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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

STRATFORD CANNING, STRATFORD DE REDCLIFFE Viscount (1786-1880), British diplomatist, was born in Clement's Lane in the city of London, on the 4th of November 1786. His father, Stratford Canning, uncle of George Canning, had been disinherited for his marriage with Mehetabel Patrick. He settled in London as a merchant. On his death, six months after the birth of .his son, his widow took a house at Wanstead near Epping Forest. Stratford Canning was educated first at a dame's school at Wanstead, then at Hackney, and after 1794 at Eton. In 1805 he was elected a scholar of King's College, Cambridge, but he only kept two terms, and in 1807 was appointed precis writer to the foreign office by his cousin George Canning. He received his degree in 1812, residence having been dispensed with on the ground that he was absent on the king's service. In 1807 he went as secretary to Mr Merry on a diplomatic mission to Copenhagen. In 1808 he was appointed first secretary to Mr (afterwards Sir Robert) Adair, who was sent as ambassador to Constantinople. When Mr Adair was transferred to Vienna in 18ro, Canning remained at Constantinople as chargé d'affaires. The British government was then in the very crisis of its struggle with Napoleon, and it left Canning entirely to his own discretion. His principal task was to persuade the Turkish government not to show undue favour to the French privateers which swarmed in the Levant. In May 1812 he was able to play the part of "honest broker" in arranging the peace of Bucharest between Turkey and Russia, which left a powerful Russian army free to take part in repelling Napoleon's invasion. Canning was able to hasten the decision of the Turks, by making judicious use of Napoleon's plan for the partition of their empire. A copy of it had been left in his hands by Mr Adair to be used at the proper moment. In July he left Constantinople with the sincere desire never to return, for he was tired of the corrupt and stiff-necked Turkish officials. His ambition was to lead an active career at home. But his success in arranging the treaty of Bucharest had marked him out for diplomatic employment. His absence from home in early youth and the independent position he had held much before the usual age, had in fact disqualified him for the career of a parliamentary party man. By the friendly intervention of Castlereagh, his cousin's old opponent, he received a pension, or rather a retaining fee, of 1200 a year, on the "usual conditions" - which were that he should bind himself to accept the next diplomatic post offered, and should not attempt to enter parliament. Canning spent his leisure in travelling about England, and he wrote some poetry which gained him the praise of Byron, whom he had known in boyhood, and had met in Constantinople. In 1814 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Switzerland. In this capacity he had a share in reorganizing the confederacy after the fall of the Napoleonic settlement, and he attended the congress at Vienna. He was an eye-witness of the dramatic change produced at Vienna by Napoleon's return from Elba. Canning retained his post in Switzerland till 1818. In 1816 he married Miss Harriet Raikes, daughter of a governor of the Bank of England. Her death in child-birth in 1818, had a strong influence in inducing him to resign his post, of which he was thoroughly tired. The British minister to Switzerland had merely formal duties to perform in normal times, and the place was wearisome to a man of Canning's capacity and desire for work. In 1819 he was appointed minister at Washington, a station of great difficulty owing to the ill-feeling created by the war of 1812 and the many delicate questions outstanding between the British and the American governments. Canning, whose naturally quick temper had been developed by early independence, came into occasional collision with John Quincy Adams, the American secretary of state, who was, on his own showing, by no means of a patient disposition. Yet the American statesman recognized that the "arrogance" of the British minister was combined with absolute candour and that he was above all petty diplomatic trickery. They parted with mutual respect. Canning returned to England in 1823 on leave and did not go back to Washington. The general treaty he had arranged with Mr Adams was rejected by the United States Senate.

In 1824 Canning was selected as ambassador to Turkey, and proceeded to Constantinople after a preliminary visit to Vienna and St Petersburg. In the Russian capital he was engaged in discussing the arrangement of the Alaska boundary, and partly in sounding the Russian government as to the course to be taken with the Greek revolt against Turkey. He left for Constantinople in October 1825, accompanied by his second wife, the daughter of Mr Alexander of Somerhill near Tonbridge. At Constantinople he was engaged with the ambassadors of France and Russia in an enterprise which he afterwards recognized as having been hopeless from the beginning - namely in endeavouring to induce Sultan Mahmud II. to make concessions to the Greeks, without applying to him the pressure of armed force. After the battle of Navarino on the 20th of October 1827, the ambassadors were compelled to retire to Corfu. Here Canning learned that his conduct so far had been approved, but as he desired to know what view was taken of the final rupture with the Porte he came home. He was sent out again on the 8th of July 1828. Canning did not agree on all points with his superior, Lord Aberdeen, and in 1829 he, for the time being, turned from diplomatic to parliamentary life. He sat for Old Sarum, for Stockbridge (rotten boroughs) and for Southampton, but did not make much mark in parliament. He was twice absent on diplomatic missions. At the end of 1831 he went to Constantinople to attend the conferences on the delimitation of the Greek frontier, arriving immediately after the receipt of the news of Mehemet Ali's invasion of Syria (see Mehemet Alt). Sultan Mahmud now proposed to Canning an alliance between Great Britain and Turkey, and Canning strongly urged this upon Palmerston, pointing out the advisability of helping the sultan against Mehemet Ali in order to forestall Russia, and of at the same time placating Mehemet Ali by guaranteeing him certain advantages. This advice, which largely anticipated the settlement of 1841, was not followed; but Canning himself was in high favour with the sultan, from whom he received the unique distinction of the sovereign's portrait set in diamonds. In 1833 he was selected as ambassador to Russia, but the tsar Nicholas I. refused to receive him. The story that the tsar was influenced by merely personal animosity seems to be unfounded. Nicholas was no doubt sufficiently informed as to the peremptory character of Sir Stratford Canning (he had been made G.C.B. in 1828) to see his unfitness to represent Great Britain at a really independent court.

After Canning had declined the treasurership of the Household and the governor-generalship of Canada, he was again named ambassador at Constantinople. He reached his post in January 1842 and retained it till his resignation in February 1858. His tenure of office in these years was made remarkable - first by his constant efforts to induce the Turkish government to accept reform and to conduct itself with humanity and decency; then by the Crimean War. Canning had no original liking for the Turks. He was the first to express an ardent hope that they would be expelled from Europe with "bag and baggage" - a phrase made popular in after times by Gladstone. But he had persuaded himself that under the new sultan Abd-ulMejid they might be reformed, and he was willing to play the part of guiding providence. He certainly impressed himself on the Turks, and on all other witnesses, as a strong personality. In particular he struck the imagination of Kinglake, the author of the Invasion of the Crimea. In that book he appears as a kind of magician who is always mentioned as the "great Elchi" and who influences the fate of nations by mystic spells cast on pallid sultans. Great Elchi is the Turkish title for an ambassador, and Elchi for a minister plenipotentiary. The use made of the exotic title in Kinglake's book is only one of the Corinthian ornaments of his style. In sober fact Canning's exertions on behalf of reform in Turkey affected little below the surface. His share in the Crimean War cannot be told here. On the fall of Palmerston's ministry in February 1858 he resigned, and though he paid a complimentary farewell visit to Constantinople, he had no further share in public life than the occasional speeches he delivered from his place in the House of Lords. He had been raised to the peerage in 1852. During his later years he wrote several essays collected under the title of The Eastern Question (London, 1881). In 1873 he published his treatise, Why I am a Christian, and in 1876 his play, Alfred the Great at Athelney. The only son of his second marriage died before him. His wife and two daughters survived him. Lord Stratford died on the 14th of August 1880, and was buried at Frant in Sussex. A monument to him was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1884.

See Life of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, by S. Lane Poole (London, 1888).


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