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Urquhart. Bem.
The Turkish Question in The House of Lords.[214]

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, August 16, 1853

David Urquhart has published four letters on the Oriental question[a], purporting to expose four delusions firstly, that regarding the identity of the Oriental and Russian Churches; secondly, of there being a diplomatical contest between England and Russia; thirdly, of there being a possibility of war between England and Russia; and lastly, the delusion of union between England and France. As I intend to recur another time more fully to these letters[215], I confine myself for the present to communicating to you the following letter addressed by Bem to Reshid Pasha, a letter published for the first time by Mr. Urquhart.

"Monseigneur! Not seeing the order arrive to command my presence at Constantinople, I conceive it to be my duty to address to your Highness some considerations which appear to me to be urgent. I commence by declaring that the Turkish troops which I have seen, cavalry, infantry, and field artillery—are excellent. In bearing, instruction, and military spirit, there can be no better. The horses surpass those of any European cavalry. That which is inappreciable is the desire felt by all the officers and all the soldiers to fight against Russia. With such troops I would willingly engage to attack a Russian force double their number, and I should be victorious. And as the Ottoman Empire can march against the Russians more troops than that Power can oppose to them, it is evident that the Sultan[b] may have the satisfaction to see restored to his sceptre all the Provinces treacherously withdrawn from his ancestors by the Czars of Moscow....


The Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs[d] has sent to all the European Courts a note relative to the conduct of the American frigate St. Louis, in the Koszta affair, denouncing the American policy in general. Austria contends that she has the right to kidnap foreigners from the territory of a neutral power, while the United States have no right to commence hostilities in order to defend them.

On Friday, in the House of Lords, the Earl of Malmesbury did not inquire into the mystery of the Vienna Conference, or of the propositions forwarded by it to the Czar[e], nor did he inquire as to the present state of transactions. His curiosity was rather of a retrospective and antiquarian character. What he moved for was "simple translations" of the two manifestos addressed by the Emperor, in May and June, to his diplomatical agents, and published in the St. Petersburg Gazette[216], and also "for any answer which Her Majesty's Government might have sent to the statements therein contained." The Earl of Malmesbury is no ancient Roman. Nothing could be more repulsive to his feelings than the Roman manner of openly examining foreign Ambassadors amid the patres conscripti.

The two Russian circulars he stated himself to "have been published openly to all Europe by the Emperor of Russia [...] in his own language, and [...] have also appeared in the English and French languages in the public prints.[f]

What possible good, then, could result from translating them again from the language of the writers of the public prints into the language of the clerks of the Foreign Office?

"The French Government did answer the circulars immediately and ably.... The English reply, as we are told, was made soon after that of the French Government."

The Earl of Malmesbury was anxious to know how the indifferent prose of M. Drouyn de Lhuys might look when translated into the noble prose of the Earl of Clarendon.

He felt himself bound to remind "his noble friend opposite," that John Bull, after thirty years of peace, of commercial habits, and of industrial pursuits, had become "somewhat nervous" with regard to war, and that this nervosity had, since the month of March last, "increased from the continued and lengthened mystery which the Government have drawn over their operations and negotiations." In the interest of peace, therefore, Lord Malmesbury interpellates, but in the same interest of peace the Government keeps silence.

The first signs of aggression of Russia on European Turkey no one was more annoyed at than the noble Earl himself. He had never suspected such a thing as Russian designs upon Turkey. He would not believe in what he saw. There was above all "the honor of the Emperor of Russia." But did the aggrandizement of his Empire ever damage the honor of an Emperor? There was "his conservative policy [...] which he had emphatically proved during the revolutions of 1848." Indeed, the Autocrat did not join in the wickedness of those revolutions. Especially, in 1852, when the noble Earl held the Foreign Office

"it was impossible for any Sovereign to give more repeated assurances, or to show a more sincere interest in the maintenance of the treaties by which Europe is bound, and the maintenance of the territorial arrangements which have existed for the happiness of Europe for so many years."

Certainly, when Baron Brunnow induced the Earl of Malmesbury to sign the treaty of 8th May, 1852, with regard to the succession of the Danish throne, he caught him with repeated assurances as to the foible of his august master for existing treaties; and when he persuaded him, at the time the Earl hailed the usurpation of Bonaparte, to enter into a secret alliance with Russia, Prussia, and Austria against this same Bonaparte, he made a great show of his sincere interest in the maintenance of the existing territorial arrangements.

In order to account for the sudden and unexpected change which has overcome the Emperor of Russia, the Earl of Malmesbury then enters into a psychological analysis "of the new impressions made on the Emperor of Russia's mind." The "feelings" of the Emperor, he ventures to affirm, "were irritated at the conduct of the French Government in regard to the Holy Shrines in Palestine." Bonaparte, it is true, in order to allay those irritated feelings, dispatched M. De la Cour to Constantinople, "a man of singularly mild and conciliatory conduct." But says the Earl, "it appears that in the Emperor of Russia's mind, what had passed had not been effaced," and that there remained a residue of bitter feeling with regard to France. M. De la Cour, it must be confessed, settled the question finally and satisfactorily, before Prince Menchikoff's arrival at Constantinople. "Still the impression on the mind of the Russian Emperor remained unaltered." So strong was this impression, and the mental aberration resulting from it, "that the Emperor still suspected the Turkish Government of wishing to impose upon Russia conditions which she had no right to impose." The Earl of Malmesbury owns that it is "impossible" not only for "any human being," but even for an English Lord, to "read the human mind;" nevertheless, "he cannot help thinking that he can account for those strange impressions effected upon the Emperor of Russia's mind." The moment, he says, had arrived, which the Russian population had been taught for many generations to look forward to as the "predestinated epoch of their obtaining Constantinople, and restoring the Byzantine Empire." Now he supposes "these feelings" to have been shared by "the present Emperor." Originally, the sagacious Earl intended to explain the Emperor's obstinate suspicion, that the Turkish Government wanted to hurt him in his rights, and now he informs us that he suspected Turkey, because he thought the proper moment to have arrived of swallowing her. Arrived at this point the noble Earl had necessarily to change the course of his deductions. Instead of accounting for the new impressions on the Emperor of Russia's mind which altered the old circumstances, he accounts now for the circumstances, which restrained for some time the ambitious mind and the old traditional feeling of the Czar from "giving way to temptation." These circumstances resolve themselves in the one great fact, that at one period the Earl of Malmesbury was "in," and that at the other period he was "out."

When "in" he was the first, not only to acknowledge Boustrapa[g], but also to apologize for his perjury, his murders, and his usurpation. But, then,

"the newspapers of the day continually found fault with what they called a subservient and cringing policy to the French Emperor."

The Coalition Ministry came, and with it Sir J. Graham and Sir Charles Wood,

"condemning at public meetings the policy and character of the French Emperor, and condemning the French people, too, for the choice of this prince as their sovereign."

Then followed the Montenegro affair[217], and the Coalition

"allowing Austria to insist on the Sultan giving up any further coercion of the rebellious Montenegrins, and not even securing to the Turkish army a safe and peaceable retreat, thus causing Turkey a loss of from 1,500 to 2,000 men."[h]

At a later period the recall of Col. Rose from Constantinople, the refusal of the British Government to order simultaneously with France their fleet to Besika Bay or Smyrna all these circumstances together, produced the impression on the Emperor of Russia's mind that the people and the Government of England were hostile to the French Emperor, and that no true alliance was possible between the two countries.

Having thus traced with a delicacy worthy of a romance-writer, who analyzes the undulating feelings of his heroine, the succession of circumstances belaboring the Emperor of Russia's impression-able mind and seducing him from the path of virtue, the Earl of Malmesbury flatters himself to have broken through the prejudices and antipathies which had alienated for centuries the French from the English people by his close alliance with the oppressor of the French people, he congratulates the present Government upon having inherited from him the intimate alliance with the Western Czar, and upon having reaped where the Tories had sown. He forgets that it is exactly this intimate alliance under the auspices of which the Sultan has been sacrificed to Russia, the Coalition being backed by the French Emperor, while the French Soulouque eagerly seizes the opportunity of slipping on the shoulders of the Mussulman into a sort of Vienna Congress and becoming respectable. In the same breath in which he congratulates the Ministry on their close alliance with Bonaparte, he denounces the very policy which has been the fruit of that mésalliance.

We shall not follow the Earl in his expectorations on the importance of Turkish integrity, in his denial of her decay, in his repudiation of the Russian religious Protectorate, nor in his reproaches to the Government for not having declared the invasion of the Principalities a casus belli, and for not having answered the crossing of the Pruth by sending out their fleet. He has nothing new except the following letter, "perfectly unsurpassed for insolence," addressed by Prince Menchikoff to Reshid Pasha on the eve of his departure from Constantinople:

"Buyukdere, May 9, [21st]

"At the moment of departure from Constantinople, the undersigned Ambassador of Russia, has learnt that the Sublime Porte manifested its intention to proclaim a guaranty for the exercise of the spiritual rights vested in the clergy of the Eastern Church, which, in fact, renders doubtful the maintenance of the other privileges which that Church enjoys. Whatever may be the motive of this determination, the undersigned is under the necessity of informing his Highness, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that a declaration or any other act, which, although it may preserve the integrity of the purely spiritual rights of the orthodox Eastern Church, tends to invalidate the other rights, privileges and immunities accorded to her religion and clergy, from the most ancient times, and which they enjoy at the present moment, will be considered by the Imperial Cabinet as an act of hostility to Russia and to her religion.

"The undersigned begs, &c.


The Earl of Malmesbury "could hardly believe that the Russian Emperor countenanced the conduct of Prince Menchikoff, or the manner in which he acted," a doubt confirmed by Nesselrode's notes following Menchikoff's departure, and the Russian army following Nesselrode' notes.

The "silent" Clarendon, "painful as it was to him," was obliged "to give the same answer over and over again," viz.: to give no answer at all. He felt it "his public duty not to say a word" which he had not already said, of "not laying any communication before them, and of not producing any separate dispatch." The noble Earl accordingly gave not one iota of information which we did not know before. His principal aim was to establish that, during the whole time that the Austrian and Russian Cabinets were making their encroachments, he was in "constant communication" with them. Thus he was in constant communication with the Austrian Government when it sent Prince Leiningen to Constantinople and its troops to the frontier, "because," at least this, says the innocent Clarendon, was the "reason given" "because it apprehended an outbreak of its own subjects on the frontier." After the Sultan had yielded to Austria, by withdrawing his force, the energetic Clarendon "was again in communication with Austria, in order to insure the full execution of the treaty."

"I believe," continues the credulous Lord, "it was carried out, for the Austrian Government assured us that such was the case."

Very good, my Lord! As to the entente cordiale with France, it had ever existed since 1815! As to the part the French and English Governments took "with respect to the sending of their respective fleets," there "was not a shade of difference." Bonaparte ordered his fleet to proceed to Salamis,

"believing that danger was imminent," and, "although he" (Clarendon) "told him the danger was not so imminent, and that for the moment it was not necessary for the French fleet to leave the French ports," he ordered the French fleet to leave them; but this circumstance did not make the slightest difference because it was much more handy and more advantageous to have one fleet at Salamis and the other at Malta, than to have one at Malta and the other at Toulon."

Lord Clarendon further states that throughout the insolent pressure of Prince Menchikoff on the Porte

"it was a matter of satisfaction that the fleet was not ordered out because no one could say that the Turkish Government acted under their dictation."

After what has passed, it is indeed probable, that, had the fleet then been ordered out, the Sultan would have been forced to draw in. As to Menchikoff's "valedictory letter," Clarendon owned it to be correct, "but such language in diplomatic negotiations with governments was, fortunately, rare, and he hoped would long remain so." As to the invasion of the Principalities, the English and French Governments

"advised the Sultan to waive his undoubted right of treating the occupation of the Principalities as a casus belli."

As to the negotiations yet pending, all he would say was that,

"an official communication had been received this morning from Sir Hamilton Seymour, that the propositions agreed upon by the Ambassadors at Vienna, if slightly modified, would be received at St. Petersburg."

As to the terms of the settlement, he would rather die than let them slip out.

The noble Lord was responded to by Lord Beaumont, the Earl of Hardwicke, the Marquis of Clanricarde, and the Earl of Ellenborough. There was not one single voice to felicitate Her Majesty's Government on the course pursued in these negotiations. There were very great apprehensions on all sides that the ministerial policy had been the wrong way; that they had acted as mediators in behalf of Russia, instead of as defenders of Turkey, and that an early display of firmness on the part of England and France, would have placed them in a better position than that which they now hold. The old obstinate Aberdeen answered them, that "it was easy to speculate on what would have been the case, after the event had occurred; to say what might have been the case, had they followed a different course." However, his most startling and important statement was the following:

"Their Lordships must be aware that they were not bound by any treaty. He denied that this country was bound by the stipulations of any treaty to take part in any hostilities in support of the Turkish Empire."

The Emperor of Russia, when England and France first showed their disposition to meddle with the pending Turkish affair, utterly repudiated the binding force of the treaty of 1841 upon his own dealings with the Porte, and the right of interposition resulting therefrom on the part of the Western Cabinets. At the same time he insisted upon the exclusion of the ships of war of the other Powers from the Dardanelles, in virtue of the same treaty of 1841. Now, Lord Aberdeen, in open and solemn assembly of Parliament, endorses this arrogant interpretation of a treaty which is only respected by the Autocrat when it excludes Great Britain from the Euxine.[i]

Written on August 16, 1853
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3862
and the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 863, September 2, 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] D. Urquhart, "What Means Protection of the Greek Church", "Time in Diplomacy.—The European Recognition", "The Relative Power of Russia and Great Britain", "War between England and France", The Morning Advertiser, August 11, 12, 15, 16, 1853.—Ed.

[b] Abdul Mejid.—Ed.

[c] The Morning Advertiser, August 15, 1853.—Ed.

[d] K. Buol-Schauenstein.—Ed.

[e] Nicholas I.—Ed.

[f] Here and below passages from Malmesbury's speech and from those of other speakers in the House of Lords on August 12, 1853, are quoted from The Times, No. 21506, August 13, 1853.—Ed.

[g] A nickname of Louis Bonaparte, composed from the first syllables of the towns Boulogne and Strasbourg, where Bonapartist putsches were organised in 1836 and 1840, and of Paris, where a coup d'état was staged on December 2, 1851.—Ed.

[h] Here Marx quotes not from Malmesbury's speech, as below and above, hut from Clarendon's speech in the House of Lords on August 12, 1853.—Ed.

[i] Ancient name of the Black Sea.—Ed.

[214] This article was published under the same title in The Eastern Question.

[215] This article has not been found.

[216] A reference to Nesselrode's circular letters of June 11 and July 2, 1853 (see Notes 136 ↓ and 165 ↓).

[136] A reference to Nesselrode's Note (a circular letter of June 11, 1853) to Russian diplomats abroad. The Note criticised the Porte's actions and gave grounds for presenting a new ultimatum to Turkey demanding that the Russian Tsar be recognised as the protector of the Christian subjects of the Sultan and threatening to resort to "decisive measures" if these demands were rejected. This ultimatum, which Marx calls below an "ultimatissimum", was presented to the Porte on June 16, 1853.

[165] A reference to Nesselrode's circular letter to Russian diplomats abroad of July 2, 1853. (Below Marx cites the date as June 20, 1853, according to the old style accepted in Russia.) The text of it was published in The Times, No. 21418, July 12, 1853. Written in the spirit of the previous Note of June 11, 1853 (see Note 136 ↑), it supported the Tsarist Government's demands on Turkey and criticised the policy of the Western powers. In referring to the French Minister's reply to the Note, Marx made a slight error, which was due to the lack of clarity in the text of the telegram from Paris published in The Morning Post. He quoted from Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to Nesselrode's first Note of June 11, 1853, the text of which together with the text of the French Government's reply of June 25, 1853 was published in the official newspaper Le Moniteur universel, No. 195, on July 14, 1853. Nesselrode's Note of July 2 and Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to it of July 15 were published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 198 for July 17, 1853, after Marx had written his article. In the second Note, the French Government likewise expressed its disapproval of the Tsar's position in the Eastern question and professed to stand for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

[217] In 1852 a conflict arose between Turkey and Montenegro, which demanded complete independence of the Sultan, whose vassal it remained nominally. The Porte rejected Russia's mediation on this issue, and at the beginning of 1853 the Turkish army under the command of Omer Pasha invaded Montenegro. The Austrian Government feared that if Russia entered the war to defend the Montenegrins that would cause unrest in the Slav regions of the Habsburg Empire, so it hastily dispatched Count Leiningen on a special mission to Constantinople (Marx mentions this mission below) to demand the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Montenegro and the restoration of the status quo. The concentration of Austrian troops on the Montenegrin border compelled the Porte to accept these demands.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.257-264), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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