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It is as the leader and guide of what may be called the English policy in that memorable era that Pitt's name will longest be remembered. Though that policy was not without strenuous opposition, it was carried consistently through to the end, and it was what contributed more than any thing else to break the power of Napoleon. It is for this reason that Pitt's most elaborate speech on the policy of the English Government in relation to France is selected not only as a favorable specimen of his eloquence, but as having an influence of commanding importance on the stupendous affairs of the time.
This speech is still the best exponent of the English view of the Napoleonic wars.
Notwithstanding all his greatness, there was one weak point in Pitt's line of policy. He made the mistake of constantly underestimating the power of the enthusiasm awakened by the revolutionary ideas in France. This was equivalent to attaching too low an estimate to the strength of the enemy. It was in conse
quence of this error that he formed coalition after coalition, only to see them all shattered by Napoleon and his enthusiastic followers. When his last great coalition was broken by the battle of Austerlitz the blow was too much for his declining health ; and, worn out with toil and anxiety, he sank rapidly, and expired on the 26th of January, 1806.
It is the judgment of Alison that “ Considered with reference to the general principles by which his conduct was regulated, and the constancy with which he maintained them through adverse fortune, the history of Europe has not so great a statesman to exhibit.”
ON HIS REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE WITH NAPOLEON BONAPARTE. HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEB
RUARY 3, 180o.
On the day after Bonaparte was inaugurated as First Consul of France, December 25, 1799, he addressed a personal letter to the King of England, asking for peace. The English Government, however, entertained a keen resentment at what they regarded the evasive and insulting conduct of the French Directory during the last negotiations. Accordingly, the reply of Lord Grenville, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, rejected the proposed opening of negotiations for peace. The Government justified its attitude by referring to the course of the French during the war. It declared that its beginning had been an
unprovoked attack” on the part of the French, that the “ system " which inspired the war
“continued to prevail,” that England could present no defence but that of open and steady hostility” to the system, that “the best and most natural pledge of the reality and permanence of peace” had been rejected by the French, that although the English “did not claim to prescribe to France what shall be her form of government" yet they desired security for future peace, and
unhappily no such security hitherto exists, no sufficient evidence of the principles by which the new government will be directed, no reasonable ground by which to judge of its stability.” To this letter Talleyrand wrote a spirited reply;
and Lord Grenville closed the correspondence with a reaffirmation of his Government's former position.
The correspondence was called for, and was placed before the Commons on the 3d of February, 1800. Mr. Dundas immediately proposed an Address to the Throne approving of the course taken by the ministry. This opened the whole subject of the attitude of England toward Napoleon for debate. Whitbred, Canning, and Erskine complained in strong terms of the discourteous language used by Lord Grenville,
Pitt made no defence on this point, but took up the subject on the broadest scale. He reviewed not only the origin of the war, but also the atrocities of the French in overrunning a large part of Europe, the instability of the successive French governments, his own motives in treating with the French on a former occasion, and the character of Bonaparte as a military commander. The speech is at once the most important and the most elaborate ever delivered by Pitt. It expressed and defined the policy of the nation in the great struggle which as yet had only begun. As a parliamentary oration, designed at once to inform and inspire, it has probably never been surpassed.
SIR,—I am induced, at this period of the debate, to offer my sentiments to the House, both from an apprehension that at a later hour the attention of the House must necessarily be exhausted, and because the sentiment with which the honorable and learned gentleman [Mr. Erskine] began his speech, and with which he has thought proper to conclude it, places the question precisely on that ground on which I am most desirous of discussing it. The learned
gentleman seems to assume as the foundation of his reasoning, and as the great argument for immediate treaty, that every effort to overturn the system of the French Revolution must be unavailing; and that it would be not only imprudent, but almost impious, to struggle longer against that order of things which, on I know not what principle of predestination, he appears to consider as immortal. Little as I am inclined to accede to this opinion, I am not sorry that the honorable gentleman has contemplated the subject in this serious view. I do, indeed, consider the French Revolution as the severest trial which the visitation of Providence has ever yet inflicted upon the nations of the earth; but I cannot help reflecting, with satisfaction, that this country, even under such a trial, has not only been exempted from those calamities which have covered almost every other part of Europe, but appears to have been reserved as a refuge and asylum to those who fled from its persecution, as a barrier to oppose its progress, and perhaps ultimately as an instrument to deliver the world from the crimes and miseries which have attended it.
Under this impression, I trust the House will forgive me, if I endeavor, as far as I am able, to