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Reign of George II. (Concluded) page 9

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The vengeance against Byng was sharpened by the scarcity and excessive price of corn. Addresses to the king came pouring in from all quarters, demanding inquiry and justice on the guilty for the loss of Minorca. The members of parliament received others, calling on them to insist on scrutiny and justice, or stopping of the supplies. No such excitement had been seen since the days of the South Sea bubble.

Meantime, the most culpable man of all, Newcastle - if his sheer imbecility did not shift that culpability still higher, to the king, who could intrust the fortunes of the nation to such a man - was trembling with terror, and endeavouring to find a scapegoat somewhere. Fox was equally trembling, lest Newcastle should make that scapegoat of him. He declared to Dodington, that he had urged Newcastle to send succour to Minorca as early as Christmas, and that Cumberland had joined him in urging this to no purpose. He declared that Newcastle ought to answer for it. "Yes," replied Dodington, "unless he can find some one to make a scapegoat of." This was the very fear that was haunting Fox, and he hastened, in October, to the king, and resigned the seals. This was a severe blow to Newcastle, and he immediately thought of Murray to succeed him; but, unfortunately, Sir Dudley Ryder, tüe lord chief-justice, just then having died, Murray had fixed his ambition on occupying his seat on the bench. Newcastle dreading to lose Murray from the house of commons, where there was no one eise capable of competing with Pitt, implored him to accept the office, or any other there - the tellership of the exchequer, or the duchy of Lancaster, for life. He offered him six thousand a year in pension, but all in vain; Murray declared he would have the chief justiceship, or he would not even continue attorney-general. They were obliged to give it to him, with the title of Mansfield, or make a mortal enemy of him. Newcastle then thought of conciliating Pitt; but Pitt was in close alliance with Leicester house, and to Leicester house Newcastle had given mortal offence, by refusing lord Bute the office of the groom of the stole, in the household of the prince, as long as he could. Pitt refused to belong to any ministry at all in which Newcastle remained. Newcastle, in his perplexity, next tried lord Egmont, and even old Granville, but both declined the honour; and not a man being to be found who would serve under him, he was compelled most reluctantly to resign. He had certainly presided over the destinies of the nation far too long. He had held the office of secretary of state and first lord of the treasury for thirty-two years. Hardwicke, also, resigned the office of lord chancellor, which he held for nearly twenty years with great ability and credit. Sir George Lyttleton was dismissed from the chancellorship of the exchequer, but was raised to the peerage, and retired to the country to cultivate literary pursuits. Lord Anson was removed from the admiralty, having made himself unpopular with the nation, for declaring the miserable fleet sent to Minorca quite sufficient.

The king now thought of placing Fox at the head of a new administration; but when Fox asked Pitt to join he refused, and the king was obliged to send for Pitt, much as he hated him. Pitt replied that he was laid up with the gout - a complaint which troubled him, but which he frequently found it convenient to assume. George then prevailed upon the duke of Devonshire, a man of no commanding ability, and averse to office, but of the highest integrity of character, to accept the post of first lord of the treasury, and to form a cabinet. Though the friend of Fox, he felt that statesman to be too unpopular for a colleague, and offered Pitt the seals of secretary of state, which he accepted; Legge was re-appointed chancellor of the exchequer; Pitt's brother-in-law, lord Temple, first lord of the admiralty; his next brother, George Grenville, treasurer of the navy; the third brother, James Grenville, again was seated at the treasury board; lord Holderness was the second secretary of state, to oblige the king; Willes, chief justice of the common pleas; the duke of Bedford was made lord-lieutenant of Ireland, it was said, by Fox's suggestion, as a thorn in the flesh to Pitt, and, as Horace Walpole sarcastically remarked, Pitt had not Grenville cousins enough to fill the whole administration; Charles Townshend was made treasurer of the chamber, though his talents and eloquence, in which he excited Pitt's jealousy, deserved a much higher office.

The ministry being complete, parliament met on the 2nd of December. It was found that the new administration had not that influence in the boroughs that Newcastle, who had cultivated it, had; and several members of the cabinet, Pitt amongst them, had difficulty in getting returned, as was the case with Charles Townshend. In the king's speech, his majesty was made to speak of the militia, which he was known to everybody to hold in sovereign contempt, as the best and most constitutional means of national defence. He announced also that he had ordered the return of the Hanoverian troops to their own country; and the duke of Devonshire inserted in the address from the lords an expression of thanks for having brought them over. Pitt had declared that he would quit the cabinet if such a vote was passed, and Temple came hurrying down to the house - Pitt being absent from the commons with the gout - and declared that he had quitted a sick bed to protest against it. This was an unlucky beginning. It was clear that there was want of unity in the cabinet at its very birth, and out of doors the people were loudly complaining of the scarcity, and bread-riots were frequent. The king himself could not help ridiculing the speech his new ministers had put into his mouth; and a poor printer being arrested for putting another speech into his mouth, George said he hoped the man might receive very lenient punishment, for, so far as he could understand either of the speeches, he thought the printer's the best. To abate the ferment out of doors, the commons passed two bills: one prohibiting the export of grain, flour, or biscuit; the other prohibiting, for several months, the distillation from wheat or barley.

But though Pitt protested against thanking the king for bringing over Hanoverian troops, he found it necessary to support the king's German treaties and alliances, which were avowedly for the defence of Hanover. Fox reminded him of his favourite phrase, that Hanover was a mill-stone round the neck of England; but it was not the first time that Pitt had had to stand the taunt of eating his own words, and he braved it out, especially voting two hundred thousand pounds to Frederick of Prussia. A wonderful revolution in continental politics had now converted this long-hostile nephew of George II. into an ally, if not a friend.

The empress Maria Theresa, never reconciling herself to the seizure of Silesia by Frederick, and not finding England disposed to renew a war for the object of recovering it, applied to her old enemy, France. It required some ability to accomplish this object of detaching France from its ancient policy of hostility to Austria, pursued ever since the days of Henry IV., and in severing the alliance with Prussia; but her minister, Kaunitz, who had been her ambassador in Paris, contrived to effect it. The temptation was thrown out of the surrender of Belgic provinces to augment France, in return for assistance in recovering German possessions from Prussia. To add fresh stimulus to this change, the vengeance of offended woman was brought into play. Madame Pompadour, Louis XV.'s all-powerful mistress, had sent flattering compliments to Frederick by Voltaire; but the Prussian king only repaid them with sneers. On the other hand, the virtuous Maria Theresa did not blush to write, with her own hand, the most flattering epistles to the Pompadour. By these means, the thirst of revenge raised in the heart of the French mistress worked successfully the breach (with Prussia and the alliance with Austria. The same stimulus was tried, and with equal effect, on the czarina Elizabeth, on whose amorous license the cynical Prussian monarch had been equally jocose. Kaunitz knew how to make the sting of these ungallant sallies felt at both Paris and St. Petersburg, and the winter of 1755-6 saw the

Russian alliance with Prussia and England renounced, the English subsidy, with far more than German probity, renounced too, and Russia pledged to support Austria and France. The elector of Saxony, Augustus, king of Poland, who amused himself with low, pot-house companions, and tame bears, and left his affairs to his minister, count Brühl, was also drawn, by the promise of Prussian territory, to join the league; and even Sweden, whose queen, Ulrica, was sister to Frederick, was drawn over to take side against him, in the hope of recovering its ancient province of Pomerania. This confederation of ninety millions of people, leagued against five millions, was pronounced by Pitt "one of the most powerful and malignant ones that ever yet threatened the independence of mankind."

The confederates endeavoured to keep their plans profoundly secret till they were ready to burst at once on the devoted king of Prussia; but Frederick was the last man alive to be taken by surprise. The secret was soon betrayed to him, and, at once waiving his dislike of the king of England, he concluded a convention with him in January, 1756, and bound himself, during the disturbances in America, not to allow any foreign troops to pass through any part of Germany to those colonies, where he could prevent it. Having his treasury well supplied, he put his army in order, and in August of that year sent a peremptory demand to Vienna, as to the designs of Austria, stating, at the same time, that he would not accept any evasive reply; but the reply being evasive, he at once rushed into Saxony at the head of sixty thousand men, blockaded the king of Saxony in Pirna, and secured the queen in Dresden. By this decisive action Frederick commenced what the Germans style " The Seven Years' War." In the palace of Dresden Frederick made himself master of the secret correspondence and treaties with France, Russia, and Austria, detailing all their designs, which he immediately published, and thus fully justified his proceedings to the world.

The Austrians advanced under marshal Brown, an officer of English extraction, against Frederick, but after a hard-fought battle at Lowositz, on the 1st of October. Frederick beat them, and soon after compelled the Saxon army, seventeen thousand strong, to surrender at Pirna. The king of Saxony, who had taken refuge in the lofty rock fortress of Königstein, surrendered too, on condition of being allowed to retire to Warsaw, and Frederick established his headquarters for the winter at Dresden, levying heavy contributions throughout Saxony. The Aulic council, under the dictation of Austria, denounced Frederick as a rebel and a public disturber; but with one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers at his command, and the reputation of the greatest general in Europe, he only smiled at their impotent anger.

During this campaign little was done in America. General Bradstreet defeated a body of the enemy on the river Onondaga, and, on the other hand, the French took the two small forts of Ontario and Oswego.

The year 1757 opened amid very gloomy auspices. War, of a wide and formidable character, was commencing in Europe, and the house of commons was called on to vote no less than eight millions three hundred thousand pounds for the supplies of the year, and to order fifty-five thousand pounds for the sea service, and forty-five thousand pounds for the land. The national debt had now reached seventy- two million pounds, and was destined to a heavy and rapid increase, and still chiefly for the defence of Hanover. Pitt commenced the admirable plan recommended years before by Duncan Forbes, of raising Highland regiments from the lately disaffected clans. The militia was remodelled, it was increased to thirty-four thousand, and it was proposed to exercise the men on Sunday afternoons, to facilitate their progress in discipline; but an outcry from the dissenters put a stop to this. Serious riots, moreover, were the consequences of forcing such a number of men from their homes and occupations in the militia ranks; and the public discontent was raised to a crisis by the voting of two hundred thousand pounds, avowedly for the protection of Hanover. A measure which the nation beheld with astonishment, Pitt himself introduced, notwithstanding his many thunderings against the Hanover millstone.

Amid these angry feelings admiral Byng was brought to trial. The court martial was held at Plymouth. It commenced in December, 1756, and lasted the greater part of the month of January of the present year. Byng was conveyed from Greenwich to Portsmouth, and carried on board the St. George, where the court martial was held. He showed far more spirit now than he did at Minorca, and was so confident of acquittal, that he kept a post-chaise standing ready every day to carry him to London, where he determined immediately to take his place in the house of commons, where he would turn the charge upon his enemies, and he had written out the heads of his accusations. Besides this, he had already published a statement in his vindication. In this he showed how his own letters and reports to the admiralty had been garbled before they were published in the Gazettes, so as to favour the charge of cowardice against him - certainly a most unworthy and unwarrantable proceeding. During the trial a letter was received from M. Voltaire, inclosing another from the duke of Richelieu to Voltaire, bearing the most decided testimony to the brave but prudent conduct of Byng, asserting that, from the bad state of his ships and deficient crew of inen, to have continued the action would only have been to run upon certain destruction. But this evidence was not likely to avail much with men who knew how often our admirals had defeated much superior and better-appointed French fleets. After a long and patient examination, the court came to the decision that Byng had not done his utmost to defeat the French fleet, or relieve the castle of St. Philip. The court, however, sent to the admiralty in London to know whether they were at liberty to mitigate the twelfth article of war, which had been established by an act of parliament of the twenty-second year of the present reign, making neglect of duty as much deserving death as treason or cowardice. They were answered in the negative, and therefore they passed sentence on Byng to be shot on board such of his majesty's ships of war, and at such time as the lords of the admiralty should decide.

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