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In the course of this commercial madness the imports greatly exceeded the exports, and there was consequently a rapid drain of specie from the country. The drain of bullion from the Bank of England was immense. In August, 1823, it had 12,658,240, which in August, 1825, was reduced to 3,634,320, and before the end of the year it ran as low as 1,027,000. Between July, 1824, and August, 1825, twelve millions of cash were exported from Great Britain, chiefly to South America. During the Revolutionary war, which had lasted for fourteen years, the capital of the country had been completely exhausted, while all productive labour had been abandoned. The unworked mines were filled with water. They were accessible, it is true, to English speculators, but they were worked exclusively with English capital. The South American mining companies were so many conduits through which a rapid stream of gold flowed from Great Britain. The catastrophe that followed took the commercial world by surprise; even the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to anticipate the disaster. On the contrary, his Budget of 1825 was based upon the most sanguine expectations for the future, and on the assurance that the public prosperity was the very reverse of what was ephemeral and peculiar, and that it arose from something inherent in the nation. Even at the prorogation of Parliament in July, the Royal Speech referred to the "great and growing" prosperity on which his Majesty had the happiness of congratulating the country at the beginning of the Session. The commercial crisis, however, with widespread ruin in its train, was fast coming upon Britain. Vast importations, intended to meet an undiminished demand at high prices, glutted all the markets, and caused prices to fall rapidly. Merchants sought accommodation from their bankers to meet pressing liabilities, that they might be enabled to hold over their goods till prices rallied. This accommodation the bankers were unable to afford, and sales were therefore effected at a ruinous loss. The South American mines, it was found, could not be worked at a profit, and they made no return for the twenty million pounds of British money which they had swallowed up. The effect was a sudden contraction of the currency, and a general stoppage of banking accommodation. The country banks, whose issues had risen to 14,000,000, were run upon till their specie was exhausted, and many of them were obliged to stop payment. The Plymouth Bank was the first to fail, and in the next three weeks seventy banks followed in rapid succession. The London houses were besieged from morning to night by clamorous crowds, all demanding gold for their notes. Consternation spread through all classes. There was a universal pressure of creditors upon debtors, the banks that survived being themselves upon the edge of the precipice; and the Bank of England itself, pushed to the last extremity, peremptorily refused accommodation even to their best customers. Persons worth one hundred thousand pounds could not command one hundred pounds; money seemed to have taken to itself wings and fled away, reducing a state of society in the highest degree artificial almost to the condition of primitive barbarism, which led Mr. Huskisson to exclaim, "We were within twenty-four hours of barter."

The fire had soon become general, and a desperate struggle was raging along the whole line. Buonaparte threw column after column forward against the British squares; but they were met with deadly volleys of artillery and musketry, and reeled back amid horrible slaughter. A desperate push was made to carry La Haye Sainte and the farm of Mont St. Jean, on Wellington's left centre, by the cuirassiers, followed by four columns of French infantry. The cuirassiers charged furiously along the Genappe causeway, but were met and hurled back by the heavy British cavalry. The four columns of infantry reached La Haye Sainte and dispersed a body of Belgians; but Picton, advancing with Pack's brigade, forced them back, and the British cavalry, which had repulsed the cuirassiers, attacking them in flank, they were broken with heavy slaughter and left two thousand prisoners and a couple of eagles behind them. But the British, both cavalry and infantry, pursuing their advantage too far, were in turn repulsed with great loss, and Generals Picton and Ponsonby were killed. The French then again surrounded La Haye Sainte, where a detachment of the German legion, falling short of ammunition, and none being able to be conveyed to them, were literally massacred, refusing to surrender. In a little time the French were driven out of the farmhouses by shells. An extraordinary scene of confusion was being enacted in the House of Commons at the moment when the king's reluctance was overcome. Sir R. Vivian took occasion to arraign Ministers violently for their intention of dissolving Parliament. Sir Francis Burdett contended that he was out of order. The Speaker ruled that he was in order. The Reformers differed from the Chair. Loud cries of "Sir Robert Peel! Sir Robert Peel!" were answered by counter-cries of "Sir Francis Burdett! Sir Francis Burdett!" and some wiser cries of "Chair! Chair!" The Speaker rose and stilled this unprecedented stormrebuked those who had disputed his authority, and again called on Sir Robert Peel, who proceeded thereupon, in undisguised anger, to address the House. But as the noise of the cannon, which announced the king's approach, boomed into the House, the Reform members loudly cheered, each discharge being greeted with overbearing and triumphant shouts. Suddenly Sir Robert's angry speech, and the loud cheers of the Reformers, were stilled by the three admonitory taps of the Usher of the Black Rod, who came to summon the members to attend his Majesty in the House of Peers. The Speaker at once obeyed, the Commons following. A similar scene of confusion in the Upper House was interrupted by the approach of the king. Lord Londonderry said, "I protest my lords, I will not submit to." Further than this his speech did not proceed, as the Lord Chancellor, who heard the king approaching, clutched the seals, left the woolsack, and darted out of the House. Lord Londonderry, not yet despairing, moved Lord Shaftesbury again to act as Speaker, and Lord Mansfield began a furious harangue in a loud and angry voice. In the meantime the Lord Chancellor met the king entering the House, and proceeding in procession to the robing-room. As the king advanced, the noise in the House became distinctly audible. "What's that, my Lord Chancellor?" said the king. "Only, may it please you, sire, the House of Lords amusing themselves while awaiting your Majesty's coming." The king, knowing what was meant, hastily robed, and as hastily entered the Housecutting short Lord Mansfield's speech, and putting an end to all chance of passing the[333] resolution under debate. The king ascended the throne, and commanded the attendance of the Commons. The bar of the House of Lords was thronged by the mass of members who now entered. The Speaker addressed the king, stating that the House of Commons approached the king with profound respect; and that the Commons had at no time more faithfully responded to the real feelings and interest of his Majesty's affectionate people; "while it has been," he added, "their earnest desire to support the dignity and honour of the Crown, upon which depend the greatness, the happiness, and the prosperity of this country." The Royal Assent being given to the bills that had passed, and, among others, to the Civil List Bill, the Chancellor presented to his Majesty the Speech he was to deliver, and the king, with the high shrill tone he always employed, but with more than wonted energy, read the first, which, indeed, was the really important paragraph of the Speech, and that which alone men cared to listen to or hear. Having thus accomplished their mission, the two armies returned in triumph to India. Lord Ellenborough was delighted, though he only thwarted his generals. He was now at Simla, in the very house whence his predecessor had issued his proclamation for the restoration of Shah Sujah, which had been the cause of all our disasters. On the 1st of October, the anniversary of the day when, two years before, he had reversed the policy of Lord Auckland, he issued a proclamation from the same room. It is a well-written State paper, ably reviewing the situation of Indian affairs and clearly announcing the future policy of our Indian Government. It is historically important, and deserves to be permanently recorded in the history of England:"The Government of India directed its army to pass the Indus, in order to expel from Afghanistan a chief believed to be hostile to British interests, and to replace upon his throne a Sovereign represented to be friendly to those interests and popular with his former subjects. The chief believed to be hostile became a prisoner, and the Sovereign represented to be popular was replaced upon his throne; but after events which brought into question his fidelity to the Government by which he was restored, he lost by the hands of an assassin the throne he had only held[504] amidst insurrections, and his death was preceded and followed by still existing anarchy.[4] Disasters unparalleled in their extent, unless by the errors in which they originated, and by the treachery by which they were completed, have in one short campaign been avenged upon every scene of past misfortune; and repeated victories in the field, and the capture of the cities and citadels of Ghuznee and Cabul, have again attached the opinion of invincibility to the British arms. The British armies in possession of Afghanistan will now be withdrawn to the Sutlej. The Governor-General will leave it to the Afghans themselves to create a government, amidst the anarchy which is the consequence of their crimes. To force the Sovereign upon a reluctant people would be as inconsistent with the policy as it is with the principles of the British Government, tending to place the arms and resources of that people at the disposal of the first invader, and to impose the burden of supporting a Sovereign without the prospect of benefit from his alliance. The Governor-General will willingly recognise any Government approved by the Afghans themselves, which shall appear desirous and capable of maintaining friendly relations with neighbouring States. Content with the limits Nature appears to have assigned to its empire, the Government of India will devote all its efforts to the establishment and maintenance of general peace, to the protection of the sovereigns and chiefs, its allies, and to the prosperity and happiness of its own faithful subjects."

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In Italy nothing was done till late in the year. Towards the end of November, the French army, under Massena, commenced operations in earnest. The Austrians and Piedmontese being scattered over a wide extent of country, defending various passes, the French attacked and beat them from different points. The right and centre of the Allies were ere long routed; and the left, posted on the shores of the bay St. Pier d'Arena, near Genoa, was attacked, both from the land and from the water, by gunboats, which Nelson, who had been detached to co-operate with the Austrians, had no means of coping with, except by letting loose a far greater number of armed vessels, and was also compelled to flight. Nelson managed to keep open the Bochetta pass for them, or from eight thousand to ten thousand prisoners would have been made, including the Austrian General Devins himself, who was laid up at Novi, at the foot of the Apennines. The French were then in a position to open the campaign against Italy in the spring. It met on the 29th of November. The king, in his speech, alluded to the determined resistance to the imperial authority of the American colonists, and pre-eminently of those of Massachusetts Bay. He called upon Parliament to support him in his endeavours to restore order. There was strong opposition to the addresses in both Houses, demands being made for a full production of all papers and correspondence on this great subject, but the battle did not begin until January, 1775, when Chatham moved the repeal of the legislation of the previous year, and the withdrawal of the troops from Boston. Melville was now permitted by the House of Peers to go down to the House of Commons, notwithstanding their conclusion on the subject, to make his defence, and he made a very long speech, contending that he had not embezzled a farthing of the public money, and exalting his services to the country, especially in his India administration. But on the head of Secret Service Money he was as close as the grave. He declared that "if he had disclosed any of these transactions he should have felt himself guilty not only of a breach of public duty, but of a most unwarrantable breach of private honour." There were twenty thousand pounds which he never did, and never could, account for on this ground, and there were forty thousand pounds drawn at once by Pitt from the Navy Fund. He said he knew very well for what purposes these sums had been paid, but that nothing would compel him to disclose it. When it was asked him whether Mr. Trotter had not kept large sums belonging to the Navy Fund in Coutts's Bank, and speculated with them to his own great enrichment, he admitted that Trotter had had such sums for considerable times in Coutts's Bank, but that they were always forthcoming when wanted, and that no single payment had been delayed on that account; and that out of the one hundred and thirty-four millions which had passed through his hands, nothing had been lost. He praised Trotter in the highest manner, but was silent as to the private use that he had so long, and to such advantage to himself, made of the public money. He admitted that he had himself held considerable sums of this money at different times in his own hands, but had repaid the whole before quitting[503] office, and this was all that the Act of 1785 required. He seemed to admit that he had paid money out of the Navy Fund for other than naval objects, and for these secret service purposes. Some of these were in Scotland, of which, also, he had the administration to a certain degree. And here the public called to mind that Watt, the spy and informer against the Scottish Reformers, had acknowledged to have been employed and paid by Dundas, so that it was clear whither some of the Navy Fund had gone. Melville entered into long explanations regarding a written release which had passed reciprocally between him and Trotter on winding up their affairs, in which they agreed to destroy all their vouchers for the sums paid away. This looked very black, but Melville contended that it was only a matter of coursea thing constantly done by officials in like circumstances, which, if true, made the matter all the worse for the country. But Melville contended that this clause in the release was merely a form; that it did not mean that they should literally destroy the vouchers, but only that they should be rendered invalid as evidence in any prosecution, which very little mended the matter. Melville declared that he had not, in consequence of the clause, destroyed a single paper.

The whole of London was thrown into great agitation, and Sir John Anstruther that evening, in the House of Commons, was very severe on the Ministers for not taking more decided measures for the protection of the metropolis. The next day the letter of Sir Francis was taken into consideration. Many severe strictures were made on his conduct, and even Whitbread contended that the Speaker's warrant was perfectly legal, and that[598] Sir Francis had done a great injury to the cause of Reform by stirring up a riot in the prosecution of a constitutional question. There was a call for the expulsion of the Radical baronet from the House; but as this would have produced a new election in Westminster, by which he would certainly have been returned afresh, that was prudently abandoned.