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

It is easy to cripple this commerce


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CHAPTER VIII

EGYPT

Among the many misconceptions of the French revolutionists none was more insidious than the notion that the wealth and power of the British people rested on an artificial basis. This mistaken belief in England's weakness arose out of the doctrine taught by the _Economistes_ or _Physiocrates_ in the latter half of last century, that commerce was not of itself productive of wealth, since it only promoted the distribution of the products of the earth; but that agriculture was the sole source of true wealth and prosperity. They therefore exalted agriculture at the expense of commerce and manufactures, and the course of the Revolution, which turned largely on agrarian questions, tended in the same direction. Robespierre and St. Just were never weary of contrasting the virtues of a simple pastoral life with the corruptions and weakness engendered by foreign commerce; and when, early in 1793, Jacobinical zeal embroiled the young Republic with England, the orators of the Convention confidently prophesied the downfall of the modern Carthage. Kersaint declared that "the credit of England rests upon fictitious wealth: ... bounded in territory, the public future of England is found almost wholly in its bank, and this edifice is entirely supported by naval commerce. It is easy to cripple this

commerce, and especially so for a power like France, which stands alone on her own riches."[90]

Commercial interests played a foremost part all through the struggle. The official correspondence of Talleyrand in 1797 proves that the Directory intended to claim the Channel Islands, the north of Newfoundland, and all our conquests in the East Indies made since 1754, besides the restitution of Gibraltar to Spain.[91] Nor did these hopes seem extravagant. The financial crisis in London and the mutiny at the Nore seemed to betoken the exhaustion of England, while the victories of Bonaparte raised the power of France to heights never known before. Before the victory of Duncan over the Dutch at Camperdown (October 11th, 1797), Britain seemed to have lost her naval supremacy.

The recent admission of State bankruptcy at Paris, when two-thirds of the existing liabilities were practically expunged, sharpened the desire of the Directory to compass England's ruin, an enterprise which might serve to restore French credit and would certainly engage those vehement activities of Bonaparte that could otherwise work mischief in Paris. On his side he gladly accepted the command of the _Army of England_.

"The people of Paris do not remember anything," he said to Bourrienne. "Were I to remain here long, doing nothing, I should be lost. In this great Babylon everything wears out: my glory has already disappeared. This little Europe does not supply enough of it for me. I must seek it in the East: all great fame comes from that quarter. However, I wish first to make a tour along the [northern] coast to see for myself what may be attempted. If the success of a descent upon England appear doubtful, as I suspect it will, the Army of England shall become the Army of the East, and I go to Egypt."[92]


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