"Sneezum, Sneezum!" cried old Morgan, kicking with all his might at the study-door; and interrupting me before I could exactly settle how the sentence was to be properly ended—"Come and bid poor Billy good-bye."
"Billy? who's Billy?" I thought—a little perplexed, perhaps, with the labours of composition.
"Come; he's off this minute for Dublin, where he joins the Trigonometrical Survey—a great honour for a fellow not six months in the Engineers."
The old fool was talking about his son William Morgan, who had been at Goslingbury (Park, when I get the turnips up and the grass sown) for a month—a nice merry young man; and so clever at mathematics, and hydraulics, and other scientific pursuits, that he had won all the prizes at Addiscombe; and, though only a second lieutenant, was chosen to conduct a great survey of Ireland.
"I'm coming," I said; and bundled away my description of Maria Valentine de Courcy; and away old Morgan and I went to the lawn, where we expected to find the soldier. But no soldier, nor any body else, was to be seen.
"His mother and sisters are making fools of themselves, I daresay," said I, "blubbering and crying over the boy, as if he was going out to settle in New Zealand."
"I suspect there's a good deal of crying going on," replied old Morgan; "let us look into the summer-house at the top of the garden." So we hurried up the grass walk; and just as we got to the door, I was in the very act of stepping into the bower, and old Morgan close on my heels, when a man, with a handkerchief held to his eyes, rushed distractedly upon us, and rolled us both down the steps, as if we had been pushed by a bull; and in a minute or so, when I came to myself; I found my heels in a gooseberry bush, and my head tight-jammed into a flower-pot; old Morgan had rolled over into the next bed, which was prepared for celery, and he lay in one of the long troughs, with his hands folded across his breast, and evidently persuaded that he was his own effigy on the top of his own tomb. And this was all the leave-taking we had with the engineer; for, in an agony of grief at parting from his mother, and perhaps to hide his crying, he had hurried out blindfolded, and took no more notice of his host and his father than if we had been a couple of old cabbage-stalks. However, I got up as soon as I was able, and assisted Morgan once more upon his feet. This time we proceeded more cautiously into the summer-house; and on the bench we saw Martha Brown sitting and sobbing with all her might, with her head on Mrs Morgan's shoulder, and Miss Sophia holding a bottle of salts to her nose; while a tear, every now and then, rolled slowly over the tip of her own; and Miss Letitia chafing the sufferer's hands, and occasionally giving them a thump, as if to guard against a fit of hysterics.
Those Hindoos are certainly beautifully made. I never saw any thing more graceful than the recumbent figure of Martha Brown; and I think that was the first time I remarked that she was no longer a child. Up to that moment I had scarcely observed her size; but there she was—a regular full-grown woman—though, I must say, she was behaving rather like an infant, to keep whimpering and sobbing in such a ridiculous way, merely because I had fallen down-stairs.
"What is all this?" I said; "has any body hurt the child?"
"No, no, Mr Sneezum!" exclaimed Mrs Morgan, without looking at me; "leave her alone for a minute or two; it will soon be over."
"How do feel, dear?" enquired Miss Letitia.
"Are you any better, love?" asked Miss Sophia.
And it was very evident they gave themselves no concern about the nearly fatal accident we had met with, which had affected poor Martha so deeply; so I became a little warm.
"Very pretty—very pretty this—upon my word! What in heaven's name is the matter with you all? Here has been that blundering booby William, pushed his father and me down-stairs, and Martha seems the only one that would care a farthing if we had both been killed."
Upon this the girl made a great effort, and lifted up her head; but the moment her eyes rested on me she gave a great scream—wild laughter mixed with the most dreadful sobs; and she was fairly off in an hysterical attack.
"Why, she's worse than she was," I said; but old Morgan took me aside.
"Don't you see," he said, "that she's of a most affectionate, gentle nature, and that William's rushing off in the way he did"—
"Ay, to be sure, and upsetting me in such a dangerous manner. Poor thing! is it all for my sake do you think she's crying?" So I went and took her hand, and said—"Don't cry, Martha, don't cry—I'm not a bit hurt—so be a good girl, and don't vex yourself any more."
Upon this, Mrs Morgan looked at me as if she thought me deranged—so did Miss Letitia—and so did Miss Sophia; and even Martha, when she looked at me again, fell back in fresh fit, holloing "His head! his head"—and this time it was more laughter than sobs.
"Come away—come away," said old Morgan at last; "no wonder you frighten them all to death. What the deuce is that you've got on your head?"
And there stood I with my brows enveloped by the flower-pot.
I saw the Morgans were making a dead set to take me in. Sometimes it was Miss Letitia, and sometimes Miss Sophia—and always the mother. To hear that woman talk of her daughters, you would swear that two such were never known on earth before. Their sweetness—their temper—their beauty—the numbers of people that were in love with them—the hosts of rich and handsome fellows they had rejected, and the decided turn both of them had for a quiet country life, and the society of a well-educated, intellectual man of a certain age. She was a wonderful woman Mrs Morgan, and I really believe she thought she was speaking the simple truth all the time. But it wouldn't do—I judged for myself, and never took the least notice of all her hints and boastings. I tried to have them less about the house than they used to be; but nothing would keep them away—they always pretended it was for the sake of Martha Brown—a very likely story that they should trouble their heads about my uncle's anonymous contribution to the population returns, when his veritable nephew and heir was to be had by hook or crook. But I don't mean any disparagement by that to the poor little girl herself—far from it—she was the nicest creature in the world, and really not so black as I had thought; and she was now nearly twenty-one, and played and sung—and such an excellent critic, too! I always read my writings to her the moment they were finished, and she never found the slightest fault in any of them. I had left my description of Maria Valentine de Courcy incompleted for several years—for it is a long time now since the foolish adventure of the flower-pot first showed me that she took a tenderer interest in me than merely that of a cousin—and I now determined to give my second chapter the finishing touch, and consult her on the farther conduct of the story.
"Martha," I said, "I wish you would listen for a minute or two to what I've written."
So she sat down in my study, and worked a flower in an Ottoman square, and was evidently prepared to listen with the utmost attention.
"It is the rest of the second chapter."
"Oh, are you only there yet? I was in hopes you had come to the end of the story."
To the end of the story! Could the girl be hinting that I ought to tell her my mind; for I must tell you, I had so completely got over all prejudice about her birth, that I was strongly tempted to give an additional proof of my veneration for my uncle's memory, by giving his poor little orphan my name. Can she mean any thing by wishing me to come to the end of the story?
"How do you mean to wind up?" she asked.
"Oh! in a most mysterious and surprising manner; but we haven't got near the denouement yet. There must be a duel, of course—a misunderstanding—and a rival."
"Oh! Theodore Fitzhedingham has no occasion to fear a rival," said Martha, pretending to have lost the stitch.
"No! 'Pon my word that's very good of you. Do you really think that Maria Valentine de Courcy will prefer him to every one else?"
"She will be a very foolish, a very ungrateful girl, if she doesn't—for hasn't he loved her ever since she was a child?"
"Well, Martha, you are certainly a very nice, a very affectionate girl; and I may as well put your mind at rest at once by telling you"—
There was old Morgan again kicking at the study door, and holloing Sneezum with all his might. I had taken Martha's hand, and was just going to tell her to make preparations to become Mrs Sneezum in a week or two. I let go her hand, and rushed to the door.
"What the mischief do you want?"
"Why, here's Billy come back again," he said; "won't you come and give a welcome to poor Billy?"
"No; I be hang'd if I do. He has never apologized for pushing me down the steps; tell him to get out of my house; I have not forgot what alarm my accident caused to poor Martha. Don't you remember it, my dear?"
But there sat Martha—sometimes red and sometimes white—with tears in her eyes, and her lips half open, like the picture of St Cecilia.
"There! the very recollection of it frightens her to death. Go to your room, my dear, and I'll send this blustering fellow out of the house."
She glided out of the study without speaking a word, and I hurried to the drawing-room, but no Billy was there. His mother and sisters were luckily in London, so I turned angrily round on the father.
"A pretty fellow this son of yours—never one word of apology, either to me or Martha—I won't have him roystering here at all hours, frightening affectionate little girls with his violence."
"Who is it he has frightened?" enquired old Morgan; "who are the affectionate girls you mean? I'm sure he has never caused the least alarm to his sisters in his life."
"Perhaps not—perhaps not, Mr Morgan; but there is another girl that I wouldn't have any injury done to on any account. In fact, I may as well tell you at once, that Martha evidently expects me to provide for her happiness, and I am going to do it."
"Well, nothing can be fairer—but how?"
"Why, as to any little blot on her birth, I don't care much about it. Uncle was a kind friend to me, and I really think I can't do better than give a good steady husband to his child."
"Bravo! bravo! when you have found her."
"What do you mean by—when I have found her?"
"Why, have you never read the letters?"
"No; I never read letters. They're all in the wooden box."
"Then where, when, or how, have you encountered a daughter of your uncle?"
"Why, Martha Brown. I tell you I don't dislike a little dash of Hindoo blood; it's like curry, and gives a flavour."
"And who is the husband you have chosen for her?"
Old Morgan burst into a prodigious laugh, but I was in no humour to stand such nonsense. I got into a furious passion—he answered in an insulting manner—and so I ordered him to get out of my house, him and his son, and all his baggage.
"Certainly, certainly, Mr Sneezum, but you'll repent of it; and, as to your marrying Martha, you'll just as soon marry the Princess-Royal."
When he was gone, I went in search of Martha to settle the matter at once. There was a circular basin among the shrubs upon the lawn, with a nymph cowering under a waterfall that fell all round her like a veil—a very pretty ornament to the grounds—and at one side of it was a little arbour, where I used often to sit and see the sun make rainbows out of the spray that rose round the head of the nymph. To get to it, it was necessary to walk on the ledge of the wall that rose a little above the water in the basin, and this I was induced to do; for, as I was searching for Martha, I thought I heard a voice in the arbour, and I hurried on to tell her what I had done to old Morgan. I stept steadily on tiptoe along the coping-stone—for I wished to surprise her—but on getting to the opening of the arbour, a sight met my eyes that made me lose my balance all of a sudden; and with a start of rage and indignation, I stept backward into the pond, and was forced to battle among the water-lilies for my life. Martha rushed from the arbour and held out her hands in vain; but the person with her—a tall young man, with bushy whiskers and an enormous pair of mustaches—leapt into the basin and lifted me on to the bank, just as I had found it useless to try any longer to rise above the broad leaves that floated on the top, and made up my mind to give it up as a bad job. When I came to myself my preserver was gone, but Martha was supporting my head.
"Oh, you double-faced, deceitful gipsy!" I began. "Who would have thought you would be sitting, hand locked in hand, with a horrid fellow like the ruffian that was with you in the bower?"
"The ruffian! My dear guardian, don't you know him?"
"How should I? I never saw the vagabond's ugly face before."
"Why, it's William Morgan—how strange you shouldn't recognise him!"
"Well, if it were twenty William Morgans, that's no reason you should sit with your hand in his like the sign of the fire-office over our stable-door."
"Oh, he's such an old friend! Recollect, sir, we grew up together, and now how can you keep your anger against him? He has saved your life."
"After first startling me into the water. No, no; I'll have none of the Morgans here. I'll go and get changed, and then I'll finish what I was going to tell you when Morgan came to the door."
I was inflexible; I wouldn't let one of the Morgans into my house. Miss Letitia wrote a letter of four pages, and Miss Sophia enclosed a sonnet. Nothing would do. I resolved to keep Martha all to myself; and, for fear of other adventures in the bower, I gave her positive orders not to leave the house. I set people to watch her. I threatened to hang her Ayah with my own hands, and showed her the very bough of the tree I would do it on, if Martha was allowed to speak to any body but myself. I resolved to marry her in a week; and, merely to prevent her being harassed by the Morgans in the interval, I took all these precautions. After that, I determined to pardon the whole family, and had even prepared a letter asking them all to dinner on our wedding-day. Martha did not seem inconsolable. Day after day passed away; and, to show how easy I was in my mind, I went on with the last chapter of my novel, leaving all the middle part to be filled up at my leisure.
One morning—it was last Wednesday—I went into the study, and had just taken pen in hand, when I recollected that that was the very day I had summoned all the labourers on the estate to resist the approach of the levellers and engineers of a disgusting railway that was determined to force itself right through my garden and close under the dining-room windows. I went out to the barn—all the men were there. I gave orders to them to warn the intruders off; if they resisted, to knock them down without ceremony and keep them in custody till I could get them before a magistrate. Having satisfied my mind on these points, I felt so sure of my object being gained in both respects—that is, Martha and the railway—that I dispatched my letter to old Morgan, inviting the whole family to dine with me on Friday, the day I had fixed on for the marriage. Martha sat by my side in the study, and went on with the everlasting Ottoman square. I read to her—
"'Is it in the circle of possible events—is it a contingency to be calculated on in the decrees of fate,' exclaimed Theodore Fitzhedingham—(this was the finest bit out of my last chapter)—'that the girl I have loved—the paragon I have worshipped—the angel I have adored, is, indeed no longer the humbly born maid I thought her but the descendant of princes—the kinswoman of emperors—the inheritrix of kings?'
"'It certainly is far from false, nay, it is absolutely true,' returned Maria Valentine de Courcy, with a condescending smile, 'that I am not the person you have taken me for, but oh! beloved Theodore—faithful Fitzhedingham, need I tell you that my love is unaltered, my affections are unabated, my heart unchanged'"——
"Sir! sir!" cried voice at the door, "they be come." I hurried out; my servant was armed with the poker, I seized the hall tongs as I passed through; and on the lawn, in the coolest possible manner, were about half a dozen fellows smoking their cigars, and occasionally looking through a bright brass instrument upon a three-legged stand, and noting down the result with the greatest nonchalance.
"Oho!" I cried, and rushed at the intruders, "run for the people in the barn, Thomas. Who are you, you infernal interloping vagabonds?"
"Engineers of the Episcopal and Universal Railway Company, sir, and we will trouble you to stand out of the way," said a tall blackguard, scarcely deigning to look at me.
"Oh, you are, are you? Just wait a minute till my men come up, and I'll have you and your railway ducked in the horsepond."
"Don't interrupt us, old man," replied the scientific ruffian; "if we do any damage, charge it to the Company—we have seventy-five thousand shares, and can afford to pay any claims."
"Here!" I cried to the men, "catch that long villain with the dwarf telescope and take him into the house; if I don't get him six weeks of the treadmill my name is not Tom Sneezum."
The man made a stout resistance, but at last was overpowered, and carried into the hall. I helped to repel the others, and as they were tolerably civil, now that the ringleader was gone, I contented myself with walking them to the very end of my boundaries, and gave them notice, that if they ventured to return, I would treat them exactly as I had done their chief. This whole business did not take up more than an hour; and before going home, I walked across to Major Slowtops, the nearest magistrate, and luckily found him at home. He promised to trounce the fellow handsomely when I brought him; and telling him I would be back with the culprit and the witnesses in half an hour, I returned in no little triumph to Goslingbury.
"Where is the vagabond?" I exclaimed, when I got into the house.
"He's been gone this hour, sir," said Thomas, hardly able to keep in a laugh.
"Gone! who let him go?"
"Why, he ordered the carriage, sir, and him and Miss Martha is off for London."
"Are you mad, Thomas?—what is it you're speaking of? Where is the rascally leveller of the railway?"
"Lor', sir—don't you know? It was only Mr William at one of his tricks. The moment he took off the spectacles we all knew him, and Miss Martha seemed so pleased"—
"Oh, yes! and Mr William—but they say he's Captain Morgan now—laughed so. It was certainly a rare good surprise—wasn't it, sir?"
I rushed into my study. "Let her go!" I said, "the false, deceitful Hottentot, or Hindoo, or whatever she is; she's as black as my hat, and a disgrace to my old uncle." So I stood very quietly, brooding over my misfortune—if a misfortune it was—and revenging myself by tearing into a million pieces the beginning and the end of my romantic novel.
* * * * *
"Here we are, Sneezum, my boy!" said old Morgan, on the Friday, at about two o'clock; "I've come on before, to tell you to get into good-humour; for perhaps you've forgotten the invitations you gave us all for to-day."
"What has become of the young woman?" I asked, with a very disdainful look; "my uncle's unowned little girl?"
"Do you mean William's wife?" inquired Mr Morgan; "they were married this morning, at St George's, Hanover Square, and will take you for an hour or two on their way to the North."
"I think, sir, as her guardian—not to say her cousin"——
"There, my dear Sneezum, you are altogether wrong; she was no relation of your uncle. She was the daughter of a Mr Brown of the Commissariat, and left to your uncle's charge; you, of course, succeeded to the guardianship as his representative; but she is no more a Hindoo than you are."
"That makes it worse, sir."
"Come, come, old Sneezum, don't keep up your anger; recollect you are old enough to be her father, and that she likes you next in the whole world to William. Shake hands with them, and be friends; and if you ever had the folly to think of marrying her, keep your own secret, and nobody will be a bit the wiser."
I thought old Morgan advised very wisely—so, if you show this to any body, alter the names a little; for I would not have it known for the world.—Believe me, sir, your obedient servant,
T. S. S.
The campaign of 1707 opened under very different auspices to the Allies from any which had preceded it:—Blenheim had saved Germany, Ramilies had delivered Brabant. The power of the Grande Monarque no longer made Europe tremble. The immense advantage which he had gained in the outset of the contest, by the declaration of the governor of Flanders for the cause of the Bourbons, and the consequent transference of the Flemish fortresses into his hands, had been lost. It was more than lost—it had been won to the enemy. Brussels, Antwerp, Menin, Ath, Ostend, Ghent, Dendermonde, Louvain, now acknowledged the Archduke Charles for their sovereign; the states of Brabant had sent in their adhesion to the Grand Alliance. Italy had been lost as rapidly as it had been won; the stroke of Marlborough at Ramilies had been re-echoed at Turin; and Eugene had expelled the French arms from Piedmont as effectually as Marlborough had from Flanders. Reduced on all sides to his own resources, wakened from his dream of foreign conquests, Louis XIV. now sought only to defend his own frontier; and the arms which had formerly been at the gates of Amsterdam, and recently carried terror into the centre of Germany, were now reduced to a painful defensive on the Scheldt and the Rhine.
These great advantages would, in all probability, notwithstanding the usual supineness and divisions of the Allied Powers, have led to their obtaining signal success in the next campaign, had not their attention been, early in spring, arrested, and their efforts paralyzed by a new and formidable actor on the theatre of affairs. This was no less a man than CHARLES XII. KING OF SWEDEN; who, after having defeated the coalition of the northern sovereigns formed for his destruction, dictated peace to Denmark at Copenhagen, dethroned the King of Poland, and wellnigh overturned the empire of Russia—had now advanced his victorious standards into the centre of Germany, and at the head of an army hitherto invincible, fifty thousand strong, stationed himself at Dresden, where he had become the arbiter of Europe, and threatened destruction to either of the parties engaged in the contest on the Rhine against whom he chose to direct his hostility.
This extraordinary man approached closer than any warrior of modern times to the great men of antiquity. More nearly even than Napoleon, he realized the heroes of Plutarch—a Stoic in pacific, he was a Caesar in military life. He had all their virtues, and a considerable share of their barbarism. Achilles did not surpass him in the thirst for warlike renown, nor Hannibal in the perseverance of his character and the fruitfulness of his resources; like Alexander, he would have wept because a world did not remain to conquer. Indefatigable in fatigue, resolute in determination, a lion in heart, he knew no fear but that of his glory being tarnished. Endowed by nature with a constitution of iron, he was capable of undergoing a greater amount of fatigue than any of his soldiers: at the siege of Stralsund, when some of his officers were sinking under the exhaustion of protracted watching, he desired them to retire to rest, and himself took their place. Outstripping his followers in speed, at one time he rode across Germany, almost alone, in an incredibly short space of time: at another, he defended himself for days together, at the head of a handful of attendants, in a barricaded house, against ten thousand Turks. Wrapt up in the passion for fame, he was insensible to the inferior desires which usually rouse or mislead mankind. Wine had no attractions, women no seductions for him: he was indifferent to personal comforts or accommodations; his fare was as simple, his dress as plain, his lodging as rude, as those of the meanest of his followers. To one end alone his attention was exclusively directed, on one acquisition alone his heart was set. Glory, military glory, was the ceaseless object of his ambition; all lesser desires were concentrated in this ruling passion; for this he lived, for this he died.
That his military abilities were of the very highest order, may be judged of by the fact that, with the resources of the poor monarchy of Sweden, not at that period containing two millions of inhabitants, he entirely defeated a coalition of Russia, Denmark, and Poland, headed by the vast capacity and persevering energy of Peter the Great, and numbering not less than forty millions of subjects under its various sovereigns. Nor let it be said that these nations were rude in the military art, and unfit to contend in the field with the descendants of the followers of Gustavus Adolphus. The Danes are the near neighbours and old enemies of the Swedes; their equals in population, discipline, and warlike resources. Thirty years had not elapsed since the Poles had delivered Europe from Mussulman bondage by the glorious victory of Vienna, under John Sobieski, over two hundred thousand Turks. Europe has since had too much reason to know what are the military resources of Russia, against which all the power of Western Europe, in recent times, has been so signally shattered; and though the soldiers of Peter the Great were very different, in point of discipline, from those that repelled the legions of Napoleon, yet their native courage was the same, and they were directed by an energy and perseverance, on the part of the Czar, which never has been exceeded in warlike annals. What then must have been the capacity of the sovereign, who, with the resources of a monarchy not equalling those of Scotland at this time, could gain such extraordinary success over so powerful a coalition, from the mere force of indefatigable energy, military ability, and heroic determination!
Charles, however, had many faults. He was proud, overbearing, and opinionative. Like all men of powerful original genius, he was confident in his own opinion, and took counsel from none; but, unfortunately, he often forgot also to take counsel from himself. He did not always weigh the objections against his designs with sufficient calmness to give them fair play, or allow his heroic followers a practical opportunity of crowning his enterprises with success. He had so often succeeded against desperate, and apparently hopeless, odds, that he thought himself invincible, and rushed headlong into the most dreadful perils, with no other preparation to ward them off but his own calmness in danger, his inexhaustible fecundity of resources, and the undaunted courage, as well as patience of fatigue and privation, with which he had inspired his followers. It is surprising, however, how often they extricated him from his difficulties; and even in his last expedition against Russia, which terminated in the disaster of Pultowa, he would, to all appearance, have proved successful, if the Tartar chief, Mazeppa, had proved faithful to his engagement. Like Hannibal, his heroic qualities had inspired a multifarious army—colluvies omnium gentium—with one homogeneous spirit, rendered them subject to his discipline, faithful to his standard, obedient to his will. But in some particulars his private character was still more exceptionable, and stained with the vices as well as virtues of the savage character. Though not habitually cruel, he was stern, vindictive, and implacable; and his government has been stained by some acts of atrocious barbarity at which humanity shudders, and which must ever leave an indelible stain on his memory.
Louis XIV., in his distress, was naturally anxious to gain the support of so powerful an ally, who was now at Dresden at the head of fifty-three thousand veteran soldiers, ready to fall on the rear of Marlborough's army, that threatened the defensive barrier of France in the Low Countries. Every effort, accordingly, was made to gain Charles over to the French interest. The ancient alliance of France with Sweden, their mutual cause of complaint against the Emperor, the glories of Gustavus Adolphus and the thirty years' war, in which they had stood side by side, were held forth to dazzle his imagination or convince his judgment. The Swedish monarch appeared ready to yield to these efforts. He brought forward various real or imaginary grounds of complaint against the German powers, for infractions of the constitution of the empire, of which he put himself forth as the guarantee, as heir to the crown and fame of Gustavus Adolphus, as well as for sundry insults alleged to have been committed against the Swedish crown or subjects. These various subjects of complaint were sedulously inflamed by the French agents; and the weight of their arguments was not a little increased by the knowledge of the fact, that they were authorized to offer Count Piper, the prime minister of Charles, 300,000 livres (L.12,000), to quicken his movements in favour of the cabinet of Versailles, besides bribes in proportion to the subordinate ministers of the Swedish monarch.
Marlborough, as well he might, was extremely uneasy at this negotiation, which he soon discovered by secret information, as well as the undisguised reluctance of the German powers to furnish the contingents for which they were bound for the ensuing campaign. Indeed, it could hardly be expected that the Northern powers in Germany should send their chief disposable forces to swell Marlborough's army beyond the Rhine, when so warlike a monarch, at the head of fifty thousand men, was in the centre of the empire, with his intentions as yet undeclared, and exposed to the influence of every imaginable seduction. He dispatched, accordingly, General Grumbkow, an adroit and intelligent diplomatist, who had been sent by the King of Prussia on a mission to the Allied headquarters, to Dresden, to endeavour to ascertain the real intentions of the Swedish monarch. He was not long of discovering that Charles had assumed an angry tone towards the confederates, only in order to extract favourable terms of accommodation from them, and that Muscovy was the real object on which his heart was set. His despatches convey a curious and highly interesting picture of Charles and the Swedish court and army at this important juncture. The negotiation went on for some time with varying success; but at length matters were brought to a crisis, by the King of Sweden declaring that he would treat with none but Marlborough in person.
This immediately led to the English general repairing to the court of Charles XII. at Dresden. He left the Hague on the 20th April accordingly; and after visiting Hanover on the way, where, as usual, there were some jealousies to appease, arrived at the Swedish camp of Alt-Ranstadt on the 28th. The Duke drove immediately to the headquarters of Count Piper, from whom he received the most flattering assurance of the gratification which the Swedish monarch had felt at his arrival. He was shortly after introduced to the monarch, to whom he delivered a letter from the Queen of England, and at the same time addressed him in the following flattering terms:—"I present to your Majesty a letter, not from the chancery, but from the heart of the Queen, my mistress, and written with her own hand. Had not her sex prevented it, she would have crossed the sea, to see a prince admired by the whole universe. I am in this particular more happy than the Queen, and I wish I could serve some campaigns under so great a general as your Majesty, that I might learn what I yet want to know in the art of war."
This adroit compliment from so great and justly celebrated a commander, produced an immediate effect on the Swedish monarch, who was passionately desirous of military glory. His satisfaction was visible in his countenance, and he returned a gracious answer in these terms:—"The Queen of Great Britain's letter and your person are both very acceptable to me, and I shall always have the utmost regard for the interposition of her Britannic Majesty and the interests of the Grand Alliance. It is much against my will that I have been obliged to give umbrage to any of the parties engaged in it. I have had just cause to come into this country with my troops; but you may assure the Queen, my sister, that my design is to depart from hence as soon as I have obtained the satisfaction I demand, but not till then. However, I shall do nothing that can tend to the prejudice of the common cause in general, or of the Protestant religion, of which I shall always glory to be a zealous protector." This favourable answer was immediately followed by an invitation to dine with the King, by whom he was placed on his right hand, and honoured with the most flattering attention. In the course of the evening the conversation turned chiefly on military matters, in which Marlborough exerted himself with such skill and success, that he had another long private audience of Charles; and before his departure, that monarch even exceeded his views, and declared that there could be no security for the peace of Europe till France was reduced to the rank she held at the date of the treaty of Westphalia.
Though the address and abilities of Marlborough, however, had thus removed the chief danger to be apprehended from the presence of the Swedish monarch at Dresden, yet other matters of great delicacy remained still for adjustment, which required all his prudence and skill to bring to a satisfactory issue. Not the least of these difficulties arose from the zeal of the King of Sweden for the protection of the Protestant religion, and his desire to revive and secure the privileges granted to the German Protestants by the treaty of Westphalia. As Marlborough justly apprehended that the Court of Vienna might take umbrage at these demands, and so be diverted from the objects of the Grand Alliance, he exerted himself to the utmost to convince his Majesty that the great object in the mean time, even as regarded the Protestant faith, was to humble the French monarch, who had shown himself its inveterate enemy by the atrocious persecutions consequent on the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; and that, if this were once done, the Emperor would be unable to prevent any stipulations being inserted in favour of the Reformed faith in the general peace which might follow. Charles was convinced by these arguments, which, in truth, were well-founded, and even went so far as to propose a secret convention with England for the promotion of the Protestant interest; a proposal which, so embarrassing at the moment when Great Britain was in close alliance with the Emperor, Marlborough contrived to elude with admirable dexterity. Another matter of great delicacy was the conduct to be observed towards the dethroned King of Poland, Augustus, who was also at Dresden, and of course viewed with the utmost jealousy the close intimacy between Marlborough and his formidable enemy Charles. Here, however, the diplomatic skill of the English general overcame all difficulties, and by skilfully taking advantage of his pecuniary embarrassments, after his territories had been ravaged and exhausted by the Swedish forces, and engaging that the Emperor should take a large part of his troops into his pay, he succeeded at once in gaining over the dethroned monarch, and securing a considerable body of fresh troops for the service of the Allies. By these means, aided by the judicious bestowing of considerable pensions on Count Piper and the chief Swedish ministers, paid in advance, Marlborough succeeded in entirely allaying the storm which had threatened his rear, and left the Saxon capital, after a residence of ten days, perfectly secure of the pacific intentions of the Swedish monarch, and having fully divined the intended direction of his forces toward Moscow.
The brilliant success with which this delicate and important negotiation terminated, naturally induced a hope that vigorous operations would be undertaken by the Allied powers, and that the great successes of the preceding campaign would be so far improved, as to compel the Court of France to submit to such terms as the peace of Europe, and the independence of the adjoining States, required. It was quite the reverse, and Marlborough had again the indescribable mortification of seeing month after month of the summer of 1707 glide away, without one single measure conducive to the common cause, or worthy of the real strength of the Allied powers, having been attempted. They had all relapsed into their former and fatal jealousies and procrastination. The Dutch, notwithstanding the inestimable services which Marlborough had rendered to their Republic, had again become distrustful, and authorized their field-deputies to thwart and mar all his operations. They made no concealment of their opinion, that their interests were now secured, and that the blood and treasure of the United Provinces should no longer be wasted in enterprises in which the Emperor or Queen of England alone were concerned. They never failed accordingly to interfere when any aggressive movement was in contemplation; and even when the Duke, in the course of his skilful marches and countermarches, had gained the opportunity for which he longed, of bringing the enemy to an engagement on terms approaching to an equality, never failed to interpose with their fatal negative, and prevent any thing being attempted. They did this, in particular, under the most vexatious circumstances, on the 27th May, near Nevilles, where Marlborough had brought his troops into the presence of the enemy with every prospect of signalizing that place by a glorious victory. A council of war forbade an engagement despite Marlborough's most earnest entreaties, and compelled him in consequence to fall back to Branheim, to protect Louvain and Brussels. The indignation of the English general at this unworthy treatment, and at the universal selfishness of the Allied powers, exhaled in bitter terms in his private correspondence.
The consequence of this determination on the part of the Dutch field-deputies to prevent any serious operation being undertaken, was, that the whole summer passed away in a species of armed truce, or a series of manoeuvres so insignificant, as to be unworthy of the name of a campaign. Vendome, who commanded the French, though at the head of a gallant army above eighty thousand strong, had too much respect for his formidable antagonist to hazard any offensive operation, or run the risk of a pitched battle, unless in defence of his own territory. On the other hand, Marlborough, harassed by the incessant opposition of the Dutch deputies, and yet not strong enough to undertake any operation of importance without the support of their troops, was reduced to merely nominal or defensive operations. The secret of this ruinous system, which was at the time the subject of loud complaints, and appeared wholly inexplicable, is now fully revealed by the published despatches. The Dutch were absolutely set on getting an accession of territory, and a strong line of barrier towns, set apart for them out of the Austrian Netherlands; and as the Emperor, not unnaturally, objected to being shorn of his territories, as a remuneration for his efforts in favour of European independence, they resolved to thwart all the measures of the Allied generals, in the hope that, it the end, they would in this manner prevail in their demands with the Allied cabinets.
It was not, however, in the Low Countries alone that the selfish views and jealousies of the Allies prevented any operation of importance from being undertaken, and blasted all the fair prospects which the brilliant victories of the preceding campaign had afforded. In Spain, the Allies had suffered a fearful reverse by the battle of Almanza, which in a manner ruined the Austrian prospects in the Peninsula, and rendered some operation indispensable, to relieve the pressure felt by the Allies in that quarter. Peterborough, whose great military abilities had hitherto nearly alone sustained their sinking cause in Spain, had been deprived of his command in Catalonia, from that absurd jealousy of foreigners which in every age has formed so marked a feature in the Spanish character. His successor, Lord Galway, was far from possessing his military abilities, and every thing presaged that, unless a great effort was immediately made, the crown of Spain, the prize for which all contended in the war, would be lost to the Allied powers. Nor was the aspect of affairs more promising on the Rhine. The Margrave of Baden had there died; and his army, before a successor could be appointed, sustained a signal defeat at Stodhoffen. This disaster having opened the gates of Germany, Marshal Villars, at the head of a powerful French army, burst into the Palatinate, which he ravaged with fire and sword. To complete the catalogue of disasters, the disputes between the King of Sweden and the Emperor were again renewed, and conducted with such acrimony, that it required all the weight and address of Marlborough to prevent a rupture, threatening fatal consequences, from breaking out between these powers.
Surrounded by so many difficulties, Marlborough wisely judged that the most pressing danger was that in Spain, and that the first thing to be done was to stop the progress of the Bourbon armies in that quarter. As the forces in the Peninsula afforded no hopes of effecting that object, he conceived, with reason, that the only way to make an effectual diversion in that quarter was to take advantage of the superiority of the Allies in Piedmont, since the decisive victory of Turin in the preceding year, and threaten Provence with a serious irruption. For this purpose, Marlborough no sooner heard of the disasters in Spain, than he urged in the strongest manner upon the Allied courts to push Prince Eugene with his victorious army across the Maritime Alps, and lay siege to Toulon. Such an offensive movement, which might be powerfully aided by the English fleet in the Mediterranean, would at once remove the war from the Italian plains, fix it in the south of France, and lead to the recall of a considerable part of the French forces now employed beyond the Pyrenees. But though the reasons for this expedition were thus pressing, and it afforded the only feasible prospect of bringing affairs round in the Peninsula; yet the usual jealousies of the coalesced powers, the moment it was proposed, opposed insurmountable objections to its being carried into effect. It was objected to the siege of Toulon, that it was a maritime operation, of value to England alone: the Emperor insisted on the Allied forces being exclusively employed in the reduction of the fortresses yet remaining in the hands of the French in the Milanese; while Victor Amadeus, Duke of Savoy, between whom and the Imperialists the most violent jealousy had arisen, threatened to withdraw altogether from the alliance, unless Eugene's army was directed to the protection and consolidation of his dominion. The real reason of these obstacles thrown by the Emperor in the way of these operations, was, that he had ambitious designs of his own on Naples, and he had, to facilitate their accomplishment, concluded a secret convention with Louis for a sort of neutrality or understanding in Italy, which enabled that monarch to direct the forces employed, or destined to be employed there, to the Spanish peninsula. Marlborough's energetic representations, however, at length prevailed over all these difficulties; and the reduction of the Milanese having been completed, the Emperor, in the end of June, consented to Prince Eugene invading Provence at the head of thirty-five thousand men.
The invasion of the territory of the Grande Monarque accordingly took place, and was supported by a powerful English squadron, which, as Eugene's army advanced into Provence by the Col di Tende, kept the sea-coast in a constant state of alarm. No resistance, as Marlborough had predicted, was attempted; and the Allies, almost without firing a shot, arrived at the heights of Vilate, in the neighbourhood of Toulon, on the 27th July. Had Eugene been aware of the real condition of the defences, and the insubordination which prevailed in the garrison, he might, without difficulty, have made himself master of this important fortress. But from ignorance of these propitious circumstances, he deemed it necessary to commence operations against it in form; and the time occupied in the necessary preparations for a siege proved fatal to the enterprise. The French made extraordinary efforts to bring troops to the menaced point; and, amongst other reinforcements, thirteen battalions and nine squadrons were detached from Vendome's army in the Netherlands. No sooner did Marlborough hear of this detachment, than he concentrated his forces, and made a forward movement to bring Vendome to battle, to which the Dutch deputies had at length consented; but that general, after some skilful marches and countermarches, retired to an intrenched camp under the guns of Lille, of such strength as to bid defiance to every attack for the remainder of the campaign. Meanwhile the troops, converging towards Toulon, having formed a respectable array in his rear, Eugene was under the necessity of raising the siege, and he retired, as he had entered the country, by the Col di Tende, having first embarked his heavy artillery and stores on board the English fleet. But though the expedition thus failed in its ostensible object, it fully succeeded in its real one, which was to effect a diversion in the south of France, and relieve the pressure on the Spanish peninsula, by giving the armies of Louis employment in the defence of their own territory.
Marlborough led his army into winter quarters in the end of October, and Vendome did the same; the weather being so thoroughly broken as to render it impossible to keep the field. He repaired first to Frankfort, where he met the Elector of Hanover, and then to the Hague, where he exerted himself to inspire a better feeling in the Dutch government, and to get Eugene appointed to the supreme command in Spain: a project which afforded the only feasible prospect of retrieving affairs in the Peninsula, and which, if adopted, might have changed the fate and ultimate issue of the war. Neither the Emperor nor the court of Madrid, however, would consent to this arrangement; the former, because he feared to lose that great general in Italy, the latter because they feared to gain him in Spain. Marlborough, meanwhile, embarked for England on the 7th November, where his presence had now become indispensably necessary to arrest the progress of court and parliamentary intrigues, which threatened to prove immediately fatal to his influence and ascendancy.
The origin of these intrigues was to be found not merely in the asperity of party feeling which, at that time, owing to the recent Revolution, prevailed to a degree never before paralleled in English history, and the peculiar obloquy to which Marlborough was exposed, owing to the part he had taken in that transaction; but to another cause of a private nature, but which, in all courts, and especially under a female reign, is likely to produce important public results. During Marlborough's absence from court, owing to his commanding the armies in Flanders, his influence with the Queen had sensibly declined, and that of another materially increased. Queen Anne had become alienated from her former favourite, the Duchess of Marlborough, and, what is very remarkable, in consequence of the growing ascendancy of a person recommended by the duchess herself. Worn out with the incessant fatigue of attendance on the royal person, the duchess had recommended a poor relative of her own, named Abigail Hill, to relieve her of part of her laborious duties. This young lady, who possessed considerable talents, and a strong desire for intrigue and elevation, had been educated in High Church and Tory principles, and she had not been long about the royal person before she began to acquire an influence over the Queen's mind. Harley, whose ambition and spirit of intrigue were at least equal to her own, was not slow in perceiving the new source of influence thus opened up in the royal household, and a close alliance was soon established between them. These matters are not beneath the dignity of history; they are the secret springs on which its most important changes sometimes depend. Abigail Hill soon after bestowed her hand on Mr Masham, who had also been placed in the Queen's household by the duchess, and, under the name of MRS MASHAM, became the principal instrument in Marlborough's fall, and the main cause of the fruit of the glorious victories of the English general being lost by the treaty of Utrecht.
Though the ascendancy of Mrs Masham, and the treacherous part she was playing to her benefactress, had long been evident to others, yet the Duchess of Marlborough long continued blind to it. Her marriage, however, opened the eyes of the duchess, and, soon after the promotion of Davies and Blackhall, both avowed Tories, not free from the imputation of Jacobitism, to the Episcopal bench, in opposition to the recommendation of Marlborough and Godolphin, gave convincing proof that their influence at court in the disposal even of the highest offices, had been supplanted by that of the new favourite. The consequences were highly prejudicial to Marlborough. The Whigs, who were not fully aware of this secret influence, and who had long distrusted him on account of his former connexion with James II., and envied him on account of his great services to the country, and lustre at court, now joined the Tories in bitter enmity against him. He was accused of protracting the war for his own private purposes; and the man who had refused the government of the Netherlands, and L60,000 a-year, lest it should breed jealousies in the alliance, was accused of checking the career of victory from sordid motives connected with the profits of the war. His brother Churchill was prosecuted by Halifax and the Whigs on the charge of neglect of duty; and the intercession of the duke, though made in humble terms, was not so much as even honoured with a reply. The consequences of this decline of court favour were soon apparent. Recruits and supplies were forwarded to the army with a very scanty hand—the military plans and proposals of the duke were either overruled or subjected to a rigid and often inimical examination—and that division of responsibility and weakening of power became apparent, which is so often in military, as well as political transactions, the forerunner of disaster.
Matters were in this untoward state, when Marlborough, in the middle of November, returned from the Hague to London. The failure before Toulon, the disasters in Spain, the nullity of the campaign in Flanders, were made the subject of unbounded outcry in the country; and the most acrimonious debates took place in Parliament, in the course of which violent reproaches were thrown on Marlborough, and all his great services to his country seemed to be forgotten. Matters even went so far, that it was seriously proposed to draft fifteen thousand men from Flanders to reinforce the armies in Spain, although it might easily be foreseen that the only effect of this would be to drive the Dutch to a separate peace, and lose the whole of Brabant, wrested at such an expense of blood and treasure from the French arms. The Session of Parliament was one incessant scene of vehement contention; but at length the secret league of Harley with Mrs Masham and the Tories became so apparent, that all his colleagues refused to attend a cabinet council to which he was summoned, and he was obliged to retire. This decisive step restored confidence between Marlborough and the Whigs, and for a time re-established his influence in the government; but Mrs Masham's sway over the Queen was not so easily subverted, and, in the end, proved fatal both to his fortune and the career of glory he had opened to his country.
Desirous of retaliating upon England the insult which the Allied armies had inflicted upon France by the invasion of Provence, Louis XIV. now made serious preparations for the invasion of Great Britain, with the avowed object of re-establishing the Chevalier of St George, the heir of James II., on the throne from which that unhappy monarch had been expelled. Under Marlborough's able direction, to whom, as commander-in-chief, the defensive measures were entrusted, every thing was soon put in a train to avert the threatened danger. Scotland was the scene where an outbreak was to be apprehended, and all the disposable forces of the empire, including ten battalions brought over from Flanders, were quickly sent to that country. The habeas corpus act was suspended. Edinburgh Castle was strongly garrisoned, and the British squadron so skilfully disposed in the North Seas, that when the Chevalier with a French squadron put to sea, he was so closely watched, that after vainly attempting to land, both in the Firth of Forth and the neighbourhood of Inverness, he was obliged to return to Dunkirk. This auspicious event entirely restored Marlborough's credit with the nation, and dispelled every remnant of suspicion with which the Whigs regarded him in relation to the exiled family; and though his influence with the court was secretly undermined, his power, to outward appearance, was unbounded; and he resumed the command of the army in the beginning of April 1708, with authority as paramount as he had enjoyed on any former occasion.
Every thing announced a more important campaign than the preceding had proved in the Low Countries. Encouraged by the little progress which the Allies had made in the former campaign, Louis XIV. had been induced to make the most vigorous efforts to accumulate a preponderating force, and re-establish his affairs in that quarter. Vendome's army had, by great exertion, been raised to a hundred thousand men, and at the same time secret communications were opened with a considerable portion of the inhabitants in some of the frontier fortresses of Brabant, in order to induce then on the first favourable opportunity to surrender them to the French arms. The unpopularity of the Dutch authorities in those towns, and the open pretensions which they put forth to wrest them from the Emperor, and deliver them over at a general peace to the hated rule of Protestant Holland, rendered those advances peculiarly acceptable. Vendome's instructions were to act on the offensive, though in a cautious manner; to push forward in order to take advantage of these favourable dispositions, and endeavour to regain the important ground which had been lost during the panic which followed the battle of Ramilies.
On their side the Allies had not been idle; and preparations had been made for transferring the weight of the contest to the Low Countries. The war in Italy being in a manner terminated by the entire expulsion of the French from that peninsula, and their secret convention for a sort of suspension of active operations with the Emperor in that quarter, Prince Eugene had been brought to the theatre of real hostilities on the northern frontier of France. It was agreed that two great armies should be formed, one in Brabant under Marlborough, and the other on the Moselle under Eugene; that the Elector of Hanover should act on the defensive on the Rhine; that Eugene should join the English general, and that with their united force they should force the French general to a battle. This well conceived plan met with the usual resistance on the part of the Allied powers, which compelled Marlborough to repair in person to Hanover, to smooth over the objections of its Elector. Meanwhile the dissensions and difficulties of the cabinet in London increased to such a degree, that he had scarcely quitted England when he was urged by Godolphin, and the majority of his own party, to return, as the only means of saving them from shipwreck. Marlborough, however, with that patriotic spirit which ever distinguished him, and not less than his splendid abilities formed so honourable a feature in his character, refused to leave the seat of war, and left his political friends to shift for themselves as they best could. Having obtained a promise from Eugene that he would join him before the month expired he joined the army at Ghent on the 9th May 1708, and on the same day reviewed the British division stationed in that city.
An event soon occurred which showed how wide-spread were the intrigues of the French in the Flemish towns, and how insecure was the foundation on which the authority of the Allies rested there. An accidental circumstance led to the discovery of a letter put into the post-office of Ghent, containing the whole particulars of a plan for admitting the French troops into the citadel of Antwerp. Vendome at the same time made a forward movement to take advantage of these attempts; but Marlborough was on his guard, and both frustrated the intended rising in Antwerp, and barred the way against the attempted advance of the French army. Disconcerted by the failure of this enterprise, Vendome moved to Soignies at the head of an hundred thousand men, where he halted at the distance of three leagues from the Allied armies. A great and decisive action was confidently expected in both armies; as, although Marlborough could not muster above eighty thousand combatants, it was well known he would not decline a battle, although he was not as yet sufficiently strong to assume the offensive. Vendome, however, declined attacking the Allies where they stood, and, filing to the right to Braine la Leude, close to the field of Waterloo, again halted in a position, threatening at once both Louvain and Brussels. Moving parallel to him, but still keeping on the defensive, Marlborough retired to Anderleet. No sooner had he arrived there, than intelligence was received of a farther movement to the right on the part of the French general, which indicated an intention to make Louvain the object of attack. Without losing an instant, Marlborough marched on that very night with the utmost expedition, amidst torrents of rain, to Parc, where he established himself in such strong ground, covering Louvain, that Vendome, finding himself anticipated in his movements, fell back to Braine-le-Leude without firing a shot.
Though Marlborough, however, had in this manner foiled the movement of the French general, he was in no condition to undertake offensive operations until the arrival of Eugene's army from the Moselle raised his force nearer to an equality with the preponderating masses of the enemy, headed by so able a general as Vendome. The usual delays, however, of the German powers, for long prevented this object being attained. For about a month Marlborough was retained in a state of forced inactivity from this cause, during which period he bitterly complained, "that the slowness of the German powers was such as to threaten the worst consequences." At length, however, the pressing representations of the English general, seconded by the whole weight of Prince Eugene, overcame the tardiness of the German Electors, and the army of the Moselle began its march towards Brabant. But the Prince was too far distant to bring up his troops to the theatre of active operations before decisive events had taken place; and fortunately for the glory of England, to Marlborough alone and to his army belongs the honour of one of the most decisive victories recorded in its annals.
Encouraged by his superiority of numbers, and the assurances of support he received from the malecontents in the Flemish towns, Vendome, who was both an able and enterprising general, put in execution, in the beginning of July, a design which he had long meditated, for the purpose of expelling the Allies from Brabant. This was by a sudden irruption to make himself master of Ghent, with several of the citizens of which he had established a secret correspondence. This city commands the course of the Scheldt and the Lys, and lay in the very centre of Marlborough's water communications; and as the fortifications of Oudenarde were in a very dilapidated state, it was reasonable to suppose that its reduction would speedily follow. The capture of these fortresses would at once break up Marlborough's communications, and sever the connecting link between Flanders and Brabant, so as to compel the English army to fall back to Antwerp and the line of the Scheldt, and thus deprive them of the whole fruits of the victory of Ramilies. Such was the able and well-conceived design of the French general, which promised the most brilliant results; and against a general less wary and able than Marlborough, unquestionably would have obtained them.
Vendome executed the first part of this design with vigour and success. On the evening of the 4th July he suddenly broke up from Braine-le-Leude, and marching rapidly all night, advanced towards Hall and Tubise, dispatching at the same time, parties towards such towns in that quarter as had maintained a correspondence with him. One of these parties, by the connivance of the watch, made itself master of Ghent. At the same time Bruges was surrendered to another party under the Count de la Motte; the small but important fort of Plassendael was carried by storm, and a detachment sent to recover Ghent found the gates shut by the inhabitants, who had now openly joined the enemy, and invested the Allied garrison in the citadel.
Marlborough no sooner heard of this movement than he followed with his army; but he arrived in the neighbourhood of Tubise in time only to witness their passage of the Senne, near that place. Giving orders to his troops to prepare for battle, he put himself in motion at one next morning, intending to bring the enemy to an immediate action. The activity of Vendome, however, baffled his design. He made his men, weary as they were, march all night and cross the Dender at several points, breaking down the bridges between Alort and Oerdegun, and the Allies only arrived in time to make three hundred prisoners from the rearguard. Scarcely had they recovered from this disappointment, when intelligence arrived of the surprise of Ghent and Bruges; while, at the same time, the ferment in Brussels, owing to the near approach of the French to that capital, became so great, that there was every reason to apprehend a similar disaster, from the disaffection of some of its inhabitants. The most serious apprehensions also were entertained for Oudenarde, the garrison of which was feeble, and its works dilapidated. Marlborough, therefore, dispatched instant orders to Lord Chandos, who commanded at Ath, to collect all the detachments he could from the garrisons in the neighbourhood, and throw himself into that fortress, and with such diligence were these orders executed that Oudenarde was secured against a coup-de-main, before the French outposts appeared before it. Vendome, however, felt himself strong enough to undertake its siege in form. He drew his army round it; the investment was completed on the evening of the 9th, and a train of heavy artillery ordered from Tournay, to commence the siege, while he himself with the covering army, took post in a strong camp at Lessines, on the river Dender.
Such was the chagrin experienced by Marlborough at these untoward events, that he was thrown into a fever, the result of fatigue, watching, and anxiety. His physician earnestly counselled him to leave the camp, and retire to Brussels, as the only means of arresting his distemper; but nothing could induce him to leave his post at such a crisis. He continued in his tent accordingly, and the orders were issued by Marshal Overkirk. He was greatly relieved on the 7th, by the arrival of Prince Eugene, who, finding his troops could not come up in time, had left his cavalry at Maestricht, and hastened in person, though without any followers but his personal suite, to take part in the approaching conflict. Great was the joy of Marlborough on learning the arrival of so illustrious a general; not a feeling of jealousy crossed the breast of either of these great men. His first words to Eugene were—"I am not without hopes of congratulating your Highness on a great victory; for my troops will be animated by the presence of so distinguished a commander." Eugene warmly approved the resolution he had taken of instantly attacking the enemy: and a council of war having been summoned, their united opinion prevailed over the objections of the Dutch deputies, who were now seriously alarmed for their barrier, and it was resolved to give battle to the enemy in his position in front of OUDENARDE.
The Allies broke up at two in the morning of the 9th July, and advanced towards the French frontiers at Lessines in four great columns. So rapid and well ordered was the march, that before noon the heads of the columns reached Herfilingen, fourteen miles fron Asche, whence they had started. Bridges were rapidly thrown over the Dender, and it was crossed early on the following morning in presence of Eugene and Marlborough, whom the animation of the great events in progress, had, in a manner, raised from the bed of sickness. Here the duke halted, and the troops encamped in their order of march with their right on the Dender and their front covered by a small stream which falls into that river. By this bold and rapid movement, Vendome's well-concerted plan was entirely disconcerted; Marlborough had thrown himself between the French and their own frontier; he had rendered himself master of their communications; and instead of seeking merely to cover his own fortresses, threatened to compel them to fall back, in order to regain their communications, and abandon the whole enterprise which had commenced with such prospects of success. Vendome was extremely disconcerted at this able movement, and he gave immediate orders to fall back upon Gavre, situated on the Scheldt below Oudenarde, where it was intended to cross that river.
No sooner was this design made manifest, than Marlborough followed with all his forces, with the double design of raising the investment of Oudenarde, and if possible forcing the enemy to give battle, under the disadvantage of doing so in a retreat. Anxious to improve their advantage, the Allied generals pushed forward with the utmost expedition, hoping to come up with the enemy when his columns and baggage were close upon the Scheldt, or in the very act of crossing that river. Colonel Cadogan, with a strong advanced guard, was pushed forward by daybreak on the 11th towards the Scheldt which he reached by eleven, and immediately threw bridges over, across which the whole cavalry and twelve battalions of foot were immediately thrown. They advanced to the summit of the plateau on the left bank of the river, and formed in battle array, the infantry opposite Eynes, the cavalry extending on the left towards Schaerken. Advancing slowly on in this regular array down the course of the river on its left bank, Cadogan was not long of coming in sight of the French rearguard under Biron, with whom he had some sharp skirmishing. Meanwhile, Marlborough and Eugene were pressing the passage at the bridges with all imaginable activity; but the greater part of their army had not yet got across. The main body was still half a league from the Scheldt, and the huge clouds of dust which arose from the passage of the artillery and carriages in that direction, inspired Vendome with the hope that he might cut off the advanced guard which was over the Scheldt, before the bulk of the Allied forces could get across to their relief. With this view he halted his troops, and drew them up hastily in order of battle. This brought on the great and glorious action which followed, towards the due understanding of which, a description of the theatre of combat is indispensable.
"At the distance of a mile north of Oudenarde, is the village of Eynes. Here the ground rises into a species of low, but spacious amphitheatre. From thence it sweeps along a small plain, till it nearly reaches the glacis of Oudenarde, where it terminates in the village of Bevere. To the west the slope ascends to another broad hill called the Bosercanter; and at the highest point of the eminence stands a windmill, shaded by a lofty lime-tree, forming conspicuous objects from the whole adjacent country. From thence the ground gradually declines towards Mardlen; and the eye glancing over the humid valley watered by the Norken, rests on another range of uplands, which, gently sinking, at length terminates near Asper. Within this space, two small streams, descending from the lower part of the hill of Oycke, embrace a low tongue of land, the centre of which rises to a gentle elevation. The borders of these rivulets are crossed by frequent enclosures, surrounding the farm-yards of Barwaen, Chobon, and Diepenbeck. Near the source of one of these streams is a castellated mansion; at that of the other is the hamlet of Rhetelhouk, embosomed in a wooded nook. These streams unite at the hamlet of Scharken, and their united current flows in a marshy bed to the Scheldt, which it reaches near Eynes. The Norken, another river traversing the field, runs for a considerable distance parallel to the Scheldt, until, passing by Asper, it terminates in a stagnant canal, which joins the Scheldt below Gavre. Its borders, like those of the other streams, are skirted with coppice-wood thickets; behind are the enclosures surrounding the little plain. Generally speaking, this part of Flanders is even not merely of picturesque beauty and high cultivation, but great military strength; and it is hard to say whether its numerous streams, hanging banks, and umbrageous woods, add most to its interest in the eye of a painter, or to its intricacy and defensive character in warlike operations."
As fast as the Allies got across the Scheldt, Marlborough formed them along the high grounds stretching from Bevere to Mooreghem Mill, with their right resting on the Scheldt. Vendome's men stretched across the plain, from the hill of Asper on the left, to Warreghem on the right. A considerable body of cavalry and infantry lay in front of their position in Eynes, of which they had retained possession since they had repulsed Cadogan's horse. No sooner had the English general got a sufficient number of troops up, than he ordered that gallant officer to advance and retake that village. The infantry attacked in front, crossing the rivulet near Eynes; while the horse made a circuit, and passing higher, made their appearance in their rear, when the conflict was warmly going on in front. The consequence was, that the village was carried with great loss to the enemy, three entire battalions were cut off and made prisoners, and eight squadrons cut to pieces in striving to make their way across the steep and tangled banks of the Norken. This sharp blow convinced the French leaders that a general action was unavoidable; and though, from the vigour with which it had been struck, their remained little hope of overpowering the Allied advanced guard before the main body came up, yet they resolved, contrary to the opinion of Vendome, who had become seriously alarmed, to persist in the attack, and risk all on the issue of a general engagement.
It was four in the afternoon when the French commenced the action in good earnest. The Duke of Burgundy ordered General Grimaldi to lead Sistern's squadron across the Norken, apparently with the view of feeling his way preparatory to a general attack; but when he arrived on the margin of the stream, and saw the Prussian cavalry already formed on the other side, he fell back to the small plain near the Mill of Royeghorn. Vendome, meanwhile, directed his left to advance, deeming that the most favourable side to attack, but the Duke of Burgundy, who nominally had the supreme command, and who was jealous of Vendome's reputation, countermanded this order; alleging that an impassable morass separated the two armies in that quarter. Those contradictory orders produced indecision in the French lines, and Marlborough, divining its cause, instantly took advantage of it. Judging with reason that the real attack of the enemy would be made on his left by their right, in front of the castle of Bevere, he drew the twelve battalions of foot under Cadogan from Heurne and Eynes, which they occupied, and reinforced the left with them; while the bridges of the Norken were strongly occupied, and musketeers disposed in the woods on their sides. Marlborough himself, at the head of the Prussian horse, advanced by Heurne, and took post on the flank of the little plain of Diepenbeck, where it was evident the heat of the action would ensue. A reserve of twenty British battalions, with a few guns, took post near Schaerken, and proved of the most essential service in the struggle which ensued. Few pieces of artillery were brought up on either side; the rapidity of the movements on both having outstripped the slow pace at which those ponderous implements of destruction were then conveyed.
Hardly were these defensive arrangements completed, when the tempest was upon them. The whole French right wing, consisting of thirty battalions, embracing the French and Swiss guards, and the flower of their army, debouched from the woods and hedges near Groemvelde, and attacking four battalions stationed there, quickly compelled them to retreat. Advancing then in the open plain, they completely outflanked the Allied left, and made themselves masters of the hamlets of Barwaen and Banlaney. This success exposed the Allies to imminent danger; for in their rear was the Scheldt, flowing lazily in a deep and impassable current, through marshy meadows, crossed only by a few bridges, over which retreat would be impossible in presence of a victorious enemy; and the success against the Allied left exposed to be cut off from their only resource in such a case, the friendly ramparts of Oudenarde.
Anxiously observing the rapid progress of the French on his left, Marlborough successively drew brigade after brigade from his right, and moved them to the quarter which was now severely pressed. The hostile lines fought with the most determined resolution. Every bridge, every ditch, every wood, every hamlet, every inclosure, was obstinately contested; and so incessant was the roll of musketry, that, seen from a distance, the horizon seemed an unbroken line of fire. Hitherto Marlborough and Eugene had remained together; but now, as matters had reached the crisis, they separated. The English general bestowed on Prince Eugene the command of his right, where the British battalions, whose valour he had often praised, were placed. He himself, with the Prussian horse on the banks of the Norken, kept the enemy's left in check; while with his own left he endeavoured to outflank the enemy, and retaliate upon then the manoeuvre which they had attempted against him. This bold movement was attended with severe loss, but it proved completely successful. Eugene was soon warmly engaged, and at first wellnigh overpowered by the superior numbers and vehement onset of the enemy. But Marlborough, whose eye was every where, no sooner observed this, than he dispatched Cadogan with his twelve English battalions to his support. Encouraged by this aid, Eugene moved forward General Natzmer, at the head of the Prussian heavy horse and cuirassiers, to charge the enemy's second lines near the Mill of Royeghem; while he himself renewed the attack on their infantry near Herlehorn. Both attacks proved successful. The enemy were expelled on the right from the enclosure of Avelchens, and the battle restored in that quarter; while, at the same time, their second line was drivers back into the enclosures of Royeghem. But this last success was not achieved without a very heavy loss; for the Prussian horse were received by so terrible a fire of musketry from the hedges near Royeghem, into which they had pushed the enemy's second line, that half of then were stretched on the plain, and the remainder recoiled in disorderly flight.
Meanwhile, Marlborough himself was not less actively engaged on the Allied left. At the head of the Hanoverian and Dutch battalions, he there pressed forward against the hitherto victorious French right. The vigour inspired by his presence quickly altered the state of affairs in that quarter. Barlaney and Barwaen were soon regained, but not without the most desperate resistance; for not only did the enemy obstinately contest every field and enclosure, but, in their fury, set fire to such of the houses as could no longer be maintained. Despite all these obstacles, hovever, the English general fairly drove them back, at the musket's point, fron one enclosure to another, till he reached the hamlet of Diepenbeck, where the resistance proved so violent that he was compelled to pause. His vigilant eye, however, erelong observed, that the hill of Oycke, which flanked the enemy's extreme right, was unoccupied. Conceiving that their right might be turned by this eminence, he directed Overkirk, with the reserve cavalry, and twenty Dutch and Danish battalions, to occupy it. The veteran marshal executed this important, and, as it proved, decisive movement, with his wonted alacrity and spirit. The wooded dells round the castle of Bevere soon rung with musketry; the enemy, forced out of them, was driven over the shoulder of the Bosercanter; soon it was passed, and the mill of Oycke, and the plateau behind it, occupied by the Danish and Dutch battalions. Arrived on the summit, Overkirk made his men bring up their left shoulders, so as to wheel inwards, and form a vast semicircle round the right wing of the French, which, far advanced beyond the centre, was now thrown back, and grouped into the little plain of Diepenbeck. Observing the effect of this movement, Marlborough directed Overkirk to press forward his left still farther, so as to seize the passes of Mullem and mill of Royeghem, by which the communication between the enemy's right and centre was maintained. This order was executed with vigour and success by the Prince of Orange and General Oxenstiern. The progress of the extreme Allied left round the rear of the French right, was observed by the frequent flashes of their musketry on the heights above Mullem, down to which they descended, driving the enemy with loud cheers, which re-echoed over the whole field of battle, before them. The victory was now gained. Refluent from all quarters, enveloped on every side, the whole French right was hurled together, in wild confusion, into the plain of Diepenbeck; where seven regiments of horse, which made a noble effort to stem the flood of disaster, was all cut to pieces or taken.
Seeing his right wing on the verge of destruction, Vendome made a gallant effort to rescue it. Dismounting from his horse, he led the infantry of his left near Mullem, to the aid of their devoted comrades. But the thick and frequent enclosures broke their array; the soldiers were dismayed by the loud shouts of victory from their right; and when they emerged from the enclosures; and approached the plain of Diepenbeck, the firm countenance of the British horse, drawn up on its edge, and the sturdy array of their infantry under Eugene, which advanced to meet them, rendered the effort abortive. Meanwhile darkness set in, but the battle still raged on all sides; and the frequent flashes of the musketry on the heights around, intermingled with the shouts of the victors, showed but too clearly how nearly the extremity of danger was approaching to the whole French army. So completely were they enveloped, that the advanced guard of the right under Eugene, and the left under the Prince of Orange, met on the heights in the French rear, and several volleys were exchanged between there, before the error was discovered, and, by great exertions of their respective commanders, the useless butchery was stopped. To prevent a repetition of such disasters orders were given to the whole troops to halt where they stood, and to this precaution many owed their safety as it was impossible in the darkness to distinguish friend from foe. But it enabled great part of the centre and left of the French to escape unobserved, which, had daylight continued for two hours longer, would have been all taken or destroyed. Their gallant right was left to its fate; while Eugene, by directing the drums of his regiments to beat the French assemblee, made great numbers of their left and centre prisoners. Some thousands of the right slipped unobserved to the westward near the castle of Bevere, and made their way in a confused body toward France, but the greater part of that wing were killed or taken. Vendome with charateristic presence of mind formed a rearguard of a few battalions and twenty-five squadrons, with which he covered the retreat of the centre and left; but the remainder of those parts of the army fell into total confusion, and fled headlong in wild disorder towards Ghent.
We have the authority of Marborough for the assertion, that "if he had had two hours more of daylight the French army would have been irretrievably routed, great part of it killed or taken, and the war terminated on that day." As it was, the blow struck was prodigious, and entirely altered the character and issue of the campaign. The French lost six thousand men in killed and wounded, besides nine thousand prisoners and one hundred standards wrested from them in fair fight. The Allied were weakened by five thousand men for the French were superior in number and fought well, having been defeated solely by the superior generalship of the Allied commanders.
No sooner did daylight appear, than forty squadrons were detached towards Ghent in pursuit of the enemy; while Marlborough himself, with characteristic humanity, visited the field of battle, doing his utmost to assuage the sufferings, and provide for the cure of the numerous wounded—alike friend and foe—who encumbered its bloody expanse. Count Lottnow was sent with thirty battalions and fifty squadrons, to possess himself of the lines which the enemy had constructed between Ipres and Warneton, which that officer did with vigour and success, making five hundred prisoners. This was the more fortunate, as, at the moment they were taken, the Duke of Berwick, with the French army from the Moselle, was hastening up, and had exhorted the garrison to defend the lines to the last extremity. At the same time, the corresponding Allied army, commanded by Eugene, arrived at Brussels, so that both sides were largely reinforced. Berwick's corps, which consisted of thirty-four battalions and fifty-five squadrons, was so considerable, that it raised Vendome's army again to an hundred thousand men. With this imposing mass, that able general took post in a camp behind the canal of Bruges, and near Ghent, which he soon strongly fortified, and which commanded the navigation both of the Scheldt and the Lys. He rightly judged, that as long as he was there at the head of such a force, the Allies would not venture to advance into France; though it lay entirely open to their incursions, as Marlborough was between him and Paris.
Encouraged by this singular posture of the armies, Marlborough strongly urged upon the Allied council of war the propriety of relinquishing all lesser objects, passing the whole fortified towns on the frontier, and advancing straight towards the French capital. This bold counsel, however—which, if acted on, would have been precisely what Wellington and Blucher did a century after, in advancing from the same country, and perhaps attended with similar success—was rejected. Eugene, and the remainder of the council, considered the design too hazardous, while Vendome with so great an army lay intrenched in their rear, threatening their communications. It was resolved, therefore, to commence the invasion of the territory of the Grande Monarque, by the siege of the great frontier fortress of LILLE, the strongest and most important place in French Flanders, and the possession of which would give the Allies a solid footing in the enemy's territory. This, however, was a most formidable undertaking; for not only was the place itself of great strength, and with a citadel within its walls still stronger, but it was garrisoned by Marshal Boufflers, one of the ablest officers in the French service, with fifteen thousand choice troops, and every requisite for a vigorous defence. On the other hand, Vendome, at the head of an hundred thousand men, lay in an impregnable camp between Ghent and Bruges, ready to interrupt or raise the siege; and his position there extremely hampered Marlborough in bringing forward the requisite equipage for so great an undertaking, as it interrupted the whole water navigation of the country, by which it could best be effected. The dragging it up by land, would require sixteen thousand horses. Nevertheless it was resolved to undertake the enterprise, sanguine hopes being entertained, that, rather than see so important a fortress fall, Vendome would leave his intrenched camp, and give the Allies an opportunity of bringing him again to battle on equal terms.
No sooner was the undertaking resolved on, than the most vigorous measures were adopted to carry it into execution. The obstacles which presented themselves, however, were great indeed, and proved even more formidable than had been at first anticipated. Every gun, every waggon, every round of ammunition, required to be transported from Holland; and even the nearest depot for ordinary and military stores for the Allies, was Brussels, situated twenty-five leagues off. Sixteen thousand horses were requisite to transport the train which brought these stores, partly from Maestricht, partly from Holland; and when in a line of march, it stretched over fifteen miles. Prince Eugene, with fifty-three battalions and ninety squadrons, covered the vast moving mass—Marlborough himself being ready, at a moment's notice, in his camp near Menin, to support him, if necessary. Between these two great men there existed then, as ever, the most entire cordiality. Their measures were all taken in concord, and with such ability, that though Vendome lay on the flank of the line of march, which extended over above seventy miles, not a gun was taken, nor a carriage lost; and the whole reached the camp at Helchin in safety, on the 12th August, whither Marlborough had gone to meet it. So marvellous were the arrangements made for the safe conduct of this important convoy, and so entire their success, that they excited the admiration of the French, and in no slight degree augmented the alarm of their generals, who had hitherto treated the idea of Lille being besieged, with perfect derision. "Posterity," says the French annalist, Feuqueres, "will scarcely believe the fact, though it is an undoubted truth. Never was a great enterprise conducted with more skill and circumspection."
Prince Eugene was entrusted with the conduct of the siege, while Marlborough commanded the covering army. The former commenced the investment of the place on the 13th August, while Marlborough remained at Helchin, taking measures for the protection of the convoys, which were incessantly coming up from Brussels. At length the whole were passed, and arrived in safety in the camp before Lille, amounting to one hundred and twenty heavy guns, forty mortars, twenty howitzers, and four hundred ammunition waggons. Eugene's army for the siege consisted of fifty-three battalions and ninety squadrons, in all about forty thousand men. Marlborough's covering force was sixty-nine battalions and one hundred and forty squadrons, numbering nearly sixty thousand men. But the force of the French was still more considerable in the field. Vendome and Berwick united on the 30th, on the plain between Grammont and Lessines, and on the 2d September advanced towards Lille with one hundred and forty battalions and two hundred and fifty squadrons, mustering one hundred thousand combatants, besides twenty thousand left, under Count de la Motte, to cover Ghent and Bruges. But Marlborough had no fears for the result, and ardently longed for a general action, which he hoped would one way or other conclude the war. "If we have a second action," says he, "and God blesses our just cause, this, in all likelihood, will be our last campaign; for I think they would not venture a battle, but are resolved to submit to any condition, if the success be on our side; and if they get the better, they will think themselves masters; so that, if there should be an action, it is like to be the last this war. If God continues on our side, we have nothing to fear, our troops being good, though not so numerous as theirs. I dare say, before half the troops have fought, success will declare, I trust in God, on our side; and then I may have what I earnestly wish for quick."
No sooner was Marlborough informed of the junction of Vendome and Berwick, than, anticipating the direction they would follow, and the point at which they would endeavour to penetrate through, and raise the siege, he marched parallel to the enemy, and arrived on the 4th September at a position previously selected, having his right at Noyelle, and his left at Peronne. So correctly had he divined the designs of the able generals to whom he was opposed, that, within two hours after he had taken up his ground, the united French army appeared in his front. Notwithstanding their great superiority of forces, the enemy, however, did not venture to attack, and the two armies remained watching each other for the next fortnight, without any movement being attempted on either side.