Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

the Ministry, were considerations which could not outweigh the personal predilections and convenience of the German King of England. In peaceful times, a great nation will maintain its prosperity in spite of the supineness and incapacity of its rulers, to whom, in consequence, a thoughtless public opinion attributes the praise of wise government. But when a state of war demands active and decided measures, the real character of administration is discovered. The imbecility of the person who held the first place in the Council of St. James's, therefore, now became signally manifest. The British interests at the Court of France, then the most important, if not the only important diplomatic post in Europe, had been for many years entrusted to a fop; and thus, those delicate questions of colonial territory which were in dispute between the two Governments, and which might have been adjusted by negotiation, were necessarily referred to the disastrous arbitrement of war. Yet, while the dire necessity was recognised, the

operations were undertaken with a hesitation and timidity which argued little for

the success or glory of England; and, what was worse, they were characterised by a futile dissimulation, which cast a stain upon her honour. An expedition was sent out after a French fleet, supposed to be destined for North America. An engagement took place, resulting in the capture of two French ships of the line, and the withdrawal of the French ambassador from London. A second expedition was despatched under Sir Edward Hawke, whose instructions were the subject of ridiculous perplexity to the Government. Newcastle characteristically proposed a course by which the responsibility should be shifted from the Ministry upon the brave officer in command. But this being opposed by Fox, on the ground that the Admiral had too

Timid measures of the Ministry.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

much sense to act without definite orders, instruc28tions, more intelligible indeed, but falling far short ne of the stern policy of war, were at last agreed upon.

The Admiral was to attack any ships of the line that dhe might happen to fall in with, but he was to spare

those of inferior rate, and not to molest trading vessels at all. A pitiful attempt to accommodate naval operations to an impossible condition of compromise between war and peace! However, these absurd instructions were shortly afterwards superseded by orders to attack every Frenchman in the channel; and many captures were consequently made. But these proceedings having taken place without a declaration of war, were treated by the French Government as a violation of public law; and so desirous were they that the whole odium of such an act should attach to the British fag, that they released an English man-of-war which had fallen into the hands of their cruisers.

Meanwhile, it was as Elector of Hanover and not as King of England, that George the Se- Conduct of cond viewed the prospect of war. England, the King. which had no positive interest in maintaining the integrity of Hanover, had for a series of years subsidised other German States for the protection of the Electoral territory. The first thing, therefore, which the King did, without even consulting the English Ministry, was, on the threatened rupture, to enter into a subsidiary treaty with the principality of Hesse, and to open a negotiation with Russia for the same purpose. The Hessian treaty was sent home for official ratification. But public indignation at this gross abuse of the national resources, had now begun to manifest itself in deep murmurs; and one of the ministers, Legge, Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether apprehensive of the coming storm, or arrived at the utmost limit of complaisance, positively refused in Council to attach his signature to the 16

FOX BECOMES SECRETARY OF STATE.

ch. 1.

Treasury warrants for the subsidy, which had already been signed by the Lord Chancellor, by Newcastle, and other members of the Council of Regency. Lord Chatham The Duke, astounded and terrified by this applied to unexpected act of insubordination, hurried away, in his crazy manner, to Pitt, and endeavoured to gain him over by tears, by adulation, by an offer of a seat in the Cabinet, and other promises of the most alluring character. But the great parliamentary chief gave the Duke plainly to understand that nothing would satisfy him short of a full measure of ministerial power; that he was ready to support a national war, and to defend Hanover if the enemy's attack should be made on that quarter; but that he did not consider the system of subsidies a proper and efficient mode of carrying on war. He added, however, that if the King's honour was pledged to the Hessian subsidy he would not object to it; but he positively refused to consent to the Russian treaty.

Pitt being found impracticable, it only remained to bid for Fox, whose value was thus raised in the official market. The seals of Secretary of State, with the lead of the House of Commons, were, therefore, yielded to him without further parley; and

Sir Thomas Robinson was removed to his Secretary of former and more congenial office of Master

of the Great Wardrobe. The first act of the Government, after Fox's

accession to real power, was one of misand Grenville timed vigour—the dismissal, namely, of

Pitt, Legge, and Grenville. By this proceeding, an open breach was made with the men enjoying the largest share of parliamentary fame and of public confidence. But a packed and corrupted parliament reflected dimly, and through a distorted medium, the sense of the nation. In vain was heard the stirring eloquence of Pitt, backed by

Fox becomes

State.

Pitt, Legge,

dismissed.

1755.

OF THE WAR.
PROGRESS OF THE WAR.

17

the applause of the people. The Government was Supported by a majority, the strength of which was in an inverse ratio with that of its merit, or the wisdom of its measures. France threatened, by invasion, to chastise the perfidy of Albion, and insult her weakness. England, acknowledging the danger, instead of relying on her wooden walls and her hardy sons, sought the protection of foreign mercenaries; and an address to the Crown to send for Hanoverian and Hessian troops was carried by as great a majority, as could support a measure the most conducive to the honour and safety of the realm.

The military strength of France was computed, at this time, at two hundred thousand men, besides militia; and she was preparing a naval force of sixty sail of the line.* In America, her colonists, though inferior in wealth and numbers to those of this country, were for the most part trained to arms; and she had a chain of forts in the rear of the English settlements, which lay open and defenceless.f

England had neither soldiers nor sailors. She was forced to send to Germany for the former, and she had not enough of the latter to man the Western squadron.f Her possessions in the MediterraneanGibraltar and Minorca, each invaluable as a base for naval operations—were all but defenceless. Such was the state to which the country had been reduced by selfish and corrupt factions. The nation itself was sound at heart; and if its feelings and wishes could have been represented in Parliament, the policy of the country would never have been guided by German court cabals, nor her interests postponed to the vile intrigues of the Newcastles, the Foxes, and the Dodingtons.

+ Waldegrave's Memoirs.

Ibid.

* Mitchell to Lord Holderness, Dresden, December 9, 1756. Chatham Correspondence.

VOL. I.

18

CONDUCT AND FATE :

CH. 1.

Hostilities

[ocr errors]

France. 1756

A French expedition was fitted out at Toulon,

destined as it soon appeared for an attack commenced by on Minorca; and a declaration of war was

at length promulgated in London a few hours before the fleets of both nations came into conflict in the waters of the Mediterranean. Newcastle seemed to have found a kindred spirit in the officer whom he sent in command of the squadron dispatched for the relief of Minorca. I need not here repeat the well-known history of Byng's misconduct. Whether it was owing to imbecility or cowardice that he failed to finish a battle which West, the second in command, had half won; or, that he balanced, with a nicety unusual in a British admiral, the difference in weight of metal between himself and the enemy, is a question of little moment. Certain it is that he abandoned the object of his expedition, which, it must be remembered, was the maintenance of an important possession, not only without adequate cause, but when there was at least a fair prospect of success. Blakeney, the aged veteran, who was left in command at Minorca, did all that military skill and courage could effect with a wholly inadequate force; but, deserted at sea, it was in vain

w that he protracted the struggle. Minorca Minorca lost. was consequently lost.

The English nation, impatient at all times of reverses, was transported with rage at the dishonour brought upon their arms. Byng's delinquency was so flagrant that the people were at a loss whether to attribute it to treachery or cowardice; in either case, there seemed to be but one expiation for his offence.

The mismanagement of affairs both at home and abroad had not only imperilled the integrity of the empire, but the stability of social order. Tumult and sedition prevailed throughout the country; and the language of the dutiful and loyal addresses'

« PreviousContinue »