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SCENE AT THE "SURRENDER" BANQUET IN DERRY. (See p. 287.)

Yet the whole demand for sailors was carried, and the demand of inquiry as absolutely rejected. Parliament went on and voted three million two hundred and five thousand five hundred and five pounds for the expenses of the navy; four thousand pounds for Greenwich Hospital; five hundred thousand pounds for the discharge of the debts of the navy. For the army, including some new contracts with the German princes for men to serve in America, three million pounds. What was still more disgraceful was that, amid all these charges on the public purse, the king came again with a fresh demand for six hundred thousand pounds for debts on the Civil List. It was pretended that extraordinary calls had been made on the royal purse by the suffering Royalists in America; but it was notorious that the Royal household continued in the same condition of reckless waste and extravagance as it was when the former half million was voted for the same purpose. Yet the Commons granted this sum; and, by way of preventing the king from falling into fresh difficulties, added one hundred thousand pounds a year to the Civil List. The matter, however, did not pass without a plain reminder to his Majesty. The rough-spoken Sir Fletcher Norton, the Speaker of the Commons, when presenting this Bill for the increase of the Civil List to the king, said:—"Sir,—In a time of public distress, full of difficulty and danger, under burdens almost too heavy to be borne, your faithful Commons postponed all other business, and granted your Majesty not only a large present supply, but a very great additional revenue—great beyond example—great beyond your Majesty's highest wants!" Having passed these votes, Parliament was prorogued on the 13th of December till the 21st of the following January.

On the 6th of November came down that fierce Russian winter of which Buonaparte had been so long vainly warned. A thick fog obscured everything, and snow falling in heavy flakes blinded and chilled the soldiers. Then commenced wild winds, driving the snow around their heads in whirls, and even dashing them to the earth in their fury. The hollows and ravines were speedily drifted full, and the soldiers by thousands disappeared in the deceitful depths, to reappear no more till the next summer revealed their corpses. Numbers of others fell exhausted by the way, and could only be discovered by their following comrades by the slight hillocks that their bodies made under the snow. Thus the wretched army struggled and stumbled to Smolensk, only to find famine and desolation, seeming to forget, in the mere name of a town, that it was now but a name, having been burnt by the Russians. On commencing this terrible march of the 6th of November Buonaparte received the ill news that there was insurrection in Paris—that produced by Mallet, but soon put down; and also that Wittgenstein had driven St. Cyr from Polotsk and Vitebsk, and reoccupied the whole course of the Düna. To clear his retreat of this obstruction, Buonaparte dispatched Victor to repulse Wittgenstein and support St. Cyr. But this was only part of the evil tidings which came in simultaneously with winter. Two thousand recruits from France, under Baraguay d'Hilliers, had been surprised and taken prisoners on the road to Kaluga, and other detachments in other quarters. On arriving at Smolensk Buonaparte's troops had acquired such a wild, haggard, and ragged appearance that the garrison at first refused to admit them; and many perished before they could be relieved from the stores. They had no shelter amid the terrible frost but wretched sheds, reared from half-burnt timber, against the fire-blackened walls.But though the abandonment, for the present, of this enterprise, so fondly cherished by France, was calculated to cast a damp on the country, Buonaparte had another project ready which flattered the French pride of conquest. This was to seize on Egypt, as the preliminary to the fall of Britain. He had for some time entertained this idea, and had written from Italy to the Directory on the subject in the previous September. To insure the real destruction of England, he said, they must make themselves masters of Egypt. Malta and Corfu must be seized first, and for this purpose he conceived eight or ten sail of the line and twenty-five thousand men would suffice. The possession of Egypt, he contended, would draw all the commerce of the East thither, instead of taking the circuitous route by the Cape of Good Hope. He had thoroughly inspired Talleyrand with his scheme. Egypt was imagined to be much more wealthy than it was, and there were monuments of ancient art for Buonaparte and his right-hand bandit, Monge, to lay hands on. The Directory, which was extremely unpopular, uneasy at the presence of so popular and daring a person, were glad to be rid of him anywhere, the farther off the better. There were not wanting counsellors who already advised him to perpetrate a coup d'état, and place himself at the head of affairs; but Buonaparte, not at all averse from the prospect, replied, "The pear is not ripe." He knew that, however popular with his own army, he was looked on with jealousy by the army of the Rhine, which served under, and prided themselves in, Moreau. He knew that the middle classes hated him for sweeping them away with grape-shot in the affair of the Sections. He hoped to make[465] himself yet more popular and more necessary, and that in the meantime the Directory would have completed their full measure of odium. He now therefore plunged into arrangements for this grand conquest of the East.

[277]

Whilst the rebellion was raging in Scotland there had been an attempt to change the ministry, and to place at the helm Lord Granville. That nobleman had so engrossed the favour of the king, that Pelham and his brother, Newcastle, found their measures greatly obstructed by Granville's influence, and suspected that they would soon be called on to give place to him. They determined, therefore, to bring matters to a crisis, confident that Granville would never be able to secure a majority in either House against them. To furnish a reason for their tendering their resignation, they demanded the place which they had promised to Pitt.[277]

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Government now resorted to vigorous measures; the Chartist leaders were brought to trial, and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. At a meeting of the National Convention held on the 14th of September, it was moved by Mr. O'Brien, and seconded by Dr. Taylor, that the Convention be dissolved. On a division, the numbers were for the dissolution eleven; against it eleven. The chairman gave his casting vote in favour of the dissolution. It was thereupon hoped, and, indeed, publicly declared by the Attorney-General, that Chartism was extinct and would never again be revived. It soon appeared, however, that this was a delusion, and that a most formidable attempt at revolution by force of arms had been planned with great care and secrecy, and on a comprehensive scale, the principal leader being a justice of the peace. Among the new borough magistrates made by the Whigs after the passing of the Reform Bill was Mr. John Frost, a linendraper at Newport. At the beginning of the Chartist agitation in 1838 Mr. Frost attended a meeting in that town, when he made a violent speech, for which he was reprimanded by the Home Secretary. But this warning was far from having the desired effect. During the autumn of 1839 he entered into a conspiracy with two other leaders—Jones, a watchmaker, of Pontypool, and Williams, of the Royal Oak Inn, in the parish of Aberystwith—to take possession of the town of Newport, which was to be the signal for a simultaneous rising of the Chartists in Birmingham and in all other parts of the kingdom. But the weather was unfavourable and the night was dark. The divisions under the command of Jones and Williams failed to arrive at the appointed time, and the party under the command of Frost himself was late. The intention was to surprise Newport at about midnight on Sunday, the 3rd of November; but owing to the wetness of the weather it was not till ten o'clock on Monday morning that the insurgents entered the town in two divisions, one headed by Frost, and another by his son, a youth of fourteen or fifteen. They were armed with guns, pistols, pikes, swords, and heavy clubs. The mayor, Mr. Thomas Philips, apprised of their approach, had taken prompt measures for the defence of the place.The South Sea Company had immediately on the passing of the Bill proposed a subscription of one million, and this was so eagerly seized on that, instead of one, two millions were subscribed. To stimulate this already too feverish spirit in the public, the Company adopted the most false and unjustifiable means. They had eight millions and a half to pay over to Government as a douceur for granting them the management of the Funds; and, therefore, to bring this in rapidly, they propagated the most lying rumours. It was industriously circulated that Lord Stanhope had received overtures at Paris to exchange Gibraltar and Port Mahon for invaluable gold lands in Peru! The South Sea trade was vaunted as a source of boundless wealth in itself. In August the stock had risen from the one hundred and thirty of the last winter to one thousand! Men sold houses and land to become shareholders; merchants of eminence neglected their affairs and crippled their resources to reap imaginary profits. The Company flattered the delusion to the utmost. They opened a third, and even a fourth subscription, larger than the former, and passed a resolution that from next Christmas their yearly dividend should not be less than fifty per cent.! In labouring to increase the public delusion they seem to have caught the contagion themselves, for they began to act, not like men who were blowing a bubble which they knew must speedily burst, but like persons who had mounted permanently into the very highest seat of prosperous power. They assumed the most arrogant and overbearing manner, even towards men of the highest station and influence. "We have made them kings," said a member of Parliament, "and they deal with everybody as such."Lord Wellington, early in October, called down his troops from their cold and miserable posts in the mountains, and marched them over the Bidassoa, and encamped them amongst the French hills and valleys of La Rhune. The last division moved across on the 10th of November, the town of Pampeluna having surrendered on the 31st of October. This was a very agreeable change to the troops; but, before crossing, his lordship issued the most emphatic orders against plundering or ill-using the inhabitants. He told them, and especially the Spanish and Portuguese, that though the French had committed unheard-of barbarities in their countries, he would not allow of retaliation and revenge on the innocent inhabitants of France; that it was against the universal marauder, Buonaparte, and his system, that the British made war, and not against the people of France. But the passions of the Portuguese and Spaniards were too much excited against their oppressors, and they burnt and plundered whenever they had opportunity. On this, Wellington wrote sternly to the Spanish general, Freyre.[62] "Where I command," he said, "no one shall be allowed to plunder. If plunder must be had, then another must have the command. You have large armies in Spain, and if it is wished to plunder the French peasantry, you may then enter France; but then the Spanish Government must remove me from the command of their armies. It is a matter of indifference to me whether I command a large or a small army; but, whether large or small, they must obey me, and, above all, must not plunder." To secure the fulfilment of these orders, he moved back most of the Spanish troops to within the Spanish frontiers. The strictness with which Lord Wellington maintained these sentiments and protected the inhabitants produced the best results. The folk of the southern provinces, being well inclined to the Bourbons, and heartily wearied of seeing their sons annually dragged away to be slaughtered in foreign countries for Buonaparte's ambition, soon flocked into camp with all sorts of provisions and vegetables; and they did not hesitate to express their wishes for the success of the British arms.

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