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

Berthier not only laid the basis of a large private fortune


This

letter was written when Bonaparte was bartering away Venice to the Emperor in consideration of the acquisition by France of the Ionian Isles. Its reference to the vivacity of the French was doubtless evoked by the orders which he then received to "revolutionize Italy." To do that, while the Directory further extorted from England Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, and her eastern conquests, was a programme dictated by excessive vivacity. The Directory lacked the practical qualities that selected one great enterprise at a time and brought to bear on it the needful concentration of effort. In brief, he selected the war against England's eastern commerce as his next sphere of action; for it offered "an arena vaster, more necessary and resplendent" than war with Austria; "if we compel the [British] Government to a peace, the advantages we shall gain for our commerce in both hemispheres will be a great step towards the consolidation of liberty and the public welfare."[94]

For this eastern expedition he had already prepared. In May, 1797, he had suggested the seizure of Malta from the Knights of St. John; and when, on September 27th, the Directory gave its assent, he sent thither a French commissioner, Poussielgue, on a "commercial mission," to inspect those ports, and also, doubtless, to undermine the discipline of the Knights. Now that the British had retired from Corsica, and France disposed of the maritime resources of Northern Italy, Spain, and Holland,

it seemed quite practicable to close the Mediterranean to those "intriguing and enterprising islanders," to hold them at bay in their dull northern seas, to exhaust them by ruinous preparations against expected descents on their southern coasts, on Ireland, and even on Scotland, while Bonaparte's eastern conquests dried up the sources of their wealth in the Orient: "Let us concentrate all our activity on our navy and destroy England. That done, Europe is at our feet."[95]

But he encountered opposition from the Directory. They still clung to their plan of revolutionizing Italy; and only by playing on their fear of the army could he bring these civilians to assent to the expatriation of 35,000 troops and their best generals. On La Reveilliere-Lepeaux the young commander worked with a skill that veiled the choicest irony. This Director was the high-priest of a newly-invented cult, termed _Theo-philanthropie_, into the dull embers of which he was still earnestly blowing. To this would-be prophet Bonaparte now suggested that the eastern conquests would furnish a splendid field for the spread of the new faith; and La Reveilliere was forthwith converted from his scheme of revolutionizing Europe to the grander sphere of moral proselytism opened out to him in the East by the very chief who, on landing in Egypt, forthwith professed the Moslem creed.

After gaining the doubtful assent of the Directory, Bonaparte had to face urgent financial difficulties. The dearth of money was, however, met by two opportune interventions. The first of these was in the affairs of Rome. The disorders of the preceding year in that city had culminated at Christmas in a riot in which General Duphot had been assassinated; this outrage furnished the pretext desired by the Directory for revolutionizing Central Italy. Berthier was at once ordered to lead French troops against the Eternal City. He entered without resistance (February 15th, 1798), declared the civil authority of the Pope at an end, and proclaimed the _restoration_ of the Roman Republic. The practical side of the liberating policy was soon revealed. A second time the treasures of Rome, both artistic and financial, were rifled; and, as Lucien Bonaparte caustically remarked in his "Memoirs," the chief duty of the newly-appointed consuls and quaestors was to superintend the packing up of pictures and statues designed for Paris. Berthier not only laid the basis of a large private fortune, but showed his sense of the object of the expedition by sending large sums for the equipment of the armada at Toulon. "In sending me to Rome," wrote Berthier to Bonaparte, "you appoint me treasurer to the expedition against England. I will try to fill the exchequer."


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