Financial Failure of Government. Cabs. Ireland. The Russian Question

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London, Friday, July 29, 1853

Mr. Gladstone, in the sitting of the House of Commons of last night, brought forward a resolution that provision should be made out of the Consolidated Fund for paying off the South-Sea-Stock[1] not commuted under his financial scheme. To bring forward such a resolution was to own the complete failure of his commutation plan. Beside this small defeat the Ministry has had to undergo a very heavy one concerning their India Bill. Sir John Pakington moved the insertion of a clause, by virtue of which the salt-monopoly should cease, and enacting that the manufacture and sale of salt in India shall be absolutely free, subject only to excise or other duty. The motion was carried by 117 against 107, notwithstanding the desperate exertions of Sir Charles Wood, Lord John Russell, Sir J. Hogg, Sir H. Maddock, and Mr. Lowe (of The Times). The oligarchy having succeeded in raising the salary of the President of the Board of Control to £5,000, propose now to raise the salaries of the immaculate East India Directors from £300 to £1,000, and those of the Chairman and Deputy-Chairman to £1,500. Evidently they suppose India to possess the same miraculous power as is attributed in Hindostan to the leaves of a fabulous tree on the extreme hights of the Himalaya, viz.: that it converts into gold everything that it touches the only difference being that what the credulous Hindoo expects from the juice of the leaves, the enlightened Englishman expects from the blood of the natives. The Chinese Sultan of the Arabian Nights, who rose one fine morning and went to his window to look at Aladdin's palace, was astonished to behold nothing but an empty place. He called his Grand Vizier and asked him if he could see the palace. The Grand Vizier could see nothing, and was not less astonished than the Sultan, who flew into a passion and gave orders to his guards to arrest Aladdin. The public of London, when it rose on Wednesday morning, found itself much in the situation of that Chinese Sultan. London looked as if London had gone out-of-town. There were and there continued to be empty places where we were wont to see something. And as the eye was amazed at the emptiness of the places, so the ear was amazed at their tomb-like tranquillity. What was it that had happened to London? A cab-revolution; cabmen and cabs have disappeared, as though by miracle, from the streets, from their stands, from the railway stations. The cab-proprietors and the drivers are in rebellion against the new Cab-act, that great and almost "unique" act of the Ministry of all the talents. They have struck.

It has often been observed that the British public is seized with periodical fits of morality, and that once every six or seven years, its virtue becomes outrageous, and must make a stand against vice. The object of this moral and patriotic fit happened for the present to be poor cabby. His extortions from unprotected females and fat city men were to be put down, and his fare to be reduced from 1s. to 6d. per mile. The sixpenny morality grew epidemic. The Ministry, by the organ of Mr. Fitzroy, brought in a draconic law against Cabby, prescribing the terms of the contracts he had to fulfil with the public, and subjecting at the same time his fares and his "Hansoms," his horses and his morals to Parliamentary legislation. Cabby, it appears, was to be forcibly transformed into the type of British respectability. The present generation could not do without improvising at least one virtuous and disinterested class of citizens, and Cabby was selected to form it. So anxious was the Ministry of all the talents to perform its masterpiece of legislation, that the Cab- act, hardly carried through the House, was put into operation before any part of the machinery for working it was ready. Instead of authentic copies of the new regulations and tables of fares and distances, the Cadis of London having been provided beforehand, the police magistrates were advised to decide any conflict arising between Cabby and the public in the most summary way. Thus, we had during two weeks the various and elevating spectacle of a continuous fight before the magistrates between a real army of 6d. Hampdens[2] and the "atrocious" cabmen, the one fighting for virtue, and the others for money. Day after day was Cabby moralized, sentenced, imprisoned. At last he made sure that he was unable to pay his proprietor the old rent with the new tariff, and proprietor and driver seceded to their Mons Sacer[183], to the National Hall, in Holborn, where they came to the terrible resolution which for three days has produced the cab-desolation of London. Two things they have already effected: firstly, that the Ministry through the organ of Mr. Fitzroy, have amended their own act so much as nearly to annihilate it; and secondly, that the Eastern Question, the Danish coup d'état, the bad harvest, and the approaching cholera have all disappeared before that one great struggle of public virtue, which persists in paying only 6d. per mile, and the private interest which persists in asking 12 pence.

"Strike" is the order of the day. During the present week 5,000 miners have struck in the northern coal district; 400 to 500 journeymen cork-cutters in London; about 2,000 laborers employed by the different wharfingers on the Thames; the police force at Hull, similar attempts being made by the City and general Metropolitan Police; and finally the bricklayers employed at St. Stephens, under the very nose of Parliament.

"The world is becoming a very paradise for laborers. Men are becoming valuable," exclaims The Times. In the years 1849, '50, '51, '52, while commerce was progressively growing, industry extending to unheard-of dimensions, and profits continually augmenting, wages in general remained stationary, and were in most instances even maintained at the reduced scale occasioned by the crisis of 1847. Emigration having reduced the numbers, and the rise in the prices of the first necessaries having sharpened the appetites of the people, strikes broke out, and wages rose in consequence of those strikes, and lo! the world becomes a paradise for laborers in the eyes of The Times. In order to reduce that paradise to terrestrial dimensions, the mill-lords of Lancashire have formed an association, for mutually assisting and supporting each other against the demands of the people. But not content with opposing combination to combination, the bourgeoisie threaten to appeal to the interference of law—of law dictated by themselves. In what manner this is done may be inferred from the following expectorations of The Morning Post, the organ of the liberal and amiable Palmerston.

"If there be a piece of wickedness which preeminently deserves to be punished with an iron hand, it is the system of strikes.... What is wanted is some stringent and summary mode of punishing the leaders and chief men of these combinations. [...] It would be no interference with the freedom of the labor market to treat these fellows to a flogging... It is idle to say that this would interfere with the labor market. As long as those who supply the labor market refrain from jeopardizing the interests of the country, they may be left to make their own terms with the employers."[3]

Within a certain conventional limit, the laborers shall be allowed to imagine themselves to be free agents of production, and that their contracts with their masters are settled by mutual convention; but that limit passed, labor is to be openly enforced upon them on conditions prescribed by Parliament, that permanent Combination Committee of the ruling classes against the people. The deep and philosophical mind of the Palmerstonian organ is curiously disclosed in its yesterday's discovery, on that "the hardest used of all classes in this country is the poor of the higher ranks," the poor aristocrat who is forced to use a cab instead of a "brougham" of his own![4]

Like the world in general, we are assured, that Ireland in particular is becoming a paradise for the laborer, in consequence of famine[5] and exodus. Why then, if wages really are so high in Ireland, is it that Irish laborers are flocking in such masses over to England to settle permanently on this side of the "pond"[6], while they formerly used to return after every harvest? If the social amelioration of the Irish people is making such progress, how is it that, on the other hand, insanity has made such terrific progress among them since 1847, and especially since 1851? Look at the following data from "the Sixth Report on the District Criminal and Private Lunatic Asylums in Ireland":

Sum total of admissions in Lunatic Asylums
1851......2,584(1,301 males and 1,283 females.)
1852......2,662(1,276 males and 1,386 females.)
March, 1853......2,870(1,447 males and 1,423 females.)

And this is the same country in which the celebrated Swift, the founder of the first Lunatic Asylum in Ireland[7], doubted whether 90 madmen could be found.

The Chartist agitation reopened by Ernest Jones, is proceeding vigorously, and on the 30th inst., a great open-air meeting of the Chartists of London will be held on Kennington Common, the place where the great gathering of April 10, 1848, took place.[8]

Mr. Cobbett has withdrawn his Factory Bill, intimating his intention of reintroducing it early in next session.

As to the financial and general prospects of England The Manchester Guardian of the 27th inst., entirely confirms my own previous predictions in the following passages of a leading article

"Seldom perhaps has there been a time when there were floating in our commercial atmosphere so many elements of uncertainty calculated to excite uneasiness—we use that mild word advisedly. At any former period before the repeal of the Corn Laws, and the general adaptation of the free trade policy, we should have used the stronger term of serious alarm. These elements are firstly the apprehended deficiency of the crops, secondly the continued abstraction of gold from the cellars of the bank, and thirdly the great probability of war."

The last of the Constitutions of 1848, has now been overthrown by the coup d'état of the Danish King[9]. A Russian Constitution has been conferred upon the country, which, by the abolition of the Lex Regia, was doomed to become a Russian Province[10]. In a subsequent letter I shall give an exposé of the affairs of that country.[11]

"It is our policy to see that nothing new happens during the next four months, and I hope we shall accomplish it, because men in general prefer waiting; but the fifth must be fruitful in events."

Thus wrote Count Pozzo di Borgo on the 28th Nov., 1828, to Count Nesselrode[12], and Count Nesselrode is now acting on the same maxim. While the military assumption of the Principalities was completed by the assumption of their Civil Government by the Russians, while troops after troops are pouring into Bessarabia and the Crimea, a hint has been given to Austria that her mediation might be accepted, and another to Bonaparte that his proposals were likely to be met with a favorable reception by the Czar. The Ministers at Paris and London were comforted with the prospect that Nicholas would condescend to definitively accept their excuses. All the Courts of Europe, transformed into so many Sultanas, were anxiously waiting which of them, the magnanimous commander of the faithful would throw his handkerchief to. Having kept them in this manner for weeks, nay for months, in suspense, Nicholas suddenly makes a declaration that neither England, nor France, nor Austria, nor Prussia, had any business in his quarrel with Turkey, and that with Turkey alone he could negotiate. It was probably in order to facilitate his negotiations with Turkey, that he recalled his embassy from Constantinople. But while he declares that the Powers are not to meddle in Russia's concerns, we are informed on the other hand that the representatives of France, England, Austria and Prussia kill their time in meeting at Vienna in conference, and in hatching projects for the arrangement of the Eastern Question, neither the Turkish nor Russian Ambassador participating in these mock-conferences. The Sultan[13] had appointed, on the 8th inst. a warlike ministry, in order to escape from his armed suspension, but was compelled by Lord Redcliffe to dismiss it on the same evening. He has now been so much confused that he intends to send an Austrian courier to St. Petersburg with the mission of asking whether the Czar would re-enter into direct negotiations. On the return of that courier and the answer he brings, shall depend, whether Reshid Pasha is himself to go to St. Petersburg. From St. Petersburg he is to send new draft notes to Constantinople; the new draft notes are to be returned to St. Petersburg, and nothing will be settled before the last answer is again returned from St. Petersburg to Constantinople and then the fifth month will have arrived, and no fleets can enter the Black Sea; and then the Czar will quietly remain during the winter in the Principalities, where he pays with the same promises that still circulate there from his former occupations, and as far back as 1820.

You know that the Serbian Minister Garašanin has been removed at the instance of Russia. Russia insists now, following up that first triumph, on all anti-Russian officers being expelled the service. This measure, in its turn, was intended to be followed by the reigning Prince Alexander being replaced by Prince Michel Obrenović, the absolute tool of Russia and Russian interests. Prince Alexander, to escape from this calamity, and likewise under the pressure of Austria, has struck against the Sultan, and declared his intention of observing a strict neutrality. The Russian intrigues in Serbia are thus described in the Presse of Paris:

"Every body knows that the Russian Consulate at Orsova—a miserable village where not a single Russian subject is to be found, but situated in the midst of a Servian population, is only a poor establishment, yet it is made the hotbed of Muscovite propaganda. The hand of Russia was judiciarily seized and established in the affair of Ibraila in 1840, and of John Lutzo in 1850, in the affair of the recent arrest of 14 Russian officers, which arrest became the cause of the resignation of Garašanin's Ministry. It is. likewise known that Prince Menchikoff, during his stay at Constantinople, fomented similar intrigues through his agents at Broussa, Smyrna, as in Thessalonica, Albania and Greece."[14]

There is no more striking feature in the politics of Russia than the traditional identity not only of her objects, but of her manner in pursuing them. There is no complication of the present Eastern Question, no transaction, no official note, which does not bear the stamp of quotation from known pages of history.

Russia has now no other pretext to urge against the Sultan, except the treaty of Kainardji[15], although that treaty gave her, instead of a protectorate over her correligionists, only the right to build a chapel at Stamboul, and to implore the Sultan's clemency for his Christian subjects, as Reshid Pasha justly urged against the Czar in his note of the 14th inst. But already in 1774, when that treaty was signed, Russia intended to interpret it one day or the other in the sense of 1853. The then Austrian Internuncio at the Ottoman Porte, Baron Thugut, wrote in the year 1774 to his Court:

"Henceforth Russia will always be in a situation to effect, whenever she may deem the opportunity favorable, and without much preliminary arrangement, a descent upon Constantinople from her ports on the Black Sea. In that case a conspiracy concerted in advance with the chiefs of the Greek religion, would no doubt burst forth, and it would only remain for the Sultan to quit his palace at the first intelligence of this movement of the Russians, to fly into the depth of Asia, and abandon the throne of European Turkey to a more experienced possessor. When the capital shall have been conquered, terrorism and the faithful assistance of the Greek Christians will indubitably and easily reduce, beneath the scepter of Russia, the whole of the Archipelago, the coast of Asia Minor and all Greece, as far as the shore of the Adriatic. Then the possession of these countries, so much favored by nature, with which no other part of the world can be compared in respect to the fertility and richness of the soil, will elevate Russia to a degree of superiority surpassing all the fabulous wonders which history relates of the grandeurs of the monarchies of ancient times."

[Pp. 579-80.][16]

In 1774, as now, Russia was tempting the ambition of Austria with the prospect of Bosnia, Servia and Albania being incorporated with her. The same Baron Thugut writes thus on this subject:

"Such aggrandizement of the Austrian territory would not excite the jealousy of Russia. The reason is that the requisition which Austria would make of Bosnia, Servia, etc., although of great importance under other circumstances, would not be of the least utility to Russia, the moment the remainder of the Ottoman Empire should have fallen into her hands. ,For these provinces are inhabited almost entirely by Mohammedans and Greek Christians: the former would not be tolerated as residents there; the latter, considering the close vicinity of the Oriental Russian Empire would not hesitate to emigrate thither; or if they remained, their faithlessness to Austria would occasion continuous troubles; and thus an extension of territory, without intrinsic strength, so far from augmenting the power of the Emperor of Austria, would only serve to weaken it."

Politicians are wont to refer to the testament of Peter I[17], in order to show the traditional policy of Russia in general, and particularly with regard to her views on Constantinople. They might have gone back still further. More than eight centuries ago, Svyatoslav, the yet Pagan Grand Duke of Russia, declared in an assembly of his Boyars, that "not only Bulgaria, but the Greek Empire in Europe, together with Bohemia and Hungary, ought to undergo the rule of Russia." Svyatoslav conquered Silistria and threatened Constantinople, A.D. 968, as Nicholas did in 1828. The Rurik dynasty transferred, soon after the foundation of the Russian Empire, their capital from Novgorod to Kiev, in order to be nearer to Byzantium. In the eleventh century Kiev imitated in all things Constantinople, and was called the second Constantinople, thus expressing the everlasting aspirations of Russia. The religion and civilization of Russia are of Byzantine offspring, and that she should have aimed at subduing the Byzantine Empire, then in the same decay as the Ottoman Empire is now in, was more natural than that the German Emperors should have aimed at the conquest of Rome and Italy. The unity, then, in the objects of Russian policy, is given by her historical past, by her geographical conditions, and by her necessity of gaining open sea-ports in the Archipelago as in the Baltic, if she wants to maintain her supremacy in Europe. But the traditional manner in which Russia pursues those objects, is far from meriting that tribute of admiration paid to it by European politicians. If the success of her hereditary policy proves the weakness of the Western Powers, the stereotyped mannerism of that policy proves the intrinsic barbarism of Russia herself. Who would not laugh at the idea of French politics being conducted on the testament of Richelieu, or the capitularies of Charlemagne[18]? Go through the most celebrated documents of Russian diplomacy, and you will find that shrewd, judicious, cunning, subtle as it is in discovering the weak points of European Kings, ministers and courts, its wisdom is at a complete dead-lock as often as the historical movements of the Western peoples themselves are concerned. Prince Lieven judged very accurately of the character of the good Aberdeen when he speculated on his connivance with the Czar, but he was grossly mistaken in his judgment of the English people when he predicted the continuance of Tory rule on the eve of the Reform move of 1831. Count Pozzo di Borgo judged very correctly of Charles X, but he made the greatest blunder with regard to the French people when he induced his "august master" to treat with that King of the partition of Europe on the eve of his expulsion from France. The Russian policy, with its traditional craft, cheats and subterfuges, may impose upon the European Courts which are themselves but traditional things, but it will prove utterly powerless with the revolutionized peoples.

At Beirut, the Americans have abstracted another Hungarian refugee from the claws of the Austrian eagle. It is cheering to see the American intervention in Europe beginning just with the Eastern Question. Besides the commercial and military importance resulting from the situation of Constantinople, there are other historical considerations, making its possession the hotly-controverted and permanent subject of dispute between the East and the West and America is the youngest but most vigorous representative of the West.

Constantinople is the eternal city the Rome of the East. Under the ancient Greek Emperors, Western civilization amalgamated there so far with Eastern barbarism, and under the Turks, Eastern barbarism amalgamated so far with Western civilization, as to make this center of a theocratical Empire the effectual bat against European progress. When the Greek Emperors were turned out by the Sultans of Iconium[19], the genius of the ancient Byzantine Empire survived this change of dynasties, and if the Sultan were to be supplanted by the Czar, the Bas-Empire would be restored to life with more demoralizing influences than under the ancient Emperors, and with more aggressive power than under the Sultan. The Czar would be for Byzantine civilization what Russian adventurers were for centuries to the Emperors of the Lower Empire the corps de garde of their soldiers. The struggle between Western Europe and Russia about the possession of Constantinople involves the question whether Byzantinism is to fall before Western civilization, or whether its antagonism shall revive in a more terrible and conquering form than ever before. Constantinople is the golden bridge thrown between the West and the East, and Western civilization cannot, like the sun, go around the world without passing that bridge; and it cannot pass it without a struggle with Russia. The Sultan holds Constantinople only in trust for the Revolution, and the present nominal dignitaries of Western Europe, themselves finding the last stronghold of their "order" on the shores of the Neva, can do nothing but keep the question in suspense until Russia has to meet her real antagonist, the Revolution. The Revolution which will break the Rome of the West will also overpower the demoniac influences of the Rome of the East.

Those of your readers who, having read my letters on German Revolution and Counter-Revolution, written for The Tribune some two years ago[20], desire to have an immediate intuition of it, will do well to inspect the picture[21] by Mr. Hasenclever, now being exhibited in the New-York Crystal Palace[22], representing the presentation of a workingmen's petition to the magistrates of Düsseldorf in 1848. What the writer could only analyze, the eminent painter has reproduced in its dramatic vitality.

  1. The South Sea Company was founded in England about 1712 officially for trade with South America and the Pacific islands, but its real purpose was speculation in state bonds. The government granted several privileges and monopoly rights to the Company, including the right to issue state securities. The Company's large-scale speculation brought it to bankruptcy in 1720 and greatly increased Britain's national debt.
  2. Marx ironically compares the adherents of lowering cabmen's payment to sixpence per mile with a leading figure of the English revolution in the seventeenth century, John Hampden, who was tried in 1637 for refusal to pay the King's tax-collectors "ship money", a tax which had not been authorised by the House of Commons.
  3. The Morning Post, No. 24835, July 27, 1853.—Ed.
  4. The Morning Post, No. 24836, July 28, 1853.—Ed.
  5. In 1845-47 there was famine in Ireland due to the ruin of farms and the pauperisation of the peasants. Although blight had caused a great shortage of potatoes, the principal diet of the Irish peasants, the English landlords continued to export food from the country, condemning the poorest sections of the population to starvation. About a million people starved to death and the new wave of emigration caused by the famine carried away another million. As a result, large areas of Ireland were depopulated and the abandoned land was turned into pastures by the Irish and English landlords.
  6. The Irish Sea.—Ed.
  7. Jonathan Swift bequeathed all his fortune for the building of a lunatic asylum in Dublin. The asylum was opened in 1757.
  8. On April 10, 1848, a Chartist demonstration was organised in London to present the Chartist petition to Parliament. The government banned the demonstration and troops and police were brought to London to prevent it. The Chartist leaders, many of whom vacillated, decided to call off the demonstration and persuaded the participants to disperse. This failure was used by reactionary forces to launch an offensive against the workers and repress the Chartists.
  9. Frederick VII.—Ed.
  10. A reference to amendments to the Danish Constitution of June 5, 1849 to give more powers to the Crown, drafted in 1853. The new Constitution was promulgated on October 2, 1855.

    Lex Regia—the law of Danish succession promulgated on November 14, 1665 by King Frederick III of Denmark extended to women the right of succeeding to the throne. Under the London Protocol of May 8, 1852 (*) and the new law of succession of July 31, 1853 this right was abolished. Thus, Duke Christian of Glücksburg was proclaimed successor to King Frederick VII as the latter had no heir. The new law indirectly confirmed the right of members of the Russian imperial dynasty to succeed to the Danish throne.

    (*) A reference to the London Protocol of May 8, 1852 on the integrity of the Danish monarchy, signed by the representatives of Austria, Denmark, England, France, Prussia, Russia and Sweden. It was based on the Protocol adopted by the above-mentioned countries (except Prussia) at the London Conference on August 2, 1850, which supported the indivisibility of the lands belonging to the Danish Crown, including the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. The 1852 Protocol mentioned the Russian Emperor (as a descendant of Duke Charles Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp who reigned in Russia as Peter III) among the lawful claimants to the Danish throne who had waived their rights in favour of Duke Christian of Glücksburg who was proclaimed successor to King Frederick VII.
  11. See In The House of Commons. The Press on the Eastern Question. The Czar's Manifesto. Denmark. —Ed.
  12. Quoted from The Portfolio, 1836, Vol. I, p. 473.—Ed.
  13. Abdul Mejid.—Ed.
  14. Quoted from J. Paradis' article in La Presse, July 26, 1853.—Ed.
  15. The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji, signed between Russia and Turkey on July 21, 1774, put an end to the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74, in which Turkey was defeated. By that treaty Russia obtained the section of the Black Sea coast between the Southern Bug and the Dnieper, with the fortress of Kinburn, and also Azov, Kerch and Jenikale, and secured independent status for the Crimea facilitating its incorporation into Russia. Russian merchant ships were granted the right of free passage through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. The Sultan was to grant a number of privileges to the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey, in particular Article 14 of the treaty provided for the construction of an Orthodox church in Constantinople.
  16. Here and below, the quotations are from Joseph von Hammer's Geschichte des Osmanischen Reiches, Vol. 8.—Ed.
  17. The will of Peter the Great—a spurious document circulated by enemies of Russia. The idea of the existence of the "will" was advanced in the West as early as 1797. In 1812 Ch. L. Lesur described the contents of this pseudo-will in his book Des progrès de la puissance russe, depuis son origine jusqu'au commençement du XIX[e] siècle, and in 1836 it was reproduced as a document in T. F. Gaillardet's book Mémoires du Chevalier d'Eon. In Marx's and Engels' lifetime many people in Western Europe regarded this document as authentic.
  18. In his "political testament" (1633) Richelieu expounded the principles of the domestic and foreign policy of French absolutism, in an attempt to substantiate its claims for an extension of France's boundaries and French hegemony in Europe.

    Capitularies—the name given from the time of Charlemagne (768-814) to the collections of ordinances of the Frankish kings of the Carolingian dynasty; some of them dealt with the administration of the conquered lands.
  19. At the end of the eleventh century a Turkish feudal state sprang up in the east of Asia Minor as a result of its conquest by the Ogyz Turks. Its capital was the town of Iconium (Konia). The Iconian Sultanate under the ruling Seljukian dynasty waged a struggle against Byzantium and the crusaders. In the second half of the thirteenth century under the impact of the Mongolian invaders it disintegrated into independent principalities. One of them, headed by the tribal chief Osman, was situated in the north-west of Anatolia and bordered on Byzantium. It became the nucleus of the newly formed Turkish state—the Ottoman (Osman) Empire. In the fourteenth century the new state included the old possessions of the Iconian sultans and the conquered territories of the neighbouring countries. In 1453 under Mehemed II the Osman Turks captured Constantinople, the last stronghold of the Byzantine emperors, and turned it into the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
  20. See Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany. These articles were written by Engels at the request of Marx and appeared under the signature of Karl Marx as official correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune.—Ed.
  21. "Arbeiter und Stadtrath" (1849).—Ed.
  22. The New York Crystal Palace was built for the World Industrial Exhibition of 1853. It was opened on July 15; later it was used to house various exhibitions. It was destroyed by fire in 1856.