Alberoni, though defeated at sea, was more successful in Sicily, and he continued his cabals against England in nearly every Court of Europe with only the more assiduity. He was zealously at work in France, England itself, Holland, Piedmont, and Sweden. By his ambassador at the Hague he endeavoured to keep the Dutch out of the Quadruple Alliance by exciting their commercial jealousy; but he was ably opposed by our minister there, the Earl of Cadogan. In Piedmont he endeavoured to deter Victor Amadeus from entering into this alliance by assuring him that he was only endeavouring to secure Sicily to keep it out of the hands of the Austrians, and reserve it for him; while, on the other hand, he threatened him with thirty thousand bayonets if he dared to accede to the Quadruple Treaty. The Allies, however, threatened still greater dangers, and the Duke at last consented to accept Sardinia in lieu of Sicily, and that island remains attached to the kingdom of Italy to the present time.

Within a few days after the first passing of this Act, that is, in the first week of March, a body of weaverssaid by the Government to amount to ten thousand men, but by a more competent authority, Samuel Bamford, the author of the "Life of a Radical," not to have exceeded four or five thousandmet in St. Peter's Field, at Manchester, and commenced a march southward. The intention was to proceed to London, to present to the Prince Regent, in person, a petition describing their distress. Bamford had been consulted, and had condemned the project as wild, and likely to bring down nothing but trouble on the petitioners. He believed that they were instigated by spies sent out by Government in order to find an opportunity of justifying their arbitrary measures. Suspicious persons had been trying him. But the poor, deluded people assembled, "many of them," says Bamford, "having blankets, rugs, or large coats rolled up, and tied knapsack-like on their backs. Some had papers, supposed to be petitions, rolled up, and some had stout walking-sticks." From their blankets, they afterwards acquired the name of Blanketeers. The magistrates appeared and read the Riot Act, and dispersed the multitude by soldiers and constables; but three or four hundred fled in the direction of their intended route, and continued their march, pursued by a body of yeomanry. By the time that they reached Macclesfield, at nine o'clock at night, they amounted to only one hundred and eighty; yet many of them persisted in proceeding, but they continually melted away, from hunger and from the misery of lying out in the fields on March nights. By the time that they reached Leek they were reduced to twenty, and six only were known to pass over the bridge at Ashbourne. The general result of the elections was considered to have diminished by fifty the number of votes on which Ministers could depend, and the relation in which they now stood to the more popular part of the representation was stated to be as follows:Of the eighty-two members returned by the forty counties of England, only twenty-eight were steady adherents of the Ministry; forty-seven were avowed adherents of the Opposition, and seven of the neutral cast did not lean much to Government. Of the thirteen popular cities and boroughs (London, Westminster, Aylesbury, etc.), returning twenty-eight members, only three seats were held by decidedly Ministerial men, and twenty-four by men in avowed opposition. There were sixty other places, more or less open, returning 126 members. Of these only forty-seven were Ministerial; all the rest were avowed Opposition men, save eight, whose leaning was rather against the Government than for it. Of the 236 men then returned by elections more or less popular in England, only seventy-nine were Ministerial votes; 141 were in avowed opposition, and sixteen of a neutral cast. Towards the end of William IV.'s reign the style of ladies' dress suddenly changed. The unshapely short-waisted robe was succeeded by one of ampler dimensions, longer and fuller, with a moderate amount of crinolineenough to give dignity and grace to the figure, but not expanding to the same absurd extent as afterwardsand long pointed stomachers. The bonnets were considerably reduced in size. The ball dresses at the beginning of the Victorian reign became more like those of a later day, except that they were then made of heavy, rich materialssilk, satin, brocade, etc. The style of the sleeve varied, but one of the fashions at this time was a puffing at the shoulder, and sloping gradually down, commonly called the "leg-of-mutton sleeve." The cloaks were large and full, enveloping the whole figure, and reaching almost to the ground.

While this was going on, the town of San Sebastian was stormed by the British. Sir Thomas Graham conducted the assault, which was led on by the brigade of General Robinson, bravely supported by a detachment of Portuguese under Major Snodgrass. The place was captured; the French were driven through it to the castle standing on a height, in which they found refuge. Seven hundred prisoners were taken. The British lost two thousand men in the assaulta loss which would have been far greater had a mine, containing one thousand two hundred pounds of gunpowder, exploded, but which was fortunately prevented by the falling in of a saucisson. Many less would have fallen, however, had General Graham allowed shells to be thrown into the town, which he would not, on account of the inhabitants. But the French had not only prepared this great mine, but exploded various other appliances for setting the town on fire. In fact they showed no care for the people or the town. When driven to the castle, after a murderous street fightin which they picked off our men from behind walls and windows, killing Sir Richard Fletcher, the commanding engineer, and wounding Generals Robinson, Leith, and Oswald, besides slaughtering heaps of our menthey continued to fire down the streets, killing great numbers of the inhabitants besides our soldiers. Yet, after all, they charged Lord Wellington with not only throwing shells into the town, but with[61] setting it on fire, and plundering it. His lordship indignantly repelled these accusations in his letter to his brother, Sir Henry Wellesley. He declares that he himself had been obliged to hasten to his headquarters at Lezaco, on the morning of the 31st of August, but that he saw the town on fire in various places before our soldiers entered it; in fact, the French had set it on fire in six different places, and had their mine exploded scarcely a fragment of the town would have been left, or a single inhabitant alive. The lenity shown to the town by Wellington and Graham, who acted for him, was not used towards their calumniators in the castle. It was stoutly bombarded, and being soon almost battered to pieces about the ears of the defenders, the French surrendered on the 8th of September, two thousand five hundred in number; but the siege of both town and fort had cost the allies four thousand men in killed and wounded. Had the town been, as the French represented, bombarded like the castle, some thousands of English and Portuguese lives would have been spared, but at the expense of the inhabitants.

[See larger version] From the manufacturing districts the movement was spreading to the metropolis, where usually there had been but little attention paid to this important subject. The various trades of London began to take part in the preparation of petitions, and to hold meetings. At some of these the working men carried resolutions against the petitions; and they made similar, though unsuccessful, attempts in various towns. But it was remarked that even while refusing to take preliminary measures for procuring relief from the bread-tax, they declared its injustice; in fact, the savage mood to which the prevalent distress was bringing the labouring classes began to manifest itself in a determination to postpone every question save that of their claim to a share of political power. They were not friendly to the middle class; but their ill-will could not be cited even as a proof of their indifference to the continuance of the Corn Law system.