At this crisis George Grenville brought in and carried through a measure, which showed how useful he might have been, had he never been raised out of his proper element to rule and alienate colonies. He was now fast sinking into the grave, though but fifty-eight years of age. This measure was a bill to transfer the trial of controverted elections from the whole House of Commons to a select Committee of it. Ever since the famous Aylesbury case, the whole House had taken the charge of examining all petitions against the return of candidates and deciding them. This was a great obstruction of business; and Grenville now proposed to leave the inquiry and decision to the select Committee, which was to be composed of fifteen members of the House, thirteen of whom were to be chosen by the contesting claimants for the seat, out of a list of forty-five, elected by ballot from the whole House. The other two were to be named, one each, by the contesting candidates. The Committee was empowered to examine papers, call and swear witnesses, and, in fact, to exercise all the authority previously wielded by the whole House. It was opposed by Welbore Ellis, Rigby, Dyson, and Charles James Fox, not yet broken from his office shell into a full-fledged patriot. It was, however, carried, and being supported in the Lords by Lord Mansfield, who on this occasion manifested an unusual disregard of his party principles, it was passed there too.

At this point the advance of the Prussians was unexpectedly checked. After the capture of Verdun, on the 2nd of September, they had spread themselves over the plains of the Meuse, and occupied, as their main centre, Stenay. Dumouriez and his army lay at Sedan and in its neighbourhood. To reach him and advance on Chalons in their way to Paris, the Allies must pass or march round the great forest of Argonne, which extends from thirteen to fifteen leagues, and was so intersected with hills, woods, and waters, that it was at that time impenetrable to an army except through certain passes. These were Chne-Populeux, Croix-aux-Bois, Grand Pr, La Chalade, and Islettes. The most important were those of Grand Pr and Islettes, which however were the two most distant from Sedan. The plan therefore was to fortify these passes; and in order to do this Dumouriez immediately ordered Dillon to march forward and occupy Islettes and La Chalade. This was effected; a division of Dillon's forces driving the Austrian general, Clairfayt, from the Islettes. Dumouriez followed, and occupied Grand Pr, and General Dubouquet occupied Chne-Populeux, and sent a detachment to secure Croix-aux-Bois between Grand Pr and Chne-Populeux.

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Everything in Parliament and in Ministerial movements now denoted the near approach of the renewal of war. On the 8th of March a message was received by both Houses of Parliament from his Majesty, stating that great military preparations were going on in Holland and France, and that his Majesty deemed it highly necessary to take measures for the security of his dominions. It added that negotiations were going on with France, the issue of which was uncertain, but it neither stated what these negotiations were, nor the measures called for. The message was taken for what it wasa note of war, and both in the Lords and Commons strong expressions of defiance were used to France. This seemed to have encouraged Ministers to a plainer expression of their intentions, for only two days later another message came down, calling for an increase of the navy. The next day, the 11th, the Commons formed themselves into a committee, and voted an addition of ten thousand seamen to the fifty thousand already voted. The militia were embodied. Sheridan was very zealous for war; Ministers, however, professed to desire the continuance of peace if possible. Charles was anxious to follow up his victory by marching directly into England, trusting to the effect of this signal triumph to bring all inclined to the Stuart dynasty to his standard. He was confident that if he met with anything like success on the way, a rapid march would put London in his possession. And, in truth, such was the miserably misgoverned condition of the country at the time, that, had he come with a tolerable French army, nothing could have prevented him from becoming master of the kingdom. Never was England so thoroughly exposed to foreign danger, so utterly unarmed and unprotected,[98] whilst it had been sending such armaments to the Continent. Fortunately, the French had not supported the Pretender on this occasion, as they had promised, and fortunately, too, when Charles came to review the army with which he proposed to enter England, there remained of it only one thousand four hundred men. The rest had gone home with their booty; nay, some had gone and were returning, not to fight, but to carry off more which they had concealed.

Before the proclamation of the new king the Council had met, and, according to the Regency Act, and an instrument signed by the king and produced by Herr Kreyenberg, the Hanoverian resident, nominated the persons who were to act till the king's arrival. They consisted of the seven great officers of State and a number of the peers. The whole was found to include eighteen of the principal noblemen, nearly all of the Whig party, as the Dukes of Shrewsbury, Somerset, and Argyll; the Lords Cowper, Halifax,[25] and Townshend. It was noticed, however, that neither Marlborough, Sunderland, nor Somers was of the number; nor ought this to have excited any surprise, when it was recollected that the list was drawn out in 1705, though only signed just before the queen's death. These noblemen belonged to that junto under whose thraldom Anne had so long groaned. The omission, however, greatly incensed Marlborough and Sunderland.

In the West Indies it was decided that Great Britain should, of the French islands that she had taken, retain Tobago, Dominica, St. Vincent, and[175] Grenada, but restore to France Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia.

The prince found in the Opposition in England the most unfortunate fosterers of his unfilial temper. Pulteney, Wyndham, Chesterfield, Carteret, Cobham, and, worst of all, Bolingbroke, became his associates, and the frequenters of his house. Fast ripening into a pattern of unfilial popularity under such influences, possessing some accomplishments, and a desire to stand well with the people, he married in April, 1736, Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, a princess of so much beauty and good sense, as might have reclaimed many a nature; who seems to have at least won the heart of her husband from his former romantic passion. It was an ominous circumstance, however, that the address of congratulation on this occasion was moved, not by the king's own Ministers, but by the king's own Opposition. Pulteney was the mover, and it was supported by two young men who that evening made their first speeches, and in them burst suddenly forth with that splendour which was destined to grow transcendent through many years. They were Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham, and Lord Lyttelton.

The Duke of Wellington was informed, at Brussels, on the same day, of this attack of Napoleon on the Prussians at Ligny, and of the British advance, under the Prince of Orange, at Quatre Bras. It has been said that he was taken by surprise. Quite the contrary. He was waiting in the most suitable position for the movement of Buonaparte. This was announced to him by a Prussian officer of high rank, said to be Baron Müffling, who arrived at half-past one at his hotel in Brussels. Wellington immediately dispatched orders to all the cantonments of his army to break up and concentrate on Quatre Bras, his intention being that his whole force should be there by eleven o'clock the next night, Friday, the 16th. At three o'clock his Grace sat down to dinner, and it was at first proposed that notice should be sent to the Duchess of Richmond to put off a ball which she was going to give at her hotel that evening; but, on further consideration, it was concluded to let the ball proceed, and that the Duke and his officers should attend it, as though nothing was about to occur, by which the great inconvenience of having the whole city in confusion during their preparations for departure would be avoided. Accordingly, every officer received orders to quit the ball-room, and as quietly as possible, at ten o'clock, and proceed to his respective division en route. This arrangement was carried out, and the Duke himself remained at the ball till twelve o'clock, and left Brussels the next morning (April 16) at six[95] o'clock for Quatre Bras. Such were the facts which gave rise to the widespread report that the Duke knew nothing of the attack of Napoleon till the thunder of his cannon was heard by the Duke of Brunswick in the ball-room.