Charles James Fox: a Man for the People

By Loren Dudley Reid | Go to book overview

26
Quest for Peace 1799-1800

They are not fighting--Do not disturb them--they are merely pausing!--this man is not expiring with agony--that man is not dead--he is only pausing!

Charles James Fox

While Fox was enjoying his leisure at St Anne's, Bonaparte was planning political manoeuvres that effectively disrupted it.

Now the First Consul of the newly established republic, Bonaparte was a person of extraordinary talent who had an exalted belief in his own capacities. 'Never speak unless you know you are the ablest man in the room,' he once said, a maxim that still allowed him to discourse freely on a multitude of topics. He could stir men with well chosen words, or he could use forceful positive action as the situation required: a whiff of grapeshot to overawe a mob, a movement of an army corps to humiliate a kingdom. He was a man of tremendous energy. And he was resilient; he could absorb defeat at one spot and direct victory at another.

In 1798 the Directory had assigned him to train an army for the invasion. The difficulties of this venture, however, have made more than one general take a second look, so Bonaparte had decided instead to carry the war to Egypt. Although Pitt had sent a squadron under Nelson to the Mediterranean, Bonaparte eluded the British fleet and landed his army at Alexandria. His first skirmishes had been successful, but in August Nelson located the French fleet and sank all but four French ships. Bonaparte's troops, marooned, launched a campaign into Syria but had to retreat back into Egypt.

By the spring of 1799 the Second Coalition had been formed, including Austria, Russia, Turkey, and Naples. During the summer the allies had been able to drive the French out of Italy and advance into Switzerland, Military setbacks plus the state of affairs at home had threatened the existence of the Directory, so Bonaparte hurried to Paris, overthrew the Directory, and in November set up a republican form of government headed by three consuls. Meanwhile the Russians had met reverses, and, discouraged, pulled out of the coalition.

Bonaparte now thought the time opportune to seek an armistice. On

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