« AnteriorContinuar »
willing or even would have endured that any Pro- CHAP, tectorate over the Greek Church in Turkey should •—*-—> be ceded to Russia ;* and no one versed in the spirit of English diplomacy, or having a just conception of Lord Stratford's nature, will be able to accept the belief that the Queen's Ambassador intended to overreach his antagonist by any misleading contrivance.
But whatever may have been the clue which led him into the wrong path, Prince Mentschikoff failed to see the danger in which he would place the success of his negotiation if he consented to let the question of the Holy Places be treated separately; and the angry despatches which*now came in from St Petersburgt did not tend to divert him from his error. On the contrary, they tended to place him in hostility with France more distinctly than before; and since the question of the Holy Places was the one in which France and Russia were face to face, the Czar's Ambassador was not perhaps unwilling to enter upon a course which would place him for the time in distinct antagonism with France, and with France alone. He agreed to allow the question of the Holy Places to be treated first and apart from his other demands.
It must be acknowledged that, so far as concerned the question of the Holy Places, the demands made by Russia were moderate. Notwithstanding all the heat of his sectarian zeal, the Emperor Nicholas had seen that to endeavour to enforce a withdrawal of the privileges which had been granted with public solemnity to the Latin Church would be to outrage Catholic Europe ; and it may be believed, too, that his religious feeling made him unwilling to exclude the people of other creeds from those Holy Sites which, according to the teaching of his own Church, it was good for Christians to embrace. But if the demands of the Russian Emperor in regard to the Holy Places were fair and moderate, he was resolved to be peremptory in enforcing them. And it seemed to him that in this matter he could not fail to have the ascendant, for his forces were near at hand. Also he had good right to suppose that France would be isolated, for it was not to be believed that England or any other Power would take a part or even acknowledge the slightest interest in a question between two sorts of monks.
* See Lord Stratford's Despatches, ibid. p. 127 et seq. to 151. t 13th April.
VOL. I. K
On the other hand, the violent language of M. de Lavalette, his threats, the persistence of the French Government, and the advance of the Toulon fleet to the Bay of Salamis,—all these signs seemed to exclude the expectation that the French Government would easily give way. Here was an error. Zealous himself, the Russian Ambassador imagined a zeal in the Government and the Church to which he was opposing himself, and fancied that he saw in the French Ambassador's 'resistance a proof of 'the encroaching spirit of that Church which pro'claims itself universal, and looked for its real cause 'in the unceasing desire of the same Church to ex'tend the sphere of its action.' * He failed to see C H A P, that his French antagonist might suddenly smile and •—.—throw off the cause of the Latin Church, and so rob the Czar of the signal triumph on which he was reckoning by the process of mere concession.
But whilst, to the common judgment of men who watched this haughty Embassy, it seemed that the Czar, in all the pride of strength and firm purpose, was descending on his prey, he was fulfilling the utmost hope of the patient enemy in the West, who had long pursued him with a stealthy joy, and was now keenly marking him down.
* 'Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 139.
Meantime the course of events affecting the question of the Holy Places had shifted the grounds of disstate of pUf;e . for the solemn act performed at Bethlehem in pute re- the foregoing December had converted the claims of
the Holy the Latins into established privileges; and the Emperor Nicholas, notwithstanding his religious excitement, had still enough wisdom to see that, although he might have been able to prevent this result by a violent use of his power at an earlier period, he could not now undo what was done. Without outraging Catholic Europe, and even, it may be believed, his own sense of religious propriety, he could not now wrench the key of the Bethlehem Church from the hands of the Latin monks, nor tear down the silver star from the Holy Stable of the Nativity. Therefore all that Prince Mentschikoff demanded in regard to the key and the star was a declaration by the Turkish Government that the delivery of the key implied no ownership over the principal altar of the Church; that no change should be made in the system of the religious ceremonies or the hours of service; that the guardianship of the Great Gate should always be intrusted to a Greek priest; CHAP, and, finally, that the silver star should be deemed -—^—' to be a gift coming from the mere generosity of the Sultan, and conferring no sort of new rights* In regard to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin at Gethsemane, Prince Mentschikoff required that the Greeks should have precedence at her tomb. He also insisted that the gardens of the Church of Bethlehem should remain in the joint guardianship of the Greeks and the Latins; and in demanding that some buildings which overlooked the terraces of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre should be pulled down, he required that the site of these buildings should never become the property of any 'nation,' but be walled off and kept apart as neutral ground. This last demand is curious. The Russian Government felt that even at Jerusalem it would be well to set apart one small shred of ground, and keep it free from the strife of the Churches.
But the last of Prince Mentschikoff's demands in regard to the Holy Places was the one most hard to solve. It has been said that in comparing the ways of men in the East with the ways of men in the West, there are found many subjects on which their views are not merely different, but opposite. One of these is the business of repairing churches. Whilst the English Churchmen were contending that they ought not to be laden with the whole burthen of keeping their sacred buildings in repair, the Christians in Palestine were willing to set the world in flames
* 'Eastern Papers,' part i. p. 129.