On the 26th Blucher had nearly annihilated the division of Macdonald. No sooner did he learn the return of Buonaparte to Dresden than he wheeled round upon Macdonald, taking him by surprise, and driving his troops into the rivers[70] Katzbach and Neisse, swollen by the rains. The battle raged the most fiercely near Wahlstadt, and, on the subsidence of the floods, hundreds of corpses were seen sticking in the mud. A part of the French fled for a couple of days in terrible disorder along the right bank of the Neisse, and were captured, with their general, by the Russian commander, Langeron. When Parliament reassembled, after the Christmas recess, the great question of economical reform took the first place in its deliberations. The great Yorkshire petition was introduced on the 8th of February by Sir George Savile, who, as the forms of the House then allowed, made a speech on its presentation. He was a small, weakly man, but of the most upright character, and was listened to with the highest respect. On the 11th Burke rose to bring forward his extensive scheme of retrenchment and reform. It was a scheme of reforms so vast and multiform as to require five Bills to include them. It dealt with the sale of the Crown lands; the abolition of the separate jurisdictions of the Principality of Wales, the Duchies of Cornwall, Chester, and Lancaster; of the Court offices of Treasurer, Comptroller, Cofferer, Keeper of the Stag, Buck, and Fox Hounds, of the Wardrobe, Robes, Jewels, etc.; of the recently-instituted office of Third Secretary of State; the reduction and simplification of offices in the Ordnance and Mint departments; the Patent Office of the Exchequer; the regulation of the pay offices of the army, navy, and of pensioners; and, finally, the Civil List. Such a host of corrupt interests was assailed by this wholesale scheme, that it was certain to receive a very determined opposition; and it might have been supposed that it would be encountered by the most rabid rage. But not so. The great tribe whose interests were affected were too adroit strategists for that; they were too well assured that, being legion, and all knit up together from the Crown downwards, embracing every branch of the aristocracy, they were safe, and might, therefore, listen to the fervid eloquence of the poetic Irishman, as they would to a tragedy that did not affect them further than their amusement was concerned. Lord North very soon managed to put the Principality and the Duchies out of the range of his inquiries. He declared that nobody was more zealous for a permanent system of economy than he was; but then, unfortunately, the king's[264] patrimonial revenue was concerned in these Duchies, and therefore he must be first consulted; and, what was still more embarrassing was, that these proposals affected the rights of the Prince of Wales, and therefore could not be mooted till he was of age; so that branch of the inquiry was lopped off, under the gentle phrase of postponement. When the discussion reached the reform of the king's household, Burke was compelled to admit that a former attempt to reform this lavish yet penurious household by Lord Talbot, had been suddenly stopped, because, forsooth, it would endanger the situation of an honourable member who was turnspit in the kitchen! The end of it was, that though all expressed themselves as delighted and as acquiescent, almost every detail was thrown out in committee. The only point carried was that which abolished the Board of Trade, by a majority, however, of only eight. The Board of Trade was ere long restored again. The other portions of Burke's great scheme occupied the House through March, April, and May, and then was got rid of by a man?uvre in the committee, Burke declaring that he would bring the measure forward again next session.

Meanwhile the Convention determined to proceed to the abolition of the Constitution of '93, and to the establishment of one more accordant[448] with their own tendencies. In 1793 the Revolutionists were as violent against aristocracy as against monarchy, and had allowed only one legislative body. The precipitate acts of the last three years had now persuaded them that at least a second, if not an aristocratic, chamber might be useful, as a balance against legislation under violent impulses. They proposed, then, to have two chambersone called the Council of Five Hundred, composed of that number of members of at least thirty years of age, having exclusively the right of proposing laws, of whom one-third should be renewed every year; the second, called the Council of the Ancients, to consist of two hundred and fifty members, of at least forty years of age, all either widowers or married, having the sanctioning of the law, and also to be annually renewed by one-third. No sooner were these decrees passed than there was a violent outburst of discontent. On April 1st, and again on May 20th, the Parisian mob rose in insurrection, but were completely suppressed. This was the death-blow of the Democratic party. Then came the turn of the Royalists. A meeting took place in the Odon theatre, on the 3rd of October, under protection of some battalions of National Guard. The Duke of Nivernois presided. The Committees of Public Safety and Welfare gave the alarm to the Convention, and the Convention sent a force to disperse the meeting, but it had already dissolved itself. The Sections had committed the mistake of refusing to allow the ultra-Jacobins to vote, and the Convention now embodied and armed one thousand eight hundred of these, ready, in their indignation, to do anything. On the 4th, the Section Lepelletier beat to arms, and the committee held its meeting in the convent of Filles St. Thomas, in the Rue Vivienne. General Menou was summoned from the camp at Sablons, and ordered to disperse the meeting. He proceeded to the convent, found the committee of the Section armed, and, instead of dispersing them, agreed to retire on a promise that they would withdraw of themselves. The Convention immediately arrested Menou as a traitor, and deprived him of his command. They forthwith appointed Barras general of the interior in the place of Menou, and ordered him to clear the streets, and place troops in a position to insure the safety of the Convention. Barras was a general of brigade, but he was not too fond of exposing himself and, fortunately for him and for another, he had his eye on one who would execute the orders of the Convention without shrinking. This was Napoleon Buonaparte. The Convention had about five thousand troops; but the decision of the conflict must depend on the cannon. These were in the camp at Sablons. Buonaparte instantly dispatched Murat to secure them, and received the insurrectionists with such a shower of grape that after a short resistance they were completely defeated. But Tolly did not mean to remain longer than was necessary for the inhabitants to have made a safe distance; he was afraid of Napoleon making a flank movement and cutting off his way to Moscow. In the night fires broke out all over Smolensk: they could not be the effect only of the French shells; and Buonaparte sat watching them till morning. Soon bridges, houses, church spires, all of wood, were enveloped in roaring flames. The next day, the 18th of August, the French entered the place whilst it was still burning around them. The dead, half consumed, lay around the smoking ruins; and the French army marched through this ghostly scene with military music playing, but with hearts struck with consternation and despair at this proof of the inveterate determination of the Russians to destroy their whole country rather than suffer it to be conquered. Here they were left without shelter, without provisions, without hospitals for the sick, or dressings for the wounded, without a single bed where a man might lie down to die; and all before them was the same. The Cossacks beset the flanks of march, and burnt down all villages, and laid waste all fields ere the French could reach them. Again the officers entreated that they might form an encampment and remain; but Buonaparte replied still, "They must make all haste to Moscow."

[See larger version] SIR RICHARD STEELE.