Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/436

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bouring school at the early age of four, and two years later to Hackney, where he remembered the celebration of Lord Howe's victory over the French in 1794. In the summer of this year he went to Eton. The hardships of his life at Hackney had furnished him with unhappy recollections; and the change to Eton, though fagging was still a trial to him, proved very welcome. His high spirits and personal charm made him a favourite with masters and boys, and he devoted his time more to games and exercises than to work, until an illness sobered him, and the sympathetic tutorship of Sumner (afterwards archbishop of Canterbury) gave him a new interest in his studies. Eton boys were always welcome at Windsor and Frogmore, and Canning had his share of the royal notice. George III once asked him in what form he was, and, being told the sixth, said, ‘A much greater man than I can ever make you.’ At Windsor he saw the great people of the state—Addington and Pitt and their colleagues; and they took him to hear debates in the House of Commons. He saw Nelson, who came to Eton ‘with Lady Hamilton under his arm, and made amends for that weakness by obtaining a holiday for the school.’ At home, in the vacations, he saw much of his cousin George, and of Sheridan, who had taken a house near Wanstead after the death of his first wife. At Eton he joined Richard Wellesley, Rennell, and Gally Knight in publishing a collection of essays, ‘The Miniature,’ which went to a second edition. In due course he became captain of the school, and in 1805 was elected a scholar of King's College, Cambridge. His university career was uneventful; but, without being precisely studious, he contrived to make himself master of most of the great classical authors, and throughout his life he retained an excellent memory of Virgil and other favourite poets. He lived in Walpole's rooms, saw Porson and Simeon, and joined a debating society with Pollock and Blomfield. ‘The life was one of pleasant monotony, in which an easy amount of study was mingled with healthy exercise and social enjoyments suited to the character of the place and its youthful occupants. I had friends, or at least acquaintances, in other colleges besides my own; but I had nothing to do with horns, carriages, or boats’ (MS. Memoirs). He was soon appointed to a diplomatic post, and his degrees were eventually granted by decree of the senate in virtue of his absence ‘on the king's service.’

In 1807 George Canning became foreign secretary, and appointed his cousin to the post of précis writer at the foreign office. The work did not seriously interfere with his Cambridge terms, but it was an office of confidence. His duties kept him constantly in intimate relations with his cousin, in whose house in Downing Street he lived, and at the foot of whose table he sat when the foreign minister entertained the diplomatic circle with a state dinner. When the mission was going to Copenhagen, with a view to healing the breach with the Danes, Stratford Canning was appointed the second of the two secretaries who accompanied Mr. Merry on this delicate and futile business (October 1807). An important mission to Turkey was in contemplation when he returned. The alliance with Russia against France had brought us into collision with the Porte in support of our Russian ally, and some acts of hostility had occurred. When Napoleon forced the czar to abandon his English connection, the necessity for a formal rupture with our old ally disappeared, and there was a desire on both sides, cautiously expressed, to mend the breach. Sir Robert (then Mr.) Adair was accordingly despatched, in June 1808, to negotiate a treaty of peace, and Canning went with him as first secretary. The task was a delicate one; for the Turks, as usual, believed that something was to be gained by delay. After two months' endurance of these procrastinations, Adair sent in his ultimatum, and ordered his man-of-war to be got ready for sea. The sight of loosened sails and anchor weighed finished the matter, and the treaty of peace was signed on 5 Jan. 1809, at the very moment when the French embassy at Constantinople was apprised of the supposed failure of the negotiations.

For a year and a half from this date Canning performed the duties of first secretary at Constantinople. The business of the ambassador was to induce Turkey to prefer the influence of England to that of France, at a time when France meant nearly all Europe, and England was her only overt antagonist. Adair did indeed contrive to keep the Porte in a friendly disposition towards England, and to check in some measure the French chargé d'affaires; but there was little stirring at the embassy, and Canning had leisure to amuse himself with riding, and with the scanty society of the place. ‘The diplomatic circle,’ he writes, ‘was at zero. Owing to various causes, entirely political, the only house of that class at which we could pass the evening was the residence of the Swedish mission. The intelligent and educated traveller was a rare bird, and at best a bird of passage. What remained was to be sought out with very limited success among the resident merchants and mongrel families of Pera and Buyukdery, who sup-