The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 4
Immediately after the passing of this bill, a message came from his majesty announcing a very menacing state of things in Ireland, and two bills were hurried through parliament, one to try rebels in Ireland by martial law, and the other to suspend the habeas corpus act there. The remainder of the session was occupied in discussing the budget, and imposing new taxes, rendered inevitable by the costly luxury of war. The chancellor of the exchequer again introduced the income tax under the name of a property tax; but it was shown that it was essentially a tax upon income, whether derived from lands, moneys, or professions and trades. Sir Henry Mildmay condemned the injustice of levying the same amount of tax on permanent and precarious incomes; and the hardship of thus taxing the learned professions was much insisted on. Addington admitted it; but pleaded the difficulty of making a proper division betwixt professional men of uncertain incomes and others, like clerical dignitaries, or popular lawyers, and physicians of large incomes. He pleaded, moreover, the increased difficulties of collecting such a graduated tax; arguments which ministers still find very convenient for perpetuating the same injustice. There was a clause preventing the entrance into private houses in quest of data on which to assess the tax; foreigners purchasing into the funds were exempt, and those possessing incomes of from sixty to a hundred and fifty pounds only were rated to it at a lower percentage. Persons having large families were rated lower, according to the number of children which they had, and this abatement was preposterously carried, not merely to person of small incomes, but to those of five thousand pounds per annum and upwards! This bill, thus curiously modified to suit all palates, was passed on the 1st of August. Other new taxes were imposed, and forty-one millions three hundred and sixty-three thousand one hundred and ninety-two pounds were voted for the year's supplies, of which one million was to be raised by loan in Ireland, and twelve millions on annuities in England. Parliament was prorogued by the king in person on the 12tli of August.
At this juncture, the prince of Wales made urgent application to the king to be allowed to take a leading rank in the army; but the king positively refused. Such an application had been made by him to the king in April, 1798, and it had met with the same refusal, on the ground that military command was inconsistent with the situation of prince of Wales. This could only have been the private opinion of George III., because many princes of Wales had led armies, both in the civil wars of England and in the wars on the continent. George II., as eldest son of the elector of Hanover, and expecting to succeed to the throne of England, held a distinguished command under Marlborough, fought bravely at Oudenarde, and again, as king, won the battle of Dettingen. What is proper for a king of England cannot, surely, be improper for the heir-apparent to the throne. But George III. had adopted this idea, and, like all his ideas, it was a stubborn one. The prince urged that it was perfectly constitutional, and that now, as the country was menaced with invasion, and young men of all classes were eager to display their courage and patriotism, it became him peculiarly to do honour to his elevated position by standing forward prominently amongst the defenders of the country. Finding the king inexorable, he wrote to the prime minister, Addington, to lay his letters before his majesty. At first, Addington made the prince no reply; but, on a second application, he answered that it appeared useless, from the result of a similar proceeding previously. The prince still urged him to lay his last letter before the king; but George was peremptory, and desired that he might hear no more on the subject. When the bill was passed for the levy en masse, the prince resumed his intreaty through the ministers, but received only the reply, that the king could not listen to any more applications of the kind; that, if the enemy should land, the prince would have an opportunity of appearing in the field against him at the head of his regiment, the 10th light dragoons.
At the beginning of October, when extensive promotions were making in the army, the prince wrote to his brother, the duke of York, who was commander-in-chief, representing the dishonourable and humiliating anomaly of the heir- apparent being permitted only to occupy the military rank of a colonel of dragoons, when one of his younger brothers was commander-in-chief, and three others, the dukes of Kent, Cambridge, and Sussex, were lieutenant-generals; and that, should the regiment in which he served come into action, he must be subordinate to the most ordinary general of brigade. The duke of York replied, with an appearance of much sympathy, that it was impossible for him again to bring the matter before the king, after his positive orders to the contrary. On the 23rd of October, as the rumours of invasion grew strong, the prince determined to join his regiment at Brighton. Addington then wrote to him, advising him not to go till he heard further, in consequence of some intelligence which he had received, but did not explain. The prince, therefore, imagining this intelligence related to the invasion, went at once, and the next day, the 26th of October, there took place a grand military review in Hyde Park, at which were present the king, the queen, monsieur, afterwards Charles X. of France, the prince of Condé, the duke of Bourbon, the duke of Berri, general ' Dumouriez, and a great many French noblesse, the duke of (York acting as commander-in-chief, and all the royal princes, except the prince of Wales. This treatment of the heir-apparent had always been a feature in the house of Hanover; and when we reflect with severity on the dissipations of the prince of Wales, that feeling should be tempered by the remembrance that his most laudable desires to escape from the indolence and ennui of his life had thus been perseveringly thwarted by parental caprice.
We have stated that there had been a mutual recall of ambassadors betwixt France and England, and, on the part of England, an order in council was issued for the detention of all French ships, goods, and subjects, and for an embargo on all Dutch ships in English ports; we must now explain the causes of this. From the first, it was patent to all Europe that the peace of Amiens could not be of long endurance. Through the whole of it Napoleon never, for a moment, ceased his aggressions on the continent, and his acts of irritation towards England. His military spies sent to England and Ireland in the guise of consuls, his repeated seizures of British merchantmen on the French coast, the constant dictations as to the meaning of the conditions of the treaty of Amiens, all showed that a proud country like Britain could not long submit to it. That she must be at war with suck a head of the French government was inevitable; it depended on her own wisdom whether it should be a simple war of self-defence, or a quixotic one of defending the whole world. Buonaparte never could remain at peace long. All his soul was in the action and excitement of war. He declared that it was not more necessary to his own glory than glory was necessary to the permanence of a wholly new dynasty. In peace he grew moody and restless; in war alone he appeared happy. Rest to him was as unnatural as to a comet. The Buonaparte element is essentially an element of unrest.
The king's speech at the opening of parliament, and the martial tone of the speeches by the members of both houses, exceedingly exasperated Napoleon; for, though preparing for war, he was scarcely ready, and meant to have carried on the farce of peace a little longer. Talleyrand demanded of lord Whitworth the reason of this ebullition of the English parliament and of the press. Lord Whitworth replied, as he had done regarding the comments on the trial of Peltier, that it was the direct result of the insulting articles in the Moniteur, which was known to be the organ of the French government; whereas, in England, the government had no direct control, either over the speeches in parliament or the press. Talleyrand and lord Whitworth again went over all the vexed questions of the retention of Malta, the conduct of colonel Sebastiani in the East, the aggressions of Napoleon in Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, in violation of the treaty of Amiens; and lord Whitworth declared that all that England wanted was, that that treaty should be faithfully carried out on both sides; that we were ready to evacuate Malta, and recall our complaints, on that being done. But this was what Napoleon was resolved never to do, and he therefore resorted to the most extraordinary insults to the British ambassador. He requested lord Whitworth to call at the Tuileries at nine o'clock in the evening of the day on which he had had his conference with Talleyrand. Napoleon had, by an assumption of extreme hauteur and impetuosity, frightened the Austrian ambassador at Campo Formio, and he probably thought of frightening the English one; but England had not been beaten like Austria, and such a proceeding could only enrage the British people.
In this interview, Buonaparte ran over, in a rapid and excited harangue of two hours' length, scarcely permitting lord Whitworth to interpose a word of reply, all the alleged causes of dissatisfaction with England; at one moment threatening to invade it, if it cost him his life; at another, proposing that France and England should unite to rule the continent, and offering to share with it all the benefits of such an alliance. Lord Whitworth replied, as before, that the British government desired nothing but the bonâ-fide execution of the treaty of Amiens, and could not for a moment entertain such schemes of aggression and domination as the first consul proposed to her. He began to comment gravely on the aggressions in Switzerland and Italy, but Buonaparte cut him short angrily, saying, those things were no business of his, and that he had no right to talk of them. There was a fresh interview with Talleyrand, and fresh notes from him and Andréossi of the same character.
On the 13th of March the first consul held a grand levée at the Tuileries. Such a levée was held regularly on one Sunday in each month, and this was Sunday. Lord Whitworth attended, to introduce some English travellers, and to pay his formal respects to the first consul. As it was the custom to avoid all political or diplomatic topics, lord Whitworth anticipated nothing more than the ordinary ceremonies and compliments of the time. Josephine and the ladies of her court were present, in brilliant costume, as well as the whole of the foreign ambassadors, the whole diplomatic staff, many distinguished military officers, and foreigners of rank. In the presence of all these, Buonaparte, immediately on entering, singled out the English ambassador, went hastily up to him, and, in a quick and angry tone, demanded if he had: news from England. Lord Whitworth replied that he had had letters two days ago. " And you are determined on going to war? " demanded Buonaparte. Lord Whitworth, however astonished at this unprecedented conduct, replied, calmly, that, on the contrary, we should much prefer peace; that we had had fifteen years' war, and that was too much. " But you want fifteen years more of it, and you force me to it." He then rushed away to the Russian and Spanish ambassadors, saying, petulantly: - " The English want war; but, if they are the first to draw the sword, I will be the last to sheathe it. They don't respect treaties: treaties must henceforward be covered with black crape." Then he returned again to lord Whitworth, and demanded, rapidly: - " Why these armaments of yours? Against whom are aimed these precautionary measures? I have not a I single vessel of the line in the ports of France; but if you will arm, I will arm also; if you will fight, I will fight also. You may, possibly, be able to kill France, but never to intimidate her! " Lord Whitworth replied that we wished to do neither one nor the other. " Then," exclaimed Buonaparte, " you must observe treaties! "Woe to those who do not respect treaties; they will be responsible to all Europe! " And, repeating these words, he hastily quitted the room, leaving the ladies, the ambassadors, the whole assemblage of two hundred people, in a state of wonder and consternation. Josephine and her ladies followed the first consul, and the rest of the company departed in equal precipitation.
Lord Whitworth, who had been successively ambassador in Poland, Russia, and Denmark, for seventeen years, and was a man of great intelligence, sagacity, and self-command, made no reply to the latter portions of this vituperative address, but preserved the most calm and unconcerned aspect. As they withdrew, count Markoff, the Russian ambassador, observed: - " You could not have expected such an outbreak; you can only report it to your government."
Some days passed without further notice of this most extraordinary proceeding, which was, however, exactly imitated by the nephew of the first consul towards the ambassador of Austria previous to the invasion of the Austrian territories in Italy. Talleyrand then endeavoured to excuse the irregularity of the outbreak by pleading the first consul's anxiety to defend himself before the ministers of the different powers of Europe from the aspersions of England. Lord Whitworth calmly replied, that such insults neither suited his taste nor his position, and, until he had assurance that they would not be repeated, he should keep away from the Tuileries.
Discussions then took place betwixt M. Andréossi and lord Hawkesbury, the foreign ministers of France and England, the object of which was, not to avert war on the part of Napoleon, but to postpone it till he had recalled his vessels home from distant stations, annulled military leaves of absence, mounted his cavalry, and marched fresh troops into Holland. There was also another reason. He received Louisiana by treaty from Spain; but the Spanish colonists there were furious at being thus transferred to France, and Napoleon saw that the moment war broke out, all communication with, or control over, that colony would be cut off by the British fleet, and he therefore made haste to sell the territory to the United States; and this was accomplished for fifteen millions of dollars, on the 30th of April, just twelve days before lord Whitworth quitted Paris.
Whilst Buonaparte was incessant in his exertions to prepare for war, he still omitted no means of irritating and maligning the English nation. At his instigation, M. Reinhardt, formerly a schoolmaster at Wurtemberg, but since chargé-d'affaires for France at Hamburg, drew up a most offensive attack on England and on the king personally. He attributed the royal message to parliament to the king's lunacy, and charged the English with unmistakable avidity of conquest, with studied breach of treaties, comparing with her conduct the simple, direct, and honourable character of France. He gave a new and more decent version to Buonaparte's behaviour to the English ambassador, and demanded of the government of Hamburg the publication of this cancerous libel in the official gazette. The city council was thrown into consternation by this demand, but at length informed Sir George Rumbold, our Hamburg resident, that they could not refuse the insertion without incurring the greatest danger to the city. They entreated that some of the most offensive passages might be omitted, but Rheinhardt insisted that the document should appear entire. This was done, and the article appeared, dated Paris, March 15th. Lord Hawkesbury immediately wrote to the French government on the subject, and Talleyrand at once denied the official character of the Article, declared that Rheinhardt should be dismissed, and the like, but nothing of the kind took place; and a similar attempt was made to have the base document inserted in the Danish newspapers, by the French ambassador himself. Lord Whit worth demanded his passports to quit Paris, but it did not suit Buonaparte yet to come to a rupture. Iiis preparations were not complete, his fleet had not regained the French ports. All means, therefore, of delaying lord Whitworth were resorted to. Talleyrand observed that he was far from ceasing to expect amicable adjustment of all difficulties. Fresh proposals were made regarding Malta. It was proposed that Malta should be garrisoned by Russian or Austrian troops instead of Neapolitan, but the English government was already aware that the emperor of Russia had declined doing this; and, besides, there were too many symptoms of Buonaparte's resolution to go to war, to allow the English to be amused any longer. Lord Whitworth sent a definitive statement, on the part of the English government, and demanded an immediate answer; but, instead of his answer, his own letter, after a few days, was brought back, on the plea that Talleyrand was out of town, and it was not known when and where he could be communicated with. This was so absurd a reason, that the motive for it could not be misunderstood. The French were simply gaining time. Lord Whitworth, however, pressed urgently the delivering of his passports, and at length, on the 12th of May, he received them, and instantly left Paris; arrived in London on the 16th, and, on the 18th, the order in council, ordering the letters of marque and the proclamation for embargo, were issued.
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