaps too (for it is nature, particularly female nature) she was, notwithstanding the near relation our interests bear to hers, not sorry to see us humbled, imagining, perhaps, she grew comparatively greater as we
It is for these reasons, more difficult to combat than any which the opposition of my enemies could throw in my way, that all my efforts to engage the Empress in our behalf have been fruitless. I have, indeed, more than once brought her to the very verge of declaring in our favour, but her resolution failed in the moment of execution, and evil, not good, resulted from my endeavours; for feeling herself in the wrong, and satisfied she must appear in our eyes wavering and pusillanimous, she disliked us for having put her character to the test. I must mention, too, another reason, which at least served her as a pretence for not listening to any of our overtures, it was an aversion she affected to have for the late Ministry. She carried this sentiment to the most absurd lengths, and besides want of ability and patriotism, accused them of betraying their country. Every thing they did was disapproved, every proposal coming from them was dismissed as insidious, and to their conduct was attributable the events of war, even when they were evidently decided by the merest chance. These Opposition principles were universal on the Continent, where they were inculcated by His Prussian Majesty, who (and his interest here was then very high) was particularly careful to imprint them deeply in the Empress's mind. While she hated our Ministry, she was highly gratified by the adulation bestowed on her by those of our enemies; and as it was impossible for me to secure every avenue, they, through the influence of their friends here, conjured up that fatal Armed Neutrality, induced her to take a very partial part at the beginning of our Dutch war, and would now, if possible, make her as partial in her character of Joint Mediatrix. I I must, in my own justification, observe, that the Armed Neutrality did not take me by surprise, and I will be bold to say, had we considered it at home in the same light I did, and instead of treating it with all the importance and dignity of a fixed political resolution, considered it as the ephemeral production of intrigue and cabal, which a few complaisant and well-turned phrases would have done away, it would have been stifled in its cradle, and never grown up
to be that monster it now is become.
As for her interposition between us and the Dutch, though in the beginning it wore an unfavourable aspect, the concessions of Mr. Fox gave it a new turn, and it ended as much in our favour as it set out in theirs. On this, however, as on other occasions, she failed in the cri
tical moment, and rather chose to commit her dignity, and expose herself to the ribaldry and abuse of the Republic, than venture to take a decided step, though her own honour and the slighting behaviour of the Dutch loudly called out for it. This business is now ended, and a separate peace with the Dutch is no longer practicable. In regard to the Joint and great Mediation, she set about it with the most friendly views and best intentions; but as she left the conduct of it entirely to the Court of Vienna, and as the sentiments of that Court now appear to be rather inimical to us, I am on my guard lest it should take a wrong bias : I rather hope, however, from the opinion of our present Ministry, who cordially disapprove this Mediation (probably because it was the work of their predecessors), that it will be dropped entirely, and that we shall get rid of it at the expense of a few moments of ill-humour and pouting. This is nearly the historical abridgement of the conduct of this Court for
I shall now come to the events of the day, to its actual position, plans, and connexions, and I shall, for the sake of both our secretaries, be as concise as possible. Since the change of Ministry she is much better inclined towards us than before, but certainly will not afford us any other support than good wishes till she may want us as much as we want her.
Since the same period also, the Court of Vienna, who seemed well-disposed, appears to hold a contrary doctrine ; and the King of Prussia, who, till then, was our inveterate enemy, now assumes the mask, at least, of friendship. His interest here is sunk beyond redemption, and never, during this reign, will be retrieved, unless the Emperor should notoriously deceive the Empress in his professions and assur
The influence of His Imperial Majesty is at the highest pitch here, and his repeated promises, both in private correspondence and in ministerial memorials, to forward in every shape Her Imperial Majesty's present plan against the Tartars, has given him a hold here no efforts can eradicate. The Empress's plan (but let me entreat you to consider this as very confidential intelligence) is, to conquer the whole Crimea for herself.
I shall conclude this long letter with a few observations, perhaps unnecessary, but which strike me forcibly. It is impossible that the Empress can sincerely wish to see peace restored between us and our enemies, since the success of her projects in the East necessarily depend on the House of Bourbon being fully employed with its own concerns; she therefore cannot be sincere in her measure as Mediatrix. It is equally impossible that in the present conjuncture the Emperor must not egregiously impose either on her or on his ally, France. If he means to go all the lengths he has promised the Empress, and they are as extensive as they can be, he must displease the Court of Versailles, and their alliance breaks up ; on the contrary, if he does not intend keeping his word, and only holds this complaisant language to divert and amuse Her Imperial Majesty, it must end in a violent rupture between the two Imperial Courts, and that soon, since by the spring the Empress will certainly call upon him to make good his professions. It is for this reason that it is
my opinion, and I have given it freely at home, that we should keep aloof, not precipitate ourselves, or be in haste to form any continental connexions. We have done without them for so many years, that a year more can be of no importance, and in less time than that the political horizon must clear up, the sentiments now in doubt be certified, and in every case a system will work itself out where we may have our choice of alliances, and instead of courting others (which I hate) be courted ourselves.
My indisposition, which is owing solely to the climate, will, I fear, lay me under the necessity of soliciting my recall. I have remained here five years, and I have gradually felt my health (naturally very good) decline from the day of my arrival.' I shall have various reasons to regret this post, particularly the interesting scene it is likely to be involved in, for I heartily love the rocking of the battlements.
LETTER FROM SIR JAMES HARRIS TO SIR JOHN STEPNEY,
Petersburg, 15th, 26th Oct., 1782. MY DEAR STEPNEY,- I wrote you a few lines a post or two ago, merely to congratulate you on your arrival at your new residence.
You fill a very important mission, are employed near the person of the greatest Monarch that perhaps ever reigned, and what will make your employ still more agreeable than that of your predecessors, that Monarch, since we have been wise enough at home to do justice to his sentiments, professes the most friendly and cordial attachment to us and our interests.
Count Goertz, his Minister here, by whose goodness this letter will reach you sooner than if I sent it by the post, acts towards me in perfect conforunity to these professions, and I flatter myself he does me the justice to report in his despatches that I meet him more than half way.
We are here, seemingly, on the eve of a great event ; everything looks as if a crisis was drawing near ; indeed, I have so often waited for this crisis, so often thought it at hand, and so often been disappointed, that I may say of myself,
“ Expectat dum difluat amnis, at ille
Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.” I remember in Spain a grandee's wife, who thought herself with child for ten years running, and regularly called out every four or five months for the midwife. I think we are somewhat here in the same situation, and till I see the infant I shall doubt the pregnancy. Nothing in the present conjuncture puzzles me so much as the conduct of the Emperor, and, like Basil, I cannot help asking, qui est ce qu'on trompe ici ? tout le monde est dans le secret. I have such certain proofs of the existence of his connexion with France in its full force, that I cannot suppose him sincere in his assurances of
* The first part of this letter is intended to meet Frederick's private inspection, which was inevitable, as it went in Count Goertz's bag.