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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Like the projects of the Duke of Aiguillon


Frederick said truly; his sound and powerful judgment took in the position of Europe: France, exhausted by the lingering decay of her government and in travail with new and confused elements which had as yet no strength but to shatter and destroy; Spain, lured on by France and then abandoned by her; England, disturbed at home by parliamentary agitation, favorably disposed to the court of Russia and for a long while allied to Frederick; Sweden and Denmark, in the throes of serious events; there was nothing to oppose the iniquity projected and prepared for with so much art and ability. It was in vain that the King of Prussia sought to turn into a joke the unscrupulous manoeuvres of his diplomacy when he wrote to D'Alembert in January, 1772, "I would rather undertake to put the whole history of the Jews into madrigals than to cause to be of one mind three sovereigns amongst whom must be numbered two women." The undertaking was already accomplished. Three months later, the first partition of Poland had been settled between Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and on the 2d of September, 1772, the treaty was made known at Warsaw. The manifesto was short. "It is a general rule of policy," Frederick had said, "that, in default of unanswerable arguments, it is better to express one's self laconically, and not go beating about the bush." The care of drawing it up had been intrusted to Prince Kaunitz. "It was of importance," said the document, "to establish the commonwealth of Poland on a solid basis whilst doing justice to the claims of the three powers for services rendered against the insurrection." The king and the senate protested. The troops of the allies surrounded Warsaw, and the Diet, being convoked, ratified by a majority of two voices the convention presented by the spoilers themselves. Catherine assigned to herself three thousand square leagues, and one million five hundred thousand souls, in Lithuania and Polish Livonia; Austria took possession of two thousand five hundred square leagues, and more than two million souls, in Red Russia and the Polish palatinates on the left of the Vistula; the instigator and plotter of the whole business had been the most modest of all; the treaty of partition brought Prussia only nine hundred square leagues and eight hundred and sixty thousand souls, but he found himself master of Prussian Poland and of a henceforth compact territory. England had opposed, in Russia, the cession of Dantzick to the Great Frederick. "The ill-temper of France and England at the dismemberment of Poland calls for serious reflections," wrote the King of Prussia on the 5th of August, 1772: "these two courts are already moving heaven and earth to detach the court of Vienna from our system; but as the three chief points whence their support should come are altogether to seek in France, and there is neither system, nor stability, nor money there, her projects will be given up with the same facility with which they were conceived and broached. They appear to me, moreover, like the projects of the Duke of Aiguillon, ebullitions of French vivacity."

France did not do anything, and could not do anything; the king's secret negotiators, as well as the minister of foreign affairs, had been tricked by the allied powers. "Ah! if Choiseul had been here!" exclaimed King Louis XV., it is said, when he heard of the partition of Poland. The Duke of Choiseul would no doubt have been more clear-sighted and better informed than the Duke of Aiguillon, but his policy could have done no good. Frederick II. knew that. "France plays so small a part in Europe," he wrote to Count Solms, "that I merely tell you about the impotent efforts of the French ministry's envy just to have a laugh at them, and to let you see in what visions the consciousness of its own weaknesses is capable of leading that court to indulge." "O! where is Poland?" Madame Dubarry had said to Count Wicholorsky, King Stanislaus Augustus' charge d'affaires, who was trying to interest her in the misfortunes of his country.


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