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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Napoleon and Carnot approved of Tone's schemes as a whole


[Sidenote:

1763-89--Theobald Wolfe Tone]

One of the many odd, original ideas which floated like bubbles across Wolfe Tone's fancy was a scheme for founding a sort of military colony in some island in the South Seas, to act as a check upon the designs and enterprises of Spain against the British Empire. Tone took his idea so seriously that he wrote to William Pitt, the Prime Minister, describing and explaining his project and asking for Government help in order to make it a reality. As will be easily understood, Pitt took no notice of the proposal, having probably a good many more suggestions made to him every day as to the best defences of England than he could possibly consider in a week. It is somewhat curious, however, to find that Wolfe Tone should at one period of his life have formed the idea of helping England to defend herself against her enemies. Some historians have gone so far as to opine that if Pitt could have seen his way to take Tone's proposition seriously, and to patronize the young man, the world might never have heard of the insurrection of "Ninety-Eight." But no one who gives any fair consideration to the whole career and character of Tone can have any doubt that Tone's passionate patriotism would have made him the champion of his own country, no matter what prospects the patronage of an {311} English minister might have offered to his ambition. At the time when Tone was scheming out his project for the island in the South Seas

the leaders in the national movement in Ireland still believed that the just claims of their people were destined to receive satisfaction from the wisdom and justice of the English Sovereign. When it became apparent that Catholic Emancipation was not to be obtained through George the Third and through Pitt, then Wolfe Tone made up his mind that there was no hope for Ireland but in absolute independence, and that that independence was only to be won by the help of Napoleon Bonaparte and of France. In the mean time Tone had taken a step which brilliant, gifted, generous, and impecunious young men usually take at the opening of their career--he had made a sudden marriage. Matilda Witherington was only sixteen when Tone persuaded her to accept him as her husband and to share his perilous career. Romance itself hardly contains any story of a marriage more imprudent and yet more richly rewarded by love. Tone adored his young wife and she adored him. Love came in at their door and, though poverty entered there too, love never flew out at the window. The whole story of Wolfe Tone's public career may be read in the letters which, during their various periods of long separation, no difficulties and no dangers ever prevented him from writing to his wife. When he made up his mind to consecrate himself to the national cause of Ireland, and, if necessary, to die for it, he set forth his purpose to his wife, and she never tried to dissuade him from it. It is told of her that at one critical period of his fortunes she concealed from him the fact that she expected to become a mother, lest the knowledge might chill his patriotic enthusiasm or make him unhappy in his enterprise.

Tone went out to America and got into council with the representative of the French Republic there; then he returned to Europe, and he entered into communication with Carnot and with Napoleon Bonaparte. To these and to others he imparted his plans for a naval and military expedition from France to approach the coast of Ireland, to {312} land troops there, and to make the beginning of a great Irish rebellion, which must distract the attention and exhaust the resources of England and place her at the feet of all-conquering France. Tone felt certain that if an adequate number of French troops were landed on the western or southern shore of Ireland the whole mass of the population there would rally to the side of the invaders, and England would have to let Ireland go or waste herself in a hopeless struggle. Tone insisted in all his arguments and expositions that Ireland must be free and independent, and that no idea of conquering and annexing her must enter into the minds of the French statesmen and soldiers. Napoleon and Carnot approved of Tone's schemes as a whole, but Tone could not help seeing that Napoleon cared nothing whatever about the independence or prosperity of Ireland, and only took up with the whole scheme as a convenient project for the embarrassment and the distraction of England. Tone received a commission in the army of the French Republic, and became the soul and the inspiration of the policy which at fitful moments, when his mind was not otherwise employed, Napoleon was inclined to carry out on the Irish shores.


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