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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 132.djvu/9

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From The Fortnightly Review.



Nearly all public writers and speakers in England, and indeed in Germany and the Austrian monarchy also, seem to take it for granted, that the ruling and permanent motive of Russian policy is the desire for territorial aggrandizement. Most of them further assume that this policy, so dangerous to her neighbors, and supposed to be so specially dangerous to English power in the East, can only be resisted by supporting the Turkish empire, as the state most directly threatened and least able to sustain an attack. Having been led, in the course of a journey undertaken this autumn through Russia and the Black Sea countries, to question both these assumptions, I desire to examine them, and that with reference rather to the course of Russian history generally, and to the character of the Turkish administrative system, than to the events of these last few weeks or months. My object is not so much to establish any positive conclusions as to show the unsoundness of the premises on which are based many of the doctrines most frequently and confidently put forward in our recent discussions on these topics; and this, I venture to hope, may be done without any desire or tendency to serve party interests. Properly understood, the question of our action in the East is altogether apart from English party politics, and a man's judgment of it ought to be quite unaffected by his view of our subjects of difference at home.

Let me say at starting that I am in no sense an advocate or even an apologist of Russia. Like most English Liberals, I had been accustomed to regard her, ever since the fatal day of Vilagos when she crushed the independence of Hungary, as the arch-foe of political progress, the incarnation of political evil. Even now, her further advance over the provinces of the Turkish empire would, as it seems to me, be a great misfortune for those provinces, for herself, for the world. But the Russia of 1876 is not the Russia of 1849. Just as we have come to look differently upon Austria since her acceptance of constitutionalism after 1866, and upon Prince Bismarck since he shook himself loose from the feudal party in Prussia, so we must learn to recognize the changes that have passed in Russia since the accession of Alexander II., changes more rapid than any other European country has undergone in an equally short space. And in any case we ought surely to unlearn the habit, not more unfair than it is unwise and misleading, of putting, as a matter of course, the worst construction upon every word or act of Russia. I do not therefore attempt, nor desire, to argue that the policy of the Russian government has been, or is now, a disinterested policy. I do not deny, that there is a party, a strong party, which hankers after further conquests, and dreams of some day reaching the Bosphorus. But what I hope to show is, firstly, that the recent history of Russia affords far less evidence of a passion for territorial aggrandizement than is commonly believed here; secondly, that such aggrandizement would be distinctly injurious to her; thirdly, that her present action is sufficiently explainable without the hypothesis, so generally accepted in England, that her aim is the seizure of European Turkey; and fourthly, that the actual condition of both Asiatic and European Turkey clearly shows that the worst possible way of checking Russia is to try to maintain the status quo there, to allow the Porte to go on expecting support from us, and to teach the subject Christian populations that it is to the czar, and to the czar alone, that they have to look for deliverance from intolerable misgovernment.

It is natural that any one who sees on the map the Muscovy of the sixteenth century, as it was under the czar Ivan the Terrible, and compares it with the Russian empire of to-day, should be astonished at the vast and rapid territorial growth of this state, a growth paralleled only by that of Roman and English dominion.

The alarm, however, which this comparison causes ought to disappear when it is understood how these vast territories have been acquired. By far the larger part have not been conquered at all, but simply colonized or occupied. Not only Siberia but the whole north-east of European Russia and a great portion of the south-east