Canning, Stratford, first Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe 1786-1880, diplomatist, was the youngest son of an elder Stratford Canning, and first cousin of George the minister [qv.]. The elder Stratford was disinherited by his father on account of what was considered an imprudent marriage. To his mother, Mehetabel, daughter of Robert Patrick, Canning owed much of his personal charm, and still more his resolute will and steadfast nature. Left a widow soon after the birth of her most famous son, Mrs. Canning brought up her children, on limited means, with rare skill and wisdom. Charles Fox, her third son, served under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular war, and was appointed his aide-de-camp; and the duke made very honourable mention of him when he was killed at the battle of Waterloo.
Stratford Canning was born on 4 Nov. 1786, in Clement's Lane, near the Mansion House. The dingy street, sloping down to the river, was a favourite resort of merchants, who then lived over their offices. Here his father had come to seek the fortune which he had forfeited by his marriage, and here Fox, Sheridan, and other celebrities delighted to sup with the charming young merchant and his beautiful wife. Six months after the birth of Stratford, his father died at Brighton, and the city house was exchanged for a quiet retreat at Wanstead, on the skirts of Epping Forest, which remained the home of mother and children for some fifteen years. Stratford was sent to a neighbouring 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 supplied christian diplomacy with interpreters, and by their means exercised no small influence, not always of the purest kind, over its transactions with the Porte (MS. Memoirs). One notable addition to the society of Stamboul was made for a time by the arrival of Lord Byron, whom Canning had last seen when playing against him in an Eton and Harrow cricket match, and who was then busily engaged upon Childe Harold.
In July 1810, disgusted with the position of onlooker at the Porte, and weary of the palaver and procrastination of Turkish ministers, a discussion with whom he compared to cutting into dead flesh, Adair left Constantinople for his new post at Vienna, and Canning, in his twenty-fourth year, by virtue of a dormant commission, took over the full, though temporary, responsibility of the embassy at the Porte, as minister plenipotentiary, pending the appointment of Adair's successor. In the manuscript memoirs which have already been quoted he gives an interesting and valuable summary of the political situation. In 1809, he writes, a year of great importance had begun. The Emperor Napoleon had consolidated, by a peace of apparent duration, the military, territorial, and moral advantages which he had obtained, as the case might be, at the expense of continental Europe. Where his troops were not quartered, or his frontier not advanced, he exercised either an accepted authority or a predominant influence. He was king of Italy, master of the Low Countries, protector of the Rhenish confederacy, and mediator of the Swiss cantons. His numerous armies occupied the greater part of the countries west of the Pyrenees. Their positions were as yet but partially threatened by the Spanish insurrection and the British successes in Portugal. Austria was secretly collecting the means for a fresh trial of strength with the victorious legions of France. Russia was occupied with her military operations against Turkey. Denmark had become the creature of Napoleon, and Sweden, though allied with us by the policy of its gallant and unfortunate king, was drifting towards a change of government destined to prove subversive of the English alliance. England, though triumphant everywhere at sea, and wielding a power which was capable of making itself felt wherever the enemy or his forced allies presented a weak point upon the coast or a distant colonial possession worth attacking, had to bear up against a heavy financial pressure, and to encounter much occasional discontent at home. She was nominally at war with every European government controlled by France, and as far as ever from any approach towards peace with that country; while serious discussions with the United States of America held out to her the prospect of another war dangerous to her trade and difficult to be met without much additional expense and many a hazardous exertion. In 1810 the situation had grown perceptibly gloomier. With the battle of Wagram, followed by the peace of Schönbrunn, fell every immediate hope of seeing the progress of Napoleon checked by the arms of Austria. Our Spanish allies had been compelled to take refuge in Cadiz. Our grand expedition to Antwerp had proved a failure. The fevers of Walcheren had given the finishing stroke to the indecisions of our commanders. The ministry at home were breaking into pieces; our national debt was larger than ever; and symptoms of popular discontent prevailed.
Such was the state of Europe when Canning began his responsible work at Constantinople. To the complexity of the political situation was added the further difficulty that from the beginning to the close of his mission he was left without instructions from home. The government entirely forgot him; the most important despatch he received from the Marquis Wellesley, who had succeeded Canning at the foreign office, related to some classical manuscripts supposed to be concealed in the Seraglio; and the many and important negotiations which he carried to a successful issue were conducted without a solitary word of advice or support from the British government. As he writes, he had to steer by the stars in the absence of compass; and although he naturally resented this official neglect, it is probable that he was not ill-pleased to find himself unshackled by instructions: to shirk responsibility on the plea of no orders from home was a course that could never have occurred to him. One circumstance was in his favour: England alone stood face to face with the conqueror, and had come to be regarded as an ark of refuge for the honour of princes and the independence of nations. England, too, was the supreme trading power in the Levant, and in the absence of powerful pressure from France, the interests of the Porte were naturally bound up with those of the greatest maritime nation of the world.
Canning's work during this first mission at Constantinople consisted in three separate tasks: first, to make the influence of England felt at the Porte as a check upon the French; secondly, to defend the interests of our shipping trade in the Levant; and thirdly, to effect a reconciliation between the czar and the sultan with a view to setting Russia free to repel Napoleon's meditated invasion. In each of these tasks he was successful. Even in these youthful days his presence carried something of that sense of power which afterwards came to be associated with the Great Elchi—a title which means full ambassador, as distinguished from a minister (elchi), but which came to be applied to Canning with a special force, as the ambassador par excellence. It was soon perceived that the young minister, in spite of the want of instructions from home, was prepared when needful to take steps of the utmost daring and consequence. It was then common for a French privateer to capture a British merchant vessel and run the prize into a Turkish port. Remonstrance was useless; Canning boldly called upon Captain Hope, who commanded the Mediterranean fleet, to take the law into his own hands. Hope entered the harbour of Napoli di Romania with his corvette, and under the guns of the fortress demanded the restitution of some English prize vessels. The privateer ran his prizes ashore and burnt them; the corvette opened fire upon him, and the fortress was mute. The needful lesson had been given, and the privateering question was practically settled. The Porte indeed, incensed at this bold stroke, sent a private communication to the presumptuous minister, lamenting his imprudence in constantly harassing the Sublime Porte about mere trifles, instead of mediating a peace with Russia, a task which the sultan was ready to trust to his good offices. Canning knew perfectly that the negotiation of such a treaty would be the making of his diplomatic reputation; but even for this he would not yield a point. Nothing, he answered, is unimportant which concerns the honour of England. He persisted in his defence of the rights of British merchants, and his persistence only strengthened him in bringing his now acknowledged influence to bear upon the larger negotiations.
The conclusion of a peace between the belligerents on the Danube had become a matter of pressing importance. The balance of victory was decidedly on the Russian side, and it was obvious that Turkey could not expel the czar's army from her territory. At the same time Russia pursued the war but languidly, for her army on the Danube was urgently needed to meet Napoleon's threatened march to Moscow. The interest of England pointed distinctly to effecting the release of the army of the Danube, as a weapon against France; and though we were then technically at war with Russia, as with the rest of Europe, it was still possible for our minister to mediate, since Russia in her present straits had already begun to show leanings towards England. Canning saw that his duty lay in obtaining the best terms of peace he could for Turkey, and thus at once conciliating the good opinion of the Porte for England, and releasing the Russian army against England's great antagonist. Financial and political reasons, moreover, alike commended the peace to the czar: Canning increased the desire by cementing the alliance between Turkey and Persia, and thus encouraging the Persians in their flank movement on Russia. On the other hand the normal difficulty of inducing the Porte to come to any decision was in this instance increased by one or two Turkish successes on the Danube. Yet he so worked upon Turkey by emphasising the growing successes of Wellington in the Peninsula, that the Porte at length confided to him unusual powers. In spite of the fact that Canning was acting entirely on his private responsibility, the sultan threw over the French minister, and invited his English rival to open direct negotiations with D'Italinsky, the Russian plenipotentiary at Bucharest, promising to place exclusive confidence in him, and to permit no French interference. The intrigues of France and Austria furnished weapons which were amply effective in capable hands. He obtained possession of a secret paper in which these two powers proposed to join Turkey in an attack upon Russia, and this he contrived to convey to D'Italinsky, with the desired effect: Russia became more anxious than ever to arrange a peace. But Turkey remained obstinate; the Porte, always trusting to the chapter of accidents, still hoped to get out of the war without loss of territory, and some strong measure was needed to bring it to reason before France opened hostilities. The French minister and Austrian internuncio strenuously encouraged Turkey in the policy of resistance, while Canning, in spite of his confidential position, was still at variance with the Porte on minor matters of commercial rights. Moreover, his communications with Russia, the traditional enemy of Turkey, even when invited by the Porte, were in themselves liable to suspicious misconstruction. The English minister had, however, again a weapon in his hand. He held a secret paper detailing a plan for the invasion and partition of Turkey, drawn up at Vienna, with Napoleon's connivance. This unprincipled document he delivered to the Porte in his most impressive manner, and it soon appeared that the long struggle was over. In the face of the active hostility of France and Austria, in spite of the obvious advantages of delay to the Porte, he carried his point, and the treaty of Bucharest was signed on 28 May 1812, and ratified just before the arrival of Mr. (afterwards Sir Robert) Liston superseded Canning at the embassy.
This was the most important act of Stratford Canning's life. Apart from the reputation thus acquired by the young diplomatist, the gain to Europe was immense. The negotiations which ended in the treaty of Bucharest laid the foundations of that predominating influence which England has ever since exerted at the Porte, and established the extraordinary personal prestige which enabled Canning to maintain that influence at Constantinople through times of severe strain and confusion. More than this, it released Tschitschakoff's army of the Danube at the precise moment when it was needed to aggravate the discomfiture of the French in their retreat from Moscow, an opportune achievement, which the Duke of Wellington characterised as the most important service to this country and the world that ever fell to the lot of any individual to perform. Canning had gone to Constantinople when Turkey was in open rupture with us, and almost in the arms of Napoleon. He left it under the supreme influence of England, with our maritime rights secured, Russia set free to join the great alliance against the French emperor; and all this without a word of advice from the home government, and without using his trump card, the exchange of the secret article of the treaty of the Dardanelles, which would have cost England 300,000l., and which had been left to his discretion.
In July 1812 he left the Bosphorus, with a firm resolve never to return. Apart from the special drawbacks of life and society at Stamboul, he disliked residence abroad, and had only accepted the secretaryship, and subsequently the embassy, under the idea that it would be a very temporary and brief engagement. His inclinations pointed to a career at home, where the quick intellectual life of London, and the usual goals of ambition, literary and political, attracted him. When he arrived in England, however, George Canning was not in power; Castlereagh occupied the foreign office, and there seemed little likelihood of immediate promotion. He was, indeed, in recognition of special services, granted a pension of 1,200l. as minister plenipotentiary en disponibilité. But he was lonely in London; most of his school and college friends were scattered; and he took no pleasure in ordinary town amusements. He read a good deal, in a desultory fashion; wrote poetry, and contributed some articles to the Quarterly Review, which he had a share in founding. Perhaps his greatest pleasures were his regular walks with George Canning to Hyde Park Corner, where the ex-minister's carriage awaited him, economically, outside the turnpike, to drive him home to Brompton. To the long and intimate conversations which enlivened these daily walks the younger man always attributed much of his political knowledge and insight.
In 1813 the offer was made to him of accompanying Lord Aberdeen on his special mission to Vienna; but as his acceptance would have involved a step backwards in diplomatic rank, from plenipotentiary to secretary, he thought it wise to decline, though he thereby lost the opportunity of accompanying the allied armies in their march against Napoleon. He went to Paris, however, after the emperor's abdication, saw the king make his entry, and was presented to Louis XVIII. On that occasion he saw, and never saw again, the handsome youth who was destined to hold the reins of empire in Russia, to keep all Europe in alarm for thirty years, and to close a proud career under the pressure of a disastrous war. He met, for the first and last time, his lifelong enemy, the Czar Nicholas.
At this time Lord Castlereagh, who had formed a very high opinion of Stratford Canning's abilities, offered him (May 1814) the post of envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary in Switzerland, and as this carried with it a diplomatic step, and involved a great deal of important work—Castlereagh had indeed selected him because he was known to like work—he accepted. His business was to substitute, for the act of mediation by which Napoleon had bound the Swiss cantons to France, a new federal act, which should create a neutral and guaranteed state, to act as a check upon French aggression in Germany and North Italy. The work was rendered exceedingly difficult and delicate by the wide differences between the governments of the several cantons, and all Canning's tact and decision were needed to reconcile the conflicting systems. After much negotiation, and a long diplomatic duel with Count Capo d'Istria, the Russian plenipotentiary, an act was agreed upon, and the envoys proceeded to Vienna to submit it to the congress then sitting to adjust the affairs of Europe. Canning lived to be the last survivor of the famous congress; for though he was not one of the plenipotentiaries (having only a seat on the committee appointed to inquire into the Swiss question), he was more than once invited to join the sittings of the general council. As far as Switzerland was concerned the congress did its work quickly; Canning held the protocols, and pushed the act of federation to its conclusion; but the general business of the congress made little progress before the return of Napoleon from Elba.
When the congress dispersed upon the return of Napoleon, Canning went back to Switzerland with the act of federation approved by the congress (Declaration, 20 March 1815), whereby the precious gift of neutrality was accorded to the cantons on condition of political impotence, and his first duty was to induce the cantons to accept the slight modifications introduced at Vienna, and to furnish a contingent to the allied armies now concerting measures against Napoleon. Both these objects he effected before Waterloo removed any remaining grounds of hesitation. During the hundred days an opportunity occurred for a rear attack by the Swiss contingent on the French corps d'armée which had marched through Geneva to meet the Austrians; Canning at once grasped the position, and urged an immediate attack; but the Swiss general had no instructions which permitted so daring a movement, and the chance was lost. The envoy's principal work was now accomplished, but there were still numerous details to be settled in the constitutions of the twenty-two cantons. He was even induced by the entreaties of the Swiss to draw up a plan for organising a federal army; and the force of 100,000 men which the protestant cantons mustered in 1847 against the Sunderbund was the result of the military system founded by the civilian thirty years before. During the earlier part of the six years occupied by the Swiss mission, Zürich was his headquarters, and the life seems to have been somewhat dreary; the men were too grave and serious, and the wives and daughters were more remarkable for their domestic virtues than for the charms and accomplishments of polite society. The grandeur of Alpine scenery, of which he retained an enthusiastic memory at the age of ninety, made amends for the dulness of man, and the lack of society was to some extent remedied when he moved the embassy to Bern in 1815, and still more when, after a visit to England in 1816, he brought back as wife the daughter of Henry Raikes. His married happiness, however, was shortlived; he took a villa about two miles from Lausanne in the spring of 1817, but in the following year Mrs. Canning died in childbirth, and the blow induced her husband to apply to government for his recall. His work in Switzerland was done; it had been quiet and unobtrusive, but not less important and difficult.ú0ú01ßc