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Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 10

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No sooner was the sentence passed than his judges were seized with a vehement desire to procure a pardon for the admiral. They made the most urgent entreaties to. the admiralty for that purpose, and captain Augustus Keppel authorised Horace Walpole to say that he and four others of the members of the council had something of importance to communicate, and desired to be relieved from their oath of secresy. The house of commons was quite ready to pass a bill for the purpose, and the king respited the admiral till all such inquiries had been made. But when the bill had been passed by one hundred and fifty-three to twenty- three, it turned out that these five officers had nothing of consequence to disclose. Still lord Temple, who was at the head of the admiralty, was greatly averse to the carrying out of the sentence, which, in fact, was greatly disproportioned to the crime. Pitt also interceded with the king, and renewed applications were made to the admiralty; but, on the other hand, the people were smarting under the loss of Minorca, and demanded the execution of the sentence. Handbills were posted up, "Hang By rig, or take care of the king" The house of lords, when the commons' bill was carried up to them, however, settled the matter. Murray and lord Hardwicke demanded of every member of the court martial at the bar of the house, whether they knew of any matter which showed their sentence to be unjust, or to have been influenced by any undue motive; and as all declared they did not, the lords dismissed the bill. The sentence was therefore fixed for execution on the 14th of March. Byng, both during the trial, and now when brought on board the Monarch in Portsmouth harbour to be shot, showed no symptoms of fear. When one of his friends, to prevent a man coming in to measure Byng for his coffin, said, standing up by him, "Which of us is the taller?" Byng immediately replied, "Why this ceremony? I know what it means; let the man measure me for a coffin." On the deck he wished to have his eyes left unbound, but when told it might frighten the soldiers and distract their aim, he said, "Let it be done, then; if it would not frighten them, they would not frighten me." He fell dead at the discharge.

From his conduct under these circumstances, it has been argued Byng's sentence was unjust; that he had shown no cowardice; indeed, several of his officers who were near him in the action gave evidence that he showed no backwardness or marks of fear at that time; but though, under ordinary circumstances, Byng could not be called exactly a coward, nothing was clearer than that he was destitute of that vigorous courage which defies difficulties. He certainly did not support West in the action, nor did he act in any part of his command with a daring and spirit which became an English admiral, and which might have produced even victory when he only achieved disgrace. The undue severity of his sentence proceeded from the bloody nature of the articles of war passed in this reign through the influence of Cumberland.

Cumberland was now appointed to command the troops in Hanover, intended to co-operate with Prussia against France and Austria; but he had an intuitive dread of Pitt, and was very unwilling to quit the kingdom whilst that formidable man was paymaster of the forces. He therefore never rested till the king dismissed him from office. George himself required little urging. He had always hated Pitt for his anti-Hanoverian spirit, nor had his conduct in office, however respectful, done away with his dislike. Mediocrity has a sympathy with mediocrity, and an antipathy to genius. George therefore was desirous to get rid of the able Pitt and recall the imbecile Newcastle. He complained that Pitt made harangues, even in the simplest matters of business, which he could not comprehend, and as for lord Temple, his brother-in-law, he declared him to be pert and insolent. Temple was said to have given George unpardonable offence, in pleading for the pardon of Byng, by some way comparing his conduct at Minorca with George's at Oudenarde, from which George inferred that Temple had considered that, if Byng was shot for his behaviour at Port Mahon, George ought to have been hanged for his at Oudenarde. George therefore sent lord Waldegrave to Newcastle to invite him to return to office, saying, "Tell him I do not look upon myself as king whilst I am in the hands of these scoundrels, and am determined to be rid of them at any rate." Newcastle longed to regain his favour, but he was afraid of a notice made in the house of commons for an inquiry into the causes of the loss of Minorca. The king, nevertheless, dismissed Temple and Pitt, and Legge and others resigned. Cumberland, in great delight, then embarked for Hanover, thinking the main difficulty over, but, in fact, it had only just begun. The inquiry into the Minorca affair was, indeed, so managed that it did not absolutely condemn the ministry of Newcastle, neither did it fully acquit them; whilst, at the same time, the public was highly incensed at the dismissal of Pitt, whom they rightly deemed the only man with abilities in the two houses capable of conducting the affairs of the nation successfully. Addresses and presentations of the freedom of their cities came pouring in to Pitt from all the great towns of the kingdom. Horace Walpole said it literally rained gold boxes. Legge, as the firm ally of Pitt, received also his share of these honours.

But for Newcastle to form a cabinet was no such easy matter. Pitt refused to take office with him unless he had the whole management of the war and foreign affairs. The king then agreed to send for Fox, who accepted the office of chancellor of the exchequer; but Newcastle was so sensible of Fox's great unpopularity that he was terrified at undertaking an administration with Fox and without Pitt, though he was equally reluctant to stand,, or to let a cabinet be formed without him. For three months the fruitless endeavours to accomplish a ministry went on: parliament sitting all the time, and a great war commencing. Finally, the king and Newcastle were compelled to submit to the terms of "the great commoner," as they called Pitt, who became secretary of state, with the management of the war and foreign affairs. Newcastle became again first lord of the treasury, but without one of his old supporters, and Legge as chancellor of the exchequer; Holderness, a mere cypher, was the other secretary of state; Anson was placed at the head of the admiralty; lord Temple was made lord privy seal; and Pratt, an able lawyer and friend of Pitt, attorney-general. Fox condescended to take the office of paymaster of the forces; and thus, after a long and severe struggle, the feeble aristocrats, who had so long managed and disgraced the country, were compelled to admit fresh blood into the government in the person of Pitt. But they still entertained the idea that they only were the men, and that wisdom would die with them. One and all, even the otherwise sagacious Chesterfield, prognosticated only dishonour and ruin for such a plebeian appointment. "We are no longer a nation," said Chesterfield; "I never yet saw so dreadful a prospect."

And, for some time, events seemed to justify these apprehensions by the old governing class. Not a plan of Pitt's but failed. His first enterprise was one of that species that has almost universally failed - a descent on the coast of France. Some years before an English officer had noted that the defences of Rochefort were ruinous and neglected. This account was now brought to Pitt, and he immediately thought he had a fine opportunity of making a bold diversion in favour of the duke of Cumberland and the king of Prussia. A hundred thousand French troops had marched into Germany, and had left the French coast, from St. Valery to Bordeaux, very scantily defended. Early in September, a fleet of sixteen ships of the line, attended by transports and frigates, was dispatched to Rochefort, carrying ten regiments of foot, under the command of Sir John Mordaunt. Sir Edward Hawke commanded the fleet, and the troops were landed on a small fortified island named Aix, at the mouth of the Charente. There, spite of strict orders, the English soldiers and sailors became awfully drunk, and committed shocking excesses and cruelties on the inhabitants. The rumour of this made the forces in Roche- fort furious for vengeance; and when the army was to be landed within a few miles of the place in order to its attack, as usual in such cases, the admiral and general came to an open quarrel. Mordaunt betrayed great timidity, and demanded of Hawke, in case of failure, how the troops were to be brought off again. Hawke replied, that must depend on wind and tide - an answer which by no means reassured Mordaunt. General Conway, next in command to Mordaunt, was eager for advancing to the attack; and colonel Wolfe - afterwards the conqueror of Quebec - offered to make himself master of Rochefort, with three ships of war and five hundred men at his disposal. The brave offer was rejected, but the report of it at once pointed out Wolfe to Pitt as one of the men whom he was on the look-out to work with. Howe, the next in command to Hawke, proposed to batter down the fort of Fouras, before advancing on Rochefort; but Mordaunt adopted the resort of all timid commanders - a council of war, which wasted the time in which the assault should have been made, and then it was declared useless to attempt it; the fortifications of Aix were destroyed, and the fleet put back.

Mordaunt, like Byng, was brought before a court-martial, but with very different results. He was honourably acquitted - perhaps, under the atrocious 12th article of war, the court feared even to censure; and it was said by the people that Byng was shot for not doing enough, and Mordaunt acquitted for doing nothing at all.

If this transaction was pitiable, the next proposal of Pitt was disgraceful. Lord Stanhope, when minister, had entertained the idea of giving up Gibraltar to Spain: Pitt now renewed the infamous project. He saw that the people had been greatly exasperated by the loss of Minorca, and it occurred to him that to repurchase it by the surrender of Gibraltar - worth a hundred Minorcas - would be a meritorious action. He therefore dispatched a proposal to this effect to our excellent ambassador in Spain, Sir Benjamin Keene, on condition that Spain assisted us in the war against the French, and for the recovery of the lost island. Still more: he engaged that we should surrender our establishments at Honduras and on the Mosquito shore. When Sir Benjamin Keene - who had grown old in defending our interests in Spain - read this dispatch, he flung his cap on the ground, exclaiming, in rage, "What can they mean? Are they mad on the other side of the water?" Fortunately, the Spanish court did not listen to the insane offer; they were afraid to commence another war with France, even for such an object, and Gibraltar was saved.

In North America, matters were still more unprosperous. Lord Loudon had raised twelve thousand men for the purpose of taking Louisburg, and driving the French from our frontiers; but he did nothing, not even preventing the attack of Marshal Montcalm, the commander-in-chief in Canada, on Fort William Henry, which he destroyed, thus leaving unprotected the position of New York. At the same time, Admiral Holbourne, who was to have attacked the French squadron off Louisburg, did not venture to do it, because he said they had eighteen ships to his seventeen, and a greater weight of metal. Such was the condition into which an army and navy, once illustrious through the victories of Marlborough and Blake, were reduced by the aristocratic imbecility of the Newcastles, Bedfords, and Cumberlands. This last princely general had, in fact, put the climax to his career. He had placed himself at the head of fifty thousand confederate troops, in which there were no English, except the officers of his own staff, to defend his father's electorate of Hanover. But this ruthless general, who never won a battle except the solitary one of Culloden, against a handful of famished men, was found totally incompetent to cope with the French general, d'Estrees. He allowed the French to cross the deep and rapid Weser, and continued to fall back before them as they entered the electorate, until he was driven to the village of Hastenbeck, near Hameln, where the enemy overtook and defeated him. He then continued his retreat across the desolate Lüneburg heath, to cover Stade, near the mouth of the Elbe, where the archives and other valuable effects of Hanover had been deposited for safety.

At this time Richelieu succeeded to the command of d'Estrees in this quarter, and he continued to drive Cumberland before him, taking Hameln, Göttingen, and Hanover itself, and soon after Bremen and Verden. Thus were Hanover and Verden, which had cost this country such millions to defend, seized by France; nor did the disgrace end here. Cumberland was cooped up in Stade, and compelled, on the 8th of December, to sign a convention at Closter-Seven, by which he engaged to send home the Hesse and Brunswick troops, and to disperse the Hanoverians into different quarters, not to serve again during the war.

This most ignominious termination of Cumberland's military ambition excited the most hearty execrations of both the Prussians and the English. The fallen butcher returned to London in October, where the king received him with freezing coldness, and the cutting observation – "Here is my son, who has ruined me and disgraced himself." The crestfallen duke, who had never spared a fallen enemy, now retired from a command which he was so incompetent to hold. He resigned his post of captain-general, and threw up everything except his allowance out of the privy purse, and his fifteen thousand pounds a year as victor at Culloden. He retired into obscurity, and the poor men massacred in their flight from Culloden, or in their distant highland homes, might have been in some degree consoled, could they have seen the latter years of their oppressor. Scorned and hated by the nation, treated with utter forgetfulness, with cold reproach by the ministers of his father, he died in 1765 unlamented, in his forty-sixth year. One man alone dared to defend him from the bitter accusations of his father, and that was Pitt, whom he had always fiercely opposed, and injured to the utmost of his ability. When George II. said, in Pitt's hearing, that he had given Cumberland no orders r such a convention, Pitt replied boldly, "But full powers, sir - very full powers!"

Meantime, Frederick of Prussia was waging a tremendous war with France, Russia, and Austria. To disable Austria before her allies could come up to her aid, he suddenly, in April, made an eruption into Bohemia. His army threaded the defiles of the mountains of the Bohemian frontier in different divisions, and united before Prague, where marshal Brown and prince Charles of Lorraine met him with eighty thousand men, his own forces amounting to about seventy thousand. A most obstinate and sanguinary conflict took place, which continued from nine in the morning till eight at night, in which twenty-four thousand Austrians were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, and eighteen thousand Prussians. The generals on both sides animated their troops by their examples. Frederick, his brother, prince Henry, and the prince of Brunswick, exposed themselves everywhere: old marshal Schwerin fell with the banner in his hand, which he snatched from an ensign, to lead forward a wavering regiment himself. On the other hand, marshal Brown was killed. The Prussians were destitute of pontoons to cross the Moldau, or their writers contend that not an Austrian would have escaped. But marshal Daun advancing out of Moravia with another strong army, to which sixteen thousand of the fugitives from Prague had united themselves, Frederick was compelled to abandon the siege of Prague, and march to near Kolin, where he was thoroughly- defeated by Daun, with a loss of thirteen thousand of his bravest troops.

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