The Story of the Life of Lord Palmerston by Karl Marx


There is no such word in the Russian vocabulary as "honour." As to the thing itself, it is considered to be a French delusion.

"Schto takoe honneur? Eto Fransusski chimere," is a Russian proverb. For the invention of Russian honour the world is exclusively indebted to my Lord Palmerston, who, during a quarter of a century, used at every critical moment to pledge himself in the most emphatic manner, for the “ honour” of the Czar. He did so at the close of the session of 1853, as at the close of the session of 1833.

Now, it happens that the noble lord, while he expressed “ his most implicit confidence in the honour and good faith” of the Czar, had just got into possession of documents, concealed from the rest of the world, and leaving no doubt, if any existed, about the nature of Russian honour and good faith. He had not even to scratch the Muscovite in order to find the Tartar. He had found the Tartar in his naked hideousness. He found himself possessed of the self-confessions of the leading Russian ministers and diplomatists, throwing off their cloaks, opening out their most secret thoughts, unfolding, without constraint, their plans of conquest and subjugation, scornfully railing at the imbecile credulity of European courts and ministers, mocking the Villeles, the Metternichs, the Aberdeens, the Cannings, and the Wellingtons; and devising in common, with the savage cynicism of the barbarian, mitigated by the cruel irony of the courtier, how to sow distrust against England at Paris, and against Austria at London, and against London at Vienna, how to set them all by the ears, and how to make all of them the mere tools of Russia.

At the time of the insurrection in Warsaw, the vice-royal archives kept in the palace of Prince Constantine, and containing the secret correspondence of Russian ministers and ambassadors from the beginning of this century down to 1830, fell into the hands of the victorious Poles. Polish refugees brought these papers over first to France, and, at a later period, Count Zamoyski, the nephew of Prince Czartoryski, placed them in the hands of Lord Palmerston, who buried them in Christian oblivion. With these papers in his pocket, the noble viscount was the more eager to proclaim in the British Senate and to the world, “ his most implicit confidence in the honour and good faith of the Emperor of Russia.”

It was not the fault of the noble viscount, that those startling papers were at length published at the end of 1835, through the famousPortfolio. King William IV, whatsoever he was in other respects, was a most decided enemy of Russia. His private secretary, Sir Herbert Taylor, was intimately connected with David Urquhart,[33] introducing this gentleman to the King himself, and from that moment Royalty was conspiring with these two friends against the policy of the “truly English” minister.

“ William IV. ordered the above-mentioned papers to be given up by the noble lord. They were given up and examined at the time at Windsor Castle, and it was found desirable to print and publish them. In spite of the great opposition of the noble lord, the King compelled him to lend the authority of the Foreign Office to their publication, so that the editor who took the charge of revising them for the press, published not a single word which had not the signature or initials attached. I, myself, have seen the noble lord’s initial attached to one of these documents, although the noble lord has denied these facts. Lord Palmerston was compelled to place the documents in the hands of Mr. Urquhart for publication. Mr. Urquhart was the real editor of the Portfolio.” —(Mr, Anstey, House of Commons, February 23, 1848.)

After the death of the King, Lord Palmerston refused to pay the printer of the Portfolio, disclaimed publicly and solemnly all connection on the part of the Foreign Office with it, and induced, in what manner is not known, Mr. Backhouse, his under-secretary, to set his name to these denials. We read in The Times of January 30, 1839:

“ It is not for us to understand how Lord Palmerston may feel, but we are sure there is no misapprehending how any other person in the station of a gentleman, and in the position of a minister, would feel after the notoriety given to the correspondence between Mr. Urquhart, whom Lord Palmerston dismissed from office, and Mr. Backhouse, whom the noble viscount has retained in office, by The Times of yesterday. There never was a fact apparently better established through this correspondence than that the series of official documents contained in the well-known publication called the Portfolio, were printed and circulated by Lord Palmerston's authority, and that his lordship is responsible for the publication of them, both as a statesman to the political world here and abroad, and as an employer of the printers and publishers, for the pecuniary charge accompanying it.”

In consequence of her financial distress, resulting from the exhaustion of the treasury by the unfortunate war of 1828-29, and the debt to Russia stipulated by the Treaty of Adrianople, Turkey found herself compelled to extend that obnoxious system of monopolies, by which the sale of almost all articles was granted only to those who had paid Government licenses. Thus a few usurers were enabled to seize upon the entire commerce of the country. Mr. Urquhart proposed to King William IV a commercial treaty to be concluded with the Sultan, which treaty, while guaranteeing great advantages to British commerce, intended at the same time to develop the productive resources of Turkey, to restore her exchequer to health, and thus to emancipate her from the Russian yoke. The curious history of this treaty cannot be better related than in the words of Mr. Anstey:

“The whole of the contest between Lord Palmerston on the one hand, and Mr. Urquhart on the other, was directed to this treaty of commerce. On the 3rd of October, 1835, Mr Urquhart obtained his commission as Secretary of Legation at Constantinople, given him for the one purpose of securing the adoption there of the Turkish commercial treaty. He delayed his departure, however, till June or July, 1836. Lord Palmerston pressed him to go. The applications to him urging his departure were numerous, but his answer invariably was, ‘I will not go until I have this commercial treaty settled with the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office: and then I will accompany it and procure its acceptance at the Porte.’ ... Finally, Lord Palmerston gave his approbation to the treaty, and it was forwarded to Lord Ponsonby, the Ambassador at Constantinople. [In the meantime the latter had been instructed by Lord Palmerston to take the negotiations entirely out of the hands of Mr. Urquhart into his own, contrary to the engagement entered into with Mr. Urquhart.] As soon as the removal of Mr. Urquhart from Constantinople had been effected through the intrigues of the noble lord, the treaty was immediately thrown overboard. Two years later the noble lord resumed it, giving Mr. Urquhart, before Parliament, the compliment of being the author of it, and disclaiming for himself all merits in it. But the noble lord had destroyed the treaty, falsified it in every part, and converted it to the ruin of commerce. The original treaty of Mr. Urquhart placed the subjects of Great Britain in Turkey upon the footing of the most favoured nation, viz. the Russians. As altered by Lord Palmerston, it placed the subjects of Great Britain upon the footing of the taxed and oppressed subjects of the Porte. Mr. Urquhart’s treaty stipulated for the removal of all transit duties, monopolies, taxes, and duties of whatever character, other than those stipulated by the treaty itself. As falsified by Lord Falmerston, it contained a clause, declaring the perfect right of the Sublime Porte to impose whatever regulations and restrictions it pleased, with regard to commerce. Mr Urquhart’s treaty left exportation subject only to the old duty of three shillings; that of the noble lord raised the duty from three shillings to five shillings. Mr. Urquhart’s treaty stipulated for an ad valorem duty in this manner, that if any article of commerce was so exclusively the production of Turkey as to insure it a ready sale at the prices usually received under the monopoly in foreign ports, then the export duty, to be assessed by two commissioners appointed on the part of England and Turkey, might be a high one, so as to be remunerative and productive of revenue, but that, in the case of commodities produced elsewhere than in Turkey, and not being of sufficient value in foreign ports to bear a high duty, a lower duty should be assessed. Lord Palmerston’s treaty stipulated a fixed duty of twelve shillings ad valorem upon every article, whether it would bear the duty or not. The original treaty extended the benefit of free trade to Turkish ships and produce; the substituted treaty contained no stipulation whatever on the subject.... I charge these falsifications, I charge also the concealment of them, upon the noble lord, and further—I charge the noble lord with having falsely stated to the House that his treaty was that which had been arranged by Mr. Urquhart.“ —(Mr, Anstey, House of Commons, February 23, 1848.)

So favourable to Russia, and so obnoxious to Great Britain, was the treaty as altered by the noble lord, that some English merchants in the Levant resolved to trade henceforth under the protection of Russian firms, and others, as Mr. Urquhart states, were only prevented from doing so by a sort of national pride.

With regard to the secret relations between the noble lord and William IV, Mr. Anstey stated to the House:

“The King forced the question of the process of Russian encroachment in Turkey upon the attention of the noble lord.... I can prove that the noble lord was obliged to take the direction in this matter from the late King’s private secretary, and that his existence in office depended upon his compliance with the wishes of the monarch. ... The noble lord did, on one or two occasions, as far as he dared, resist, but his resistance was invariably followed by abject expressions of contrition and compliance. I will not take upon myself to assert that on one occasion the noble lord was actually out of office for a day or two, but I am able to say that the noble lord was in danger of a most unceremonious expulsion from office on that occasion. I refer to the discovery which the late King had made, that the noble lord consulted the feelings of the Russian Government as to the choice of an English Ambassador at the Court of St. Petersburg, and that Sir Stratford Canning, originally destined for the embassy, was set aside to make room for the late Earl of Durham, an ambassador more agreeable to the Czar.”—(House of Commons, February 23, 1853)

It is one of the most astonishing facts that, while the King was vainly struggling against the Russian policy of the noble lord, the noble lord and his Whig allies succeeded in keeping alive the public suspicion that the King—who was known as a Tory—was paralysing the anti-Russian efforts of the “truly English” Minister. The pretended Tory predilection of the monarch for the despotic principles of the Russian Court, was, of course, made to explain the otherwise inexplicable policy of Lord Palmerston. The Whig oligarchs smiled mysteriously when Mr. H. L. Bulwer informed the House, that “no longer ago than last Christmas Count Apponyi, the Austrian Ambassador at Paris, stated, in speaking of the affairs of the East, that this Court had a greater apprehension of French principles than of Russian ambition.”—(House of Commons, July 11, 1833)

They smiled again, when Mr. T. Attwood interrogated the noble lord: “what reception Count Orloff, having been sent over to England, after the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, had met with at his Majesty's Court?”—(House of Commons, August 28, 1833)

The papers entrusted by the dying King and his secretary, the late Sir Herbert Taylor, to Mr. Urquhart, “for the purpose of vindicating, upon the fitting opportunity, the memory of William IV,” will, when published, throw a new light upon the past career of the noble lord and the Whig oligarchy, of which the public generally know little more than the history of their pretensions, their phrases, and their so-called principles—in a word, the theatrical and fictitious part—the mask.

This is a fitting occasion to give his due to Mr. David Urquhart, the indefatigable antagonist for twenty years of Lord Palmerston, to whom he proved a real adversary—one not to be intimidated into silence, bribed into connivance, charmed into suitorship, while, what with cajoleries, what with seductions, Alcine Palmerston contrived to change all other foes into fools. We have just heard the fierce denunciation of his lordship by Mr. Anstey:

“A circumstance most significant is that the accused minister sought the member, viz. Mr. Anstey, and was content to accept his co-operation and private friendship without the forms of recantation or apology. Mr. Anstey's recent legal appointment by the present Government speaks for itself.”—(D. Urquhart’s Progress of Russia.)

On February 23, 1848, the same Mr. Anstey had compared the noble viscount to “the infamous Marquis of Carmarthen, Secretary of State to William III, whom, during his visit to his Court, the Czar, Peter I, found means to corrupt to his interests with the gold of British merchants.”—(House of Commons, February 23, 1848.)

Who defended Lord Palmerston on that occasion against the accusations of Mr. Anstey? Mr. Sheil; the same Mr. Sheil who had, on the conclusion of the Treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, in 1833, acted the same part of accuser against his lordship as Mr. Anstey in 1848. Mr. Roebuck, once his strong anatagonist, procured him the vote of confidence in 1850. Sir Stratford Canning, having denounced during a decennium, the noble lord's connivance with the Czar, was content to be got rid of as ambassador to Constantinople. The noble lord's own dear Dudley Stuart was intrigued out of Parliament for some years, for having opposed the noble lord. When returned back to it, he had become the âme damnée [french: a willing tool] of the “truly English” Minister. Kossuth,[34] who might have known from the Blue Books that Hungary had been betrayed by the noble viscount, called him “the dear friend of his bosom,” when landing at Southampton.