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CHAPTER XXII. - William Edward Hartpole Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, vol. VI 
A History of England in the Eighteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1878, 1917). 8 Vols. Vol. VI.
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There are few things more remarkable in the political correspondence of the time than the almost complete absence of alarm with which the English ministers viewed the events that have been described in the last chapter. They appear to have wholly scouted the idea that serious danger from France was approaching England, and their chief apprehensions were turned to another quarter. A deep and settled distrust of the Emperor Leopold was one of the strongest motives of their foreign policy, and they seem to have greatly misunderstood and undervalued his character, and exaggerated his designs. The alarm which the aggressive measures of his predecessor, against Holland, had produced in England, and the close alliance with Prussia which it was a main object of Pitt to maintain, had given a strong anti-Austrian bias to English statesmen, and it was confirmed by the long delay of the Emperor in concluding the peace of Sistova, and by some obscure and now forgotten disputes which had ended in the Emperor giving the Austrian Netherlands a constitution considerably less liberal than he had promised, and in the maritime powers withholding their guarantee. The diplomatic correspondence of 1791 is full of English complaints of the efforts of the Emperor to dissociate Prussia from England; of fears lest the Emperor should obtain by negotiation some permanent influence in the affairs of Holland; of expressions of an extreme distrust of his sincerity; of regrets that Prussia, in allying herself with him, should have guaranted the Austrian Netherlands without any frank concert or communication with England.1 The English ill-feeling towards Austria was fully reciprocated at Vienna, and the Emperor, who was in truth the most unambitious and pacific of the great sovereigns of Europe, was looked upon by English statesmen as the most formidable danger to the peace of Europe.
From France, however, they seem to have feared nothing, and they looked forward with a wonderful confidence to a long continuance of peace. They were perfectly resolved to maintain a strict neutrality, and they had no doubt that they could do so. The relations of the two nations were very amicable, and even if it were otherwise, it was the prevailing belief which was continually expressed in Parliament,2 that recent events had made France wholly powerless for aggression. The suspicions aroused in France by the negro insurrection of St. Domingo, were allayed by the conduct of Lord Effingham, and the approbation of that conduct was officially transmitted to Paris.3 The Assembly, it is true, somewhat ungraciously refused to vote its thanks to the British Government, but it passed a vote of thanks to ‘the British nation, and especially to Mr. Effingham, governor of Jamaica.’4 But in general there was as yet no hostility to the British Government, and a very friendly feeling towards the British nation. In November 1791, however, a report was brought to England of a design which was believed to have been formed by the younger Rochambeau, to raise an insurrection in several towns in the Austrian Netherlands with the assistance of some Imperial troops who had been corrupted, and to support the rebels with some French troops of the line, while at the same time an attempt was to be made to excite a sedition in Holland in favour of the ‘Patriots.’ The report seemed to Grenville wild and improbable, but he thought it right to send it to Gower, whose reply was not altogether reassuring. From the character and opinions of Rochambeau he thought such 3 project not unlikely, but added, ‘If such a scheme does really exist, it must be believed that this Government has not as yet given any countenance to it; but when one considers that the object of it, that part at least which regards Holland, is of great national importance, and is a point on which the honour of the nation has been offended—“haeret lateri lethalis arundo”—one should be less surprised than hurt to find if it should be suffered to ripen, that it should be adopted by this Government, especially when one reflects that a diversion of this sort abroad would tend to compose matters at home.’1 A few weeks later, Clootz made one of his mad harangues at the bar of the Assembly in his capacity of ambassador of the human race, denouncing the despotic powers of Europe, and in the course of it he inveighed bitterly against the maritime ambition of England, and against the Anglo-Prussian Cabal which reigned in Holland. The Assembly received his discourse with great seriousness and admiration, and it was ordered to be printed.2
English statesmen, however, are certainly not inclined to attach undue importance to wild words. When the news of the peace of Sistova arrived in England, in August 1791, Grenville, who had recently assumed the direction of foreign affairs, believed that the last serious cloud had vanished from the horizon. ‘I am repaid for my labour,’ he wrote, ‘by the maintenance of peace, which is all this country has to desire. We shall now, I hope, for a very long period indeed, enjoy this blessing, and cultivate a situation of prosperity unexampled in our history. The state of our commerce, our revenue, and above all of our public funds is such as to hold out ideas which, but a few years ago, would indeed have appeared visionary, and which there is now every hope of realising.’3
The same sanguine estimate of the situation continued through the winter, and was most decisively shown in the session of Parliament which opened on January 31, 1792. The King's Speech was delivered after the debate and decree of the French Assembly, which had made a continental war almost certain, but it did not even mention France. ‘The friendly assurances,’ the King said, ‘which I receive from foreign powers, and the general state of Europe, appear to promise to my subjects the continuance of their present tranquillity;’ and the chief recommendation of the speech was a diminution of the naval and military forces. With the enthusiastic approval of Fox,1 this policy was carried out. The number of sailors and marines to be employed in 1792 was reduced to 16,000. The army in England was reduced to about the same number. The Hessian Subsidy had just expired, and Pitt announced that it would not be renewed, and the saving of 400,000l. which was thus made was divided between the reduction of taxation and the diminution of the debt. I have already referred to Pitt's triumphant Budget Speech on February 17, but one passage in it is peculiarly relevant to our present subject. Having explained how his Sinking Fund would accumulate for fifteen years, he added, ‘I am not, indeed, presumptuous enough to suppose that when I name fifteen years I am not naming a period in which events may arise which human foresight cannot reach … but unquestionably there never was a time in the history of this country when from the situation of Europe we might more reasonably expect fifteen years of peace than we may at the present moment.’2
The Cassandra warnings of Burke were indeed still heard, but they had never been so completely disregarded.3 Lord Auckland complained that even among very prominent English politicians the change of ministry which altered the foreign policy of Spain, and the death of the Emperor Leopold, hardly excited more attention than the death or removal of a Burgomaster at Amsterdam.4
At the same time a strong distrust of England may be already detected in French diplomatic correspondence, and especially in the letters of Hirsinger, the Charge d'Affaires, who managed French affairs in London for a few weeks after the recall of Barthelemy in January 1792. Hirsinger acknowledged that Grenville had received him with great courtesy, and had given him the most explicit assurances of the friendly disposition of the British Government and of their fixed determination to abstain from all interference with the Revolution, but he was for some time sceptical and hostile, and his letters to Paris were filled with alarming rumours. He had heard that the Hanoverian troops were ready to march, and that the King as Elector of Hanover was about to join the coalition. He suspected that the English ministers were secretly stirring up the Emperor against France; that they were intriguing to alienate Spain; that they had designs upon the Isle of Bourbon and the Isle of France. He was told that it was only through the influence of Pitt that a proposal of the King and of the Chancellor to bring England into the coalition had been rejected. England, he said, watched with perfidious pleasure the embarrassments of France. Her flag was steadily displacing that of France in the commerce of the world, and in spite of all legislative prohibitions great quantities of French coin were brought to her for security. He soon, however, convinced himself that the dominant portion of the ministry was fully resolved upon neutrality. Pitt, he said, ‘does not love us,’ but he is too enlightened not to see the enormous advantages England derives from her present position, and nothing but a French invasion of the Netherlands could induce him to declare openly against us. The sentiments of the King were, no doubt, hostile to the Revolution. When Hirsinger was presented to him on January 20, George III. received him very cordially, but spoke with ‘his usual frankness.’ ‘I pity your King and Queen,’ he said, ‘with all my heart, they are very unfortunate; your National Assembly is a collection of fools and madmen who are in a fair way to ruin their beautiful country by their stupidity and their folly. In truth Constantinople and London are now the only places where a French “employe” can live safely. I am very glad for you that you are here.’ These last words, Hirsinger said, reminded him of Grenville's assurances of neutrality. On the whole he was of opinion that the English Government had no further plan than to extend English commerce at the expense of France. The power of Pitt appeared to him almost absolute. Last session his majority was two to one, this session it was likely to be three to one.1
At the end of January, De Lessart, who was still French Minister of Foreign Affairs, sent Talleyrand to England accompanied by Lauzun, Duke of Biron, for the purpose of sounding the dispositions of the English Government. As an act of the late Constituent Assembly had incapacitated its members from holding any office for the space of two years, Talleyrand was invested with no diplomatic character, but De Lessart gave him a letter of introduction to Lord Grenville recommending him as a very eminent Frenchman, peculiarly competent to discuss the relations between the two countries. The objects at which he was to aim were clearly defined. He was in the first place to endeavour to obtain an assurance of the neutrality of England in the event of a war between France and the Emperor, even though that war led to an invasion of the Austrian Netherlands. Such an invasion, De Lessart explained, was very probable, but it would be a mere matter of military defence, produced by the aggression of the Emperor and intended to draw away the war from France and especially from Paris. It ought, therefore, to excite no alarm in England, and it was certainly not a case to which the provisions of the Treaty of Utrecht applied. Talleyrand was also to endeavour to obtain a similar assurance of the neutrality of the King in his capacity of Elector of Hanover, in which capacity he could dispose of an army of 30,000 or 40,000 men, and he was to feel his way towards the possibility of an alliance between England and France with a mutual guarantee of their possessions. Towards the close of the mission he himself suggested another object which was accepted by the minister. He thought it possible that the English Government might be induced to guarantee a French loan of 3,000,000l. or 4,000,000l., and in return for such financial assistance and for a reciprocal guarantee of territory, Talleyrand was authorised to offer the cession of Tobago. This island was of little consequence to France; its inhabitants were chiefly of English origin, and its loss had been a cause of some regret in England.
Talleyrand arrived in London on January 24. He found, somewhat to his annoyance, that the newspapers had already described him as having had an interview with Pitt, and his mission began with a very disagreeable incident. Biron was arrested for an old debt, thrown into prison, and detained for nearly three weeks; and, as he had no diplomatic capacity, Grenville declined to interfere for his release. Talleyrand himself, however, was exceedingly satisfied with his reception. He described the ministers as full of courtesy, while leading members of the Opposition at once called on him with warm expressions of good-will. ‘Believe me,’ he wrote only three days after his arrival, ‘a “rapprochement” with England is no chimera.’
He saw the King, Pitt, and especially Grenville. With the King the interview consisted of merely conventional civilities, Pitt dwelt significantly on the fact that Talleyrand had no official position, but added that he would be most happy to talk with him about the relations of England and France, and reminded him that many years before they had met at Rheims. His really important interviews were with Grenville, and he described them in detail to the French minister. He did not enter into the question of the loan or of the cession of Tobago, and, although he convinced himself that there was no doubt whatever that England would, in fact, be neutral in case of a war between France and the Emperor, he came, after some hesitation, to the conclusion that it was better not to demand a formal and categorical statement to that effect, but rather to aim at once at the higher object of a close and positive alliance. He endeavoured to convince Grenville that the prevailing notion that the Revolution was unfinished and precarious was erroneous; that with the acceptance of her new constitution France had definitely taken her place among the free nations of Europe, and that it was the earnest desire of all well-judging Frenchmen to be on intimate terms with England. He proposed, therefore, that each government should guarantee all the possessions of the other. The guarantee should be drawn up in the widest terms so as to include India and Ireland, the two great objects of English solicitude. Having explained his policy at much length he begged that he might receive no answer till the proposal had been deliberately considered by the ministers.
Grenville, he says, listened very attentively. If the proposal had been accepted it would have almost inevitably drawn England from her position of neutrality, would have made her, as an ally of France, a party to the impending contest, and would have wholly changed the course of European history.
Nearly a fortnight elapsed before Grenville sent for Talleyrand to give him the answer of the Cabinet, and, although Talleyrand did not obtain what he asked, he expressed him-self to De Lessart extremely satisfied with the interview, which confirmed him in his conviction ‘that the intentions of England are far from being disquieting, and that her de facto neutrality1 is incontestable.’ Grenville began by assuring him that the dispositions of the English Government towards France were perfectly friendly; that not only were they not among her enemies, but that they sincerely desired to see her free from her present embarrassments; that they were persuaded that a commercial people could only gain by the liberty of surrounding nations, and that it was entirely untrue that they had taken any part in fomenting the troubles of France. At the same time the King's council, after deliberate consideration, had decided that no answer should be given to the proposal of Talleyrand. This reply Talleyrand attributed to a division in the council, for he said it was known that Pitt, Grenville, and Dundas were tolerably favourable2 to a ‘rapprochement’ with France, while Camden, Thurlow, and especially the King, were strongly opposed to it. ‘I do not yet know,’ he continued, ‘when they will be for us, but I can guarantee you that they will do nothing against us even in the case about which you are anxious, of the Netherlands becoming the theatre of war.’ ‘England is sincerely anxious for peace, and fully aware that this is her interest.’ In the course of the interview he said to Grenville that he had no doubt that sooner or later an Anglo-French alliance would be formed. Grenville answered that he hoped it would be so. Talleyrand added to the French minister that it was a great misfortune that France had no accredited ambassador in London. Hirsinger was barely competent for a subordinate post. The dispositions of Pitt and the other ministers were not what had been represented. In order to carry out the ideas of the French Government an intelligent minister, sufficiently young not to be self-opinionated, should be speedily sent to London; and he strongly recommended the young Marquis de Chauvelin, son of a favourite of Lewis XV., ‘who has talent in a large measure,’ as a fitting man for the post.1
Talleyrand returned to Paris on March 10, and expressed himself to everyone with whom he spoke as extremely satisfied with his reception and with the dispositions of England.2 Grenville's account of the mission is not materially different from that of Talleyrand, but it accentuates rather more strongly the determination of the English Government to keep itself from any kind of engagement, especially with diplomatists who had no formal or official character.3 It was possible, Grenville said, that some similar application might be made to Gower to ascertain how far England might be disposed to make a formal declaration of neutrality in the event of a war, or to interpose her good offices as mediator and arbitrator. Gower was directed to decline to enter on such subjects with anyone but the Minister of Foreign Affairs; he was to say nothing to that minister which might appear to lead to them, and if asked officially and ministerially, he was to confine himself to general assurances of the friendly and pacific sentiments of England, and to a promise that he would transmit to England any request made by the French minister, provided it was put in writing.1
The diplomatic relations between the two countries continued for some time to be very amicable. An act of indiscretion on the part of some Custom House officers, who in January had searched the French Legation in London for contraband goods, shortly after Barthelemy had been recalled, was followed by prompt and ample expressions of regret from Grenville and Burges,2 and some disputes which had arisen between French and English sailors on the coast of Malabar were settled in April with little difficulty. ‘It is evident,’ wrote Gower on this occasion, ‘that the Ministry here have a most earnest desire to be upon the best possible terms with England, which is a sufficient reason for inclining the côté droit to be otherwise.’3 At the time of the declaration of war against the Emperor, Chauvelin was sent over as a duly accredited minister plenipotentiary to England, and Talleyrand, though without any public capacity, was directed to accompany him, and also Du Roveray, a former Procureur-General of Geneva. Like Dumont, Claviere, and Marat, Du Roveray had taken part in the unsuccessful Revolution in that city in 1782.4 He had afterwards lived in exile in England and Ireland, and was actually in enjoyment of a pension from the Irish Government.5 The knowledge which Talleyrand and Du Roveray possessed of England and of its leading men was likely to prove very useful, and Chauvelin was directed on all occasions to consult with them. Hirsinger was at the same time recalled.
The selection of Chauvelin was, as we have seen, a suggestion of Talleyrand, and the plan of his mission was formed upon the lines which Talleyrand had drawn. The instructions of Chauvelin stated that as the nature of the mission of Talleyrand had not permitted anything official to pass between him and the English Government, the friendly assurances which had been given him had no binding character, and that at a moment when a French invasion of the Netherlands, and perhaps of Germany, was very probable, it was highly expedient that France should obtain positive assurance that England would not in any way directly or indirectly favour her enemies. While asserting the full right of France to divert the war from her own frontiers into the Austrian Netherlands, Chauvelin was directed to disclaim on the part of France in the strongest and most explicit terms all projects of conquest or aggrandisement, and all wish to interfere with the internal concerns of other nations. In dissuading the English minister from taking any part hostile to France he was instructed to dilate upon the dangers of the excessive aggrandisement of the great German powers and of Russia; upon the almost certain destruction in the event of war1 of the existing constitution of the German Empire, which would lead to a complete change in the disposition of power; upon the equally certain downfall of the House of Orange if it showed itself hostile to France; upon the danger of turning France from a friend into an enemy. He was also directed, in his private interviews with the minister, to dwell strongly on the important and delicate topic of the condition of Ireland. The difference of religion and the progress of enlightenment and public spirit had, in the opinion of the French minister, brought that country to such a state that nothing but a close union between France and England could prevent its separation from England, and the first cannon-shot fired in war between the two countries would make that separation inevitable. The decisive moment had now arrived when England, by consolidating her union with France, might obtain a warm and lasting gratitude.
The instructions then proceeded to sketch the other objects at which Chauvelin was to aim. A defensive alliance between England and France, by which each power guaranteed the other all its possessions, would probably arrest the war at its outset, through the influence which England could exercise over Prussia and Holland. If Spain enters into the war it may be considered whether measures may not be taken by England, France, and perhaps the United States, which would give these powers the Spanish commerce. This was not to be ministerially proposed, but the suggestion was to be thrown out. In the last place the French Government was extremely anxious to raise a loan in England of not less than three or four millions sterling, with the approbation and, if possible, with the guarantee of the British Government. This object was so important that the King was ready to purchase it by the cession of Tobago.1
Some months still passed without any apparent change in the relations between the two countries. In the last despatch which Hirsinger wrote to his Government before leaving England, he mentioned that Pitt had just been assuring a commercial deputation that England would take no part in the war, and he added that the English minister, ‘who neglects no means of obtaining popularity,’ knows that the nation is solely occupied with commercial interests and does not wish for war.2 The Government issued a proclamation again affirming the strict neutrality of England and warning all British subjects against any acts that might infringe it; and when a rumour was circulated that a press of seamen had been ordered, a paragraph, which Chauvelin stated to have been sent by Pitt himself, was inserted in the papers positively contradicting it and stating that ‘there was not the smallest appearance that any event would endanger our present tranquillity, which we have so great an interest to preserve.’3 Chauvelin had himself no doubt whatever of the pacific dispositions of the English Government, and his despatches spatches—which were now confessedly drawn up with the assistance of his two colleagues, and in which the hand of Talleyrand may, I think, be clearly traced—at this time show none of the violence, hostility, and levity they afterwards displayed.
We may find in them a singularly able analysis of English politics. Those deceive themselves strangely, he wrote, who suppose that England is on the verge of revolution, that it is possible to separate the English people from their Government, and that the division between Ministry and Opposition is a division between the supporters of privilege and authority, and the supporters of the people. The kind of political discussion which makes so much noise in France, is in England a matter of general indifference. Attached to their constitution by old prejudice and habits, by constantly comparing their lot with that of other nations, and by the prosperity they enjoy, the English people have no belief that a revolution would improve their condition. Agriculture, arts, manufactures, commerce, the rise and fall of the funds are their chief interests; parliamentary debates come in the second line. An Opposition is regarded as almost as essential an ingredient of Parliament as a Ministry, but the question of liberty is not supposed to be at stake. The existing Ministry is not all with the King. Thurlow and Hawkesbury are, Pitt, Grenville, and Dundas are not; and the ascendency of Pitt is indisputable. The Opposition is very feeble, it is rather anti-ministerial than popular, and it has been fatally weakened by raising the question of parliamentary reform. Paine is utterly unpopular. The great landlords who were the chief supporters of the Opposition now lean towards the Court. The mass of the people are profoundly inert, and it is only by gaining and convincing the minister, that the ends of France can be attained. The prevailing sentiment in England was on the whole favourable to the Revolution. Men praised its results though they sometimes blamed its means, but there are influences abroad which are acting very prejudicially on English opinion. The unfortunate spirit of propagandism which is connected with the Revolution; the growing suspicion that French agents are fomenting disorder and endeavouring to produce insurrections; the constant attacks of the French papers on the English minister, and their habit of representing every sign of disorder in England or Ireland as a triumph of liberty, have the worst effect; and the manifestly increasing violence of the Revolution, and especially the attack on the Tuileries on June 20, are alienating English opinion in both parties and persuading even the most favourable judges that a general disorganisation is taking place. The King would be quite ready to join the Coalition, but his ministers will never suffer it; they would gladly see the Coalition dissolved, and Pitt especially is inflexibly opposed to connecting himself with it. The King does not like Pitt, but he detests Fox; and the chiefs of the Opposition are so hostile to Pitt, that Chauvelin believed that they would be ready to go far towards the ideas of the King if they could by such means obtain office. On the whole, Chauvelin concluded that there was no fear that the Prussian alliance would draw England into the Coalition, or that the English would regard an invasion of the Austrian Netherlands as an occasion for war, and there were grounds for hoping that English influence might be employed in dissolving the Coalition, or at least preventing a dismemberment of France. French ministers, however, must act with much moderation and circumspection, and abstain from exciting disturbances in other countries. The proposed Batavian legion of Dutch patriots was a very dangerous measure, for it would certainly be regarded in England as a measure directed against Holland and her constitution, which England was bound by treaty to support.1
These despatches seem to me full of wisdom and moderation, but there is evidence that the conduct of the French Embassy was now not altogether in accordance with them, and faults, which were by no means all on one side, were gradually producing a serious tension. Dumont, who accompanied the embassy, noticed the extreme coldness they met with from the Court and from the society which it could influence, and the frequent attacks on them in the ministerial newspapers.2 An apostate bishop, who had taken a leading part in the spoliation of his church, and a recreant nobleman who was conspicuous for his hostility to his own order, could hardly find favour with a society already scandalised and alarmed by the excesses of the Revolution. When the Duke of Orleans came to England he was treated with general coldness, and when Chauvelin and Talleyrand appeared at Ranelagh it was noticed that men drew aside to avoid them. Dumont acknowledged that they had made a mistake in the alacrity with which they welcomed the advances of the Opposition, and in the eagerness with which they sought the company of Sheridan and Fox, and they soon lived almost exclusively with the members of the Opposition.1 ‘M. Chauvelin,’ wrote the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in May, ‘continues a stranger to his diplomatic brethren and does not gain upon the public opinion. As for M. Talleyrand he is intimate with Paine, Horne Tooke, Lord Lansdowne, and a few of that stamp, and generally scouted by everyone else.2
It was the prevailing belief in England that the contest would be short, and that the French army was totally incapable of encountering a regular and disciplined force. Lord Gower, it is true, informed his Government that he found it to be ‘a very general notion, at least in the Assembly, that if France can preserve a neutrality with England she will be able to cope with all the rest of Europe united,’ and he added that ‘this notion is encouraged by a persuasion that the influence of the Jacobins and an inoculation of their principles will occasion an insurrection, which according to their language is “le plus saint des devoirs,” in every country whose Government shall dare to oppose them.’3 He mentioned also that great efforts were already making to induce the enemies' troops to desert, but it is evident that he had himself no faith in the possibility of meeting disciplined soldiers with an army as disorganised as that of France. ‘The state of the French army on the frontiers,’ he wrote, ‘is such, that in no other time or country would it be possible to suppose that it could venture to oppose a regular well-disciplined army although far inferior in numbers, and it is believed that the impetuosity of the Ministry will be counteracted by the prudence of the generals. Both seem to place their greatest confidence in the desertion of the enemy's forces. Corruption of every sort and in every manner is employed without reserve, and this mode of making war seems to be the boast of the Assembly as well as of the Ministry. The miserable state of the army exceeds all belief. … They embrace the offers of any foreign officer who is willing to serve, and in fact they are absolutely reduced to this measure from the great scarcity of French officers who remain.’1
The Session in England lasted till June 15, and during its course there appears to have been no apprehension of coming war. Public opinion was much more interested in those domestic questions which have been already noticed than in foreign politics, and personal and purely party combinations absorbed much of the attention of the more active politicians. It was at this time that the first and only serious opposition which Pitt encountered in his Cabinet was put an end to by the summary dismissal of Thurlow, and the Great Seal was placed for a few months in commission and then given to Lord Loughborough. Chauvelin, in informing his Government of the fall of Thurlow, observed that, by weakening the party of the King in the Cabinet, it was of great advantage to France. In the Whig party the line of division was perceptibly deepened by the formation of the Society of the Friends of the People for the advocacy of parliamentary reform on a democratic basis, which sharply separated Grey, Sheridan, Erskine, and some other advanced members of the party, from Whigs of the school of Fitzwilliam, Portland, and Rockingham. Fox did not belong to the new society and did not approve of it, but he supported the demand for reform, which Pitt as well as a large section of the Whig party considered at this time peculiarly inopportune. The multiplication of small democratic societies corresponding with France, the very wide circulation of some extremely seditious writings, and especially the appearance of the second part of Paine's ‘Rights of Man,’ which was published in the beginning of the year, induced the Government to issue a proclamation against such writings and societies. The proclamation produced long and interesting debates in both Houses, and it again divided the Opposition. The Prince of Wales spoke on this occasion on the side of the Government. The King's Speech at the close of the Session again expressed the confidence of the Government in the continuance of peace.
The tendencies, however, in English politics at this time were not altogether in the direction of division. There was a widely spread conviction among politicians that the differences between Pitt and Fox were mainly personal differences or differences of situation and not differences of principle, that a united Government might be formed which would contain no greater divergence of opinion than had existed in the Government of Rockingham, or than existed now in the Whig Opposition, and that a strong and united Government would be of great national advantage. In the summer of 1792 negotiations were actively pursued for the purpose of effecting a coalition. As they proved abortive it is not necessary to describe them in detail.1 It is sufficient to say that Leeds, Portland, Malmesbury, Dundas, and Lough-borough took an active part in them, but it is plain that neither the King, Pitt, nor Fox really desired a Coalition. It was evident indeed that if a new combination of parties took place it was likely to result from the secession to the ministry of a large section of the followers of Fox. The prosperity of the country was attested from all sides; the Government was too strong both in Parliament and in the constituencies to need fresh support, and the Session had hardly closed when the news arrived of the triumphant termination of the long war in India with Tippoo Sahib. ‘Thank God!’ wrote the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, ‘we have once more shut the temple of Janus. May it be long before we open it again! For my own part, I do not see any object immediately likely to give us any occasion. … Hitherto the star of Pitt has been so prevalent that I depend upon it like an Arabian astrologer.’2
The contrast between the position of England and France was at this time extreme. The French had lost no time after the declaration of war in throwing their troops over the frontier of the Austrian Netherlands, but they were beaten back at once, decisively and ignominiously. An expedition sent from Lille under General Dillon fled in the wildest panic at the first coolision with the enemy, and the soldiers murdered their own general, whom they accused of having betrayed them. An expedition under General Biron, which was directed against Mons, fled in equal disorder to Valenciennes, abandoning their camp to the Austrians. Such events were well fitted to confirm the opinion which had been formed in all the Courts and armies of Europe, that the impending war would be little more than a contest between an army and a mob; scarcely more difficult or formidable than the expeditions which had lately restored the power of the House of Orange in Holland, and of the Emperor in Flanders. In Vienna, Keith wrote, it was the firm conviction of the Court that the war would be ‘brought to a happy and glorious termination in this single campaign.’1 In Berlin there were doubts about its profit and doubts about its effect on the discipline of the Prussian army, but there was no doubt about its complete and speedy military success. ‘The operations of the campaign,’ wrote Eden, ‘are talked of by those in place as likely to be very trifling and of short duration, but the undertaking continues to be unpopular, and it is even said that it would be wiser to draw a cordon as in the time of plague to prevent the spirit of innovation from entering the country, than to send so many men out, to imbibe its pernicious principles.’ ‘Count Schulenburg spoke of the re-establishment of order in France as easy to be effected, and makes no doubt of being able to return hither before the winter;’ but he thought it not improbable ‘that the most violent of the democratic party will retire towards the Cevennes and the southern parts of France, and there endeavour to form a republic.’ Catherine offered to send a Russian contingent to the French expedition, but she was told that ‘the business would probably be terminated before these troops could reach the Rhine,’ and that an equivalent in money would therefore be more acceptable.2
The predictions of those who calculated that the war would make the continuance of the monarchy of Lewis XVI. impossible proved much better founded, and the King's republican ministers were the first to plot against him. His most trusted counsellors were furiously denounced in the Chamber as the ‘Austrian Committee.’ His ‘constitutional guard’ of eighteen hundred men, which was guaranteed to him by the constitution, and which might be trusted to defend him, was disbanded by the Assembly. The language of the tribune became daily more violent. The press teemed with brutal insults against the Queen, who was now constantly designated as ‘the Austrian panther.’ The very gardens of the Tuileries were thronged with furious agitators. The Queen complained to Dumouriez that when she ventured to look out of a window in her palace a cannonier of the National Guard seized the opportunity of shouting to her, ‘How gladly would I carry your head on the point of my bayonet!’ and she could see in one part of the garden a man standing on a chair reading out horrible calumnies against the royal family, while in another an officer and an abbe were thrust into a pond with insults and blows. The dregs of the population of Paris were speedily armed with pikes, and everything was fast preparing for the final sacrifice.
The King made one serious effort to assert his authority. The Assembly decreed the formation of a camp at Paris of 20,000 volunteers. It was to be composed of volunteers drawn from all the departments, and there was little doubt that the choice would be made by the Jacobin Club, who were virtually the masters of France. According to the constitution, no increase of the military force could be made except on the proposition of the King, but this was proposed to the Assembly by the King's minister, avowedly and ostentatiously, without having even been submitted to the King.1 It excited great division, even in the revolutionary camp, and the King boldly vetoed it, as well as a decree ordering the transportation of all nonjuring priests. Roland read to the King a long, insolent, and pedantic letter of remonstrance written by his wife, but Lewis for once was firm, and dismissed Roland, Servan, and Claviere, the three Girondin ministers. How helpless he was, however, was only too clearly shown on June 20, when his palace was besieged and captured by a great armed mob. After being compelled to assume the red cap of Liberty, and exposed for hours to humiliation and insult, his life was at last saved by the tardy interposition of some popular deputies, and by the impression which his own placid and good-humoured courage made upon the mob. It was obvious, however, to all, on what a slender thread not only his position but his life depended.
These events had their natural effect upon public opinion in England, and the French Embassy became more and more unpopular. When the Government, in the month of May, issued its proclamation against seditious writings, Chauvelin delivered an official note protesting against its terms, and desired Grenville to communicate it to the two Houses of Parliament before the proclamation was discussed. Such an interference of a foreign diplomatist with a measure of internal police was justly resented, and Grenville answered with much force that, as Secretery of State to his Majesty, he could receive no communication from a foreign minister but in order to lay it before the King, and that the deliberations of the two Houses of Parliament, as well as the communications the King should make to them relative to the affairs of his kingdom, were matters absolutely foreign to all diplomatic correspondence.1 Chauvelin still further aggravated the situation by publishing his official correspondence.2
In addition to the proclamation which was issued in England, warning British subjects against all breach of neutrality, the King, in his capacity of Elector of Hanover, announced at the outbreak of the war his determination to take no part in it,3 and when the Emperor and the King of Prussia endeavoured to induce Holland to join the Coalition, English influence was promptly and powerfully employed to counteract their endeavours.4 The simple and steady policy of Pitt was to remain strictly neutral as long as Holland was unmolested; to give Holland the fullest assurance of English support if she were menaced or attacked, and at the same time to confirm the Dutch statesmen in their resolution of scrupulous neutrality. On June 18, when the invasion of France was immediately impending, Chauvelin presented to Lord Grenville a memorial inveighing against the conduct of the invading sovereigns, and urging the English Government to employ their influence to break up the league and prevent the invasion. Grenville replied that the same sentiments that determined the King to abstain from all interference with the internal affairs of France, determined him also to respect the rights and independence of other sovereigns, and that he did not conceive that his counsels or good offices would be of any use unless they were lesired by all parties.1
On July 26, the Duke of Brunswick published at Coblentz that famous proclamation by which he hoped to intimidate, but only succeeded in exasperating France. He disclaimed on the part of the allies all views of conquest, and announced that the allied sovereigns were on the march to put an end to anarchy and to restore the French King to security and liberty. Until they arrived, he made the National Guard and the existing departmental and municipal authorities responsible with their lives and properties for all outrages that might take place. All towns and villages that submitted to the invaders were to be in perfect safety, but all that resisted them were threatened with the most rigorous treatment. The city of Paris and all its inhabitants, without distinction, were commanded to submit at once to the King, and to insure to the royal family the inviolability and respect which were due to sovereigns by the laws both of nature and of nations, ‘their imperial and royal majesties making personally responsible for all events, on pain of losing their heads pursuant to military trials, without hope of pardon,’ all the members of the National Assembly, the National Guard, and all the municipal authorities. It was added that if the palace of the Tuileries was forced or menaced, if the least outrage was offered to the King or to the royal family, if they were not immediately placed in safety and set at liberty, the allied sovereigns would give up the city of Paris to military execution. No declaration issued by the French King as long as he remained in the hands of the revolutionists would be reckoned as his free act, but he was invited to retire to a town near his frontiers, under strong and safe escort, which would be sent for that purpose, and there to take measures for the restoration of order and of the regular administration of his kingdom.1
This unfortunate document was little more than a clumsy German attempt to carry out a policy which the King, and especially the Queen, had long advocated. Prisoners, powerless and in daily fear for their lives, they had little hope except in foreign assistance, and they had for some time maintained a correspondence which nothing but the excess of their danger could palliate, at a time when war with the Emperor had become almost certain. In March the Queen wrote to Mercy warning him that it had been determined in the council to pour one French army into Savoy and another into the bishopric of Liége.2 In April, almost immediately after the declaration of war, she wrote urging, at length, her views of the policy the Emperor ought to pursue. He must dissociate, she said, as much as possible his cause from that of the emigrants. He must announce, but with great caution, his desire to rally all those of whatever opinions who supported the King, but he must take care not to speak too much of the King, to avoid any expressions that could wound the national pride, and to express his sincere anxiety for peace with France. The hopes of the French ministers, the Queen added, are placed on insurrections in neighbouring countries, desertions from the foreign armies, and the possibility of detaching Prussia from the Coalition.3 In the beginning of July, shortly after the attack on the Tuileries, she wrote in a more poignant strain: ‘Our position becomes daily more critical. … All is lost unless the factions are stopped by fear of approaching punishment. They wish at all costs a republic, and to attain it they have determined to assassinate the King. It is necessary that a manifesto should make the National Assembly and Paris responsible for his life and for the lives of his family.4
On the 14th of the same month a memorial was presented to the allied sovereigns at Coblentz on the part of the French King by Mallet du Pan, which was no doubt a main reason of the proclamation of the Duke of Brunswick. After an elaborate examination of the disposition of parties in France, the memorial points to the extreme and pressing danger of the royal family. Nothing but one of those sudden, spontaneous, and unexpected revulsions of feeling to which crowds are liable saved them on June 20. Their position is such that any day may be their last. Their assassination will be the signal for a general massacre. Civilised society in France hangs on a thread, and the anarchy may in a few weeks be worse than at San Domingo. The Jacobins are rapidly filling Paris with their satellites. If the courage of the King in this fatal moment is not seconded by the declaration of the European Powers and by the rapidity of their operations, nothing will remain for him but to fold his robe around his head and to submit to the decree of Providence. The only hope of safety is an immediate manifesto, supported by an overwhelming military force, declaring that the allies will not lay down their arms till the King is restored to liberty and to his legitimate authority. Terror is the only remedy by which the Jacobin tyranny can be overthrown. There must be an energetic declaration making the National Assembly and all the authorities personally responsible with their lives and goods for any injury done to the royal family or to any citizens. This declaration must especially apply to the town of Paris; but it must at the same time be said that the Coalition is in arms against a faction but not against the King or against the nation; that it is defending legitimate governments and nations against a ferocious anarchy which is threatening at once the peace of Europe and the whole structure of society. ‘Their majesties count the minutes till the manifesto is published; their life is one frightful agony.’1
It is evident that this memorial was the germ of the proclamation of the Duke of Brunswick, though the latter document was unskilfully drawn, and more exclusively menacing and offensive than the King desired. The position of Lewis was now hopelessly false. He would gladly have prevented civil war and acted as a kind of mediator between the allied sovereigns and his people, but he was in fact corresponding secretly with the sovereign against whom he had been forced to declare war. He looked to that sovereign for his deliverance, and his brothers were in the enemies' camp. He was at the same time betrayed by his own servants; a prisoner in his own palace, and living in daily fear of assassination. There was, it is true, a real though transient reaction in his favour after the outrage of June 20, and if the King had cordially accepted the assistance which Lafayette now offered him, or if Lafayette had shown more resolution, a new turn might have been given to affairs. But the Court had long looked with extreme distrust on Lafayette; they were committed to an alliance with the Emperor, and as on all former occasions they suffered the critical moment to pass. Lafayette returned to the army which he had left, and the ascendency and the terrorism of the Jacobins were confirmed. From Marseilles, which was now one of their fiercest centres, great numbers were brought to Paris, armed, and installed in the barracks. The troops of the line were all sent to the frontiers. The gendarmerie was chiefly placed in the hands of men who had deserted their flag to join the revolution in 1789. The Commune was organised with a terrible efficiency, and all power was fast passing into desperate hands. In the meantime a decree of the Assembly pronounced the country to be in danger. 300 millions more of assignats were issued. The dethronement of the King was openly and constantly discussed, and while the German armies were already known to be on their march, the King and Queen were almost daily denounced from the tribune as accomplices of the enemy and the chief obstacle to the defence of France.
The letters of Lord Gower graphically describe ‘the awful suspense’ that now hung over the French capital; the wild rumours that were readily believed; the growing terror as band after band of ferocious Jacobins arrived from the South; the fears of the foreign diplomatists, who believed their own lives to be in danger. One line in this correspondence which is not connected with French politics may not be without interest to my readers, for it records the close of a stormy life which has often been noticed in these volumes: ‘Paul Jones died here on Wednesday last of a dropsy in the heart.’ In the terrible and almost desperate situation of the King and of his family one last appeal was made to the English ambassador. ‘In the present extremely precarious state of the royal family, wrote Gower to Grenville, ‘I have been desired to express to the Minister of Foreign Affairs the sentiments of his Majesty with regard to the proceedings of the National Assembly and Municipality and sections of Paris derogatory to, or attacking the safety of their Most Christian Majesties. I have declined to act in this business till I can receive instructions from your Lordship. The person of his Most Christian Majesty is certainly in imminent danger. On Thursday the Extraordinary Committee is to make its report upon the King's destitution. I wish therefore to receive your Lordship's instructions as soon as possible.’1
With this official letter Gower wrote privately to Grenville entreating an immediate answer as the case was very urgent. The answer was not long delayed, and it showed that the English ministers still carried their desire to be neutral in French affairs to the verge, if not beyond the verge, of inhumanity. ‘I am strongly inclined to apprehend,’ wrote Grenville, ‘that no intimation of the nature alluded to by your Excellency could be of the smallest advantage in contributing to the safety of their Most Christian Majesties in the present crisis. Your Excellency is well acquainted with the system of strict neutrality which his Majesty has invariably observed during the whole course of the troubles which have distracted the kingdom of France. … If the King saw reason to believe that from an authorised and official declaration of his sentiments of friendship towards their Most Christian Majesties, and of concern for their personal honour and safety, their Most Christian Majesties would derive real assistance or protection in the present critical moment, his Majesty's feelings might probably lead him, for the sake of so interesting an object, to depart, in so far as is now proposed, from the line which he has hitherto pursued as the most consistent with his own dignity and with the interests of his subjects. But it seems too evident that any measure of this nature would only lead to committing the King's name in a business in which his Majesty has hitherto kept himself unengaged, without any reasonable ground for hoping that it would produce the effect desired from it. … It might give the appearance of the King's partaking in the views of the allied Powers, in which his Majesty has uniformly declined all participation.’ While, therefore, Lord Gower was authorised to express, as he had always done, the King's friendship towards the French sovereigns, he was expressly forbidden to make any new official declaration.1
It is impossible, I think, for any candid person to follow the English policy and declarations up to this point without acknowledging the strictness and the consistency of the neutrality that was maintained. The ministers had been again and again appealed to from opposite sides, but neither the alliance of Prussia nor the personal danger of the French King, nor the imminent peril of the Austrian Netherlands, nor the Hanoverian interests of the King, nor his strong antipathy to the Revolution, nor any of the violent movements of public opinion which had arisen at home, had as yet induced them to depart one hair's breadth either in word or deed from the path of peace and neutrality. It is also perfectly certain that when Parliament closed in the summer of 1792 the English Government had no doubt whatever of their ability to preserve the neutrality which they had prescribed to themselves. We must now examine in some detail the causes which defeated their efforts.
The Coalition, which had once threatened to comprise all the chief powers of the Continent, had shrunk greatly in its dimensions when the period of action arrived. The Emperor and the King of Prussia only received in Germany the active support of the Electors of Treves and Mayence, and of the Landgrave of Hesse.2 The Empress of Russia and the King of Sardinia also proclaimed their adhesion to the league, but the assistance of Russia was confined to a small subsidy in money, and that of Sardinia to a promise. Towards the end of July the whole allied army, consisting of about 100,000 men, and comprising several thousands of French emigrants, was slowly on its march for the French frontiers, and there was probably hardly a competent judge outside France who did not predict its speedy military success. Mercy, writing to the Queen on July 9, expressed his great fear lest the royal family should be carried by the republicans to the southern provinces; but if they could avoid this, he predicted that in a month all would be safe.1 ‘All our speculations,’ wrote Lord Grenville, ‘are now turned towards France. I expect no resistance, or next to none, to the progress of the troops; but what can restore good government and good order in that country, and who is to do it, and under what forms, is covered caliginosa nocte.’2 ‘The comedy,’ said the King of Prussia, ‘will not last long. … The army of advocates will soon be annihilated; we shall be home before autumn.’3 The opinions of Lord Gower have been already given, and Morris had long been describing to his Government in equally emphatic terms the utter disorganisation of the French army. ‘If the enemy be tolerably successful,’ he added, ‘a person who shall visit this country two years hence will inquire with astonishment by what means a nation which in the year 1788 was devoted to its King, became in 1790 unanimous in throwing off authority, and in 1792 as unanimous in submitting to it.’4
It was not till August 19 that the German army crossed the French frontier, but before that date the inefficiency of the Proclamation of Brunswick had been terribly displayed. The Jacobin insurrection for the purpose of dethroning the King, which had been for some weeks prepared almost without concealment, and had been more than once postponed, was at last accomplished on August 10. With the details of that memorable and terrible day we have no concern. The treachery of Pétion, the Mayor of Paris; the murder of Mandat, the brave and honourable commander of the National Guard; the invasion of the Tuileries; the treachery of the artillery; the treachery of the great body of the National Guard; the flight of the King and royal family to the National Assembly; the massacre of the heroic Swiss Guard who alone threw some moral splendour over the hideous scene, have been often described, and the curtain soon fell on the oldest monarchy in Europe. By the decree of the Legislative Assembly the King was deprived of his functions and imprisoned with his family in the Temple. The civil list was suspended. A National Convention was summoned. The Girondin ministers who had lately been dismissed by the King, were recalled, and with them were Monge and Lebrun, two furious Jacobins, who were appointed, the first to the Navy and the second to the Department of Foreign Affairs, and above all Danton, who became Minister of Justice. The Legislative Assembly voted the permanence of their sitting till the meeting of the National Convention. It was ordered that a camp should be established under the walls of Paris, to be formed of all citizens who chose to enlist. The artillery, who had shown their hostility to the monarchy, were authorised to plant their cannon on the heights of Montmartre. The administrative and municipal bodies received power to make domiciliary visits and seize powder and arms; and, the slight qualification which had hitherto restricted the suffrage being abolished, every citizen of twenty-one years of age maintaining himself by his own labour was admitted to vote in the Primary Assemblies for the new Convention.1
It is a remarkable illustration of the reign of terror which already existed in France that the memorable session of August 10, which destroyed the French monarchy, was only attended by 284 out of 745 deputies.2 The first impression of Chauvelin himself, on learning what had occurred, was to write a memorandum to the English Government, which, however, he afterwards recalled, deploring and denouncing the acts of August 10 as a gross violation of the fundamental articles of the French Constitution, perpetrated by a small minority of deputies under the influence of intimidation, and the English Government now took the first of those steps which have been seriously contested. Lord Gower had been accredited to the King of France; when the monarchy was abolished his credentials became null, and the Home Government resolved to recall him.
Perhaps the best way of enabling the reader to judge this act will be by quoting in the first place the language in which the Government announced its intention to Lord Gower. Grenville happened to be absent from London when the news arrived, and the task therefore fell to the lot of Dundas. ‘Under the present circumstances,’ he wrote, ‘as it appears that the exercise of the executive power has been withdrawn from his Most Christian Majesty, the credentials under which your Excellency has hitherto acted can be no longer available, and his Majesty judges it proper on this account, as well as most conformable to the principles of neutrality which his Majesty has hitherto observed, that you should no longer remain in Paris. It is therefore his Majesty's pleasure that you should quit it and repair to England as soon as you conveniently can after procuring the necessary passports. In any conversation which you may have, you will take care to make your language conformable to the sentiments which are now conveyed to you, and you will particularly take every opportunity of expressing that while his Majesty intends strictly to adhere to the principles of neutrality in respect to the settlement of the internal government of France, he at the same time considers it no deviation from those principles to manifest by all the means in his power his solicitude for the personal situation of their Most Christian Majesties and their royal family, and he earnestly and anxiously hopes that they will at least be secure from any acts of violence, which could not fail to produce one universal sentiment of indignation through every country of Europe.’1
A circular was immediately after issued to the ambassadors of the different Powers, announcing the step which the English Government had taken. ‘It is not his Majesty's intention,’ it said, ‘in taking this step, to depart from the line which his Majesty has hitherto observed of not interfering in the internal affairs of France, or in the settlement of the Government there; but it would neither have been consistent with the King's dignity nor with the strong interest which his Majesty invariably takes in what regards the personal situation of their Most Christian Majesties, that his ambassador should continue in Paris when the King to whom Lord Gower was accredited is no longer in the exercise of the executive government but in a state of declared and avowed captivity.’2
The recall of Lord Gower is the first incident of the French policy of the English Government which has been seriously blamed as inconsistent with neutrality. It has been said that Pitt ought to have taken the course which was adopted in 1848, when the English ambassador remained in Paris, and was accredited to the triumphant Republic. It is certain, however, that as matter of strict right the position of the Government was unassailable. The credentials of Lord Gower were to the King as the head of the French Executive, and when the King ceased to hold that position they became incontestably null. There is at least a presumption that a Government which is endeavouring to preserve neutrality in time of war, is most likely to succeed if it confines itself in all doubtful cases to the forms of a strict and undisputed legality. In recalling her ambassador, on the dethronement of the King, England merely acted in the same manner as all the other European Powers, and in my opinion she took the only course which was reasonably open to her. If, in the midst of a European war, she had broken away from the concert of Europe, if she had singled out for immediate recognition as a Government the men who had just overthrown the King, she would have acted in away which was wholly unauthorised by precedent, which would have mortally offended the belligerent Powers, and which might, in the very probable event of a restoration, have involved her in a war with the monarchy of France. Such a course would indeed have been the most emphatic evidence of sympathy for the Revolution, for the Government established on August 10, if it could be called a Government, was at least wholly wanting in the elements of stability. Created by a mob-rising and by the unconstitutional vote of a small minority of the Chamber, it was threatened with speedy destruction by an invading army, and it was by its own acknowledgment purely transient or provisional. The Assembly had ‘provisionally suspended’ the King; it had appointed ‘a provisional executive’ in his place; it was itself little more than a slave of the Commune of Paris, and it only existed until the National Convention met.
Such a Government had no claim to formal recognition, and the condition of Paris was such that it was extremely doubtful whether an English ambassador could have remained there in safety. The power of the mob was at this time supreme. One diplomatist, the representative of the Republic of Venice, had already been arrested as he was leaving Paris and brought back by force,1 and a mob outrage against the English Embassy might at any time have precipitated the conflict.
And who were the men for whose sake England was thus expected to take a course which was at once so unprecedented and so perilous? They were men who, in the opinion of the great majority of the English people, were miscreants of the deepest dye, and whose hands were red with murder. The direction of affairs in France was now largely in the hands of men who had been condemned for criminal offences;1 and although it might not have been in the power of the English Government to anticipate the hideous train of murders that stained Paris during the next few weeks, even before Lord Gower left Paris the general outline of what was to follow was disclosed. ‘The municipality,’ wrote the English secretary, ‘has been entirely occupied since the 10th in collecting as much evidence and as many proofs as possible to inculpate the conduct of their Most Christian Majesties, and for this purpose every suspected house has been searched. … Many hundred people connected with the Court and the aristocracy have been thrown into prison, and two or three of the most obnoxious have been executed. It is generally thought that her Most Christian Majesty will be brought to her trial in the course of a few days, and your Lordship must not be surprised at hearing the most disagreeable accounts on her subject. … Hardly anyone will be bold enough not to find her guilty. … It is supposed that his Majesty will at least be confined for life.’2
Could the King of England with any decency have authorised his ambassador to countenance with his presence the probable trial and execution of the King and Queen of France? It may be argued that no possible crimes on the part of the governors of a country can dispense surrounding nations from fulfilling international obligations; but a constitutional minister is at least bound to consider the opinion of his own people before he takes a step which no obligation enforces on him, and which makes him in a measure the accomplice of acts his countrymen abhor.
These reasons appear to me to have amply justified the recall of Lord Gower, and there is no ground whatever for regarding it as an act of hostility. The ambassador was not, as is usual when hostilities are intended, directed to leave Paris without taking leave. On the contrary, he had a perfectly amicable interview with Lebrun, and the English Government again formally, officially, and in the clearest language, proclaimed its neutrality and its fixed determination to abstain from all interference with the internal concerns of France. Nor did Lebrun treat the recall as a hostile measure. He regretted it, he said, as Gower had ‘never been the organ of any words that were not friendly, or any sentiments that were not kindly;’ but he was consoled by the strong assertion of the determination of England to remain neutral; he trusted that the British Cabinet would not, ‘in this decisive moment, depart from the justice, the moderation, and the impartiality which it had displayed … and that nothing will alter the good intelligence which reigns between the two nations.’1 Chauvelin, though no longer recognised as holding an official character, was still suffered to remain in England, and he wrote to his Government that there was nothing in the recall of Gower to affect the neutrality of England; that it was merely a matter of etiquette and usage and monarchical delicacy.2 From Paris the English secretary, Lindsay, who still remained for a short time, was able to give similar assurances. He mentions the excellent impression which the renewed assertion of the strict neutrality of England had made on the mind of the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, and adds, ‘The recall of the English mission from Paris in the present circumstances is considered rather as the necessary consequence of the above-mentioned system of neutrality, than as the forerunner of hostility.’3
In the meantime the allied armies were advancing into France, but with extreme slowness and hesitation. Morris, in his letters to his Government, justly spoke of their tardiness as a fatal political blunder, and he ascribed it to the fact that the Duke was a mere strategist who never understood the moral and political conditions of the war. The state of France was such, Morris said, that if a foreign army advanced rapidly it would certainly be gladly joined by multitudes, even from the armies opposed to it. If, however, there is much delay, numbers who are now silent from fear, will habituate themselves to speak favourably of the present Government in order to lull suspicion; they will commit themselves to its cause and be unable or unwilling to recede. ‘If by this means the new Republic takes a little root, foreign Powers will, I believe, find it a difficult matter to shake it to the ground, for the French nation is an immense mass which it is not easy either to move or to oppose.’ He still believed that it was utterly impossible that ‘the French army, if army it can be called where there is no discipline,’ could defeat the allies; but if Brunswick would venture nothing, it might be very possible for the French to wear away the time till winter put an end to operations.1 In Paris the interest in the Revolution was so absorbing that it left little room for any other thought. It is a curious but well-attested fact that even the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, threatening Paris with military execution and all the members of the National Assembly with death, excited only a very feeble interest, and public opinion seemed to contemplate the event with a strange indifference.2 ‘It is thought,’ writes Lindsay, ‘that if the Duke of Brunswick winters in France his army will be enervated and lose its discipline, and if he returns to the frontier he will be obliged to begin everything again in the opening of the second campaign. They say it is very possible he may penetrate to and conquer Paris; but in that case the Convention will remove to the South, where the enemy will find much difficulty in following them. I have reason to believe, my Lord, that these are the sentiments of the ablest people and of those who have at present the most influence.’3
Longwy, however, was captured by the Prussians on August 23, and Verdun on September 2, and the allied armies slowly and inefficiently began the siege of Thionville and pushed forward into the rocky and thickly wooded country of the Argonne, which formed the chief natural obstacle to the march on Paris. Lafayette, who had endeavoared to support the Constitution after August 10, had been compelled to fly from his own army at Sedan, and was now a prisoner in the hands of the Austrians; but Dumouriez, who replaced him, hastened to occupy and defend the five roads which lead through the Argonne. On September 13 and 14, however, the allies succeeded in obtaining possession of one of them, and Dumouriez was compelled to fall back on a new position at Ste. Menehould. A skilful and daring general would at this time almost certainly have annihilated the small and undisciplined French army, but Brunswick contented himself with merely harassing the retreat, and Dumouriez acknowledged that such a panic arose that 10,000 men fled before 1,500 Prussian hussars. The position of Ste. Menehould was a strong one. Two large bodies of French troops under the command of Beurnonville and Kellermann were daily expected, and recruits were streaming in from all sides, but nevertheless it seemed certain to almost all the best judges in Europe that a single easy victory would place Paris at the mercy of the invader.1
In that city scenes were enacting which can never pass from the memory of man. The small band of desperate miscreants, who had seized upon the municipal authority on August 10, had created one of the most terrible despotisms of which history has any record, and the moribund and discredited National Assembly, after some faint struggles, sank into little more than the register of its will. Robespierre, Marat, Danton, Collot-d'Herbois, and a few others, were its leading spirits, and the savage armed mob from Paris and its neighbourhood, as well as the fierce Jacobins from Marseilles and Brittany, were the agents of their designs. By plays in the theatres, by mob orators haranguing in the Palais Royal and in the garden of the Tuileries, by processions and banners in the streets, by incendiary placards written by Marat and his followers and posted on every wall, by incessant and menacing deputations to the Assembly, by paid agents who were screaming for blood from the galleries, and by the constant circulation of the vilest calumnies, the popular fury was steadily sustained. The statues of the Kings of France were now overthrown. Every emblem of royalty was effaced. The churches were plundered. Their bells were melted down for cannon. The property of the emigrants was seized. Committees of ‘surveillance’ were appointed by the Commune in each of the fortyeight sections of Paris. Lists were drawn up of all suspected citizens; and, while the barriers were closed, the river guarded, and passports refused, the Commune undertook domiciliary visits and the arrest of all suspected persons. The prisons were soon thronged; not with ordinary criminals, but with men who had lately been among the most respected in France, with non-juring priests, with old courtiers and Government functionaries, with members of the once privileged orders. On August 18 the Assembly, intimidated by the threat of an immediate insurrection, had reluctantly obeyed the order of the Commune for the creation of an elective revolutionary tribunal, with powers of life and death, for the trial of suspected royalists; but, though executions took place, the guillotine moved too slowly for Robespierre and Danton, and the acquittal of Montmorin made them fear that a reaction might be impending. Marat was already preaching a general massacre, and Danton deliberately determined at once to give the opening war a desperate character by taking away every hope of pardon, to extirpate every possible element of counter-revolution within his reach, and to strike terror into all who resisted the domination of the Commune.
It is not necessary to describe the hideous scenes of massacre that followed. They began on September 2, when twenty-four nonjuring priests, who had been temporarily confined in the Town Hall, were removed to the Abbey. They were, one by one, dragged out of the carriages which conveyed them, and, with three exceptions, they were all murdered. One hundred and fifty or two hundred priests who had been confined in the Carmelite Church were next slaughtered. During six days and five nights the emissaries of the Commune, wearing the Municipal scarfs, proceeded through the prisons of Paris, calling out the royalist prisoners one by one, and after a few rapid questions asked and answered, sending them to be murdered in the prison courts. Some few were released against whom no charge was even alleged. A few others escaped in the confusion of the night, by strange accidents, by the courageous intervention of powerful friends, or even by those sudden movements of compassion that are occasionally witnessed in the most ferocious crowd, but such escapes were very rare. Of the number of the victims it is difficult to speak with confidence. Lindsay, who left Paris in the midst of the carnage, estimated the number massacred on the night of September 3 at 4,000,1 and some of the best French historians have calculated the total number of victims at 5,000, 6,000, or even 8,000. It is probable, however, that in this, as in most similar cases, there has been some exaggeration, and the most careful modern investigations have placed the number of the murdered at somewhat more than 1,300.2 Among them were the Archbishop of Arles, the Bishops of Beauvais and Saintes, Montmorin, who had lately directed with singular ability the foreign policy of France, his brother, who had just been acquitted of all guilt even by the revolutionary tribunal, but who had been arbitrarily thrown back into prison, the minister D'Abancourt, Rulhières the late commander of the gendarmes, many magistrates and justices of the peace, old soldiers, old officers of Court, and scions of some of the noblest houses in France. There were octogenarians among the victims; there were more than forty boys who were not yet seventeen, and there were a few women. The most conspicuous of these was the Princess de Lamballe, who, as the intimate friend of the Queen, was especially obnoxious to the revolutionists. Her corpse was horribly mutilated and outraged, and her severed head was borne on a pike, first of all to the palace of the Duke of Orleans, and then to the Temple, where it was held up in triumph before the window, that it might be seen by the Queen.
All this was no explosion of blind fear or passion, but a massacre deliberately and carefully organised, and its main organiser was Danton, the Minister of Justice, one of the leading members of the Government which Pitt has been so much blamed for not having immediately recognised. On the second day of the massacre, the Committee of Public Safety issued a circular, signed by Danton, announcing the event, and inviting ‘their brothers in the departments to follow the example of Paris.’1 They were not slow to do so, and similar murders, though on a smaller scale, speedily took place in numerous towns in France.
It is hardly surprising that these events, and the almost certainly impending murder of the King, should have greatly modified the opinions and sympathies of Englishmen. Even Fox, though still passionately devoted to the Revolution, and very ready to justify the outrages of August 10, spoke, in his private letters, of the September murders as crimes incapable of extenuation, though he tried to persuade himself that the Jacobins whom he wished to see in power were not responsible for them.2 On those who were less imbued with the new ideas, the ghastly scenes in Paris weighed with the horrors of a nightmare. ‘All my ideas of happiness,’ wrote Lord Auckland to a friend, ‘are shaken by the calamitous history of France, every circumstance of which passes from day to day through my hands, and disturbs my mind both sleeping and waking. It is not an exaggeration to say that above 20,000 cold-blooded murders have been committed in that devoted country within the last eight months, and that above a million of orphan families have been reduced to beggary. … To this are to be added the proscriptions, emigrations, and banishments; the desolations still going forward under foreign invasion and civil fury; and the near prospect of a famine. … Our life is embittered by the details which we receive, and we can talk of nothing else. I wish I could tell you that the Duke of Brunswick is advancing rapidly to Paris.’3 A letter of Grenville to his brother, written a few days after the news of the massacre arrived, shows decisively the real feelings and intentions of the English Minister for Foreign Affairs. ‘The Duke of Brunswick's progress,’ he writes, ‘does not keep pace with the impatience of our wishes, but I doubt whether it is reasonable to expect more. The detail of the late events at Paris is so horrible that I do not like to let my mind dwell upon them; and yet I fear that scene of shocking and savage barbarity is very far from its close. I deliver this day to the Imperial and Neapolitan ministers a note with the formal assurance that, in case of the murder of the King or Queen, the persons guilty of that crime shall not be allowed any asylum in the King's dominions. … I imagine everybody will think the thing itself right, and some people seem to hope it may prevent the commission of the trime in question. In this hope I am not very sanguine.’1
On the day on which Grenville wrote this letter, the battle of Valmy was fought, and a wholly new turn was given to the fortunes of the war. The extreme slowness and indecision of the manæuvres of Brunswick had clearly shown how exaggerated was the military reputation he had hitherto enjoyed, and how peculiarly unfitted he was for a revolutionary war. Swift and brilliant strokes were especially needed to act upon the overwrought popular imagination, to scatter armies that were still undisciplined, but which might soon become very formidable, and to overthrow a system of government which had not yet had time to consolidate itself. A slight change of personalities might have at this moment changed the whole course of events. But Brunswick was one of the last men to cope with the emergency. Slow, safe, cautious, and methodical; thoroughly acquainted with the technical rules of his profession, but with little originality or pliancy of intellect, and still less of that kind of courage which assumes lightly the responsibility of untried and dangerous enterprises; although he had been formed in the school of Frederick, he was a general of a type which Frederick had already done much to discredit, and everything conspired to bring his defects into relief. The allies had begun the campaign imagining that they would scarcely meet with any resistance, and the army, both in numbers and artillery, was much below the strength that Brunswick had deemed necessary. There was great jealousy between the Austrians and Prussians. The presence of the King of Prussia and of the French princes in the camp was a constant embarrassment to the Commander-in-Chief, and it soon became evident that the expectations which the emigrants had held out, of a general rising against the Revolution, and a general defection of the French troops, were wholly fallacious. Brunswick desired above all things to risk nothing, and he would have gladly confined the campaign to the siege and capture of a few strong places near the frontier. Having to protect communications, and occupy the places he had taken, his army was much scattered, and the French general who was opposed to him was greatly his superior in military enterprise and resource. For a short time after Dumouriez had suffered the pass through the Argonne to fall into the hands of the allies, the French army seemed in an almost hopeless condition of weakness and disorganisation, but the precious moments were suffered to pass. The French were now powerfully posted, and the arrival of two large bodies of troops under Beurnonville and Kellermann raised their number to sixty or seventy thousand. They were chiefly soldiers of the old army of the Monarchy, and although their discipline had been profoundly impaired, and most of their superior officers had gone over to the enemy, the military spirit was reviving under the lead of skilful generals.
On September 20 the allied armies advanced to attack them near Valmy. The affair consisted of little more than a cannonade and a reconnaissance. A considerable body of the French were driven back from a position which it was impossible to hold; the ground was occupied by the Prussians, and Brunswick then proceeded to advance against the powerful division of the French army, which was strongly posted, under the command of Kellermann, on a height behind the mill at Valmy. A thick autumn fog hung over the scene, but the sun suddenly pierced it and disclosed the formidable position of the troops of Kellermann. There was a long and vigorous cannonade from both sides, but the threatened general assault was never made. The unexpected strength of the French position, the steadiness with which the French troops had borne the Prussian cannonade, and the defiant shouts of ‘Vive la Nation!’ mingling with the inspiring strains of the ‘Marseillaise,’ which arose from their ranks, convinced Brunswick that the enterprise before him was more serious than he had supposed. He determined to desist till Austrian reinforcements arrived; he ordered his troops to retire, and he failed in a subsequent attempt to cut off the French communications with Vitry.
There was no pursuit and no rout. No cannon were taken. The loss on each side appears to have been only about 200 men,1 and the Prussians continued to occupy the ground from which the French had been dislodged. The affair can hardly be called a battle, and was certainly not a victory on either side. From a military point of view it was very insignificant, and there are hundreds of days in the history of France which were far more glorious for the French arms. But in spite of all this, the battle of Valmy occupies in the history of the French Revolution a position very similar to that of the equally insignificant battle of Bunker's Hill in the Revolution of America. The highly disciplined forces of the old monarchies had fallen back before the soldiers of the Revolution, and the result was a dejection on one side, and a confidence on the other, such as the greatest of victories in other times might hardly have produced. It was not without reason that Kellermann, after a long and splendid career of victory under Napoleon, selected Valmy as his title, and bequeathed his heart to its village church. Goethe, who was in the Prussian camp during the battle, as secretary to the Duke of Weimar, predicted that ‘on that day a new era of history began.’
After the battle some negotiations took place between Dumouriez and the King of Prussia on the possibility of terminating the war. It was the special desire of the French general to separate the Prussians from the Austrians, and if a more conciliatory spirit had prevailed at Paris the attempt might not have been unsuccessful. The delay was, at all events, of great service to the French cause. France was now universally arming. The patriotic enthusiasm animated all classes against the invader, and multitudes sought relief in the battle-field from the horrors which were being perpetrated both in Paris and the provinces. A vast portion of that abnormal and volcanic energy which the Revolution had generated now threw itself into the contest. Every day brought crowds of fresh soldiers to the camp of Dumouriez. On the other hand, the season was now breaking. The rain fell in torrents. The roads were becoming almost impassable with mud. The difficulties of providing the German armies with food in a hostile country had become very great. Their communications were in danger, and dysentery was raging fiercely in their camp. On the evening of September 30 they began their retreat. The blockade of Thionville was raised; Verdun and Longwy were retaken without a blow, and before the end of October the whole invading army of the Coalition had recrossed the Rhine.
There had seldom been a more complete, a more unexpected failure, and it occurred in one of those great crises of human affairs in which men are peculiarly susceptible to moral influences of encouragement or the reverse. A wild thrill of martial exultation and enthusiasm now swept through France, and a few weeks were sufficient to change the face of Europe. In the Convention which had now been assembled, all parties were in favour of a war which might lead to a universal Republic under the guidance and hegemony of France.1 The war raged in the most various quarters, but everywhere to the advantage of the French. From Flanders the Duke Albert, availing himself of the removal of a great part of the French army to support Dumouriez, had endeavoured to effect a diversion by besieging and bombarding Lille, but the town resisted heroically and the Austrians were compelled ignominiously to retreat. The King of Sardinia, without taking an active part in the invasion of France, had openly identified himself with the Coalition. On September 10, France declared war against him. Before the end of the month one French army, under General Montesquieu, had invaded and conquered Savoy, while another, under General Anselme, had annexed nearly the whole of the country of Nice. The Pied-montese fled beyond the Alps, and the chief towns received the French with enthusiasm.
Still more striking and still more significant were the proceedings of Custine in Germany. If France had been governed by any of the ordinary rules or calculations of policy, she would have carefully shrunk from multiplying enemies at a time of such disorganisation and bankruptcy, and when a formidable coalition was in arms against her. The German Empire had hitherto remained neutral, and in the changed conditions of the war it was not likely to depart from this policy. A great part of it, however, and especially the part along the Rhine, was ruled by ecclesiastical princes, whose governments, mild and pacific, but full of abuses and wholly wanting in energy, were very incapable of defence. Custine, at the head of the army which had been placed for the protection of Alsace, marched into Germany on September 28 at the head of only 1,800 men. On the 30th he surprised and captured Spires, which contained vast war magazines collected for the army of the Coalition. On October 4 he entered Worms without resistance, alleging the assistance which that town had given to the emigrants. The wildest panic now spread through the Palatinate and along the whole border of the Rhine, and it extended through the whole German Empire when the news arrived that on October 21 the French had entered without resistance the great fortified city of Mayence, one of the chief bulwarks of Germany against France. It was believed that Coblentz would fall next, in spite of the great fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, and the Elector of Treves, who then lived there, hastily took flight; but Custine saw a richer and easier prey in the free town of Frankfort. That great commercial city had remained scrupulously neutral, but was now occupied without a blow, and it contributed largely to the expenses of the war.
The war had already a clearly defined character. It was self-supporting, for the French general everywhere raised enormous sums from the conquered territory. These sums, however, were chiefly obtained by vast confiscations of Church and Government property, and by crushing taxation imposed on the rich, while the French made every effort to flatter the poor. They came, their general said, to proclaim war to the palaces but peace to the cottages; to overthrow all tyrants; to give liberty to all peoples, and he invited the conquered towns to reorganise themselves as free democracies. The Rhenish towns were full of societies of Freemasons or Illuminati imbued with revolutionary doctrines, and prepared to receive the French as liberators. Between fear and sympathy all resistance seemed to have disappeared. Coblentz, at the end of September, sent a deputation to the French general, inviting him to take possession of the town, and imploring his indulgence. At Bonn and Cologne the authorities prepared to take flight. The family of the Landgrave of Cassel had already done so. Wurtemburg and Baden loudly declared their neutrality.1
While the little army of Custine had thus established a complete ascendency in the richest part of Germany, the menace of invasion disquieted other countries. A dispute with the aristocratic government of Geneva had nearly produced a war, but it was for the present deferred by a treaty made by the General Montesquieu. The treaty, however, was not confirmed by the Convention, and the General was obliged to save his life by flight. On another side Genoa was already threatened, and preparations were made for the invasion of Italy. The French ambassador at Madrid haughtily remonstrated at the large Spanish force which had been collected in Catalonia, and Aranda not only withdrew it but also consented to pay an indemnity to France for the expense she had incurred in watching the Spanish frontier.2 Both in Switzerland and Italy democratic societies were multiplying, and French agents were actively preparing the way for the invaders. Lord Malmesbury, who traversed a great part of Europe in the summer of 1792, declared that there was scarcely a State through which he passed from Naples to Ostend in which there were not emissaries employed by the French in propagating the doctrines of the Revolution.3
Dumouriez, meanwhile, was at Paris preparing the master object of his ambition—the conquest of the Belgic provinces. The folly of the dismantlement of the barrier fortresses by Joseph, and of the invasion of old local privileges by both Joseph and Leopold, was now clearly seen, and Dumouriez lost no opportunity of winning the Flemish democracy to his side. A large body of refugees from Belgium and from Liege accompanied his army, and as he entered the country he published a proclamation in French and Flemish assuring the inhabitants that the French came as brethren and deliverers; that they only asked them to establish the sovereignty of the people, and to abjure all despots; that, freed from Austrian tyranny, the Belgic provinces should now resume their sovereignty and elect their magistrates and their legislators; and that the French Republic did not intend in any way to infringe their rights or prescribe their government.1 Dumouriez achieved his task with a rapidity and completeness that filled Europe with astonishment and dismay. On November 6 the Austrians under Duke Albert were totally defeated in the great battle of Jemmapes. Next day the French entered Mons. On the 14th they entered Brussels in triumph, amid the acclamations of the people. Liége and Aix-la-Chapelle were successively evacuated by the Imperial troops; the citadel of Antwerp capitulated on November 28, and the citadel of Namur on December 2, and Luxemburg alone remained in the hands of the Emperor.
Nearly at the same time the Republic gave another signal illustration of the tremendous energy that inspired it, and of the reckless disregard for consequences with which it multiplied its enemies. From the correspondence that was seized at the Tuileries on August 10 it was discovered that the Neapolitan ambassador at Constantinople had used his influence, in conjunction with the ambassadors of Prussia and Austria, to prevent the Porte from receiving the French ambassador. It was wholly unnecessary to take any official cognisance of a matter thus discovered; but a large French fleet was lying unemployed. On December 16 it appeared in the Bay of Naples. A single grenadier was sent on shore to the palace of the King, where he demanded, on pain of instant bombardment, that the French minister should be recognised as representative of the French Republic, that the Neapolitan minister at Constantinople should be recalled and disavowed, and that a Neapolitan minister should be sent to Paris to renew this disavowal and to negotiate a commercial treaty with the French Republic. There was no possibility of resisting, and the King, who was a grandson of Lewis XIV. and brother-in-law of Marie Antoinette, was compelled to submit.
The aspect of affairs had changed with the suddenness of the transformation scene in a theatre. It was difficult to realise that only three months before, nearly all the statesmen and soldiers in Europe had agreed that the Revolution had reduced France to a long period of hopeless debility and insignificance, and had predicted that an army of 100,000 Austrians and Prussians was amply sufficient to seize her capital and to over-turn her Government. Yet within that time a country whose Government, finances, and armies seemed all in hopeless disorder, had annexed Savoy and Nice, penetrated to the heart of Germany, conquered the whole of Belgium, and intimidated Naples and Spain. Lewis XIV. in his greatest days had scarcely been so powerful or so arrogant, and, as Burke alone had predicted, the Revolution was everywhere finding its most powerful instruments in the democratic principles which it propagated, and in the numerous allies which those principles secured for it in every country which it invaded. The confidence of the Revolutionists was unbounded. ‘We must break with all the Cabinets in Europe,’ said Brissot. ‘What are the boasted schemes of Alberoni or Richelieu compared with the great revolutions we are called upon to make? … Novus rerum nascitur ordo.’
It was impossible that neutral Powers should not look with alarm on the terrible phenomenon which was unfolding itself, and should not find a serious and menacing significance in correspondences with Paris that were established by societies within their borders. In order to form a just judgment of the conduct of the English Government in this great crisis, we must follow its proceedings very closely.
We may first examine the situation as it is disclosed in the secret correspondence of the French agents with their Government. Chauvelin, as we have seen, strongly urged, at the time of the recall of Lord Gower, that this should not be regarded as in any way a measure of hostility to France, and that it should not be followed by his own recall. To anyone, he wrote, who considers the conduct of England since the beginning of the Revolution, it will appear evident that she can have no real ill-will to France. Her constant refusal to accede to the Pillnitz Convention, the neutral attitude assumed by the King, as Elector of Hanover, in the German Diet when the German feudatory rights were first mentioned, and the neutrality which England openly declared at a time when the French troops were entering the Low Countries, abundantly shows it, and she will never accept the position of a secondary Power by placing herself at the service of a league which she cannot direct. England only asks to be treated with respect and consideration,1 and to be allowed to enjoy in peace the fruits of her industry and commerce. If the moment is not favourable for a close connection with her, if she takes great interest in the fate of the King, and is disquieted by fear of revolutionary propagandism, it is the interest of France to calm her. It should be the task of the French ministers to prevent a momentary suspension of official intercourse from degenerating into a rupture. He did not expect to be suffered to hold any official communication with the English Government till after the Convention had settled the new constitution of France; but he urged up to the end of September, that there was no doubt of the pacific intentions of England, and he mentioned that the Lords of the Admiralty, in their recent tour of inspection through the ports, had been actually reducing the number of seamen on active service. He complained that French agents in London were exciting much suspicion, and that many refractory priests who were sent to England would probably ultimately find their way to Ireland, where, as ‘the lowest classes are as superstitiously attached to Catholicism as in the thirteenth century,’ they might easily excite a general feeling against the Revolution. He repudiated with some scorn a new suggestion of Lebrun, that England might be induced to join France with a view to seizing the Spanish colonies. It was idle to suppose that she would abandon her pacific system which she had deliberately adopted, and the acquisition of Louisiana, which the French minister supposed might be an inducement, was perfectly indifferent to her since she had lost her chief American colonies. ‘The most lively interest,’ he said, ‘is taken by all classes in the fate of the King and royal family, and even those most attached to us think that any act against their personal safety would be most fatal to the cause of liberty.’ When Lebrun, at the end of September, announced to Chauvelin the abolition of royalty in France, Chauvelin answered that this was only what was expected, but that it would be most imprudent to require an immediate recognition from neutral Powers. Let France make herself a strong and united power; let her act with magnanimity and humanity towards her deposed King, and she will soon find the neutral Powers quite ready to recognise the Republic, perhaps even before the Convention shall have fully settled the Constitution.1
These despatches show clearly the policy of Chauvelin to the beginning of October. They were not written in conjunction with Talleyrand, for Talleyrand had returned to Paris in the beginning of July, and although he came again to England in September for his own safety, he was then in disgrace with his Government, and appears to have had no further connection with Chauvelin, and little or no communication with English minister.2 But at Paris, a change in the attitude of the Government towards England was already perceptible. The French minister directed Chauvelin indeed to remain at his post, and to maintain a prudent and circumspect conduct, but he expressed his complete distrust of the amicable professions of England. In 1756 and in 1778, he said, she had carried out all the preparations for war without the knowledge of French ambassadors. The same thing might occur again, and the Provisional Executive Council, without withdrawing their confidence from Chauvelin, had already sent over several persons on special missions to England.3
Some of them may be traced in the correspondence. There was Scipio Mourges, who was sent over as second Secretary of Legation, to the great indignation of Chauvelin, who had never asked for a second secretary, who knew nothing of the appointment till it was made, and who at first positively refused to receive him into his house. There was Noel—better known as the author of innumerable school books—who became a kind of supplemental ambassador with regular instructions, including the proposed loan and cession of Tobago, and who carried on a voluminous correspondence with the French minister. There was Maret, whose very important negotiations with Pitt will be presently related; and there were a number of obscure adventurers, whose business appears to have been to plot with the many seditious English societies that were now in correspondence with the Jacobins at Paris. One man, named Randon de Lucenay, writes that Fox had lodged with him on his last visit to Paris; that he had in consequence come in close contact with many Englishmen; that if the Government would approve of him he would be happy to go at his own expense (for he was, he said, a man of fortune) on a secret mission to England, to propagate ‘the principles of Liberty and Equality.’ His offer was accepted, and he soon wrote from London that he had seen some of the Opposition leaders;1 that Pitt was the irreconcilable enemy of the Revolution, and that the French must assist the efforts of the party opposed to him. He thought that the subscription for the refugee priests had produced a discontent which it must be the business of the French agents to increase. He had been ‘explaining’ the September massacres, on which the enemies of the Revolution were fond of dwelling, and he trusted much to his high rank among the Freemasons to assist his mission. By means of the Freemasons, he wrote, the new principles may be best diffused, and he gravely assured Lebrun that he had, through their agency, so disposed the minds of men, that if the Republic engaged in a maritime war with Spain, she would be able to dispose of half the sailors of England. Another Frenchman, named Marc Antoine Jullien, wrote to Lebrun that since his arrival in London he had been carefully studying English opinion, and had no doubt that it was strongly in favour of the Revolution. From six to twelve more secret agents, however, should be at once sent over, who would be in correspondence with French patriots.2
In October a great change began to pass over the correspondence of Chauvelin. It was partly due to the brilliant and unexpected victories of the French, which had profoundly changed the situation, and had evidently exercised an intoxicating influence on his not very steady judgment, and partly also, I think, to influences of a more personal kind. As long as Chauvelin was unrecognised by the English Government, his position was little more important than that of the many other agents the French Executive Council were, to his great disgust, employing in England. It was evident, too, that more violent counsels were prevailing in Paris, and those who wished to maintain their position must keep abreast of the stream. In England, the successes of the Revolution had immensely increased the violent Republican and Democratic party who were overwhelming the French representatives with their sympathies; while the Government, and in general the upper classes of society, were manifestly alarmed, alienated by the deposition of the King, and horror-stricken by the September murders. Parties were becoming much more sharply divided, and the French envoy was naturally gravitating towards the leadership of a Republican party.
On October 22 Du Roveray had an interview with Grenville, urging him to accelerate the recognition of the Republic, and Chauvelin informed Lebrun that he would now make it his single object to obtain this recognition from the English Government. All the exterior relations of France, he wrote, had wholly changed since ‘the satellites of tyranny’ had been driven from the French soil, and he complained that he had no instructions except those which he had received from a ‘perjured King,’ and at a time when the situation of France was wholly different. ‘France,’ he said, ‘like one who has just received a rich heritage,’ must now address herself in turn to all her creditors, and in England the power with which she must treat is public opinion. The Government fully counted on the success of Prussia, and they are in consternation at her defeat. The King and the Prince of Wales are in the most violent alarm. The emigrants are in despair, and numbers wish to return to France. Some of the old friends of France in the upper classes are abandoning her. The Convention had directed Chauvelin to offer to some of them the right of French citizenship, but not one of them, he complained, had yet answered. Mackintosh, who was among the number, had been heard to say that since August 10 and the September massacres he only wished to forget France. The policy and intentions of Fox were very equivocal. No one knew whether he was for peace or war, and after a long delay he had sent Chauvelin a message that it would be extremely embarrassing to him to be made a French citizen, especially if he shared the honour with Horne Tooke. But if the Republic was losing ground with the upper classes it was very different with the populace. The French successes, wrote Chauvelin, had an immediate and extraordinary effect on English opinion. ‘No one now doubts the success of the Revolution. The people are tending to our principles, but those principles are combated by the enormous influence of the ministry and more dreaded by the rich merchants than even by the peers. The Patriotic Societies, however, throughout England are daily increasing in numbers, are voting addresses to the Convention, and are preparing a festival in honour of our triumphs. Grave troubles are gathering in Ireland. The Catholics are very discontented, and three regiments have been already sent over. In Scotland, also, there is much discontent. It is not impossible that the triumph of the Revolution in France may accelerate revolution in England. “The god Republic has opened the eyes of the people of Great Britain. They are now ripe for all truths.”’
He acknowledged that many members of the Opposition were moving towards the Government, alarmed at the revolutionary propagandism and also at the French invasion of Brabant. This invasion, he says, is now causing the gravest disquietude in the ministry, and they will do all they can to baffle it by intrigue. Pitt is full of fears lest France, in spite of her declarations, or authorising herself by a popular vote, should incorporate Belgium in the French Republic, raise Holland against the House of Orange, and, extending her own power to the sea, reduce England to insignificance. England had borne placidly the first fruitless invasion of Brabant, but he believed that although Pitt detested Austria and never considered himself bound by treaty to guarantee the Austrian dominion in Flanders, he would draw the sword rather than acquiesce in a permanent French Government at Brussels. The fear of seeing Brabant in our power and Holland menaced, he repeated, is now the strongest preoccupation of the Government.
What policy they would ultimately pursue he considered very doubtful, and his own judgment somewhat fluctuated. ‘Men give the British Cabinet the credit of many intrigues and much activity in Europe. I believe that for a year past its sole policy has been spathy and the most perfect inaction.’ The people are now so much in our favour that war would be very unpopular. Councils are continually held, but no decision has been arrived at. Pitt, he was informed, lately stood alone in opposing an armament which even Lord Grenville desired. The ministry is torn by divisions. There are rumours of the retirement of Pitt, and the King is very cold to him. Nothing, Chauvelin was convinced, but anxieties relating to Holland ‘can decide the very timid British minister to the smallest hostile proceedings against us. Since the Republic has decided to respect Holland you may fully count upon the entire inaction of the British Government.’1
The last sentence was written in reply to Lebrun, who had authorised Chauvelin to assert that while France was going to free the Belgic Provinces from the Austrian rule, and was determined that they should never again be reunited to Austria, she had no intention of incorporating them in the French Republic or of attacking Holland. France had already disclaimed all views of conquest, and Belgium and Holland would both be perfectly free to follow their wishes. At the same time Lebrun informed Chauvelin that he had no belief either in an alliance or in a cordial friendship with England. He directed him to pay special attention to the agitation for reform and to the fermentation in Ireland, and he sent him the new ‘Hymn to Liberty,’ duly set to music, for the use of the Society of the Revolution in London.2
The despatches of Noel from London give an independent and a very similar picture of the state of affairs in England. Nothing, he said, can be more evident than the growth of popular feeling in favour of the Revolution, and democratic clubs and societies are starting up on all sides. England appeared to him in exactly the same state as France in 1789. All the signs of a coming revolution are there. In Scotland and Ireland disquieting symptoms are multiplying fast. The Government is anxiously investigating the dispositions of the troops. The Tower of London is not safe from a popular outbreak like that which captured the Bastille. An insurrection is very probable, and France should prepare her fleets. The ministers are in the utmost embarrassment. Pitt, who ‘cares only for popularity,’ would be an ardent revolutionist if it were not for the party of the King, but he is in great perplexity; he is losing ground, and the party of the King is strengthening. The triumphs of Dumouriez in Belgium are producing the keenest anxiety in the ministry and among the diplomatists, and a corresponding exultation among the friends of France. Noel hears that Pitt has fully decided not to make war, and that Calonne denounces him as a democrat. But Pitt is extremely anxious about Holland, and says that if the French foment troubles there, England must interfere. The City shares this opinion and is full of alarm. The Opposition is divided between the aristocracy, which is much the stronger section, and the sympathisers with France. Fox is utterly undecided. His opinions lean one way; the money which he owes certain great people draws him in the other, and he gives himself up to sporting in order to avoid taking a decision. Sheridan is equally trammelled by his own debts. The storm is steadily gathering. Lord Lansdowne alone, who has always proclaimed himself a partisan of our Revolution, is taking his measures. His boundless ambition, his great talents, and his great fortune mark him out as destined to take a conspicuous part in directing it, and he knows that if he does not it will fall into the hands of Horne Tooke and men of that stamp. Noel is trying to enter into a negotiation with the ministry, but all parties agree that the essential preliminary of success is the recall of Chauvelin. He is a man of talent, and may be usefully employed elsewhere, but in England he is quite discredited.1
From these accounts of the situation derived from French sources we must now turn to those which were given by the English ministers themselves. They had been repeatedly sounded by foreign Powers as to their wishes and speculations relating to France, but they had hitherto uniformly refused to answer except in the vaguest terms. ‘Our neutral conduct,’ they said, ‘gives us no claim to interfere either with advice or opinion,’ and they had added a general hope that France might give up her old restless foreign policy and attain order and stability at home.1 A full and perfectly confidential letter, however, of Grenville to his brother, written on November 7, remains, and it puts us in complete possession of the opinions, intentions, and spirit of the English Minister for Foreign Affairs. ‘I bless God,’ he writes, ‘that we had the wit to keep ourselves out of the glorious enterprise of the combined armies, and that we were not tempted by the hope of sharing the spoils in the division of France, nor by the prospect of crushing all democratical principles all over the world at one blow.’ The events of the last two months, he says, he can only explain by conjecture, for one of the results of the strict neutrality of England is that the allied Powers have left her in complete ignorance of their conduct and their intentions.2 He proceeds, however, to enumerate with considerable sagacity the probable causes of the collapse of the last invasion of France; he predicts that next spring the Coalition will find themselves obliged to attempt another invasion under much more difficult circumstances, and he describes the probable action of the chief Powers. England, he emphatically says, will ‘do nothing,’ and Portugal and Holland will follow the English policy. ‘All my ambition,’ he continues, ‘is that I may at some time hereafter, when I am freed from all active concern in such a scene as this, have the inexpressible satisfaction of having been able to look back upon it and to tell myself that I have contributed to keep my country at least a little longer from sharing in all the evils of every sort that surround us. I am more and more convinced that this can only be done by keeping wholly and entirely aloof, and by watching much at home, but doing very little indeed; endeavouring to nurse up in the country a real determination to stand by the Constitution when it is attacked, as it most infallibly will be if these things go on; and above all trying to make the situation of the lower orders among us as good as it can be made. In this view I have seen with the greatest satisfaction the steps taken in the different parts of the country for increasing wages, which I hold to be a point of absolute necessity, and of a hundred times more importance than all that the most doing Government could do in twenty years towards keeping the country quiet. I trust we may again be enabled to contribute to the same object by the repeal of taxes, but of that we cannot yet be sure.’1
This last sentence is very remarkable when we consider the date at which it was written. It shows that the Government had not even yet decisively abandoned the policy of retrenchment which inspired the budget of 1792. It is now certain that the diminution of the naval and military forces, which was effected by Pitt in the beginning of that year, was a mistake, resting upon an entirely false estimate of the situation of Europe. It can only be said in defence of Pitt that his prediction of the course of events in France, if not more sagacious, was not more erroneous than that of all the wisest statesmen on the Continent.
There were two ways in which French affairs might affect England—by internal agitation and by their action on continental Powers. The proclamation against seditious writings in the summer had shown that the Government were not without anxiety at the great multiplication in England of such writings, and of societies corresponding with or affiliated to the French Jacobins. The second part of Paine's ‘Rights of Man’ had been an attack, as violent and as uncompromising as it is possible to conceive, upon the whole framework of monarchical and aristocratical government, and there could be no doubt whatever that it was of the nature of a seditious libel. A prosecution was directed against it, but Paine fled to France, where he was at once admitted to the rights of citizenship and elected a member of the Convention. The trial, however, proceeded, and a verdict of guilty was brought against him in his absence. For a time the circulation of libels diminished, but after the overthrow of the French monarchy on August 10, and especially after the retreat of the armies of the allies, all the republican societies in England started into a renewed activity. As early as August 14, Englishmen appeared at the bar of the French Assembly to congratulate it on the events of August 10; and in December Lord Grenville stated in Parliament that no less than ten different addresses from English subjects had been already presented to the National Convention, which had met in Paris in September.1 One of these was voted on November 7 by 5,000 members of the ‘corresponding societies’ of London, Manchester, and other great towns. It spoke with indignation of the neutrality of the English Government. ‘It is the duty,’ the memorialists said, ‘of true Britons to support and assist to the utmost of their power the defenders of the “Rights of Man,” the propagators of human felicity, and to swear inviolable friendship to a nation which proceeds on the plan which you have adopted. … Frenchmen, you are already free, and Britons are preparing to become so;’ and it expressed a hope of seeing ‘a triple alliance, not of crowns, but of the peoples of America, France, and Great Britain.’ A fortnight later, deputies from certain British societies appeared at the bar of the National Convention, announcing their intention of establishing a similar Convention in England and their hope ‘that the troops of liberty will never lay down their arms as long as tyrants and slaves shall continue to exist.’ ‘Our wishes, citizen legislators,’ they continued, ‘render us impatient to see the moment of this grand change.’ ‘Royalty in Europe,’ replied the President of the French Convention, ‘is either destroyed, or on the point of perishing in the ruins of feodality. The Declaration of Rights placed by the side of thrones, is a devouring fire which will consume them. Worthy Republicans … the festival you have celebrated in honour of the French revolution is the prelude to the festival of nations.’1
These are but specimens of the movement which was continually going on. A bad harvest had produced much distress in the manufacturing districts. In November there were no less than 105 bankruptcies in England, and it was noticed that there had scarcely ever before been more than half that number in a single month.2 Riots, springing from want of bread and want of work and low wages, were very frequent, and they usually assumed a republican character. In the county of Durham, at Shields, Sunderland, Carlisle, and Leeds, such disturbances were especially formidable. Busy missionaries were traversing the country preaching the coming millennium when French principles would have triumphed; when property would be divided; when monarchy, aristocracy, and established Churches would all be at an end. The words ‘Liberty and Equality’ might be seen written up at the market places. Paine's ‘Rights of Man,’ published in a very cheap form, had an enormous circulation. Rich democrats or democratic societies were distributing it by hundreds gratuitously among the workmen of the manufacturing towns. It was widely circulated in Erse among the Scotch Highlanders and in Welsh among the mountains of Wales, and it was said that the soldiers were everywhere tampered with.3 The country was full of foreigners, and many of them, in the opinion of the best judges, were engaged in the propagandism. In Paris the uniform language was that all royalty was tyranny, that the mission of France was to sweep it from the world, that French principles were to prepare the way for French arms by raising nations against their rulers.
The amount of attention which a Government may wisely pay to treasonable writing, speaking, or even action, is not a matter that can be settled by any general rule. It varies infinitely with the character and habits of the nation and with the spirit of the time, and certainly the closing months of 1792 were not a period in which these things could be looked upon with indifference. The manifestly expansive, subversive, and epidemical character of the French Revolution, the dangerous national ambitions that were wedded to it, and the great part which the propagandism of opinions and the establishment of affiliated societies had actually borne in attracting or facilitating invasion, could not reasonably be doubted. At the same time the Government shrank much from measures of repression. On November 14, Grenville wrote an interesting letter to his brother, who had accused him of negligence. He assured Buckingham that the ministers were not indifferent, or inobservant of what was passing, but they believed that the accounts of disturbances were much exaggerated and that at all events the intervention of the Government should be only very sparingly and cautiously employed. ‘If you look back,’ he continued, ‘to the last time in our history that these sort of things bore the same serious aspect that they now do—I mean the beginning of the Hanover reigns—you will find that the Protestant succession was established, not by the interference of a Secretary of State or Attorney-General in every individual instance, but by the exertious of every magistrate and officer, civil and military, throughout the country. … It is not unnatural, nor is it an unfavourable symptom, that people who are thoroughly frightened, as the body of landed gentlemen in this country are, should exaggerate these stories. … It is, however, not the less true that the danger exists. … The conquest of Flanders has, I believe, brought the business to a much nearer issue than any reasonable man could believe a month ago. The hands of the Government must be strengthened if the country is to be saved; but, above all, the work must not be left to the hands of Government, but every man must put his shoulder to it according to his rank and situation in life, or it will not be done.’1
It was impossible for English ministers not to be struck with the importance given in the French Convention to deputations from the most obscure English societies; with the manner in which the most obscure democratic addresses were officially published in France as the voice of the English people; with the honour of French citizenship ostentatiously conferred upon Priestley and Paine, and with the constant intercourse between the French representatives in England and the opponents of the Government. But a much more serious provocation was soon given by the decree of November 19, in which the French Convention, without drawing any distinction between hostile and neutral Governments, formally announced that the French nation would grant fraternity and assistance to all nations that desired to regain their liberty, and directed the Executive Power to order the French generals to put this decree into execution. In order that it should be universally known, the Convention commanded that it should be translated into all languages.
This decree in its obvious signification was an invitation to all nations to revolt against their rulers. In the new Parisian dialect, not only the most mitigated monarchy, but even aristocratic republics like Holland and Switzerland were tyrannies, and the French Government now pledged itself to assist revolted subjects by force of arms, even though their Governments had not given the smallest provocation to France. The decree was in perfect harmony with the language of the most conspicuous French politicians, and with the hopes or promises held out by French emissaries in many lands; but it was an interference with the internal affairs of other countries at least as gross as that which was committed by Lewis XIV. when he recognised the son of James II. as King of England. It was a provocation much more serious than the greater number of those which had produced wars during the eighteenth century.
It is quite certain, however, that the decree of November 19 if taken alone would never have induced Pitt to engage in hostilities with France. The attitude of the French Convention reluctantly convinced him of the necessity of taking special measures for the protection of order at home, but nothing short of grave and manifest external danger could provoke him to draw the sword.
In my own judgment, one of the most remarkable features in his foreign policy is the apathy or at least the quiescence with which he witnessed the French conquest of the Belgic Provinces. Ever since the English Revolution, it had been one of the first objects of English foreign policy to secure this tract of country from the dominion and the ascendency of France. Its invasion by Lewis XIV. first made the war of the Spanish succession inevitable. Its security had been the main object of the Barrier Treaty, and we have already seen the importance attached to this point in the negotiations of 1789. If Pitt's father had been at the head of affairs, there can, I think, be little doubt that the entry of the French troops into the Belgic Provinces would have been immediately followed by English intervention. It is indeed true that one of the results of the recent policy of the Emperors had been that England no longer guaranteed the Austrian dominion in Flanders. Joseph II. by expelling the Dutch garrisons had torn the Barrier Treaty into shreds, and the Convention which had been signed at the Hague in December 1790, by which Prussia and the maritime Powers guaranteed these provinces to Austria, had not been ratified, on account of the refusal of Leopold to grant the full and promised measure of their ancient liberties.1 But although there was no treaty obligation, it was a matter of manifest political importance to England that Brussels, Ostend, and, above all, Antwerp, should not be in the hands of the French. All these had now been conquered, and although the French Government and their representatives in England had publicly disclaimed ideas of aggrandisement, although they represented the invasion of the Belgic Provinces as a mere matter of military necessity, and contented themselves as yet with decreeing that they should be for ever sundered from the Imperial rule, it needed but little foresight to perceive that, in the event of the final victory of France, they would remain French territory. Savoy was already formally incorporated into the French Republic. In Belgium, only a very few weeks had passed before the French, contrary to the wishes of the people, began a general confiscation of ecclesiastical property, forced their assignats in circulation, and treated the country exactly as a French province.
There is a large amount of chance in the judgments which history ultimately forms of statesmen. If events had taken a somewhat different course, it is probable that Pitt's foreign policy would now have been chiefly censured for having, without an effort to prevent it, suffered the whole of Belgium to fall into the hands of France. But whether the acquiescence of the English Government was right or wrong, it at least furnished one more emphatic proof of the ardent desire of Pitt to avoid a war. The line which he adopted was perfectly clear. The invasion and conquest of Belgium he determined not to make a casus belli. The contingency of France retaining it in spite of her disclaimers was not yet brought into question. But England was connected with Holland by the closest and strictest alliance, and she had most formally guaranteed the existing Dutch Constitution. If therefore Holland and her Constitution were in real danger, England was bound, both in honour and policy, to draw the sword.
The justification or condemnation of English intervention in the great French war turns mainly upon this question. We have already seen that there had long existed in Holland a democratic and revolutionary party which was violently opposed to the House of Orange, which had been defeated by the efforts of Prussia and England, and which, before the French Revolution, had been in close alliance with France. We have seen also how bitterly the defeat of that party had been resented in Paris; how warmly its refugees were welcomed by the French Revolutionists, and how early the overthrow of the existing Dutch Constitution was spoken of as a possible result of the Revolution. In January 1792, a deputation of ‘Dutch Patriots’ had presented a petition to the National Assembly, describing their plans for establishing liberty in Holland, and restricting the authority of the Stad-holder, and requesting the favour of France, and the President had replied that the French people would always be their allies as long as they were the friends of liberty.1 In the following June, Lord Gower mentioned to the English Government that the French intended to raise for their service a body of between three and four thousand Dutch patriots, and in the same month Grenville informed Gower that Lord Auckland had been writing from Holland ‘that a project was supposed to be in agitation for an attack upon some of the Dutch ports from Dunkirk, by the legion of Dutch patriots now raising.’ Gower at first regarded this report as wholly untrue, but he soon after wrote: ‘I must retract my opinion that apprehensions entertained in Holland with regard to the Dutch legion are perfectly ill-founded. It was originally to have consisted of 4,250 men, but it is now to be augmented to 6,000.1
The apprehensions of danger, however, in this quarter did not become acute until after the totally unexpected issue of the expedition of the Duke of Brunswick, and the triumphant invasion of the Austrian Netherlands. A great revolutionary army flushed with victory was now on the borders of Holland, and a rising of the ‘Patriotic’ party in that country might at any moment be expected.
Lord Auckland was then English minister at the Hague. On November 6—the day on which the battle of Jemmapes was fought—Grenville wrote him a confidential letter describing the extremely critical condition of Europe, and defining the course which the English Government intended to pursue. It was written in much the same strain as the almost contemporaneous letter to Lord Buckingham from which I have already quoted. ‘I am every day,’ he said, ‘more and more confirmed in my opinion that, both in order to preserve our own domestic quiet and to secure some other parts, at least, of Europe free from the miseries of anarchy, this country and Holland ought to remain quiet as long as it is possible to do so, even with some degree of forbearance and tolerance beyond what would in other circumstances have been judged right.’ It appears probable that the Austrians and Prussians will make another campaign against France, but in the opinion of Grenville ‘the re-establishment of order in France can be effected only by a long course of intestine struggles,’ and foreign intervention will only serve the cause of anarchy. English ministers consider that the best chance of preserving England from the dangers of the Revolution is to abstain resolutely from all interference with the struggle on the Continent, and they strongly recommend a similar course to the Dutch. ‘Their local situation and the neighbourhood of Germany, Liége, and Flanders, may certainly render the danger more imminent, but it does not, I think, alter the reasoning as to the means of meeting it; and those means will, I think, be always best found in the preservation of the external peace of the Republic, and in that attention to its internal situation which external peace, alone, will allow its Government to give to that object.’ The States-General desired to know what course the English Government would pursue if the Republican Government in France notified its establishment, and demanded to be acknowledged. Grenville answered that no step of this kind was likely to be taken till the new French Constitution was settled by the Assembly, and before that time the whole aspect of affairs may have changed. If, however, contrary to his expectation, such a demand were at once made, it would probably be declined, but declined in such terms that England would be free to acknowledge the Republican Government in France at a later period, if such a Government should be fully established.1
A week later the danger had become far more imminent by the flight of the Austrian Government from Brussels, and it now appeared in the highest degree probable that the army of Dumouriez would speedily press on to Holland. Dutch ‘patriots’ were going over to him in great numbers, and it was reported that he had boasted that he would dine at the Hague on New Year's Day.2 Under these circumstances the English ministers considered that in the interests of peace the time had come for England to depart from her system of absolute reserve, and they took two important steps, which we must now examine.
The first of these was to send to Lord Auckland a formal declaration which was to be presented to the States-General and to be made public, assuring Holland of the inviolable friendship of England and of her full determination to execute at all times, and with the utmost good faith, all the stipulations of the Treaty of Alliance she had entered into in 1788. The King is persuaded, the memorial said, that the strict neutrality, which the United Republic as well as England had kept, will be sufficient to save her from all danger of a violation of her territory or an interference on the part of either belligerent with her internal affairs. But as the theatre of war was now brought almost to the frontier of the Republic, and as much uneasiness had naturally arisen, his Majesty thought it right to give the States-General this renewed assurance. He recommended them to repress firmly all attempts to disturb internal tranquillity, and he expressed his full belief that a close union between the two countries would contribute most effectually to the welfare of both and to the general tranquillity of Europe.1
We have letters both from Pitt and Grenville explaining the motives of this step.2 Lord Auckland had represented, no doubt with great truth, the danger of Holland as extreme, and in the event either of an invasion or an insurrection England was bound to interfere. ‘However unfortunate it would be,’ wrote Pitt, ‘to find this country in any shape committed, it seems absolutely impossible to hesitate as to supporting our ally in case of necessity, and the explicit declaration of our sentiments is the most likely way to prevent the case occurring.’ Such a declaration appeared to the English Government the best measure for preventing either a rising in Holland or an infringement of the Dutch territory, and although it did not ultimately save Holland from invasion it is certain that it greatly strengthened the Dutch Government, and discouraged any attempts at local insurrection.
It was plain, however, that unless the war in the Netherlands was speedily arrested, the chances of preserving the Dutch territory inviolate were infinitesimally small. On the same day, therefore, on which the English Government despatched their memorial to Holland, they sent instructions to the English ambassadors at Berlin and Vienna, directing them to break the silence on French affairs they had hitherto observed in their communications with those Courts. ‘These instructions,’ wrote Pitt, ‘are necessarily in very general terms, as, in the ignorance of the designs of Austria and Prussia, and in the uncertainty as to what events every day may produce, it seems impossible to decide definitively at present on the line which we ought to pursue, except as far as relates to Holland. Perhaps some opening may arise which may enable us to contribute to the termination of the war between different Powers in Europe, leaving France (which I believe is the best way) to arrange its own internal affairs as it can. The whole situation, however, becomes so delicate and critical that I have thought it right to request the presence of all the members of the Cabinet who can without too much inconvenience give their attendance.’1
The letters of instruction to Eden and Keith are substantially the same, but a little more may be gleaned from the former than from the latter, as Prussia was on much more intimate terms with England than Austria. The King, it was said, knows very little of the plans of the Courts of Prussia and Austria in France, or of their views of the termination of the war. ‘His Majesty having so repeatedly declined to make himself a party to that enterprise forbore to urge for any more distinct explanation,’ but ‘the unforeseen events which have arisen, and most particularly the success of the French arms in Flanders, have now brought forward considerations in which the common interests and engagements of his Majesty and the King of Prussia are deeply concerned.’ There are grave reasons to fear ‘for the security and tranquillity of the United Provinces,’ and the King now asks for confidential communications from the Court of Berlin. His object is, if possible, to assist in ‘putting an end to a business so unfortunate for all those who have been engaged in it, and which threatens in its consequences to disturb the tranquillity of the rest of Europe.’ Eden, however, is to be extremely cautious ‘not to commit this Court to any opinion with respect to the propriety and practicability of any particular mode’ of effecting this object. He may say that, as the King knows nothing about the plans of the two Courts, he could give no instructions, and if he finds that the Prussian King is reluctant to make communications, he is at once to drop the subject.2
It cannot be said that in these very cautious proceedings the English Government in any way departed from its neutrality, nor can they, I think, be regarded as at all in excess of what the danger of the situation warranted. Scarcely a day now passed which did not bring disquieting intelligence. From Zealand and from Ostend, it was reported that the French meant to send a squadron to force the passage of the Scheldt, and the rumour obtained some confirmation when two French gunboats appeared on the coast of Holland. It was at first said that they came to buy horses, but the commander soon asked the Dutch Government on the part of Dumouriez for permission to sail up the Scheldt for the purpose of assisting in reducing the town and citadel of Antwerp, though he must have well known that the Dutch could not grant such permission without a plain violation of their neutrality. There were reports from Breda of an intended insurrectionary movement. There were fears of complications from the crowds of emigrants who were now pouring into Holland from Liége and Brabant. There was a question whether it would not be advisable at once to send English ships of war to Flushing. Staremberg, the Austrian minister, succeeded in bribing one of the officials of the French embassy, and, by his means, obtaining a copy of a confidential letter from Dumouriez to De Maulde, the French minister at the Hague. In this letter, Dumouriez promised that he would try to prevent the recall of De Maulde, and he added: ‘I count upon carrying liberty to the Batavians, as I have already done to the Belgians, and the Revolution will be accomplished in Holland in such a manner that things will be brought back to the point in which they were in 1788.’
Auckland believed this letter to be certainly genuine, but he did not despair of peace, nor did he think the time had yet come when it was necessary to send English ships to Flushing. It was important, he said, to avoid giving signs of apprehension or distrust, though he would be glad to know that there was some English naval force in the Downs which could be forth-coming at short notice. The season of the year was very unfavourable for invasion. ‘Those who ought to know best the interior of this country,’ he wrote, ‘continue to assure me that they see no immediate ground of alarm, and the exterior will, for the present, be (I hope) defended by nature and by the seasons. It would have a great effect, and might possibly save mankind from a deluge of general confusion and misery, if the loyalty and good sense of England could be roused into a manifestation of abhorrence of the wickedness and folly of the levelling doctrines.’ Possibly the English Government might even now be able to arrange the preliminaries of a general pacification of Europe.1
Grenville also took at first a somewhat hopeful view. While sending Auckland alarming reports which he had received from Ostend, he expressed his belief that they were exaggerated, though they must not be neglected. He rejoiced to hear that the English declaration of friendship to Holland had a good effect, and hoped that Auckland would do all in his power to sustain confidence. ‘I am strongly inclined,’ he wrote, ‘to believe that it is the present intention of the prevailing party in France to respect the rights of this country and of the Republic, but it will undoubtedly be necessary that the strictest attention should be given to any circumstance which may seem to indicate a change in this respect.’ It was impossible, however, to disguise the fact that the prospect was full of the gravest danger and uncertainty, and the demands of the commander of the French ships of war seemed to indicate a plain desire to force on a quarrel. Such preparations as could be made without attracting much notice, had already been made in England. All hemp in England had been bought by the Government lest it should be exported to France, and Gren-ville recommended a similar measure to the Dutch. The French appeared to have as yet imported little hemp, and might therefore have difficulty in equipping their navy. The Government did not at present think it wise to send an English fleet either to Flushing or to the Downs.2
The fury of the thunderstorm is less trying to the nerves of men than the sultry, oppressive, and ominous calm that precedes it; and it was through such a calm that England was now passing. To the last letter from which I have quoted, Grenville appended a postscript announcing proceedings in Paris which at last convinced him that war was inevitable. On November 16, the Executive Council at Paris adopted two memorable resolutions abolishing as contrary to the laws of nature the treaty rights of the Dutch to the exclusive navigation of the Scheldt and of the Meuse, and ordering the commanders of the French armies to continue to pursue the Austrians, even upon the territory of Holland, if they retired there. Three days later the Convention passed its decree, promising French assistance to all nations that revolted against their rulers.
The last of these measures has already been considered. Its significance, at a time when there was a triumphant French army in Austrian Flanders, and a defeated but still powerful party in Holland which was notoriously hostile to the House of Orange and notoriously in sympathy with France, was too manifest to be mistaken. The decree of November 19 was obviously intended to rekindle the civil war which had so lately been extinguished, and it made it almost certain that even the most partial insurrection would be immediately made the pretext for a French invasion. The direction given to the French commander to pursue the Austrians if they retired into Dutch territory was a flagrant violation of the laws of nations, while the opening of the Scheldt was a plain violation of the treaty rights of the Dutch. Their sovereignty over that river dated from the Peace of Westphalia by which the independence of Holland was first recognised. It had been confirmed by the treaty of 1785, in which France herself acted as guarantee;1 and it was one of those rights which England, by the treaty of alliance in 1788, was most formally bound to defend. It would be impossible to conceive a more flagrant or more dangerous violation of treaties than this action of the French. It implied that they were absolute sovereigns of the Austrian Netherlands, for these provinces alone were interested in the question. It established a precedent which, if it were admitted, would invalidate the whole public law of Europe, for it assumed that the most formal treaties were destitute of all binding force if they appeared in the light of the new French philosophy to be contrary to the laws of nature or ‘remnants of feudal servitude;’ and the decree of the French Executive was confirmed by the Convention, immediately after the memorial to the Dutch States-General, by which England had pledged herself in the most formal manner to fulfil all the obligations she had assumed by the treaty of 1788. Nor was it possible to say that the measure was of no practical importance. Its immediate object was to enable the French to send ships of war to attack the citadel of Antwerp. If the Dutch acceded to the demand in spite of the protest of the Imperial minister, they would at once be forced out of their neutrality. But beyond this, if the navigation of the Scheldt was open to armed vessels it would enable the French, as the Dutch truly said, to carry their troops into the heart of Holland. A great French army was already on its border. Refugees from Holland had been enrolled by thousands; there were sufficient small boats collected at Ostend to transport an army; and there was an active French party in Holland itself. Could it be questioned that the opening of the Scheldt formed a leading part of a plan for the conquest of Holland? Could it be doubted that if the mouth of the river passed into French hands it would, in the event of a war, give great facilities for an attack upon England?
It is impossible, I think, to consider all the circumstances of the case without concluding that the decree was an act of gross and deliberate provocation, that it was part of a system of policy which plainly aimed at the conquest of Holland, and that England could not acquiesce in it with any regard either for her honour or her interests. The last assertion has indeed been denied on the ground that Joseph II. had attempted to carry a similar measure in 1785 and that England had remained passive. But this argument is obviously futile. England was at that time not in alliance with Holland; she had but just made peace with her after a long war, and the act of Joseph was not one which in any way affected English interests, for Austria never had any maritime force and could not, under any circumstances, become a danger to England.
All the proceedings of the French only conspired to deepen the impression which the decrees of November 16 and 19 had produced. A letter written by Claviére, a member of the French Executive Council, was intercepted, in which he wrote that if Holland wished to live at peace with France she must take care to receive no Prussians or Austrians into any part of her territory, for the Republic would leave ‘neither truce nor repose in any quarter to her enemies either secret or open.’1 When Dumouriez conquered Liége, the French general Eustache2 appeared at the gates of Maestricht, one of the strongest frontier towns of the United Provinces, and he sent a message to the Prince of Hesse, who commanded, demanding that 15,000 French soldiers might pass through the town. The Prince replied that to give such permission would be contrary to the Dutch neutrality. Eustache rejoined in a menacing letter, stating that he had two objects, to express the fraternal disposition of the French Republic towards the Republic of Holland, and to recommend the Governor at once to expel from Maestricht all the enemies of France. He would be sorry, he said, to act with violence, but his orders were strict and formal, ‘to punish as the enemies of the French Republic all the protectors of the Austrians and of the emigrants.’ The Dutch persisted in refusing to allow the French to enter Maestricht, and Eustache soon dropped his demand, but the whole episode was a characteristic and alarming illustration of the manner in which the Republic was disposed to treat neutral Powers.3 It is now known that at this time an immediate invasion of Holland was fully intended by Dumouriez, but at the last moment the Executive Council shrank from a step which would at once produce a war with England.4
Still more serious was the conduct of the commanders of the French war-ships at the mouth of the Scheldt. The Dutch took the only course which was possible consistently with their neutrality, and refused the permission that was asked; but the French vessels sailed up the Scheldt to Antwerp in defiance of their prohibition.5
There were at the same time evident efforts made to stimulate the French party in Holland. A report was industriously propagated ‘that the disposition of the people of England is become such as to put it out of the power of his Majesty's Government to give in any event any species of succour’ to Holland,6 and Lord Auckland stated that it was known with certainty that large sums had been expended by the French Executive Council for the propose of exciting simultaneous insurrections in the great towns of England and in Holland.1 Auckland expressed his perfect confidence that in England this plan would be foiled, but, he added, ‘in this Republic the case is different. … The animosities which were necessarily created by the transactions of 1787 have not yet subsided, and are now combined with the wild democratic notions of the day, and are encouraged by the example of the Austrian Netherlands and the near neighbourhood and multiplied successes of the French armies. I nevertheless hope that interior tranquillity may (for the present at least) be maintained.’ The Prince of Orange one day hastily summoned Auckland, and assured him that he had received intelligence that Dumouriez had actually sent orders from Antwerp for a descent upon Holland, which was to be the signal for an insurrection. De Maulde, he was informed, had pointed out on the map the places at which the French meant to penetrate into Holland, adding that it was all Dumouriez's doing, that, for his own part, he thought it very imprudent, and that in fifteen days all communication with England would be stopped.2
De Maulde was suddenly and unexpectedly recalled by his Government and replaced by a man named Tainville, a violent Jacobin, ‘of brutal manners and evident indiscretion.’ The first act of his mission was ‘to make himself the colporteur’ of an incendiary work of Condorcet entitled ‘Adresse aux Bataves,’ which he brought with him.3
De Maulde was by no means inclined to acquiesce patiently in his dismissal, and Auckland was present at his farewell interview with the Dutch Pensionary. De Maulde, he says, burst out into a violent invective against his Government, but still believed that Dumouriez would protect him and maintain him in Holland. Referring to a former conference with Auckland, he expressed his hope that the English minister's views of a pacification were unchanged. Auckland answered that a month ago he individually would have gladly promoted a peace on the basis even of an acknowledgment of the French Republic, provided the royal family were put in security and well treated, but that now everything was changed. Savoy was annexed. Flanders, Brabant, Liége, and the districts on the Rhine were undergoing the same fate. A war of unprovoked depredation was carried on against the Italian States. The Dutch Republic had been insulted by the arrêté relating to the Scheldt, and the Convention had passed a decree nearly tantamount to a declaration of war against every kingdom in Europe. De Maulde said little in reply; but when he was sounded as to the views of Dumouriez he expressed a wish to go to that general, and bring back a full account, as soon as his letters from Paris enabled him to settle his pecuniary matters. ‘The Pensionary,’ Auckland says, ‘understood what was meant; I said nothing and left them to-gether.’ The result was that Auckland agreed to ‘lend’ De Maulde five hundred pounds, and the Pensionary would probably do more, in order that the French envoy might go to Dumouriez and might furnish them with useful intelligence. Auckland and the Pensionary both believed that by De Maulde, and by a certain Joubert who was in their pay,1 full information might be obtained respecting the conduct and plans of the ‘patriots.’ ‘It is hateful and disgusting work,’ Auckland added, ‘to have any concern with such instruments, and the Pensionary, who has been so good as to relieve me from the whole detail, seems to suffer under it.’2
The channels of information which were opened proved very useful. Three days after the last letter Auckland wrote that he had procured, ‘at a moderate expense,’ the French minister's instructions and part of his ministerial correspondence. These documents he considered so important that he did not venture to trust them to his secretary or clerk, but copied them out with his own hand. The instructions of De Maulde were dated August 25, 1792, at a time when orders were sent for the first invasion of Brabant and Flanders. Their purport was that the first object of French policy in Holland should be to encourage secretly the ‘patriots’ opposed to the Stadholder, to keep up relations with them and to encourage them to look forward to French assistance. This must, however, be done cautiously, for a ‘premature revolution in Holland might draw down upon us all the forces of England and Prussia.’ There could be no longer any question that a revolution in Holland had, from the very beginning of the campaign in Flanders, been a fixed object of the governing party in Paris, and many of the letters of the ‘patriots’ to the French minister at the same time fell into the hands of Auckland. They were on the whole reassuring, for they showed ‘rather a mischievous disposition than a formed design.’1
A few days later, a German, travelling with a passport from the magistrates of Amsterdam, was arrested at Utrecht, and he was found to be the bearer of a packet of letters to Dumouriez. Most of them were of little importance, but among them were three papers of the highest consequence. There was a long letter from De Maulde giving a very detailed plan for an invasion of Holland through Arnhem, and concluding ‘that, unless Holland could be wrested from England, there would be no security for France under any pacification.’ There was a letter from Tainville, the successor of De Maulde, urging Dumouriez to come forward and ‘relieve the friends of Freedom and of France from a tyrannical aristocracy,’ and there was a plan of invasion drawn up by a French officer who was a prisoner for debt at Amsterdam.2
De Maulde, almost immediately after this arrest, had an interview with Auckland, at which he talked very pacifically, and he appears to have been wholly unconscious that his despatch was intercepted. Auckland was inclined to believe that he did not really wish for an invasion, as he was looking forward to personal advantages from services to be rendered during the winter, which would be interrupted if it took place. The intercepted letter, he thought, was probably part of a plan, perhaps a concerted plan, for giving an impression of his zeal. He was confirmed in this impression by a later intercepted despatch addressed to Paris. It was full of falsehoods in its account of what had taken place, but it appeared to Auckland to lean towards peace, for it represented both England and Holland as desiring it, and suggested that it might be inexpedient to draw down these Powers and possibly also Spain upon France.1
It was impossible to deny the extremely critical nature of the situation, and the evident intention to invade Holland, but on the whole Auckland even now took a sanguine view. The condition of the French Republic seemed so precarious, the madness of provoking England to war was so manifest, the season so unfavourable for invasion, and the continued internal tranquillity of Holland so reassuring, that he had always hoped that the storm might pass. ‘I am more than ever convinced,’ he wrote, at the end of November, ‘that if this Republic and England can keep out of the confusion for a few months, a great part of the danger will cease.’2 ‘We cannot doubt,’ he wrote a week later, ‘that it has been the intention to attempt an invasion of some part of this Republic by troops and vessels from Antwerp, and we have reason to apprehend that the project is not yet laid aside. Such an enterprise, if we could rely on the interior of the Provinces, would be contemptible, and, even under the present fermentation, at this season of the year it would be rash in the extreme; but M. Dumouriez, with such a crowd of adventurers at his disposal, may be capable of risking the loss of 4,000 or 5,000.’ The effect of the arrival of some English ships of war in Holland he now thought might be very great. ‘It is possible that the whole end might be answered if any one or more of the number could arrive soon, and the necessity might perhaps cease before the remainder can quit the English ports. … If (as I incline to hope) nothing hostile should happen, their stay would be very short, and the impression of such an attention would have a great and permanent effect.’3 ‘I know,’ he wrote some time later, ‘that the postponing of the war is unfashionable in England, but I lean towards it from a belief that France is exhausted by her expenses, and may suddenly fall to pieces if our attack should not excite a paroxysm of desperation which may prove very dangerous.’1
It was plain that the time had fully come for England to take a decided part, and an important despatch of Lord Gren-ville, dated December 4, and written immediately after he had been informed of the demand of the French to enter Maestricht, showed the light in which the English Government regarded the situation. ‘The conduct of the French,’ he wrote, ‘in all these late proceedings, appears to his Majesty's servants to indicate a fixed and settled design of hostility against this country and the Republic. The demand that the Dutch should suffer their rights, guaranteed to them by France, to be set aside by the decree of the Convention, and the neutrality of their territory to be violated to the prejudice of Austria; the similar demand for a passage through Maestricht, in contradiction to every principle of the law of nations, particularly those so much relied on by France in the case of the German Princes; the recent decree authorising the French generals to pursue their enemies into any neutral territory; that by which the Convention appears to have promised assistance and support to the disturbers of any established Government in any country, explained and exemplified as it is by the almost undisguised attempts now making on their part to incite insurrections here and in Holland; all these things afford strong proofs of their disposition, independently even of the offensive manner in which the conduct and situation of the neutral nations has recently been treated, even in the communications of the ministers themselves to the Convention.’ Under these circumstances, his Majesty has thought it necessary to arm, and he hopes that Holland will do the same. ‘The King is decidedly of opinion that the Republic should persist in her refusal to admit the passage of the French troops through any part of her territory: While the neutrality of the Republic was beneficial to France, his Majesty uniformly recommended an adherence to it, and to depart from that principle now would be to give to the Court of Vienna the justest ground of complaint, and even a legitimate cause of war. Whatever may be the consequence, the King is of opinion that the Republic can maintain its independence only by observing the same line of conduct in the present case which it has uniformly maintained in all the different circumstances which have hitherto arisen. At the same time … the King has thought it right not to omit such steps as could conduce to a pacific explanation,’ and he has accordingly expressed his full readiness to receive privately and unofficially any agent the French might send, though he would not receive him publicly and officially.1
The conviction that a war with France was inevitable, and the conviction that it was necessary to take some decisive steps to stop the active correspondence of English democratic societies with Paris, had now fully forced themselves on the English ministers. It was on November 28 that the deputation from the English societies appeared at the bar of the Convention, congratulating that body in the name of the English people on ‘the triumphs of Liberty,’ predicting that other nations would soon follow in the same ‘career of useful changes,’ and declaring that the example of France had made revolutions so easy that addresses of congratulation might soon be sent to ‘a National Convention of England.’ I have quoted the enthusiastic language in which the President of the Convention welcomed his ‘fellow-Republicans’ from England, and the confident arrogance with which he announced the speedy downfall of all the monarchies of Europe.2 On December l, the English Government replied by a proclamation calling out the militia, on the ground that ‘the utmost industry is still employed by evil-disposed persons within this kingdom, acting in concert with persons in foreign parts, with a view to subvert the laws and established constitution of this realm … that a spirit of tumult and disorder thereby excited has lately shown itself in acts of riot and insurrection,’ and that it was therefore necessary to strengthen the force which may be in readiness to support the civil magistrate. By a second proclamation, the meeting of Parliament was accelerated, and it was summoned for December 13.3
Great military and naval activity now prevailed in England. A powerful fleet was prepared for the Downs. Ships of war were put under orders for Flushing, and inquiries were made into the possibility, in case of war, of attacking Guadaloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia.1 Some information had been obtained which made the Government seriously anxious for the safety of the Tower and of the City; strenuous measures were taken for their protection,2 and the necessity for a considerable increase both in the army and navy was one of the first reasons assigned for the immediate assembly of Parliament.
Even before Parliament met, it was becoming evident that the schism in the Opposition was deepening. Lord Malmesbury relates that at two dinners of Whig leaders which were held at Burlington House to discuss the policy of the party, Fox declared that the alarm was totally groundless; that there was not only no insurrection or imminent danger of invasion, but even no unusual symptom of discontent, and that for his own part he was determined to oppose the calling out of the militia. ‘None of the company,’ Lord Malmesbury says, ‘agreed with him.’ ‘No one, not even Fox himself, called in doubt the necessity of assisting the Dutch if attacked, but he, and he only, seemed inclined to think the opening of the Scheldt was not a sufficient motive. … His principles, too, bore the strongest marks of a leaning towards Republicanism.’ The Duke of Portland, and other leaders of the party, wished that in the dangerous condition of the country nothing should be done to enfeeble the Government or impair the impression of unanimity, and that therefore no amendment should be moved to the address. Fox put an end to all discussion by declaring, with an oath, ‘that there was no address at this moment Pitt could frame, he would not propose an amendment to, and divide the House upon.’3
The King's Speech emphatically recalled the fidelity with which the English Government, as well as the States-General, had observed their policy of neutrality during the war and their complete abstention from all interference with the internal affairs of France. It was impossible, however, for the King to witness without the most serious uneasiness ‘the strong and increasing indications’ of an intention to ‘excite disturbances in other countries, to disregard the rights of neutral nations, and to pursue views of conquest and aggrandisement;’ and the French had taken measures towards Holland which were ‘neither conformable to the laws of nations nor to the positive stipulations of existing treaties.’ In addition to calling out the militia and augmenting the army and navy, the Government thought it necessary to introduce an Alien Bill, placing for a short time all foreigners in England under the supevision of the Government, prohibiting them from bringing into the country arms or ammunition, and authorising the Government, if necessary, to expel them from the kingdom.
Pitt was not present at the first few debates of the Session. He had just received from the King the lucrative office of Warden of the Cinque Ports, and had not yet been re-elected, and the chief part in opposing Fox was taken by Windham, who had now decisively separated himself from his former leader, and who strenuously maintained the necessity for the measures of precaution which the Government recommended. The first speeches of Fox were in the highest degree violent and incendiary. In public, as in private,1 he set no bounds to his exultation at the defeat of Brunswick, or to his insulting language when speaking of the two Powers with which England was likely to be soon in alliance, and he entirely blamed the reserve which the English Government had hitherto maintained. ‘From the moment they knew a league was formed against France,’ he said, ‘this country ought to have interfered. France had justice completely on her side, and we, by a prudent negotiation with the other Powers, might have prevented the horrid scenes which were afterwards exhibited. … Thank God, Nature had been true to herself, tyranny had been defeated, and those who had fought for freedom were triumphant!’ The King's Speech had said that ‘the industry employed to excite discontent on various pretexts and in different parts of the kingdom has appeared to proceed from a desire to attempt the destruction of our happy Constitution and the subversion of all order and government;’ and the Lord Mayor of London had said, with incontestable truth, that societies were formed in London under pretence of merely discussing constitutional questions, but with the real object of propagating seditious doctrines. ‘By this new scheme of tyranny,’ said Fox, ‘we are not to judge of the conduct of men by their overt acts, but are to arrogate to ourselves at once the providence and the power of the Deity, to arraign a man for his secret thoughts, and to punish him because we choose to believe him guilty!’ Pursuing this strain, he proceeded, in a long declamatory passage, which was not innocuous, although it was astonishingly absurd, to accuse the English Government of meditating, not only the destruction of the Constitution, but also a system of cruelty and oppression worse than any devised by the See of Rome, or the Spanish Inquisition, or any other tyrant, spiritual or temporal.1
This was the kind of language employed in a momentous crisis of English history by the leader of one of the great parties in the State. Fox, however, though he could be one of the most reckless and declamatory of demagogues, was also one of the most skilful of debaters, and as the discussion proceeded, and as it became evident that the dominant sentiment even on his own side of the House was decidedly against him, his language grew more moderate and plausible. French Revolutionists ceased to appear as angels of light and freedom. He spoke with much and probably with sincere horror2 of the approaching murder of the King. He declared that the progress of the French arms in the Low Countries was justly alarming to Europe, and might be dangerous to England, that the spirit which under Lewis XIV. menaced the liberties of Europe might influence, and actually had influenced, the conduct of the French, and although he opposed the calling out of the militia, he cordially supported the augmentation of the Army and Navy. To any measures restricting the proceedings of democratic societies at home, he was inexorably opposed, and he urged that the proper way of combating discontent was to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, to reform the Parliament, and to emancipate the Irish Catholics. He acknowledged reluctantly, that if the Dutch called on us to treat the opening of the Scheldt as a casus fœderis we were bound to do so, but he denied that they had done so. He attributed the hostility of the English Government towards the Government of France to the fact that France was an ‘unanointed Republic,’ and he declared that if there was a war it would be a war ‘of punctilio.’ ‘It is the true policy of every nation to treat with the existing Government of every other nation with which it has relative interests, without inquiring or regarding how that Government is constituted and by what means those who exercise it came into power.’ His advice was that we should at once recognise the French Republic, send an ambassador to Paris to treat with it, and in this way avert if possible the great calamity of war.
This policy was, however, entirely repudiated, not only by the habitual followers of the ministry and by Burke, but also by the Duke of Portland, by Windham, by Sir Gilbert Elliot, by Thomas Grenville, and by the large majority of those who usually followed Fox. The serious amount of dangerous sedition in England; the constant encouragement of that sedition by the French; the necessity of putting an end to the perpetual treasonable correspondence of English societies with the French Convention; the extreme danger of Holland; the gross, wanton, and repeated provocation which had been offered to this old ally of England, appeared to the immense majority of the House of Commons abundantly proved. The present, it was said, was no time for entering into a course of extended internal reforms, which might easily be made the pretext or the instroment of revolution, and it was perfectly certain that no reform short of a total subversion of the mixed Constitution of England would satisfy the zealots of the new French creed. It was wholly untrue that the present attitude of the English Government towards France was due to the fact that she was a republic. The relations of England to Holland, Switzerland, Genoa, and Venice were perfectly amicable. But ‘these were not regicidal republics, nor republics of confraternity with the seditious and disaffected in every State.’ Was it reasonable, it was asked, to expect the King of England to send an ambassador to France at a time when France had still no settled administration or Government; when the French Convention had just declared its implacable hatred of all kings and of all monarchical institutions; when it had been receiving and encouraging seditious Englishmen, who had come over to complain of the Constitution of their own country, and to seek for an alliance to subvert it; when a decree had gone forth from Paris which was a general declaration against all existing Governments, and an invitation to universal revolt; when the rulers of France were on the eve of crowning a long series of confiscations and murders by the murder of their inoffensive sovereign? It would be an eternal disgrace to the British Empire, it was said, if England at this time sent an ambassador to Paris, for by doing so she would not only be the first nation in Europe to recognise a Government created by a train of atrocious crimes, but would also be looked upon as giving her countenance to the horrid deed which was manifestly impending. Such a policy would result in ‘the complete alienation of those Powers with which England was at present allied,’ and by giving the whole weight of the character of England to France at a time when France was endeavouring to arm the subjects of every kingdom against their rulers, it would place all Europe in a deplorable situation. No nation had ever observed neutrality in difficult circumstances more strictly or scrupulously than England. She had given France no provocation whatever. She had again and again declared her resolution to meddle in no way with her internal concerns, and she tolerated in the country an unofficial representative who was perfectly competent to discharge any duties of negotiation that might arise. Nor was there, in truth, any question of difficulty or complexity impending. The whole danger rose from acts of patent and wilful provocation on the part of France; from her pretension to set aside the plainest and most formal treaties on the ground ‘that they were extorted by avarice and consented to by despotism;’ from her ceaseless efforts to foment rebellion in other countries, and from the ungovernable ambition with which she was disturbing the equilibrium of Europe.
Such was, in a few words, the substance of the rival arguments in the debates in the first weeks of the Session. There can be no question that the Government carried with them the immonso proponderance of opinion, both within the House and beyond its walls. Fox's amendment on the Address was negatived by 290 to 50, and in the opinion of Lord Malmesbury a full half of this small minority consisted of men who, through personal attachment to Fox, voted in opposition to their genuine sentiments.1 His motion for sending a minister to France was negatived and the Alien Bill was carried without a division. Measures were at the same time carried, prohibiting the circulation in England of French assignat bonds, and enabling the King to prohibit the export of naval stores.
While these measures were passing through Parliament several important events were occurring on the Continent. It was already evident that the declarations of the French, that they sought no conquests, and that they would not interfere with the free expression of the will of the inhabitants of the Austrian Netherlands, were mere idle words. Although there was a revolutionary party in Flanders, and especially in the bishopric of Liége, it soon became plain that the general wish of the population of these countries did not extend beyond the re-establishment of their ancient constitution; that they clung tenaciously to their old local privileges, customs, and independence, and that they had not the least wish to see the destruction of their Church or of their nobility. But the French had not been many weeks in the Austrian Netherlands before they proceeded to treat them as a portion of France, to introduce the assignats, to confiscate the Church property, to abolish all privileges, and to remould the whole structure of society according to the democratic type. In the famous decree of December 15, the National Convention proclaimed its policy in terms which could not be misunderstood. ‘Faithful to the principles of the sovereignty of the people, which will not permit them to acknowledge any of the institutions militating against it,’ they ordered that, in every country which was occupied by French arms, the French commander should at once proclaim the sovereignty of the people, the suppression of all existing authorities, the abolition of all existing taxes, of the tithes, of the nobility, and of all privileges. The people were to be convoked to create provisional administrations, from which, however, all the civil and military agents and officers of the former Government and all members of the lately privileged classes and corporations must be excluded. If, however, as in the case of Flanders, the people of the occupied country preferred their old form of government, the course to be pursued was clearly laid down. ‘The French nation will treat as enemies the people who, refusing or renouncing liberty and equality, are desirous of preserving their prince and privileged castes, or of entering into accommodation with them. The nation promises and engages never to lay down its arms until the sovereignty and liberty of the people on whose territory the French armies shall have entered shall be established, and not to consent to any arrangement or treaty with the princes or privileged persons so dispossessed, with whom the Republic is at war.’ The Convantion added a commentary to this decree, in which its intentions were still more emphatically asserted. ‘It is evident,’ they said, ‘that a people so enamoured of its chains and so obstinately attached to its state of brutishness as to refuse the restoration of its rights is the accomplice not only of its own despots but even of all the crowned usurpers, who divide the domain of the earth and of men. Such a servile people is the declared enemy, not only of the French Republic, but even of all other nations, and therefore the distinction which we have so justly established between Government and people ought not to be observed in its favour.’ Such a people must, therefore, be treated ‘according to the rigour of war and of conquest.’1
The decree excited fierce discontent in the Belgic provinces, but petitions and protests were unavailing, and the Convention sent commissioners, among whom Danton was the most conspicnous, to carry their wishes into execution. While, however, France was thus verifying the predictions of Burke by proclaiming that the war was essentially a war of revolutionary propagandism, and while by this proclamation she stimulated into new energy the many revolutionary clubs and centres that were scattered throughout Europe, a few reverses checked the hitherto unbroken success of her arms. The attempt which had already been made to make a separate peace with Prussia at the expense of the Emperor was resumed in the early winter of 1792,1 but it had no result, and a combined army of Prussians and Hessians easily drove the small army of Custine out of Germany. He was compelled to evacuate Frankfort in the beginning of December, and a month later he recrossed the Rhine. An attempt which was made by Beurnonville, at the head of the army of the Moselle, to seize Coblentz and Treves in the middle of December was defeated by the Austrians, and a descent upon Sardinia which followed the expedition to Naples proved a total failure.
The letters which Grenville had addressed on November 13 to the English ambassadors at Vienna and Berlin, inviting confidential communications, were answered with a vagueness which might have been perplexing to the English ministers, if the clue to the riddle had not been furnished by their representatives. It is to be found in the Polish question, which was now absorbing the attention of the German Powers, almost to the exclusion of French affairs. We have already seen the first stages of the plots against Poland which were concocted in the Courts of St. Petersburg and Berlin, and the hopeless impotence to which Poland had been reduced. Her military resources were utterly incapable of meeting the powerful enemies that hemmed her in. Her frontier was almost defenceless. The spirit of her peasantry was broken by repeated Russian invasions and occupations. Her new constitution, though it appeared to the malevolent perspicacity of her neighbours likely to give her order, stability, and prosperity, had not yet time to take any root, and she was completely isolated in Europe. France and Turkey were her two oldest allies; but France had neither the power nor the disposition to interfere for her protection, while Turkey, having but just emerged from an exhausting war, was certain to remain quiescent. But the greatest calamity was the death of the Emperor Leopold. That very able sovereign had regarded the independence and power of Poland as one of the leading elements of European stability, and while he lived he was likely to have the strongest influence in the coalition that had been formed. He died, leaving his empire to an ignorant boy, without a policy or any strength of intellect or will. The policy of Russia towards Poland was one of cynical, undisguised rapacity, and as soon as she had seen the two German Powers engaged in the war with France, she proceeded to put her plans into execution. At the end of May an army of 60,000 Russians crossed the Polish frontier, and in spite of some brave resistance from Kosciusko, they entered Warsaw in the beginning of August.1
The course of events depended largely on the King of Prussia. That sovereign, as we have seen, had first induced the Poles to assert their independence of Russia. He had himself urged them to amend their constitution. He had been the first to congratulate them on the constitutional reform of May 1791. He had bound himself before God and man, by two solemn and recent treaties, to respect the integrity of Poland; to defend the integrity of Poland against all enemies; to oppose by force any attempt to interfere with her internal affairs. Yet, as we have also seen, he had resolved as early as March 1792, not only to break his word and to betray his trust, but also to take an active part in the partition of the defenceless country which he had bound himself in honour to protect. By this means the territorial aggrandisement at which he had long been aiming might be attained.
The full extent of the treachery was only gradually disclosed, and the very instructive letters which Eden sent from Berlin enable us to complete a story which is one of the most shameful and most melancholy in the eighteenth century. At the end of May he relates a conversation with Schulenburg which fully confirmed him in his previous opinion that Poland must rely on its own efforts for its safety. ‘Your Lordship will observe,’ he adds, ‘that his sentiments have been uniformly hostile to its prosperity. He scrupled not yesterday to say that Russia was playing the game of this country, and repeated that it must ever be the interest of Prussia to prevent Poland from rising into a great and independent State.’ He denied that Prussia was bound to anything more ‘than to maintain Poland in the state in which she was before the revolution,’ but added that ‘the most solemn assurances had been advanced here and to the Prussian minister at Petersburg that nothing further was meant by the Empress than to re-establish everything on the same footing as it stood prior to May 3, 1791.’1
When the Russians crossed the Polish frontier, the Poles at once appealed to Prussia, and the English minister strongly supported their petition. Eden describes at length the conference between the Polish envoy, Count Potocki, and Schulenburg. The former appealed to ‘the article of their treaty which expressly stipulated the assistance to be given, should any Power, under any pretence whatever, interfere in the internal arrangements of the Republic.’ Schulenburg denied that the casus fæderis had arisen, for the change in the Polish constitution, which had been effected subsequent to the signature of the treaty, and without the privity of the King of Prussia, had essentially changed the political connection of the two countries. ‘Count Potocki here observed that if his Prussian Majesty's approbation of the revolution subsequent to its taking place, were alone wanting to justify the claims of his country to his Majesty's protection, he was willing to rest it on that ground, and immediately produced the copy of the despatch dated May 19 of the same year, from his Prussian Majesty himself to Baron Goltz, Chargé d'Affaires at Warsaw. … In this despatch his Prussian Majesty extols the revolution as likely to strengthen the alliance between the two countries, approves of the choice made of the Elector of Saxony, and expressly enjoins Baron Goltz to communicate his sentiments to his Polish Majesty. To this paper the Prussian minister could oppose nothing except several censures of the indiscretion of having given a copy of it to the Polish Government. Count Potocki observed very properly, that that appeared to him to be immaterial, since a mere verbal assurance by his Prussian Majesty would have been equally obligatory.’2
Eden a few days later sent to England ‘a copy of one of the notes presented by the Prussian minister at Warsaw, exhorting the Poles to meliorate their constitution; a copy of the second and sixth articles of their treaty with Prussia, and also a copy of a despatch written May 16, 1791, by his Prussian Majesty to Count Goltz, his Chargé d'Affaires at Warsaw, expressing his full and entire approbation of the revolution effectuated on May 3, 1791.’ He noticed, however, that on all sides the Poles encountered systematic coldness. Hertzberg said that they deserved their fate, because they would not cede Dantzig and Thorn to Prussia. Potocki, though a man of the first position, was not invited to dine with the King, while an obscure Russian subject obtained this honour, and the Prussian ministers refused an invitation to the house of Potocki. General Mollendorf expressed frankly to Eden his opinion of the ruinous folly of a war with France, which left Russia ‘sole arbiter of the fate of Poland.’ ‘He, however, said,’ writes Eden, ‘what every Prussian, without any exception of party, will say—that this country can never acquiesce in the establishment of a good government in Poland, since in a very short time it would rise to a very decided superiority.’ The pretence, however, was still kept up that the question at issue was not a question of the integrity and independence, but only of the constitution of Poland. ‘The Prussian minister repeated that the Empress's views did not extend beyond the total overthrow of the new constitution.’ But Eden added significantly, ‘I continue of opinion that if proposals for a new partition be made, plausible reasons will be found to remove the scruples of his Prussian Majesty.’1
For a short time, Eden himself doubted what policy would be pursued. It was possible, he thought, that Russia might prefer to establish a Russian ascendency in Poland, since the more violent measure of a partition would strengthen Austria and Prussia as well as herself. ‘Hopes may be entertained that this act of violence will not be proposed. It would, as I have more than once observed, be readily adopted here, and be approved even by those who in general censure the measures of the Government, Poland having ever been looked upon as fair prey, and the only source of aggrandisement to this country.’2
It was sufficiently evident that one of these two fates was almost inevitably impending over Poland. From the young Emperor nothing was to be hoped. ‘I am not without suspicion,’ Keith wrote early in May, ‘that Austria already knows that Prussia will set up no direct opposition to the Empress's views, and … that a co-partnership of the three Powers may renew the former scenes of depredation, and consummate the ruin of the miserable kingdom of Poland.’1 A week later a new Russian ambassador brought to Vienna the manifesto of the Empress of Russia against the new Polish Constitution; ‘I am well informed,’ wrote Keith, ‘that Austria is dismayed, and at bottom prepared to act a subservient part in that tragedy which Russia no longer hesitates to bring on the stage. I fear that a similar conduct may be expected on the side of Prussia, but not without the purpose of seizing her long-coveted and valuable portion of the plunder. However, Austria has not, to my knowledge, concerted any project of dismemberment; but her principles are not of so rigid a stamp as to hinder her coming in (sneakingly) at the hour of partition for such a share of the garment as may suit her views.’2
Information which was not at this time before the English ministers enables us to fill up the picture. Prussia, in entering upon the French war, had from the very beginning asserted her determination to obtain a territorial indemnity,3 and shortly after the death of Leopold, Schulenburg had sounded the Austrian minister about the possibility of this indemnity consisting of the Polish province of Posen. At the very time when the Prussian statesmen were assuring Eden that there was no question of any violation either of the integrity of Poland or of the pledges of Prussia, she was busily intriguing with Austria and Russia about the plunder of Polish territory. Before Catherine ordered her troops to enter Poland she had been assured from Berlin that she had no opposition to fear from Prussia, provided that country received her share of the spoil,4 and at the same time Schulenburg endeavoured to negotiate a treaty by which Austria was to obtain her old wish of exchanging the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria, while Prussia was to obtain the coveted territory in Poland. At Vienna, however, it was desired that Anspach and Baireuth should, in that case, pass to the Emperor, and on this question the negotiations were broken off.5 The French war accordingly began without anything being settled. The two sovereigns anticipated an easy conquest of Alsace, perhaps of something more, and the question of final indemnities might therefore be deferred.
The invasion, however, proved a total failure. The allied army was rolled back, and it became evident that if Prussia obtained an indemnity it was not likely to be from France. Great preparations were making for a new campaign, but it was soon rumoured that a part at least of the forces that were raised was not intended to act against France. It was not, however, till a few days after Grenville had written his despatch of November 13 that these rumours acquired consistency. On the 20th, Eden sent to England a despatch which must have been peculiarly unwelcome at a time when the probability of a Prussian alliance against France was being painfully forced on the minds of the English ministers. He began by mentioning the fears he had before expressed that, ‘notwithstanding the different solemn guarantees of its present territory,’ the new armament which Prussia was organising was intended not for the Rhine but for Poland. ‘I was contradicted,’ he continued, ‘in this opinion by the assertions of General Mollendorf and Count de Schulenburg to the Dutch minister, who both so solemnly and strenuously renounced it that I was induced to state it merely as a report.’ He has now learnt that the report was perfectly true. The Prussians were to enter Poland ostensibly for the relief of the Russians who were to march against France. General Mollendorf now confesses as much, and that he is himself to command, though he still persists that he had expected to have been sent to the Rhine. ‘However iniquitous,’ continues Eden, ‘the measure may be in itself, and however daring at this awful moment, I will venture to repeat that a new partition will have the general approbation of this country. The unquiet state of Poland … will, of course, be alleged as an excuse.’1
The English ministers had from the beginning strongly discouraged the plots against Poland, and Eden, in a conference with Schulenburg and another Prussian statesman, begged leave ‘formally and ministerially to inquire the real destination of the present armament.’ ‘I scrupled not,’ he says, ‘to tell them my suspicions. … They both most solemnly protested that no order relative to those troops had been sent to the Cabinet; that that to the War Office directed their march to the Rhine, and that if they had any other destination it was unknown to them.’ Eden insisted that the new armament was to be sent to Poland, and expressed his most earnest hope that if it were not too late, this order might even now be cancelled, ‘as a measure which furnishes such strong grounds of apprehension for the fate of Poland would naturally alarm his Majesty's ministers, might in its consequences accelerate the general dissolution which at present threatens all governments on the continent of Europe, and would certainly increase the popular cry of animosity against monarchy.’ ‘To be mistaken on the present occasion,’ he continued, ‘would give me infinite pleasure, but both the Dutch minister and myself possess such unquestionable proofs of the fact as force my assent to it, however unwilling I may be to believe the Prussian ministers guilty of so gross a prevarication.’1
The term ‘prevarication’ was delicately chosen. Schulenburg, as we have seen, had borne a leading part in the plot, and there can be no doubt that he was perfectly aware of what was intended. Two or three days later the English ambassador was informed by the Prussian ministers that, as the King had made no communication to his Cabinet about the destination of his armament, they could not ‘ministerially authorise him’ to contradict the reported invasion of Poland,2 and a letter of Eden written on the first day of 1793 tells the sequel of the story. General Mollendorf, he says, is on the eve of starting at the head of his army for the Polish frontier. ‘This business is no longer a mystery here, and it is publicly said that the four Bailiwicks of which he is to take possession in Great Poland were the promised price of his Prussian Majesty's interference in the affairs of France, and that he has now exacted the discharge of the promise, with threats of otherwise making a separate peace with France. Russia, it is added, consents with reluctance, induced principally by fear of the Turks. … Having more than once represented to the Prussian ministers the extreme injustice of this measure and even its impolicy at this awful crisis, and having been answered only by miserable elusions, it appears unnecessary to say anything further on the subject.’1
Few things could have been more embarrassing to the English Government than these proceedings. The conduct of the French had brought them to the very brink of war. They were in daily expectation of hearing that a French army had crossed the Dutch frontier, and everything appeared to announce a struggle of the most formidable character. If it took place it was inevitable that England should be closely leagued with those continental Powers from whose French policy she had hitherto held steadily aloof. It was now discovered that these Powers were at this very time engaged in a scheme of plunder at least as nefarious as any that could be attributed to the French democracy. Poland lay almost wholly beyond the sphere of English interests and influence, and England could probably under no circumstances have prevented the partition; but it was peculiarly unfortunate that she should be obliged to begin her great struggle, by entering into a close alliance with the spoliators. A true statesman must have clearly seen that the contest which was impending was one in which moral influences must bear an unusual prominence. To the wild democratic enthusiasms, to the millennial dreams of a regenerated world which France could evoke, it was necessary to oppose the most powerful counteracting moral principles of the old world—the love of country and creed; the attachments that gather round property and traditions and institutions; the instinct of reverence; the sense of honour, justice, and duty. But what moral dignity, what enthusiasm, what real popularity could attach to a coalition in which the three plunderers of Poland occupied a prominent place? If, indeed, the picture of the morals of democracy which is furnished by the accumulated horrors of the French Revolution should ever induce men to think too favourably of the morals of despotism, the story of the partition of Poland is well fitted to correct the error.
The Polish machinations explain the tardiness of the German Powers in responding to the English overtures of November 13. The time at last came when a full explanation had to be made, and Lord Grenville himself may relate what occurred. On January 12 Count Stadion and Baron Jacobi, the Imperial and Prussian representatives, came to him and delivered in writing a vague and formal reply to the English note. Having done this, continues Lord Grenville, they ‘informed me that they had a further communication to make, but that they had agreed to do it verbally only, and in such a manner that my reply to it (if I made any) might not form part of the official answer to be given to their written communications. They then explained that they had received information from their respective Courts that, with a view to indemnifying them for the expenses of the war, a project had been brought forward by which Prussia was to obtain an arrondissement on the side of Poland, and in return was to withdraw any opposition to the exchange formerly proposed of the Low Countries and Bavaria. … I told them that I was glad they had mentioned this project in the form they had chosen, that I was much better satisfied not to be obliged to enter into any formal or official discussion on the subject of Poland, but that I thought it due to the open communication which I wished to see established between our respective Courts not to omit saying at once and distinctly that the King would never be a party to any concert or plan, one part of which was the gaining a compensation for the expenses of the war from a neutral and unoffending nation; that the King was bound by no engagement of any sort with Poland, but that neither would his Majesty's sentiments suffer him to participate in measures directed to such an object, nor could he hope for the concurrence and support of his people in such a system.’ If France persisted in a war of mere aggrandisement, her opponents might justly expect some compensation; but ‘this compensation, however arranged, could be looked for only from conquests made upon France, not from the invasion of the territory of another country.’1
Such a protest was useful in defining the position of the English Government, but it could have no influence on the course of events. Eden immediately after wrote, stating the King of Prussia's determination to act no longer as a principal in the war if the indemnification in Poland were refused him. Eden asked the Prussian minister ‘if Russia had preferred any claims. He said, as yet nothing had been settled, but that Russia also had views of aggrandisement on the side of Poland. Austria too must look there for indemnification, since it is not likely that the projected exchange can be carried into execution.’1
We must now return to the negotiations that were still carried on between England and France. Before the end of November the proceedings of the French both at Paris and in Belgium had made war almost inevitable, and Chauvelin, who believed that England was on the verge of revolution, who was in constant communication with disaffected Englishmen, and who had for some time interpreted the pacific language and conduct of Pitt as a sign of timidity, was the last man to avert it. His first object was to force on an immediate recognition of the Republic, and he is stated on good authority to have openly declared that his dearest wish, if he were not recognised at St. James's, was to leave the country with a declaration of war.2 On November 29, he had an interview with Grenville in which he held language of the haughtiest kind. He told him that the triumphant march of Dumouriez upon Brussels had wholly changed the situation, and that the language a French minister might have held ten days before was inapplicable now. He evidently believed that he was the master of the situation, and that the English ministers would soon be at his feet. They were quite ready, he told Lebrun, to recognise the French Republic, and the nearer the war drew, the more anxious they were to find pretexts for avoiding it, if France would give them such.3
Grenville had indeed assured Chauvelin that ‘outward forms would be no hindrance to his Britannic Majesty, whenever the question related to explanations which might be satisfactory and advantageous to both parties,’ and Pitt declared that ‘it was his desire to avoid a war and to receive a proof of the same sentiments from the French ministry.’1 It is abundantly evident, however, from Lebrun's confidential correspondence with Chauvelin that there was no real prospect of England obtaining on any point the satisfaction she desired. France, he wrote, intended to examine the treaties forbidding the opening of the Scheldt according to ‘natural principles,’ and not according to the rules of ancient diplomacy. The clauses in the Treaty of Utrecht relating to it were null because they were contrary to justice and reason.2 On the subject of the hostile intentions of France towards Holland, towards the House of Orange, and towards that constitution which England had guaranteed, Chauvelin was directed for the present to avoid a categorical explanation. The military situation was not yet such as to justify it. If, however, conversation arose on the subject he was instructed to say that France would never interfere with the incontestable right of every country to give itself what government it pleased, but if any other Power, on the ground of ‘a pretended internal guarantee,’ attempted to prevent the Dutch from exercising this right of changing their government, the ‘generosity of the French Republic would at once call her to their assistance.’ Such a guarantee, he was to add, as that signed by England and Prussia was a plain violation of the rights of nations; it was radically null, and any attempt to enforce it would immediately produce a French intervention.3 At the very time when Chauvelin was instructed to assure Grenville that France had no hostile intentions towards Holland, he was informed by Maret that Dumouriez intended to attack Maestricht;4 and although the intention was soon abandoned, it was evident that if the French party in Holland succeeded in making an insurrection, the army on the frontier would assist them.
The complaints of the political propagandism of the French and of their meddling with the internal constitutions of other countries were abundantly justified. Not only the Paris Jacobins, but also the representative of the French Republic in England, corresponded actively with the disaffected clubs, and French agents were already intriguing with United Irishmen in order to produce an insurrection in Ireland.1
It is somewhat difficult to ascertain the real intentions of Lebrun. They probably fluctuated according to the violence of that Parisian public opinion which he was bound on pain of death most absolutely to obey; according to the sentiments of his colleagues in the Executive Council, and also according to his belief in the imminence of a revolution in England, and in the supposed timidity of the English Government. The many different agents at this time employed by the French Government pursued different lines of action, and, while some were actively fomenting revolution, an attempt was made at negotiation in the beginning of December, which gave real promise of peace.
Maret, who was afterwards better known as the Duke of Bassano, and who had lately been employed with Dumouriez in Belgium, was sent over to England in November 1792.2 He came ostensibly about some private affairs of the Duke of Orleans, but he was in reality a political agent, in the confidence of Lebrun, and acting in close combination with Noel. He obtained an introduction to William Smith, a member of Parliament whose name frequently occurs in the debates of the time as a speaker in favour of France, and who was taking much interest in the attempts to avert war, and he entered into discussion with Smith on the differences between the two countries. Smith was not a supporter of the Government; but he was so much impressed by the ability and conciliatory tone of Maret, that he was very anxious that he should see Pitt. Pitt readily consented, and, on December 2, Maret had a long interview which he afterwards reported to Lebrun. He found Pitt extremely courteous and conciliatory, and came away strongly impressed with his earnest and evident desire for peace. He believed it to be stronger and more genuine than that of the leaders of the Opposition, but he was also of opinion that the King and the majority of the ministers now leaned to war. Pitt declared himself absolutely and irrevocably decided not to suffer any aggression upon Holland, and to execute rigorously the treaties of England with her allies. The conversation passed to the decree of November 19, and Maret maintained that, notwithstanding the general expressions employed in it, it was intended only to apply to countries with which France was actually at war. Pitt answered that ‘if an interpretation of that kind were possible, its effects would be excellent,’ and Maret added that the decree had been carried by a surprise and that the Executive Council did not really approve of it. On the subject of the navigation of the Scheldt, Maret avoided discussion, and Pitt, seeing his desire, did not press him. Speaking of the fate of the French royal family, he expressed some hope that the majority of voters would not be in favour of death, but he said that the state of feeling in France was now such that any foreign interference would defeat its own end, as completely as the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick had done. He touched also on a recognition of the Republic. Pitt told him that this was not at present possible; he showed himself very unfavourable to Chauvelin, but declared that if the French would send a confidential secret agent who could be trusted, he would be cordially welcomed. Pitt dwelt earnestly on his anxiety to avoid a war, which must be disastrous to both countries, and on the great danger of the present state of things which inflamed suspicions and distrust on both sides, and he finally suggested that Maret should send to Paris asking for instructions and powers. He begged him very earnestly to do so without delay, as every day was precious.1
Maret did as he was asked. It was his evident impression that, provided the security of Holland were fully established, and the decree of November 19 explained in the sense which he had indicated, every other point of difference might be arranged, and that the recognition of the Republic was only deferred. Chauvelin, however, complained bitterly of the confidence that had been given to Maret as a slur upon himself. He wrote to the Executive Council asking to be recalled, if another agent was employed, and he assured them that the English ministers were undoubtedly hostile, but that he was seeking in other quarters more worthy allies. Lebrun would probably have given Maret the powers he asked for, and have negotiated on friendly terms with Pitt, but the majority of the Executive Council preferred a less conciliatory course. On December 9 the French ministers wrote declining the proposal for a secret negotiation and directing that all communications with the English Government must be made through Chanvelin, ‘the known and avowed representative of the Republic.’ On the 14th, Maret was obliged to communicate this decision to Pitt, and he almost immediately after left England.1
The hopes of peace had now almost gone, and the decree of December 15 greatly increased the imminence of the danger. It was now evident that, in spite of their previous assurances, the French Government had fully resolved to incorporate the Belgic provinces, to break up the whole structure of their ancient society, to destroy all their national institutions in order to assimilate them absolutely and without delay to the new French democracy. The decree opening the Scheldt already implied that the French considered themselves the sovereigns of these provinces, but the course they were now pursuing placed their intention beyond reasonable doubt. It was an intention which no minister, who had not wholly abandoned the traditions of English policy, could regard without the gravest alarm.
It was plain that English public opinion now measured the magnitude of the danger, and was rapidly preparing for the struggle. Chauvelin wrote, indeed, that Fox and Sheridan were fully resolved to oppose the war; that Fox's speech on the subject on December 13 was so noble, that the French Convention would have at once ordered it to be printed; that he himself was indefatigable in urging ‘the Friends of Liberty’ to come forward; that he had established relations with some rich merchants in the City, and that ‘under his auspices’ numerous addresses to the Convention repudiating the idea of war were being signed in England. But the illusion that the nation was with him was now fast ebbing away. The militia were called out, and public opinion evidently supported the measure. The Government, he wrote, is determined to adopt a system of violence and rigour. ‘The infamous Burke’ has been consulted by the Privy Council. The English people are evidently not ripe for revolution. Their apathy and blindness to French principles is deplorable. They have so changed within a month that they are scarcely recognisable. In that time, ‘merely through fear of convulsions dangerous to property, they have passed from admiration of us to hatred, and from the enthusiasm of liberty to the delirium of servitude.’ The infinitesimal minority that followed Fox in Parliament reflected but too truly his weakness in the country. In the theatres the National Anthem was enthusiastically sung, and deputations of merchants to assure the Government of their support were hastening to the Treasury. Pitt, said Chauvelin, ‘seems to have killed public opinion in England,’ but he added in another letter these memorable words, ‘The King of England and all his council, with the exception of Pitt, do not cease to desire this war.’1
Fox avowed in Parliament his belief that the course he was pursuing would be ruinous to his popularity, but still Chauvelin deplored the weakness and the timidity of the Opposition. On December 7, Sheridan, on the part of Fox and of his friends, had a long interview with Chauvelin, and used some language which was very remarkable. He expressed great indignation at the decree of December 19, offering French assistance to all revolted subjects. Nothing, he truly said, in the language of this decree, restricted it even to cases where a clear majority of a nation were in insurrection, and it seemed to pledge the French to support by an invasion the rebellion of a few thousand men in Ireland. The Opposition, Sheridan said, desired a thorough but constitutional reform, and they desired peace with France, unless she made an aggression on Holland. They would strenuously oppose war on account of the opening of the Scheldt, and if it was declared on that ground they would represent it as a device for turning aside all reform. They would, perhaps, even go so far as to propose the impeachment of Pitt; but they warned the French envoy, that in common with ninetenths of the people of the three kingdoms, they would support the ministers in repelling any attempt of the French Government to intermeddle with English internal affairs. England had given France the example of a Revolution; she was quite capable of following the example of France in her own manner and with her own forces.1
On the side of Holland, the prospect at this time had slightly improved. A French army entered Prussian Guelderland and encamped on the border of the Dutch territory, but the advance of the Prussians produced a change of plan. Fearing to be shut up between the floods of the Meuse and the Prussians, the French repassed the Meuse without penetrating to Cleves, and returned to Ruremonde, taking with them hostages for large sums of money to be raised in the lately occupied territory. From this fact as well as from some other indications, Auckland inferred that the project of an invasion of Holland was, for the present, laid aside, and the number of desertions from the French, and the difficulties they found in obtaining subsistence, made him hope that the worst was over. At the same time, he wrote, ‘these provinces have every reason to continue vigilant, and to pursue their preparations with the utmost energy. Quarters are preparing near Anvers for 17,000 French troops, and the Légion Batave is to be cantoned at this side of Anvers, probably for the purpose of correspondence with the patriots and to draw recruits out of the Republic. … The internal tranquillity is, for the present, complete, but it is certain that there are many ill-disposed individuals in the principal towns.’ ‘I cannot doubt that it is the intention and plan of the French leaders to commence hostilities against this Republic on the first practicable occasion.’ The Prince of Orange urgently asked for English vessels, stating that he had certain knowledge of a French plan to attack Holland on three sides—by Nimeguen, by Breda, and by Friesland.2
In Paris, the most violent and most reckless section of the Jacobins had now completely triumphed. The trial of the King had begun, and it was openly represented as the first act of a tragedy, which was only to end with the destruction of monarchy in Europe. ‘The impulse is given to the whole world,'said Grégoire in the Assembly. ‘The nations are throwing themselves in the path of liberty. The volcano is about to break forth, which will transform the globe.’1 Passions were raised to fever-heat, and the car of the Revolution flew on with a maddening speed, crushing every obstacle in its path. In the exultation and arrogance of the moment, temporising was hardly possible. The English Government, it was said, was arming. The English Court hated the Revolution. The English privileged orders were denouncing the September massacres. But behind them there was an English nation only waiting the signal for deliverance, and the peaceful language of Pitt to Maret was interpreted in Paris as a sign of fear. On December 24, one of the more pacific members of the Convention called attention to the great uneasiness which had been excited in England by the decree of November 19, offering French assistance to all subjects revolting against their tyrants; and in order to dispel that uneasiness he moved the addition of a clause restricting the decree to countries with which France was actually at war, but the motion was at once rejected without discussion.2 Appeals to the English people against the English Government became habitual in the tribune; the language of Lebrun took a tone of unmistakable menace,3 and on December 27, Chauvelin as ‘Minister Plenipotentiary of France,’ and in obedience to the instructions of the Executive Council of the French Republic, presented to Lord Grenville a long and peremptory note charging the British ministry with having shown in their public conduct a manifest ill-will towards France, and demanding in writing a speedy and definite reply to the question whether France was to consider England a neutral or a hostile country. The note proceeded to examine the grievances alleged in England against France. The decree of November 19 was not meant to favour insurrections or disturb any neutral or friendly Power. It applied only to nations which had already acquired their liberty by conquest, and demanded the fraternity and assistance of France, by the solemn and unequivocal expression of the general will. The French minister was authorised to declare that France would not attack Holland so long as that Power preserved an exact neutrality. The opening of the Scheldt was irrevocably decided ‘by reason and justice.’ If the English Government made use of it as a cause for war, it would be only ‘the vainest of all pretences to colour an unjust aggression long ago determined upon.’ It would be a war ‘of the administration alone against the French Republic,’ and France would appeal to the English nation against its Government.1
The note was couched in a haughty and imperious strain, manifestly intended either to provoke or to intimidate. Grenville clearly saw that it was meant to accelerate a rupture.2 The opening of the Scheldt was the violation of a distinct treaty based on grounds which would justify the abrogation of any treaty, and it acquired a peculiar danger from the great maritime power and preparations of France, and from the attitude which France was assuming both towards Belgium and towards Holland; while the active correspondence of French agents with the disaffected, both in Great Britain, in Ireland, and in Holland; the public reception and encouragement by the Convention of Englishmen who were avowedly seeking to overturn the Constitution of their country; the emphatic refusal of the Convention to exempt England from the terms of the decree of November 19, and the intercepted letters of Tainville and De Maulde, deprived the more pacific portions of the note of all credit. Just at this time the Russian ambassador came to Grenville and proposed a concert with his Court on the subject of French affairs. Grenville expressed the willingness of the King to enter into such a concert, ‘confining it to the object of opposing a barrier to the danger that threatens the tranquillity of all other countries and the political interests of Europe from the intrigues and ambitious views pursued by France, without directing his views to any interference in the interior government of that country.’ Much doubt, Grenville explained to Auckland, was felt by the King's ministers about the real motives of the Empress, but it seemed to them that a qualified acceptance of the proposal was the best means of ascertaining them. ‘If either the original intention, or the effect of this step on our part, induced the Empress to take an active share in the war which seems so little likely to be avoided, a great advantage will be derived from it to the common cause. If she withdraws the sort of overture she has made, no inconvenience can result from the measure taken by the King, at all to be put in comparison with the benefit of success.’ It was probable, Grenville thought, that before any answer could arrive from St. Petersburg the matter would have come to a crisis.1
On the 31st, Grenville sent his answer to Chauvelin. He began by reminding him that he had never been recognised in England in any other public character than as accredited by the French King, and that, since August 10, his Majesty had suspended all official intercourse with France. Chauvelin was therefore peremptorily informed that he could not be admitted to treat with the King's ministers in the character he had assumed. Since, however, he had entered, though in a form which was neither regular nor official, into explanations of some of the circumstances that had caused strong uneasiness in England, the English ministers would not refuse to state their views concerning them. The first was the decree of November 19. In this decree England ‘saw the formal declaration of a design to extend universally the new principles of government adopted in France, and to encourage disorder and revolt in all countries, even in those which are neutral. … The application of these principles to the King's dominions has been shown unequivocally by the public reception given to the promoters of sedition in this country, and by the speeches made to them precisely at the time of this decree and since on several different occasions.’ The ministers would have gladly accepted any satisfactory explanation of this decree, but they could find neither satisfaction nor security ‘in the terms of an explanation which still declares to the promoters of sedition in every country what are the cases in which they may count beforehand on the support and succour of France, and which reserves to that country the right of mixing herself in our internal affairs whenever she shall judge it proper, and on principles incompatible with the political institutions of all the countries of Europe.’ Such a declaration was plainly calculated to encourage disorder and revolt in every country; it was directly opposed to the respect which is due to all independent nations; and it was in glaring contrast to the conduct of the King of England, who had scrupulously abstained from all interference in the internal affairs of France.
The assurance that France had no intention of attacking Holland as long as that Power observed an exact neutrality, was drawn up, the note observed, in nearly the same terms as that which was given last June.1 But since that assurance, a French captain had violated both the territory and neutrality of Holland by sailing up the Scheldt in defiance of the prohibition of the Dutch Government, to attack the citadel of Antwerp, and the French Convention had ventured to ‘annul the rights of the Republic, exercised within the limits of its own territory and enjoyed by virtue of the same treaties by which her independence is secured.’ Nay, more, Chanvelin, in this very letter of explanation, emphatically asserted the right of the Convention to throw open the navigation of the Scheldt. France could have no right to annul the stipulations relating to that river unless she had also a right to set aside all treaties. She could have ‘no pretence to interfere in the question of opening the Scheldt unless she were the sovereign of the Low Countries or had the right to dictate laws to all Europe.’ To such pre tensions the reply to the English Government was lofty and unequivocal. ‘England never will consent that France should arrogate the power of annulling, at her pleasure, and under the pretence of a pretended natural right, of which she makes herself the only judge, the political system of Europe, established by solemn treaties and guaranteed by the consent of all the Powers. This Government, adhering to the maxims which it has followed for more than a century, will also never see with indifference that France shall make herself either directly or indirectly sovereign of the Low Countries, or general arbitress of the rights and liberties of Europe. If France is really desirous of maintaining friendship and peace with England, she must show herself disposed to renounce her views of aggression and aggrandisement, and to confine herself within her own territory without insulting other Governments, without disturbing their tranquillity, without violating their rights.’ ‘His Majesty has always been desirous of peace. He desires it still,’ but it must be a peace ‘consistent with the interests and dignity of his own dominions, and with the general security of Europe.’1
The hand of Pitt may be plainly traced in this memorable document. It proved decisively to France and to Europe that it was vain to attempt to intimidate his Government, and the part which related to the Austrian Netherlands cleared up a point which had hitherto been somewhat ambiguous. It is curious to compare the grave and measured terms of the note of Grenville with another ministerial utterance, which was penned on the very same day. On December 31, Monge, the French Minister for the Navy, sent a circular letter to the seaport towns of France containing the following passage: ‘The King [of England] and his Parliament wish to make war with us. But will the English Republicans suffer it? Those free men already show their discontent and their abhorrence of bearing arms against their French brethren. We shall fly to their assistance. We shall make a descent on that isle; we shall hurl thither 50,000 caps of liberty; we shall plant the sacred tree and stretch out our arms to our brother republicans. The tyranny of their Government will soon be destroyed.’2
It was plain that the breach was very near. The French were levying enormous contributions in the towns of Brabant, imprisoning burgomasters who were not in accordance with their views, plundering the churches and monasteries, reorganising all branches of the administration with an" impetuous haste, endeavouring by every means to flatter and secure the populace, while they crushed the clergy and the rich. They encountered, however, in many quarters considerable resistance. In Ostend especially, there was a fierce riot, and great crowds paraded the streets demanding the old Belgie constitution and the restoration of the priests. The Batavian Legion of disaffected Dutchmen in the French service now numbered at least three thousand men, and they issued a violent manifesto in French and Dutch, which was industriously disseminated by the ‘patriots’ in Holland.1
The Dutch Government was acting in perfect harmony with that of England, but Auckland regarded the prospec with a despondency which the event too fully justified. The objects of governments are not only various, but in some measure incompatible, and the Dutch constitution, like the old constitutio of Poland, being mainly constructed with the object of opposing obstacles to the encroachments of the central power, had left the country wholly incapable of prompt and energetic action in times of public danger. No angmentation of the military or naval forces, no serious measure of defence, could be effected without the separate assent of all the provinces, and the forms that were required by law were so numerous and so cumbrous that it was probably chiefly its more favourable geographical position that saved the United Provinces from the fate of Poland. It was intended to add 14,000 men to the Dutch army, and there was a question of subsidising foreign troops, but in the meantime the Dutch army, though ‘well trained, well appointed, and in general well disposed,’ was far below the necessities of the time, utterly unpractised in war, and scattered in seventeen or eighteen feeble garrisons. Nor was the spirit of the people what it had been. The Stadholder and the ministers were most anxious to do their best; but Auckland warned his Government that Holland would make little efficient exertion unless there was a great pressure of danger. ‘Nor,’ he said, ‘in the estimate of that danger will she be guided by any longsighted views. It must be a danger apparent to all eyes and palpable at the moment. This arises partly from the mixture of the mercantile spirit with political deliberations, but principally from the constitution of the provinces which call themselves a Union, with every defect that can contribute on questions of general moment to contrariety of decision and to procrastination of execution.’1
A French loyalist named De Curt, who had been a member of the first National Assembly and who had afterwards served as an emigrant under the French Princes, had about this time some remarkable confidential conversations with Lord Hawkes-bury. De Curt was a native of Guadaloupe, and he held a mission from its assembly. He seems to have been a man of high character and liberal views, sincerely attached to the House of Bourbon, and so disgusted with the course events had taken in France that he was anxious to be naturalised as an Englishman. The French West Indian Islands he represented as vehemently loyalist. The Assemblies of Guadaloupe and Martinique had driven from those islands all persons suspected of democratic principles, as well as notorious bad characters who might be made use of in revolution, and these men had chiefly taken shelter in the British island of Dominica, where, if they were suffered to remain, they were likely to become a source of much trouble. He stated that the French West Indian Islands would never submit voluntarily to the Republican Government; but that their successful resistance depended largely on the chances of assistance from England. Lord Hawkesbary said that he could only speak to him unofficially and as a private individual, but in this capacity he spoke with great freedom. ‘I told him,’ he says, ‘that we certainly wished to continue at peace with France … but that many events had lately happened which afforded great probability that Great Britain and Holland would be forced to take a part in the war; that the moment of decision, however, was not yet arrived,’ and that the ministers were anxiously awaiting the development of the French policy about Holland. De Curt was strongly of opinion that the French ministers, even if they wished it, would not dare to recede, and he declared his determination to send at once a messenger to Guadaloupe to advise the colony to resist. Hawkesbury begged that it should be clearly understood that such a course was not taken in consequence of any engagement with England. De Curt replied that he would advise it on his own responsibility ‘as the most prudent which they could pursue for their own interests in the present state of affairs between France on the one hand and Great Britain and Holland on the other. He then told me,’ continues Hawkesbury, ‘that his connections were solely with Guadaloupe, but that Martinique would certainly pursue the same line of conduct, that the inhabitants of Martinique had also an agent here, whom he named, with whom he would consult, who would give, he was sure, the people of Martinique the same advice. … He added that the agent of St. Lucia would necessarily follow the fate of Martinique, and that in the end St. Domingo would adopt the same conduct.’ Guadaloupe in his opinion could, without assistance, resist for at least two months any force the Convention could send against it, and if England and Holland engaged in the war, the French would have no port except the Danish island of Ste. Croix to resort to. ‘In his opinion the war must be ended in one campaign, from the ruin of French commerce, the destruction of the French fleets, and the surrender of the French islands to Great Britain.’ He said with much emotion that the authority of the House of Bourbon was at an end; that the anarchy in France was likely to last for at least thirty years, and that it was his wish and his duty to follow the fate of his real country, the West Indian Islands. In a subsequent interview he described a plan for the invasion of England from Cherbourg by boats made of copper or tin, which had been proposed by an engineer named Gautier to the Maritime Committee of the National Assembly at a time when De Curt was a member of that body, and which had been approved of in case a rupture should take place. A letter nearly at the same time came from the Marquis de Bouillé representing that Martinique and Gusdaloupe were in revolt against the Convention, and imploring that England would assist them, if possible openly, if not clandestinely.1
On January 7 Chauvelin sent a new note to Grenville, again asserting his character of minister plenipotentiary of the French Republic, and complaining in very angry terms of the Alien Act as an infraction of that portion of the Treaty of Commerce which secured to the subjects and inhabitants of each of the two countries full liberty of dwelling in the dominions of the other, travelling through them when they please and coming and going freely ‘without licence or passport, general or special.’ He described the Treaty of Commerce as a treaty to which England owed a great part of her actual prosperity, but which was ‘burdensome to France,’ and had been ‘wrested by address and ability from the unskilfulness and from the corruption of the agents of a Government’ which France had destroyed. He now demanded from Lord Grenville a ‘speedy, clear, and categorical answer’ to his question whether the French were included under the general denomination of ‘foreigners’ in the Bill. Grenville simply returned the note with a statement that Chauvelin had assumed a diplomatic character which was inadmissible. In another letter Chauvelin protested against the proclamation prohibiting the export of grain and flour from England.1
The complaint relating to the Alien Act might be easily answered. The restriction imposed on foreigners travelling in England was a matter of internal police rendered necessary by a great and pressing danger; the measure included a special clause in favour of those who could ‘prove that they came to England for affairs of commerce,’ and it is a curious fact that the French themselves only seven months before had imposed still more severe restrictions upon foreigners in France. Neither the English nor any other ambassador had complained of the decree of May 1792, under which no foreigner was suffered to travel in France on pain of arrest without a passport describing accurately his person or his route.2
A much more important document was a note drawn up by Lebrun, and presented by Chauvelin on January 13. It is an elaborate answer to the letter of Lord Grenville which has been already quoted, and it was drawn up in moderate, plausible, and dignified language very unlike some of the late correspondence. Grenville in communicating it to Auckland said that it was evident from it that the tone of the Executive Council was much lowered; though it was impossible to say whether the present rulers of France would comply with the demands which alone could insure permanent tranquility to England and Holland.1 Lebrun began by emphatically declaring the sincere desire of the Executive Council and of the French nation to maintain friendly relations with England, and the importance of having a competent and accredited representative to explain the differences between the two countries. In order that this should be accomplished the Executive Council of the French Republic sent formal letters of credence to Chauvelin, which would enable him to treat with all the severity of diplomatic forms. He then proceeded to explain that the decree of November 19 was not intended, as the English minister alleged, to encourage the seditious, for it could have no application except in the single case in which the general will of a nation, clearly and unequivocally expressed, should call the French nation to its assistance and fraternity. In the opinion of the Executive Councils the decree might perhaps have been dispensed with, but with the interpretation now given to it, it ought not to excite uneasiness in any nation.
On the subject of Holland the French minister said Grenville had raised no definite point except the opening of the Scheldt. This measure, he contended, was of no consequence to England, of very little consequence to Holland, but of vital importance to Belgium, and especially to the prosperity of Antwerp. It was in order to restore to the Belgians the enjoyment of a precious right, and not in order to offend any other Power, that France had thrown open the navigation. The restriction closing it had been made without the participation of the inhabitants of these provinces. The Emperor, in order to secure his despotic power over them, had without scruple sacrificed their most inviolable rights. France in a legitimate war had expelled the Austrians from the Low Countries, called back its people to freedom, and invited them to re-enter into all the rights which the House of Austria had taken away from them. ‘If the rights of nature and those of nations are consulted, not France alone but all the nations of Europe are authorised to do it.’
A passage follows which if it could have been fully believed might have done much to appease the quarrel. ‘The French Republic does not intend to erect itself into a universal arbitrator of the treaties which bind nations. She will know how to respect other Governments as she will take care to make her own respected. She has renounced, and again renounces, every conquest; and her occupation of the Low Countries will only continue during the war, and the time which may be necessary to the Belgians to insure and consolidate their liberty; after which let them be independent and happy. France will find her recompense in their felicity.’
If England and Holland continue to attach any importance to the navigation of the Scheldt, they may negotiate on the subject directly with Belgium. ‘If the Belgians through any motive consent to deprive themselves of the navigation of the Scheldt, France will not oppose it. She will know how to respect their independence even in their errors.’
‘After so frank a declaration, which manifests such a sincere desire of peace, his Britannic Majesty's ministers ought not to have any doubts with regard to the intentions of France. If her explanations appear insufficient, and if we are still obliged to hear a haughty language; if hostile preparations are continued in the English ports, after having exhausted every means to preserve peace we will prepare for war with a sense of the justice of our cause, and of our efforts to avoid this extremity. We will fight the English, whom we esteem, with regret, but we will fight them without fear.’1
A few words of comment must be added to this skilful note. It will be observed that the French still reserved their right of interfering for the assistance of insurgent nations under circumstances of which they themselves were to be the judge; that they still maintained their right to annul without the consent of the contracting parties the ancient treaties regulating the navigation of the Scheldt, and that while repudiating all views of incorporating the Low Countries in France they announced their intention of occupying those provinces, not merely daring the war, but for an undefined period after the war had ended. It will be observed, too, that moderate and courteous as it was in form, the note of Lebrun was of the nature of an ultimatum, threatening war if its explanations were not accepted as satisfactory, and if the military preparations of England continued. The question, however, which is most important in the controversy between the two nations is the sincerity of the French repudiation of views of conquest. Was it true that the annexation of Belgium and the invasion of Holland had been abandoned?
In order to judge these points the reader must bear in mind the whole train of events which have been narrated in this chapter. The English case was essentially a cumulative one, depending on many indications of French policy no one of which might perhaps alone have been decisive, but which when taken together produced an absolute certainty in the minds of the ministers that the French were determined to incorporate the Belgic provinces; that they were meditating a speedy invasion of the Dutch Republic, and that if an insurrection broke out in that Republic it would be immediately supported by French arms. Everything that has since become known of the secret intentions of the French Government appears to me to corroborate this view. At the very time when the correspondence that has been cited was continuing, urgent orders were sent to the French Commissioners to press on the measures assimilating the Belgic provinces to France in accordance with the decree of December 15, while the Executive Council received a memoir from some of the Dutch ‘patriots’ pointing out the defenceless condition of Zealand and inviting an immediate invasion of Holland. The project for invasion, which had for a time been laid aside, was revived; it was being carefully discussed at Paris at the precise period when the note of Lebrun was drawn up, and on January 10 it appeared to have been fully decided on, though on farther reflection the enterprise was for the moment deferred.1 Well-informed English agents reported that the Executive Council were looking forward to an insurrection in Ireland and afterwards in England which would paralyse the English Government while the French troops poured into Holland.1 The violence of language of prominent members of the Convention against all kings and monarchies, and against the Government of Great Britain in particular, exceeded all bounds,2 and, on January 12, Brissot, in the name of the Diplomatic Committee, presented a long report to the Convention on the attitude of the British Government towards France. It foreshadowed war in every line. As usual, it professed much sympathy for the British nation, but it accused their Government, in a strain of violent invective, of having not only brought wholly frivolous charges against the French Republic, but of having also acted towards that Republic with systematic malevolence and insult. It urged the French Government to demand the repeal of the Alien Act, the removal of all restrictions on the export of provisions from England to France, and an immediate explanation of the armaments of England. War with England, it argued, would be a matter of little danger, for the English were already overwhelmed by their debt and taxation; Ireland was ripe for revolt, and India would almost certainly be severed from the British rule.3
The day after this extraordinary report was presented, the Convention ordered fifty-two ships of the line and thirty-two frigates to be immediately armed, and twenty-four new vessels to be constructed.4 Grenville, on the other hand, in two peremptory and haughty notes, dated January 18 and 20, pronounced the French explanations wholly unsatisfactory, declared, in reply to the threat of Lebrun, that England would persist in those measures which her Government deemed essential for her security and for that of her allies, and refused either to receive the letters of credence of Chauvelin, to recognise in him any other position than that of an ordinary foreigner, or to exempt him from the provisions of the Alien Act.5
The attitude of Chanvelin was so hostile, and his connection with disaffected Englishmen so notorious, that the English Go-vernment would hold no confidential communication with him; but through the instrumentality of Miles, some correspondence was still kept with Maret, who had now become Chef de Départe-ment at the Foreign Office under Lebrun, and even with Lebrun himself. In a very earnest though very amicable letter, dated January 11, Miles had warned Maret that, unless the French Convention could be induced to recede from its present policy, war was absolutely inevitable. Could it be doubted, he urged, that the order given to the French generals to pursue the enemy into neutral territory was a violation of the independence of Powers that were not at war with France; that the decree opening the Scheldt was a violation of treaties which England had solemnly bound herself in 1788 to defend; that the incorporation of Savoy in the French Republic was in flagrant opposition to the French professions that they desired no conquests; that the decrees of November 19 and of December 15 were drawn up in such general terms that they were an invitation to all nations to revolt against their Governments, and a promise that France would assist every rebellion; that the reception by the National Assembly of English subjects who were openly conspiring against their Government was a gross insult, and a clear proof that England must consider herself comprised among the nations to whom French ‘fraternity’ was offered? If the Executive Council would retrace its steps on these points, war would not break out. Otherwise neither the interests nor the honour of England would permit her to acquiesce.1
All the English diplomatic correspondence of this time shows not only the extreme gravity but also the extreme difficulty of the situation. It was on January 12 that the Imperial and Prussian representatives announced to Grenville the approaching partition of Poland and the project' of the exchange of the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria, and thus introduced a new and most formidable element of complication and division. Grenville at once communicated to Auckland the interview which had taken place and the total disapprobation which he had expressed in the name of the King's Government of the intended partition. ‘It is impossible,’ he continued, ‘to foresee what the effect may be of his Majesty's determined resolution not to make himself a party to any concert of measures tending to this object.’ On the proposed exchange of the Austrian Netherlands, however, he hesitated. ‘I thought it advantageous,’ he wrote, ‘not to conceal from either of the ministers that I felt there were many circumstances in the present moment which might make such a project less objectionable in the eyes of the maritime Powers than it had hitherto been. His Majesty's servants are, however, extremely desirous of knowing the general ideas entertained by the Dutch ministers on a point in which the interests of the Republic are so immediately and materially concerned.’ For the present every encouragement should be given for a reconciliation of the Austrian Netherlands to their former rulers. ‘I am inclined to believe nothing would be so advantageous to our interests as the re-establishment of the sovereignty of the House of Austria there, on the footing of the ancient constitution, if that could be made the consequence of the French withdrawing their troops, according to the plan proposed from hence.’1
English and Dutch intelligence fully concurred about the imminence of an attack on Holland. On the 18th, Auckland reported that revolutionary papers were industriously scattered among the Dutch soldiers, and that Hope, the great banker at Amsterdam, who had excellent means of information, had warned him that an invasion of Holland was certainly resolved on; and the letter of Auckland crossed a letter of Grenville stating that he had received from Paris private and trustworthy information that the French had determined that their next campaign should be chiefly against Holland.2 Auckland wrote that intelligence had arrived that 70,000 Austrians were ordered to march for the Low Countries. It was most important that they should come quickly. In the meantime, he said, he would do all he could to induce Holland to make the best of the short interval of peace. ‘By the nature of the Dutch Constitution, under which the discretionary power given to the provinces and their representatives is extremely narrow in all deliberations tending to war, it will be impossible for their High Mightinesses to give me that explicit answer which it is my duty to require, without a previous reference to the provinces.’ ‘There is, in this country,’ he added, ‘a considerable party disposed to subvert the Government;’ another party ‘inclined to keep clear of French intervention, but solicitous to impede the measures of this Government;’ a third party, ‘perhaps the most numerous,’ who from self-interest, short-sightedness, and ‘attachment to commercial habits,’ wish at any cost to keep neutral. Others, with the best intentions, ‘sink under a sense of their own weak state, so ill-prepared to withstand the first inevitable shock.’ Under such circumstances it was idle to expect much enthusiasm, cordiality, or promptitude, but Auckland believed that the announcement that an English land force might be expected, would be well fitted to encourage the Dutch.1
It would be a mistake to suppose that all who were in authority in France really desired war with England. Many sagacious men—and Lebrun was probably among the number—perceived the extreme danger of such a war, and dreaded the spirit that was prevailing; but the frenzy that was abroad blinded most men to difficulties; others knew that the guillotine lay beyond the most transient unpopularity, and believed that violent counsels were most likely to be popular,2 and others, again, had speculated largely in the public funds, and desired a war through the most sordid personal motives.1 Maret, who was now assisting Lebrun at the Foreign Office, still hoped that a war between England and France might be averted, and he dictated instructions to Chauvelin strongly urging patience and moderation.2 Talleyrand and Benoit, a secret agent employed in London, assured the French Government that the dispositions of Pitt were such that war with England could be avoided without difficulty if France desired it, provided the negotiations were placed in more conciliatory hands than those of Chauvelin; and similar language was held by De Maulde, who had come to Paris to complain of his removal from the Dutch Embassy, and who was able to attest the pacific sentiments both of Auckland and of the Dutch Pensionary, Van de Spiegel.3 But the most important influence in favour of peace was now Dumouriez.
This general, who seemed at one time likely to play in the history of the French Revolution the part of Monk, if not the part of Napoleon, had long been feared and distrusted by the Jacobins. A grave division of opinion had broken out at the end of November, when Dumouriez wished to attack Holland by taking Maestricht, which he considered essential for the defence of Liége and of the Meuse, and when the Executive Council refused his request and resolved for the present to respect the neutrality of Holland. To the imprisonment, the trial, the execution of the King, Dumouriez was violently opposed, and he has declared in his Memoirs that France was at this time in reality governed by fifty miscreants equally cruel and absurd, supported by two or three thousand satellites drawn from the dregs of the provinces and steeped in every crime.4 The Decree of December 15, and the measures that followed it, filled him with indignation. He had himself published, with the sanction of the Convention, a proclamation assuring the Belgians that the French came to them only as friends and brothers; that they had no intention of meddling with their internal affairs, and that they left them at perfect liberty to frame their own Constitution. But the Convention had now proclaimed every nation which refused to throw off its old aristocratic institutions the enemy of France, and had sent down a troop of despotic French Commissioners, whose government was one continued scene of pillage, confiscations, proscriptions, and barefaced attempts to force the people to declare themselves French subjects. Like the Girondins, Dumouriez desired an independent but friendly Belgium, and he complained that the French were rapidly turning the population of these provinces into implacable enemies.1 He refused to take any part in executing the Decree of the Convention, but when he remonstrated against it he was told very frankly that France had to wage a great war and to support an army of six hundred thousand men; that the plunder of Belgium was essential to the task, and that in the opinion of the ministers a total disorganisation of all neighbouring States was the most favourable condition for the spread of the Revolution.2 This policy was deliberately pursued in the destruction of all the institutions and constituted authorities of the Belgic provinces. Dumouriez endeavoured to prevent it, by hastening the Convocation of the Primary Assemblies, and thus giving the inhabitants some voice in the management of their own affairs, but the Commissioners at once interposed and prevented this step.3 They viewed his authority with constant jealousy; they interfered even with his military administration; and the Jacobin papers in Paris denounced him as a traitor, sold to the interests of the Duke of Orleans, or aspiring to a dictatorship or to an independent sovereignty as Duke of Brabant.4
The military situation also appeared to him extremely alarming. He had advocated an attack on Holland, partly because he believed it to be a rich and easy prey, and partly because he regarded the possession of Maestricht and Venlo as a matter of vital strategical importance. But he had been forbidden to attack Maestricht, and his army was rapidly sinking into ruin. The whole organisation for the administration of the army, as it had existed in Paris under the monarchy, had been shattered by the Revolution. Almost all the old, experienced and competent administrators had been driven away to make room for men whose chief claim was the prominent part they had taken in the events of August 10 and in the September massacres, and the result was that the conquerors of Jemmapes, the men who had in a few weeks subdued the whole of the Belgic provinces, found themselves in a state of otter destitution. About 15,000 men had deserted. An equal number were in the hospitals. Six thousand horses of the artillery died at Tongres and at Liége for want of forage. During the months of December and January the troops at Liége were only half clothed. There was such a want of shoes, that thousands of soldiers were wearing wisps of straw tied round their feet. Their pay was long in arrear. Numbers were dying from want of food. Guns, saddles, equipments of every kind were deficient. The little disdpline which had formerly existed had completely given way, and when Dumouriez attempted to restore it by the establishment of capital punishment for insubordination, the Commissioners interposed their veto. If under these circumstances the Austrians had advanced in force there seemed little chance of resistance, and Dumouriez feared that the Belgians, exasperated almost to madness by the oppressions of the Commissioners, would rise behind him, and cut off all possibility of retreat.1
Happily for the French, they had to deal in Flanders with most fatuous and incapable enemies. The Austrians, having dismantled the barrier forts and alienated the inhabitants by their constitutional innovations, had left these provinces so inadequately garrisoned, that at Jemmapes they had been overwhelmed by a French army which was nearly, if not quite, the double of their own;2 and now, when the tide of popular feeling had turned, and when the invading army seemed almost reduced to impotence, they did nothing, still clinging to the antiquated military tradition that no important expedition should be undertaken in the winter.1 Dumouriez therefore found it possible to quit his post. On the plea of ill-health, and under the threat of resignation if he was refused, he obtained leave of absence, and hastened to Paris, where he arrived on January 1. He hoped to obtain a revocation of the Decree of December 15, to organise measures for providing his army with necessaries, to acquire the direction of the war, and, if possible, to prevent the execution of the King. He found some strong supporters in the ministry, but on the whole he had little success, and several weeks passed in weary and unprofitable wrangling. The execution of the King on January 21 filled him with unfeigned horror, but a new scene of ambition was now suddenly opened to him. He emphatically maintained that even at this late period, if France desired it, it was not only possible, but easy, for her to continue at peace with both England and Holland,2 and the reports of Benoit from England and of De Maulde from Holland pointed to him as the negotiator who was most likely to be acceptable to Pitt.3 There was a proposal to send him to London, and he accepted it with eagerness, but after a long discussion in the Council it was rejected by three to two. Lebrun, however, and Garat, who formed the minority, without the knowledge of the other ministers arranged with Dumouriez that he should return to Holland, and undertake a negotiation with England through the medium of Lord Auckland. It was at the same time decided that Maret should return to England to negotiate with Pitt.4
It was on January 28, when the execution of the King was already known, and when war was looked upon in Holland as certain and imminent, that Auckland received in the middle of the night a secret and unexpected visit from De Maulde. He said that Dumouriez had returned to Ghent to take command of the army, and that he wished for a conference with Auckland in order to try to arrange a peace. Auckland answered that, though he had once expressed a readiness for such a conference, everything was changed by the horrid murder of the King; that he had no wish to see anyone representing the murderers; that even if Dumouriez wished to make peace he could not control the anarchy in Paris. A repudiation of the decrees authorising the opening of the Scheldt in defiance of the Treaty of Münster and claiming to interfere with the internal affairs of other countries, and the withdrawal of the French troops within their own borders, were the only terms England could now accept; and these were terms to which it was hopeless to expect the French Convention to consent.
The reception was not promising, but De Manlde earnestly persisted, and his language opened out strange vistas of possibility to the English minister. Dumouriez, he said, was most anxious to meet Auckland, and he would do so even within the Dutch frontier. Time was pressing, for if no arrangements were made the invasion of Holland must at once take place; but it was a complete mistake to suppose that it was impossible to come to an arrangement. The Executive Council were most anxious to avoid war with England, and Dumouriez himself was by no means inclined to act the part of a mere agent. Auckland spoke of him as the representative of the murderers of the King. In truth he looked upon that tragedy with unmixed detestation, and if be had consented to resume the command of the French army after it had been accomplished, this was simply because he was nowhere safe except at the head of his troops. The danger of any man who had any name had now become extreme. ‘Paris was in the possession of 20,000 or 30,000 desperate ruffians from the different departments, capable of every excess that human depravity can dictate and the most hardened cruelty execute.’ ‘He suggested,’ Auckland continues, ‘a strange idea, that Dumouriez's great ambition is to negotiate matters into a practicable system of government, and when the whole is completed to be received as ambassador in England.’ While the negotiation was in suspense De Maulde thought that hostilities would not begin, and if they did it would be only in a very small and merely colourable way. Auckland promised at once to refer the matter for instructions to his Government, but he told him frankly that he could give him no hope of success. He gave money, however, in this interview both to De Maulde and to his secretary, Joubert, and he wrote home that he was ‘inclined to gather’ that Dumouriez himself might be gained. He asked Grenville if in that case he might offer him 20,000l. or 25,000l. and half as much to De Maulde.1
Next day De Maulde returned, bringing a letter from Dumouriez asking for an interview on the frontier, and in this conversation and in a third, which took place on the following day, he more fully developed his project. He assured Auckland that he would find Dumouriez's sentiments about the murder and the murderers of the King very like his own, and he suggested that the question of the Austrian Netherlands might be settled by giving those provinces to the Elector of Bavaria, and allowing Bavaria to pass to Austria. If the neutrality of the maritime Powers continued only a short time longer, this exchange, he thought, might without much difficulty be effected. The ultimate object of Dumouriez, if Auckland would assist him, was to make England the ‘armed mediator’ for restoring peace to Europe. Auckland naturally asked how far these plans were sanctioned by the authorities in Paris. De Maulde answered that Dumouriez had told the Executive Council that he would seek an interview with Auckland; that he had received from them full powers and had shown them his letter to Auckland,2 but that he had further views of which they were ignorant. His main object was to gain the full confidence of the army, and with its assistance to restore peace and prosperity under some form of government, and at the proper moment ‘he would attempt it in a way which would astonish all mankind.’3
Auckland expressed himself to his Government overwhelmed by the responsibility which these strange interviews had thrown upon him, and quite unable to come to any decision about the sincerity or intentions of Dumouriez. His doubts must always be shared by historians, and it is now idle to conjecture what might have been the consequences to Europe if the projects foreshadowed by De Maulde had come to pass. Dumouriez, in his own brief account of the matter, has greatly exaggerated the alacrity with which Auckland received the overture, and it may, I think, be confidently added that he has greatly misrepresented his own intentions. He says that his object was to secure the neutrality of Holland and England at a time when the military situation was almost desperate, but that, having rendered this service to his country, he meant publicly to detach himself from the murderers of the King, and to retire as an emigrant to the Hague.1 This account is not consistent with the letters of Auckland, and it is, to me at least, incredible that a man as ambitious and as clear-sighted as Dumouriez undoubtedly was, can have either wished to sacrifice the power which he obtained through his command of the army, or imagined that, if he did so, any treaty which he signed would be observed.
Before the interview between Dumouriez and Auckland could take place, another train of events had come to maturity, which made it useless or impossible. The execution of the King on January 21 had hurried on the inevitable catastrophe. Morris, in relating to Jefferson the circumstances of the tragedy, predicted with his usual sagacity some of its effects. ‘I believe,’ he said, ‘that the English will be wound up to a pitch of enthusiastic horror against France which their cool and steady temper seems to be scarcely susceptible of.’2 The ghastly scenes of the September murders; the almost daily accounts of fresh murders and outrages perpetrated by the present rulers of France; the torrent of insults poured upon the English Government by prominent French politicians; the circular letter of Monge; the report of Brissot; the reception of disaffected Englishmen by the Convention; the constant rumours of French intrigues in England and Ireland, had all contributed to raise the anti-Gallican sentiment to a point of horror and repulsion that it was not easy to restrain. The diplomatic negotiation between the two countries had already ceased. Lord Grenville had formally announced to Chauvelin that England would not permit the treaty relating to the navigation of the Scheldt to be annulled, and that if France desired peace with England she must abandon her conquests and confine herself within her territory. The French Government had, as formally, announced their determination of maintaining the opening of the Scheldt and of continuing their occupation of Belgium, and they had threatened to declare war if the hostile preparations of England continued. Grenville had rejoined that England would persist in the measures which she deemed necessary for her security, and he had positively refused to receive the credentials of Chauvelin, or to recognise him as possessing any other position than that which he had derived from the King of France. Such was the situation when the news of the murder of Lewis XVI. arrived. Since the Massacre of St. Bartholomew no event in a foreign country had produced such a thrill of horror in England. The representations in the theatres were countermanded. The Court mourning was adopted by the whole population. With the exception of a single Whig politician,1 it was worn by every member of the House of Commons. At the corners of streets, in every public place, the details of the execution were placarded, hawked about, and eagerly discussed by indignant crowds, and when the King drove out, his carriage was surrounded by a mob crying ‘War with France!’ The horror of the nation was expressed from countless pulpits, while the Sacrament was exposed on the Catholic altars. For a time scarcely a dissentient voice was heard, and Fox himself declared in an address to the electors of Westminster that there was not a person in Europe, out of France, who ‘did not consider this sad catastrophe as a most revolting act of cruelty and injustice.’2
Pitt at once seized the opportunity. On January 24, when the torrent of emotion was at its height, Grenville wrote a letter to Chauvelin directing him within eight days to leave the country. ‘The character,’ he wrote, ‘with which you have been invested at this Court, and the functions of which have been so long suspended, being now entirely terminated by the fatal death of his late Most Christian Majesty, you have no more any public character here. The King can no longer, after such an event, permit your residence here.’
On the 28th the whole correspondence between the King's ministers and Chauvelin was laid before Parliament, with a royal message, in which the late event in Paris was designated as an ‘atrocious act,’ and an immediate augmentation of the military and naval forces was demanded. It was necessary, the message said, ‘for maintaining the security and rights of the King's dominions, for supporting his allies, and for opposing views of aggrandisement and ambition on the part of France which would be at all times dangerous to the general interests of Europe, but are peculiarly so when connected with the propagation of principles which lead to the violation of the most sacred duties, and are utterly subversive of the peace and order of all civil society.’1
Pitt had probably never represented more truly the prevailing sentiments of the English people than when he dismissed Chanvelin. His act was intended as a protest against what nearly all Englishmen regarded as the cruel and unprovoked murder of a friendly sovereign; and it must be remembered that Chauvelin had no acknowledged diplomatic character, that his unofficial negotiation had ended in an irreconcilable difference, and that he had, as an individual, given the gravest provocation to the Government. As it was truly said, no English minister who mixed in monarchical, as Chauvelin had done in republican intrigues, would have been tolerated in Paris for a week. Besides this, if, as Pitt believed, the war had become inevitable, it was a matter of high policy to enter into it supported by a strong wave of popular feeling. Nothing can be more certain than that neither the murder of the King nor any other change in the internal government of France would have induced him to commence it; but when for other reasons it had become unavoidable he naturally sought to carry with him the moral forces of indignation and enthusiasm which might contribute to its success. By refusing to hold any further communication with the representatives of the murderers in Paris, Pitt represented and satisfied those feelings, and he was certain of a genuine popular support if the French chose to make his action the occasion for war.
The question was, I think, essentially a question of policy. After all that had happened, Pitt had, it appears to me, a full right to dismiss Chauvelin, and the expediency of the measure depended mainly on conditions of public feeling which are best judged by contemporary opinion. Two evil results, however, undoubtedly followed this measure of the Government. It precipitated a war which, however, had become almost absolutely certain, and it alone gave some faint colour of plausibility to the charge of those who have endeavoured to represent the great French war as an unwarrantable attempt to interfere with the internal government of France.
The end was very near, but it had not yet come. Chauvelin might have stayed in England for eight days, but he chose to depart on the day following his dismissal. The next day a despatch arrived from Lebrun formally recalling him. It was written on January 22, and is said to have been drawn up by Maret.1 Like everything which at this time fell from his pen, it was plausible, dignified, and conciliatory, and it was evidently intended to delay if not to prevent the rupture. As the English Government had declined to receive his credentials, Chauvelin was directed at once to quit London, but he was to leave a letter for Lord Grenville, saying that, as his presence there could be of no further use, he was going to France to lay the case before the Executive Council. He was to add, however, that if the British Government, ‘reverting to more seemly sentiments,’ desired to be at harmony with France, the French ministers would do everything which was honourably in their power to re-establish good relations between the two countries. They wished for peace. They respected England as the oldest of free countries. They knew that even the most successful war with her would be a calamity to the world; but they were persuaded that if this crime against humanity were committed, impartial history would throw the whole blame on the English Government. The only definite point at issue on which the note touched was the Alien Act. It could not, the writer urged, be defended by the French regulations about passports, for those applied to all travellers, while the English law was directed against foreigners alone.
The importance of the despatch did not lie in its arguments. It lay in its conciliatory tone, and especially in the concluding announcement that Maret was about immediately to go to England as Chargé d'Affaires to take care of the papers at the French Legation. Chauvelin, before going, was to inform Lord Grenville of this fact.1
Had it been known a few days earlier, it might have had a great influence, but it was now too late. Chauvelin received the despatch while he was already on the road, and the contents were in consequence never communicated to the English ministers.
On the 28th, Reinhardt, the secretary who had been left in charge of the French Legation, wrote describing the meeting of Parliament and the excitement and rumours that were abroad. ‘It seems evident,’ he said, ‘that the British Cabinet has unanimously decided on war with France, that public opinion is wholly unfavourable to us, and that, even if there were less unanimity, we could not prudently separate the Government from the nation.’ At the same time, he adds, the first excitement produced by the death of the King has abated. The dangers of the war are more clearly seen, and a pacific overture might have excellent effects. It would either prevent the war, and thus deprive France of half her enemies, or it would embarrass the ministry and break the present formidable unanimity in Parliament, or ‘even if, as I believe, war is inevitable, what we now do will decide whether that war shall last three months or three years.’2
Maret arrived in London on the afternoon of the 30th. He had passed Chauvelin in the night without recognition, and it was not until his arrival that he learnt the details of what had taken place, and the non-delivery of the despatch which was intended to prepare the English ministers for his arrival. He at once announced his presence by letter to Lord Grenville, but he thought it advisable not to describe himself as Chargé d'Affaires, but simply as an agent entrusted with the archives at the French Legation. Such a character, he explained to his Government, opened the door to informal and confidential communications, whereas, if he at once assumed a diplomatic character, the English Government would be driven to the alternative of either formally accepting him or expelling him from the country. He did not see the ministers, but he saw Miles, and apparently some other persons who were behind the scenes, and he sent Lebrun a full and curious report on the state of affairs. Miles agreed with Reinhardt that a certain reaction in favour of peace had shown itself among the middle classes, but the Prince of Wales was reported to have said that the mission of Maret was too late; that if God Almighty came over as an envoy He could not now prevent a war, and that it would break out before three weeks. The ministry had held a council late at night to consider the question whether the French envoy should be received. He was informed that the King's personal influence had been employed, through the intervention of Lord Hawkesbury, to induce the ministers to refuse to see him, as it had before been employed in favour of the dismissal of Chauvelin. But Pitt and Grenville urged the opposite policy, and a strong party on the ministerial side in Parliament insisted that while every preparation should be made for war, any reasonable proposal of the French ministry should still be listened to. ‘The death of the King,’ continued Maret, ‘has produced the effect which we have foreseen. The hatred of the French name is now at its height. That portion of the nation which is not engaged in commerce and which does not possess property wishes for war. The mourning ordered by the Court is worn by every man who is able to procure for himself a black coat. This universal mourning obliges me to see no one, for I should be received nowhere, nor could I even leave the house without being exposed to the insults and ignorant ferocity of the portion of the nation which is still called here the populace.’ He added, however, that the merchants of the City and also the country gentry wished for peace; that the news of his own arrival in London had caused the funds to rise three per cent.; that the party which desired parliamentary reform was still active, and that the ministry were divided. Pitt sincerely desired peace. He knew that both his supremacy and his favourite schemes of policy depended on it, but, since the death of the King, Maret believed that the other ministers inclined to war. Chauvelin had made himself personally obnoxious, and his dismissal was due to the irresistible instinctive explosion of indignation that followed the execution of the King. Ministers, however, were surprised, and the warlike party gratified, by the precipitation with which he left the country, and those who wished for war were hoping that the French would declare it. If the French Government acted in accordance with this wish, there was no more to be said; if not, Lebrun was entreated to send immediate instructions whether he wished Dumouriez to be the negotiator or desired to entrust the task to Maret himself. ‘Time is pressing. … To-day they are disposed to hear me, and it is not improbable that they would receive our illustrious general; but dispositions may change in a few days.’ The newspapers, he added, had mentioned his arrival, and he noticed that it was the ministerial papers that spoke of it most favourably.1
Before this report could arrive at its destination the die was cast. On February 1, almost immediately after the arrival of Chauvelin in Paris, the Convention declared war against both the King of England and the Stadholder of Holland, and orders were sent to Dumouriez at once to invade Holland.
On February 4, before the news of the French declaration of war had reached London, Grenville wrote to Auckland that the ministers had been very seriously considering the proposal of Dumouriez for an interview. Doubts of his sincerity, objections to treating with anyone who could be regarded as a representative of the regicides, and a profound disbelief in the possibility of anyone now answering for the future proceedings of France, weighed heavily on their minds; but nevertheless the King, wishing to omit no honourable means to peace, directed Auckland to see Dumouriez. He must tell him, however, that he could enter into no negotiation till the embargo which the French had just laid on all English ships in French ports was raised, and he must tell him also that in consequence of that embargo, and also of ‘the inconvenience which arose from the speculations in our public funds occasioned by the equivocal situation and the conduct of M. Maret,’ his Majesty has thought fit to order that person and his secretary to quit the kingdom, and will permit no other agent employed by the Executive Council to remain there. Auckland was instructed to hear the suggestions of Dumouriez, and to ask how he could carry them into effect, but he must state clearly that the Chauvelin correspondence contained the sole grounds on which England would negotiate, and that an abandonment of all French conquests and a withdrawal of the obnoxious decrees were necessary conditions of a peace. England was now connected with other Powers, and she must take care that no act of hers was injurious to their interests. She had not, however, broken her neutrality; she would not do so unless French acts left her no alternative; but from the recent tenor of French policy the English Government had no doubt of the aggressive designs of France, and it was partly because Holland was still so unprepared that the smallest delay was to her advantage, that they permitted this negotiation to take place.1
It was evident that a negotiation undertaken in this spirit could have no result. For the past fortnight the English Government seemed to have given up all hopes of peace, and on neither side was there now any real disposition to make sacrifices for it. On the 7th Maret quitted London in obedience to the order of the King, and at Calais he met the messenger who was sent from Paris to recall him, and to communicate to him the declaration of war. Another messenger from Paris arrived in time to prevent the proposed interview between Dumouriez and Auckland.
To complete this long diplomatic history one more despatch must be quoted, which does much to elucidate the true sentiments of the English Government. It shows that it was their determination to form at once a close connection with Austria and Prussia against France, but that they had still great hopes of defining and limiting the war and of bringing about a speedy pacification of Europe. The letter I refer to was written to Eden, who was just moving from Berlin to Vienna, and was dated February 5, before the news of the French declaration of war had arrived in London. Eden was instructed to endeavour to establish a close connection with Austria on the affairs of France, and in order that there should be no jealousy or concealment he was to inform the Emperor of the overture of Dumouriez, and to add that while the King thought it best not wholly to reject it, he was fully resolved not to depart from any of the views or principles laid down in the correspondence with Chauvelin. ‘The King,’ Grenville said, ‘desires to enter into a formal engagement with the Emperor and the King of Prussia on the principles which have always been opened to both those Powers. … Feeling the interests of his own dominions and the general security of Europe endangered by the conquests made by France in the course of the present war, connected as they are with the propagation of the most destructive principles, he engages to consider no arrangement as satisfactory on the part of France which shall not include the abandonment of all her conquests and the renunciation of all views of interference on her part in the interior of other countries, and of all measures of aggression or hostility against them; provided that the Emperor shall on his part engage that if France shall, within the space of two months from this time, agree to make peace upon the terms above stated, adding to them stipulations for the security of her Most Christian Majesty and of her family, the Emperor will on his part consent to such a peace; and lastly that if in consequence of the refusal of these terms by France the present war should be continued and his Majesty should take part in it, their Majesties engage not to make peace with France, except by mutual consent,’ on any terms short of these. ‘The proposal,’ the despatch continues, ‘of concluding peace with France in the present moment on the terms of the abandonment of her conquests and the renunciation of all hostile measures as above stated, may appear at first view to militate with the general ideas held out by the two Courts of Vienna and Berlin of being indemnified for the expenses of the last campaign. You will, however, observe that, with respect to the particular objects of indemnification stated by those Courts,1 it is not inconsistent with either of them. Of that part of the plan which relates to Poland, I have already stated, both to M. Jacobi and M. Stadion, in the most unequivocal terms, the King's disapprobation of that project against which you have made such frequent though ineffectual representations. It is, however, of a nature entirely unconnected with the settlement of the affairs of France, and though his Majesty never can consider it but with disapprobation and regret, he has no interest to oppose himself to its execution by any active measures on his part. The Austrian part of the plan appears in every point of view considerably less objectionable though certainly attended with great difficulties. But the execution of such a plan, if it can at all be carried into effect, obviously depends on obliging the French to withdraw their forces from those provinces, and is so far not inconsistent with the proposal of a pacification on the terms above mentioned.’2
Similar overtures were at the same time made by the English Government to Russia. As early as December 29, indeed, Pitt had proposed to that Power that a joint representation should be made to France assuring her that if she would abandon her conquests, withdraw her troops within her own limits, rescind the acts which were injurious to the rights of other nations, and give pledges that she would for the future abstain from molesting her neighbours, all acts of hostility against her should cease, and no attempt would be made to interfere with her Governmeat or Constitution. The French declaration of war interrupted these negotiations, and it was not until 1800 that the intended representation was disclosed. The language of Fox on this occasion is very remarkable. He expressed his complete approbation of the policy indicated in the despatch, but said that as its contents had never been communicated to the French it was mere idle verbiage. The obvious answer is that as far as England was concerned, the terms on which Grenville insisted were simply a reproduction of those which were formally announced to France in the correspondence with Chauvelin, and the English Government had in fact lost no opportunity of declaring its firm intention not to interfere with the internal government of France.1
There are few pages of English history which have been more grossly and mischievously misrepresented than that which we are considering.2 The account which I have given will, if I mistake not, fully establish that the war between England and France was of a wholly different kind from the war between France and the great German Powers which had broken out in the preceding year. France might, indeed, with no great difficulty, have avoided the German war; but she had undoubtedly received much real provocation, and provocation of a kind which no powerful monarchy would have endured. The German war was also, in a very great degree, an anti-Revolutionary war, undertaken in the interests of monarchy. This was the attitude which Burke from the beginning desired England to assume, but Pitt wholly rejected his policy. It is certain beyond all reasonable doubt that he sincerely and earnestly desired peace with France; that from the outbreak of the Revolution to the death of Lewis XVI. he abstained from any kind of interference with her internal concerns; that he never favoured directly or indirectly the attacks of Austria and Prussia upon her; that he again and again announced, in the most formal terms, the determination of England to remain neutral in the struggle and especially to abstain from all interference with the internal affairs of France. All the schemes of policy to which he had especially attached his reputation and his ambition, depended for their success upon the continuance of peace and there overwhelming evidence that, until an advanced period in 1792, the English Government had no doubt that they could keep clear of the contest and had made no adequate preparations for a war.
It is also, I conceive, certain beyond all reasonable doubt that the war of 1793 was forced upon England by gross and various provocations proceeding from the Revolutionary party in France. The decree of November 19 promising French assistance to any subjects who revolted against their rulers, the manner in which English disaffected citizens were received by the French Convention, the language of insult which was habitually employed by the most prominent politicians in France, and the public attitude and well-known intrigues of Chauvelin, constituted together an amount of provocation of the most serious kind. No continental nation which was strong enough to resent it would have endured such provocation. Most assuredly Revolutionary France would not have done so, and it is almost certain that if the father of Pitt had been at this time directing English affairs these things alone would have produced a war. But these things alone would never have moved Pitt and Grenville from their policy of peace. The real governing motives of the war are to be found elsewhere. They are to be found in the formal and open violation by France of the treaty relating to the Scheldt, which England had guaranteed—a violation which was based upon grounds that would invalidate the whole public law of Europe, and attempted under circumstances that clearly showed that it was part of a scheme for annexing Belgium, conquering Holland and perhaps threatening England with invasion. They are to be found in the overwhelming evidence of the intention of the French to incorporate in their own republic those Belgic provinces whose independence of France was a matter of vital interest to the security of England; in the long train of circumstances which convinced the English ministers of the determination of Revolutionary France to invade Holland and to overthrow that Dutch Government which England had distinctly bound herself by a recent treaty to defend.
These were the real grounds of the French war, and they were grounds by which, in my judgment, it may be amply justified. Several of the English wars of the eighteenth century were undertaken for reasons which were either unjust or doubtful or inadequate, but the war of 1793 is not among the number. Probably the only policy by which a collision with France could have been avoided would have been a policy, not of neutrality, but of active sympathy with the Revolution. But such a policy would have outraged the conscience of England, would have placed the ministry which adopted it, in violent opposition to English public opinion, and would have added incalculably to the dangers that were threatening Europe. Nor is it in the least likely that in the scene of combustion, aggression, and general anarchy that was opening, England could even then have escaped a war, though she might have possibly fought with other enemies and in another cause.
Till within a fortnight of the declaration of war by France, the English Government does not appear to me to have taken any step that cannot easily be defended, but its conduct during that last short interval is more doubtful. Whether the expulsion of Chauvelin after the execution of the King was not precipitate and unwise, whether the language of Grenville in his later correspondence with Chauvelin and Lebrun was not unduly haughty and unconciliatory, whether the overtures of Dumouriez might not have been more cordially received, are points which are open to serious doubt. In judging these things, however, it must be remembered that the provocations which produced and justified the war had come to their full maturity before the death of the King. The case was complete. The war in the opinion of the English ministers had become absolutely inevitable, and their object was therefore no longer to avert it, but rather to rouse and brace the energies of England for the struggle. In entering on a great war the management and guidance of popular passions and prejudices is one of the supreme arts of statesmanship, and it is by its effects on English public opinion that the somewhat haughty and unconciliatory attitude of the English Government in these last weeks must be mainly judged. There are some questions upon which the opinion of a later historian is always of more value than that of a contemporary statesman. He writes when the tangled skein has been unravelled, when the doubtful issues have been decided, when the wisdom of a policy has been judged by its results. But the course of conduct which is most adapted to the transient conditions of public feeling can never be so truly estimated as by a great statesman of the time. There is a period when attempts to delay an inevitable war are only construed as signs of weakness, timidity, and vacillation, and there is much reason to believe that a more conciliatory or procrastinating policy after the execution of the King would have had no result except to damp the ardour of the English people, and to alienate or discourage their allies.
It is certain, however, that the French war was entered upon by Pitt with extreme reluctance, and that not only the formal declaration of war, but also the real provocation, came from Paris. The war was not in its origin either a war against revolution, or a war of conquest, though it speedily and by an inevitable process acquired something of both characters. When the struggle had once begun, the party which had been preaching a crusade against France as the centre of a contagious anarchy naturally acquired increased power and influence, which the horrors of the Reign of Terror, the growth of sedition in Great Britain and Ireland, and the triumphs of the Revolutionary armies, all contributed to strengthen. On the other hand Pitt found himself indisputably superior to his enemies on sea. The financial schemes for which he specially cared had been interrupted, and it is not surprising that he should have come to adopt the policy of Dundas and look to the conquest of the rich sugar islands of France as a chief end of the war. ‘Indemnity for the past,’ as well as ‘security for the future,’ became the avowed object of the English Government, and, while their military enterprises nearer home were marked by extreme debility and inefficiency, island after island was speedily conquered.1
To the magnitude and danger of the war Pitt was for a long period entirely blind. ‘It will be a very short war,’ he is reported to have said, ‘and certainly ended in one or two campaigns.’ ‘No, sir,’ Burke answered, when such language was addressed to him, ‘it will be a long war and a dangerous war, but it must be undertaken.’ That a bankrupt and disorganised Power like France could be a serious enemy, seemed to Pitt wholly incredible. The French were already, he was accustomed to say, ‘in a gulf of bankruptcy, and he could almost calculate the time by which their resources would be consumed.’2 So convinced was he that the enterprise before him would be short and easy, that this great financier entirely abstained at the opening of the war from imposing any considerable war taxation, and at once added enormously in its very earliest stage to that national debt which he believed it to be his great mission to liquidate. A speedy peace, the rich colonies that were certain to be wrested from France, and the magical virtues of the Sinking Fund, would soon, he believed, restore the finances of England to their former prosperity. It was only very slowly and painfully that the conviction was forced upon him that England had entered on a mortal struggle, the most dangerous, the most doubtful, and the most costly she had ever waged.
In the history of Continental Europe, the nineteenth century may be truly said to begin with the French Revolution. In the history of England the great line of secular demarcation is to be found in the opening of the French war of 1793. From this time English parties and politics assumed a new complexion, and trains of causes came into action which only attained their maturity at a much later period. Pitt still retained for many years his ascendency, but the character of his ministry had wholly changed. All those schemes of parliamentary, financial, and commercial reform, which had occupied his mind in the earlier and brighter period of his ministry, were necessarily cast aside during the agonies of the struggle, but they were not simply adjourned till quieter times. The strong impulse towards wise and temperate reform which had prevailed among the political classes in England since the closing years of the American War was suddenly checked by the French Revolution, and a reaction set in which was the most formidable in English history and which continued with little abatement for about thirty years. In the mean time the immense increase of the national burdens, the sudden and enormous agglomeration of population in manufacturing towns, and the growing difficulties in Ireland, had brought to the surface problems which imperatively required the most enlightened and vigilant statesmanship. But the Tory party which had carried England triumphantly through the great French war proved wholly incompetent to deal with such problems. In the eyes of men like Percival and Eldon every privilege was sacred, every change was a step to revolution. Language was employed about the relation of subjects to their rulers scarcely less servile than that of the divines of the Restoration, and a sullen resistance to all reform, a besotted attachment to every abuse, became for many years the characteristics of that great party which still professed to follow in the footsteps of Pitt and to derive much of its philosophy from the writings of Burke.
The influence of the French Revolution on the Whig party was equally disastrous. The enthusiasm with which some of the leading members of that party regarded it, and their furious opposition to the measures that led to the outbreak of the war in 1793, as well as to its renewal in 1803, gave them an antinational bias at least as strong as that which the Tory party had exhibited when it was most tainted by Jacobitism. In public and private, Fox conspicuously displayed it.1 His conduct at the time of the mutiny of the Nore forms a shameful instance of an English statesman subordinating to party animosity all considerations of patriotism in one of the darkest moments of his country's history; and the censure which is implied in the eulogy of Scott, that Fox at least died a Briton, may be amply justified by more than one passage in his correspondence. The French Revolution, as Burke had predicted, soon incarnated itself in a great military despotism, and Europe groaned under the appalling calamity of transcendent genius and energy united with gigantic power and employed in the service of the most colossal egotism and the most insatiable and unscrupulous ambition. But the Whig party assuredly gained no laurels during that fearful struggle. Their incessant cavils at Arthur Wellesley, the attempt of a large section of the party to arrest the action of the Government when the return of Napoleon from Elba threatened to reopen the chapter of calamities which had so lately been closed, the fashion that long prevailed among Radical writers and speakers of eulogising Napoleon and deploring the results of Waterloo,2 very naturally disgusted and alienated their countrymen. There were, no doubt, some exceptions in the party. The great secession from it in the beginning of the war showed that to many of its leading members party names were less precious than the real interests of their country. The language of Sheridan at the time of the mutiny of the Nore was very honourable to himself, though it is a strange illustration of the temper of the party that it should have been thought deserving of peculiar credit. Henry Grattan, who had never bowed the knee to the French Moloch, stood conspicuous in the small group of Whigs who loyally suppored the Government at the time of the return from Elba. But the general tone of the Whig party during these terrible years could not be mistaken, and it was not until the reform agitation of 1832 effaced the memory of its foreign policy, and until statesmen of another stamp acquired an ascendency in its councils, that it regained its hold on the affections of the English people.
Into these later developments of English politics I do not propose to enter. The outbreak of the war of 1793 closing the peaceful period of the ministry of Pitt forms an appropriate termination for a history of England in the eighteenth century, though it will be necessary for the completion of my narrative to carry that portion of my work which relates to Ireland as far as the Legislative Union of 1800. It remains for me now to give an outline of the chief social, industrial, and moral changes which accompanied the political movements that I have described, and which form a not less essential part of the history of the nation.
See Ewart to Grenville, Aug. 4; Grenville to Ewart, Aug. 26; Grenville to Eden, Dec. 16, 20, 1791; Grenville to Keith, March 26; Grenville to Eden, March 27, 1792.
Parl. Hist. xxix. 44, 170, 919, 929, 940.
Grenville to Gower, Oct. 1791.
Marsh's Politics of Great Britain and France, i. 48–50.
Grenville to Gower, Nov. 1791; Gower to Grenville, Nov. 18, 1791.
Annual Register, 1792, p. 267.
Buckingham, Courts and Cabinets of Geo. III., ii. 196.
Parl. Hist. xxix. 767.
Burke's Correspondence, iii. pp. 414, 415.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. p. 398,
Hirsinger to the French Foreign Minister, Jan. 17, 20, 27, Feb. 3, March 9, 1792 (French Foreign Office).
‘Neutralite de fait.’
The mission of Talleyrand to England has been sometimes narrated with a good deal of inaccuracy, but the whole collection of Talleyrand's own letters to De Lessart describing his proceedings (Jan. 27, 31; Feb. 3, 17, 27; March 2, 1792), as well as De Lessart's letter to Grenville (Jan. 12) introducing him, and his letter to Talleyrand, will be found in one of the supplemental volumes for 1791–1792 in the French Foreign Office, while Lord Grenville gave his own account of the mission to Gower, Feb. 10 and March 9, 1792. Morris was aware of the mission (Works, ii. p. 166), but he was not accurately informed about its circumstances or about the instructions of Talleyrand. I must take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the officials at the Foreign Office in Paris for the kind assistance they have given me when examining these and other despatches.
Gower to Grenville, March 10, 1792.
‘Since I wrote to your Excellency on the subject of M. de Talleyrand, I have seen that gentleman twice on business of his mission to this country. The first time he explained to me very much at large the disposition of the French Government and of the nation to enter into the strictest connection with Great Britain, and proposed that this should be done by a treaty of mutual guarantee, or in such other manner as the Government of this country should prefer. Having stated this, he earnestly requested that he might not receive any answer at that time, but that he might see me again for that purpose. I told him that in compliance with his request I would see him again for the purpose he mentioned, though I thought it fair to apprise him that in all probability my answer would be commed to the absolute impossibility of my entering into any kind of discussion or negotiation on points of so delicate a nature with a person having no official authority to treat upon them. When I saw him again I repeated this to him, telling him that it was the only answer I could make … although I had no difficulty in saying to him individually, as I had to every Frenchman with whom I had conversed on the present state of France, that it was very far from being the disposition of the Government to endeavour to foment or prolong the disturbances there with a view to any profit to be derived from thence to this country.’ Grenville to Gower, March 9, 1792. Sybel quotes (Hist. de l' Europe pendant la Revoluation, i. pp. 361–363) some letters of Talleyrand to Narbonne also describing the mission.
Grenville to Gower, March 9, 1792.
See a report of Nettement, who was in charge of the Legation at the time when the search took place, Jan. 10. Hirsinger to De Lessart, Jan. 13, 1792 (French F.O.)
Gower to Grenville, April 11, 1792.
Dumont says of him: ‘Durovrai naturalise en Irlande, ayant même une pension du gouvernement Irlandais, devait être considere comme plus attaché au gouvernement de l'Angleterre par un interet permanent qu'dla France par une place passagere.’—Seuvenirs de Mirabeau, ch. xxi.
In a complete list of the pensions paid by Ireland which the Irish Parliament ordered to be printed in 1791, I find that Du Roveray had a pension of 300l. a year which had been granted him in 1785, and was held during pleasure. He appears to have taken a leading part in the negotiations for the establishment of a colony of Genevese refugees in Ireland which were carried on by the Irish Government in 1783. See Plowden's Hist. Review, vol. ii., part 1, p. 24; Irish Communs journals, vol. xxviii., part 2, p. ccxix.
The instructions were drawn up on April 19, the day before the French Assembly voted the war.
Instructions for M. Chauvelin, Talleyrand and Du Roveray, April 19, 1782. ‘Réflexions pour les négotiations d'Angleterre en cas de guerre, March 30, 1792’ (French Foreign Office).
April 28, 1792. Chauvelin had arrived in London the day before.
Chauvelin to Lebrun, May 1, 1792.
Chauvelin to the French Foreign Minister, May 23, 28; June 5, 18;July 3, 5, 10, 14, 1792.
Souoonire de Mirabeau, ch. xxi.
Sourenirs de Mirabeau, ch. xxi.
Auckland Correspondence, ii.410.
Gower to Grenville, April 22, 1792.
Gower to Grenville, April 27, June 1, 1792. See the very similar judgment of Morris (Works, ii. pp. 152, 153).
Accounts of these negotiations, differing somewhat in details, will be found in the Malmesbury Correspondence, in the Diaries of the Duke of leeds, edited by Mr. Oscar Browning for the Camden Society, in the Auckland Correspondence, and in the Correspondence of Burke.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 413.
Keith to Grenville, July 21, 1792.
Eden to Grenville, May 5, 29, June 30,1792.
Bertrand de Moleville.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 242–245.
Auckland pavers, ii. 423.
Bourgoing, Hist. Diplomatique de la Revolution, i. deuxieme partie, p. 136.
Auokland Correspondence, ii. 149.
Parl, Hist. xxx. 247–249.
Annual Register, 1792, pp. 283–287.
Arneth, Marie Antoinette, Joseph II. and Leopold II. pp. 259, 260.
Ibid. pp. 263, 264.
Ibid. p. 265.
This memoir is given in full in Smyth's Lectures on the French Revolution, ii. 245–259.
Gower to Grenville, August 4, 1792.
August 9, 1792. Grenville to Gower.
Bourgoing, Hist. Diplomatique, i. denxième partie, 136, 137.
Arneth, p. 266.
Anckland Correspondence, ii. 426.
Mémoires tirés des papiers d'un homme d'Etat.
Works, ii. 153.
Bertrand de Moleville, August 1792.
Dundas to Gower, August 17, 1792.
August 21, 1792.
Gower to Grenville, August 23,1792.
See Taine, La Rérolution, tome ii. pp. 257–262.
Lindsay (Secretary of Legation at Paris) to Grenville, Aug. 27, 1792.
See the note of Lebrun, inclosed by Gower to Grenville, Aug. 23, 1792; Marsh's Hist. of Politics, i. 161, 162.
This question is very fully argued in Marsh's Hist. of Politics, chap. ix., and in Mr. O. Browning's article on ‘England and France in 1793,’ Fortnightly Review, February 1883.
Lindsay to Grenville, August 27, 1792.
Morris's Works, ch. ii. p. 196.
Gower to Grenville, Aug 3,1792. See too Moore's Journal of a Residence in France from August to December 1792, Aug. 19–21.
Lindsay to Grenville, Aug. 27, 1792.
On Sept. 11, Eden wrote to Grenville that he had just seen a letter from one of the principal persons in the King of Prussia's suite written just after the surrender of Verdun. It predicted that the allies would be at Paris between the 20th and 25th inst., and that the King would probably return to Potsdam before the end of October.
Lindsay to Grenville, Sept. 3, 1792.
See Taine, Hist. de la Bévolution, ii. 281–309. See too the admirably full investigation of the subject in Mortimer Ternaux, tome iii. Thiers says the number of the victims was estimated at from 6,000 to 12,000. According to Lamartine the estimates ranged from 2,000 or 3,000 to 10,000.
Taine, ii. 283–288.
Fox's Correspondence, ii. 368, 369, 371, 374.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, ii. 66, 67.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 217.
This is the estimate of Sybel; Thiers says 800 or 900.
Sybel, ii. 19–22.
Sybel, i. 582.
Ibid. ii. 23.
Lady Minto's Life of Sir G. Elliot, ii. 52.
Bourgoing, Hist. Dipl. de la Revolution Franqaise, i. deuxiéme partie, 254, 255.
‘Qu'on la respecte et qu'on la ménage.’
Chauvelin to the French minister, Aug. 28, 31, Sept. 13, 22, 26, 29, 1792 (French Foreign Office).
Talleyrand's return to Paris is generally ascribed to a disagreement with Chauvelin, but in a letter to Chambonas (who was for a short time Foreign Minister after Dumouriez) Chauvelin mentions that Talleyrand himself wished to go to Paris for a fort-night and that his presence there might be useful (Chauvelin to Chambonas, June 22, July 5,1792). On returning to England in disgrace, Talleyrand wrote to Grenville (Sept. 18) stating that though he had no mission of any kind, he would be happy to give any information in his power about the state of France, but there is, I believe, no evidence that Grenville responded to his offer. (See Lord Dalling's Hist. Characters, i. 158–161.) Noel wrote to his Government in October (Oct. 26, F.F.O.), ‘J'apprends que I'Evéque d'Autun a des conférences tres frequentes avec Fox. Les gens quitiennent au gouvernement m'affirment qu'il ne jouit loi d'aucune estimeni d'aucun credit.’ There is a memoir by Talleyrand, dated London, Nov. 25, 1792, in the F.F.O. on the relations of France with other countries. It contends that the only relations France should seek with England are those of industry and commerce. There should be a convention between the two countries for the enfranchisement of their respective colonies. The commercial prejudices of England, Talleyrand says, are no doubt opposed to Free Trade, but the fact of the constant increase of her commerce with America since its enfrachisement ought to be conclusive.
Aug. 28, Sept. 6,1792.
‘Lord fields, fox, Schéridam, milord Williams Gordon’ (sie).
All these letters are in the French Foreign Office.
Chauvelin to Lebrun, Oct 22, 25, 26, 30, 31, Nov, 14, 21, 1792 (French Foreign Office).
Lebrun to Chauvelin, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, 1792 (tbid.)
Noel to Lebrun, Oct. 20, Nov. 22, 24, 1792. Noel's letters appear to have been opened in England. In Jan. 1793, Lord Sheffield wrote to Auckland: ‘Noel, Maret's second, remains here still, or at least was here very lately. He wrote to France the end of November that insurrection would immediately break out in England. On his return from Dumouriez’ army, he found everything much changed. He has written that there is nothing more to be done here; he dreads the suspension of the Habeas Corpus; he had, however, already placed his papers in safety.—Auckland Correspondence, ii. 482.
Ibid. ii. 443, 444.
See too on this ignorance, Tom-line's Life of Pitt, iii. 450. It is a striking illustration of the extravagant misrepresentations of English policy which have been disseminated and believed on the Continent, that M. de Lamartine has ascribed the feebleness of the campaign of Brunswick, his failure to crush Dumouriez, his retreat before the French and his negotiation for a peace, mainly to the influence of Pitt, who, it appears, knew that the Duke wished his daughter to marry the Prince of Wales, and who, by flattering his hopes, was able to induce him to submit all his military and political proceedings to the direction of the Cabinet in London!—Hist. des Girondins, livre xxxvi. ch. 5.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 222–224.
Tomline's Life of Pitt, iii. 452.
Marsh's History of Politics, i. 203–212. Chauvelin described the festival of the ‘Society of the Revolution of 1688’ (at which he thought it prudent not to be present) as one of the grandest triumphs of liberty ever known in England. The toasts were all for France, the ‘Marseillaise’ was sung, an address to the Convention was voted unanimously, and more than 1,000 persons were unable to get admission into the crowded room. (To Lebrun, Nov. 12, 1792.)
Macpherson's Annals of Commeroe, iv. 254.
Wilberforce's Life, ii. 1–5, Auckland Correspondence, ii. 469.
Buckingham's Courts and Cabinets, ii. 226–228.
See Coxe's House of Austria, ii. 695–697. Prussia, as we have seen, afterwards guaranteed the Austrian Netherlands, but neither England nor Holland had done so.
Annual. Register, 1792, pp. 352, 353.
Gower to Grenville, June 22, 29; Grenville to Gower, June 12,1792.
Auckland Correspondence, ii. 464–467.
This is mentioned in one of Lord Auckland's letters (Record Office) in the beginning of November.
Annual Register, 1792, pp. 352, 353.
See the letter of Pitt in Rose's Diaries and Correspondence, i. 114–116, and the letter of Grenville to Auckland (in the Record Office) Nov. 13, 1792.
Rose's Diaries, i. 115. This letter is addressed to the Marquis of Stafford. It is curious as showing how little the attendance of all the members of the Cabinet seems to have been considered a matter of course.
Grenville to Eden, Nov. 13. See too Grenville to Keith, Nov. 13, 1792.
Auckland to Grenville, Nov. 23, 25, 1792.
Grenville to Auckland, Nov. 23, 25, 26, 1792.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 47; Marsh's Hist. of Politics, i. 194–198.
Auckland to Grenville, Nov. 27, 1792.
Though in the French service, he was by birth an American, and wrote in English. Auckland to Gren-ville, Dec. 18, 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 2, 4, 1792.
Mémoures Dumouriez, iii. 380; Morris's Letters; Works, ii 254.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 4, 1792.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 7, 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 5, 7, 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 7, 1792. Lord Stormont afterwards quoted in the House of Lords the following passage from this production of Condorcet, which gives an idea of its characte: ‘So long as the earth is stamed by the existence of a king, and by the absurdity of hereditary government, so long as this shameful production of ignorance and folly remains unpro-scribed by the universal consent of mankind, union between free states is their primary want, their dearest interest. George IIL sees, with anxious surprise, that throne totter under him which is founded on sophistry, and which Repubb can truths have sapped to its very foundation,’ Adolphus, v. 238.
It appears from subsequent letters that Joubert was De Maulde's secretary.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 10, 1792.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 13, 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 21, 1792.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec, 21, 27,1792.
Ibid. Nov. 27, 1792.
Ibid. Dec. 4, 1792.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 21,1792.
Grenville to Auckland, Dec, 4, 1792.
Marsh's Hist. of Politics, i. 203–212.
Ibid. i. 260–262.
See a curious minute of an interview between Lord Hawkesbury and a gentleman from Guadaloupe, Dec. 5, 1792 (French Correspondence in the Record Office).
Marsh's Hist, of Politics, i. 222–227; Buckingham's Memoris, ii. 230–231.
Malmesbury's Diaries and Correspondonce, ii. 473–475.
See Fox's Corrospondence, ii. 372.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 18, 19, 60, 61.
I have already noticed the letters Fox wrote to Barnave and other politicians in France in favour of the King, after the failure of the flight of Varennes. See vol. v.
Malmesbury's Diaries, ii. 476.
Marsh, ch. xii.; Annual Register, 1792, part 2, pp. 358–360; Bourgoing, Hist. Dipl. i. deuxième partie, pp. 268–272.
Sybel, ii. 40–42.
Hailes to Grenville, May 22, 30, June 27, July 25, August 8,1792.
Eden to Grenville, May 29, 1792.
Ibid. June 12, 1792.
Eden to Grenville, June 5, 16, July 7, 10, 17, 1792.
Ibid. July 14, 1792.
Keith to Grenville, May 12, 1792.
Ibid May 19, 1792.
Ibid. i. 452, 453.
Sybel, ii. 143, 144.
Ibid. i. 473–477.
Eden to Grenville, Nov. 20, 1792.
Eden to Grenville, Nov. 23, 1792.
Ibid. Nov. 27, 1792.
Eden to Grenville, Jan. 1, 1793. Mollendorf crossed the Polish frontier on the 14th. Sybel, ii. 175.
Grenville to Eden, Jan. 12, 1793.
Eden to Grenville, Jan. 19, 1793.
Miles, Authentic Correspondence with Lebrun, p. 84.
Chauvelin to Lebrun, Nov. 29, 1792. Chauvelin gives a curious account of how, on entering Grenville's room, he found a small charr apparently intended for him to sit on. ‘J'ai dérangé cette chaise qui m'a paru une petite déchéance intentionnelle, et me suis emparé d'un grand fauteuil. Ce mouvement très marqué a frappé Lord Grenville, qui m'a dit avec embarras: “Vous n'avez pas voulu être plus près du feu. Il fait pourtant grand froid aujourd'hui.”’
Marsh's History of the Politics of Great Britain and France, ii. 12, 13.
Lebrun to Chauvelin, Nov. 30, 1792 (French Foreign Office).
Ibid. Dec. 5, 1792
Chauvelin to Lebrun, Nov. 14, 1792.
The relations of France with Ireland will be examined in a later chapter. See an unsigned report on Irish affairs, dated Dec. 1, and a letter from Coquebert to Lebrun, Dec. 18, 1792, in the French Foreign Office.
On the mission of Maret see the valuable work of Baron Ernouf, Maret, Due de Bassano.
The account of this interview as published by the French Government will be found in a collection of State Papers relating to the War against France (London, 1794), i. 220–223, but some important passages, as well as a later note of Maret, are suppressed, and will be found in Baron Ernouf's work, which gives the fullest account of this episode.
Ernouf, pp. 98–104.
Chauvelin to Lebrun, Dec. 3, 7, 8, 14, 18, 1792.
Chauvelin to Lebrun, Dec. 7, 1792. See too Ernouf, Maret, Duc de Bassano, pp. 100, 101. Fox used very similar language in Parliament. See Rose's Diary, i. 144.
Auckland to Grenville, Dec. 25, 26, 1792.
Sybel, ii. 64.
Marsh's Hist. of Politics, i. 340, 341.
Ibid. pp. 333–338; Bourgoing deuxième partie, i. 315, 316.
Parl. Hist xxx. 250–253.
Grenville to Auckland, Dec. 28, 1792.
Grenville to Auckland, Dec. 28, 29, 1792. See too the account of this transaction sent by Grenville to the English ambassador at St. Petersburg. Count Woronzow urged as a reason for again making a proposal of concert which had previously been rejected, that the Empress felt that the question was no longer what should be the interior government of France, but whether ‘that Power should be permitted to extend its conquests over all the countries in its neighbourhood, carrying with it principles subversive to all government and established order; that the views of aggrandisement entertained by France were sufficiently manifest from what had happened both in Savoy and in the Netherlands, and that the means which she employed for that purpose were more dangerous to the tranquillity and security of other Powers even than the success of her arms.’ Grenville observed to Whitworth that there was a great distinction between ‘an interference for the purpose of establishing any form of government in France, and a concert between other Governments to provide for their own security at a time when their political interests are endangered both by the intrigues of France in the interior of other countries and her views of conquest and aggrandisement.’ Grenville to Whitworth, Dec 29, 1792.
On the terms of this declaration see Marsh, ii. 71.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 253–256.
Marsh, i. 341–344.
See several letters of information inclosed by Anckland to Green-ville, Jan. 1793, also Mémoires de Dumouriez, liv. vii.
Auckland to Grenville, Jan. 2,11,1793.
Minutes of a conference between Lord Hawkesbury and M. de Curt, Dec, 5, 18. Note of the Marquis de Bouillé, Dec. 30, 1792 (French Correspondence at the Record Office).
Parl. Hist. xxx. 256–262. On the 11th Chauvelin announced that the French considered the Treaty of Commerce annulled on account of its infraction by the English.
See Marsh's Hist. of Politios, i. 277–285; Sybel, Hist, de l'Europe, ii. 101.
Grenville to Auckland, Jan. 13, 1793.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 262–266.
Sybel, ii. 102, 103. Compare Marsh's Hist. of Polities, i. 353–364.
See a letter of Miles, Jan. 18; Marsh, i. 366.
It is impossible within my present limits to do justice to this part of the case, but the reader will find many specimens of the language used at this time in the Convention in Marsh, ch. xiv.
Moniteur, Jan. 15, 1793.
Bourgoing, deuxiéme partie, i. 318, 319.
Parl. Hist. xxx. 266–269.
Authentic Correspondence, pp. 106–108. This letter is also printed by Marsh, ii, 143–145. On the 7th, Maret had written a long letter to Miles complaining of the hostile attitude and language of the English ministers and especially of the tone of Grenville's despatch of Dec 31. A great part of it is given by Ernouf, pp. 113, 114. I do not quote it, as the arguments are much the same as those used by Lebrun.
Grenville to Auckland, Jan. 13, 1793.
Auckland to Grenville, Jan. 18. Grenville to Auckland, Jan. 22, 1793.
Auckland to Grenville, Jan. 23, 1793.
Thus Governor Morris, who observed events in Paris very closely, was convinced in December that it would be impossible for England to avoid war (Works, ii. 262). He describes how the French politicians ‘affect to wish Britain would declare against them, and actually menace the Government with an appeal to the nation’ (ib. 263), but, he added, ‘in spite of that blustering they will do much to avoid a war with Great Britain if the people will let them. But the truth is that the populace of Paris influence in a great degree the public councils’ (ib. 265). See too a letter of Captain Monro, Jan. 7, 1793. I may mention here that Chauvelin wrote to Lebrun, Jan. 7, that it was reported that Morris was in correspondence with the English minister and informed him of all that passed in Paris. Lebrun answered (Jan. 15) that he was confirmed in his suspicions of the ill-will and perfidy of Morris. ‘II travaille sourdement à nousnuire, et à donner connaissance an Gouvernement anglais de ce qui se passe chez nous.’ I have not found any confirmation of this statement.
Maret, in a conversation with Lord Malmesbury in 1797, gave a curious account of the cause of the failure of his mission to England in 1792 and 1793. He said that Mr. Pitt had received him very well, that the failure of the negotiation should be attributed to the then Freneh Government, who were bent on war, and that the greatand decisive cause of the war was, ‘quelques vingtaines d'mdi-vidus marquans et en place, qui avaient joué à la baisse dans les fonds, et là ils avaient porté la nation à nous déclarer la guerre. Ainst,'said he, ‘nous devons tous nos malheurs à un principe d'agiotage.’ Malmesbury Diaries, iii. 502, 503.
Ernouf, pp. 116, 117.
Compare Dumouriez, Mémoires, iii. 383, 384. Ernouf, pp. 110–113, 121.
Mémoires, iii. 281.
Mémoiret de Dumouries, iii. 277, 278, 296.
Ibid. pp. 339, 340, 361. The reader will observe how perfectly this opinion of the French ministers justified the predictions of Burke.
Ib d. pp. 302, 303.
Ibid. pp. 285, 294, 295.
Mémoires de Dumouriez, iii. 247, 287–292, 338, 380. Dumouriez' strong statement of the hatred with which the inhabitants of the Austrian Netherlands now regarded the French, and of the probability that they would rise against them if a foreign army appeared within their borders, is fully corroborated by Governor Morris, Works, ii. 255, 269, 276.
On the enormous preponderance of the French at Jemmapes see the facts collected by Bourgoing, Hsit. Diplomatique de I'Europe pendant la Récolution, 2me partie, tome i. p. 257.
Frederick the Great had already shaken this notion, which the French Revolutionists and Napoleon destroyed. A similar change passed over naval warfare in the eighteenth century. Thus Walpole wrote in Jan. 1760: ‘Our army was under arms for fourteen hours on the 23rd, expecting the French, and several of the men were frozen when they should have dismounted. What milksops the Marlboroughs and Turennes, the Blakes and Van Tromps appear now, who whipped into winter quarters and into port the moment their noses looked blue. Sir Cloudesley Shovel said that an admiral would deserve to be broke who kept great ships out after the end of September, and to be shot if after October. There is Hawke in the bay weathering this winter, after conquering in a storm.’—Walpole to Montagu.
Mémoires, iii. 364, 379.
Ibid. pp. 383–385.
Ibid. pp. 385–387.
Auckland wrote to Grenville no less than three letters on Jan. 28 (one official and the other two secret and confidential) describing this interview.
According to the account given by Dumouriez in his ‘Mémoires, this statement was not true. Lebrun and Garat alone were informed of the intentions of Dumouriez, and the affair was not brought before the Council. Mémoires, iii. 385.
Auckland to Grenville, Jan. 29 31, 1793.
Mémoires, iii. 394, 395.
Works, ii. 276.
See Ashton's Old Times, p. 285.
Annual Register, 1793, p. 229. On the impression produced in England, see some illustrations collected by Ernouf, p. 119.
Part. Hist. xxx. 238, 239, 269.
See Ernouf, p. 119.
Lebrun to Chauvelin, Jan. 22, 1793 (French Foreign Office).
Reinhardt to Lebrun, Jan. 28, 1793.
Ernouf, pp. 124–129. Dumouriez erroneously stated in his Mémoires that Maret had not been suffered to go to London, but had been turned back at Dover, and this statement has been often repeated.
Grenville to Auckland, Feb. 4, 1793.
The partition of Poland and the exchange of the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria.
Grenville to Eden, Feb. 5, 1793.
See Parl. Hist. xxxiv. 1313, 1314, 1359; Wilberforce's Life, ii. 13; Bussell's Life of Fox, ii. 301–303.
I must acknowledge that, many years ago, misled by a most misleading pamphlet of Cobden and by the much higher authority of Buckle, I introduced into my History of Rationalism a sentence (which has been expunged in the later editions) blaming Pitt for the French war. It shows at least that I had no undue bias in favour of the conclusion to which a more careful investigation has led me.
See Wilberforce's Life, ii. 92, 391; Moore's Life of Sheridan, ii. 203, 204.
Wilberforce's Life, ii. 10, 11, 92, 332.
Grey once remonstrated with him on the indiscretion of some of his language in favour of France. Fox answered: ‘The truth is, I am gone something further in hate to the English Government than perhaps you and the rest of your friends are, and certainly further than can with prudence be avowed. The triumph of the French Government over the English does in fact afford me a degree of pleasure which it is very difficult to disguise.’ (Fox's Correspondence, iii. 349.)
See e.g. Hazlitt's Life of Napoleon. Byron made no secret of the regret with which he looked on Waterloo. Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War, said of Napoleon, in one place that ‘he was the only support of real freedom in Europe,’ and in another that ‘self had no place in his policy, save as his personal glory was identified with France and her prosperity. Never before did the world see a man soaring so high, and devoid of all seltish ambition.’ (See Bruce's Life of Sir W. Napier, ii. 25.) Horner was no admirer of Napoleon, but he voted against the renewal of the war after the return from Elba. He wrote, at the beginning of the campaign which ended with Waterloo, that he fervently wished ‘for a successful resistance by France to the invasion of the alhes;’ and when Waterloo had been fought, he deplored ‘the degradation of our army in being the main instrument of this warfare against Freedom and Civilisation.’ (See Horner's Life, ii. 258, 274.) Robert Hall said of Waterloo: ‘That battle and its results seemed to me to put back the clock of the world six degrees.’ (Hall's Works, vi. 124.)