22 MARCH 1935, Page 26

The Problem of the 'Seventies

Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Eastern Question. By B. W. Seton-Watson. (Macmillan. 21s.) NEW light has been thrown since the War' upon the tangled threads of diplomacy in the Eastern Question, as it shaped itself in the 'seventies of last century before, during, and after the Russo-Turkish War. The late Mr. Buckle's Life of Disraeli and Lady Gwendolen Cecil's Life of Lord Salisbury, with Sir Arthur Hardinge's Life of Lord Carnarvon, have revealed the workings of opinion inside the British Govern- ment ; and from the German angle much is illuminated by the Grosse Politik. The justifications; - which Dr. Seton- Watson has for piling a large book on top of these, are two. One is the need for bringing their scattered data together in a monograph displaying the combined effect. The other is to add some important new data—the Russian data.

These last are derived from the archives of the former Russian Embassy in London, now in charge of Mr. Sablir e, its last Chargé d'Affaires. They are the correspondence which passed between Count Peter Shuvalov, Russian Ambas- sador in London, and the heads of his Government, i.e., the Tsar Alexander II and Prince Gortchakov, the Russian Chancellor. Shuvalov was an Ambassador of exceptional importance ; as may be judged from the fact that at the Berlin Congress the Tsar had wished him to be the principal delegate, and only reluctantly yielded to Gortchakov's insistence. The correspondence, hitherto unavailable, was printed some while ago by Dr. Seton-Watson himself in the Slavonic Review ; but might easily be overlooked there by any but specialists in Slavonic studies, and is here first brought strongly to the notice of the general historian. It is of great interest and reveals some minor episodes before unknown ; but I am not sure that it need modify any main verdicts.

• It shows the Tsar and his two chief diplomatic advisers as anything but bellicose, whether before or after their war with Turkey. But that everyone supposed before ; the impulse to war came in Russia from the Slavophils ; and the Tsar and Chancellor, who knew better than they the military and financial weakness of the Empire, saw the prospect with very different eyes. Among the minor episodes brought to light are two direct overtures made by Disraeli (or Lord Beaconsfield, as he was on the second occasion) on June 9th, 1876, and February 20th, 1877, to Russia through Shuvalov. Dr. Seton-Watson views them with some repro- bation as convicting Disraeli of opportunism. But was it not the kind of opportunism, of which a statesman does well to be guilty ? A direct Anglo-Russian deal might on either occasion have rendered the world great service. To attempt one implied no fundamental breach with Tureophilism ; and it is significant that on the first occasion the approach was made at the house of the Turcophile Lord Rothschild.

Besides the sources already mentioned, Dr. Seton-Watson has consulted the unpublished Gladstone, Granville, and Layard Papers, certain papers in the Foreign Office, and the Austrian archives. His monograph is thus more fully documented in detail than any previous account ; and as he has no pages in which to set it all out, he has been able to do ample justice to his fmds. The book is a mine, in which anyone who digs will be rewarded ; and in its gallery of Portraits—Disraeli, Salisbury, Derby, Gladstone, Bismarck, Andrassy, Shuvalov, Gortchakov, Elliot, Layard, Ignatyev, and others—there are very many which do add something to pre-existing knowledge. Among the sources few yield more human interest than some letters of Layard's ; in his accounts of Abdul Harald, for instance, we touch the limit of history's irony. Throughout, it is impossible not to admire our author's guidance, as he moves through the maze of his vast material, handling it all with familiarity and mastery.

• Dr. Seton-Watson is, of course, deeply committed to policies of national emancipation in Eastern Europe ; and it would be surprising if he did not show some preference for Gladstone, who divined the triumph of such policies, over Disraeli, who did not. Yet while he pays glowing tribute to the prophetic quality of Gladstone's larger vision as evidenced at Midlothian, he recognizes also the • prophet's practical incapacity in foreign affairs and the sad anti-climax, which the foreign policy of his 1880-85 Government forms, to the

noble language which had carried him into power. While conversely concerned to show that Disraeli had neither deep knowledge nor long views about foreign, or at any rate Near Eastern affairs, he perhaps scarcely does full justice to the other converse—his amazing practical capacity for keeping his end up. Lord SalisburY, speaking in May, 1880, to Arthur Balfour, said of him (it is Balfour's report) that :

" he was exceedingly short-sighted, though very clear-sighted- He neither could, nor would, look far ahead, or attempt to balance remote possibilities ; though he rapidly detected the difficulties of the immediate situation, and found the easiest, if not the best, solution for them."

No new lights on Dizzy ever get us beyond that antithesis. The only question is how much importance we attach to the second half of it. I think the evidence is that the best con- temporary temporary judges (Bismarck, for instance) attached more than Dr. Seton-Watson does. As for Salisbury himself, he doe& not entirely gain by the intense light here thrown on him. No doubt he had an infinitely better detailed knowledge of the Question than either Disraeli or Gladstone, and he deserves great credit for what Dr. Seton-Watson calls his " synthesis" of their contradictions. But it is clear that his knack of need-

lessly alienating people, whom it was important that he should not alienate, was not exercised only on his own countrymen. Too often he left an impression of gaucherie, or gave actual offence. One knows elsewhere, how this became an element in our relations with Germany ; it is interesting to see it recorded here even by a man like Shuvalov,-who got over it and did a historic deal with him. Layard's account (quoted here from the Layard Papers) was written as by an avowed opponent. Nevertheless, his criticism of Salisbury's diplomatic technique rather noticeably bears out Shuvalov's.

• R. C. K. Essen.