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

While Bonaparte was struggling in the marshes of Arcola


The

battle of Arcola had an important influence on the fate of Italy and Europe. In the peninsula all the elements hostile to the republicans were preparing for an explosion in their rear which should reaffirm the old saying that Italy was the tomb of the French. Naples had signed terms of peace with them, it is true; but the natural animosity of the Vatican against its despoilers could easily have leagued the south of Italy with the other States that were working secretly for their expulsion. While the Austrians were victoriously advancing, these aims were almost openly avowed, and at the close of the year 1796 Bonaparte moved south to Bologna in order to guide the Italian patriots in their deliberations and menace the Pope with an invasion of the Roman States. From this the Pontiff was for the present saved by new efforts on the part of Austria. But before describing the final attempt of the Hapsburgs to wrest Italy from their able adversary, it will be well to notice his growing ascendancy in diplomatic affairs.

While Bonaparte was struggling in the marshes of Arcola, the Directory was on the point of sending to Vienna an envoy, General Clarke, with proposals for an armistice preliminary to negotiations for peace with Austria. This step was taken, because France was distracted by open revolt in the south, by general discontent in the west, and by the retreat of her Rhenish armies, now flung back on the soil of the Republic by the Austrian Arch-duke

Charles. Unable to support large forces in the east of France out of its bankrupt exchequer, the Directory desired to be informed of the state of feeling at Vienna. It therefore sent Clarke with offers, which might enable him to look into the political and military situation at the enemy's capital, and see whether peace could not be gained at the price of some of Bonaparte's conquests. The envoy was an elegant and ambitious young man, descended from an Irish family long settled in France, who had recently gained Carnot's favour, and now desired to show his diplomatic skill by subjecting Bonaparte to the present aims of the Directory.

The Directors' secret instructions reveal the plans which they then harboured for the reconstruction of the Continent. Having arranged an armistice which should last up to the end of the next spring, Clarke was to set forth arrangements which might suit the House of Hapsburg. He might discuss the restitution of all their possessions in Italy, and the acquisition of the Bishopric of Salzburg and other smaller German and Swabian territories: or, if she did not recover the Milanese, Austria might gain the northern parts of the Papal States as compensation; and the Duke of Tuscany--a Hapsburg--might reign at Rome, yielding up his duchy to the Duke of Parma; while, as this last potentate was a Spanish Bourbon, France might for her good offices to this House gain largely from Spain in America.[70] In these and other proposals two methods of bargaining are everywhere prominent. The great States are in every case to gain at the expense of their weaker neighbours; Austria is to be appeased; and France is to reap enormous gains ultimately at the expense of smaller Germanic or Italian States. These facts should clearly be noted. Napoleon was afterwards deservedly blamed for carrying out these unprincipled methods; but, at the worst, he only developed them from those of the Directors, who, with the cant of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity on their lips, battened on the plunder of the liberated lands, and cynically proposed to share the spoil of weaker States with the potentates against whom they publicly declaimed as tyrants.


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