1805

1805.

Doings of Napoleon—His letter to George III.—Lord Mulgrave's reply—War declared against Spain—General Fast—Men voted for Army and Navy—The Salt Duty—Withdrawal of “The Army of England”—Battle of Trafalgar and death of Nelson—General Thanksgiving.

THE YEAR 1805 was uneventful for many reasons, the chief of which was that Bonaparte was principally engaged in consolidating his power after his Coronation. He was elected Emperor on the 20th of May, 1804, but was not crowned until December of the same year. In March, 1805, he was invited by the Italian Republic to be their monarch, and, in April, he and Josephine left Paris for Milan, and in May he crowned himself King of Italy.

He was determined, if only nominally, to hold out the olive branch of peace to England, and on the 2nd of January, 1805, he addressed the following letter to George the Third.

Sir and Brother ,—Called to the throne of France by Providence, and by the suffrages of the senate, the people, and the army, my first sentiment is a wish for peace. France and England abuse their prosperity. They may contend for ages; but do their governments well fulfil the most sacred of their duties, and will not so much blood, shed uselessly, and without a view to any end, condemn them in their own consciences? I consider it as no disgrace to make the first step. I have, I hope, sufficiently proved to the world that I fear none of the chances of war; it, besides, presents nothing that I need to fear: peace is the wish of my heart, but war has never been inconsistent with my glory. I conjure your Majesty not to deny yourself the happiness of giving peace to the world, nor to leave that sweet satisfaction to your children; for certainly there never was a more fortunate opportunity, nor a moment more favourable, to silence all the passions and listen only to the sentiments of humanity and reason. This moment once lost, what end can be assigned to a war which all my efforts will not be able to terminate? Your Majesty has gained more within the last ten years both in territory and riches than the whole extent of Europe. Your nation is at the highest point of prosperity: to what can it hope from war? To form a coalition with some Powers of the Continent! The Continent will remain tranquil—a coalition can only increase the preponderance and continental greatness of France. To renew intestine troubles? The times are no longer the same. To destroy our finances? Finances founded on flourishing agriculture can never be destroyed. To take from France her colonies? The Colonies are to France only a secondary object; and does not your Majesty already possess more than you know how to preserve? If your Majesty would but reflect, you must perceive that the war is without an object, without any presumable result to yourself. Alas! what a melancholy prospect to cause two nations to fight merely for the sake of fighting. The world is sufficiently large for our two nations to live in it, and reason is sufficiently powerful to discover means of reconciling everything, when the wish for reconciliation exists on both sides. I have, however,fulfilled a sacred duty, and one which is precious to my heart. I trust your Majesty will believe in the sincerity of my sentiments, and my wish to give you every proof of it.

Napoleon.”

When the King opened Parliament on the 15th of January, 1805, he referred to this letter thus: “I have recently received a communication from the French Government, containing professions of a pacific disposition. I have, in consequence, expressed my earnest desire to embrace the first opportunity of restoring the blessings of peace on such grounds as may be consistent with the permanent safety and interests of my dominions; but I am confident you will agree with me that those objects are closely connected with the general security of Europe.”

The reply of Lord Mulgrave (who had succeeded Lord Harrowby as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) was both courteous and politic. It was dated the 14th of January, and was addressed to M. Talleyrand.

“His Britannic Majesty has received the letter which has been addressed to him by the head of the French Government, dated the 2nd of the present month. There is no object which His Majesty has more at heart, than to avail himself of the first opportunity to procure again for his subjects the advantages of a peace, founded on bases which may not be incompatible with the permanent security and essential interests of his dominions. His Majesty is persuaded that this end can only be attained by arrangements which may, at the same time, provide for the future safety and tranquillity of Europe, and prevent the recurrence of the dangers and calamities in which it is involved. Conformably to this sentiment, His Majesty feels it is impossible for him to answer more particularly to the overture that has been made him, till he has had time to communicate with the Powers on the Continent, with whom he is engaged with confidential connexions and relations, and particularly the Emperor of Russia, who has given the strongest proofs of the wisdom and elevation of the sentiments with which he is animated, and the lively interest which he takes in the safety and independence of the Continent.

Mulgrave.”

Very shortly after this, England declared war against Spain, and the Declaration was laid before Parliament on January 24th. A long discussion ensued thereon; but the Government had a majority on their side of 313 against 106.

Probably, His Majesty's Government had some inkling of what was coming, for on the 2nd of January was issued a proclamation for another general Fast, which was to take place on the 20th of February, “for the success of His Majesty's arms.” History records that the Volunteers went dutifully to church; and also that “a very elegant and fashionable display of equestrians and charioteers graced the public ride about three o'clock. The Countesses of Cholmondeley and Harcourt were noticed for the first time this season, each of whom sported a very elegant landau. Mr. Buxton sported his four bays in his new phaeton, in a great style, and Mr. Chartres his fine set of blacks.” Thus showing that different people have different views of National Fasting and Chastening.

That the arm of the flesh was also relied on, is shown by the fact that Parliament in January voted His Majesty 120,000 men, including marines, for his Navy; and in February 312,048 men for his Army, with suitable sums for their maintenance and efficiency.

Of course this could not be done without extra taxation, and the Budget of the 18th of February proposed—an extra tax of 1d., 2d., and 3d. respectively on single, double, and treble letters (as they were called) passing through the post; extra tax of 6d. per bushel on salt, extra taxes on horses, and on legacies. All these were taken without much demur, with one exception, and that was the Salt Duty Bill. Fierce were the squabbles over this tax, and much good eloquence was expended, both in its behalf and against it, and it had to be materially altered before it was passed; one of the chief arguments against it being that it would injuriously affect the fisheries, as large quantities were used in curing. But a heavy tax on salt would also hamper bacon and ham curing, &c., and Mrs. Bull had an objection to see Pitt as

BILLY IN THE SALT-BOX.[21]]

The Flotilla could not sail, and “the Army of England” was inactive, when circumstances arose that rendered the withdrawal of the latter imperative: consequently the Flotilla was practically useless, for it had no troops to transport. Austria had gone to war with France without the formality of a Declaration, and the forces of the Allies were computed at 250,000. The French troops were reckoned at 275,000 men, but “the Army of England” comprised 180,000 of these, and they must needs be diverted to the point of danger.

We can imagine the great wave of relief that spread over the length and breadth of this land at this good news. The papers were, of course, most jubilant, and the whole nation must have felt relieved of a great strain. Even the Volunteers must have got somewhat sick of airing and parading their patriotism, with the foe within tangible proximity, and must have greatly preferred its absence.

The Times  is especially bitter on the subject:

“1. The scene  that now opens upon the soldiers of France, by being obliged to leave the coast, and march eastwards, is sadly different from that Land of Promise which, for two years, has been held out to them, in all sorts of gay delusions. After all the efforts of the Imperial Boat Builder, instead of sailing over the Channel, they have to cross the Rhine. The bleak forests  of Suabia will make but a sorry exchange for the promised spoils of our Docks  and Warehouses. They will not find any equivalent for the plunder of the Bank, in another bloody passage through ‘the Valley of Hell ;' but they seem to have forgotten the magnificent promise of the Milliard.”[22]

The Times  (September 13th) quoting from a French paper, shows that they endeavoured to put a totally different construction on the withdrawal of their troops, or rather to make light of it. “Whilst the German papers, with much noise, make more troops march than all the Powers together possess, France, which needs not to augment her forces, in order to display them in an imposing manner, detaches a few thousand troops from the Army of England, to cover her frontiers, which are menaced by the imprudent conduct of Austria. England is preparing fresh victories for us, and for herself fresh motives for decrying her ambition. After all, those movements are not yet a certain sign of war,” &c.

The greatest loss the English Nation sustained this year, was the death of Admiral Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, which was fought on the 21st of October, 1805.

DEATH OF NELSON.

On the 6th of November the glorious news of the Victory was published, and there was but one opinion—that it was purchased too dearly. That evening London was but partially illuminated. On the 7th these symptoms of rejoicing were general, but throughout them there was a sombre air—a mingling of the cypress with the laurel, and men went about gloomily, thinking of the dead hero: at least most did—some did not; even of those who might have worn a decent semblance of woe—old sailors—some of whom, according to the Times, behaved in a somewhat unseemly manner. “A squadron of shattered tars  were drawn up in line of battle, opposite the Treasury, at anchor, with their lights aloft, all well stowed with grog, flourishing their mutilated stumps, cheering all hands, and making the best of their position, in collecting prize money.”

A General Thanksgiving for the Victory was proclaimed to take place on the 5th of December. The good Volunteers were duly marched to church, and one member of the Royal Family—the Duke of Cambridge—actually attended Divine Worship on the occasion. At Drury Lane Theatre, “the Interlude of The Victory and Death of Lord Nelson  seemed to affect the audience exceedingly; but the tear of sensibility was wiped away by the merry eccentricities of The Weathercock ”—the moral to be learned from which seems to be, that the good folks of the early century seemed to think that God should not be thanked, nor heroes mourned, too much. This must close this year, for Nelson's funeral belongs to the next.

After the Battle of Trafalgar, the Patriotic Fund was again revived, and over £50,000 subscribed by the end of the year.

Consols were remarkably even during this year, varying very little even at the news of Trafalgar: January, 61⅞; December, 65.

The quartern loaf varied from January 1s. 4¼d., to December 1s. 0¼d.

Wheat varied from 95s. to 90s. per quarter.


[21]Pitt says, as he looks from the Salt-box, “How do you do, cookey?” She exclaims, “Curse the fellow, how he has frightened me. I think in my heart he is getting in everywhere! Who the deuce would have thought of finding him in the Salt-box!!!”

[22]September 11, 1805.