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Notwithstanding all this treachery and barbarity, General Elphinstone, feeling his situation desperate, was weak enough to trust the Afghan chiefs, and to enter into a convention with them on the 1st of January, in the hope of saving the garrison from destruction. The negotiations were carried on by Major Pottinger, the defender of Herat, and it was agreed that the former treaty should remain in force, with the following additional terms:—That the British should leave behind all their guns excepting six; that they should immediately give up all their treasures;[496] and that hostages should be exchanged for married men with their wives and families. To this, however, the married men refused to consent, and it was not insisted on.Another French fleet, under Admiral Willaumez, left Brest at the same time with that of Lessigues, bound for the Cape of Good Hope, to assist the Dutch troops in defending it. The British, however, having taken it before his arrival, he went cruising about and picking up such stray British merchantmen as he could meet with between the continents of Africa and South America. He then stood away for the West Indies, hoping to be able to destroy the British shipping in the ports of Barbadoes. Failing in that, he made for Martinique, which was still in the possession of the French. Willaumez had but six sail of the line, and the English admirals, Sir John Borlase Warren, who had the same number and a frigate, and Sir Richard Strachan, who had seven sail of the line and two frigates, were in eager quest of him. Meanwhile, Willaumez was attacked by a terrible tempest, and then chased by Strachan in the Chesapeake. Of his six ships of the line he took home only two, and was obliged to burn the British merchantmen that he had taken.

Two courses were now open to the Duke of Wellington and to Peel—to resign, in order that Emancipation might be carried by the statesmen who had always been its advocates, and who might therefore carry it without any violation of consistency or of their own political principles. It was for not adopting this course that they were exposed to all the odium which they so long endured. But the question was, whether Lord Grey or Lord Lansdowne could have carried Catholic Emancipation even with the aid of the Duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel in opposition—could have overcome the repugnance of the Sovereign and the resistance of the House of Lords. It was their decided conviction that they could not, especially with due regard to the safety of the Established Church. But being convinced that the time had come when the question ought to be settled, the Duke examined the second course that was open to him, and embraced it. It was this: that postponing all other considerations to what he believed to be a great public duty, he should himself, as Prime Minister, endeavour to settle the question.


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"The Minister might ask Parliament for power to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act, and to place all Ireland under military law. To ask for less would be ridiculous; because the Act against unlawful assemblies had failed, and, on account of its helplessness, was suffered to expire. Now, would Parliament grant such extensive powers to any Government merely that the Government might be enabled to debar his Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects a little longer from enjoying equal political privileges with Protestants? The issue was very doubtful—perhaps it was not doubtful at all. Parliament would never grant such powers. But, assuming that the powers were given, what must follow?—a general insurrection, to be put down after much bloodshed and suffering, and then a return to that state of sullen discontent which would render Ireland, ten times more than she had ever been, a millstone round the neck of Great Britain, and by-and-by, when military law ceased, and the same measure of personal liberty was granted to Irishmen which the natives of England and Scotland enjoyed, a renewal of agitation, only in a more hostile spirit, and the necessity of either reverting again and again to measures of coercion, or of yielding at last what, upon every principle of humanity and common sense, ought not to have been thus far withheld. But the Minister, if the existing Parliament refused to give him the powers which he asked, might dissolve, and go to the country with a strong Protestant cry; and this cry might serve his purpose in England and Scotland. Doubtless; but what would occur in Ireland?—the return of Roman Catholic members in the proportion of four to one over Protestants, and the virtual disfranchisement thereby of four-fifths of the Irish people. Would Ireland submit quietly to any law carried against herself in a House of Commons so constituted? Was it not much more probable that a dissolution would only lead to the same results which had been shown to be inevitable in the event of the existing Parliament acquiescing in the Ministers' views? And was there not, at all events, a chance that the electors, even, of England and Scotland, might refuse to abet a policy so pregnant with danger to themselves and to the commonwealth? But why move at all? Mr. O'Connell had been elected by the priests and rabble of Clare to represent them in Parliament. Let him retain this empty honour; or, better still, let him be summoned by a call of the House to the bar, and, on his refusal to take the oaths, issue a new writ, and go to a new election. In the first place, Mr. O'Connell could not be forced to attend to a call of the House, such call being obligatory only on members chosen at a general election; and in the next, if he did attend, what then? As soon as the new writ was issued, he would take the field again as a candidate, and again be elected; and so the game would continue to be played, till a dissolution occurred, when all those consequences of which we have elsewhere spoken would inevitably come to pass."But far more important are the wondrous powers evolved from the study of heat. The pioneer in this branch of work was the Hon. H. Cavendish, who was born in 1731, and devoted his life, until his death in 1810, to the pursuits of science. He was followed by Dalton, who made several important discoveries in chemistry, particularly with reference to the gases, and in the doctrine of heat. With the greatest modesty and simplicity of character, he remained in the obscurity of the country, neither asking for approbation nor offering himself as an object of applause. In 1833, at the age of sixty-seven, he received a pension from Government, which he enjoyed till 1844, when he died. His discoveries may be said to have terminated at the age of forty, though he laboured for thirty years after. His first sketch of the atomic theory was propounded as early as 1807.

Such were the advantages now possessed by the British over the French commander, that both the Portuguese and people at home were impatient that Wellington should at once attack and annihilate Massena's army. But Wellington knew better. He knew that a great battle, or battles, must vastly reduce his own as well as Massena's army. He knew that France could readily march down eighty or a hundred thousand fresh men into Portugal at extremity, but that Great Britain could not so readily do that; and, should the Whigs come into power, as was probable, he could not calculate on any support at all. The king now hopelessly insane, the Prince of Wales must be soon appointed Regent, and then, perhaps, would come in his friends the Whigs. There were many other considerations which made Wellington refuse to accede to a general attack on the French at present. He had, as it was, trouble enough with the Junta; but, should any reverse occur, his situation then would be intolerable. Just now the Portuguese troops were in good spirits for fighting, but defeat would ruin all the progress yet made with them. He knew that the winter would do for the French army all that he expected without any cost to himself, and he waited for that, ready then to follow up the advantages it would give him. It was his great plan of operations which already reduced them to the dilemma in which they were, and now came winter and did the rest, fully showing his superior sagacity. In November the weather became and continued wretched in the extreme. The country was flooded, cutting off the precarious supplies of the French, but adding strength to the encampment of Torres Vedras. The cross roads were impassable for artillery, and all but impassable for waggons bringing provisions, which had to be hunted for far and wide, with incredible hardships and little success. Leaving the hostile armies in this position till the spring, we must notice other important matters.

It was the 10th of November when Mar, aware that Argyll was advancing against him, at length marched out of Perth with all his baggage and provisions for twelve days. On the 12th, when they arrived at Ardoch, Argyll was posted at Dunblane, and he advanced to give them battle. The wild, uneven ground of Sheriffmuir lay between them, and it was on this spot that Argyll on quitting Stirling had hoped to meet them. He therefore drew up his men on this moorland in battle array, and did not wait long for the coming of the Highland army. It was on a Sunday morning, the 13th of November, that the battle of Sheriffmuir was fought. Argyll commanded the right wing of his army, General Whitham the left, and General Wightman the centre. He[31] calculated much on this open ground for the operations of his cavalry. On the other hand, Mar took the right wing of his army, and was thus opposed, not to Argyll, but to Whitham. The Highlanders, though called on to form in a moment, as it were, did so with a rapidity which astonished the enemy. They opened fire on Argyll so instantly and well, that it took the duke's forces by surprise. The left army retired on Stirling pursued by Mar. Argyll was compelled to be on the alert. He observed that Mar had drawn out his forces so as to outflank him; but, casting his eye on a morass on his right, he discovered that the frost had made it passable, and he ordered Major Cathcart to lead a squadron of horse across it, while with the rest of his cavalry he galloped round, and thus attacked the left wing of Mar both in front and flank. The Highlanders, thus taken by surprise, were thrown into confusion, but still fought with their wonted bravery. They were driven, however, by the momentum of the English horse, backwards; and between the spot whence the attack commenced and the river Allan, three miles distant, they rallied ten times, and fairly contested the field. Argyll, however, bore down upon them with all the force of his right wing, offering quarter to all who would surrender, and even parrying blows from his own dragoons which went to exterminate those already wounded. After an obstinate fight of three hours, he drove the Highlanders over the Allan, a great number of them being drowned in it. Mar at this crisis returned to learn the fate of the rest of his army. He found that he had been taking the office of a General of Division instead of that of the Commander-in-Chief, whose duty is to watch the movements of the whole field, and send aid to quarters which are giving way. Like Prince Rupert, in his ardour for victory over his enemies in front of him, he had totally forgotten the centre and left wing, and discovered now that the left wing was totally defeated. He was contented to draw off, and yet boast of victory.Parliament met on the 10th of January, 1765. The resentment of the Americans had reached the ears of the Ministry and the king, yet both continued determined to proceed. In the interviews which Franklin and the other agents had with the Ministers, Grenville begged them to point to any other tax that would be more agreeable to the colonists than the stamp-duty; but they without any real legal grounds drew the line between levying custom and imposing an inland tax. Grenville paid no attention to these representations. Fifty-five resolutions, prepared by a committee of ways and means, were laid by him on the table of the House of Commons at an early day of the Session, imposing on America nearly the same stamp-duties as were already in practical operation in England. These resolutions being adopted, were embodied in a bill; and when it was introduced to the House, it was received with an apathy which betrayed on all hands the profoundest ignorance of its importance. Burke, who was a spectator of the debates in both Houses, in a speech some years afterwards, stated that he never heard a more languid debate than that in the Commons. Only two or three persons spoke against the measure and that with great composure. There was but one division in the whole progress of the Bill, and the minority did not reach to more than thirty-nine or forty. In the Lords, he said, there was, to the best of his recollection, neither division nor debate!

To oppose this tremendous force, our Admiral, Sir Charles Hardy, had only thirty-eight sail. In the confidence of their overwhelming strength, the Franco-Spanish fleet sailed directly for the English coast. Hardy, who was a brave seaman, but somewhat past his prime, endeavoured to[260] prevent their insulting our shores, and pursued them first near the Scilly Isles, and then towards the straits of the Channel. On shore the panic was intense, the French and Spaniards being expected every hour to land. But on the 31st of August, the wind veering enabled Hardy to get the weather-gauge of them; and being now in the Channel, he was prepared to engage their fleet, though so much superior in numbers; and on shore great quantities of military and volunteers had collected. Hardy anchored off Spithead. At the sight of this combination of circumstances, the courage of the Spaniards and French evaporated. They began to quarrel amongst themselves. The Spaniards were for landing on some part of the British coast; the French admiral contended that they would have the equinoctial gales immediately upon them, and that many of their vessels were in bad condition. The Spanish commander declared that, this being the case, he would relinquish the enterprise, and return to his own seaports. D'Orvilliers was necessarily compelled to return too, and retired to Brest, where a pestilential disease attacked the French, from having been so long cooped up in foul ships. Well might Lord North, on the meeting of Parliament, say, "Our enemies fitted out a formidable fleet; they appeared upon our coasts; they talked big; threatened a great deal; did nothing, and retired."


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The year 1839 will be always memorable for the establishment of the system of a uniform penny postage, one of those great reforms distinguishing the age in which we live, which are fraught with vast social changes, and are destined to fructify throughout all time with social benefits to the human race. To one mind pre-eminently the British Empire is indebted for the penny postage. We are now so familiar with its advantages, and its reasonableness seems so obvious, that it is not easy to comprehend the difficulties with which Sir Rowland Hill had to contend in convincing the authorities and the public of the wisdom and feasibility of his plan. Mr. Rowland Hill had written a pamphlet on Post Office Reform in 1837. It took for its starting-point the fact that whereas the postal revenue showed for the past twenty years a positive though slight diminution, it ought to have shown an increase of £507,700 a year, in order to have simply kept pace with the growth of population, and an increase of nearly four times that amount in order to have kept pace with the growth of the analogous though far less exorbitant duties imposed on stage coaches. The population in 1815 was 19,552,000; in 1835 it had increased to 25,605,000. The net revenue arising from the Post Office in 1815 was £1,557,291; in 1835 it had decreased to £1,540,300. At this period the rate of postage actually imposed (beyond the limits of the London District Office) varied from fourpence to one and eightpence for a single letter, which was interpreted to mean a single piece of paper, not exceeding an ounce in weight. A second piece of paper or any other enclosure, however small, constituted a double letter. A single sheet of paper, if it at all exceeded an ounce in weight, was charged with fourfold postage. The average charge on inland general post letters was nearly ninepence for each letter. In London the letter-boxes were only open from eight in the morning to seven p.m., and a letter written after that hour on Friday did not reach Uxbridge earlier than Tuesday morning.

LORD GREY.An attempt was again made on the part of Grey and Grenville to form a Ministry, but without effect. Overtures were then made to Lord Wellesley and Canning, who declined to join the Cabinet, alleging differences of opinion on the Catholic claims and on the scale for carrying on the war in[25] the Peninsula. In the House of Commons, on the 21st of May, Mr. Stuart Wortley, afterwards Lord Wharncliffe, moved and carried a resolution for an address to the Regent, praying him to endeavour to form a Coalition Ministry. During a whole week such endeavours were made, and various audiences had by Lords Moira, Wellesley, Eldon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, etc., and Moira was authorised to make proposals to Wellesley and Canning, to Grey and Grenville. But all these negotiations fell through. Grey and Grenville refused to come in unless they could have the rearrangement of the Royal Household. This demand was yielded by the Regent, but Sheridan, who hated them, did not deliver the message, and so the attempt failed. But at the same time, apart altogether from this matter, they could not have pursued any effectual policy. It was therefore much better that they should not come in at all.


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