Wellington: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

32 St Petersburg and the Northern
Counties
1825 - 7

'We have some great diplomatic characters here, but I believe they are all as much in the dark as I am.'

HAD HE BEEN in better health, the Duke might well have been thankful to be able to escape from England for a time when he was asked in 1825 to undertake a diplomatic mission to Russia where the Tsar Alexander had died and been succeeded by Nicholas I. But, as it was, he had not yet fully recovered from the incompetent ministrations of Dr Stevenson. He had almost collapsed from dizziness while shooting one day, and, most unusually for him, he had been suffering from sleeplessness, which another course of the Cheltenham waters had failed to alleviate. He had also had a bout of cholera. Not long before Mrs Arbuthnot had recorded in her journal, 'He is so terribly thin & gets so little sleep I cannot but feel very anxious & uneasy about him.' 1

With his health so poor he dreaded the prospect of a winter's journey to St Petersburg. He almost doubted that he would survive it. But he could not see how he, who had 'always been preaching the doctrine of going wherever' a man in public life 'was desired to go', 'could decline to accept the offer of this mission'. So he did accept it, going so far as to assure Canning that he had never felt better in his life and was ready to leave at a moment's notice. 2 He said goodbye to his family and friends with such unaccustomed emotion that General Alava, exiled now in England, had never seen him so moved; nor had Lady Burghersh from whom he parted in tears. Charles Greville was surprised to hear that he was also 'deeply affected when he parted from his Mother'. 3

Everybody was sorry to see him go, he told Mrs Arbuthnot, who was

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