Chateaubriand's memoirs, XXVII, 7

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Mémoires d'Outre-tombe


Book XXVII, chapter 7
More of my despatches



During the course of June and July, affairs in Spain began to seriously concern the Cabinet in London. Lord Londonderry and the majority of his Ambassadors when speaking of these matters displayed anxiety and an almost laughable dread. The government feared that in the event of a rupture we would need to defeat the Spanish; the Ministers of other powers trembled lest we be defeated; they always envisaged our army adopting the tricolour cockade.

In my despatch of 28th June, no. 35, the English position is faithfully reflected:

No. 35 ‘London, the 28th June 1822.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
It is easier to tell you what Lord Londonderry thinks, regarding Spain, than it would be to penetrate the secret instructions given to Sir William A’Court; however I will neglect nothing in my attempts to procure the information you requested in your last despatch, no. 18. If I have judged the political position of the English Cabinet and the character of Lord Londonderry correctly, I am convinced that Sir William A’Court is carrying almost nothing in writing. He will have been recommended, verbally, to observe the parties without getting involved in their quarrels. The Cabinet of St James does not like the Cortès, but it despises Ferdinand. It will do nothing for the Royalists: that is certain. Moreover, it suffices that our influence is exercised in favour of opinions where English influence supports opposite opinions. Our reviving prosperity is inspiring lively envy. Among the Statesmen here, there is certainly a vague fear of the revolutionary passions that are traversing Spain; but this fear is silent in the face of private interests: of such a kind that if on the one side Great Britain could exclude our goods from the Peninsula, and on the other she could recognise the independence of the Spanish colonies, she would readily involve herself in events, and console herself concerning the problems which would newly overwhelm the continental monarchies. The same principle which prevents England withdrawing her Ambassador from Constantinople causes her to send an Ambassador to Madrid: she holds back from the common fate, and only concerns herself with the part she might play in the revolutions of empires.
I have the honour, etc.’

Returning, in my despatch of the 16th July, no. 40, to the news from Spain, I said to Monsieur Montmorency:

No. 40. ‘London, the 16th of July 1822.
Monsieur le Vicomte,
The English newspapers, following the French newspapers, this morning carried the news from Madrid, up to the 18th inclusive. I had expected no better of the King of Spain, and was not surprised. If that wretched Prince must perish, the nature of the catastrophe is not a matter of indifference to the rest of the world; a dagger would only cut down the monarch, a scaffold might end the monarchy. It already smacks far too much of the judgement meted out to Charles I and Louis XVI; Heaven preserve us from a third judgement whereby such crimes might seem to establish by their authority popular validity, and a body of law hostile to kings! We can now wait on everything: a declaration of war on the part of the Spanish government is among the eventualities that the French government must have foreseen. In any case, we will soon be obliged to end the ‘cordon sanitaire’, since, once September is past, if the plague does not reappear in Barcelona, it would be truly derisory to speak of a cordon sanitaire; it would then be necessary to declare it frankly to be an army, and spell out the reasons which oblige us to maintain that army’s presence. Would that not be equivalent to declaring war on the Cortès? On the other hand, how could we dissolve the cordon sanitaire? That act of weakness would compromise French security, debase government, and revive among us the hopes of the revolutionary faction.
I have the honour to be, etc, etc, etc.’