« AnteriorContinuar »
land. The possession of Nice threatened a similar degradation for Italy. When Burke was writing, Italy had actually been trampled under the iron heel of Bonaparte: and only two years passed before the prediction was fulfilled to the letter in Switzerland.
The conquest of Italy, together with the over-running of half Germany, came in opportunely for Burke's argument. Here was the best commentary on the pacific professions of the Directory. In the counsels which projected this crusade against the liberties of Europe there was no halt or hesitation. Europe might sue for peace : the Directory could afford to refuse it, and ultimately to impose on Europe its own terms. From the previous conduct of ine Directory, from its ascertained character, and from the present situation oi ai rs, Burke drew the conclusion that no terms which England could accept would be offered. He then passed on to consider how far the minority, in proposing peace, could be considered as expressing the public mind of England. None but regicide sympathizers could really desire a regicide peace: the rest of the nation, if once roused to a full consideration of the question, and to a sense of its enormous moment, must be in favour of maintaining the war. What proportion did the Jacobins, with Lansdowne, Fox, and Grey at their head, bear to the English nation? Burke was ready with an answer: and his answer, based as it was on data which he thought sufficient, is a curious and valuable piece of statistics. He estimated the number of Englishmen and Scotsmen capable of forming political opinions at four hundred thousand. Onefifth, or eighty thousand, of these he reckoned as Jacobins. The remainder he assumed to be supporters of the ancient and natural policy of England.
How, then, was the present unpopularity of the war to be accounted for? Why this supine and careless attitude, on the part of this large majority of citizens who were sound at heart? How was it that the English people, a people of sympathies easily kindled into a warlike flame, and in general only too ready to support a policy of action, were petitioning on all sides against a war in which England and her Allies had everywhere been worsted, a war which, in an age of prolonged wars, had not lasted four years, and in which the strength of England had not yet been half put forth? How was it that the English
people were willing to surrender everything for which the war had been declared ? The answer was obvious. In order that a war may be popular, it must affect British interests. In other words, it must be a mercenary war: a war either to gain plunder, or to protect from spoliation, or both.
In contrasting the mercenary war of 1739 with the War of the Grand Alliance a generation before, and tracing the analogy between that famous struggle and the present one, Burke employed a method which the reader of his works has already seen well exemplified in the Speech on Conciliation with America. It was the method of applying reason to historical example: and Burke's natural examples were the wars which Britain had waged during the preceding century. Wars, he maintained, must not be judged by the impulse which leads to them, or by the spirit with which they are first prosecuted. A popular war is generally a mercenary war, and therefore, as likely as not, an unjust war. That famous war of 1739, in which the English nation had been roused to an enthusiasm so memorable, Burke pronounced, after a careful examination of the original documents of the times, to have been an extremely unjust war. In that other great war for the balance of power, which had been waged in the preceding generation by William III at the head of the Grand Alliance, the conditions were reversed. That war was a righteous and necessary one, if any ever were such. But was that war a popular one? Was it even carried on with spirit and vigour when the break-up of the hollow peace of Ryswick called the British people to redoubled exertions? On the contrary, all classes of the people, sodden with ignorance and Toryism, detested it. The great Whig ministers themselves despaired of it. "The sober firmness of Somers, the undaunted resolution of Shrewsbury, the adventurous spirit of Montagu and Orford, were staggered. They were not yet mounted to the elevation of the King.' The ministers begged the King to reconsider his policy. Strong in his wise determination, the King refused: and as time rolled on, his refusal was amply justified. The march of events gradually animated the Lords, the Commons, and the people at large.
This fine historical argument is stated by Burke in his happiest manner-a manner which irresistibly recalls his arguments on Conciliation with America. He naturally changed
his style in passing on to his next task, that of animating the English people by exhibiting to them a picture, painted in the most glowing colours, of their abominated enemy. Macaulay, in a clever jeu d'esprit, has described Burke as a merry, goodnatured Irishman, who liked to go out at nights to a children's party carrying a magic lantern, with which he alternately amused and terrified them. Such a picture of the effect upon England of a Jacobin Peace concludes the Fourth Letter. In such a spirit he had astonished the House by flinging the Birmingham dagger on the floor. Very different is that calm analysis of the French Republic which concludes the First Letter, and is continued in the Second. Keen of eye, and firm of hand, like some skilled anatomist, he gradually lays bare the structure of this political monster. Less, however, is now made of the natural and inborn atrociousness of the French Republic, and of the crimes and follies of the Assembly and Convention. The main point insisted on is that France, once a scene of chaos, a proverb for anarchy, has become a vast, united, sagacious, and terrible power: a power which Europe must boldly face, but to face which Europe has hitherto been totally lacking in resolution. The exposure of the true aims and the actual character of the new French ambition is the main point of the present Letters: and in this great and central point it may safely be said that Burke was perfectly and invariably right. How the spirit which animated France was aroused, of what elements it was compounded, whether its prevalence might have been prevented, what might and ought to have been the policy of the leading men in France, were questions that had really passed into the limbo of chroniclers. On these subordinate questions we think that Burke was often wrong: on the main question we are sure that he was right. He was as right as he had been in arguing upon the Double Cabinet, upon the Taxation of America, upon the Irish Penal Laws, upon Economical Reform, upon the wrongs of India, and upon almost every real question, that is, upon every practical question, staring the world in the face and demanding solution, with which he was brought in contact. Here was a new power, trampling on moral right, spurning at law and diplomacy, aggressive in its nature, powerful in its resources, served by sagacious minds and iron sinews, avowedly warring against the rest of the world to make it like unto itself, or in
other words, to conquer it. Such a pest ought to be resisted, and such resistance ought to be continued, through failure and through discouragement, until the tyranny should be overpast. In this general conclusion the events of the next fourteen years proved Burke to have been right, as fully and as clearly as events are capable of proving anything.
We have said that the French were in the right to keep fast hold on the Austrian Netherlands. Had it been clear that the French merely wished to retain them for purposes of defence, as a compensation for the outrage attempted upon the French nation by what was really a war of plunder, and as a recognition on the part of Europe of the great alteration which the Revolution had wrought in both the outward and the inward aspect of the French nationality, we think that England ought to have made peace. But it was not so: the Belgian annexation, as the sequel soon proved, was but the beginning of a policy of conquest. Nor could England make a peace which yielded up the Netherlands to France, unless her Austrian ally assented to it. To make such a peace would have been to drink of that cup of humiliation which had been eagerly drained by Spain and Prussia, and to yield that position the firm maintenance of which sufficed in the end to save Europe from the all-levelling despotism of Bonaparte. In any case, no equitable or lasting peace could be made in haste. The changes we have related, few and simple in themselves, had penetrated to the very base of all European relations; and the reparation of the strains and fractures they had wrought was a task demanding in the highest degree patience, moderation, firmness, and good sense. These were not wanting on the side of England. They were totally wanting on the side of France.
The messenger of peace whom Pitt despatched to Paris was James, Baron and afterwards first Earl of Malmesbury: a diplomatist who had well earned his honourable rank by public services. None of the politicians at Pitt's disposal knew Europe better: none could have dealt with the Directory more wisely. Malmesbury was a thorough Englishman. His frank manners and commanding presence, added to a fine face, piercing eyes, and abundant white hair, had gained him among his friends the byename of the Lion. No man was better calculated to restore French confidence in England, and to satisfy the Directory of the sincerity
of England's desire for peace. As soon as it was known who was to be the envoy, it was felt that in his person the cause of the peacemakers must stand or fall. In due time Lord Malmesbury set out on his mission. The anxiety which prevailed as to its result suggested the remark that his journey to Paris was a slow one. Burke contemptuously replied that this was not wonderful, seeing that he went all the way on his knees. His journey thither may have been tardy: but his return to England was precipitate. Among articles of less importance, Lord Malmesbury was to offer to France equivalents from among the English conquests, in exchange for the restoration, on the part of France, of Belgium to Austria. This restoration England still insisted on. The Directory, through their negotiator, Delacroix, declared that this was impossible. No publicist could possibly construe the Act of Constitution so as to admit of it. Belgium was annexed to France by a law which was of the very essence of the constitution. The Emperor, if he pleased, might take an equivalent elsewhere in Europe. France proposed to secularise the three Ecclesiastical Electorates, and to seize the rich bishoprics which filled up the nooks and corners in the geographical mosaic of Germany and Italy. If there must still be the same number of Electors, the Stadtholder, the Duke of Brunswick, and the Duke of Wirtemberg would be convenient substitutes for the Prince-Bishops. The objections to all this were obvious. It still left France in a dominant military position, which there was no reason to suppose her indisposed to abuse: and it would have been accomplished, not at the expense of France, but at the expense of all that remained of Austrian influence in the Empire.
The history of the failure of the negotiations is amply detailed in the Second part of the Third Letter. Malmesbury's last interview with Delacroix, during which the whole proposal of England was amply exposed and discussed, took place on the 17th of December. Next day, the two memorials containing the English proposals, the one relating to France, the other to Holland, were returned by the Directory to him on the ground that they were not properly signed, and that they contained no ultimatum. The Directory wished for an ultimatum: they did, in fact, with indecent haste and utterly undiplomatic manners, demand of Lord Malmesbury an ultimatum