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Reign of George II page 15

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Walpole contrived to blunt the force of Sandys' charges regarding the invasions of the Sinking Fund, showing that Sandys had exaggerated, and that within the last seventeen years eight millions of the national debt had been paid off by the application of that fund, and that no less than seven millions taken from the fund had been applied to the relief of the agricultural interest, thus keeping down the land-tax. As to the South Sea scheme, he reminded them, truly, that it was no project of his; that he had opposed it and warned the nation against it, and had been called on by the king and the whole public to remedy the fatal consequences of it; that he had been called to the helm when the finances were in the most miserable condition; and he appealed to them, confidently, whether thöy were not wonderfully improved? whether peace had not been preserved till recently amidst the resistant efforts of a violent opposition? If the conduct of the war on sea or land had not answered expectation, he observed that he was neither admiral nor general, and they were to have great allowance made for them, seeing that the opposition would not permit us to have an efficient army or navy. He concluded by again denying that he had either become corrupt himself or had corrupted others; that he had sought no honours, but had refused them, except the ribbon of the order of the garter, which it would have been disrespectful to his majesty to have declined. He defended some promotions to members of his own family, and finally called on all who were desirous to maintain the rights and prerogatives of the crown, and the honourable exercise of a ministerial discretion, to reject the motion before the house.

It was four o'clock in the morning when Walpole concluded his masterly defence, and the motion was instantly rejected by two hundred and ninety votes against one hundred and six. Whilst Sir Robert had been thus fiercely assailed in the commons, the storm was raging against him with equal fury in the lords. Carteret introduced the motion, which was eagerly supported by the dukes of Argyll and Bedford, the earls of Sandwich, Westmoreland, Berkshire, Carlisle, Abingdon, and Halifax, and by lords Haversham and Bathurst. It was singular that whilst Berkshire, Lichfield, and Bathurst were voting against Walpole in the peers, their sons in the commons were voting for him. The dukes of Newcastle and Devonshire, the lord chancellor, Sherlock, bishop of Salisbury, the earl of Isla, brother to Argyll, and lord Hervey, as warmly defended Walpole, and the motion was rejected by one hundred and eight to fifty-nine. The prince of Wales attended the debate, but did not vote, nor did lord Wilmington and other peers holding places under government, whence they obtained the cognomen of " sneakers." A fiery protest, said to have been penned by the indefatigable hater, lord Bolingbroke, was signed by thirty-one peers.

The immediate effect of the attack appeared to be to strengthen the minister, and that considerably; his levee the next morning was more crowded than had ever been known, and he seemed to sway the cabinet with uncontrolled power. But thinking men foretold that the blow would tell in the end, when the momentary enthusiasm was gone off; and Walpole himself seemed to be of the same opinion. The attack, in truth, was but the first outbreak of the storm which, kept up by the implacable spirit of a powerful opposition, was sure to bear him down at last.

Whilst this powerful confederacy was putting forth all its strength to drive from the seat of supremacy the man who had so long guided the fortunes of England, another confederacy was knitting together its selfish members to rend in pieces and share amongst them the empire of the young queen of Austria. On the 8th of April George II. addressed his parliament, telling it that we were bound to stand by this defenceless princess, whose cause was the cause of all Europe. If her territories were seized upon by Prussia, France, and Bavaria, the balance of power would be destroyed, and there would be no prospect but bloody wars or established despotism. He said Maria Theresa had called for the twelve thousand men which were stipulated for by treaty, and that he had called on the king of Denmark and the king of Sweden, as landgrave of Hesse Cassel, to furnish their proper quota, six thousand for each, to be ready to march to her assistance. He alluded to measures in concert to support the queen of Hungary, which would render great expenses necessary to maintain the Pragmatic Sanction, and that he looked to his parliament to enable him effectually to discharge his engagements on this head.

In opening the debate on these supplies in the commons, Clutterbuck, one of the lords of the treasury, made a most unhappy slip of the tongue. He declared that we ought to be as anxious to insure the safety of Hanover as we were to insure that of England. The words were instantly seized upon by the opposition, and the idea of Hanover being the chief subject of the king's thoughts, which haunted the public mind, was made damagingly prominent. The unhappy orator had, in fact, laid bare the real anxiety of the king, for, in truth, he was greatly alarmed for the safety of Hanover during these German commotions. Pulteney drew out this anxiety to the utmost, and reminded the house that by the act of settlement it was provided that this country should not be involved in the quarrels of Hanover - a country, he declared, from which we never expected or received any benefit, and for which, therefore, nothing ought either to be suffered or hazarded. Walpole hastened to stop the mischief by dwelling on the fact, that we were not called upon in any way to take thought for Hanover, but to assist, as we were bound to do by solemn treaty, to prevent the dismemberment of the Austrian empire, and to maintain the true succession. Sandys endeavoured to turn back the argument by asserting that we owed allegiance to the king of Great Britain, and not to the elector of Hanover; but, notwithstanding this momentary advantage of the opposition, the address on the king's speech was carried without a division, and this was followed by a motion on the 13th of April, carried also without a division, voting to Maria Theresa a subsidy of three hundred thousand pounds. There was, perhaps, a motive in this unanimous assent, employed again to damage Walpole, for Carteret hastened to assure the Austrian court, that this grant was by no means owing to the good will of the ministry, but to the unanimous feeling of the English parliament and people for the queen of Hungary.

Parliament was prorogued on the 25th of April, and as its term of seven years had nearly expired, it was soon after dissolved, and writs were issued for a new election, returnable on the 26th of June. George was impatient to get away to Hanover, and Walpole as anxious to detain him. He dreaded the endeavours of the opposition during the king's absence; but his entreaties were useless, George embarked for his beloved electorate on the 7th of May. Great events were already occurring in Germany. Frederick of Prussia encountered the Austrian general, marshal Neuperg, on the 10th of April, betwixt Molwitz and Groningen. The Hungarian hussars, early in the day, made a vigorous charge on Frederick's left wing, and seized his baggage, and soon after the Austrian heavy cavalry routed his right wing. Frederick, who thought all was lost, galloped off amid his flying horse, never stopping till he reached Oppelm, where he took refuge in a windmill!

This act of cowardice deeply mortified the ambitious Prussian, and the more so, as he found that his father's well-trained infantry had stood their ground, had repulsed the Austrian cavalry, and, under marshal Schwerin, had put the whole of the Austrian army to the route. Nearly five thousand of the Austrians were left dead on the field or disabled; nine pieces of cannon and four standards were taken. The Prussians had lost nearly as many men, and Frederick, reflecting with shame on his part in that conflict, wrote down in his memoirs "that Molwitz was the school of the king of Prussia and his troops, for he there saw his faults and errors, and tried to correct them in future." Neuperg, the Austrian general, retreated across the Neisse, and there entrenched himself, waiting for reinforcements, whilst Frederick marched against Brieg, which, notwithstanding its vigorous defence by Piccolomini, was compelled to surrender on the 4th of May. France, rendered confident in the fortunes of Frederick by these successes, hesitated no longer to pull off the whole of the mask of friendship for Austria, and disregarding her guarantee of the Pragmatic Sanction, dispatched marshal de Belleisle from Frankfort to conclude an alliance with the Prussian king. The conditions of this alliance proposed by France were - 1st, The division and dismemberment of the provinces of the queen of Hungary; 2nd, The elevation of the elector of Bavaria to the imperial dignity; 3rd, The guarantee of France to Prussia of all Lower Silesia, on condition that Frederick renounced his claims on the duchies of Berg and Juliers, and that he voted at the Diet for the elector of Bavaria. France promised to send two armies into Germany if these terms were accepted - one to support the elector of Bavaria in his demand of being made emperor, and the other to keep in check the army of George in Hanover.

Frederick was willing enough to make a league with France, but he was cautious enough not to make it too soon. He wanted to know whether he could keep England out of the campaign, in which case he could deal easily with Austria himself. The French ambassador, Belleisle, thinking only of the advantages to Frederick of this alliance, and not of the obstacles in Frederick's own mind, was proposing to him nothing short of the utter dismemberment of the Austrian dominions. "He seemed," said Frederick, "as if he thought all the territories of the queen of Hungary were already on sale to the highest bidder." One day the marshal looking puzzled, Frederick asked him whether he had any bad news. "None, sire,' said the marshal," none whatever; but what embarrasses me now is, that I cannot settle what we shall do with Moravia." "Oh," replied Frederick, laughing, "offer it to the king of Poland." The crafty Prussian was all this time waiting to see what terms England would offer. Walpole was exerting himself both with Prussia and Austria to bring matters to a compromise. He instructed the envoy to the imperial court to urge the good policy of making some concession to Prussia, in order to save all the rest, and break up the alliance betwixt Prussia and France, which threatened the most disastrous consequences. But the high spirit of Maria Theresa rejected all fresh overtures, and the envoys to Frederick were as little successful. John Carmichael, earl of Hyndford, was first sent to Frederick, and he was followed by Mr. Schwickell from Hanover. Hyndford endeavoured to touch the feelings of Frederick, and rouse in him a sense of chivalry, by representing the magnanimity of not pressing too far on a young, beautiful, and defenceless woman. But all such arguments were lost on the so-called great monarch, this disciple of Voltaire and French materialism. "Talk not to me," he exclaimed, "of magnanimity. A prince ought first to consult his own interests. I am not averse to a peace, but I want four duchies, and I will have them."

Robinson, the English ambassador at Vienna, all this time was labouring to induce Maria Theresa to give up something, but for some time without success. At length the queen consented to resign the duchy of Limbourg and some other trifling territories in the Netherlands, and Robinson hastened to the head-quarters of Frederick to make this known. But the Prussian king treated the matter with contempt. He exclaimed, "Still beggarly offers! Since you have nothing to propose on the side of Silesia, all negotiations are useless. My ancestors would rise out of their tombs to reproach me should I abandon my just rights!" and, pulling off his hat in grand, theatrical style, he rushed behind the curtain of his tent, leaving the envoy in amazement. Frederick, in his memoirs, asserts that George II. offered to assume a neutral position as regarded Hanover, provided that certain territories were ceded to the electorate to complete its compactness. Nothing, however, moved the Frenchified Prussian king, and Walpole counted more on obtaining allies who should keep both Frederick and the French in play, and paralyse their efforts. He used all his efforts to detach Russia from Prussia, and to direct military operations from the province of Livonia against Frederick, and thus divide his attention; but France counteracted that plan by winning over Sweden, which at that period was all French in taste and spirit. Sweden declared war against Russia, which at the time was distracted by internal commotions, and thus effectually prevented any demonstration against Prussia. France at the same time endeavoured to excite a fresh Jacobite ferment in Scotland, and thus keep England engaged; and the treaty being formally signed with the Prussian king, marshal Maillebois marched an army across the Rhine, and Belleisle and Broglie with another. Maillebois pursued his course direct for Hanover, where George was drilling and preparing a number of troops, but in no degree capable of making head against the French. Panic-stricken at their approach, he made haste to come to terms, and agreed to a year's neutrality for Hanover, leaving Maria Theresa to her fate, and, moreover, engaging not to vote for the election of her husband, the duke of Lorraine, to be emperor. The news of this ignominious conduct of the king of England in the person of the elector of Hanover was received in Great Britain with the utmost indignation and contempt. Here was the man who had always been so fond of military affairs, and who was so ready to engage in war. What a humiliation! Well would it have been for George to have remained, according to the advice of Walpole, in England!

Belleisle and De Broglie had, during this time, joined their forces to those of the old elector of Bavaria, the constant enemy of Austria and the friend of France, and had marched into Austria. He took Linz, on the Danube, and commenced his march on Vienna. As this allied army approached Vienna, Maria Theresa fled with her infant son, afterwards Joseph II., into Hungary, her husband and his brother, prince Charles of Lorraine, remaining to defend the city. The Hungarians received their menaced queen with enthusiasm. She had done much since the recent commencement of her reign to win their affections. She had been crowned in the preceding month of June in their ancient capital, and had sworn to maintain their ancient constitution in all its force, and both Magyar and people were fervent in their loyalty. When, therefore, she appeared before the Hungarian parliament in Presburg with her son in her arms, magnificent woman as she was, and called upon that high-spirited nation to defend her against her perfidious and selfish enemies, the sensation was indescribable. When she said, "The kingdom of Hungary, our person, our children, our crown are at stake; forsaken by all, we seek shelter only in the fidelity, the arms, the hereditary valour of the renowned Hungarian states " - all rose to their feet, and, drawing their swords half-way from the scabbard, they exclaimed, " Our lives and our blood for your majesty! We will die for our king, Maria Theresa! "

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