CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Anglo-Russian Crisis, 1885

A young poet wrote fifteen sonnets for The National Review in the spring of 1885, which he called "Ver Tenebrosum". He bewailed in tones of patriotic dejection--his poor spirits only equalled by his poor versification-the buffets Britannia was suffering in Asia and Africa.1 It was on 9 February. that news of the death of Gordon reached London, and the Government all but fell. The French Ambassadress went out into the Row and heard "a tall man on a handsome chestnut talking to Admiral C. most energetically, 'I am a moderate man myself, but I would willingly lend a hand to hang Gladstone to that tree'".2 The Tories were far from thirsting to turn their rivals out. It would be taking office under ill-omened skies. Salisbury wrote to Lord Cairns on 3 March: "Matters are gloomy--I never saw them gloomier."3 It was left to the worn-out Liberal Ministry to face the Russian crisis, the theme of our young poetaster's most turgid declamation:

But most it angers me, to think how vile
Art thou, how base, from whom the insult came,
Unwieldy laggard, many an age behind
Thy sister Powers, in brain and conscience both. . . .

An extraordinarily complicated situation arose in the Far East in the last year of our troubled lustrum. The dispute between China and Japan over Corea entangled itself with the Franco-Chinese hostilities, and with a further crisis which almost brought England and Russia into conflict throughout all Asia. The crisis that arose in Afghanistan had repercussions in

____________________
1
William Watson, in "National Review", June 1885.
2
Mary Waddington, Letters, 9.2.85.
3
Lady G. Cecil, Life of Lord Salisbury, III, 129.

-188-

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