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had never even sanctioned a negotiation into which entered any contemplation of its surrender. For that principle William had organised the Grand Alliance: for that principle the war begun by him had been steadily maintained and brought to a glorious end by the great ministers and generals of Queen Anne. At the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, at the first treaty of Paris in 1763, it had been triumphantly, affirmed. Even at the peace of 1783, when England retired in defeat from an inglorious and disastrous contest, it had not been assailed. Advocates of peace in England were thus confronted by a serious dileinma. Peace on the French terms meant, in Burke's words, nothing less than the surrender of Europe, bound hand and foot, to France. But out of this dilemma the advocates of peace contrived to make new capital. What had produced the failure of the negotiations? The absence of full authority on the part of the ministerial delegate. The transaction was informal: and on other grounds, the French had reason to distrust the sincerity of the English Ministry. Nor were the English Ministry in truth desirous of peace. The negotiation was a trick to take the wind out of the sails of the Opposition; and to persuade the country to go on granting useless supplies and squandered subsidies. If a peace were to be made, France must see a complete change of men and measures in England. She would make no peace with Mr. Pitt : but it did not therefore follow that she would not cheerfully confide in the sincerity of Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, and Mr. Grey. Mr. Pitt dexterously converted this identical version of the affair to his own use. The proposals of Basle could indeed hardly be said to amount to a negotiation. They indicated only suspicious temper on the part of France, which had prevented the negotiations from being matured. Peace being the undoubted interest of both nations, peaceful proposals made in all sincerity by one side must in the end meet with their due response. Perhaps some power among the former Allies, which had already made its peace, might by interposing its assurances of the honesty, good faith, and ultimate reasonableness of the English Ministry, if only a serious and formal negotiation could be arranged, bring about the desired end, without throwing England into the hands of Mr. Fox. With this view, Mr. Pitt sought the mediation of Prussia. But this attempt came to nothing also.
Fortune suddenly put a new resource into Mr. Pitt's hands. A war of aggression maintained on every frontier could not be long maintained without reverses: and the French arms in the summer of 1796 sustained a serious check. Secure on the side of the Netherlands, France was pushing to the utmost the advantages she had gained on the Rhine and in Italy. The plan of the war was bold and simple. On the Rhine were Jourdan and Moreau : in Italy Bonaparte had established a base of operations by the submission of Sardinia. Jourdan and Moreau were to unite and advance down the valley of the Danube, while Bonaparte, after sweeping Northern Italy of the Austrians, was to force the passes of the Tyrol, effect a junction with Moreau and Jourdan, and pour the whole forces of the French Republic on Vienna. Fortune steadily attended the French arms in Italy: and nothing in the world seemed more unlikely than defeat in Germany. Once more Frankfort was occupied and pillaged: the important princes of Baden and Wirtemberg, and the nest of petty sovereigns who were included in the Circle of Swabia, hastened to buy peace by submission and contributions. But a great reverse now happened. The defence of the Danube had been entrusted to the Archduke Charles, a young general not wholly unworthy of the praise which Burke bestows upon him. Placed between the two armies of Moreau and Jourdan, he was compelled to retreat before them step by step, until a blow well-directed on the former general at Donauwerth separated him from his artillery and stores and compelled him to a temporary pause. Turning his success to instant advantage, Charles left a small force to keep Moreau in check, and drew off the bulk of his army to fall with crushing force upon Jourdan. After a few days' skilful manœuvring, he completely defeated him in the battle of Amberg. This victory utterly frustrated the plans for the German campaign. Jourdan was obliged to flee in disorder to the Lower Rhine, losing in his retreat, if it could be dignified with the name, nearly half his army. Moreau pushed on into Bavaria : but the disaster sustained by Jourdan, and the daily reinforcements poured into the Imperial ranks, made it necessary to commence a retreat, which he effected in so masterly a manner as to entitle it to high celebrity among military exploits.
Jourdan's failure kindled fresh hope in those who believed the French might yet listen to reasonable proposals of peace
So severe a blow could not but tend to bring the Directory to reason. The English Ministry at once seized the opportunity. As soon as the news reached the Cabinet, a note was despatched to the Danish Minister in London, enclosing a request to be delivered to the Directory through the Danish Minister at Paris. The enclosure was brief, and intended to bear in every line marks of plainness and sincerity. It requested a passport for an English envoy, who was to proceed at once to Paris, and ascertain, by direct consultation with the French Government, if any base of pacification could be laid down. Such an application, at such a moment, could not but prepossess the French in favour of English sincerity. It would show that in spite of the favourable turn taken by the war, England was anxious to put an end to it.
Unfortunately for the salutary effect which might have been wrought in the French mind by Jourdan's disaster, it had been more than counteracted by the extraordinary advance of the French in their second line of attack on Austria. In Italy a campaign more rapid and more brilliant than anything on record had been made by the youthful protégé of Barras. A force of forty thousand picked French troops, well inured to a hot climate by service against Spain in the Pyrenees, was set free for further operations by the peace which had been made by Godoy. Early in the year these troops were sent to reinforce the French army in the maritime Alps : and the command of the whole was given to Bonaparte. Hardly had the first blow been struck, when the King of Sardinia sued for peace, and opened to French garrisons those famous fortresses which made Piedmont the key of Italy. The Duke of Parma followed his example. Bonaparte was in a week or two in possession of Milan, and overrunning the whole of Lombardy. Before the end of May, he had passed the Mincio, forcing the Austrians partly into Mantua and partly into the uplands. Not a single disaster stayed his progress. News of the great victories of Castiglione and Arcola, of the siege of Mantua, of the submission of Naples, and of the formation of the Cispadane Republic, came like a succession of thunderclaps to Paris and to London. The young Corsican adventurer had brought to pass the favourite dream of French ambition. He had conquered Italy. He had done far more: he had almost revived the Empire of Charlemagne.
After some formal parley, the French Directory at length granted a passport for an English envoy to be sent to Paris. But this double issue of the year's events complicated the negotiation at the outset. The English based their hopes of the abandonment of French military ambition on the successes of the Archduke Charles, on the failure and mismanagement of the internal resources of France, which was incessantly urged by the moderate party in both Assemblies, and not least on the pacific disposition of one or two of the Directors. They believed it to be worth the while of the Directory to sacrifice the Austrian Netherlands to ensure the stability of the new constitution. But might the Directory not suppose that the renewal of the negotiations by England indicated a disposition to concede this very point? Barthélemy's answer to Wickham had been explicit enough. The conquest of Italy far outweighed the disasters in Germany: and the Directory might very well imagine that the latter rather than the former had suggested the initiative now taken by England. Had Lord Grenville hinted through the Danish -Minister the grounds which induced him to offer peace, and made it known that his terms would be substantially the same which had been rejected at Basle, there can be no doubt that the Directory would have consistently refused to treat. The new negotiation was thus based from the very outset on mutual misunderstandings.
A few months had rendered obsolete much of what Burke had written before his compulsory retreat to Bath. Peace with France was no longer obscurely hinted at. It was openly avowed as a foremost object of policy: it was sought by every possible means, and, in the eyes of many, at the sacrifice of national dignity and honour. Twice, at Basle and Berlin, had the British Ministry held out the hand of conciliation, and each time they had been met with a haughty rebuff. Yet the experiment was about to be repeated at Paris. All this was gain to those who opposed on principle all dealings with the Regicide Republic. The peacemakers lost ground by every repetition of the experiment. If the present negotiation could be thwarted, the peril of a French alliance would be nearly over. Should the French Government only maintain its insolent attitude, and the British plenipotentiary return unsuccessful, a great step would have been gained. The old war-cry might then be raised. The British public might then be roused to an indignant enthusiasm : the fortune of war might turn: a new Armed Coalition might be formed: and the troubles of France might be ended at some distant period by a Restoration.
Such were the hopes with which Burke began, before the name of the British envoy was known, to write his First published Letter on a Regicide Peace. The contemplation of the past vicissitudes of France suggested that brilliant historical phantasmagoria with which the volume opens. In the mutable scheme of human events, all things were possible. That terrible and unnatural spectre which now stalked over paralysed Europe was liable to the same fate which had befallen the murdered French Monarchy. The ends of Providence were aften accomplished by slight means. Nearly four, ssnturies ago the power that was then devastating France hau been broken by a poor girl at the door of an inn. Who should say that Providence had no second Joan of Arc, to save France from an enemy a thousandfold more cruel and hateful?
In an exordium of greater length than he commonly allowed himself, before reaching the main question of argument, but turning with such life and swiftness to almost every element contained in the question, that it seems unusually brief, Burke went on to sketch out the true position of England and the Allies, and the true relation of France with the rest of Europe. He then turned to the history of the overtures for peace. Omitting the Auckland pamphlet, and dating the negotiations from the King's Speech which accompanied it, he pictured with bitter irony the crowned heads of Europe patiently waiting as suitors in the antechamber of the Luxembourg, and among the rest, the proud inonarchy of Britain bidding for the mercy of the regicide tyrants. He next states the result of the Basle negotiations, which was briefly this. All that the Republic had incorporated with itself, by a' law' which it arrogantly assumed to be irreversible, it meant to keep. The Austrian Netherlands in the North, Savoy in the East, Nice in the South, had been thus incorporated. The possession of the Austrian Netherlands, provinces in themselves of the highest value and importance, had a secondary operation. It fettered at the feet of triumphant France, with links of steel, the captive republic of Holland. The possession of Savoy threatened a similar degradation for Switzer