The Paget Papers.

Letter from Lord St. Helens (British Minister to the Court of Russia) to Hon. Arthur Paget (Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Austria).

Source: Paget, Right Hon. Sir Augustus B. Paget, G.C.B. The Paget Papers, Diplomatic and other Correspondence of the Right Hon Sir A. Paget. G.C.B., 1794-1807, 2 Vols. Longmans, Green and Co. New York 1896. Vol 2.  Pages 51-52.

From Lord St. Helens to the Hon A Paget.

St Petersburg, 1st May 1802.

I have received, my Dear Sir, since my last, the pleasure of your two letters of the 1st of April, with the accompanying papers relative to the proceedings of the French in Helvetia. It is, to be sure, no less provoking than painful to see that upstart Government hector and domineer it at so prodigious a rate both in that country and elsewhere. But these are grievances which must be suffered to take their course, since it would be downright Quixotism on our part to attempt to prevent or redress them. Indeed, the natural determination of our Government to avoid intermeddling with these outlying Foreign concerns is very plainly manifested by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, as well as by some very striking and significant expressions in the (probably circular) Dispatch which I received from Lord Hawkesbury along with his Ofiicial Communication of that Treaty. And, in truth, this system seems to be the wisest and most judicious that we could pursue in the actual circumstances of Europe- that is to say, in as far as any general system of Theory can possibly be applicable to so uncertain and fluctuating a Science as that of Foreign Politicks.
I am afraid that the Business of Malta is as much at sea as ever, notwithstanding all the pains and labour bestowed upon it by the Plenipotentiaries at Amiens, who by the way seem to have acted somewhat injudiciously in giving to that subject a degree of apparent importance which it by no means deserved by placing in the body of the Treaty a series of insignificant Details which would more properly have been reserved for a separate Convention.
Be this as it may, the Court of Russia appears determined to refuse its accession and garanty to the said proposed arrangeement under the plea or pretext that in framing the Clauses in Art. X. which relate to this particular point, sufficient attention was not paid to the Emperor's Dignity, and besides this, the Russian Ministers either are, or affect to be so much dissatisfied with the Conduct of the contracting Parties in appearing to set aside the mode proposed from hence for the Election of the new Grand Master of the Order, that they have seriously in contemplation the breaking off all connection between the Russian Priory and the Body of the Order by creating the former into an independent and separate Community. There seems to be likewise great reason to believe that the conduct of Russia in this particular will be imitated by various other Powers concerned, and particularly by Austria. In these circumstances therefore how is it possible to suppose that the miserable remnants of the Order, after being thus stripped of perhaps nine-tenths of the Revenues that constituted its principal supports, can be in a condition, either three months hence, or at any future period, to take upon themselves the charge of maintaining and defending a possession like Malta, where the mere expense of repairing the Fortifications would probably absorb more than the whole national revenue of the Island ? And to entrust its Defence to Naples alone would surely be the height of imprudence, not to mention that the introduction of the Neapolitan Garrison is expressly stated to be merely a temporary expedient. How these Dificulties will be solved I cannot presume to foretell. But according to the Dictates of common sense the only effectual method of neutralising the Island, and allaying those jealousies and bickerings which while it remains in its present state it is sure to excite and keep alive, seems to be the dismantling its Fortifications. I have indeed long had in petto another (perhaps much more eligible) expedient; namely the making over to us this possession in exchange for Gibraltar-an exchange, the advantages of which to all parties I think that, were it necessary, I could easily demonstrate. But a Negotiation to that effect, tho' it might perhaps have been brought to bear some months ago, is certainly now no longer upon the cards.

The correspondence makes it plain that it was in the mind of the Russian authorities to create a domestic Order of St John cut off from the Roman Catholic HQ. A futher letter provides the motive - saving money!

Created 27th October 2003

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