British History - The war with the French Republic, 1793-1802-Its four periods - Naval supremacy of Great Britain and continental failure of her allies.
( Originally Published 1922 )
THE ` metaphysical war,' as Lord Lansdowne called it, the war between the ideas of Rousseau and the ideas of Burke, had now drawn Great Britain into the field. Pitt, indeed, held the old-fashioned and official view that it was merely another of that long series of wars waged by his father before him, by Marl-borough and by William III, to ` curb the ambition of France,' and ` maintain the public law of Europe.' And since France this time was beginning in the state of bankruptcy which had usually marked the unsuccessful close of her wars, Pitt told his friends that the conflict would be over ` in one or two campaigns.'
England, however, was no longer fighting a Government, but a nation. ` The State ' was no longer Louis XIV, but many millions of Frenchmen. Mere governments cannot wage war in a condition of bankruptcy, but nations sometimes can. It was a common saying among the ragged and unpaid troops of the Republic, that ` with bread and iron we can get to China.' And indeed, as Burke foresaw, if France were not quickly put down, her spirit would enable her to overrun all the mere governments of Europe. But no one foresaw that wherever her armies carried the new faith, the ideas that had made her a nation would in time make a nation out of every one of the buried races on the Continent a process which we have seen nearly completed by the wars and revolutions of our own day. If the new France were given the run of Europe for a few years, she would plant the seeds of democracy and nationalism so widely, that no subsequent return to the ancien régime would be either complete or permanent.
That is what actually happened. But it might all have taken a different turn at the beginning. France was in such chaos when the war began, that in August 1792 and again in August 1793, a spirited advance on Paris might have crushed those demonic energies before their latent power had been made known. In that case democracy and nationalism, neither of which had as yet any status in Europe, might have been suppressed for long years to come.
In 1815 it was too late to suppress them. By then, no capture of Paris, no restoration of the Bourbons, would overturn the new social order and the new administrative system in France. And by 1815, Italy and Germany, including the Prussia of Stein and Gneisenau, had undergone changes and experiences so profound that nationalism and democracy had both taken root as ideas in the European consciousness.
Pitt, as War Minister, had not the genius to compel a number of selfish, quarrelsome and inefficient allies to capture Paris in 1793. But he had other qualities instead. He taught England to hold her head high when, contrary to his expectation, she became involved in terrible and protracted dangers. And he was capable of choosing the right men to organise those victories at sea which gave to our race and Empire the opportunity to expand in peace and safety for a hundred years.
The struggle with the French Republic from 1793 to 1801 was continuously maintained by Britain alone among the allies. It may be conveniently divided into four periods, each distinct in character.
Period I. The First Coalition against France, 1793–5 (Britain, Prussia, Austria, Spain, Piedmont). In this period there were no great military or naval achievements on either side. Howe's victory of the First of June, easily, rather than splendidly, vindicated the old superiority of England at sea. On land the selfishness or incapacity of every one of the allies gave France immunity while she was struggling out of chaos, and gave Carnot time to improvise her new armies in the autumn of 1793. They had still to wait for discipline and great leadership, but their numbers and their zeal sufficed to defend the Republic from the paltry and spasmodic efforts of the Duke of York and the German and Spanish generals. Pitt gave Prussia subsidies to fight France, which she used for the more agreeable purpose of slaughtering the Poles and dividing up their country with Russia. Meanwhile half the British Army was sent across the ocean to rot away from fever, fighting the negroes of the West Indian Islands. In the spring of 1795, the First Coalition broke up, after its armies had been chased out of Flanders and Holland, and the Dutch fleet had been captured by the French Hussars riding over the ice. We recouped ourselves in the autumn by taking from the Dutch the Cape of Good Hope and Ceylon.
Prussia retired from the war for ten years to digest her portion of Poland. That great preoccupation in the East, which affected Russia even more, and Austria only a little less than Prussia, had saved the French Revolution from overthrow by the three despotisms. Spain also made peace with France in July 1795. Large parties in Holland, as well as Belgium, received the French as friends. England and Austria were left alone against France.
Period II. Interval between the Coalitions, 1796-8. Next comes an era of gigantic achievements, of Bonaparte in Italy and Nelson at the Nile, each giving to the national spirit the leadership of genius, and opening out new pathways in history. The French conquest of Italy and the first overthrow of the ancien régime throughout that peninsula was much more than a military episode. But its more restricted and immediate effect
was to compel Austria to make peace, and to leave Britain alone in the struggle, while France was helped by the fleets of Spain and Holland. In 1797-8, with heavy taxation, distress and discouragement in England, with the naval mutiny at the Nore, the rebellion in Ireland, the desertion of our allies, the enforced abandonment of the Mediterranean by our fleets, and the star of Bonaparte rising, the situation was gloomy enough to bring out Pitt's higher qualities of stubborn will and inflexible courage. He had his reward in the sudden flowering of Nelson's genius and the dawn of the heroic age of British sea warfare. Jervis and Nelson under him defeated the Spaniards at St. Vincent, while Duncan destroyed the fighting power of the Dutch fleet at Camperdown. The battle of the Nile, which gave a new tradition to the Navy, re-established our hold on the waters and islands of the Mediterranean, locked up Bonaparte in Egypt, and encouraged the timid princes of Europe to form the Second Coalition.
Period III. The Second Coalition, 1799-1800. This new league, headed by England, Austria and Russia, had rapid success owing to the absence of Bonaparte in Egypt. The Russian general, Suwarow, drove the French out of North Italy, Nelson aiding from the south with the counter-revolution at Naples. Suwarow's further advance was checked by Masséna in the Swiss Alps. Yet things did not look well for France, because she was being ruined internally by the Government of the Directorate, feebly violent and without any wider outlook than that of a political faction. But in the autumn Bonaparte slipped back through the British cruisers. He accomplished his coup d'état of Brumaire, was hailed as Dictator of France under the title of First Consul, revived the national energy, and next year reconquered Italy at Marengo. Russia had already deserted us. The Second Coalition of governments without peoples behind them broke up, leaving England once more alone.
Period IV. The episode of the Armed Neutrality, Dec. 1800 - April 1801. This short-lived League of Prussia, Sweden, Den-mark and Russia against the maritime supremacy of England was caused partly by the personal whim of the Czar Paul, partly by two feelings then prevalent in the Courts of Europe, fear of France and jealousy of English naval power, which in those days was none too gently used. The Armed Neutrality was broken up by Nelson's capture of the Danish fleet under the guns of the Copenhagen forts, and by the assassination of the Czar Paul by palace conspirators.
The Treaty of Amiens, that ended the war between France and England, left France supreme in Western Europe, and England on the oceans of the world.
The foregoing brief summary of the four phases or periods of the war with the French Republic, will enable the reader to follow a more detailed account of some aspects of each of these periods in a decade of confused and ubiquitous warfare.
Period I. Some aspects of the War of the First Coalition, 1793 - 5 (see p. 82, above).
In the summer of 1793 the French Army, in spite of its easy successes of the previous winter, was reeling to dissolution. Its old officers, nobles without exception, had nearly all disappeared, and discipline had been destroyed by Jacobin mismanagement, violence and intrigue. On the home front, the nation was in the grip of civil war and chaos. The Revolution was saved by the indecision of the allies, who pottered round fortresses when they should have made a combined march on Paris. Prussia preferred to conquer Poland with troops that might have been conquering France. And so, while Robespierre primly presided over the grotesque and bloody pageant of the Terror, Carnot, called to office as War Minister by the Terrorists who loved him not but needed him, had time to construct the modern French Army. He is known to his grateful countrymen as ' the organiser of victory.' ' The Terror,' says the great French historian Sorel, ` contributed nothing to his victories.'
Carnot's problem was to substitute for the old army based on the caste divisions of the ancien régime, an army based on the equalitarian enthusiasm of the Revolution and the ` career open to talents.' Carnot's army was the rough sketch of the army of Napoleon, the army of Joffre and of Foch. He could not indeed, in the confused days of the Terror, do more than construct a very imperfect machine just able to conquer the inert Austrian and British forces opposed to it. Its defect was want of drill, discipline and science. Its merits were, first the energy of its new officers, inexperienced in war, but drawn from the best blood of the bourgeois and professional classes ; before the Revolution they had been unable to obtain military commissions, but a marvellous career was now opening to them. Secondly, the numbers and zeal of the peasant soldiers, sworn to defend their new-won rights against the hated émigrés ; they flocked to volunteer, or willingly submitted themselves to the Jacobin conscription. Of all the armies of Europe, the French alone embodied the national spirit, in spite of the horrible character of the Terrorist government and the blood feuds with which the body politic was torn.
The French army, a zealous mob, officered by able civilians, could not be led to battle in the difficult formation of the long close-order line, in which the well-drilled professionals of the wars of Marlborough and Frederick the Great had manoeuvred. A new formation was improvised to suit raw material. The line was abandoned for the massed column, with the best men in the van and on the flanks, and the less trustworthy in the centre to make the weight of impact. The path of the column was prepared for it by the fire of batteries brought boldly to the front, and by a thick cloud of skirmishers (francs-tireurs), consisting of the most energetic officers and men, who occupied any farm or point of strategic vantage, shot down the enemy's gunners and disordered his ranks. Last of all, the head of the column would appear through the smoke, the officers running in front with their cocked hats raised on their swords, officers and men together howling the Marseillaise like so many demons. At that psychological moment the ` myrmidons of the Princes,' instead of coolly concentrating the fire of their long line on the head of the column, generally turned and ran away. That was how France conquered Europe.
The revival of the column, recalling the infantry formation of the seventeenth century, was technically retrograde, but it gained such prestige from the French victories that it soon supplanted the better formation of the line in all armies save the British. Our soldiers, who practically disappeared from the battlefields of Europe between 1795 and 1806, clung to the line tactics and the severe drill necessary for their successful employment; and so it came about that when we returned to the front at Maida and the Peninsula, the concentrated volley-firing of the ` thin red line' swept away the heads of the French columns.
But in 1793–4 the British line failed to establish its supremacy over its massed opponents, mainly from lack of leadership. The corruption and inefficiency which we have, in a previous chapter, noticed in all the official and institutional life of eighteenth-century England, were not wanting in the army, any more than in Parliament or the Municipalities, the Universities or the Church. Commands, high and low, went by favour and purchase, not by merit. True professional spirit and science were at their lowest ebb. In the Duke of York's army in Flanders, Colonel Wesley, a young man of twenty-five--afterwards better known as Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington saw with disgust his brother officers ' when wine was on the table, fling aside despatches which arrived, to await such attention as they might be in a condition to give when they had finished the bottles.
A pair of monuments within a few hundred yards of each other at the very heart of the Empire, the Nelson and Duke of York columns, commemorate the greatness of our naval triumph and of our military failure under Pitt. Nelson up aloft keeps his watch for the enemy's fleet, over the roofs of the city whose prosperity he prolonged into new centuries, and whose influence he caused to extend over the uttermost parts of the earth. No fame more noble is anywhere in the world more fittingly symbolised. ` There is but one Nelson.' Yet, as his rival apparently, there stands on a neighbouring pillar the man whom the Jacobin armies drove headlong out of Flanders and Holland. No doubt the Duke of York got his tall monument because he was George III's son. What he really deserves is a bust in some gallery of the War Office because, when he was made Commander-in-Chief after his fiasco in the Netherlands, he helped Sir Ralph Abercromby, Sir John Moore and others to reorganise a little, and to improve a good deal, the army which he had led to defeat, and which Nelson's true rival was ere long to lead to victory.
In the summer of 1795, after our armies had been expelled from the Netherlands, a tragic mischance further dimmed our prestige in Europe. The British fleet landed several thousand Frenchmen, many of them émigrés of noble family, on the Peninsula of Quiberon, with a view to encouraging a rebellion of Breton 'Chouans' against the Republic. The invaders were captured in sight of our ships, and 690 émigrés were subsequently massacred by order of the Paris authorities; the fall of Robespierre in `Thermidor' the year before had been only the first step towards freeing France from methods of ` terror.'
Far the largest of our military operations in the war against the Republic was conducted in the West Indies. Although there were hardly any French troops in the islands, we lost in three years in that pestilential climate some 80,000 men, one-half dead and the rest unfitted for further service. A smaller loss spread over twice as many years, afterwards sufficed us to wrench Spain and Portugal from the grasp of Napoleon.
The historian of the British Army who first brought to light the magnitude of this forgotten tragedy, has severely blamed Pitt for the waste.1 And certainly the best chance of obtaining an early conclusion of the war would have been to launch on Paris the troops we spent in the West Indies. But even this might have failed, and the loss of the West Indies would in those days have been a fearful blow to our trade, and would have afforded the enemy bases for privateers to prey upon our commerce on the grand scale.
Pitt, for his part, never regarded England as a principal in the war on the Continent. He looked to our allies to carry on the invasion of France. He had taken for his model, not Marlborough, but his own father, Chatham, who had effectually succoured Frederick the Great with much money and a very few troops, while the British fleets and armies had har-. vested the French colonies in America. Indeed, they had left Chatham's son nothing but the gleanings. To our eyes, the West Indian islands for which he fought, compare poorly to the Canada that his father won. But in 1793 imperial values were different from what they are now, and the sugar and coffee islands were then of the first order of commercial importance. Pitt, in proposing the income-tax of 1798, calculated that, of the incomes enjoyed in Great Britain, those derived from the West Indies very much surpassed those derived from Ireland and from all the rest of the world outside the British Isles.
In the first two years of the war, before Spain and Holland by joining France made their colonies targets for our attack, there was nothing but the French West Indies for Pitt to take by way of war indemnity to the taxpayer. He was often thinking about that, while Burke was always thinking of putting down the French Revolution.
But, apart from all thought of gain, Pitt's attention was called to the West Indies by humanity and by the need of de-fending our existing interests. A social rising of negro slaves in the French islands had been stirred up by the French Revolutionists' proclamation of freedom and race equality. The French planters repudiated their allegiance to the negro-phil Republic at home, and applied to Great Britain to protect them from extirpation. The huge island of Haiti or San Domingo, part French, part Spanish, till then the wealthiest of the West Indian group, became the scene of unsurpassable horrors.
Thence the revolt of the slaves spread to the other islands, French and English alike, not excluding Jamaica. The blacks, stirred up by the agents of the French Republic, threatened the whole white race in the Archipelago. It was not a situation that Pitt could have left entirely alone. We were indeed being punished for Parliament's refusal to stop the slave-trade and mitigate the lot of the slaves in the British West Indies. If Wilberforce's advice had been taken earlier, the blacks would have been loyal to us instead of to the Jacobins. But whatever the cause of the fire, we had to put it out.
Want of medical provision and ignorance of tropical conditions caused our soldiers to die of fever by thousands, and when at last we were on the way to get the better of the situation, Spain in 1796 declared war against us and put her interest in San Domingo and other islands at the disposition of France. After many years, it all ended in the annexation by Britain of a few smaller French and Spanish islands, and the quelling of the servile revolt everywhere except in the largest area of dispute, Haiti, which remains a ` Black Republic ' to this day.
Period II. Some aspects of the War during the Interval between the two Coalitions, 1796 - 8 (see p. 83).
The governing condition of this period of the war is the desertion of Great Britain by her allies. Prussia, intent on Poland, slunk first out of the Western struggle which she had been the first to provoke. Then Spain made peace, and next year warlike alliance with France, in accordance with the fears and whims of Godoy, originally a handsome young gentleman serving in the ranks of the Royal Guards, who had become the Queen's paramour, and, therefore, the King's Minister. The Queen and he had at first adopted a policy of clericalism and reaction at home, coupled with war against the French Re-public. But when the war with France proved unsuccessful and ere long became unpopular, they were not ashamed to change sides completely, and become allies of the infidel and revolutionary power. Such were the irresponsible creatures supplied by the ancien régime to rule States, and to defend them against the young vigour of the French Republic. Last of all, Austria, driven out of Italy and threatened through the passes of the Eastern Alps by Bonaparte, bought for herself peace and the territories of the murdered Venetian Republic, at the price of consent to the Rhine frontier for France. Meanwhile, the Swiss and the Dutch were in the French grip, not wholly against their own will, and not without some ultimate benefit to their own antiquated institutions.
In 1793 it had been France alone against Europe; in 1797 it was England.
How much was Pitt responsible for this diplomatic catastrophe ? Its underlying cause was the moral collapse of the ancien régime all over the Continent, when brought into contact with the new France. But, when all is said, it argued diplomatic failure on the part of Britain's statesmen in relation to their allies. We had poured out gold like water for them in subsidies, with this result! Pitt's Foreign Minister was Lord Grenville, a man of unselfish patriotism, but without imagination, and devoid of sympathy with anyone outside the governing class of his own country. To foreigners, his manners and the style of his correspondence seemed repellent, and his ignorance of their affairs extreme. Indeed, neither Grenville nor Pitt had the qualities of a William III or a Marlborough, requisite to hold together a mob of decadent princes and selfish Courts, easily scared by the first shadow of defeat.
And so, when our armies had failed and our allies had deserted, we came to the crisis of sea-power. What was it to be worth to us, with Western Europe united for our destruction under efficient leadership, and the rest of the world looking on as neutral ? The limits of sea-power had been demonstrated in 1796, when Bonaparte had successfully invaded Italy from a base of supplies running along the Genoese Riviera under the guns of Nelson's ships.1 Next year, as a result of the entry of Spain into the war against us, the Government decided to withdraw our fleet from the Mediterranean, which for nearly a year and a half remained a ` French lake.'
During this nadir of our fortunes and reputation, occurred the naval mutinies at Spithead and the Nore. Spithead was a 'strike' of loyal men, who had no other means of getting their grievances redressed. It was successful, and it probably saved England from having to pay, at a later date, a higher price for her shameful neglect of the men on whom her safety depended. The mutiny at the Nore, on the other hand, which broke out after these concessions had been promised, was deeply resented by all loyal sailors and citizens. Such ill-conduct never recurred in the navy, after the reforms secured at Spithead had been put in force. The mutinies were a remarkable introduction to the heroic age of British seamanship. But officers and men, country and navy, having gone through it, understood each other better. Although there was thenceforth a marked improvement in the conditions of naval service, the treatment of the sailors remained throughout the war a disgrace to the humanity and to the gratitude of English public men.
While the mutinies were going on, Duncan, with two loyal ships, kept the Dutch fleet in the Texel by a brilliant piece of bluff. When discipline had been restored, he captured nine out of the sixteen Dutchmen at Camperdown.
Pitt's courage never faltered throughout these terrible months, with the Mediterranean lost, Europe lost, and Ireland certain to be lost too, if a French army of any size could land on its shores.1 He honestly tried to get peace with France in the negotiations of Lille, but when the war party, by the coup d'état of Fructidor, launched France decisively on the policy of endless war abroad, in order to maintain the despotism of an odious faction at home, he resolutely shouldered the burden he could no longer hope to lay down. His management of naval affairs is not open to the criticisms levelled at his military and diplomatic performance. He chose as head of the Admiralty, Lord Spencer, who had come over to him with the Portland Whigs, and was as good for the Navy as Dundas, the Secretary of State for War, was bad for the Army. To Pitt and Spencer belongs the credit, shared with Nelson's professional chief, Admiral Jervis (Lord St. Vincent), of choosing out one of the youngest flag-officers on the list, for the epoch-making service of reconquering the Mediterranean Sea.
The decision to fly the flag there again, in the face of material odds, was peculiarly Pitt's own. Spencer and Lord St. Vincent both had their doubts, and no wonder. The Spanish fleet, though scotched at St. Vincent, was still in being; the French fleet was in Toulon; and the ports of France, Spain and most of Italy were closed against us. It was a bold stake, but desperate situations require hazardous remedies, as Marlborough knew when he marched on the Danube. That such a campaign was decreed and that Nelson was put in charge of it, shows that in the crisis of our fate naval affairs were in strong hands.
When Nelson re-entered the Mediterranean in May 1798, Bonaparte was on the point of crossing the ` French Lake ' to found a French Empire in the Levant and to dominate the East. He sailed for Egypt. Nelson, ignorant of his destination, hunted for him on the face of the hazy deep and missed him by a chance. He landed and conquered Lower Egypt. But his fleet was destroyed at the mouth of the Nile by that perfection of moral, intellectual and professional qualities which we call the ' Nelson touch,' a thing new in naval war. Bonaparte, locked up in Egypt, was discredited. For want of sea communications, his attempt to conquer Turkey from Egypt failed, before no more serious opposition than Captain Sir Sidney Smith with a few British sailors and Turks on the top of the breach at Acre. The Princes of Europe who had been spell-bound by the fascination of French success, dared to move again. The immediate consequence of the battle of the Nile was the Second Coalition, which, after a brief career of glory, soon went the way of the First, for it was made of the same stuff. The more lasting consequences of the Nile were British domination of the islands and waters of the Mediterranean and renewed influence along its shores, and in the world as a whole, a superiority both material and moral over the enemy fleets which enabled us to survive the Napoleonic system in Europe, and to enjoy afterwards a hundred years of safety.
Period III. Some aspects of the War of the Second Coalition, 1799–1800 (see pp. 83-84, above).
The war had now fully acquired the character which it retained until 1812, of a series of spasmodic and ill-co-ordinated efforts to prevent the domination and exploitation of the European world by France. Ever since 1794, France could have had peace and safety if she had been content to remain within her own borders, but the temptation to embark upon wars of conquest was too strong. All along her eastern frontier, from the Netherlands to Italy, lay a series of small and un-warlike States, inhabited by populations discontented with their own political and social institutions, and looking towards France of the Revolution with fear and hope mingled in about equal pro-portions. The strong military States, less influenced by the revolutionary philosophers, lay far away in the East, and even they were incapable of sustained effort to protect conservative interests in the West. In the Second Coalition, Russia, after a brilliant beginning, showed herself as unreliable as Prussia in the First. England alone being in the true sense a nation, could alone be relied on.
Nor had even England the smallest intention of sending great armies to the Continent, or incurring any serious drain on her man-power. Her island position made it easy for her to keep out of the Continent for years together,1 and yet remain in a state of war, perpetually offering alliance and money to any power who would try another fall with France. These conditions prolonged the struggle for twenty years, until the insatiable ambition of France had raised up ` nations ' in Germany, Spain and Russia, to suppress, not indeed the French Revolution, but the French war-party.
The French system of conquest was predatory and selfish in intention, but in effect it was often progressive and beneficent. The Governments between Robespierre and Napoleon refused to make peace, because they dared not disband their soldiers and face bankruptcy and unpopularity at home. They maintained the armies at free quarters on foreign soil, and levied systematic contributions on the wealthier classes of the conquered lands, in order to keep alive from month to month the sick finance of France, which Pitt perpetually expected to see expire. Such considerations largely dictated the foreign policy of the French Government in relation to Holland, the Rhine country and, above all Italy.
But there was another aspect to this system of predatory warfare on the part of the French. In the countries which they entered in order to rob, they presented themselves as enemies of the ancien régime, appealing to the forces of progress. They destroyed feudalism and clerical privilege and summoned the professional and middle class to take its proper share in the leadership of the community. Bonaparte, himself of Italian origin, formed Italian Republics, contrary to the original design of the French home authorities, who had intended to plunder Italy and barter her back to Austria in return for the Rhine frontier. Their masterful new servant developed a policy of his own, of which the effect was to evoke the spirit of the risorgimento, at once Liberal and Nationalist, which in two generations placed a united Italy among the free nations.
In the course of these first political experiments of his in Italy, Bonaparte noticed that the common people were strongly averse to anything approaching that persecution of the priest-hood which had become part of the stock-in-trade of the Revolution. He saw that the State could shake itself free of clericalism without therefore oppressing the Catholic cult. On this and other points he conceived, from the lessons of his Italian experience, the idea of reconciling the great reforms of the Revolution with the permanent elements of the old life. This reconciliation was to prove the firmest basis of his future rule in France and in Europe.
The political aspect of French conquest condemned England, in her defence of Europe, to fight as the champion of the ancien régime, contrary to her main line of policy in the following century, and contrary even to her old position as the great anti-Papal power. The Pope and the leaders of the Catholic reaction became the clients abroad of the Protestant Toryism that would not allow Catholics to sit in the British Parliament. When Bonaparte was away in Egypt, the Russian general Suwarow's victories restored the ancien régime in Italy for a year, while Nelson, at Naples, under Lady Hamilton's influence, made England the abettor of some of the worst acts of those barbarous reactionary forces of which, in the days of Palmerston and Gladstone, she became the powerful enemy.
The Terror, under Robespierre, had killed off many of the most promising leaders of the French Republic, and had frightened generous youth from politics to the less dangerous trade of war. The domestic government of the Directorate was the incapable tyranny of a faction which offered its subjects no compensations, material or moral, for their servitude. Now that it had lost Italy, Frenchmen began to look out for a more attractive and able despotism.
In the autumn of 1799, Bonaparte, leaving his army marooned in Egypt, stole back to France. She had learnt in his absence how much she had need of him. At the final revolutionary journée of Brumaire, the ' foggy month ' of the Republican Calendar, itself now dated,1 the Directorate fell at his touch like over-ripe fruit. He became nominally First Consul, really perpetual dictator, acclaimed by the great majority of Frenchmen who now only desired to be protected in the quiet enjoyment of what the Revolution had won for them. They asked for order, security and sound administration. For this they had applied to the right man, and as they felt his master hand, they gave themselves to him in an ecstasy of self-surrender.
` To weld the nation in a name of dread,
Italy was reconquered in a few weeks and the prestige of the new government established by the First Consul's sensational passage of the Alps over the Great St. Bernard, and the brief campaign of Marengo. The Italian triumph, being followed by Moreau's victory of Hohenlinden in the snowy Bavarian forest, again drove Austria out of the war at the Treaty of Lunéville. Russia had already fallen off. The Second Coalition had collapsed. Western Europe was acknowledged as French, and Britain stood alone once more.
But for some years to come, peace had for Bonaparte victories yet more renowned than war. During the five years between Hohenlinden and Austerlitz, France carried out no military operations of the first order. But in those years she received from her master new institutions, to replace those of the ancien régime which the Revolution had destroyed, but for which the Jacobins and the Directorate had found no better substitute than the lawless vigour of self-appointed Commit-tees. The Revolution now crystallised into law and order. French life is based to-day on the highly centralised Napoleonic system of local administration, of education, and of justice, and on the laws of his great Code. Even the Napoleonic settlement of Church and State survived until the twentieth century. Governments and parties might change in the nineteenth century Bourbons, Orleanists, Second Empires, Republics, might come or go but they all moved and had their being inside the framework of French life that the First Consul shaped, securing in a permanent and solid form the social benefits of the Revolution.
Bonaparte and the able Civil Service that he chose and inspired, worked in those five years more creatively perhaps than any set of administrators had ever worked before. They set up the machinery of the first modern State. On the example of France, the centralised States of modern Europe, particularly the German, were afterwards modelled. Even England, with her freer life, at once more local and more personal, has been influenced by that first great engine of State efficiency.
Bonaparte seemed only to be giving France what she craved. But in his own thought he was preparing her to be his weapon of conquest. When he took her in hand, she was already the one self-conscious ` nation ' on the Continent. He gave her the only modern administration in the world. Thus doubly formidable, how could she fail, under the leadership of a genius as great as Caesar's, to conquer the antiquated incompetence of Europe ? How indeed, until Europe caught from her some-thing of her new spirit and borrowed from her something of her new machinery ? Till then, England would have to hold out as best she could. But England also was strong for self-defence in the monopoly of two new things a fleet like Nelson's and the Industrial system.
Period IV. Some aspects of the Armed Neutrality, Dec. 1800-April 1801 (see p. 84, above).
When, owing to the Irish affair, Addington replaced Pitt in February i 801, the prospect was dark indeed. Bonaparte, with Western Europe united under him, with Austria retired from the contest, had drawn the powers of the North-East into a combination against England. Russia headed Denmark, Sweden and Prussia in a League of ` Armed Neutrality.'
The Armed Neutrality was a revival of its predecessor of twenty years before. Its main object was to contest, by arms if necessary, the right of British ships to search neutrals for contraband. But there were further motives underlying the new combination. The half-crazy Czar Paul was drawn into the scheme by his admiration for Bonaparte, his fury against his late allies, his excited visions of Muscovite armies invading India and striking down the power of England; Prussia by her designs on Hanover ; Denmark by her fear of Russia ; everyone by a fascinated dread of France and her young master.
The strangling of the Czar Paul by the officers of his barbarian army, tired of holding their lives and properties at the mercy of a madman, might possibly have dissolved the League for a time, even without Nelson's help. But the destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen, before the news of the outlandish murder had reached Denmark, produced a moral effect more profound and lasting than the death of any Czar.
Technically and humanly, Copenhagen was the finest of Nelson's campaigns. On this occasion he had many unusual difficulties to overcome : the stubborn resistance of a northern and a seafaring race; an enemy fleet fed throughout the action from the capital, and aided by the guns of its forts ; shoals which entrapped three of the attacking ships, and would have ensured disaster if retreat had been attempted. And all through he had to deal with Sir Hyde Parker as his Commanding Officer, sulky and secretive when the campaign opened, and always timid, except when under the direct personal magnet-ism of his famous subordinate. Over all these dangers Nelson triumphed by professional science and instinct, by courage that accepted great risks open-eyed, by temper and wisdom both in personal dealings with Parker and in diplomatic dealings with the Danes after the battle was won.
If Nelson had been in supreme command, he would have masked Copenhagen instead of attacking it, and would have gone straight up the Baltic to Reval to destroy the Russian ships there, and so strike at the political mainspring of the League. On the other hand, Parker, if left to himself, would have remained in the Kattegat and would never have entered the Baltic at all, in face of the fleets of Denmark, Russia and Sweden. The decision to attack Copenhagen was a compromise between the two men, though Nelson planned and executed every detail. If the Czar Paul had lived, the overruling of Nelson by Parker in the matter of Reval might have cost England dear.
When Nelson was dragging Parker into the Baltic to face the odds and brave the fates,' he wrote to him on March 24th:
`Here you are, with almost the safety, certainly with the honour of England more entrusted to you than ever yet fell to the lot of any British Officer. On your decision depends whether our country shall be degraded in the eyes of Europe, or whether she shall rear her head higher than ever.'
Early that morning, all unknown to the two Admirals, the Czar Paul had been murdered, and thereby perhaps the immediate safety of England had been secured. But Nelson's words remained true. It was owing not to the death of Paul, but to Nelson's spirit and to Nelson's action that, at the cost of nearly a thousand seamen killed and wounded, England ` reared her head higher than ever.' It was because England now ` reared her head high ' at sea, that she was able to survive the accumulated perils of the Napoleonic period. Copenhagen, indeed, together with the Nile and Trafalgar, gave a triple sanction to the international creed of British naval invincibility, which carried us through the nineteenth century with security unchallenged. When, in our own day, England was again in danger, these memories, sunk deep into the world's consciousness, did much to paralyse German naval initiative, and to foster, against the newer German réclame, the old belief that our hold on the sea could never be loosened. Nelson's victories have proved, both in space and in time, more far-reaching than those of Napoleon himself.
Nearly a year passed after Copenhagen before Addington was able to bring to an end the negotiations for the highly unsatisfactory Treaty of Amiens, in which the First Consul scored most of the points. The only important event of that last year of war was the reduction of Bonaparte's old army, marooned in Egypt. The spirited operations on the shore near Alexandria cost us the fine old soldier, Sir Ralph Abercromby, killed in the hour of victory. The conduct of the British troops and their terrible volley-firing surprised the French. Such was the outcome of recent reforms and of a spirit in the Army that had not been noticeable in Flanders or the West Indies. Abercromby's last order, as he was being carried dying off the field, breathed that new spirit and is worthy to be remembered with Sir Philip Sidney's refusal of the cup of water : ` What is it you are placing under my head ? ' he asked. Only a soldier's blanket,' was the reply. ` Only a soldier's blanket 1 A soldier's blanket is of great consequence ; you must send me the name of the soldier, that it may be returned to him.'
Having seen the French out of Egypt we had no wish to stay there ourselves. We had already one Eastern Empire in India, and the route to it in those days lay, not by the Suez Canal still undug, but by six months' sail round the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape, though given back to Holland at the Treaty of Amiens, was taken again for good in i 8o6, largely to secure the route to India from the attacks of France and her vassals.