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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

That there shall be no Stadholder in Holland


For

political and financial reasons the two Powers needed repose. Bonaparte's authority was not as yet so firmly founded that he could afford to neglect the silent longings of France for peace; his institutions had not as yet taken root; and he needed money for public works and colonial enterprises. That he looked on peace as far more desirable for France than for England at the present time is clear from a confidential talk which he had with Roederer at the close of 1800. This bright thinker, to whom he often unbosomed himself, took exception to his remark that England could not wish for peace; whereupon the First Consul uttered these memorable words:

"My dear fellow, England ought not to wish for peace, because we are masters of the world. Spain is ours. We have a foothold in Italy. In Egypt we have the reversion to their tenure. Switzerland, Holland, Belgium--that is a matter irrevocably settled, on which we have declared to Prussia, Russia, and the Emperor that _we alone_, if it were necessary, would make war on all, namely, that there shall be no Stadholder in Holland, and that we will keep Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine. A stadholder in Holland would be as bad as a Bourbon in the St. Antoine suburb."[171]

The passage is remarkable, not only for its frank statement of the terms on which England and the Continent might have peace, but also because it discloses

the rank undergrowth of pride and ambition that is beginning to overtop his reasoning faculties. Even before he has heard the news of Moreau's great victory of Hohenlinden, he equates the military strength of France with that of the rest of Europe: nay, he claims without a shadow of doubt the mastery of the world: he will wage, if necessary, a double war, against England for a colonial empire, and against Europe for domination in Holland and the Rhineland. It is naught to him that that double effort has exhausted France in the reigns of Louis XIV. and Louis XV. Holland, Switzerland, Italy, shall be French provinces, Egypt and the Indies shall be her satrapies, and _la grande nation_ may then rest on her glories.

Had these aims been known at Westminster, Ministers would have counted peace far more harmful than war. But, while ambition reigned at Paris, dull common sense dictated the policy of Britain. In truth, our people needed rest: we were in the first stages of an industrial revolution: our cotton and woollen industries were passing from the cottage to the factory; and a large part of our folk were beginning to cluster in grimy, ill-organized townships. Population and wealth advanced by leaps and bounds; but with them came the nineteenth-century problems of widening class distinctions and uncertainty of employment. The food-supply was often inadequate, and in 1801 the price of wheat in the London market ranged from L6 to L8 the quarter; the quartern loaf selling at times for as much as 1s. 10-1/2d.[172]

The state of the sister island was even worse. The discontent of Ireland had been crushed by the severe repression which followed the rising of 1798; and the bonds connecting the two countries were forcibly tightened by the Act of Union of 1800. But rest and reform were urgently needed if this political welding was to acquire solid strength, and rest and reform were alike denied. The position of the Ministry at Westminster was also precarious. The opposition of George III. to the proposals for Catholic Emancipation, to which Pitt believed himself in honour bound, led to the resignation in February, 1801, of that able Minister. In the following month Addington, the Speaker of the House of Commons, with the complacence born of bland obtuseness, undertook to fill his place. At first, the Ministry was treated with the tolerance due to the new Premier's urbanity, but it gradually faded away into contempt for his pitiful weakness in face of the dangers that threatened the realm.


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