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Peter Shuvalov came from an old Russian family which rose to distinction and imperial favor about the middle of the 18th century. Several of its members attained high rank in the army and the civil administration, and one of them may be regarded as the founder of the Moscow State University and the St.Petersburg Academy of the Fine Arts.
As a youth, Shuvalov showed no desire to emulate his distinguished ancestors. He studied just enough to qualify for the army, and for nearly twenty years he led the agreeable, commonplace life of a fashionable officer of the Guards. In 1864, court influence secured for him the appointment of Governor General of the Baltic provinces, and in that position he gave evidence of so much natural ability and tact that in 1866, when the revolutionary fermentation in the younger section of the educated classes made it advisable to place at the head of the political police a man of exceptional intelligence and energy, he was selected by the emperor for the post.
In addition to his regular functions, he was entrusted by his Majesty with much work of a confidential, delicate nature, including a mission to London in 1873. The ostensible object of this mission was to arrange amicably certain diplomatic difficulties created by the advance of Russia in Central Asia, but he was instructed at the same time to prepare the way for the marriage of the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna with the Duke of Edinburgh, which took place in January of the following year.
At that time the emperor Alexander II was anxious to establish cordial relations with Great Britain, and he thought this object might best be attained by appointing as his diplomatic representative at the British court the man who had conducted successfully the recent matrimonial negotiations. Count Shuvalov was accordingly appointed ambassador to London; and he justified his selection by the extraordinary diplomatic ability he displayed during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and the subsequent negotiations, when the relations between Russia and Great Britain were strained almost to the point of rupture.
After the publication of the Treaty of San Stefano, which astonished Europe and seemed to render a conflict inevitable, he concluded with Lord Salisbury a secret convention which enabled the two powers to meet in congress and find a pacific solution for all the questions at issue. In the deliberations and discussions of the congress he played a leading part, and defended the interests of his country with a dexterity which excited the admiration of his colleagues; but when it became known that the San Stefano arrangements were profoundly modified by the Treaty of Berlin, public opinion in Russia condemned him as too conciliatory, and reproached him with having needlessly given up many of the advantages secured by the war. For a time Alexander II resisted the popular clamour, but in the fall of 1879, when Prince Bismarck assumed an attitude of hostility towards Russia, Count Shuvalov, who had been long regarded as too amenable to Bismarckian influence, was recalled from his post as ambassador in London; and after living for nearly ten years in retirement, he died in St.Petersburg in 1889.
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