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Reign of George II page 5

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It had long been the grand object of the ambition of the queen of Spain to obtain the dukedom of Parma for her son, Don Carlos. This had been accomplished two years ago. On the death of the late duke, he had been sent there under a convoy of English ships; and though the duchess-dowager declared herself enciente, and thus delayed his accession for some months, she at last confessed that she was not really so, and Don Carlos was installed in the dukedom. But this did not now satisfy his mother. She looked out for a royal crown for him, and the Two Sicilies, carelessly held by Austria, presented themselves as too tempting. As soon as the French intimated a wish to join Spain against the emperor Charles, the queen of Spain wrote to her son, then only about seventeen – "The Two Sicilies, being created an independent kingdom, shall be thine; go, then, and conquer. The finest crown of Italy awaits thee!"

But before undertaking this enterprise, the French and Spaniards endeavoured to obtain the co-operation of the king of Sardinia. Charles of Austria was also soliciting him, but France and Spain outbid Austria; Sardinia joined them, and their united army suddenly burst into the Milanese, and soon overran the whole of Austrian Lombardy. Austria found itself at the moment almost deserted. Russia had secured its object in Poland, and withdrew; Denmark could afford little aid; Holland dreaded to move; and Walpole in England was steadfastly bent on peace.

Under such circumstances, the year 1734 opened with very sinister auguries for Austria. At the battle of La Crocetta, near Parma, the Austrians lost several thousand men, together with their count Mercy. The Spanish forces were nominally commanded by Don Carlos himself, who was a young man of agreeable manners, and of some ability; but the real direction of the forces lay with count Montemar. In March an army of French, Spaniards, arid Italians, assembled at Perugia, and marched with Don Carlos to the conquest of Naples. They had sent proclamations before them that Don Carlos was coming to free them from the oppressions of the Germans, and that the inquisition should never be imposed upon them. The Austrians were but few in number, and ill prepared to resist. The pope, who did not like to see them on both sides of him, encouraged Don Carlos secretly, and a strong Spanish squadron following the coast, the united army marched deliberately forward, meeting with little resistance till it entered Naples. The imperial viceroy assembled about eight thousand men in Apulia, but fled before twelve thousand Spaniards, and left the command of his forces to prince Belmonte, who was defeated at Bitonto on the 25th of May, on the shores of the Adriatic, and then nearly all the towns and castles of Apulia surrendered to the Spaniards. Capua and Gaeta yielded after a siege, and Sicily was regained with far less bloodshed than it had cost to lose it before to the English fleet and Austrian army. Don Carlos was crowned king of the Two Sicilies under the title of Charles III.; and with this same title, on the death of his brother in 1759, he succeeded to the throne of Spain.

On the Rhine the emperor was not much more successful. There the celebrated prince Eugene commanded, but he was opposed by a far superior French army, under the brave and experienced duke of Berwick. The siege of Philipsburg was undertaken by the French in such numbers as made it impossible for him to cope with them, and it was going on when Berwick was killed by a cannon-ball. This distinguished son of James II. of England was sixty-four at the time of his death. He had long abandoned the cause of the pretender, his brother, who had the folly to allow himself to be made suspicious of him by his followers. Berwick in 1727 had even talked of going over to England and paying his respects to George I. He had conducted all the commands entrusted to him by Louis XIV. with the greatest ability and success, and had won from his countrymen the decisive battle of Almanza. He left behind him an illustrious name, though his fortunes had condemned him to exile, and to fight the battles of strangers.

Berwick was succeeded by the marquis d'Asfeld, who had served under him in Spain, and who was alike distinguished for his courage and his cruelty. He compelled Philipsburg to surrender, but the genius of Eugene checked much further progress, and the campaign in that quarter ended without any other event of note. Eugene himself there closed his renowned career, dying peaceably about two years afterwards in Vienna, where his tomb still attracts strangers in the cathedral of St. Stephen.

Whilst these events had been passing abroad, a sharp parliamentary campaign had been conducted at home. The opposition talked loudly of the lamentable and calamitous situation of England, because she was wise enough to keep out of the war. Their motions were all guided by the secret hand of Bolingbroke, whose restless and rancorous mind could not brook that partial obscurity to which he was doomed by the immovable spirit of Walpole. Instead of shining in the front of the house of peers as a brilliant orator, or holding the proud position of England's minister, he was obliged to shed his rancour through his quill in the pages of the "Craftsman," or in pamphlets, and to envenom the minds of the chief oppositionists, and arm them with specious oratory against his detested rival. Happy for England was it that it was saved from the misguidance of the showy but by no means profound sophist, who had once done his utmost to surrender her to the worst men and the worst principles that ever cursed its soil. Even the corruption of Walpole was infinitely preferable to the atheistic heartlessness of Bolingbroke.

Directed by Bolingbroke, the opposition revived the clamour about the excise, and turned the public resentment against Walpole for the dismissal of the duke of Bolton and lord Cobham from their regiments. They made a motion in the commons for a measure to prevent officers not above the rank of colonels being removed unless by a court-martial, or by address of either house of parliament. They dared not, however, press the motion to a division, though it was strongly advocated by Pulteney. They introduced through the young duke of Marlborough a bill for the same purpose into the lords, but could not carry it; the duke of Argyll remarking on the duke of Bolton's inexperience, that it was true two lords had been removed, but only one soldier.

But the grand attack was on the septennial act. This was a delicate subject for the whigs in opposition, for they, and Pulteney especially, had, in 1716, supported this act with many specious arguments. Bolingbroke, however, urged them on to the assault, and Pulteney was not ashamed on this occasion to unsay all that he had said before, but with evident embarrassment and little effect. The whigs to serve their own purposes had abandoned the triennial act, their own constitutional work, and all they had to say now in favour of such a measure had lost its value.

The attack on the Septennial Act was introduced by Mr. Bromley, son of the secretary of state under queen Anne, with a motion for its repeal, seconded by Sir John St. Aubyn. It was a trying time for the whigs, who, many of them, kept a wise silence. But Wyndham led the way again with amazing eloquence, and discharged a philippic against Walpole of such ruthless and scathing vigour, as must have annihilated a less adamantine man. He described him, hypothetically, as the most eminently accomplished of political scoundrels. The attack and the reply of these two combatants deserve notice, for they contain a large and a free transcript of the qualities of Walpole and of Bolingbroke: -

"Let us suppose," said Wyndham, "a man abandoned to all notions of virtue and honour; of no great family, and but of a mean fortune, raised to be chief minister of state by the concurrence of many whimsical events; afraid or unwilling to trust any but creatures of his own making, lost to all sense of shame and reputation, ignorant of his country's true interest, pursuing no aim but that of aggrandising himself and his favourites; in foreign affairs trusting none but those who, from the nature of their education, cannot possibly be qualified for the service of their country, or give weight and credit to their negotiations; let us suppose the true interest of the nation by such means neglected, or misunderstood, her honour tarnished, her importance lost, her trade insulted, her merchants plundered, and her sailors murdered; and all these circumstances overlooked, lest his administration should be endangered. Suppose him next possessed of immense wealth, the plunder of the nation, with a parliament chiefly composed of members whose seats are purchased, and whose votes are bought at the expense of public treasure. In such a parliament suppose attempts made to inquire into his conduct, or to relieve the nation from the distress which has been entailed upon it by his administration. Suppose him screened by a corrupt majority of his creatures, whom he retains in daily pay, or engages in his particular interest by distributing among them those posts and places which ought never to be bestowed upon any but for the good of the public. Let him plume himself upon his scandalous victory because he has obtained a parliament like a packed jury, ready to acquit him at all adventures. Let us suppose him domineering with insolence over all the men of ancient families, over all the men of sense, figure, or fortune in the nation; as he has no virtue of his own, ridiculing it in others, and endeavouring to destroy or corrupt it in all. With such a minister and such a parliament, let us suppose a case which I hope will never happen - a prince upon the throne, uninformed, ignorant, and unacquainted with the inclinations and true interests of his people; weak, capricious, transported with unbounded ambition, and possessed with insatiable avarice. I hope such a case will never occur; but, as it possibly may, could any greater curse happen to a nation than such a prince on the throne, advised, and solely advised, by such a minister, and that minister supported by such a parliament? The nature of mankind cannot be altered by human laws; the existence of such a prince or such a minister we cannot prevent by act of parliament; but the existence of such a parliament I think we may prevent, as it is much more likely to exist, and may do more mischief, while the septennial law remains in force, than if it were repealed; therefore, I am heartily for its being repealed."

By those who have considered the extent to which Walpole carried the system of corrupting the representatives of the people, and thus ruling at his own will, and not by the sanction of the public opinion and feeling, this severe portrait of him can scarcely be considered as exaggerated. Walpole, no doubt, felt it deeply, but feeling, too, whence the attack really came, from the armoury of Bolingbroke, he passed Wyndham lightly over, and emptied the burning vial of his indignation on the concealed foe, in a not less vigorous and graphic strain. Bolingbroke richly deserved the infliction. "When gentlemen," said Walpole, "talk of ministers abandoned to all sense of virtue and honour, other gentlemen may, I am sure, with equal justice, and, I think, more justly, speak of anti-ministers and mock patriots, who never had either virtue or honour, but in the whole course of their opposition are actuated only by motives of envy and of resentment against those who have disappointed them in their views, or may not, perhaps, have complied with all their desires. But now, sir, let me, too, suppose – and the house being cleared, I am sure that no one that hears me can come within the description of the person I am to suppose - in this, or in söme other unfortunate country, an anti-minister who thinks himself a person of so great and extensive parts, and of so many eminent qualifications, that he looks upon himself as the only person in the kingdom capable of conducting the public affairs of the nation, and therefore christening every other gentleman who has the honour to be employed in the administration by the name of blunderer. Suppose this fine gentleman lucky enough to have gained over to his party some persons really of fine parts, of ancient families, and of great fortunes, and others of desperate views, arising from disappointment and malicious hearts; all these gentlemen, with respect to their political behaviour, moved by him, and him solely; all they say, either in private or public, being only a repetition of the words he has put into their mouths, and a spitting out of that venom which he has infused into them: and yet we may suppose this leader not really liked by any even of those who so blindly follow him, and hated by all the rest of mankind. We will suppose this anti-minister to be in a country where he really ought not to be, and where he could not have been but by an effect of too much goodness and mercy, and yet endeavouring, with all his might and with all his art, to destroy the fountain from whence that mercy flowed. In that country suppose him continually contracting friendships and familiarities with the ambassadors of those princes who at the time happen to be most at enmity with his own; and if at any time it should so happen to be for the interest of any of those foreign ministers to have a secret divulged to them, which might be highly prejudicial to his native country, as well as to all its friends; suppose this foreign minister applying to him, and he answering, 'I will get it for you; tell me what you want, and I will endeavour to procure it for you.' Upon this he puts a speech or two in the mouths of some of his creatures or some of his new converts; what he wants is moved for in parliament; and when so reasonable a request as this is refused, suppose him and his creatures and tools, by his advice, spreading the alarm over the whole nation, and crying out, 'Gentlemen, our country is at present involved in many dangerous difficulties, all which we would have extricated you from, but a wicked minister and a corrupt majority refused us the proper materials; and upon this scandalous victory this minister became so insolent as to plume himself in defiances. Let us further suppose this anti-minister to have travelled, and at every court where he was, thinking himself the greatest minister, and making it his trade to betray the secrets of every court where he had before been; void of all faith or honour, and betraying every master he ever served. I could carry my suppositions a great deal farther, and I may say I mean no person now in being; but if we can suppose such a one, can there be a greater disgrace to human nature than such as this? "

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