Modern history

CHAPTER XVI

THE MEDITERRANEAN

In this chapter it is not the intention to recapitulate the political history of the various Mediterranean countries—the unification of Italy, the French conquest and settlement of Algiers, the consolidation of the small Greek state, the reawakening of Egypt and the effort to conserve and reform the remains of the Turkish empire; or, again, to relate the diplomatic and military history of the international crises which these and other developments produced. Nor would it be easy, within this compass, to trace the influence of new ideas and habits which these countries shared in unequal degrees with the rest of Europe. Instead, an attempt will be made to define the common characteristics of the Mediterranean region in this period and to fasten upon some changes in the outward conditions of the region as a whole. The main key to these changes is the gradual advent of the steamship and, to a lesser extent, that of the railway, as carriers of the new industrial age into a still traditional pattern of life; if that is true, no apology is needed for focusing attention upon the Mediterranean considered internally as a network of communications and internationally as a through-route between Asia and the West. The political and strategical implications of these changes must be noticed, but not merely as part of the history of the several Mediterranean countries or of the two extra-Mediterranean powers, England and Russia, whose rivalry so much influenced the course of events within the region.

‘The Mediterranean’ is a name which has varied a little through the ages in meaning, and much more in its associations for its users. Whatever the geographer’s definition may be, the historian will exclude the Black Sea; neither the poet Ovid in exile at Tomi nor the Empress Catherine II as conqueror of the Crimea could have any doubt that the Mediterranean was out of reach. The historian may still hesitate whether to stop, like the Admiralty’s Mediterranean Pilot, at Gallipoli, but he will probably decide to reckon Constantinople among the Mediterranean ports and to regard the Bosporus instead as the gateway to a different world beyond. Even so, the extent is great. Constantinople and Port Said are each nearly 2000 sea miles distant from Gibraltar, and more than 1500 miles from Marseilles or Genoa by sea. Trieste is nearer than are the last two to Constantinople, but not much nearer to Port Said. (These distances compare with about 1300 sea miles from Gibraltar to London and less than 1900 from Glasgow to Newfoundland.) With this great extent, the Mediterranean is also a narrow sea, entered by narrow channels and pinched to several more or less narrow waists. The African coast is less than 90 miles from Sicily at one point (with the Island of Pantellaria in between), only 110 from Sardinia a little to the west and some 160 from Crete away to the east. The entrance to the Adriatic narrows to 40 miles. The Straits of Gibraltar are over 30 miles long and at one point less than 8 miles wide, while the Bosporus winds along for 16 miles, never more than 1 mile wide and sometimes much less. This extensive but landlocked and partially land-blocked sea is also a deep and salty sea, a nearly tideless sea, a sea with strong currents and finally a sea of sudden storms.

Where nature has provided so many channels, it is not surprising that the ancient world made use of slave-labour to cut more than one artificial canal; it is more surprising that the modern world waited so long to repeat the experiment on a larger scale. The advent of the machine provides only part of the explanation. Except in the last stages, the modem Suez canal was dug by Egyptian hand-labour, with comparatively little mechanical help; but it is true that without mechanical dredges the western approaches could hardly have been kept clear of silt from the Nile and that, but for the steamship, the project might never have matured.

The Mediterranean is more than a sea; the name means, too, all the coastlands for whose peoples this is the common sea, presenting them with a distinctive climate, similar natural products and a way of life which has for ages had recognisable similarities from end to end, and linking them together physically more than it separates them. Everywhere, the same rarity of frost or snow at sea-level, the same high average of sunshine, the same trees, the same olives and fruit and grain, and the same fish. Almost everywhere, too, in this period, the same still unexplained malarial fevers, the same fear of the plague and the same precautions against it. The value of these precautions was being questioned; in the 1830’s Mettemich vainly suggested a conference about the quarantine regulations, and one writer was soon arguing that most of them were unnecessary, since there had been no recent outbreaks at Marseilles, where the rules were less rigorously enforced, in spite of its busy trade with plague-stricken Egypt. The suspicion was sometimes justified that the regulations were used by governments for searching letters and for obstructing politically unwelcome vessels and travellers. Such complaints were frequently made, for instance, about the quarantine station at the mouth of the Danube, in the main Sulina channel, during the period of Russian control there from the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829 to the Peace of Paris in 1856.

In the days of the leisurely Grand Tour, the discomforts and even hardships of Mediterranean travel might be softened by the wealth, or gilded by the poetical fancy, of the traveller; but steam navigation was beginning to bring a new class, that of the ‘tourist’, who was full of practical and moral observations, and was apt to record his sufferings or his disapproval. One of the earliest, and one of the most tolerant, was Thackeray, who was commissioned, as the guest of a fast-developing shipping company, to popularise its new pleasure cruises. But a cotton manufacturer on holiday in 1845, as a passenger in a succession of steamers, reiterated in his diary his complaints of dirt, fleas and bad food, and above all of the enforced delay of a fortnight in quarantine in the Lazzaretto on the Asiatic shore of the Bosporus. Nevertheless, the habit spread, accompanied by a torrent of picturesque, romantic or optimistically utilitarian writings about the Levant, from which it is difficult to select reliable and comparable facts or even impressions.

Early in the nineteenth century much work was done in charting and surveying. A British naval officer, Rear-Admiral Smyth, who had done such work between 1810 and 1824, before the age of the steamship, wrote much later a kind of guide-book to the Mediterranean coasts, as a byproduct of preparing nearly a hundred charts.® He began by quoting Dr Johnson’s letter to Paoli: ‘The grand object of travelling is to see the shore of the Mediterranean’ from which came to us ‘... all our religion, almost all our arts, almost all that sets us above savages’. In the sequel he had little to say about this civilisation, but something to say about most of the ports. Much more systematic, and missing very little of the outward face of things, but generally barring politics, were the early series of guide-books which began with the steamships and the railways, and gave at least some reliable information, not only about the great cities and famous sites, but also about every little port which a traveller might now wish to visit, or find himself visiting in transit—John Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers and Karl Baedeker’s similar series. In addition, the age of commercial statistics was just beginning, bringing a mass of official and unofficial data. Such sources as these had the merit of asking much the same questions everywhere and of answering them in more or less common terms, so that a measure of statistical comparison is possible, however approximate and subject to hidden pitfalls.

A few very rough figures, almost all taken from one source, may give some indication of the relative activity of a number of ports in the first half of the period. These figures represent the tonnage of ships visiting each port in a year (that is, incoming plus outgoing, divided by two). The order of importance about 1870 is taken from another source. 

Order Of importance
Before 1850

Port

Shipping(in thousands of tons)

Order of importance About 1870

Order of importance before 1850

Port

Shipping (in thousands of tons)

Order of importance About 1870

1

Constantinople

?

1

14

Nice

100

 

2

Marseilles

500

2

15

Ancona

55

 

3

Trieste

490

8

16

Venice

5

14

4

Leghorn

360

5

17

Palermo

45

7

5

Genoa

300

3

18

Fiume

40

16

6

Ionian Is. (all ports) 250

 

19

Salonica

40

15

7

Gibraltar

240

 

20

Beirut

40

 

8

Barcelona

170

12

21

Civitd-Vecchia

35

13

9

Messina

165

6

22

Crete (all ports)

35

 

10

Malta

160

 

23

Piraeus

35

11

11

Alexandria

140

4

24

Naples

30

9

12

Smyrna

110

10

25

Cyprus (all ports) 30

 

13

Syra

100

 

26

Patras

30

 

The comparable figure for Cadiz was 165; for Odessa 160.

As to population, the figures are perhaps less unreliable, but they are even more deceptive. The commercial importance of a coastal town is not measured by the number of its inhabitants; some of the populous cities of Spain and south Italy, for instance, had poor harbours and comparatively little trade. But such figures may serve to show the lines of change in fortune that political events or the economics of the steamship routes were bringing to the Mediterranean ports in this period. Those on page 420 are given, where possible, for two or three dates, one early in the period, one about the end of it and in some cases one about ten years later; the order is, approximately, that of the population about 1870. The order of importance in volume of shipping before 1850 (as suggested above) is shown as a figure before the name of each city. The figures are taken partly from earlier and later editions of Murray’s Handbooks or McCulloch’s Dictionary of Commerce, and partly from The Mediterranean Pilot (1873-82).

A quick survey of the Mediterranean ports, gleaned from various sources and offered with all the necessary caution, may serve as a background to the political and economic scene early in this period. Starting from Gibraltar, ‘the great British depot for smuggling goods into the Peninsula’ and therefore (as Thackeray went on to argue with an oversimplification characteristic of his age) the pioneer for the abolition of protective duties and of a chief reason for wars, we see in turn the cities of eastern Spain, more populous than busy, but getting busier as soon as they were all connected by railway with Madrid and with each other; Malaga, with its fine harbour badly silted up, but by 1870 inaugurating a screw steamship line direct to Boston, U.S.A.; Cartagena, decayed and neglected at first, but growing at the end; Alicante; Valencia, second only to Barcelona on this coast, with a port artificially much improved since 1792; Tortosa, reached with difficulty from the marshy delta of the Ebro; Tarragona, equally insignificant but with the walls of a large Roman city; and Barcelona itself, second city of Spain, ‘the Manchester of Catalonia, which is the Lancashire of Spain’. Then Palma in Majorca, and the fine and healthy Minorcan harbour of Port Mahon, on which a British admiral could still cast a regretful and proprietary eye. Next, the French coast, from Cette (the port of Montpellier and exit of the old Languedoc canal) to Marseilles, a great city hard hit by the wars but quickly reviving, thanks to the steam packets and the new traffic with Algiers, and soon once more ‘the best and busiest port of France’ and of the whole Mediterranean too; Toulon with its naval arsenal but little commerce, and the huge roadstead of Hyeres, where whole fleets could anchor safely. The ‘commodious little port’ of Nice, Italian until 1860, was becoming a prosperous health resort; and, beyond, the first wholly Italian city, Genoa, connected by rail with Turin and Milan and in 1870 just connected with Nice but not yet by a coastal line to the east. Genoa, with its old artificial harbour, formed by two great moles, had, well before 1870, steamships passing each way along the coast day by day, and was also the base of the small but select Piedmontese navy, whose admiral (in command about 1842) had been trained in the British naval service.

Table Stats.

24

Naples

(1845) 400

(1868) 450

(1881) 450

2

Marseilles

(1845) 170

(1870) 300

(1881) 318

11

Alexandria

(1847) 80

(1872) 212

(l88l) 220

17

Palermo

(1847) 178

(1862) 187

(l88l) 230

8

Barcelona

(1845) 140

(1869) 180

(1881) 243

12

Smyrna

(1840) 150

?

(1882) 180

5

Genoa

(1842) 114

(1871) 132

(1881) 168

?

Valencia

?

(1860) 108

(1881) 142

16

Venice

?

?

(1880'' 130

?

Malaga

(1845) 51 ?

(1869) 110

(1881) 116

4

Leghorn

(1842) 60

(1861) 80

(1881) 100

 

Toulon

(1845) 28 ?

(1869) 77

(1881) 77

3

Trieste

(1840) 57

(1871) 65

(1880) 90

?

Catania

(1846) 56

(1862) 64

(1881) 90

9

Messina

(1846) 58

(1861) 63

(1881) 70

19

Salonica

(c. 1840) 50 ?

(1872) 60

(1882) 65

23

Athens (with Piraeus)

(1840) 20

(1871) 60

?

14

Nice

?

(1870) 50

(1881) 50

20

Beirut

(1838) 20?

(1858) 45

(1881) 70

15

Ancona

(1843) 35

(1867) 30

(1880) 36

10

Malta (Valetta port)

?

(1873) 33 ?

(1878) 61

?

Cartagena

(1845) 30

(1869) 33

?

?

Alicante

(1845) 25

(1862) 32

(1881) 35

7

Gibraltar

(1840) 24

(1869) 25

?

26

Patras

(1840) 24

?

(1880) 26

13

Syra (Hermopolis port)

?

(1872) 16

(1881) 20

 

Brindisi

(1853) 6

(1871) 14

(1881) 18

18

Fiume

?

(1871) 13

(1880) 20

21

Civiti-Vecchia Port Said

(1843) 7

(1871) 12 (1875) 10

?

 

Pola

?

(1871) 6

(1881) 20

From this point onwards we hear much of ‘pestilential exhalations’ and prevailing coastal fevers. Tuscan Leghorn’s spectacular growth, ascribed by some to its advantages as a free port and to religious toleration, was often contrasted with the comparative stagnation of Civiti Vecchia, the port of Rome, whose fortifications had been designed by Michelangelo. Naples, for all its swarming population and its attractions for the traveller, was not so much a commercial port as a great city, set in a fertile plain, which happened to be on the coast; naval men were more interested in that Tittle Gibraltar’, the citadel of Gaeta, and commercial men paid more attention to the busy Sicilian ports of Palermo and, still more, Messina. The Adriatic coast had at first only Taranto, an ancient harbour long choked but still a big centre of fishery; Bari; and papal Ancona, now grown a little more active in trade than Venice in her decline, and allowing a complete toleration to its colony of several thousand Jews. Brindisi, still described in 1853 as a miserable and dilapidated haunt of malaria, had, fifteen years later, just become one of the ports of embarkation for Suez, but even in 1875 had little commerce apart from the 12,000 passengers who passed through in a year.

The outlook for the Austrian ports of the Adriatic seemed more promising. But Venice, in spite of the viaduct bridge of 4000 yards which connected it in 1845 by rail with the mainland, continued to lose ground to Trieste, which was quickly ‘engrossing the entire trade of the Adriatic’ and rising to the first rank among Mediterranean ports; once the difficult railway connection with Vienna was completed (after fifteen years’ work on the final section from Laibach), full use could be made of the Austrian Lloyd shipping company, which had by 1871 one hundred steamships in direct connection not only with the Mediterranean but also with the Baltic and Atlantic ports of Europe and with the West Indies and the U.S.A. Pola, at first a fever-stricken and half-deserted town, was soon reviving as an Austrian naval arsenal, ‘the Sebastopol of the Adriatic’; Fiume, though still in 1871 not connected by rail with the interior, was nevertheless ‘the great seaport of the Kingdom of Hungary’. The lovely harbours of the Dalmatian coast (Lussinpiccolo, Zara, Sebenico, Spalato, Ragusa, Cattaro) were well protected, but hampered by lack of water and inland communications, and were of little more than local importance. Coming to the small ports of Albania and north-western Greece, the earlier accounts complained not only of fevers but, from this point onwards, of piracy too, with a belt of greater security in the British-occupied ports of the Ionian Islands, Corfu, Argostoli in Cephalonia (the best of these) and Zante.

Here the Levant began in earnest. The ports of Greece were, about 1840, beginning to recover from the disasters of the war of independence. Patras, at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth, had been the chief outlet for the currant crop, but it never surpassed its older prosperity, and was giving way to a new rival, Piraeus (still known to many as Porto Leone). At the outset, Piraeus was merely ‘a very convenient and sheltered port’ though ‘small and exporting little but oil’; by 1870 the steamships regularly called there. No longer were the tiny islands of Hydra and Spezzia (opposite Argos) ‘the carriers of a large portion of the Levant Trade’, and the population of Hydra fell from perhaps 40,000 in the 1820’s to barely 12,000 in 1870. But the island of Syra was still enjoying a shortlived prosperity, due at first to its relative security for shipping during the troubles of the Greek revolt, and later as the chief entrepot for steamships distributing passengers and cargo all over the Aegean; in 1872 ten to twelve such ships called there each week, plying between Liverpool, Marseilles or Trieste and Smyrna or Constantinople, or locally to and from Piraeus, Crete (Candia) and the smaller islands. All this region was full of local activity; but Crete, though the giant among the islands, was repeatedly set back by the cycle of Turkish neglect, Greek revolts (1841, 1858, 1866) and Turkish reprisals. The roomy harbour of the island of Milo (Melos) was, in sailing days, ‘frequented by almost all Levant shipping’, including the naval squadrons of the powers, but it fell out of the race with the advent of steam. Of the islands off the coast of Asia Minor, Rhodes had long been in decay, with its two harbours almost choked; there was emigration from Samos and Lesbos (Mytilene), while Chios recovered in population and in agriculture, but not in commerce, from the massacre of 1822.

Of Smyrna, the only great port of Asia Minor, it was said in 1840 that ‘she had ten times risen from her ruins with new splendour’; about half the population of 150,000 (rising to 180,000) were Turks, with some 40,000 Greeks, 10,000 Armenians and 15,000 Jews. Smyrna had a very long tradition of trade with western Europe, under the protection of a colony of some 5000 European merchants and their powerful consuls.

Still more cosmopolitan was Constantinople itself, with perhaps half a million people (and a great army of scavenging dogs) crowded within the huge extent of its old walls and spreading out into pleasant suburbs on the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmora. Already in 1840 a traveller might visit the newer activities of the naval arsenal, under an American director with Greek and Armenian artificers, the Military College and Military Hospital, the printing press of the Moniteur Ottoman (1831-), and the much older system of reservoirs which gave the city a plentiful water supply. Before 1870 there were many new developments, including Robert College (1863), promoted by the American Board of Protestant Missions and frequented not by Muslims but by Christians, especially by Bulgarians and Armenians. The commerce of Constantinople itself was perhaps not so great as that of Smyrna, but all the shipping from and to the Black Sea called there in passing, including the fast-growing traffic arising from the navigation of the Danube as an outlet for the exports (chiefly corn) of Hungary and the Balkan regions. There was no railway yet (except for the two short cuts from the Danube to the Black Sea, 100 and 120 miles north of the capital, for avoiding the river delta); but, by 1870, steamships of at least eleven nations were constantly putting in at Constantinople, including (among those carrying passengers) three English and three French companies, the Austrian Lloyd, more than one Russian line, one Turkish and one Egyptian company, and a number of small Greek enterprises. After Constantinople and Smyrna, the third port of Turkey was Salonica, growing fast and largely in the hands of prosperous Jewish families who had come long ago from Spain. Adrianople, though more populous than Salonica, was an inland city, only seasonally accessible for large boats by the navigable but much-silted river Maritza.

Turning southwards again from Smyrna, the traveller had little to notice along the southern coast of Asia Minor; Syria began with the ‘unhealthy and dilapidated landing place’ of Iskanderoon (Alexandretta), which had the only good anchorage off the Syrian coast and did a modest trade as the port for Aleppo; it was visited regularly by a French, and later by a Russian and an Egyptian, passenger-carrying steamer. Even in 1875 it had a population of only 1000 and a couple of jetties. In contrast, Beirut had a spectacular growth in trade, and its population trebled in the thirty years to 1868. The American mission, first established there in 1823, was followed by others and itself developed by 1866 into the Syrian Protestant College, ancestor of the American University of Beirut. The French had constructed a fine road to Damascus before 1870, and a London firm installed a water-supply a few years later, for this ‘the commercial capital of Syria’. The other ports of Syria and Palestine were still inconsiderable; even Tripoli, Acre and Jaffa had little protection for more than small craft against the dangers of a lee shore during westerly gales.

Port Said, which had no existence until about 1860, had ten years later a population of 10,000, occupied entirely in maintaining the newly opened canal. At the other end, Suez, supplied with fresh water in 1863, was growing fast. In 1847 it had been described as ‘a small and insignificant town, but not without interest...as the spot where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea’; yet it was then already necessary to describe it for the benefit of overland travellers to India. Until the canal was opened in 1869, Alexandria was the starting point of the overland route, which had been highly organised for some thirty years so as to transport passengers and mails via Cairo to Suez, first by river steamer and road and then (from 1854-8) by rail. Alexandria, already a busy cosmopolitan port of the Levant, grew from some 80,000 to more than 200,000 during the period; a quarter of the population consisted of foreigners, including about 20,000 Greeks, 14,000 Italians, 10,000 French, 5000 English and Maltese, and nearly 500 Germans or Austrians.

To come full circle, there remained only the inhospitable North African coast: Tobruk and Dernah, known only by name to European sailors; Benghazi, a small fortified town, with a good harbour but a narrow entry to it; Tripoli, from which a British naval survey officer in the 1820’s had made some short journeys inland with a view to collecting information about the road to Timbuktu and the unmapped Niger river; then Tunis, with a fine anchorage and (in 1870) some 20,000 inhabitants; and, not far away, the Gulf of Bizerta, which sailors had already noticed as a potentially great harbour, naturally protected. The Algerian coastal towns were only precariously held by the French for many years after the first conquest in 1830, but grew in greater security from 1848 onwards. The city of Algiers itself had by 1870 a population of 70,000, and was in close contact with Marseilles, which regarded the whole colony almost as its own daughter. Finally, in nondescript Spanish Morocco, came Tetuan, with its 14,000 Moors and half as many Jews; Tangier, about half that size; and Ceuta, about as populous as Tetuan, but including a Spanish garrison of 3500 and some 2500 convicts.

These Mediterranean coastlands were in a sense more closely linked with each other by the sea than they were connected with their own hinterlands. The people of Marseilles shared experiences with those of Barcelona, and even of Alexandria, which they did not share with Paris; they had long been citizens almost of a republic within the kingdom of France, more interested in Africa and the Levant than in Versailles. Barcelona, too, had a seafaring tradition of its own, which owed little to Madrid. Of the other great ports, some, like Genoa and Venice, had been independent city states, while those of the Turkish Levant had often been able to ignore any native political authority above that of the local governor. There was never any question of a Mediterranean nationality, the very idea of which was excluded by traditional rivalries as much as by the religious cleavage in the Levant; but these were often the rivalries of sailors and traders, reflecting local differences of situation and interests, rather than the greater rivalries of dynasties or nations. For this reason there had usually been many cross-currents in Mediterranean politics and warfare.

Yet dynastic rivalries, too, had long entered into the pattern of Mediterranean politics, and were easily transformed into the rivalries of nations in the age of nationalities. To Colbert, and much more to Napoleon, Marseilles and Toulon were the commercial and naval springboards for great designs not locally conceived. To Madrid, Barcelona had been the link with Spanish Naples, and also with Habsburg Vienna via Leghorn, Milan and the Alpine passes. Genoa and Venice (though denied, as republics, the benefits of the doctrine of legitimacy and restoration in 1815) could not easily forget that they had been Mediterranean powers, and rivals on a large scale for the trade of the East. The Adriatic had been in a real sense a Venetian lake, its eastern coasts either Venetian or denied to rivals of Venice; this assumption was inherited, along with Venice and Trieste, by the Habsburg empire and in turn by the new Italian kingdom. In the Levant, the prestige of Venice had vanished with the loss of her commercial empire. Much more potent was the tradition of Byzantium, not only in the hearts of Orthodox Christians, but in the proud assumptions of the Turks themselves. The idea of Byzantium as mistress of the sea still survived at Constantinople, whenever the Ottoman navy sailed out to patrol the Aegean as far as Crete, or beyond to Syria and Egypt. The reality was now very different from the conception, but a revival did not seem impossible, for the Byzantine navy too had known times of humiliation followed by times of triumph. Equally, when a French naval squadron sailed into Greek waters in 1827, or to the coast of Syria a little later, the Latin empire of the thirteenth century was not entirely forgotten, whether by friend or enemy; and the name of France could still inspire more hopes and fears, either on traditional or on very modem grounds, than her presently reduced power seemed to justify.

The fact that from 1823 onwards the United States usually had a small naval squadron in the Mediterranean had no political importance at the time; but individual Americans made their mark, especially as philanthropists and missionaries, and ‘American religion’ became for a time the Levantine name for English-speaking Protestantism. Moreover, after 1848 the republics of America, both north and south, became the Mecca of many in search of a new start in life. This interest was reciprocal, and Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad (1870), shows the robustly Philistine American tourist beginning to be a little self-critical.

The sultan’s command of the sea, and of the Levant generally, was now no longer challenged, within the Mediterranean, by Normans or Italians or Spaniards or even Frenchmen, but by his own insurgent subjects who dreamed, in Greece of a new Byzantium, or in Egypt of a new Arab empire; and, from without, by that comparatively recent intruder, the British navy, or that other potential intruder from the new naval arsenals of Odessa and Sebastopol. Greece, Egypt, Britain, Russia—each spelt a different danger for the sultan.

The decision in 1830 to make the new Greece a small but independent kingdom, under the diplomatic guarantee of England, France and Russia as protecting powers, relieved both their own and the sultan’s immediate anxieties. It recognised the presence on the stage of a new and unpredictable actor, representing hopes of future expansion and so of further changes; but, during the next forty years, the ambitions of the Greeks proved to be less disturbing to international affairs than to their own internal political stability. Neither the granting of a parliamentary constitution in 1843, nor the abdication of the Bavarian King Otto twenty years later in favour of Prince George of Denmark, nor again the British cession of the Ionian Islands to Greece on the same occasion, served at all to tip the balance of forces in favour of the Greeks. Their prospects in Crete, in Macedonia or in Asia Minor would depend, after 1878 as before, entirely upon their relations with each of the three protecting powers and upon the relations among these three from time to time (cf. ch. IX, p. 214).

Egypt was a second disturbing force, unpredictable and immediately much more alarming. The reappearance of North Africa in Mediterranean politics, as something more than a lair of ‘Barbary pirates’, began effectively with Napoleon I’s expedition to Egypt, and the process could not be reversed by his ejection or by his final defeat. Mehemet Ali, the Albanian adventurer who ruled Egypt (1809-49) was no doubt a barbarian, but he was at least as intelligent as some of the rulers in Europe who were his contemporaries. His face was not turned only towards the Mediterranean, for he secured control of the Muslim Holy Places in Arabia and he was interested in the slaves and gold of the Sudan; but his position could never be secure while he was still only the sultan’s viceroy. This made him deeply interested in the rivalries of the European powers at Constantinople, and at Cairo too; rivalries which he hoped to turn to his own advantage. If he preferred French to British soldiers, engineers and archaeologists, he also had a realistic respect for the British navy and desired to stand well with both France and England. In the Greek affair before 1830 he had been too deeply committed as the sultan’s ally to withdraw without a show of fighting when England, France and Russia managed at last to agree on a joint intervention in favour of Greece; but he was careful to show these powers that he bore no malice for the destruction of his fleet, along with that of Turkey, at Navarino in October 1827, and that, while he kept Crete as the sultan’s reward to him for his services, he was determined to rebuild his fleet and to prove to Europe that he would be a more reliable ally, and a more dangerous enemy, than the sultan himself. In the ’thirties, many Frenchmen believed that their old ally the sultan would do better for himself, and incidentally for France, by making large concessions to their new friend Mehemet Ali. Many, though not all, interested Englishmen took an opposite view; but both countries agreed in wishing to prevent the tsar from becoming the heir of the sultan.

Mehemet Ali refused in 1830 to be drawn into the French adventure which led to the conquest and settlement of Algeria. This enterprise, though less tempting to France than the historic lure of Egypt, was ultimately to prove more fruitful in opening up to her a great North African empire to offset her relative decline in Europe. The eastern and the western projects were closely linked in French minds at the start. Polignac’s first plan (September 1829) took up a recent suggestion by the French consul at Alexandria that Mehemet Ali should be induced to turn his eyes away from a lone adventure into Syria towards an attack upon Algiers in alliance with France. The viceroy pitched his terms so high (a loan of 20 million francs, free of interest, and a gift of four warships) that in January 1830 Polignac proposed instead a purely French attack on Algiers, with a loan of 10 million francs to Mehemet Ali if he would attack Tripoli and Tunis at the same time with 25,000 men. ‘France would have reserved for herself the strategical points along the North African coast, and the viceroy, recognised as lieutenant of the king of France, would eventually, in spite of England, have carried French influence into the heart of Asia.’ But in February the viceroy decisively rejected even this more limited plan, on the grounds, partly that an enterprise against Muslim rulers, shared with a Christian power, would shake his prestige in the Muslim world, and partly that he was not prepared to face the known objections of England to such a plan. He told the British Consul at Alexandria that Turkey was finished, and that England should prepare to create a power in Asia to help her confront the Russians. Where could she find such a power but in Mehemet Ali and his son after him? With English friendship he could do anything, without it, nothing.3 Consequently, France proceeded alone (June 1830) to capture the fortress of Algiers (and the treasure accumulated there by the Bey) at a moment when England was too much preoccupied to interfere. This first success was not undone by the fall of Charles X a month later; it was followed, under Louis Philippe, by a slow and costly struggle, whose final success came only on the eve of his own fall eighteen years afterwards. But, thereafter, with the decision in principle to treat Algeria, not as a colony but as an extension of France itself into Africa, development went on steadily, not much affected by political revolutions in Paris, and nourished by the capital and the commercial enterprise of Marseilles and by settlers from the Mediterranean coastlands and the vineyards of southern France.

Mehemet Ah, having declined to be tempted by France in the west, was still determined to have Syria next, and believed that here at least he could play off France and England against each other, and both against Russia. France continued, indeed, to woo him as ‘a Power naturally the friend of France and interested, like France, in the liberty of the Mediterranean’; but she wanted to use him as her tool against British preponderance, whereas his only object was to make use of any of the powers, or of the rivalries between them, for his own purposes. In England he had his advocates, but he was to have no success in his attempts to woo Palmerston, who was at this moment interested in the project of an ‘alternative route’ to the East through Syria and across the desert to the Euphrates, and thence down the river by steamboat to the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, without any certainty of effective support even by France, or of acquiescence by England in a fait accompli, he proceeded alone into Syria (November 1831) and into Asia Minor a year later, rashly forgetting his own words of wisdom. The victory of his son Ibrahim at Konieh (21 December 1832) opened the road towards Constantinople, and converted an important but local issue into a major threat to the independence of Turkey, a threat coming not so much from Mehemet himself as from the Russians in their new role of patron-protectors of a feeble sultan (ch. X, pp. 251-2). Probably Mehemet was relieved to be halted by the obviously unanswerable argument of a Russian fleet and army inside the Bosporus; in the general alarm at that sight, he was able to obtain as much as he had ever expected from this campaign, namely the government of Syria, Acre and Damascus for himself, and that of Adana for his son, Ibrahim, the commander of his armies. Perhaps he would have been wiser not to insist upon so much.

The sultan was determined upon revenge. Palmerston was equally determined to undo the Russo-Turkish treaty of Unkiar Skelessi, to expel Mehemet Ali from Syria, and if possible force him to give up his system of state monopolies in trade. It appears that the secret article of this treaty of 8 July 1833 was not so alarming as was supposed, for the Russian government considered itself as much bound as the sultan to keep the Dardanelles closed to foreign warships, even Russian ones, in time of peace; but it was not so certain that this principle applied to the Bosporus under this treaty, and there remained the threat of an apparent Russian ‘protectorate’ over Turkey. The Anglo-Turkish Trade Convention of Balta Liman (16 August 1838), on the other hand, was equally believed by the Russians to have unfriendly political implications; if Mehemet Ali should refuse to recognise it as applying to Egypt, because that would involve giving up his monopolies, England might have a good legal case for coercing Mehemet Ali into submission on the sultan’s behalf. For this reason, among others, he had been pressing for recognition of his independence, so that Egypt would not be affected by the Anglo-Turkish Convention. The sultan rashly played into his hands by initiating, without any ally, an attack on the Egyptians in Syria in the spring of 1839; in a single week his army was defeated at Nezib, his fleet deserted to the Egyptians, and he himself died (1 July) before the news of these disasters reached Constantinople.

Mehemet Ali was not to enjoy the fruits of these successes. Since no one of the powers could hope alone to impose a settlement, all five endorsed the action of their ambassadors at Vienna (27 July 1839) in warning the Porte, at Metternich’s instance, not to make hasty concessions to Mehemet Ali without their consent. The French did so with reserve, not wishing to see Mehemet Ali any more than the sultan humiliated, and refused to press upon him the terms which were suggested by Palmerston. Reassured as to the intentions of Russia on this occasion at least, Palmerston felt safe, after a struggle with his cabinet, in imposing a settlement without France, by means of the four-power Convention of London (15 July 1840), which envisaged, first the coercion of Mehemet if necessary, and secondly a reassertion of the principle of the closure of the Straits. Deceived by the bellicose attitude of his friends in France, Mehemet refused both stages of the offer made to him, and submitted to the powers only in December 1840, after a display of force against him by land and sea on the coast of Syria, and after the dramatic fall of Thiers’ government in October. His reconciliation with Turkey, on the conditions imposed by the powers, was not complete until the end of June 1841; he secured a hereditary right to Egypt under the nominal suzerainty of the sultan, but had to restore everything else.

In July 1841 France came back into the fold by signing a five-power Straits Convention which provided that both the Dardanelles and the Bosporus should be closed to the passage of warships when Turkey was not at war. In spite of later denials, it was not intended that even a request by the sultan should justify entry in peace-time without the agreement of all the signatory powers. The principle was not new, but it now rested on a formal international pact, which was reasserted in 1856 and 1871 and never repudiated.

Thus, at the price of a serious but not insuperable rift in the Anglo-French entente, this settlement of Egypt put an end to the alarms occasioned by the ambitions of Mehemet Ali outside Egypt over the past twenty years. The French expedition to Syria in 1860 arose directly out of local massacres which Turkish misrule had failed to prevent; it was undertaken with the assent of the other powers in the midst of the Italian crisis, and was brought to an end within a year by the insistence of England, which suspected a revival of French ambitions in the Near East under Napoleon III. Anglo-French relations were again to be strained because of the strategical position of Egypt in relation to the Suez Canal, but that issue must be treated separately and it did not reach its climax until the British occupation of Egypt in 1882. The influence of France in the Levant, though often politically unpredictable, was strong and constant in sentiment and culture, based in Egypt on the impress of Napoleon and everywhere else on more traditional links. The French influence in these fields remained stronger on the whole than the British influence; yet it was far less radically different from the British than was that of Russia.

The other two forces mentioned above, England and Russia, cannot well be treated separately. It was the predominance, in any emergency, of British sea-power in the Levant and the pressure of Russian influence in the Levant, and the hostility between these two external powers, that gave a new and distinctive character to Mediterranean politics during the half-century 1828-78. It is true that the tension between the two was relaxed for more than ten years after the settlement of Egypt and the Straits in 1841, but to some people in both countries that seemed to be an unnatural interlude, and the advent of the Crimean War to be a recognition of the true situation created by the weakness of Turkey as a buffer between the despotic empire of Russia and the commercial empire of Great Britain. However natural the Russian interest in the Mediterranean might be, it was to most Englishmen a new and portentous thing, whereas their quarrels with France in this region seemed traditional, almost domestic. The French, too, though unwilling to see Britannia ruling the waves, or British influence taking the lead over the French in the Levant, preferred the British fact to the Russian prospect. The other Mediterranean powers were really of the same mind; during the Crimean War, the Austrian government showed a very benevolent neutrality to France and England, and Cavour, in sending a Piedmontese contingent to the siege of Sebastopol, was not only seeking future favours with France and England for his designs in Italy, but also staking the claim of Italy as a future Mediterranean power, a claim which he knew could not be made good in opposition to Britain and one which Russia could do nothing to promote. A leading argument of the Piedmontese Cesare Balbo’s Hopes of Italy (1843) had been that, once the Austrians should have withdrawn from Italy, they would find the Italians their natural allies in helping to stem and turn back the tide of the Slavs, especially in the Adriatic. The same anti-Slav note was heard in the early writings of Karl Marx. From one point of view, therefore, the Crimean War was almost a crusade of liberal and radical Europe, and indeed of Catholic Europe too, against ‘the despot of the north’ and the oppressor of the Poles, whose distinguished exiles, Slavs though they might be, were so vocal in the opposite camp (cf. ch. IX, p. 234).

This widespread and often exaggerated fear of Russia and the Slavs was one reason why the nations which bordered the Mediterranean acquiesced in the lesser evil of allowing the British to become a predominant influence in Mediterranean politics. A second compelling reason was the overwhelming strength of the British navy when it was exerted. It was too much to say that no changes could happen without British blessing, but at least any changes which happened without it could usually be rendered harmless to Britain by some counter-move. A third reason was the leading position of England in the manufacture and management of the new machines. Up to at least the middle of the century, most of the steamships, under whatever flag they sailed, were built either in England or under British direction, and British engineers often had a hand in operating them too; the same was true of the railways, starting a little later.

A few small ships began to use auxiliary steam in Italian coastal waters as early as 1818-19 (Sicily-Naples-Genoa-Marseilles, also Trieste-Venice). The British Admiralty’s armed packets, which carried mails and a few passengers from Falmouth to Gibraltar and Malta, also began to use steam in 1830. By 1837 mails and passengers were being taken weekly to Gibraltar, fortnightly on to Malta and Corfu, and monthly on from Malta to Alexandria, whence they were transported by one of two rival agencies (both British) to Cairo and across the desert to Suez, and so carried monthly to Bombay by the new armed steamers of the Indian navy. This led Britain to occupy Aden as a coaling-station in 1839, and to see a new reason for confining the power of Mehemet Ali to Egypt alone. In 1837 the mail contract as far as Gibraltar was transferred to the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company, which was already operating six large steamers (500-900 tons). Two years later an arrangement was made with the French government for the eastern mails to be carried overland to Marseilles and thence by an Admiralty steam-packet to Malta and Alexandria; but Lord William Bentinck, for the East India Company, pressed for an all-British route, and in December 1840 the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company was incorporated by royal charter on condition of establishing within two years a mail service to India, and a subsidiary service from Malta to Corfu.

By 1842 the P. and O. Company had absorbed two rivals (the East India Steam Navigation Company and the Eastern Steam Navigation Company), and secured the mail contract from Suez to Ceylon, Madras and Calcutta; this was extended in 1844-5 to Penang, Singapore and Hong Kong, and in 1851-2 from Singapore to Australia and New Zealand. Until 1854 the Company was obliged to leave the Suez-Bombay route to the East India Company’s own service. In 1858 the discomforts of the overland portion were much reduced by completion of the railway from Alexandria to Suez, and in 1869 the official guests for the opening of the canal were brought in a P. and O. liner from Marseilles. By 1870, passengers could travel by rail to Brindisi, and thence by sea. The company launched services to Greece and Turkey in the 1840’s, during the boom in Levantine trade which followed the British Trade Convention of 1838 with Turkey and the repeal of the Com Laws in 1846. In 1844 the company advertised cruises for health and pleasure, which soon had the blessing of the British Medical Journal. Several other British companies began about the same time to operate regular steamship lines in the Mediterranean; but the chief rivals of the P. and O. were the French company which became the Messageries Maritimes (Messageries Imperiales, 1852-70), and the Austrian Lloyd.

The Messageries, having begun as carriers by land, contracted in 1851-2 to carry the French mails from Marseilles to Italy and the Levant, adding the Algerian mails in 1854, new mail services to the Black Sea and also to South America in 1857, and to India and China in 1861. At first, most of their ships were built in England, but long before 1870 the Messageries had their own shipyards and had become much the largest carriers in the Mediterranean, with constant official support and no French rivals. The Austrian Lloyd Steam Navigation Company of Trieste, which started in 1833 as a shipping agency, began to own steamships in 1836 and provided the first regular service to Constantinople. It ‘owed its origin chiefly to the conviction that the revival of Egypt, the emancipation of Greece... had caused a great revolution in trade and prepared its return to the ancient channel to Asia’. Although this enterprise never reached the stature of the P. and O. or the Messageries, the revival of Trieste owed much to its growth. Genoa provided two Italian enterprises, the Societa Sarda (1830) for Mediterranean traffic, and the well-known Society Rubattino (1840), which later came to specialise in eastern trade, launched a through-service to Bombay in 1857, acquired Assab as a coaling-station in 1869 (before it became an Italian colony in 1882) and eventually in 1881 amalgamated with the business of Florio (Palermo) which had started in 1849. The combined business, under the title ‘Navigazione generale Italiana’ was later still to obtain a large subsidy and for a time a virtual monopoly in Italy.

British supremacy in the Mediterranean was not very obtrusive. Gibraltar, which became a Crown Colony in 1840 (previously just a ‘fortress’), was irritating to the Spanish customs and excise authorities, but did not give rise in this period to much public expression of Spanish resentment, or to any serious political incidents. Malta was not unprosperous, and Italians had more urgent tasks than to pay much attention to it yet. British influence in the Levant was devoted to the negative role of countering that of Russia at Constantinople and that of France at Cairo, and to ensuring that, while an active British control over the new routes to India would cost too much in political friction and perhaps in military effort, yet those routes should at least not be both developed and controlled by any rival European power.

British power was most evident in Palmerston’s duel with Thiers over Syria in 1839-40 (see pp. 256-7); in his naval coercion of Greece in 1850 and 1854-6; and in the effect of benevolent neutrality towards Cavour’s conquest of Sicily and Naples by means of the ‘private enterprise’ of Garibaldi in 1860 (cf. ch. XXI). The rebuff to Russia in 1856 was the work of France and England jointly, with the support of neutral Austria; but the character of the Crimean War, and the terms of the peace, reflect the share of British sea-power in the result. As a postscript to this period, British influence was seen again in Disraeli’s peaceful assertion of an interest in the Suez Canal by the purchase of the Khedive’s shares in 1875; in his denial to the Russians of the fruits of their victory in 1878 by another demonstration of sea-power, reinforced by the occupation of Cyprus as a symbol of that power for possible future use; and finally in the occupation of Egypt in 1882. But British supremacy was not pressed home except where major British interests appeared to be directly at stake. Moreover, it was not always entirely effective, as incidents at the beginning and at the end of the period showed. In 1830 and onwards no serious attempt was made to obstruct the French conquest and colonisation of Algeria, however suspicious the duke of Wellington, the Admiralty and the Colonial Office might feel about it. In 1870 Russia was able, during the crisis of the Franco-Prussian War, to denounce the neutralisation of the Black Sea, a provision which, however unreasonable and hard to enforce, had been regarded in England as a major achievement of the Peace of Paris (1856). Meanwhile, in the ’sixties, Britain had withdrawn, voluntarily and more or less gracefully, in favour of Greece, from half a century’s uneasy protectorate in the Ionian Islands (cf. p. 242); and the Suez Canal had been completed by French enterprise, in the teeth of British political obstruction, but with vocal support, in the later stages, from important sections of British commercial opinion.

The economic and strategical consequences of the opening of the canallie outside the scope of this chapter, and some of them were to affect the Atlantic nations and those of the East even more than the Mediterranean peoples themselves. The effect of the canal upon the latter might be compared, in a sense, to that of the construction of an arterial road or railway for through-traffic upon the towns and villages near which it passes, giving new economic activity to some, by-passing others, and in a way reducing the purely local importance of all. Yet the Mediterranean countries had the greatest share in the project and its execution, and the expected or imagined consequences are very relevant. This aspect of Mediterranean history in the period 1830-70 has a peculiar interest and deserves attention in some detail even at the risk of overemphasis. The early pioneers of the idea of a canal had an almost religious belief in the unlimited prosperity which it was to bring to the Mediterranean region by eliminating the British monopoly of trade with India and the Far East and bringing them into direct commercial contact with the Mediterranean. This hope was disappointed; for, although there was to be a rapid increase in the direct trade of the Mediterranean ports with India and beyond, and some relative decline in the British share, yet the British were to be the principal users of the canal from the first; and the next largest users in 1910 were to be, not the French or the Italians, but the Germans and the Dutch. But, in the early days, it was this hope which fired imaginations in Marseilles, in Trieste, and also in Germany.

Ferdinand de Lesseps, while he was French vice-consul at Alexandria in 1832-3 at the age of 27, and then consul at Cairo for four years, read the report of Napoleon’s engineer, Le Pere, and, more important, made friends with Said, the future ruler of Egypt; but Le Pere’s report of a drop of 33 feet in level from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean was not disproved until 1847, and de Lesseps did not study the question very seriously until his diplomatic career had come to an end in 1849 as a result of his conduct of the French negotiations with Mazzini’s Roman republic. He owed the missionary conception of the project to others, particularly to Michel Chevalier, Enfantin and the school of Saint Simon, by which he was himself influenced in a general way. Already in 1832 Chevalier had been arguing that, in the new and by nature pacific world of industrialists and bankers, a republican regime in France would lead only to war, which in turn could be waged only by stimulating the fever of democracy and so dissipating the newly accumulated wealth; but that this conflict could be avoided by the system of ‘hierarchical association’. Moreover, it was no longer the Christian peoples only who were athirst for progress. The plan of pacification must therefore rest upon conciliation between the East and the West, in a system destined to regenerate the countries bordering on the Mediterranean, which ‘will become the marriage bed of East and West’. In the material order, the railway was the most perfect symbol of universal association, turning what were at present great nations into no more than middling provinces. A future age might discover a motive power less complicated and less wasteful than the steam engine; but meanwhile steam would propel traffic by railways, navigable rivers and canals, between a Mediterranean port in each country and a different sea beyond; from Barcelona by way of the Ebro to Madrid and down the Tagus to Lisbon; from Marseilles up the Rhone to Lyons, by the Loire valley to Paris and down the Seine to Le Havre; or (in the reverse direction) from Amsterdam by the Rhine to Frankfurt, across to the Danube and so down by Belgrade either to the Black Sea or to Salonica; or again, from the Baltic up the Vistula and down the Russian river ways to the Black Sea and so on to Astrakhan and the Caspian; or finally from south Germany by railway over to Trieste and Venice. The material emblem of Italian unity would be the railway. The Adriatic would become the outlet by which Germany was destined to distribute over the Mediterranean region her own products and those of the Scandinavian countries. By another route, railways would connect Constantinople and Aleppo with the Euphrates and so with Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. In addition, the North African coast would be served by a continuous line from Ceuta to Alexandria. Finally, ‘let us imagine that, to set in motion the double current which would flow to old Asia from Europe and from America, the two isthmuses of Suez and Panama are pierced, and then conceive, if we can, the delightful picture which the ancient Continent would soon present to our eyes’. All this might cost eighteen milliards of francs—no more, said Chevalier, than England had borrowed in sixty years for making war, and no more than the great nations were now spending in twelve years on the upkeep of armies and navies in time of peace. ‘Such is our political plan Combined with the moral achievement projected by our Supreme Father, this plan, which is the material aspect of the other, will one day ensure the triumph of our Faith.’

Enfantin, the Supreme Father, conceived, while in prison (December 1832-August 1833), the idea of a mission to Egypt, to promote education, and to study projects for a Nile barrage and above all for the canal which, he was convinced, could and would be achieved by himself and his friends. Enfantin and most of his fifty followers returned from Egypt in 1837, having made no progress in face of Mehemet Ali’s scepticism or disinclination to offend the English. During 1839-40 French eyes were fixed on Syria rather than on Egypt; but in 1844 Chevalier reopened the question with an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes, and in 1845-6 Enfantin, now a director of the company which was building the Paris-Lyon-Mediterranee railway, launched his project, well-supported by French engineers and financiers and by the House of Orleans, but attempting also to enlist the co-operation of an Austro-German and an English group. The leaders of the French group consisted of Enfantin, the three brothers Talabot (all railway engineers) and Arles-Dufour, a merchant of Lyons. Those of the Austro-German group were A. Dufour-Feronce, a Leipzig merchant and cousin of Arles-Dufour, and L. Negrelli, chief engineer to the Austrian state railways (1842-8), who in turn had some influence with Baron K. L. von Bruck, a co-founder and director of the Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company at Trieste. Mettemich and A. von Humboldt had already shown a cautious interest both in this company and in the canal group and in June 1846 Negrelli presented a memorandum to the Austrian Finance Minister, claiming that opinion in England was beginning to see the political necessity of a canal for the safety of her rule in India, in spite of a purely commercial dread of losing her monopoly; ‘on the day that the canal was opened, Vasco da Gama’s discovery would lose its prime importance, the greatness of Venice and her younger Adriatic neighbours would revive, and the blessings of commerce would flow first over Austrian Italy, Tyrol, Carinthia and Carniola, and soon over the whole region of Austria to the neighbouring lands’. Negrelli suggested that, by means of two locks, the presumed flow from the Red Sea down to the Mediterranean could be controlled so as to scour the silt from the western approaches.

The English ‘group’ consisted merely of Robert Stephenson and his friend H. Starbuck, and it was never ardent or active. During the ’thirties, Lieut. Thomas Waghom, R.N., had been promoting a business for conducting passengers and goods between Alexandria and Suez, and had merged with a competitor in 1841; but two years later Mehemet Ali granted the monopoly to an Egyptian Transit Company. In 1841 Arthur Anderson, a founder and director of the P. and O., had written to Palmerston, after a visit to Egypt, suggesting that the time had come to consider a canal; the viceroy’s French engineer, Linant Bey, still assuming a difference in level between the two seas, was for a canal from Suez to Cairo, using the Nile on to Alexandria. But British interests, both individual and public, were opposed to it. Waghom was publicly committed to the land transit, and soon Stephenson was to declare, on technical grounds, in favour of the much cheaper expedient of a railway by the same route. Palmerston was, for political reasons, more interested in the idea of an alternative route through Syria to the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf—a Syria which was therefore detached from French influence by his insistence in 1840 upon expelling the Egyptians and restoring it to Turkish rule.

From this point onwards the canal scheme was no longer specifically Saint-Simonian. On 30 November 1846 the three groups signed a form of agreement for a Society d'Etudes du Canal de Suez, with headquarters in Paris, each group undertaking to provide a consulting engineer and subscribers for 50,000 francs; provision was made for the eventual formation of a new society for executing any plan which should jointly be found practicable, with an agreed proportion of shares reserved for these founder-members and for the three engineers, Paulin Talabot, Louis Negrelli and Robert Stephenson. To Talabot was assigned a survey of the isthmus itself, and in 1847 his assistants proved that no difference in levels existed; but they were inclined, all the more, to fear silting at the western end, and joined with Linant Bey in preferring a canal from Suez to the Nile only. Negrelli’s Austrian team, who studied the western approaches, reported that the cost of dredging would be formidable, but that no other obstacle existed. This group was now keener than any, particularly in Trieste, where the Austrian Lloyd Company, the Chamber of Commerce and the city itself became (with the Chamber of Commerce of Venice) subscribing members of the group. They hoped that Trieste would one day become the headquarters of the whole enterprise, and so outstrip Marseilles before her supremacy should be assured by completion of the railway to the French Atlantic ports and by the development of her great network of steamship lines; for this reason they were inclined to doubt the zeal of the French group. They were also anxious to convert the British, by the argument, for instance, that, if Europe allowed the opening of an American transcontinental railway to California and a steamship line from there to China, and even the piercing of the American isthmus, to be completed before the Suez Canal, the centre of the world’s business would soon be transferred from London to New York and from Europe to America; if America took the lead, England and Europe would be ruined, and Russia alone, resting on a different basis from that of central and western Europe, would found on their ruins a new Asiatic power.

On the other hand, the English group’s share of the expenses was borne by Stephenson alone; and he was already half a sceptic; asked to report on Suez and the Red Sea approaches, which presented no difficulty, he was able to make use of existing Admiralty charts without the expense of any special survey party, but still threw cold water on the scheme and recommended a railway instead. The other groups complained that he should have warned them and resigned from the society if he believed a railway and a canal to be incompatible, but it was their opinion that the railway would only prove the need of a canal also. During the lull caused by the revolutions of 1848 and the illness and death of Mehemet Ali, the railway plan gained ground. Already in 1847 Palmerston was pressing it upon the viceroy and obtaining a promise from the sultan to favour it. In March 1849 Sir John Pirie, with some directors of the P. and O. Company, came to Egypt, offering to lend money to construct a railway for the Egyptian government, using British engineers. Mehemet Ali, who was always opposed to any project which he could not fully control, played off the British railway against the French canal and the canal against the railway, and said he would prefer to build a Nile dam before either; but, on his death in August 1849, the new viceroy, Abbas Pasha, accepted the new British argument that a railway, unlike a canal, was an internal project needing no permission from the sultan (a permission which he knew that England could deter the sultan from giving for a canal); and in July 1851 he signed with Stephenson a contract for the first section from Alexandria to Cairo. This was completed in 1854; another English firm obtained in 1855 the contract for the second section, Cairo to Suez, which was opened in 1858.

Meanwhile, de Lesseps had in 1852 tried in vain to win Abbas for the canal; the decisive turn in his favour came with the death of Abbas in September 1854 and his own dramatic intervention. Hurrying to Egypt, he obtained in November from his old friend Said, now viceroy, first a verbal promise and then a formal concession for ninety-nine years in favour of an international company under a director (de Lesseps), appointed by the Egyptian government which was to receive 15 per cent of the net annual profits. Of the remaining profits, 10 per cent was to go to the founder-members and 75 per cent to the company’s shareholders, including the Egyptian government in respect of any shares that it might purchase. The international character was preserved by the provision that the tolls should be the same for the vessels of all nations, but there was no mention of the Society d'Etudes, the German group, at first delighted, soon began to take alarm and before long to question the good faith of de Lesseps. This coup, for it was no less, had many repercussions. The whole scheme was still subject to ratification by the sultan. The French government, in alliance with England in the Crimea, hesitated to approve and, after an ominous delay, British official hostility was made known in the summer of 1855 by a dispatch to Paris and more publicly by the rebuffs which de Lesseps received in London from Palmerston and Clarendon. Nevertheless, he was able in January 1856 to announce, first that his own international commission had reported unanimously to the viceroy in favour of a direct canal, which would be both technically and financially practicable; and secondly that the viceroy had made a revised and more detailed concession to him in favour of his company. This contained a stipulation (relaxed in 1865) that most of the labourers should be Egyptians; it also fixed the maximum tolls for goods and passengers, made provision for possible renewal after ninety-nine years on terms more favourable to Egypt, and settled the constitution of the company, with its legal and administrative headquarters in Paris.

The fact that all the advocates of the canal in Egypt were French, or partisans of France, and that it now appeared more than ever as a French enterprise, had the effect of stiffening British opposition. De Lesseps had no success with the Peace Congress in Paris; and though he found influential supporters in London, Palmerston was adamant in the Commons (7 July 1857). In January 1858 the sultan was told that, if he consented, the British guarantee of Turkey would lapse, and in June a debate in the Commons ended with a big majority for the government (290 to 62). Yet in October de Lesseps launched his prospectus with reasonable success; more than 200,000 shares were at once taken up in France and some 100,000 in Turkey and Egypt. In April 1859 he actually began work at the future Port Said; he ignored two successive notes of veto from the sultan to the viceroy, and at last (26 October 1859) secured the open support of the French emperor. Hitherto, Napoleon III, though he had given an encouraging interview to Enfantin (10 April 1855) and had left no room for doubting his personal interest, had never committed his government; but now he gave up any appearance of neutrality. In spite of Turkish manoeuvres and a British memorandum reaffirming the ‘insuperable objections of H.M. Government to the projected Suez Canal’, de Lesseps kept the ear of the viceroy, who accepted in May 1860 the unsubscribed shares (113,642 in number) and soon started down the slope towards bankruptcy by borrowing from French banks at a high rate of interest. On Said’s death in January 1863 the troubles which had been accumulating over the supply of forced labour, and the ever-increasing costs of the work, came to a head; but the continued support of the new viceroy, Ismail, encouraged de Lesseps to ignore renewed Turkish threats. It appeared that England would no longer press her objections to the limit; on successive petitions from the directors (6 January 1864 and 4 February 1865), Napoleon III agreed, first to arbitrate on financial issues between the company and the viceroy, and then to use his influence with the sultan. Finally, on 19 March 1866 the sultan gave his consent, and de Lesseps reported his triumph to a meeting of shareholders in August. Palmerston had died a few months earlier.

The work itself, begun in April 1859. had moved slowly at first; early in 1862 the essential freshwater canal from the Nile reached Lake Timsah, and at the end of that year Mediterranean waters flowed into the lake. In the next two years very little progress was made, but from 1865 new life was given to the work by the greater use of machinery (made necessary by the abandonment of forced labour) and, still more, by the fading of political obstacles. By a channel of ninety miles, one-third of it through lakes, the waters of the two seas met in the Bitter Lakes in August 1869. In the opening procession of vessels on 17 November all the rulers of Europe were represented. It was the last day of glory for Napoleon III. Prosperity for the shareholders, mainly French, though long delayed was ultimately enormous. The cost, originally estimated by Linant in 1842 at less than 4 million francs, amounted in the end to 400 millions, and the prospect was at first so bleak that, in the eclipse of France, it was suggested in 1871, and again in 1874, that the company should sell the whole enterprise to the European powers jointly under international control; but no action was taken. When the Viceroy, now independent with the title of khedive, was forced by ruin to sell his shares in 1875 French interests failed to agree quickly enough upon finding the money; this alone gave Disraeli the opportunity to take what appeared to many Englishmen to be a serious risk. Commercially these fears were belied, but politically and strategically the canal was to bring for England almost as many troubles as advantages. The purchase of these shares gave her a voice, but not a controlling voice, in the management, and nothing short of an occupation of Egypt could make her feel secure.

The leading themes of this chapter have been the material developments of an expanding economy and their direct consequences. Nothing has been said of Italy, absorbed as she was in the struggle for unity, of the Roman question with its world-wide implications, of the civil wars in Spain, the growing-pains of Greece, or the processes of change, within the Muhammadan world from Constantinople all the way round to Morocco, which were mostly superficial as yet, but would issue before long in startling and apparently sudden transformations. These new movements and influences were not all due to material changes; they flowed as much from the infectious ideas of the American and French revolutions, and the restlessness of mind which the upheavals of the Napoleonic wars produced, as from any purely economic causes; but, among the carriers of the spirit of change, especially in the Islamic lands, were many men with commercial, military or political projects in their minds. These were all helped by the new ease and speed of communications, and some were inspired by a belief in limitless material progress. There is nothing peculiarly Mediterranean about the political and general thought of the age in this region.

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