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[155]

Every word of the letter of the king of England

Chap. L.} 1775. Oct.
to the empress of Russia was in his own hand; she purposely employed her private secretary to write her answer. The second English courier, with the project of a treaty, reached Gunning on the fourth of October; he seized the earliest opportunity to begin reading it to Panin, and was willing to come down in his demand to ten thousand men; but the chancellor, interrupting him, put into his hands Catharine's answer, and declined all further discussion.

The letter seemed to the British envoy in some passages exceptionable, and he was in doubt whether it was fit to be received; but suppressing his discontent, he forwarded it to his sovereign.

The conduct of this negotiation was watched with the intensest curiosity by every court from Moscow to Madrid, and its progress was well understood; but no foreign influence whatever, not even that of the king of Prussia, however desirous he might have been of rendering ill offices to England, had any share in determining the empress. The decision was founded on her own judgment and that of her ministers, on the necessities of her position and the state of her dominions. For a short time a report prevailed through western Europe, that the English request was to be granted; but Vergennes rejected it as incredible, and wrote to the French envoy at Moscow: ‘I cannot reconcile Catharine's elevation of soul with the dishonorable idea of trafficking in the blood of her subjects.’

On the last day of October, the French minister asked Panin of the truth of the rumors, and Panin answered: ‘People have said so, but it is physically ’

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