Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 08.djvu/444

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

staunch advocate of ‘constitutional principles.’ As a speaker, moreover, he had to contend with a nervousness which generally kept him silent. No man possessed more completely the power of impressive speech when a message had to be delivered to a sovereign or a statesman; none knew better how to combine grace of diction with accuracy, lucidity, and completeness of expression; but he had not the peculiar qualities necessary for House of Commons' success.

Canning was invited (1830) by the government to draw up the statement of our claims in the American boundary question to be submitted to the arbitration of the king of the Netherlands; his statement was approved, and the claims awarded. In the following year it was arranged that he should proceed to Constantinople on a special mission to obtain an extended frontier for Greece, the boundary having been drawn (in deference to Aberdeen's views, and against the representations of the Poros commission) on narrower lines than were practically efficient. Sir Robert Gordon, the ambassador at the Porte, naturally opposed the interference of a special envoy, and it shows Palmerston's appreciation of Canning's unique influence with the Turks, that in spite of all opposition, and his own decided repugnance to a return to the Levant, he was sent out in November 1831. The manner in which he conducted this one-sided negotiation was beyond praise. By playing upon the fears of the Porte with reference to the growing power of Mohammed Aly, and establishing secret communications with the sultan himself, he obtained the consent of the Porte to the new frontier having its termini on the gulfs of Volo and Arta, and brought his French and Russian colleagues to accept his settlement.

It is right to state that, while Palmerston heartily approved Canning's conduct of this mission, he did not at any time consult him, after his return in September 1832, upon the various arrangements then pending. He foresaw the failure of the Greek constitution with Otho and the triple regency, but had no voice in the matter. Nor was his advice solicited in the troublesome question of the relations between the Porte and Mohammed Aly. He had cautiously encouraged Mahmud, in the last interview he ever had with him, to hope that England might support him against his overweening vassal; but Palmerston and Lord Grey did not see their way to sending the small naval force which Canning urged them to despatch to the Levant as a menace to the Egyptian viceroy, and the neglect of his counsel resulted in the complications of ten years later, when we had to perform with difficulty what might once have been easily accomplished.

At the close of 1832 he was sent on a special mission to Portugal, to attempt to arrange the dissensions between the brothers Don Pedro and Don Miguel. The failure of the attempt was a foregone conclusion, and the ambassador came home little pleased at being sent on a fool's errand. On his return in 1833 he found himself gazetted as ambassador to the court of St. Petersburg, but the czar resolutely refused to receive him. He was not popular at the Russian capital, on political grounds, and Nicholas entertained a personal as well as a political dislike to his greatest opponent. Nesselrode dreaded his astuteness, and anxiously wrote to Princess Lieven to have the appointment of so ‘impracticable’ a man cancelled. Palmerston, however, was firm; he had appointed Canning (according to Greville, whose view, however, seems to be scarcely borne out by the facts) with a special view to showing the Lievens and their court that he was not to be dictated to, and he declined to send another envoy to St. Petersburg. For some time England was represented only by a chargé d'affaires at the Russian capital (Greville Memoirs, ii. 352, 357). Meanwhile Lord Grey's promise to give Canning the next vacant embassy was annulled by his resignation; and Peel's offer of the governorship of Canada in March 1835 (through Aberdeen, the colonial secretary) was not accepted. Parliamentary duties, and long residences abroad for the health of his invalid son, filled up the following years. In 1841 Peel again offered him the government of Canada, but he refused it on the ground of a disinclination to leave England; the treasurership of the household was suggested, and sanctioned by the queen, but he felt that the office was hardly suited to his temperament; and finally the embassy of Constantinople was again pressed upon him, and ‘with no small reluctance’ accepted. He started in November 1841, and arrived at the Golden Horn in January 1842. Henceforward, with brief intervals of leave, Canning held sway at the Porte for sixteen years. It was a peculiarly favourable period for the exercise of his wise control. From the time of the adjustment of the struggle with Mohammed Aly in 1841 to the outbreak of the Crimean war in 1853, Turkey enjoyed an interval of absolute peace, and these twelve years were productive of improvements in the internal administration of the empire, insomuch that Lord Palmerston in 1853 declared that during the preceding twenty years Turkey had made more progress