No good news? Just make some up, then
by Instant Noodle
Britain is in the midst of the Crimean War. So there is no love lost between the UK newspapers and their Russian counterparts.
So long as the Journal of St. Petersburg confined itself to mendacious reports of Russian victories, to eulogies of the virtues of its Imperial editor, and to general misrepresentation of public events, we might despise a miserable newspaper, but we could not feel angry with the
tool ot a tyrant.
However, when the Journal of St. Petersburg decides to take out a libel on some members of the English nobility, it is one step too far for Punch.
But when disastrous defeats make it impossible even for MENSCHIKOW to announce victories, when the praises of the Mild Eyes have been chanted in every variety of Russian melody, and when, in short, lies upon affairs of state being at a discount, the Journal of St. Petersburg addresses itself to damage and scandalise the private character of Englishmen, we confess to growing indignant.
It’s surprising to see Punch stick up for the nobility. But when it is acknowledged that many play crucial roles in the running of the military campaign, Punch is outraged.
We are not, as our readers know, habitually given to offer adulation to the aristocracy. But we neither do injustice to that, or any other body, nor permit it to be done without protest. And the noble behaviour ot members of distinguished families, during the Crimean campaign, entitles the order to which they belong to more than ordinary respect. Consequently, when we find the honour of two noblemen assailed by the Russian libellers, we hasten to put on record our leechngs on the subject.
A bit of backstory, then.
Everybody knows that the MAHQUIS of CLANRICAKDE, at one time our Ambassador in Russia, has a son, LOUD DUNKELLIN, an officer in her Majesty s army. The latter nobleman was taken prisoner in the Crimea, having we believe strayed out of bounds. The EMPEROR OF RUSSIA, who never loses the opportunity of a clap-trap, ordered the release of Lord, DUNKKELLIN, knowing that this specimen of Imperial mildness would have its weight with the class to which his Lordship belongs – almost over-ready to recognize the merit of any decent act perforated by the wearer of a crown or a coronet.
But there’s a catch.
With the cunning Cossack eye to a bargain, NICK, however, did not forget to intimate that if a certain CAPTAIN KULZOWLEFF (probably a somewhat more valuable than young DUNKELLIN) were wchanged for CLANRICHADE, it would be acceptable. To all this there is no objection. NICHOLAS was glad to make a sensation, LORD DUNKELLIN was glad to get away and Lord CLANRICARDE was, no doubt, glad to have his son released. All parties were pleased.
So far, so good, then. That is until Journal of St. Petersburg decides that that version of events wasn’t good enough.
But the Journal of St. Petersburg has no right to manufacture such letters as the following, and to pretend that they were the composition of a couple of high-minded, high-blooded British aristocrats. The Journal has the audacious insolence to publish, words –
“MY PRINCE, – I beg your Excellency to place at the feet of his Imperial Majesty the expression of the lively gratitude and profound emotion inspired in me by the kind and gracious recollection which his Imperial Majesty has been pleased to preserve of me. The order which the Emporer has issued in regard to my son is perfectly in harmony with the person al goodness the his Majesty formerly exhibited towards me, and which I can never forget. I have motives for thinking that no one can better comprehend than his Imperial Majesty the public duties which under unfortunate circumstances are required of us”
Such is the letter which the Journal of St. Petersburg prints as proceeding from an English nobleman, and which it expects the world to believe can have been written by one of those aristocrats who, the other day, stood round their QUEEN, and listened to the spirited tones in which she alluded to the enemy of the country. While the Sovereign is summoning the true hearts of England to aid her in crushing the Imperial Miscreant, LORD CLANRICARDE, one of her peers, is represented as full of “lively gratitude” and “profound emotion” that the miscreant in question should deign to “recollect him,” and is made to say that lie can never forget the Cossack’s “personal goodness.” And he is actually shown as apologising for being obliged to have a son in the QUEEN’S army, a son who is unhappily compelled to hear arms against Nicholas. The clumsiness of the libel is no excuse for its malevolence.
It was not to be expected that the Journal of St. Petersburg would do things by halves, or that those who had slandered the father would not equally libel the son. The gallant young officer is also made to write his fetter of fulsome and abject thanks, and to say:-
“Kaluga, November 10, 1854.
“MR. GOVERNOR,-I hope I need not, in the first place, assure your Excellency I feel moved by the act of kindness the Emperor has been graciously pleased to exhibit towards me. This magnanimity, which restores me to complete freedom, and unconditionally, is really the act of a great man, and although I shall never be in a situation to express to him my whole gratitude with words, I nevertheless pray you to have the kindlier to inform the Minister of War how deeply I am moved by the noble and magnanimous conduct of his Majesty the Emperor. My heart will never forget it.”
Yuck. If you’re going to make something up, make it convincing.
Imagine a spirited young officer concocting such an epistle, and finding in his own release the “act of a Great Man,” and one which his heart will never forget. The Journal of St. Petersburg has been so long in the habit of lying that its touch is coarsened, and it violates probabilities. We are glad to have the means of declaring our own conviction that the LORDS CLANRICADE and DUNKELLIN never wrote, or could write, anything of the kind attributed to them. An action for libel against the Journal of St. Petersburg is impracticable, but Parliament meets in a few days, and though it is hardly worth the trouble, for no man with British feelings will believe in the authenticity of the documents, the MARQUIS OF CLANRICADE wight, not ungracefully, rise in his place in the House of Lords, and, on the part of himself and his son, LORD DUNKELLIN, give utterance to his indignation that their names should be attached to such servile and unworthy compositions.
It’s very easy to just say that this is just “Russian Propaganda”, but remember that this is before those totalitarian days to come.
Needless to say, this is the sort of thing that libel law is designed to defend against. As opposed to against research scientists suggesting that a drug might harm millions of people, incidentally.