Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1553-1815

By M. S. Anderson | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
THE DESTRUCTION OF POLAND

The indifference with which British opinion had greeted the events of 1772-3 in Poland survived the partition by a number of years. If Anglo-Russian relations had remained as good as most Englishmen still thought them naturally destined to be, if there had been no Armed Neutrality and no Ochakov crisis, the much more serious events of 1793-5 might have been greeted with almost the same degree of disinterest. The march of events however made this impossible. The slow development of anti-Russian feeling which began during the war of American Independence meant that by the 1780's, still more by the 1790's, Englishmen were readier than ever before to criticise Russian policy in Poland. Lord Shelburne offers a good example of the way in which attitudes were changing. He seems to have ignored the first partition completely when it took place. Yet by 1780, under the impact of the Armed Neutrality, he had come to see in it 'such a scene of oppression and injustice. . . as shocked every philosophical mind'.1 The outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey in 1787, which seemed to mark Catherine's ambitions more clearly than ever as a source of danger to her neighbours, helped to increase this belated sympathy for the Poles. The Annual Register, which had shown itself critical of the actions of the partitioning powers in 1772, now intensified its strictures on their 'atrocious act of fraud, perfidy, and violence', while its Whig counterpart attacked Catherine II in particular as the source of 'the tyrannical and unprincipled design of dismembering the provinces of Poland'.2

____________________
1
Political Magazine, i.539 ( June 1780).
2
Annual Register, 1788, p. 59; New Annual Register, 1789, p. 56.

-186-

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