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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The three masts of the Surveillante had just fallen


England the commotion was great: France and America in arms against her had just been joined by Spain. A government essentially monarchical, faithful to ancient traditions, the Spaniards had for a long while resisted the entreaties of M. de Vergennes, who availed himself of the stipulations of the Family pact. Charles III. felt no sort of sympathy for a nascent republic; he feared the contagion of the example it showed to the Spanish colonies; he hesitated to plunge into the expenses of a war. His hereditary hatred against England prevailed at last over the dictates of prudence. He was promised, moreover, the assistance of France to reconquer Gibraltar and Minorca. The King of Spain consented to take part in the war, without however recognizing the independence of the United States, or entering into alliance with them.

The situation of England was becoming serious, she believed herself to be threatened with a terrible invasion. As in the days of the Great Armada, "orders were given to all functionaries, civil and military, in case of a descent of the enemy, to see to the transportation into the interior and into a place of safety of all horses, cattle, and flocks that might happen to be on the coasts." "Sixty-six allied ships of the line ploughed the Channel, fifty thousand men, mustered in Normandy, were preparing to burst upon the southern counties. A simple American corsair, Paul Jones, ravaged with impunity the coasts of Scotland.

The powers of the North, united with Russia and Holland, threatened to maintain, with arms in hand, the rights of neutrals, ignored by the English admiralty courts. Ireland awaited only the signal to revolt; religious quarrels were distracting Scotland and England; the authority of Lord North's cabinet was shaken in Parliament as well as throughout the country; the passions of the mob held sway in London, and among the sights that might have been witnessed was that of this great city given up for nearly a week to the populace, without anything that could stay its excesses save its own lassitude and its own feeling of shame " [M. Cornelis de Witt, _Histoire de Washington_].

So many and such imposing preparations were destined to produce but little fruit. The two fleets, the French and the Spanish, had effected their junction off Corunna, under the orders of Count d'Orvilliers; they slowly entered the Channel on the 31st of August, near the Sorlingues (Scilly) Islands; they sighted the English fleet, with a strength of only thirty, seven vessels. Count de Guichen, who commanded the vanguard, was already manoeuvring to cut off the enemy's retreat; Admiral Hardy had the speed of him, and sought refuge in Plymouth Sound. Some engagements which took place between frigates were of little importance, but glorious for both sides. On the 6th of October, the _Surveillante,_ commanded by Chevalier du Couedic, had a tussle with the _Quebec;_ the broadsides were incessant, a hail of lead fell upon both ships, the majority of the officers of the _Surveillante_ were killed or wounded. Du Couedic had been struck twice on the head. A fresh wound took him in the stomach; streaming with blood, he remained at his post and directed the fight. The three masts of the _Surveillante_ had just fallen, knocked to pieces by balls, the whole rigging of the _Quebec_ at the same moment came down with a run. The two

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