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

Despite his ancient claims of suzerainty over Malta


The

British official declaration respecting Malta was clear and practical. The island was to be restored to the Knights of the Order of St. John and placed under the protection of a third Power other than France and England. But the reconstitution of the Order was no less difficult than the choice of a strong and disinterested protecting Power. Lord Hawkesbury proposed that Russia be the guaranteeing Power. No proposal could have been more reasonable. The claims of the Czar to the protectorate of the Order had been so recently asserted by a treaty with the knights that no other conclusion seemed feasible. And, in order to assuage the grievances of the islanders and strengthen the rule of the knights, the British Ministry desired that the natives of Malta should gain a foothold in the new constitution. The lack of civil and political rights had contributed so materially to the overthrow of the Order that no reconstruction of that shattered body could be deemed intelligent, or even honest, which did not cement its interests with those of the native Maltese. The First Consul, however, at once demurred to both these proposals. In the course of a long interview with Cornwallis at Paris,[186] he adverted to the danger of bringing Russia's maritime pressure to bear on Mediterranean questions, especially as her sovereigns "had of late shown themselves to be such unsteady politicians." This of course referred to the English proclivities of Alexander I., and it is clear that Bonaparte's annoyance
with Alexander was the first unsettling influence which prevented the solution of the Maltese question. The First Consul also admitted to Cornwallis that the King of Naples, despite his ancient claims of suzerainty over Malta, could not be considered a satisfactory guarantor, as between two Great Powers; and he then proposed that the tangle should be cut by blowing up the fortifications of Valetta.

The mere suggestion of such an act affords eloquent proof of the difficulties besetting the whole question. To destroy works of vast extent, which were the bulwark of Christendom against the Barbary pirates, would practically have involved the handing over of Valetta to those pests of the Mediterranean; and from Malta as a new base of operations they could have spread devastation along the coasts of Sicily and Italy. This was the objection which Cornwallis at once offered to an other-wise specious proposal: he had recently received papers from Major-General Pigot at Malta, in which the same solution of the question was examined in detail. The British officer pointed out that the complete dismantling of the fortifications would expose the island, and therefore the coasts of Italy, to the rovers; yet he suggested a partial demolition, which seems to prove that the British officers in command at Malta did not contemplate the retention of the island and the infraction of the peace.

Our Government, however, disapproved of the destruction of the fortifications of Valetta as wounding the susceptibilities of the Czar, and as in


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