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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

La Clochetterie went on and landed a few leagues from Brest


"Assure

the English government of the king's pacific intentions," M. de Vergennes had written to the Marquis of Noailles, then French ambassador in England. George III. replied to these mocking assurances by recalling his ambassador.

"Anticipate your enemies," Franklin had said to the ministers of Louis XVI.;" act towards them as they did to you in 1755: let your ships put to sea before any declaration of war, it will be time to speak when a French squadron bars the passage of Admiral Howe who has ventured to ascend the Delaware." The king's natural straightforwardness and timidity were equally opposed to this bold project; he hesitated a long while; when Count d'Estaing at last, on the 13th of April, went out of Toulon harbor to sail for America with his squadron, it was too late, the English were on their guard.

When the French admiral arrived in America, hostilities had commenced between France and England, without declaration of war, by the natural pressure of circumstances and the state of feeling in the two countries. England fired the first shot on the 17th of June, 1778. The frigate La Belle Poule, commanded by M. Chaudeau de la Clochetterie, was cruising in the Channel; she was surprised by the squadron of Admiral Keppel, issuing from Portsmouth; the Frenchman saw the danger in time, he crowded sail; but an English frigate, the Arethusa, had dashed forward in pursuit. La Clochetterie waited for her and

refused to make the visit demanded by the English captain: a cannon-shot was the reply to this refusal. La Belle Poule delivered her whole broadside. When the Arethusa rejoined Lord Keppel's squadron, she was dismasted and had lost many men. A sudden calm had prevented two English vessels from taking part in, the engagement. La Clochetterie went on and landed a few leagues from Brest. The fight had cost the lives of forty of his crew, fifty-seven had been wounded. He was made postcaptain (_capitaine de vaisseau_). The glory of this small affair appeared to be of good augury; the conscience of Louis XVI. was soothed; he at last yielded to the passionate feeling which was hurrying the nation into war, partly from sympathy towards the Americans, partly from hatred and rancor towards England. The treaty of 1763 still lay heavy on the military honor of France.

From the day when the Duke of Choiseul had been forced to sign that humiliating peace, he had never relaxed in his efforts to improve the French navy. In the course of ministerial alternations, frequently unfortunate for the work in hand, it had nevertheless been continued by his successors. A numerous fleet was preparing at Brest; it left the port on the 3d of July, under the orders of Count d'Orvilliers. It numbered thirty-two men-of-war and some frigates. Admiral Keppel came to the encounter with thirty ships, mostly superior in strength to the French vessels. The engagement took place on the 27th, at thirty leagues' distance from Wessant and about the same from the Sorlingues Islands. The splendid order of the French astounded the enemy, who had not forgotten the deplorable _Journee de M. de Conflans_. The sky was murky, and the manoeuvres were interfered with from the difficulty of making out the signals. Lord Keppel could not succeed in breaking the enemy's line; Count d'Orvilliers failed in a like attempt. The English admiral extinguished his fires and returned to Plymouth harbor, without being forced to do so from any serious reverse; Count d'Orvilliers fell back upon Brest under the same conditions. The English regarded this retreat as a humiliation to which they were unaccustomed Lord Keppel had to appear before a court-martial. In France, after the first burst of enthusiasm, fault was found with the inactivity of the Duke of Chartres, who commanded the rear-guard of the fleet, under the direction of M. de La Motte-Piquet; the prince was before long obliged to leave the navy, he became colonel-general of the hussars. A fresh sally on the part of the fleet did not suffice to protect the merchant-navy, the losses of which were considerable. The English vessels everywhere held the seas.


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