Under the influence of this persuasion, Buonaparte suddenly made overtures of peace to Great Britain, though, on the conditions which he proposed, they were certain to be rejected. The Duke of Bassano wrote to Lord Castlereagh, offering to secure the independence of Spain under the present reigning dynasty; that Portugal should continue under the rule of the House of Braganza, and Naples under Murat. Lord Castlereagh replied that if by the present reigning dynasty of Spain was meant King Joseph, there could be no treaty, and there the matter ended; for even Fouch says that Napoleon's Ministers were ashamed of so clumsy a proposal of ignorance and bad faith. Failing with Great Britain, Buonaparte turned to Russia herself, intimating a desire for peace, but not finding it in his heart to offer any terms likely to be accepted. In fact, he was now so demented by the ambition which meant soon to destroy him, that he fancied that a mere mention of peace was enough to win over any of his enemies in face of his vast armies. Including the forces of his German and Italian subsidiaries, he had on foot one million one hundred and eighty-seven thousand men. Of these, he led four hundred and seventy thousand men into Russia. Italy, Naples, Austria, Prussia, Würtemberg, Baden, Saxony, Westphalia, and other Confederates of the Rhine furnished each from twenty thousand to sixty thousand men. To swell up his French portion, he had called out two conscriptions, each of a hundred thousand men, in one year, and had organised a new system of conscription under the name of "National Guards," which professedly were only to serve in France as a militia but which were soon drafted off into foreign service. This consisted of three levies, or bans"the ban," "the second ban," and "the arrire ban." They included all who were capable of bearing arms of all classes. The ban was composed of youths from twenty to twenty-six years of age; the second ban of men from twenty-six to forty, and the arrire ban of those from forty to sixty. By such means was the native population of France being rapidly drawn off into destruction by this modern Moloch. For a time, Bute and his colleagues appeared to brave the load of hatred and ignominy which was now piled everywhere upon them, but it was telling; and suddenly, on the 7th of April, it was announced that the obnoxious Minister had resigned. Many were the speculations on this abrupt act, some attributing it to the influence of Wilkes, and his remorseless attacks in the North Briton; others to the king and queen having at length become sensitive on the assumed relations of Bute and the king's mother; but Bute himself clearly stated the real and obvious causewant of support, either in or out of Parliament. "The ground," he wrote to a friend, "on which I tread is so hollow, that I am afraid not only of falling myself, but of involving my royal master in my ruin. It is time for me to retire."

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On the very next day took place what Burke had foreseen. A deputation from the two Irish Houses of Parliament arrived in London, with an address to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, requesting him to assume the regency as his right. Though the English Bill was now certain to be abandoned, this address was presented on the 26th of February, the day after the arrival, and was received by the prince in a manner likely to mark his sense of his treatment by Pitt and his party. The deputies were entertained at a splendid banquet; the walls of the dining-room at Carlton House were adorned with Irish harps, the shamrock, and other Irish emblems; the arms of Ireland, encircled by a glory, blazed in the centre of the table, and the richest wines flowed in torrents. But these banquetings had not been confined to this more auspicious day. Whilst the great contest had been going on in Parliament, dinners had been given on the Saturdays and Sundays of every week at Carlton House, to which about thirty of the members of both Houses had been invited, and at which the prince and the Duke of York had presided. Besides these, the attractions and persuasive powers of the great ladies on both sides had been enthusiastically called into play. The fascinating Duchess of Devonshire, who, in 1784, had so successfully canvassed for Charles James Fox in Westminster, had now thrown open her house, and employed all her amiabilities to win supporters to the prince's party. On the other hand, the more bold and vigorous Duchess of Gordon had feasted, entreated, and almost commanded adherence to Pitt, through whom it was said her husband had obtained the Great Seal of Scotland, and his brother, Lord William Gordon, the sinecure Rangerships of St. James's and Hyde Parks. The rivalries of these parties had been carried on in the most public manner, by[348] caricatures, lampoons, ballads, and popular jests. Westminster was pre-eminently Whig; but London, which had formerly been so democratic, had become essentially loyal. The Coalition had given the first shock to the popularity of the Whigs in the City, and the sympathy for the calamity of the king, combined with disgust at the prince's levity and heartlessness, had produced a wonderful degree of loyalty there. When the Peers assembled on the 7th it became quite evident that in allowing the Bill to go into committee they were only practising a man?uvre. In the first place they wished to prevent the creation of peers, and in the second they were resolved to mutilate the Bill in committee. They were aware that they had the sympathy of the king in this plot, and that he would have been glad of their success, irritated as he was by the coercion and pressure put upon him by his Ministers. The first step was taken by Lord Lyndhurst, who proposed in committee to defer the consideration of the disfranchising clauses till the enfranchising clauses had been considered. "Begin," he said, "by conferring rights and privileges, by granting boons and favours, and not by depriving a portion of the community of the privileges which they at present enjoy." This ostentatious preference of boons and favours for the people, postponing disfranchisement to enfranchisement, ringing changes on the words, was a mere artifice, but it was at once seen through by the indignant people. Lord Grey and Lord Brougham promptly exposed the attempted imposition; the former hoped the noble lords would not deceive themselves. He would not say that the proposal was insidious, but its object was utterly to defeat the Bill. He declared that if the motion were successful it would be fatal to the whole measure. It would then be necessary for him to consider what course he should take. He dreaded the effect of the House of Lords opposing itself, as an insurmountable barrier, to what the people thought necessary for the good government of the country. The noble earl's warning was on this occasion disregarded. The House being in committee proxies could not be counted, and the amendment of Lord Lyndhurst was carried after an angry debatecontents, 151; non-contents, 116; majority, 35. This division put a sudden stop to the proceedings in committee. Lord Grey at once proposed that the chairman should report progress, and asked leave to sit again on the 10th. Lord Ellenborough endeavoured to dissuade him from this course, and proceeded to give a description of the measure which he was prepared to substitute for the Ministerial Bill, and which he presumed to hope would be satisfactory to the country. This was a critical moment in the destiny of England, and the awful nature of the crisis seemed to be felt by all present, except those who were blinded by faction. Lord Grey had now but one alternative, a large creation of peers or resignation. With a majority against him in the Lords so refractory, nothing could be done; but the king declined to create the fifty peerages which the Ministry demanded. Accordingly, on Wednesday,[350] the 9th of May, the resignation of the Ministers (and the king's acceptance of it) was formally announced by Lord Grey in the House of Lords, and by Lord Althorp in the House of Commons. Lord Ebrington immediately rose, and gave notice that he would next day move a call of the House, and then an Address to his Majesty on the present state of public affairs. In the course of the debate which ensued, attempts were made by Mr. Baring and Sir Robert Peel to excite sympathy for the Lords, as taking a noble stand against the unconstitutional pressure upon the king for the creation of peers, but in vain. Neither the House of Commons nor the country could be got to give them credit for any but the most selfish motives. They considered their obstinacy to be nothing better than the tenacity of the monopolists in power. Mr. Macaulay indignantly denounced their inconsistency in pretending that they wished to carry a measure of Reform. The influence of the Crown, always powerful, was visible in the division on Lord Ebrington's motion. The "ayes" were only 288 instead of the 355 that carried the third reading of the Reform Bill. There were evidently many defaulters; but woe to them at the next general election! Rigid scrutiny was instituted, and a black list made out of those who had deserted their constituents on this momentous question. In the meantime the most angry remonstrances came to absent members from their constituents. The motion, however, was carried by a majority of 80. It was evidently a relief to the king to get rid of the Whigs; and he knew so little of the state of public feeling as to suppose that a modified Reform measure, a mere pretence of Reform, would satisfy the country. He therefore sent for Lord Lyndhurst in order to consult him, assigning the reason, that being now Chief Baron, he was removed from the vortex of politics, although he had led the Opposition in their successful attack upon the Ministerial measure. The first thing Lord Lyndhurst did was to wait upon the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel, to both of whom he stated the views of the king. His Majesty insisted that some extensive measures of Reform should be carried. "My advice to the king," said the Duke, "was not to reappoint his late Ministry, nor was it to appoint myself. I did not look to any objects of ambition. I advised him to seek the assistance of other persons well qualified to fill the high situations of the State, expressing myself willing to give his Majesty every assistance, whether in office or out, to enable him to resist the advice which had been given him." The Premiership was offered to Sir Robert Peel, but he peremptorily declined to take such a perilous position, declaring that "no authority nor example of any man, nor any number of men, could shake his determination not to accept office, under existing circumstances, upon such conditions." On the 12th of May the Duke undertook to form an Administration, taking the post of Prime Minister himself. Mr. Manners Sutton was to be leader of the Commons, Lord Lyndhurst Chancellor, and Mr. Baring Chancellor of the Exchequer. For five days the courageous Duke was engaged in a desperate effort to form a Cabinet. But no sooner was it known throughout the country than a terrific storm of popular fury burst forth, which threatened to blow down the House of Peers and sweep away the Throne. The king, from being the popular idol, became suddenly an object of popular execration. The queen, who had also been a great favourite with the people, attracted a large share of the odium excited against the Court. It was understood that her influence had much to do in causing the king to desert Lord Grey, and to break faith with him with regard to the creation of peers. The king and queen were groaned at and hissed, and pursued with tremendous noises by the people, while passing through the town of Brentford. Dirt was hurled at the royal carriage; and if the military escort had not kept close to the windows, it is probable their majesties would have sustained personal injury. Along the road to London the people expressed their feeling in a similar manner; and when the carriage entered the Park the mob saluted their majesties with yells and execrations of every description.

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As the wind was light, the British vessels set their studding-sails, and bore down steadily on the enemy. There were of the British twenty-seven sail of the line, four frigates, one schooner, and one cutter. Of the French and Spaniards there were thirty-three sail of the line, five frigates, and two brigs; but the French vessels were in far superior condition to the old weather-worn ones of Nelson. The French had two thousand six hundred and twenty-six guns, Nelson two thousand one hundred and forty-eight. Collingwood's line first came into contact with the enemy in the Royal Sovereign, and was speedily in the midst of a desperate conflict. It was some time before Nelson's line got up, and Collingwood, amid the din of cannon and the crash of spars, turned to his captain, and said, "Rotherham, what would not Nelson give to be here?" It was just past twelve o'clock at noon as Collingwood's vessel came to close quarters with the Spanish flagship, Santa Anna, and it was more than a quarter of an hour before Nelson's ship came close up to the stupendous four-decker Spaniard, the Santissima Trinidad. He was soon in a terrible contest not only with this great ship, but with the Bucentaure, of eighty guns, the Neptune, of eighty guns, and the Redoubtable, of seventy-four guns. The Victory and Redoubtable were fast entangled together by their hooks and boom-irons, and kept up the most destructive fire into each other with double-shotted cannon. Both ships took fire; that in the Victory was extinguished, but the Redoubtable finally went down. But it was from the mizen top-mast of this vessel that one of the riflemen marked out Nelson by his stars, and shot him down. He fell on the deck, on the spot where his secretary, John Scott, had fallen dead just before. Captain Hardy, to whom Nelson had shortly before said, "Hardy, this is too warm work to last long," stooped, and observed that he hoped that he was not severely wounded. He replied, "Yes, they have done for me at last, Hardy." Hardy said he hoped not. "Yes," he answered; "my back-bone is shot through." He was carried down to the cock-pit, amongst the wounded and the dying, and laid in a midshipman's berth. The ball was found to have entered the left shoulder and to have lodged in the spine; the wound was mortal. For an hour the battle went on in its terrible fury, as the dying hero lay amid those expiring or wounded around him. He often inquired for Captain Hardy, but Hardy found it impossible, in the midst of one of the fiercest and most mortal strifes that ever was wagedthe incessant cannonades sweeping away men, masts, tackle at every momentto go down. When he was able to do it, Nelson asked how the battle went. Hardy replied, "Well, fourteen or fifteen vessels had struck." "That is well," said Nelson; "but I bargained for twenty." He then told Hardy to anchor, foreseeing that a gale was coming on; and Hardy observed that Admiral Collingwood would now take the command. At this the old commander blazed forth in the dying man for a moment. He endeavoured to raise himself in the bed, saying, "Not while I live, Hardy! No, do you anchor!" And he bade Hardy signal to the fleet this order. His last words were again to recommend Lady Hamilton and his daughter to his country, and to repeat several times, "Thank God, I have done my duty!"

The duties on bricks and tiles were opposed, as affecting brick-makers rather than the public, because stones and slates were not included. These duties were, however, carried, and the Bill passed; but great discontent arising regarding the duties on coals and on licences to deal in excisable commodities, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was obliged to produce a supplementary Budget, and, after withdrawing these, to lay others on the sale of ale, gold and silver plate, the exportation of lead, and postage of letters, at the same time limiting the privilege of franking. It was high time that the latter practice were put under regulation, for the privilege was enormously abused. Till this time, a simple signature of a member of Parliament, without name of the post town whence it was sent, or date, freed a letter all over the kingdom. Many persons had whole quires of these signatures, and letters were also addressed to numbers of places where they did not reside, so that, by an arrangement easily understood, the persons they were really meant for received them post-free. The loss to Government by this dishonest system was calculated at one hundred and seventy thousand pounds a year. By the present plan, no member was to permit any letter to be addressed to him except at the place where he actually was; and he was required, in writing a frank, to give the name of the post town where he wrote it, with the dates of day and year, and to himself write the whole address.

Soon after, a resolute attack was made on the right of the British centre by a great body of cavalry, which rode impetuously into the front of the squares and of thirty pieces of artillery. Though cut down in heaps, they drove the artillerymen from their guns, but these only retreated amongst the infantry, carrying with them the implements for serving the guns, and, the moment the infantry repelled their assailants a little, the men were at their guns again, and renewed the firing. The cuirassiers fought most undauntedly; they rode along the very front of the squares, firing their pistols into them, or cutting at them with their swords. Again and again they dashed forward to break the squares, but in every instance were met with such a destructive fire that they were compelled to draw off, only a mere fragment of this fine cavalry surviving this heroic but fatal attempt. From that time the French continued the battle chiefly by an incessant fire of artillery along the whole line, which the British avoided in great part by lying on their faces.