The Crimean War seemed at the time an event of gigantic magnitude, and even still it stands out like a great chapter in the history of modern Europe. It was, however, only an incident, and an incident of comparatively little consequence, in the story of what is called the Eastern Question. The Eastern Question is simply the question what is to be done with the Ottoman Power in Europe. The Turks, ever since they settled in the south-east of the European Continent, have shown neither capacity nor inclination for any work which tends to the advancement of civilisation. Just before the outbreak of the Crimean War the late Cardinal Newman declared in a memorable sentence that the Turk had as much right to the territory he held in Europe as the pirate had to the sea which he ravaged. At the moment, however, when the course of lectures was delivered, in one of which that sentence occurred, public opinion in England had suddenly come round to the side of Turkey, not because England loved Turkey the more, but because she loved Russia the less. The difficulty of the question what to do with Turkey in Europe had become increased and embarrassed by the surprising growth of Russia as a military and an aggressive power. Russia had made advances in territory, and in military and in naval strength, and indeed in all the outward show of civilisation since the days of Peter the Great, such as no other European Power had ever equalled in the same space of time. Russia has shown for many years a strong inclination to settle the Eastern Question for herself and in her own way. The dream of many Russian sovereigns and statesmen since the days of Peter the Great had undoubtedly been to stretch the Russian Empire southward, to enclose the Black Sea and to make Constantinople a great Russian port. But Russian statesmanship had not been very crafty in its work, and it had excited the alarm of some great European Powers, especially of England and of France. England had for a long time regarded with alarm the successive steps in advance made by Russia along those regions of North-western Asia which lay between civilisation and England's Indian dominion.
It was but natural that English statesmen should regard with alarm and with jealousy Russia's sudden expansion here, there, and everywhere; and some indiscreet words of the Emperor Nicholas to an English Ambassador seemed to give new and sudden cause for distrust. The Emperor of the French probably did not feel very secure on the throne which he had set up for himself in France, and was anxious no doubt to keep the minds of his people from brooding too much over a despotic rule at home by dazzling them with a brilliant display of what French arms could accomplish abroad. The whole ambition of the Emperor Napoleon's life was to restore the glories of the great Napoleonic time. He was a man of shrewdness and cleverness, with imagination enough to devise great schemes of ambition, but without intellect enough to distinguish always between dream and reality. Indeed, he was above all things a dreamer. He had had many and varied experiences; he had been an exile in London, in New York, and in other cities; he had suffered imprisonment; he had become a centre of plot and stratagem; he had, when he chose to employ it, that marvellous gift of silence which passes so often for a gift of thought and of genius. According to the words of his cousin, the brilliant Prince Napoleon whose brilliancy and sound judgment brought him to nothing in the end, the Emperor Napoleon III. had twice taken Europe in; first when he made her believe him to be a dullard, and next when he made her believe him to be a statesman. About the time at which this story of England has now arrived the Emperor Napoleon was particularly anxious for a military alliance with England. He had a family detestation of Russia, and he dreaded her growing aggressive power.
He was really the inspiring agent of the war against Russia. A grievance was easily found, for undoubtedly the influence of Russia in Turkey was of a domineering kind, and it was easy to make it out that if Russia were allowed to go on much longer having things her own way, English and French influence would be shaken out of Turkey altogether. The question was, Who is to be master in Turkey - England alone, or England and France together, or Russia alone? No one thought for a moment that the Turkish Government could possibly be a master in its own house. The Turks had long shown their incapacity for any manner of improvement in trade and commerce, in art and science, in education, in anything but the training of stout bodies of fighting men. Undoubtedly the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Porte were in many instances cruelly and barbarously treated, and the sins of the Turkish Government in this way had long been crying to Heaven. But we may as well come frankly to the point now and admit that the Crimean War was not undertaken either by England or by France out of any merely philanthropic passion for the relief of the Christian subjects of Turkey. England went into the war because her statesmen believed that Russia was growing too strong and too aggressive, and ought to be checked; France went into the war because Louis Napoleon wanted a grand military enterprise. A grievance and a reason for war were soon found and an alliance was made between France and England. Austria and Prussia held aloof, but Sardinia joined the alliance under the inspiration of Count Cavour, the great Italian statesman, who cared nothing either way about Turkey or about Russia, but who saw his chance of getting a voice in European councils by joining with such allies as England and France, and who proved his judgment and his foresight in the end. England and France made nothing by the war, but out of it Cavour made the Kingdom of Italy.
The war broke out; the Allies invaded the Crimea; they met the Russian armies on three great battlefields - Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman - and on the field they always carried off the victory. The Allies besieged Sebastopol and captured it in the end. Russia had to come to terms, and to accept the conditions of peace imposed upon her at the Congress of Paris - conditions which under all the circumstances could hardly be called exacting or even unreasonable. All the troops fought well. About the English and the French there is no need to say anything; they fought as they have ever done. Our Turkish allies showed themselves as embattled Turks always do - capital fighters; and the Sardinian soldiers behaved brilliantly. The Russians fought with the obstinacy and determination which their countrymen had shown when they resisted the great Napoleon. It is a fact worth mentioning that the one name which came out of the whole war most illustrious was that of the Russian General Todleben, who organised the defence of Sebastopol. The English suffered immense slaughter in the campaign, but not nearly so much from the hands of the enemy as from the hands of mismanagement at home. Our commissariat system, transport system, hospital system, all broke down. Some of the most splendid men who ever faced an enemy in the field died of cold, of sickness, even of starvation, owing to the defects of management. England in fact never had braver soldiers or better officers; but the mainsprings of the machinery at home got broken somehow, and England's worst enemy proved to be not Russia but routine.