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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

And to pave the way for the dismemberment


[Illustration:

Defeat of the Corsicans at Golo----256]

Corsica was to be the last conquest of the old French monarchy. Great or little, magnificent or insignificant, from Richelieu to the Duke of Choiseul, France had managed to preserve her territorial acquisitions; in America and in Asia, Louis XV. had shamefully lost Canada and the Indies; in Europe, the diplomacy of his ministers had given to the kingdom Lorraine and Corsica. The day of insensate conquests ending in a diminution of territory had not yet come. In the great and iniquitous dismemberment which was coming, France was to have no share.

Profound disquietude was beginning to agitate Europe: the King of Poland, Augustus III., had died in 1763, leaving the unhappy country over which he had reigned a prey to internal anarchy ever increasing and systematically fanned by the avidity or jealousy of the great powers, its neighbors. "As it is to the interest of the two monarchs of Russia and Prussia that the Polish commonwealth should preserve its right to free election of a king," said the secret treaty concluded in 1764 between Frederick II. and the Empress Catherine, "and that no family should possess itself of the elective throne of that country, the two undermentioned Majesties engage to prevent, by all means in their power, Poland from being despoiled of its right of election and transformed into an hereditary kingdom; they mutually promise to oppose in concert,

and, if necessary, by force of arms, all plans and designs which may tend thereto as soon as discovered."

A second article secured to the dissidents, as Protestants and Greeks were called in Poland, the protection of the King of Prussia and of the empress, "who will make every effort to persuade, by strong and friendly representations, the king and the commonwealth of Poland to restore to those persons the rights, privileges, and prerogatives they have acquired there, and which have been accorded them in the past, as well in ecclesiastical as in civil matters, but have since been, for the most part, circumscribed or unjustly taken away. But, should it be impossible to attain that end at once, the contracting parties will content themselves with seeing that, whilst waiting for more favorable times and circumstances, the aforesaid persons are put beyond reach of the wrongs and oppression under which they are at present groaning." In order to remain masters of Poland and to prevent it from escaping the dissolution with which it was threatened by its internal dissensions, Frederick and Catherine, who were secretly pursuing different and often contrary courses, united to impose on the Diet a native prince. "I and my ally the Empress of Russia," said the King of Prussia, "have agreed to promote the selection of a Piast (Pole), which would be useful and at the same time glorious for the nation." In vain had Louis XV. by secret policy sought for a long while to pave the way for the election of the Prince of Conti to the throne of Poland; the influence of Russia and of Prussia carried the day. Prince Poniatowski, late favorite of the Empress Catherine, was elected by the Polish Diet; in discouragement and sadness, four thousand nobles only had responded to the letters of convocation. The new king, Stanislaus Augustus, handsome, intelligent, amiable, cultivated, but feeble in character and fatally pledged to Russia, sought to rally round him the different parties, and to establish at last, in the midst of general confusion, a regular and a strong government. He was supported in this patriotic task by the influence, ever potent in Poland, of the Czartoriskis. The far-seeing vigilance of Frederick II. did not give them time to act. "Poland must be left in her lethargy," he had said to the Russian ambassador Saldern. "It is of importance," he wrote to Catherine, "that Her Majesty the empress, who knows perfectly well her own interests and those of her friends and allies, should give orders of the most precise kind to her ambassador at Warsaw, to oppose any novelty in the form of government, and, generally speaking, the establishment of a permanent council, the preservation of the commissions of war and of the treasury, the power of the king and the unlimited concession on the prince's part of ability to distribute offices according to his sole will." The useful reforms being thus abandoned and the king's feeble power radically shaken, religious discord came to fill up the cup of disorder, and to pave the way for the dismemberment, as well as definitive ruin, of unhappy Poland.


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