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

As well as on France and the Batavian Republic


Peace,

then, was an "experiment." The British Government wished to see whether France would turn from revolution and war to agriculture and commerce, whether her young ruler be satisfied with a position of grandeur and solid power such as Louis XIV. had rarely enjoyed. Alas! the failure of the experiment was patent to all save the blandest optimists long before the Preliminaries of London took form in the definitive Treaty of Amiens. Bonaparte's aim now was to keep our Government strictly to the provisional terms of peace which it had imprudently signed. Even before the negotiations were opened at Amiens, he ordered Joseph Bonaparte to listen to no proposal concerning the King of Sardinia and the ex-Stadholder of Holland, and asserted that the "internal affairs of the Batavian Republic, of Germany, of Helvetia, and of the Italian Republics" were "absolutely alien to the discussions with England." This implied that England was to be shut out from Continental politics, and that France was to regulate the affairs of central and southern Europe. This observance of the letter was, however, less rigid where French colonial and maritime interests were at stake. Dextrous feelers were put forth seawards, and it was only when these were repulsed that the French negotiators encased themselves in their preliminaries.

The task of reducing those articles to a definitive treaty devolved, on the British side, on the Marquis Cornwallis, a gouty, world-weary old soldier,

chiefly remembered for the surrender which ended the American War. Nevertheless, he had everywhere won respect for his personal probity in the administration of Indian affairs, and there must also have been some convincing qualities in a personality which drew from Napoleon at St. Helena the remark: "I do not believe that Cornwallis was a man of first-rate abilities: but he had talent, great probity, sincerity, and never broke his word.... He was a man of honour--a true Englishman."

Against Lord Cornwallis, and his far abler secretary, Mr. Merry, were pitted Joseph Bonaparte and his secretaries. The abilities of the eldest of the Bonapartes have been much underrated. Though he lacked the masterful force and wide powers of his second brother, yet at Luneville Joseph proved himself to be an able diplomatist, and later on in his tenure of power at Naples and Madrid he displayed no small administrative gifts. Moreover, his tact and kindliness kindled in all who knew him a warmth of friendship such as Napoleon's sterner qualities rarely inspired. The one was loved as a man: for the other, even his earlier acquaintances felt admiration and devotion, but always mingled with a certain fear of the demi-god that would at times blaze forth. This was the dread personality that urged Talleyrand and Joseph Bonaparte to their utmost endeavours and steeled them against any untoward complaisance at Amiens.

The selection of so honourable a man as Cornwallis afforded no slight guarantee for the sincerity of our Government, and its sincerity will stand the test of a perusal of its despatches. Having examined all those that deal with these negotiations, the present writer can affirm that the official instructions were in no respect modified by the secret injunctions: these referred merely to such delicate and personal topics as the evacuation of Hanover by Prussian troops and the indemnities to be sought for the House of Orange and the House of Savoy. The circumstances of these two dispossessed dynasties were explained so as to show that the former Dutch Stadholder had a very strong claim on us, as well as on France and the Batavian Republic; while the championship of the House of Savoy by the Czar rendered the claims of that ancient family on the intervention of George III. less direct and personal than those of the Prince of Orange. Indeed, England would have insisted on the insertion of a clause to this effect in the preliminaries had not other arrangements been on foot at Berlin which promised to yield due compensation to this unfortunate prince. Doubtless the motives of the British Ministers were good, but their failure to insert such a clause fatally prejudiced their case all through the negotiations at Amiens.


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