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No. XXIII.-JANUARY 1879.
I READ in Dante how that horned light,
'And Ceuta on the left; then southward sped.
I dropp'd the book, and of my child I thought
With omen; 'Oh! were that Mount pass'd,' I say.
VOL. V. No. 23.
PASSING EVENTS IN TURKEY.
REMARKS AND SUGGESTIONS.
MUCH as we have been of late habituated to political anxieties, fearful probabilities, and incidents, whether of peace or war, bristling with actual horrors or pregnant with eventual dangers, it would seem that we have now reached a point scarcely, if at all, inferior to any which have preceded it in those profoundly interesting and extremely formidable respects. Not many weeks have elapsed since the civilised world, with exceptions comparatively few, was thrown into a state of almost rapturous enjoyment by the pacific issue of the Berlin deliberations. It was generally understood at the same time that the formal agreement, which constituted peace, was framed on principles of mutual concession, and the subordination, more or less, of individual pretensions to the common interest of Europe. The execution of a treaty thus constructed could hardly be carried through without encountering some vexatious obstructions, and giving rise to complaints embittered by painful recollections or disappointed hopes. It is doubtless satisfactory to know on high authority that, in spite of such unavoidable difficulties, the work of settlement proceeds at a fair pace, and that there is ample reason to rely upon the good faith of each and all the principal parties, in so far as the honest fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon them by the treaty is concerned.
Appearances adverse to these comfortable assurances, however plausible and numerous, may surely give way for the present at least, and the gloom which they help to cast over our prospects may cheerfully await the solution reserved for circumstances of a decisive character.
But large as is the field over which the Berlin Treaty extends, does it not leave more room than we could well desire for other complications which threaten to lay a heavy strain upon our resources, and to expose us to onerous responsibility not unmixed with hazardous contingencies ?
We have thrown down the gauntlet to Russia. We have said to that Power in language suggested by Canute, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.' Russia, though now financially out at elbows,
is, no doubt, an empire of vast extent-peopled already with seventy millions, and growing from year to year into a population of far greater numbers. From the Gulf of Bothnia to the Strait of Behring, she stretches in an unbroken line, having nothing to apprehend in time of war from behind or on either flank. Much as the inhabitants are scattered, various as are the races of which the people are composed, they are united under a sovereignty which unites supremacy in religion with despotic authority and military power. Moreover, railroads seem to have been invented in order to give continuity and concentration to the whole force of its almost boundless empire. We hold the people to be ambitious, and the Government prone to a very sinister kind of diplomacy. Put all these matters together, and ought we to be surprised if the Russian mind is strongly embittered against us, and disposed by crafty means and the aid of armies decimated, but not exhausted, to recover in full an offensive position, hindered, indeed, but not destroyed? May it not be worth while to expend a few penfuls of ink in laying out on paper a cursory intimation of the stormy elements which still hang upon our horizon, and seem to threaten a renewal of our late troubles in a new dress? That the impending mischief can be entirely averted appears under present circumstances to be far from probable. But its outlines have various degrees of intensity; and we are at liberty to hope that some of them will not be filled up to our prejudice, and that the most enduring will be met with becoming resolution, and finally turned to the account of our national welfare.
The hour at which I now write lies on the very edge of that appointed for the termination of our poise between peace and war. The electric wire is all but trembling with the transmission of Shere Aali's last word, or his unmistakable silence. The advance of our Indian force may have actually begun while the decisive message is still on its flight to London. If the Ameer's reply should be such as to warrant a return of the half-drawn sword into its scabbard, the anterior circumstances could hardly be so far put out of sight as to preclude the obvious apprehension that the quarrel was rather postponed than thoroughly appeased. There is no call as yet for going into a detailed examination of those circumstances. The evidence of their authenticity and real character is rather to be found in their general consistency than in statements resting on official responsibility. What lies on the surface is clear enough. The Ameer, right or wrong, was discontented with us. He either suspected our intentions, or was piqued by our inattention to his requirements. Russia, already inclined to make a sore on our north-western side out of the Afghan susceptibilities, opened the doors of her favour to Shere Aali at that period of her angry discussions with England which preceded the meeting of Plenipotentiaries at Berlin. The separate agreement with England, which, under Prince Bismark's management, gave a
pacific turn to their protocols, relaxed the aggressive policy of Russia, but the irritation excited by the Anglo-Turkish Convention caused a resumption of those intrigues which have brought us into a state immediately bordering on war with the Government of Cabul.
Whatever is merely conjectural in this statement must be left to the test of events. But, taken at the lowest, there is surely enough of probability to claim that degree of attention which quickens circumspection, and operates with the effect of timely admonition.
It is now time to advert to the conduct of Russia in the Turkish Empire respecting those matters which are not comprised in the Berlin Treaty. The grounds of difference, and consequently of hostile disturbance, which some of them, at least, present, are possibly worthy of more than a passing notice.
Turkey has still to conclude a treaty of peace with Russia in place of the San Stefano preliminaries modified to a certain extent at Berlin.
Russia is free to urge her claim to a war indemnity on the Porte with no restraint from the late Congress, except as to the necessary expenses of its Government, and to those sources of revenue which are formally pledged to its creditors.
The time is not, perhaps, so fixed by Congress for the entire withdrawal of the Russian forces from Turkish territory as to leave no room for delay on plausible excuses.
The territorial claim of Greece lies open to angry discussion.
The dissatisfaction of Albania and Montenegro is not without risk of unpleasant consequences.
Such are the most prominent openings left for the renewal of quarrelsome exactions on the part of Russia without a breach of those obligations which the Government of that country promises to fulfil. There may be others not so obvious. Of those already mentioned more than one would alone be sufficient in skilful hands to carry out a sinister purpose. Take, for instance, the demand of a war indemnity. It is clear that even with the admitted limitations an intolerable burden might be imposed on the resources of Turkey. The Sultan would naturally stand out with all that remains of Ottoman energy; and England, to be consistent, could hardly withhold her sympathy and its train of consequences, when Turkey unsupported would have to sink into a state of prostration fatal alike to its independence and its desire of improvement. It would be found too late to prove by argument that Russia's claim to the smallest amount of compensation in money is based on sand. But how stand the facts? Russia has obtained all for which her Emperor entered the lists, namely, the emancipation of certain Sclavonian provinces from Turkish misrule. Nay, more, she has obtained for herself a port, at least one fortress, and a good slice of territory in Asia, to say nothing of a muchcoveted district in Europe. She gave herself the air of going to war
with Turkey as the champion of Christendom; but no such office was assigned to her by other Powers; and her war with Turkey was an act of aggression, her losses in blood and treasure the natural consequences of her own mismanagement in the beginning of the contest. The final triumph of her arms is her only title to an indemnity; and in point of strict justice Turkey, though vanquished in the field, would have the better right to compensation for the sacrifices and sufferings of war.
What is here stated under the head of indemnity, as showing what Turkey has still to apprehend from Russia, goes far to spare the necessity of enlarging on other points which tend to give a precarious character to the existing peace. The discussions required for a more complete act of settlement between the late belligerents can hardly fail to afford opportunities for overbearance on the one side and resentment on the other. With respect to the entire withdrawal of Russian troops from the Sultan's territory, it is enough to bear in mind that fresh differences may be made the grounds of larger terms of occupation; that fifty thousand Russian soldiers, if not four times as many, are still dieted on the lands of Islam; and that a certain amount of coincidence between acts of insurgent violence and the distribution of those troops on a principle of protection has drawn the attention of impartial observers.
Scarcely have the letters which form the preceding paragraph had time to dry, when ominous remarks on the difficulty, not to say impossibility, of giving effect to the decisions of the Congress, appear in that portion of the Russian press to which a certain measure of authenticity is thought to attach. There are also signs of an intention not to make over the Dobrutchka to Prince Charles of Roumania until he agrees that a road for the passage of Russian troops shall traverse that district. We look, moreover, in vain for a cessation of those atrocities in free Bulgaria-Russo-Bulgaria, as it may be called -which operate so cruelly to the oppression or exclusion of its Mussulman proprietors. It appears on good authority that regiments of a hundred thousand refugees, homeless and half starved, are still excluded from Bulgaria by the fear of being massacred on their return.
Events do indeed come on with marvellous celerity. I hold back my pen to hear that the Afghan war has begun, that our Indian troops have been seen in full march upon the Ameer's positions; and I now resume it to state that I have read the Government's manifesto under Lord Cranbrook's name, and am struck with the large share which Russia is shown to have had, designedly or not, in the circumstances connected, more or less, with the Ameer's alienation from England.
In all likelihood we shall soon have stronger proof of the Musco