FRENCH FOREIGN POLICY.
Ona lively neighbours are preparing a most formidable visitation to China. A 50-gun frigate and a steamer of 220-horse-power are to carry out a special mission ; and to be accompanied by a "sta- tion maritime qui va explorer les cotes de la Chine," consisting of another 50-gun frigate, two 30-gun and one 24-gun corvettes, and a tender. The mission is composed of an envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary, two secretaries, six attaches, an inspector of the customs, a professor of medicine, and commercial delegates from Paris, Elbeuf, and Mulhouse. How the Chinese will stare on the arrival of so much good company !
The French Government organs, however, are prudent enough to warn their readers not to expect too much from this great outfit. They say, indeed, that China " demands to be received into the brotherhood of nations." It may be remarked in passing, that the urgency of China on this point does not seem to be very great. If she is coming more into European publicity, the act has not been altogether spontaneous : the step has been taken in a way that re- minds one of the old sport of "drawing a badger." But "passe pour ca "—the organ of the French Government proceeds to explain, that this mission is indispensable, because France has absolutely no intercourse with China. " Our very ignorance of China imposes upon Government a prudential duty before it binds itself by serious engagements, or seeks to push our commerce into new channels. The real function of the mission is not so much to sign treaties of alliance or commerce, and to engage the nation in political enterprises, of which it would be difficult to foresee the end, as to institute a solemn inquest [" faire one exploration serieuse"] and submit to France practical investigations [" etudes pratiques"] respecting the countries of the far East ; to which she has as yet penetrated only by the noise of her military glory." The French Ministerial writer does his country injustice. It is very doubtful whether the " noise" of French military glory—and it is noisy enough at times—has really penetrated into China ; but it is certain that the science of France was carried there by French Jesuits long ago, and that for her maps and her modicum of prac- tical astronomy China is indebted to France. So with regard to a knowledge of China : France may be ignorant of it, but France has nevertheless been the means of communicating to Europe by far the greater part of the little that is known of China. But it is not in the least astonishing to find French Ministerial writers thus ill- informed of what their country really has achieved : it is scarcely a month since a writer in the Journal des Debats, describing the floating docks at Liverpool, expressed regret that his own country had nothing of the kind,—as if there were not excellent docks at Havre.
These blunders of French publicists when writing on economical and statistical questions, and this solemn announcement of a great mission to a country with which France has no connexion, and with which the mission is not to attempt to form a connexion, are not without a meaning. In this country, a mission announced in such phraseology would be looked upon, and justly, as a job : but in France it is different. The French Government is and long has been anxious to turn the attention of its subjects to distant enter- prises. The motive is not altogether a conviction of the import- ance of extended commerce ; of which few French statesmen have possessed more than a book knowledge. It is much more the mo- tive expressed by TALLEYRAND in his memoirs on colonization ; the materials of which he found collected in the archives of the old Government, and the opinions of which he has bequeathed to the statesmen of this day. Colonization and other remote enter- prises are urged on by the leading statesmen of France as a means of finding useful or at least harmless occupation, at a distance, for over-active spirits who might prove troublesome at home. The national temper does not, like that of England, prompt men to such
undertakings of their own accord ; and therefore the French Go- vernment seeks by artificial stimuli to turn public enterprise into these channels. This is the reason why missions are fitted out for "solemn ingnests," and why Ministerial agents write about encou- raging a commercial enterprise that does not exist, with marvellous little knowledge of the subject. England's concern in this arises from the peculiar character of the Frenchmen who are induced to leave home by such means. We are not to look for commercial rivals among them, after the fashion of North American or Dutch competitors, but for soldiers of fortune and political adventurers. French commercial enterprise is most energetic at home, on the Continent of Europe, and on the waters of the Mediterranean. It grows languid in proportion as the scene of action becomes remote from " la belle France." The French colonies are as much inferior to those of England and Holland in mercantile activity as they are superior in the amenities of life, and in a practical philosophy which is contented to enjoy rather than accumulate. But the diplomatists and soldiers of France have always been as enterprising and indefatigable in remote regions as its merchants have been the reverse. The history of North Ame- rica, and of Hindostan during the whole of the period that France possessed settlements of importance in those countries, corroborate this view : and the occupation of Otaheite and the Marquesas, and the solemn mission to China, may, but for timely precautions, be the precursor of a renewal of French and English contests for ascendancy in Canada and Bengal, on a wider field, and with in- creased means of mutual injury. It is incumbent upon the British Government to watch—not in a spirit of narrow-minded suspicion, but with a wise though gene- rous caution—the present exertions of the French Cabinet : its steam-mails, which are about to traverse the ocean in all direc- tions; its attempt to persuade Brazil to cede to France the whole of Brazilian Guiana ; its occupation of islands in the Pacific ; its foundation of new armed factories on the West coast of Africa ; its gradual advance Eastward from Algiers in the direction of Egypt ; and its ostentatious mission to China.