絬册 產い綷弄

Fox had now to attempt that accommodation with Buonaparte which, he had so long contended, was by no means difficult. An opportunity was immediately offered him for opening communications with the French Government. A Frenchman, calling himself Guillet de la Gevrillire, made his way secretly into England, and solicited an interview with Fox on a matter of high importance. Fox granted it, and was indignant at discovering that it was a proposal to assassinate Napoleon. Fox ordered the man to be detained, and wrote at once to Talleyrand, informing him of the fact, and expressing his abhorrence of it. Talleyrand replied, complimenting Fox on the[517] nobleness of his principles, and expressing the admiration of the Emperor of it. "Tell him," said Buonaparte, as reported by Talleyrand, "that in this act I recognise the principles of honour and virtue in Mr. Fox;" and he added that the Emperor desired him to say, that whatever turn affairs might now take, whether this useless war, as he termed it, might be put an end to or not, he was perfectly confident that there was a new spirit in the British Cabinet, and that Fox would alone follow principles of beauty and true greatness. These empty compliments made no way towards such a negotiation as a real burst of gratitude might have introduced, especially when accompanied by such confidence as Buonaparte avowed in Fox's sentiments; and shrewd men suspected that Gevrillire had most likely been dispatched by Napoleon himself, through Fouch, to test the reality of Fox's formerly asserted indignation that Pitt, or any British Minister, could be suspected of plans of assassination against the French Emperor. It might have been imagined that this magnificent and destructive repulse would have convinced the allies that the siege was hopeless, but they were pretty well informed that General Elliot had well nigh exhausted his ammunition in this prodigal death-shower, and they had still their great combined fleet, snug in the narrow bay, with scouts in the Strait to prevent the carrying in of supplies. But on the 24th of September news arrived at Madrid that the fleet of Lord Howe was under weigh for Gibraltar. Howe's fleet of thirty-four sail-of-the-line, six frigates, and three fire-ships, though in the neighbourhood of one of fifty sail-of-the-line, besides a number of frigates and smaller vessels, managed to get into the bay of Gibraltar all safe, amid the wildest acclamations of soldiers and inhabitants. By the 18th of October all the store-ships had discharged their cargoes, and had passed through the Strait, and on the 19th Lord Howe followed them with his fleet. The enemy's fleet then came out after him, and the next day they were in the open ocean, and Howe proceeded to their leeward to receive them. Some of their vessels had suffered[296] in the late gales, but they had still at least forty-four sail to Howe's thirty-four, and, having the weather-gauge, had every advantage. But after a partial firing, in which they received great damage from Howe, they hauled off and got into Cadiz bay. Howe, then dispatching part of his fleet to the West Indies and a second squadron to the Irish coast, returned home himself. The news of the grand defence of Gibraltar produced a wonderful rejoicing in England; thanks were voted by Parliament to the officers and privates of the brave garrison; General Elliot was invested with the Order of the Bath on the king's bastion in sight of the works which he had preserved, and on his return, in 1787, at the age of seventy, he was created a Peer as Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar.

BARTHOLOMEW FAIR, LONDON, IN 1721. (From a Painting on a Fan.)

But the League did more than attempt to convert the country party. They determined to create a country party of their own. They had already taken up the registration of voters in the[510] boroughs, from which they proceeded, with that practical common sense which had distinguished nearly all their movements, to inquire into the position of the country constituencies, where hitherto the landowners had held undisputed sway. The scheme which resulted from this incursion into the dominions of the enemy was developed by Mr. Cobden at a meeting in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on the 24th of October, 1844. The Chandos clause in the Reform Act, giving the tenant-farmers votes for county members, had so strengthened the landlords' influence in the county that opposition at most of the county elections was hopeless. But Mr. Cobden showed his hearers that the counties were really more vulnerable than the small pocket boroughs. In many of these there was no increase from year to year in the number of votersno extension of houses. The whole property belonged to a neighbouring noble, and as Mr. Cobden said, "You could no more touch the votes which he held through the property than you could touch the balance in his banker's hands." But the county constituency might be increased indefinitely, for there it required but a freehold property of the value of forty shillings a year to give a man a vote. This sum had been adopted from an ancient regulation, when money was of far greater value, and land of far less money worth than it was then; but the forty-shilling qualification existed, and was a powerful engine for the creation of voters. Up to that time it had had but little effect. The laws of England, but more especially the habits and prejudices of landowners, had always kept the land of the county in so few hands as to present an extraordinary contrast with the condition of things in all other nations of Europe. The danger of the forty-shilling clause to aristocratic influence in the county was not perceived, simply because forty-shilling freeholders were rare. But there was no reason why they should be rare. The passion for possessing freehold land was widely spread, and a few facilities offered for purchasing it would soon create a large number of small holders. The chief difficulty in the way of this had hitherto been the great cost of transferring land. Owing to the complicated laws of real property, the land, unlike other articles, could only be bought and sold after a minute investigation into the owner's title, which necessitated an historical account of the ownership extending back over many years. All this, however, the League could easily obviate. They could buy land in the lump, register its title once for all, and part it into small pieces for small buyers. "This," remarked Mr. Cobden, "must be done," and it was done. The Conservative party sneered at the Manchester man's proposition of serving land over a counter, like calico, by the yard; but the movement soon began to tell upon elections, and to alarm the great landed proprietors.

He despatched a squadron of ten ships of the line to the Mediterranean, under Admiral Haddock; another strong squadron sailed for the West Indies; letters of marque and reprisal were issued to the merchants; and troops and stores were forwarded to Georgia, which the Spaniards had threatened to invade. He gave directions to all merchants in Spanish ports to register their goods with a public notary in case of a rupture. These measures produced a rapid change of tone at the Spanish Court. On comparing the demands on both sides for damages sustained in commerce, there appeared a balance in favour of England of two hundred thousand pounds. Against this, the Spaniards demanded sixty thousand pounds in compensation for the ships taken by Admiral Byng in 1718a claim which Stanhope would never allow, but which had been recognised in the Treaty of Seville, and was now, therefore, acknowledged. This reduced the sum to a hundred and forty thousand pounds, which the Spanish Court proposed should be paid by assignments on the American revenues. This, the Ministers were well aware, might involve the most endless delays and uncertainties, and they certainly showed a most conceding spirit by allowing a deduction of forty-five thousand pounds for prompt payment at Madrid. The sum was now reduced to ninety-five thousand pounds; and this being agreed to, a convention was signed on the 14th of January, 1739.

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