Page images
PDF
EPUB

the circumstances of danger and ruin, in which they had been so nearly involved.

A French fleet of great force had now arrived on the coast, of which neither the

army nor navy had till this time received the smallest notice. This unexpected event filled the minds of all the officers with new apprehensions, and the dangers which they had lately escaped, appeared small to those which they now apprehended. They had as yet been masters of the feas in that quarter, and could move where they pleased, whenever they were in danger by land; but now two evils stared them in the face, they were obliged to change their position on the continent for the fake of having free access to their ships, but now the fleet itself was in danger, which greatly increased their apprehensions:

The danger to which our fleet and army were now exposed, had been foreseen and foretold by those who were in the opposition in parliament, and the failing of the French fleet under the command of the Count D'Elaing had been published long before our ministry had made any provision against its operations. Some warm representations had been made concerning the fupineness and negligence of our ailmiralty, in several speeches in parliament, to which the ministry were unable to reply with any degree of fatisfaction to either their friends or enemies. The incapacity of our ministry had as bad an effect upon public affairs, as if they had proceeded with a real intention to ruiu the nation, and there were not wanting fome, who both said as well as thought, that they really intended the events which happened, This lätter does not appear to have been the case, but the effects of their incapacity were equally fatat

to the public interest. It was little benefit to the public to be informed, that they did not act wrong through treachery and design, when they did the same things through incapacity; and would not give up employments and offices, which they could not discharge with honour to themselves, nor safety to their country.

Information had been received a long time before the failing of the Toulon fleet, that it was preparing and would be ready to fail in a short time, yet our admiralty disregarded these notices, and suffered the French squadron, under the Count D’Estaing, to pass the limits of the Mediterranean, and to carry destruction to our fleet and army in North America, and afterwards fire and sword to our West India islands. It was of small advantage to the the nation to know, whether the present misfortunes had happened through the treachery or incapacity of the ministry, or from that fatality that had constantly attended all their measures. They had banilhed, by their counsels, all wise and honest men from the presence of their sovereign, and were now employing him in holiday pageants at Spithead, to divert the attention of the people from their immediate danger, whilst our colonies and foreign dependencies were neglected, our glory stained,

and the British flag disgraceda The opposition in parliament asked the ministry, and with great propriety, whether it lefsened the calamities of the nation to know, that the pillaging of their coasts during the summer, the alarm and jerror into which different parts of the kingdom had been thrown, under the apprehension of invasion, together with the destruction of their commerce, and the loss of public credit, proceeded merely from the inčapa

city of the ministers? Or that the calling out of a niilitia without arms, and sending them to be encamped without tents or field equipage, sprung from the same cause? But to which ever cause the foregoing instances may be attributed, no doubt, said they, can be entertained, that it was the most thorough conviction of their incapacity, which produced the French rescript, the dangerous measure on which it was founded, and the insult and contumely which the Bri. tilh Aag has undergone in the ports of Spain. No. thing less than such conviction, could have emboldened those nations to renture upon such a conduct, nor could any other possible direction of the affairs of Great Britain, have drawn upon it such insult and in. jury.

They asked, if any man in his senses could give a vote of credit to a ministry, who were always last to learn what they should be first to know? Who could be so insensible of the sudden emergencies to which such a season as the present was liable, that when the account arrived of a transaction, which every body expected, and which they should have long since guarded against, only one of them was to be found, and the rest were so dispersed in the course of their pleasures, that a sufficient number of themi could not be procured, for holding a council, until the hour of debate and determination was loft. Thus had we lost that advantage of the wind, which its known and natural course in the month of April afforded; and now see our feet embayed at Portfmouth, and likely to continue there, from its having as naturally and regularly taken the opposite direction. Non

Who

Who then, they said, could trust such ministers! or was it even possible to estimate their guilt ? Was there any thing more wanting, to feal that fatal cha. racter of their administration, which carried no other distinction, than the regular and fucceffive circumftances of ruin, in which they had involved their country? But it feemed, that the disgrace of a Burgoyne was to be atoned by the destruction of a Howe; and the want of information relative to the union of France and America, to be compensated by the ignorance of D’Estaing's failing and destination. A gentleman of distinction, on that fide, ended his fpeech with eager exclamation : Whither is the spirit of England fled! Where is the wisdom that used to pervade her councils! Where are the terrors gone, with which she was wont to fill the bofoms of those who dared to insult her! Britain, he feared, was betrayed ; treachery and corruption vied with each other, to fee which should first effect her downfall and disgrace. "The ministers said they were confident, that if the gentlemen on the other side were acquainted with the preparations that had been made, and the effectual care taken to protect this country from invasion, they would not fo rafhly condemn them for treachery; nor charge them so hastily with incapacity. The utmoft exertious had been used, as well with refpect to the navy, as to every other mode of preparation and defence.

And though ņo fteet had yet failed to oppose the Toulon fquadron, that was properly to be attributed to the advantage of fupply which the French derived from their register, and which at all times enabled them to man, out a fleet sooner than we could ; but it by no means afforded

1

any just ground for the repeated charges of incapacity made against the ministers. They besides infifted, that in the present circumstances of danger to which the nation was exposed, under the immediate threat and apprehension of an invasion, it would have been highly imprudent and unwise to have weakened the home defence, by any detachment from the Grand Fleet, until such a force was provided, as would have been adequate to the different services. And if it had been otherwise, and that detachments could have been spared, still they contended, that it would not have been fitting to send out a squadron' to oppose D'Estaing, without some clue for its guidance in meeting him, which could not be obtain. ed, until fome light was thrown on his deftination or object. It was hoped, that if D’Estaing was bound to North America, Lord Howe would be able to use fuch means of defence, as would prevent any immediate consequence of moment ; but in the worst that could happen, Admiral Byron, with the fleet now under his orders at Portsmouth, would arrive in time on the coast, to take full vengeance for any insult that was offered.

The American minister acknowledges, that appear: ances were against the ministry ; but appearances were not to justify a condemnation; a full enquiry into the circumstances might place their case in a very different light. For his part he was ready to meet every scrutiny, and wished punishment to fall where it was deserved. When the disparches arrived, he took the speediest means to convene the ministers from the country, where some of them then wete. That from the time of their arrival, the greate. exa

pedition

« PreviousContinue »