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Byng went in pursuit of the Spanish fleet, which was assisting in the conquest of Sicily, and came in sight of twenty-seven sail of the line,[41] with fire-ships, ketches, bombs, and seven galleys, drawn up in line of battle between him and Cape Passaro. So soon as they were clear of the straits, a council was held to determine whether they should fight or retreat. They came to no resolution, but continued to linger about in indecision till Byng was down upon them. Whereupon he utterly destroyed them (August 11, 1718).

The enemy, meanwhile, were on the alert, trying, by their fleets and armies, to assail us in almost every quarter. In the very opening days of the year—at the very commencement of January, 1781—the French made an attack on the island of Jersey. They had sent across the Channel a fleet carrying nearly two thousand men; but their ships met the common fortune that has ever attended invaders of Britain: they were scattered by tempests, many of them dashed on the rocks of those iron-bound shores, and some driven back to port. They managed, however, to land eight hundred men by night, and surprised the town of St. Helier's, taking prisoner its Lieutenant-Governor, Major Corbet, who thereupon thinking all lost, agreed to capitulate. But the next officer in command, Major Pierson, a young man of only twenty-five, refused to comply with so pusillanimous an order. He rallied the troops and encouraged the inhabitants, who fired on the French from their windows. The invaders, surrounded in the market-place, were compelled to surrender, after their commander, the Baron de Rullecourt, and many of his soldiers, were killed.[279] The gallant young Pierson was himself killed by nearly the last shot.At this moment the horse which George II. was riding, taking fright at the noise made by the French in their advance, became unmanageable, and plunged forward furiously, nearly carrying the king into the midst of the French lines. Being, however, stopped just in time, the king dismounted, and placing himself at the head of the British and Hanoverian infantry on the right, he flourished his sword and said, "Now, boys! now for the honour of England! Fire, and behave bravely, and the French will soon run!"

The best excuse for George II.'s apparent sluggishness was, that the French were now so closely pressed by concentrating armies. Prince Charles of Lorraine and the Austrians were pressing De Broglie so hotly that he was glad to escape over the Rhine near Mannheim; and Noailles, thus finding himself between two hostile armies, followed his example, crossed over the Rhine to Worms, where, uniting with Broglie, they retreated to their own frontier at Lauter, and thus the Empire was cleared of them. The Emperor Charles now suffered the fate which he may be said to have richly deserved. He was immediately compelled to solicit for peace from Austria through the mediation of George of England and Prince William of Hesse. But Maria Theresa, now helped out of all her difficulties by English money and English soldiers, was not inclined to listen to any moderate terms, even when proposed by her benefactor, the King[86] of England. The Emperor was down, and she proposed nothing less than that he should permanently cede Bavaria to her, or give up the Imperial crown to her husband. Such terms were not to be listened to; but the fallen Emperor finally did conclude a treaty of neutrality with the Queen of Hungary, by which he consented that Bavaria should remain in her hands till the conclusion of a peace. This peace the King of England and William of Hesse did their best to accomplish; and Carteret, who was agent for King George, had consented that on this peace England should grant a subsidy of three hundred thousand crowns to the Emperor. No sooner, however, did the English Ministers receive the preliminaries of this contract, than they very properly struck out this subsidy, and the whole treaty fell to the ground.In this battle the Allies lost in killed and wounded ten thousand men, the French not less than fifteen thousand. The French generals Bruyères, Kirchner, and Duroc were amongst the killed. Duroc had long been one of the most intimate friends and attendants of Buonaparte, who was so much cut up by his loss that for the first time in all his terrible campaigns he became unable to attend to further details, but answered every call for orders with "Everything tomorrow!" When he came to find that not a gun, not a prisoner was left behind by the Germans and Russians, Napoleon seemed to comprehend the stern spirit in which they were now contending, and exclaimed, "How! no result after such a massacre? No prisoners? They leave me not even a nail!" He advanced to Breslau, various slight conflicts taking place on the way, and on the 1st of June he entered that city, the princesses of Prussia removing thence into Bohemia.

From the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle for several years little of striking interest occurred in the affairs of Britain. The public at first was rejoiced at the return of peace; but the more it looked into the results of so costly a war the more dissatisfied it grew, and the complaints were loud and general that Ministers had sacrificed the honour and interests of the nation. The Opposition, however, was at so low an ebb, that little was heard of the public discontent in Parliament; and Pitt, formerly so vociferous to denounce the war, now as boldly vindicated both it and the peace, and silenced all criticisms by his overmastering eloquence. The Government still went on granting subsidies to the German princes, though the war was at an end.

Thus the entente cordiale was broken, and the two Powers were left isolated in Europe, for the efforts of Louis Philippe to form an alliance with the Austrian Court were without success. In the circumstances Lord Palmerston's foreign policy during these eventful years was inevitably somewhat unsatisfactory. When Austria, in defiance of pledges, annexed the Republic of Cracow, he could only issue a solitary protest, which was completely disregarded. In Portugal affairs were once more in complete confusion, the Conservative party, headed by the Queen, being in arms against the so-called Liberals led by Das Antas. Palmerston left them to fight it out until foreign intervention appeared inevitable from Spain, if not from France; then he made an offer of help to the Queen Donna Maria, on condition that she would grant a general amnesty and appoint a neutral Administration. The terms were accepted by the Conservatives. The Liberal Junta submitted on hearing that its fleet had been captured by the British, and the civil war came to an end. Meanwhile, in Switzerland Lord Palmerston was upholding the cause of the Diet against the secessionist cantons known as the Sonderbund, by refusing to countenance the intervention of the Powers in Swiss affairs, which was advocated by Prince Metternich and also by Guizot. For a moment his position was dangerous, as Guizot declared that the opportunity had come for France to take vengeance upon England by forming another Quadruple Treaty, from which Great Britain should be excluded. But the prompt victory of the Diet's general, Dufour, over the forces of the Sonderbund saved the situation, and owing to Palmerston's representations the victorious party abstained from vindictive measures. Thus revolution was postponed in Europe for another year, and Palmerston attempted similar results in Italy, whither he sent Lord Minto, the First Lord of the Admiralty, on a special mission to support constitutional reforms in Sardinia and at Rome, where the new Pope, Pius IX. by title, was supposed to be the friend of progress. But the blind hostility[550] of Metternich prevailed. The reforms granted by his puppet princes were wholly insufficient in extent, and events in Italy were evidently hastening towards an upheaval, when the train of the European explosion was fired in France.

The siege of Badajoz was again resumed, but with the same almost insurmountable obstacle of the deficiency of the requisite material for siege operations; and on the 10th of June, learning that Marmont, the successor of Massena, was marching south to join Soult, who was also to be reinforced by Drouet's corps from Toledo, Wellington fell back on Campo Mayor, gave up the siege of Badajoz, and gathered all his forces together, except a considerable body of British and Portuguese, whom he left at Alemtejo. Marmont, observing Wellington's movement, again retired to Salamanca. Some slight man?uvring followed between the hostile commanders, which ended in Wellington resuming his old quarters on the river Coa. On this, Soult also retired again to Seville.When the subsidy to Hesse-Cassel was sent home to receive the signatures of the Cabinet, it was found to amount to an annual payment by England of one hundred and fifty thousand crowns, besides eighty crowns to every horseman, and thirty crowns to every foot soldier, when they were really called out to service. That to Russia was immensely greater; then came in prospective that to Saxony, to Bavaria, etc. These latter States had been fed all through the last few years for doing nothing, and now demanded vastly higher terms. Yet when the Hessian Treaty was laid on the Council table by the compliant Newcastle, Ministers signed it without reading it. Pitt and Fox, however, protested against it; and when the Treasury warrants for carrying the treaty into execution were sent down to Legge, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he refused to sign them.Bolingbroke (b. 1678; d. 1751) must be named with the prose writers of the age. Amongst his writings there is little that will now interest the reader. He wrote in a brilliant and pretentious style, as he acted; and his writings, like his policy, are more showy than sound. As a cold sceptic in religion, and a Jacobite in politics, proud and essentially selfish in his nature, we are not likely to find anything from his pen which can strongly attract us, or is calculated to benefit us. In the Tory party, to which he belonged, he was one of those brilliant and self-complacent apparitions, which have all the[149] qualities of the meteor—dazzling, but speedily sinking into darkness, though his "Patriot King" had some temporary influence, and even furnishes the keynote to some of the earlier writings of Lord Beaconsfield.

Soon after appeared his twelve plates of "Industry and Idleness," and in 1753 he published a work called "The Analysis of Beauty," in which he attempted to prove that the foundation of beauty and grace consists in a flowing serpentine line. He gave numerous examples of it, and supported his theory with much ingenious argument. The book brought down upon him a perfect tempest of critical abuse from his envious and enraged contemporaries. In 1757 he visited France, and being engaged in sketching in Calais, he was seized and underwent very rough treatment from "the politest nation in the world," under an impression that he was employed by the English government to make drawings of the fortifications. This adventure he has commemorated in his picture of "Calais Gate." In the following year he painted his "Sigismunda."

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These defeats, which were gradually hemming Napoleon round by his enemies in Dresden, were the direct result of the active aid of Great Britain to the Allies. Sir Charles Stewart, the brother of Lord Castlereagh, had been dispatched to the headquarters of the Allies. By means of the abundant supplies of arms and money, the population of Hanover was raised; Bernadotte was kept firm to his support of the Coalition; and, by Sir Charles, he was also urged to march on Leipsic, and be present at the final conflict. Brigadier-General Lyon was sent to head the troops in Hanover; and the Duke of Cambridge to conduct the civil government of the country. Money was supplied in abundance, in addition to military stores. Two millions were advanced to the Crown Prince of Sweden for his army, two millions more to the Russians and Prussians, and another half million to Russia to equip its fleet in the Baltic. Without these vast supplies the combined armies could not have kept their ground.[See larger version]Wilberforce, on the 27th of January, had obtained a committee of inquiry into the slave trade. He, Clarkson, and the anti-slavery committees, both in London and the provinces, were labouring with indefatigable industry in collecting and diffusing information on this subject. The Committee of the Commons found strong opposition even in the House, and, on the 23rd of April, Lord Penrhyn moved that no further evidence should be heard by the Committee; but this was overruled, and the hearing of evidence continued through the Session, though no further debate took place on the question.

Civil war seems to have been averted only by the Duke's precipitate abandonment of the undertaking to form a Ministry. No one can for a moment imagine that the chief members of the Grey Administration ever intended to proceed to illegal extremities, but that the conduct of their friends led the Reforming world to think of and prepare for armed resistance admits of little doubt. Parliament and the country were kept in suspense and anxiety by varying rumours about the formation of a Government for several days, during which comments were freely made on the conduct of the Duke of Wellington and his friends. On the one hand, it was confidently stated that the king would keep his word as to Reform, which the Duke had agreed to carry. On the other hand, it was denied that the Duke could ever consent to tergiversation so base. On the former supposition, Mr. Macaulay said he was willing that others should have "infamy and place." But he added, "Let us have honour and Reform." Sir Robert Inglis was too honest to differ from this view of the matter, and too candid to conceal his sentiments. He declared that he could not but regard such a course on the part of his leader "with the greatest pain, as one of the most fatal violations of public confidence which could be inflicted."Mr. Baring, who represented the Duke in the House of Commons, seemed to regard this declaration from the high-minded member for Oxford University as fatal to the Tory scheme for recovering power. They came at length to understand that the new Premier would be equally unacceptable to the country, whether he appeared with a Reform Bill or a gagging Bill. Both Baring and Sutton, the late Speaker, sent in their resignations. The Duke at length confessed that he had failed in his attempt to form an Administration; and the king had no other resource but to submit to the humiliation of again putting himself in the hands of his late Ministers. He had before him only the terrible alternative of a creation of peers or civil war. Earl Grey was determined not to resume office, "except with a sufficient security that he would possess the power of passing the present Bill unimpaired in its principles and its essential provisions." The consequence was, that on the 17th of May the following circular was sent to the hostile Lords by Sir Henry Taylor:—"My dear lord, I am honoured with his Majesty's commands to acquaint your lordship that all difficulties to the arrangements in progress will be obviated by a declaration in the House of Peers to-night from a sufficient number of peers, that in consequence of the present state of affairs they have come to the resolution of dropping their further opposition to the Reform Bill, so that it may pass without delay as nearly as possible in its present shape." Wellington, as usual, obeyed and withdrew from the House, but his seceding comrades prefaced their departure by defiant speeches in which they reserved to themselves the right of resuming their position. Then the Cabinet insisted on obtaining the royal[352] consent to an unlimited creation; and it was given on condition that they, in the first instance, called to the House of Lords the eldest sons of peers or the collateral heirs of childless noblemen. But Sir Henry Taylor's circular had done its work, and the extreme step was unnecessary.

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