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

Malta placed as a pledge in Russian keeping


Were

these proposals prompted by a sincere desire to assure a lasting peace, or were they put forward as a device to gain time for the completion of the French naval preparations? Evidently they were completely distrusted by the British Government, and with some reason. They were nearly identical with the terms formulated in the British ultimatum, which Napoleon had rejected. Moreover, our Foreign Office had by this time come to suspect Alexander. On June 23rd Lord Hawkesbury wrote that it might be most damaging to British interests to place Malta "at the hazard of the Czar's arbitration"; and he informed the Russian ambassador, Count Vorontzoff, that the aim of the French had obviously been merely to gain time, that their explanations were loose and unsatisfactory, and their demands inadmissible, and that Great Britain could not acknowledge the present territories of the French Republic as permanent while Malta was placed in arbitration. In fact, our Government feared that, when Malta had been placed in Alexander's hands, Napoleon would lure him into oriental adventures and renew the plans of an advance on India. Their fears were well founded.

Napoleon's preoccupation was always for the East: on February 21st, 1803, he had charged his Minister of Marine to send arms and ammunition to the Suliotes and Maniotes then revolting against the Sultan; and at midsummer French agents were at Ragusa to prepare for a landing at the mouth of the River Cattaro.[261]

With Turkey rent by revolt, Malta placed as a pledge in Russian keeping, and Alexander drawn into the current of Napoleon's designs, what might not be accomplished? Evidently the First Consul could expect more from this course of events than from barren strifes with Nelson's ships in the Straits of Dover. For _us_, such a peace was far more risky than war. And yet, if the Czar's offer were too stiffly repelled, public opinion would everywhere be alienated, and in that has always lain half the strength of England's policy.[262] Ministers therefore declared that, while they could not accept Russia's arbitration without appeal, they would accede to her mediation if it concerned all the causes of the present war. This reasonable proposal was accepted by the Czar, but received from Napoleon a firm refusal. He at once wrote to Talleyrand, August 23rd, 1803, directing that the Russian proposals should be made known to Haugwitz, the Prussian Foreign Minister:

"Make him see all the absurdity of it: tell him that England will never get from me any other treaty than that of Amiens: that _I will never suffer her to have anything in the Mediterranean_; that I will not treat with her about the Continent; that I am resolved to evacuate Holland and Switzerland; but that I will never stipulate this in an article."

As for Russia, he continued, she talked much about the integrity of Turkey, but was violating it by the occupation of the Ionian Isles and her constant intrigues in Wallachia. These facts were correct: but the manner in which he stated them clearly revealed his annoyance that the Czar would not wholly espouse the French cause. Talleyrand's views on this question may be seen in his letter to Bonaparte, when he assures his chief that he has now reaped from his noble advance to the Russian Emperor the sole possible advantage--"that of proving to Europe by a grand act of frankness your love of peace and to throw upon England the whole blame for the war." It is not often that a diplomatist so clearly reveals the secrets of his chief's policy.[263]


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