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The second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history online

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" some people of the local political [diplomatic ?] corps," and that the Austrian
ministry saw fit not to contradict it (for quite intelligible reasons). Cf. Golitsyn
to Ostermann, March 12/23, an d to Bulgakov, probably of March 15/26, 179 1 ,
M. A., ABCTpia, III, 50. Dembinski has printed these two documents {op. cit.,
i, pp. 477 f.); but he has mistaken the letter of Golitsyn to Bulgakov for one from


enthusiasm for the Court of Berlin, although the leaders of the
dominant party still clung to the alliance, and Stanislas Augustus
had at last renounced his Russian affiliations and come over to
what was called ' the Prussian system.'

Such was the rather unpromising situation when Pitt inter-
vened in the hope of patching up the differences between Berlin
and Warsaw and preparing the Republic to take its place in the
Anglo-Prussian league. The Poles themselves had taken the
initiative by sending Count Oginski to London towards the close
of 1790 to lay the whole state of their affairs before the English
minister. Pitt entered into the matter with much interest and
thoroughness. In several interviews with Oginski he dwelt at
length upon the important services that Great Britain and Poland
might render each other; upon the flourishing trade and many
common interests that had united them in the past and which
might now be renewed, if only the Republic would place its com-
mercial relations on a firm basis by treaties with Prussia and
England; and upon the necessity, to that end, of making a small,
and in the last analysis inevitable, sacrifice through the cession of
Dantzic. 1 In January, 1 791 , Hailes, the British envoy at Warsaw,
formally announced the desire of his government to negotiate for
closer political and trade relations. The cardinal point was to
persuade the Poles to part with Dantzic in return for an advan-
tageous treaty of commerce to be guaranteed by England. There
was to be no more question of Thorn, in view of the September
decree of the Diet; but it was held that Dantzic might still be
ceded, since it was only ' under the protection,' and not an integral
part, of the Republic. The Patriot leaders entered into Pitt's
plan with much good will, convinced that this sacrifice, hard as it
was, was indispensable for saving the Prussian alliance and
gaining the greater security and freedom of action that would
come from the connection with England. Hailes displayed for
some months an amazing, though often a misguided and tactless,

Ostermann to Golitsyn, and is thus led by the phrase " the local political corps "
to the conclusion that the story was of St. Petersburg manufacture — a quite
erroneous ' discovery.' See his preface, pp. lxix f.
1 Oginski, Memoires, i, pp. 92-100.


activity. He negotiated, conferred, promised, apostrophized, and
threatened; he resorted to pamphlets and broadsides; in short,
he left no stone unturned. But the obstacles were wellnigh
insuperable. On the one hand, the Court of Berlin refused to
lend any active assistance, holding that Dantzic alone was hardly
worth the concessions demanded in return for it; and on the
other hand, the majority of the Poles felt an almost invincible
repugnance to the abandonment of the last seaport they still
possessed. When the question was referred to the Diet at the end
of March, there were protracted debates, but the utmost that the
Patriot leaders could secure was that the proposed cession was not
refused outright. A final decision was postponed for some weeks
until the many absent deputies could be brought back to Warsaw,
and in the meantime the Deputation of Foreign Interests was
authorized to continue the negotiation with Hailes. The action
of the Diet on this occasion does more credit to its patriotism
than to its judgment; still, if the events of the next few months
on the broader stage of Europe had gone according to Pitt's
hopes, it is probable that his Dantzic plan would ultimately
have succeeded. 1

Towards Russia, the Poles were now in far less warlike mood
than in the preceding summer. Undoubtedly they were eager to
see England and Prussia engage the Empress; but as to the
advisability of Poland's participation in such a contest, opinion
was strongly divided. The King and many others favored strict
neutrality. 2 The British and Prussian envoys reported that the
nation would gladly take up arms, 3 but the Austrian minister at
Warsaw formed quite the contrary impression. 4 At any rate,
the warlike feeling flared up again during the exciting days in
April, when it was thought that the Allies had crossed the Rubi-
con. 5 Had there been a war, it is difficult to believe that the

1 Cf. Salomon, Das politische System des jungeren Pitt, pp. 50 f. A more pessi-
mistic view in Kalinka, Der polnische Reichstag, ii, pp. 283-297.

2 Kalinka, ibid., ii, pp. 694 f.; cf. Zaleski, Korespotidencya krajowa, p. 305.

3 Salomon, Pitt, i u , p. 510; Herrmann, op. cit., vi, pp. 342 f., 569.

4 De Cache's report of April 13, V. A., Polen, Berkhte, 1791.

5 Bulgakov's reports of April 2/13, and 5/16, M. A., Iiojitina, III, 63; Goltz's
of April 9 and 13, in Herrmann, op. cit., vi, pp. 343, 569.


Poles would not have been drawn into it, whether by their own
impulses or by a deliberate aggression of Russia.

The Power whose attitude was of most concern, both to the
Allies and to the Empress, was Austria. Since the preceding
summer Leopold had been reaping the fruits of his wise modera-
tion at Reichenbach by his election to the Imperial crown
(September 30, 1790), the recovery of the Netherlands (Novem-
ber-December), and the gradual pacification of the rest of his
dominions. Austria was once more in a position to command
respect and to act with vigor. Ever since Reichenbach Leopold
had been continuously assailed by demands from St. Petersburg
for a promise of aid in case England and Prussia proceeded to
extremities. Having sacrificed his own conquests for the sake of
peace, he was little inclined to go to war again merely in order to
enable his ally to save hers ; but it was not the part of prudence to
say so flatly. Hence for many months he put off Catherine with
vague or evasive replies, with exhortations to prudence, offers of
mediation, and promises to assist her as soon as, and so far as, his
circumstances permitted. 1 These responses were naturally
regarded as far from satisfactory at St. Petersburg. From them
one may trace the beginnings of that weakening of the alliance,
which later on became so marked.

Meanwhile Leopold was also receiving pressing solicitations
from England and Prussia. First, in November, 1790, Pitt dis-
patched Lord Elgin to Vienna to secure Austria's assistance in
persuading Russia to accept the status quo. The Emperor
amused this raw young envoy with edifying discourses on the
horrors of war, the uselessness of conquests, and the need that all
conservative Powers should stand together to combat the
ravages of the new ' French principles ' ; he promised to do what
he could to bring the Empress to reason; but he avoided binding
himself to anything definite. 2 Next arrived the director-general

1 Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, September 19, 1790, Ph. Cobenzl to L. Cobenzl,
October 10, Kaunitz to L. Cobenzl, November 28, January 2, March 28, V. A.,
Russland, Expeditionen, 1790 and 1791.

2 Herrmann, op. cit., vi, pp. 395-400, and Erganzungsband, pp. 43-48; Leopold
to Kaunitz, January 14, Beer, Joseph II, Leopold II und Kaunitz, pp. 383 ff.;
Kaunitz to Reuss, January 21, V. A., Preussen, Exped., 1791.


of Frederick William's secret diplomacy, the invaluable Colonel
Bischoffwerder. His mission, as it was originally planned early in
January, 1791, marked an effort of Prussia to ' emancipate her-
self ' from England. The King was at that time still ignorant
of Pitt's resolution to proceed vigorously with the enforcement of
the status quo; he was decidedly out of humor with his ally, and
inclined to seek an understanding with Russia through the good
offices of Austria. 1 But during the long delays incidental to a
preliminary discussion with Vienna, Frederick William seems
considerably to have altered his plans. By the time Bischoff-
werder was ready to set out on his mission, the King's aim was no
longer to effect a bargain between the three Eastern Courts that
should leave England in the lurch, but rather to draw the Emperor
over to the camp of the Triple Alliance, so that the King might
then dictate his terms to the haughty lady in St. Petersburg.
The reasons for the change are probably to be found in the fact
that Pitt had meanwhile communicated his new plan of action;
that Catherine had made a most unsatisfactory reply to the last
Prussian propositions; and that the Turks were pressing for an
answer as to whether the King intended to fulfil his engagements
with them or not.

In the middle of February it was ostentatiously reported at
Berlin that Colonel Bischoffwerder had fallen into disgrace at
court, and had retired to his estate in the country. There were
not lacking rumors that he had gone instead on a secret mission
to London, or, as some indeed surmised, to Vienna; but the real
facts were known to very few persons, and least of all to Count
Hertzberg. The 18th the ' merchant Buschmann ' arrived in the
Austrian capital and took lodgings in an inconspicuous inn. Two
days later he was closeted with the Vice-Chancellor, Philip
Cobenzl, unfolding in a rambling and incoherent manner that
betrayed the novice in diplomacy, propositions as extraordinary
as was the secrecy with which his mission was enveloped.

Bischoffwerder proposed an Austro-Prussian alliance, to which
England and Holland should be invited to accede — and perhaps

1 Such seems to be the drift of Bischoflwerder's overtures to Reuss in January,
Reuss' reports of January 9 and 29, V. A., Preussen, Berichte, 1791.


even the Porte — but from which Catherine was to be ex-
cluded. One aim of it should be to effect such a peace between
the Empress and the Turks that the latter " would not be ex-
posed to the danger of being expelled from Europe "; a second
aim was to exclude Russia from participation in the affairs of
Germany; a third to annul the Russian influence in Poland, " the
point from which most of the intrigues of the Court of St. Peters-
burg have emanated." In other words, the Emperor was invited
to desert Russia, join the Anglo-Prussian league, assist the latter
to force its plan of pacification upon Catherine, and in general to
oppose his late ally at every point. In its strong anti-Russian
tendency, its professed aim of freeing Poland from Russian pres-
sure and of setting bounds to the encroachments of a Power
" constantly aggressive and avid of universal domination," the
alliance proposed by Bischoffwerder might seem merely an ex-
tension of Pitt's Federative System; but it differed from that
system in so far as it was also intended to serve certain ambitious
plans of Prussia for the future. Bischoffwerder suggested, for
instance, an agreement with regard to the affairs of France —
i. e., a return to the counter-revolutionary projects of the pre-
vious summer; and he proposed that the two Courts should come
to an agreement respecting the ' peaceable ' territorial acquisi-
tions to which each of them might look forward. With all
protestations that his master was not ambitious for new territory,
he admitted that Dantzic would be much to Prussia's con-
venience, and that the King hoped to acquire Ansbach and
Baireuth on the death of the present Margrave, and Lusatia in
case of the extinction of the male line of Saxony. In return
Prussia might be willing to favor Austrian pretensions to some
parts of Bavaria on the death of the present Elector. The longer
the conferences continued, the more the subject of acquisitions
was thrust into the foreground. Presently Bischoffwerder was
pressing strongly for a promise that the Emperor would offer no
opposition in case Poland could be induced voluntarily to cede
Dantzic and Thorn to Prussia. In short, it was clear that the
proposed alliance had a double purpose: it was intended not only
to extricate the King from his present embarrassing situation, but


also — once the Russian crisis was over — to serve as an instru-
ment for his aggressive and acquisitive policy. 1

As was to be expected, Kaunitz found these proposals simply
" incroyables" Had it depended only on him, the alliance would
assuredly have been rejected entirely. Ever since the first tidings
of Bischoffwerder's mission reached him, the old Chancellor had
taken feverishly to writing memorials proving in a dozen different
ways that " between two Courts whose interests are diametrically
opposed, a sincere union ... is a sheer impossibility, a chimaera,
the falsest political project that could ever be adopted." 2 But,
as so often, Leopold was of another opinion. It was the Em-
peror's idea to accept the Prussian alliance, but in a form altered
to suit his own interests, stripped — for the most part, at least —
of its anti-Russian tendency, capable of being combined with his
existing alliance with Catherine. That was a resolution of grave
consequence for the future, since in it lay the seeds of the ulti-
mate reunion of all the three great Eastern Powers, a combination
fraught with misfortune for Poland. From the standpoint of
Polish interests, it would have been far better had the Emperor
either accepted the Prussian idea of a league for the protection of
Central Europe against the Muscovites, or else rejected the pro-
posed union entirely, thus throwing Frederick William back upon
the sole connection with England.

1 Cf. Cobenzl's report of his conversation with Bischoffwerder on February 20
(V. A., Vortrage, 1791). Cobenzl having remarked that in case the proposed
alliance were concluded, both Powers would have to renounce all schemes for
territorial acquisitions, Bischoffwerder replied: " Oui, sans doute, ou bien s'en-
tendre a l'amiable toutes les fois que les circonstances offriroient a l'une ou a l'autre
des deux Cours l'occasion de faire une acquisition, soit par droit de succession, ou
par convention volontaire, sans jamais employer des moyens violens." Cobenzl
replied that the second alternative was not likely to occur, and put the question
bluntly whether the King of Prussia was disposed in good faith to renounce all
acquisitions. Bischoffwerder answered, " Oui, tres decidement," but then, after
a moment, added: " Vous savez sans doute qu'on parle de Danzig, et en effet
cette acquisition seroit tres-fort de la convenance du Roi, s'il pouvoit la faire tout-a-
fait du gre de la Pologne, en faisant a la Republique d'autres avantages. . . . Le
Roi espere que l'Empereur n'y seroit pas contraire, si une fois l'amitie' et l'alliance
entre eux etoit formee. ... On s'entendroit facilement sur des acquisitions que
vous pourriez faire a votre tour."

2 This from his " Reflexions relatives a la Cour de Berlin," dated February 2.
He proposed rejecting the alliance in a memorial of February 23, immediately after
Bischoffwerder had first unfolded his ideas. V. A., Vortrage, 1791.


At an audience granted to Bischoffwerder on February 25,
Leopold definitively announced his willingness to contract an
alliance with Prussia. It remained for the ministers to settle
the quomodo. In the ensuing conferences it became clear that the
affair could not be concluded immediately, chiefly because the
Austrians refused absolutely to give up their alliance with Russia,
while Bischoffwerder maintained stoutly that that connection
was incompatible with the one he was charged to propose. Nor
could he obtain the desired promise as to Dantzic and Thorn,
although the Austrians covertly hinted at their inclination to see
the Oriental crisis ended by a general agreement, by which the
Imperial Courts would secure certain acquisitions from the
Turks, while Prussia should get the long-coveted cities. Regard-
ing the all-important question of Austria's attitude in case of war
between the Triple Alliance and Russia, Bischoffwerder could not
extort a binding engagement of any kind from the Imperial
ministers; but it is not improbable that he received certain
reassuring oral declarations from Leopold himself. 1

After a last conference with Cobenzl on March 4, at which it
was agreed that the negotiations for the alliance should be con-
tinued through Prince Reuss at Berlin, and after prodigal assur-
ances on both sides that the grand plan should infallibly go
through, Bischoffwerder departed. His mission had been by no
means a total failure, but only a half success. He had failed to
lure Austria over with bag and baggage into the camp of the
Allies, and so to isolate Russia completely; but on the other

1 After his return to Berlin Bischoffwerder repeatedly told Reuss " que PEm-
pereur lui avoit repondu en propres termes, lorsqu'il avoit demande si Elle pre-
feroit que Ton s'arrangeat avec la Russie en se desistant du status quo, qu'Elle
preferoit que la Russie soit contrainte au status quo . . . et que l'Empereur avoit
dit qu'il verroit sans peine que la Russie aye du depit et Lui laisse les mains d'autant
plus libres pour s'unir bien etroitement a la Prusse." Reuss to Ph. Cobenzl,
April 22, V. A., Preussen, Berichte, 1791. It seems hardly probable that Bischoff-
werder would have ventured to misquote the Emperor on so weighty a matter in
conversations which he knew would be reported to Vienna. Compare also the
rescript which Frederick William sent off to his envoy in London immediately
after Bischoffwerder's return to Berlin: " Aiant de notions sures que l'Autriche
souhaite de se rapprocher de moi et de mes allies et de ce que l'Empereur a declare
a 1'Imperatrice de Russie de ne pouvoir l'assister dans une guerre qui pourrait
naitre de son refus d'accepter le Statusquo," etc., Salomon, Pitt, i", p. 514, note 3.


hand he brought back the conviction that Leopold strongly
desired a rapprochement with Prussia and was not likely to
interfere in case the Allies proceeded vigorously with the enforce-
ment of the status quo. 1 The envoy did not suspect, perhaps, that
Kaunitz would hasten to reveal all his propositions to the Court
of St. Petersburg, with the assurance that Austria had not al-
lowed herself to be seduced in any way; or that in the critical
months that followed, the Emperor would continue to promise
Catherine his aid in case of a rupture, in so far as the condition of
his Monarchy would at all permit. 2


Bischoffwerder returned to Berlin on March 10, in buoyant
spirits. He dined alone with the King that afternoon. The
result was the ' immediate rescript ' sent off to the Prussian envoy
at London the following day. In this dispatch Frederick William
announced the favorable dispositions of the Court of Vienna ; he
declared that the moment for a final decision had come; he sug-
gested that the best course would be to impose the status quo
upon Russia by a show of superior forces by land and sea; and,
at any rate, he must have an immediate "categorical declaration"
of what the British government was willing to do. 3

This challenge produced the desired effect at London. Pitt
himself was now ready for action. By this time the preliminary
diplomatic campaign begun in January had advanced far enough
to enable him to judge the intentions of the various Powers, and
on the whole the results were not unsatisfactory. He could
count upon the neutrality of most of the states in question, and
perhaps upon active assistance from some; while on the other
hand, Catherine seemed to be entirely isolated and in a truly
desperate position. Misled, perhaps, by the exaggerated reports

1 Our information as to Bischoffwerder's first mission to Vienna is derived almost
entirely from the Austrian side. The chief documents relating to it are printed in
Vivenot, Quellen zur Geschichte der deutschen Kaiserpolitik Oesterreichs, i, pp. 78-
101, and Beer, Leopold II, Franz II und Catharine, pp. 230-239.

2 Dispatches to L. Cobenzl, March 28 and April 27, V. A., Russland, Expedi-
tionen, 1791.

3 Salomon, Pitt, i n , pp. 514 f.; Rose, Pitt, p. 608.


of Whitworth at St. Petersburg, British statesmen were at that
moment inclined to believe that Russia was completely ex-
hausted and virtually bankrupt, as a result of four years of con-
tinuous warfare, that Catherine had neither generals nor armies
nor fleets that were capable of dealing with really formidable
opponents, and that her Empire was seething with discontent
and even on the verge of revolution. Under such circumstances
it seemed impossible that " pride and obstinacy, the only motives
which influence the Court of Petersburg," could long hold out.
A war would scarcely be necessary: mere military and naval
demonstrations would suffice. 1 Acting on these miscalculations,
spurred on by the appeal of the Prussian ally, convinced that the
time had come for consummating the great work of pacification
begun the year before, on March 21 and 22 the British cabinet
took its final resolutions, apparently with almost complete
unanimity. 2

On the 27th a courier was sent off to Berlin with momentous
dispatches. He bore, in the first place, an ultimatum to be pre-
sented by the Allies at St. Petersburg, giving the Empress ten
days in which to accept the strict status quo principle, and hinting
at unpleasant consequences in case of a refusal. This declaration
was to be backed up by the most vigorous measures. A British
fleet composed of thirty-five ships of the line and a corresponding
number of frigates was to be sent to the Baltic, and ten or twelve
ships of the line were to be held in readiness to sail for the Black
Sea. A Prussian army was to threaten Livonia; the Dutch were
to be stirred up to join in the naval demonstration; the King of
Sweden was to be brought into action by a subsidy of two or three
hundred thousand pounds. Finally, Pitt presented the drafts of
two conventions. One was to define more closely the aims of the
impending enterprise, which was designed only to force Russia to
accept the status quo, without thought of conquests or other
material advantages for the Allies. The other was a project for a
" preliminary commercial arrangement between Great Britain

1 See, for instance, Whitworth's report of January 8, cited by Rose, Pitt,
p. 598, and Auckland to Grenville, April 30, Dropmore Papers, ii, pp. 62 f. Cf.
Lecky, op. cit., v, p. 279.

2 Leeds, Memoranda, pp. 150 ff.


and Prussia," by which in return for Dantzic Frederick William
was to pledge himself to extensive concessions to British and
Polish trade. It was a comprehensive and imposing program. 1

These communications threw Berlin into a fever of excitement.
Two days after their arrival, on April 7, the King held a council at
Potsdam, at which Field Marshal Mollendorff, Count Schulen-
burg, and Hertzberg were present. Of these three, Schulenburg
alone seems to have spoken in favor of risking a war; Mollen-
dorff, as always, opposed it from the military standpoint; and
Hertzberg, terribly disgruntled at the whole course of affairs,
brought forth a variety of objections. But the King's mind was
already made up; once more he was aflame for action. Hertz-
berg's remonstrances only drew down upon his head such a
tirade of reproaches for his " wretched political operations ' :
that the old man was stricken with a severe attack of illness on his
way back to Berlin. 2 It was decided to conform in everything to
the proposals of England. A Prussian army of 88,000 men was to
be ready for the invasion of Livonia and the siege of Riga. The
King intended to go to the front with his two sons and Mollen-
dorff beside him. The royal equipages were at once sent off to
Konigsberg. It appeared that the die was cast.

In those April days Europe rang with the news of the King of
England's warlike message to Parliament, of the great British
fleet fitting out at Portsmouth, of the vast military preparations
proceeding in Prussia and Sweden. It seemed as if nothing could
now prevent a general war unless the Empress of Russia gave

This was the time when Catherine's courage and firmness were
put to the severest strain both by dangers from without and by
faint-hearted counsels from within. She herself was as deter-

Online LibraryRobert Howard LordThe second partition of Poland; a study in diplomatic history → online text (page 19 of 59)