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Reign of George III page 4


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The secret of this wonderfully augmented boldness of tone on the part of France soon transpired. Choiseul had been endeavouring to secure the alliance of Spain, and saw himself about to succeed. Spain was smarting under many losses and humiliations from the English during the late war. The old question of England interfering with the traffic of the Spanish South American colonies remained, and had excited renewed bitterness by the daring with which the English merchants continued it. English cruisers had frequently, in pursuit of French ships, made free to mistake Spanish ones for Frenoh. Whilst England traded in defiance of Spain with her colonies, the English fishing vessels on the coasts of Newfoundland drove away the fishing vessels from the Basque provinces, which claimed a right to fish there by an article of the treaty of Utrecht. Whilst general Wall, the Spanish minister at Madrid, urged these complaints on the earl of Bristol, our ambassador there, and the con de de Fuentes, the Spanish ambassador in London, urged them on Pitt, and found little regard paid to these statements, Choiseul was dextrously inflaming the minds of the Spanish court against England on these grounds. He represented England as the universal tyrant of the seas, and the sworn enemy of every other maritime state. He offered to assist in the recovery of Gibraltar, and to make over Minorca to Spain. By these means he induced Spain to go into what became the celebrated Family Compact - that is, a compact by which France and Spain bound themselves to mutually succour and support each other; to consider the enemy of either power the enemy of both in all quarters of the world; to give to the subjects of each residing in the dominions of the other all the privileges of native subjects; and to admit the king of Naples, the son of the Spanish king, to this compact, but no prince or potentate whatever, except he were of the house of Bourbon.

This was the sort of result of the succession of a Bourbon to the crown of Spain which had been foreseen from the first, which had inspired Louis XIV. with the scheme, and which had equally armed England, Holland, and Austria against it. Besides the general compact, there was a particular one, which engaged that, should England and France remain at war on the 1st of May, 1762, Spain should on than day declare war against England, and should at the same time receive possession of Minorca. The existence of these compacts was kept with all possible secrecy; but Mr. Stanley penetrated to a knowledge of them in Paris, and his information was fully confirmed from other sources. The lord marischal, who had received a pardon at the entreaty of the king of Prussia, was paying a visit to his native country, and, being well acquainted with the language and diplomacy of Spain from his long residence and connections there, in an interview with Pitt gave him positive information of the compacts. This was still further corroborated by the British consul at Cadiz, who wrote that great preparations were making in the south of Spain, and the surprise of Gibraltar was not very secretly talked of. If these, however, had left any doubt, it would have been expelled by the receipt of a French memorial through M. Bussy, to which a second memorial on Spanish affairs was appended. These together demanded that all captures of Spanish vessels made during the war should be restored; the Spanish claim of fishing on the coasts of Newfoundland should be conceded, and that the English settlements in the bay of Honduras should be destroyed. These matters, the French memorial implied, Were introduced in order that the negotiations betwixt England and France might not be liable to be frustrated by a third power, and it therefore proposed that Spain should be invited to take part in the treaty.

Pitt received the proposition with a tone of indignation that made it manifest that he would suffer no such interference of a third party - would not yield a step to any such alliance. He declared, in broad and plain terms, that his majesty would not permit the affairs of Spain to be introduced by France; that he would never suffer France to presume to meddle in any affairs betwixt himself and Spain, and that he should consider any further mention of such matters as a direct affront. A similar message was dispatched to the earl of Bristol in Spain, declaring that England was open to any proposals of negotiation from Spain, but not through the medium of France. This was, in fact, tantamount to a defiance to both France and Spain, and would undoubtedly have put an end to all further negotiation had there not been a purpose to serve. The Spanish treasure ships were yet out at sea on their way home. Any symptoms of hostility would insure their capture by the English, and cut off the very means of maintaining a war. General Wall, therefore, concealed all appearance of chagrin; admitted that the memorial had been presented by France with the full consent of his catholic majesty, but professed the most sincere desire for the continuance of peaceful relations.

Pitt was not for a moment deceived. He saw that the war with France and Spain was inevitable, and he recommended that we should be ready to act on the instant, and to seize the treasure ships, which would render Spain utterly impotent. So far from seeing any hazard from this combined war, he foresaw the prospect of the easiest and most valuable conquest of the Spanish colonies. France had no fleet to help her, and his mind, in its wide and daring range, contemplated the seizure of the isthmus of Panama, thus opening up to us free access to the Pacific, and cutting off the communication betwixt Spain, Mexico, and Peru. Cuba and the Philippine Islands he proposed to take, and add them permanently to our dominions, and, considering the state of insecurity of these splendid possessions at that time, and the utter inability of Spain or France to prevent us, they must have been secured with comparative ease.

He had now received the ultimatum of France, which yielded several points, but not that of the restitution of prizes, or of the neutrality of Germany. He broke off tliö negotiation, recalled Stanley from Paris, dismissed Bussy from London, and advised an immediate declaration of war against Spain, whilst it was yet in our power to seize the treasure ships. But there was but one Pitt - one great mind capable of grasping the affairs of a nation, and of seizing on the deciding circumstances with the promptness essential to effect. The rest were feeble and purblind creatures, dazzled by the light which enabled Pitt to see distant objects, and hesitating where they should have acted. To their narrow and earth-bound vision his clear sight appeared wild presumption. The usually timid Newcastle became suddenly courageous with alarm. Bute pronounced Pitt's proposal as "rash and unadvisable;" the king, obstinate as was his tendency, declared that, if his ministers had yielded to such a policy, he would not; and Pitt, having laboured in vain to move this stolid mass of ministerial imbecility through three cabinet councils, at last, in the beginning of October, declared that, as he was called to the ministry by the people, and held himself responsible to them, he would no longer occupy a position, the duties of which he was not able to discharge. He warned them that now was the time to humble the whole house of Bourbon; that if it were neglected, such an opportunity might never again occur; and he resigned.

Lord Granville, the president of the council, once very loud in his boasts of a determined policy, now taunted the great minister, by saying that he was by no means sorry to see him retire; that though he might think himself infallible, they also had their opinions, and were not convinced of the superior wisdom of his. It would have been well had they been so. On the 5th of October, when Pitt waited on the king to surrender the seals, George received him in a very different manner. He made a full and frank avowal of his sense of his great services, and offered him any reward in the power of the crown. Pitt was melted to tears, expressed his sense of the royal goodness, and withdrew. Thus closed the most glorious tenure of office by any minister, perhaps, in the annals of England. When Pitt assumed the reins, the character of England was sinking daily; her wealth was wasted in useless endeavours to prop up German nations; her fleets and armies were disgraced; Minorca was lost; her enemies were making steady inroads on her American colonies. Within the short space of five years, all that had been reversed. The French islands of Guadaloupe, Desiada, Marigalante, and Dominica, had been taken in the West Indies; in Africa we had taken their settlements of Goree, Senegal, and others. In the East Indies, Clive, Coote, and others, had made themselves masters of Calcutta, Pondicherry, and Arcot, and laid the foundations of our present great Indian empire. The French had not only been driven out of our North American colonies, but their colonies of Canada and Cape Breton had been reft from them, and added permanently to the British crown. The prestige of the fleet had been restored by admirals Boscawen, Hawke, Watson, and other brave officers, inspired by the spirit at the helm; and though Pitt, following his one great ambition, instead of the spirit of opposition, had continued the war in Germany, it was no longer, as well observed by lady Harvey in her Letters, "to spend vast sums in purchasing infamy and disgrace; we had success and honour for our money."

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