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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

The decimated crews were preparing to board


ships could no longer manoeuvre,

the decimated crews were preparing to board, when a thick smoke shot up all at once from the between-decks of the _Quebec;_ the fire spread with unheard of rapidity; the _Surveillante,_ already hooked on to her enemy's side, was on the point of becoming, like her, a prey to the flames, but her commander, gasping as he was and scarcely alive, got her loose by a miracle of ability. The _Quebec_ had hardly blown up when the crew of the _Surveillante_ set to work picking up the glorious wreck of their adversaries; a few prisoners were brought into Brest on the victorious vessel, which was so blackened by the smoke and damaged by the fight that tugs had to be sent to her assistance. A few months afterwards Du Couedic died of his wounds, carrying to the grave the supreme honor of having been the only one to render his name illustrious in the great display of the maritime forces of France and Spain. Count d'Orvilliers made no attempt; the inhabitants upon the English coasts ceased to tremble; sickness committed ravages amongst the crews. After a hundred and four days' useless cruising in the Channel, the huge fleet returned sorrowfully to Brest; Admiral d'Orvilliers had lost his son in a partial engagement; he left the navy and retired ere long to a convent. Count de Guichen sailed for the Antilles with a portion of the French fleet, and maintained with glory the honor of his flag in a series of frequently successful affairs against Admiral Rodney. At the beginning of the war,
the latter, a great scapegrace and overwhelmed with debt, happened to be at Paris, detained by the state of his finances. "If I were free," said he one day in the presence of Marshal Biron, "I would soon destroy all the Spanish and French fleets." The marshal at once paid his debts. "Go, sir," said he, with a flourish of generosity to which the eighteenth century was a little prone, "the French have no desire to gain advantages over their enemies save by their bravery." Rodney's first exploit was to revictual Gibraltar, which the Spanish and French armaments had invested by land and sea.

Everywhere the strength of the belligerents was being exhausted without substantial result and without honor; for more than four years now America had been keeping up the war, and her Southern provinces had been everywhere laid waste by the enemy; in spite of the heroism which was displayed by the patriots, and of which the women themselves set the example, General Lincoln had just been forced to capitulate at Charleston. Washington, still encamped before New York, saw his army decimated by hunger and cold, deprived of all resources, and reduced to subsist at the expense of the people in the neighborhood. All eyes were turned towards France; the Marquis of La Fayette had succeeded in obtaining from the king and the French ministry the formation of an auxiliary corps; the troops were already on their way under the orders of Count de Rochambeau.

Misfortune and disappointments are great destroyers of some barriers, prudent tact can overthrow others. Washington and the American army would but lately have seen with suspicion the arrival of foreign auxiliaries; in 1780, transports of joy greeted the news of their approach. M. de La Fayette, moreover, had been careful to spare the American general all painful friction. Count de Rochambeau and the French officers were placed under the orders of Washington, and the auxiliary corps entirely at his disposal. The delicate generosity and the disinterestedness of the French government had sometimes had the effect of making it neglect the national interests in its relations with the revolted colonies; but it had derived therefrom a spirit of conduct invariably calculated to triumph over the prejudices as well as the jealous pride of the Americans.


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