Britain's Discovery of Russia, 1553-1815

By M. S. Anderson | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
THE CAMPAIGN OF 1812

As the bitterness generated by the treaty of Tilsit gradually died down this hope began slowly to reassert itself, and the worsening of Russo-French relations from 1810 onwards was seen with understandable pleasure in Britain.1 Russia's powers of resistance to French attack were nevertheless universally underestimated. The failures, however courageous, of her armies in 1805-7, when they were fighting far from their bases and when the defects of their supply system had been only too obvious, were accepted as showing the general inferiority of her military strength to that of France. The poet Thomas Campbell echoed a popular theory of the time when he attributed these defeats to the fact that nine-tenths of the Russian armies were 'Tartars' who were physically inferior to Europeans.2 Even so well-entrenched a belief as that in the superior toughness and endurance of the Russian soldier had not been proof against the impact of the French victories. Thus until very near the end of 1812 even relatively well-informed people in Britain took a pessimistic view of Russia's chances in single combat with the whole might of Napoleon's empire. Sir George Jackson, a very experienced diplomat, feared that a new defeat for her and the collapse of yet another anti-French coalition 'would only serve Bonaparte as a set-off against his failures in the Peninsula', and that it might lead to 'a second edition, still closer pressed, of the work at Tilsit'.3 These fears were shared by no less a person than the Marquess Wellesley.4 The glaring weaknesses of Russia's administrative and financial

____________________
P
1
E.g. Anti-Jacobin Review, xxxviii. ( April 1811), 442.
2
Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell, ed. W. Beattie ( London, 1849), ii. 113.
3
The Bath Archives ( London, 1873), i. 234, 359, 365.
4
The Wellesley Papers ( London, n.d.), ii. 51.

-215-

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