NAPOLEON I - Letter Signed 1803 - Ordering Lord Elgin out of Paris
NAPOLEON I (1769-1821)
Letter Signed (“Bonaparte”) to Jean-Jacques Cambacérès demanding that the majority of the English still in Paris be expelled to nearby towns, and insisting that Lord Elgin should be sent “several leagues away”.
1 page 4to in French with integral blank leaf, headed by a vignette with the words “Bonaparte Ier Consul de la République”. Lille, 18 messidor an XI [7 July 1803].
Trans: “I send you, Citizen Consul, the report of the English who are in Paris. There are far too many. Send them to Fontainebleau or to any other small town nearby, leaving only forty at most in Paris.
I don’t think lord Elgin can remain in Paris without inconvenience, send him several leagues away.
The presence of so great a number of English in Paris can only cause, and does cause, the greatest harm.”
For fourteen months there had been peace in Europe. The Treaty of Amiens brought a cessation of hostilities between France and England from March 1802 until May 1803. It was an uneasy peace at best and the situation was not helped by the appointment of the fiercely anti-revolutionary Charles Whitworth as Britain’s ambassador to France. By the spring of 1803, French pamphleteers were publishing ludicrous insults about England while the British retaliated with Gillray’s witty but cruel caricatures.
On 11 May 1803, Whitworth left Paris; his return to England signalled the resumption of hostilities. George III ordered that French ships in British ports were to be confiscated, and therefore blocked; Napoleon started building up his forces near the Channel, preparing for an invasion of Britain that never happened.
Yet the previous year had seen a great many visitors crossing the Channel, visiting each others’ countries. Charles James Fox and Lord Holland, both very pro-French and admirers of Napoleon, travelled to Paris, met Napoleon and on a visit to St. Cloud Fox remarked that it reminded him of Richmond. In England, fans were printed with English phrases on one side and their French translation on the other for ladies whose French had lapsed over the previous years.
Some of these English travellers were left stranded in Paris as the war started again. Others may have chosen to remain, hoping that peace would again be restored before too long.
Lord Elgin, returning to England in 1803 after his tenure as Britain’s ambassador to the Sublime Porte, travelled through France and was arrested for various, probably non-existent, intrigues against the French government.
During his time as ambassador, Lord Elgin had spent time in Greece, then under Ottoman rule, and obtained permission to study Greek antiquities. Whether this covered the removal of the Parthenon marbles is open to debate, but the Parthenon sculptures, together with a great many other works of art were in fact removed and shipped back to Britain.
After his arrest, it was suggested to Lord Elgin that he might find it easier to obtain his freedom if he sold his collection of antiquities to the French government. The Louvre was being filled with works of art which French forces had obtained, by equally dubious means, from places conquered or annexed by France and the Parthenon sculptures would no doubt have been a welcome addition. Lord Elgin refused, but he was eventually allowed to return home, on parole, in 1806. Greatly in debt by then, he attempted to sell his collection of antiquities to the nation, and in 1816, after the government decided that the collection had been acquired legally, the collection was sold to the British Museum.
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