CHAPTER XIII. FROM THE 18TH FRUCTIDOR, IN THE YEAR V. (4TH OF SEPTEMBER, 1797), TO THE 18TH BRUMAIRE, IN THE YEAR VIII. (9TH OF NOVEMBER, 1799)
The chief result of the 18th Fructidor was a return, with slight mitigation, to the revolutionary government. The two ancient privileged classes were again excluded from society; the dissentient priests were again banished. The Chouans, and former fugitives, who occupied the field of battle in the departments, abandoned it to the old republicans: those who had formed part of the military household of the Bourbons, the superior officers of the crown, the members of the parliaments, commanders of the order of the Holy Ghost and Saint Louis, the knights of Malta, all those who had protested against the abolition of nobility, and who had preserved its titles, were to quit the territory of the republic. The ci- devant nobles, or those ennobled, could only enjoy the rights of citizens, after a term of seven years, and after having gone through a sort of apprenticeship as Frenchmen. This party, by desiring sway, restored the dictatorship.
At this period the directory attained its maximum of power; for some time it had no enemies in arms. Delivered from all internal opposition, it imposed the continental peace on Austria by the treaty of Campo-Formio, and on the empire by the congress of Rastadt. The treaty of Campo-Formio was more advantageous to the cabinet of Vienna than the preliminaries of Leoben. Its Belgian and Lombard states were paid for by a part of the Venetian states. This old republic was divided; France retained the Ionian Isles, and gave the city of Venice and the provinces of Istria and Dalmatia to Austria. In this the directory committed a great fault, and was guilty of an attempt against liberty. In the fanaticism of a system, we may desire to set a country free, but we should never give it away. By arbitrarily distributing the territory of a small state, the directory set the bad example of this traffic in nations since but too much followed. Besides, Austrian dominion would, sooner or later, extend in Italy, through this imprudent cession of Venice.
The coalition of 1792 and 1793 was dissolved; England was the only remaining belligerent power. The cabinet of London was not at all disposed to cede to France, which it had attacked in the hope of weakening it, Belgium, Luxembourg, the left bank of the Rhine, Porentruy, Nice, Savoy, the protectorate of Genoa, Milan, and Holland. But finding it necessary to appease the English opposition, and reorganize its means of attack, it made propositions of peace; it sent Lord Malmesbury as plenipotentiary, first to Paris, then to Lille. But the offers of Pitt not being sincere, the directory did not allow itself to be deceived by his diplomatic stratagems. The negotiations were twice broken off, and war continued between the two powers. While England negotiated at Lille, she was preparing at Saint Petersburg the triple alliance, or second coalition.
The directory, on its side, without finances, without any party in the interior, having no support but the army, and no eminence save that derived from the continuation of its victories, was not in a condition to consent to a general peace. It had increased the public discontent by the establishment of certain taxes and the reduction of the debt to a consolidated third, payable in specie only, which had ruined the fundholders. It became necessary to maintain itself by war. The immense body of soldiers could not be disbanded without danger. Besides, being deprived of its power, and being placed at the mercy of Europe, the directory had attempted a thing never done without creating a shock, except in times of great tranquillity, of great ease, abundance, and employment. The directory was driven by its position to the invasion of Switzerland and the expedition into Egypt.
Bonaparte had then returned to Paris. The conqueror of Italy and the pacificator of the continent, was received with enthusiasm, constrained on the part of the directory, but deeply felt by the people. Honours were accorded him, never yet obtained by any general of the republic. A patriotic altar was prepared in the Luxembourg, and he passed under an arch of standards won in Italy, on his way to the triumphal ceremony in his honour. He was harangued by Barras, president of the directory, who, after congratulating him on his victories, invited him "to crown so noble a life by a conquest which the great country owed to its insulted dignity." This was the conquest of England. Everything seemed in preparation for a descent, while the invasion of Egypt was really the enterprise in view.
Such an expedition suited both Bonaparte and the directory. The independent conduct of that general in Italy, his ambition, which, from time to time, burst through his studied simplicity, rendered his presence dangerous. He, on his side, feared, by his inactivity, to compromise the already high opinion entertained of his talents: for men always require from those whom they make great, more than they are able to perform. Thus, while the directory saw in the expedition to Egypt the means of keeping a formidable general at a distance, and a prospect of attacking the English by India, Bonaparte saw in it a gigantic conception, an employment suited to his taste, and a new means of astonishing mankind. He sailed from Toulon on the 30th Floreal, in the year VI. (19th May, 1798), with a fleet of four hundred sail, and a portion of the army of Italy; he steered for Malta; of which he made himself master, and from thence to Egypt.