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

But grand as were Napoleon's enterprises at Antwerp

Ostend, and Antwerp. The last-named port engaged his special attention. Its position at the head of the navigable estuary of the Scheldt, exactly opposite the Thames, marked it out as the natural rival of London; he now encouraged its commerce and ordered the construction of a dockyard fitted to contain twenty-five battleships and a proportionate number of frigates and sloops. Antwerp was to become the great commercial and naval emporium of the North Sea. The time seemed to favour the design; Hamburg and Bremen were blockaded, and London for a space was menaced by the growing power of the First Consul, who seemed destined to restore to the Flemish port the prosperity which the savagery of Alva had swept away with such profit to Elizabethan London. But grand as were Napoleon's enterprises at Antwerp, they fell far short of his ulterior designs. He told Las Cases at St. Helena that the dockyard and magazines were to have been protected by a gigantic fortress built on the opposite side of the River Scheldt, and that Antwerp was to have been "a loaded pistol held at the head of England."

In both lands warlike ardour rose to the highest pitch. French towns and Departments freely offered gifts of gunboats and battleships. And in England public men vied with one another in their eagerness to equip and maintain volunteer regiments. Wordsworth, who had formerly sung the praises of the French Revolution, thus voiced the national defiance:

"No parleying now! In Britain is one breath; We all are with you now from shore to shore; Ye men of Kent, 'tis victory or death."

In one respect England enjoyed a notable advantage. Having declared war before Napoleon's plans were matured, she held the command of the seas, even against the naval resources of France, Holland, and North Italy. The first months of the war witnessed the surrender of St. Lucia and Tobago to our fleets; and before the close of the year Berbice, Demerara, Essequibo, together with < nearly the whole of the French St. Domingo force, had capitulated to the Union Jack. Our naval supremacy in the Channel now told with full effect. Frigates were ever on the watch in the Straits to chase any French vessels that left port. But our chief efforts were to blockade the enemy's ships. Despite constant ill-health and frequent gales, Nelson clung to Toulon. Admiral Cornwallis cruised off Brest with a fleet generally exceeding fifteen sail of the line and several smaller vessels: six frigates and smaller craft protected the coast of Ireland; six line-of-battle ships and twenty-three lesser vessels were kept in the Downs under Lord Keith as a central reserve force, to which the news of all events transpiring on the enemy's coast was speedily conveyed by despatch boats; the newly invented semaphore telegraphs were also systematically used between the Isle of Wight and Deal to convey news along the coast and to London. Martello towers were erected along the coast from Harwich to Pevensey Bay, at the points where a landing was easy. Numerous inventors also came forward with plans for destroying the French flotilla, but none was found to be serviceable except the rockets of Colonel Congreve, which inflicted some damage at Boulogne and elsewhere. Such were the dispositions of our chief naval forces: they comprised 469 ships of war, and over 700 armed boats, of all sizes.[273]

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