An Essay Picked by blupete

"Prince Maurice's Parrot"
Or, French Instructions to a British Plenipotentiary. 1

Sept. 18, 1814

l. That the French people were so deeply implicated in the Slave Trade, as not even to know that it had been abolished by this country.
2. That the French press had been so long under the complete despotic control of Bonaparte, that the present government must despair of making any immediate impression on the independence of the political opinions, or the energetic firmness of the individual feelings of the people, lately consigned to their protection.
3. That such were their blind and rooted prejudice against the English, that we could only hope to convince them of our entire sincerity and disinterestedness in abolishing the Slave Trade ourselves, by lending a helping hand to its revival by others.
4. That if we consented to give up our colonial conquests to the French, on conditions dictated only by the general principles of humanity, this would be a proof that we intended to keep them in our own hands from the most base and mercenary motives.
5. That the French Government simply wished to begin the Slave Trade again as the easiest way of leaving it off, that so they might combine the experiment of its gradual restoration with that of its gradual abolition, and , by giving the people an interest in it, more effectually wean their affections from it.
6. That it is highly honourable in us to have proposed, and in the French to have agreed to, the abolition of the Slave Trade, at the end of five years, though it would have been insulting in us to have proposed, and degrading in them to have submitted to, any stipulation on the subject.
7. That to rob and murder on the coast of Africa is among the internal rights of legislation and domestic privileges of every European and Christian state.
8. That we are not to teach the French people religion and morality at the point of the sword, though this is what we have been professing to teach them for the last two and twenty years.
9. That his most Christian Majesty Louis XVIII. is so fully impressed with the humane and benevolent sentiments of Great Britain and the allies in favour of the abolition of the Slave Trade, that he was ready to have plunged all Europe into a war for its continuance.
10. That we could not possibly make the abolition (though the French government would certainly have made the revival) of the Slave Trade a sine quo non in the treaty of peace, and that they would otherwise have gone to war to recover by force of arms what they can only owe to the credulity or complaisance of our negociators.

Lastly. That by consenting to the re-establishment of the Slave Trade in France, we were most effectually preparing the way for its abolition all over the world.

"With so little a web as this will I ensnare so great a fly as Cassio!"--Such were the formidable barriers, the intricate lines of circumvallation, drawn by the French round the abolition of the Slave Trade, as strong as those which they threw up to defend their capital: yet we think, that after our political missionary had overleaped the one, he might have broken through the other. Where there is a will, there is a way. But there are some minds to which every flimsy pretext presents an insurmountable obstacle, where only the interests of justice and humanity are at stake. These persons are always impotent to save--powerful only to oppress and to betray. Their torpid faculties and amiable apathy are never roused by the calculations of self-interest, or the thirst of revenge. The glossy sleekness of the panther's skin does not blunt the sharpness of his fangs, and his fawning eye dooms his victim while it glitters. But to come to Lord Castlereagh, in the present instance, he appears to have been cajoled into acquiscence from his well-known indifference to the object. His speech contained nothing but a story of cock and bull, told by M. Talleyrand with great grace and gravity, assented to by his Lordship with equal affability and address, and repeated to the House of Commons with hesitating volubility and plausible negligence of manner. It is well to sacrifice to the graces; but it is too much to have sacrificed a whole continent to the graces of M. Talleyrand's person, or the purity of his French accent. We can imagine how the scene took place. This question of Africa, being considered as an idle question, in which neither courts nor ministers were concerned, would be naturally left as a sort of carte-blanche for all the flourishes of national politesse, as a kind of noman's ground for a trial of diplomatic skill and complaisance. So Lord Castlereagh, drawing on his gloves, hemmed once or twice, while the French minister carelessly took snuff: he then introduced the question with a smile, which was answered by a more gracious smile from M. Talleyrand: his Lordship then bowed, as if to bespeak attention; but the Prince of Benevento bowing still lower, prevented what he had to say; and the cries of Africa were lost amidst the nods and smiles and shrugs of these demi-puppets. The Ex-bishop of Autun may in future hope to find a successful representative in the English ambassador from Paris; for the noble secretary mistified the house, as he had himself been mistified by his highness of Benevento.--Count Fathom, after his defeat by the French abbé, practised in this his adopted country with great applause! We may take this opportunity of remarking, that we do not think his Lordship at all improved during his stay in France. He performs the arc of his oscillation from the treasury bench to the table, and from the table back again, in a second less time than he used to do. He commits dulness with greater vivacity, and flounders more briskly in an argument. He has enhanced the loose dangling slip-shop manner which so well accords with his person and understanding, into something positive an dogmatical; and is even grown tenacious of the immaculateness of his maiden treaty, which he will not have so much as suspected: In this alternation of tone we think him wrong. We have always looked upon Lord Castlereagh as an excellent taffeta lining to a court dress; but he should leave the buckram of office to his friend the secretary of the Admiralty.



1 Hazlitt's "Prince Maurice's Parrot" is to be found in Political Essays (1819).


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