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

Lord Whitworth then diverted the conversation


The official publication of this report created a sensation even in France, and was not the _bagatelle_ which M. Thiers has endeavoured to represent it.[244] But far greater was the astonishment at Downing Street, not at the facts disclosed by the report--for Merry's note had prepared our Ministers for them--but rather at the official avowal of hostile designs. At once our Government warned Whitworth that he must insist on our retaining Malta. He was also to protest against the publication of such a document, and to declare that George III. could not "enter into any further discussion relative to Malta until he received a satisfactory explanation." Far from offering it, Napoleon at once complained of our non-evacuation of Alexandria and Malta.

"Instead of that garrison [of Alexandria] being a means of protecting Egypt, it was only furnishing him with a pretence for invading it. This he should not do, whatever might be his desire to have it as a colony, because he did not think it worth the risk of a war, in which he might perhaps be considered the aggressor, and by which he should lose more than he could gain, since sooner or later Egypt would belong to France, either by the falling to pieces of the Turkish Empire, or by some arrangement with the Porte.... Finally," he asked, "why should not the mistress of the seas and the mistress of the land come to an arrangement and govern the world?"

A subtler diplomatist than Whitworth would probably have taken the hint for a Franco-British partition of the world: but the Englishman, unable at that moment to utter a word amidst the torrent of argument and invective, used the first opportunity merely to assure Napoleon of the alarm caused in England by Sebastiani's utterance concerning Egypt. This touched the First Consul at the wrong point, and he insisted that on the evacuation of Malta the question of peace or war must depend. In vain did the English ambassador refer to the extension of French power on the Continent. Napoleon cut him short: "I suppose you mean Piedmont and Switzerland: ce sont des----: vous n'avez pas le droit d'en parler a cette heure." Seeing that he was losing his temper, Lord Whitworth then diverted the conversation.[245]

This long tirade shows clearly what were the aims of the First Consul. He desired peace until his eastern plans were fully matured. And what ruler would not desire to maintain a peace so fruitful in conquests--that perpetuated French influence in Italy, Switzerland, and Holland, that enabled France to prepare for the dissolution of the Turkish Empire and to intrigue with the Mahrattas? Those were the conditions on which England could enjoy peace: she must recognize the arbitrament of France in the affairs of all neighbouring States, she must make no claim for compensation in the Mediterranean, and she must endure to be officially informed that she alone could not maintain a struggle against France.[246]

But George III. was not minded to sink to the level of a Charles II. Whatever were the failings of our "farmer king," he was keenly alive to national honour and interests. These had been deeply wounded, even in the United Kingdom itself. Napoleon had been active in sending "commercial commissioners" into our land. Many of them were proved to be soldiers: and the secret instructions sent by Talleyrand to one of them at Dublin, which chanced to fall into the hands of our Government, showed that they were charged to make plans of the harbours, and of the soundings and moorings.[247]

Then again, the French were almost certainly helping Irish conspirators. One of these, Emmett, already suspected of complicity in the Despard conspiracy which aimed at the King's life, had, after its failure, sought shelter in France. At the close of 1802 he returned to his native land and began to store arms in a house near Rathfarnham. It is doubtful whether the authorities were aware of his plans, or, as is more probable, let the plot come to a head. The outbreak did not take place till the following July (after the renewal of war), when Emmett and some of his accomplices, along with Russell, who stirred up sedition in Ulster, paid for their folly with their lives. They disavowed any connection with France, but they must have based their hope of success on a promised French invasion of our coasts.[248]


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