CHAPTER IX. COURSE OF EVENTS FROM THE PEACE OF PARIS TO 1778. - MARITIME WAR CONSEQUENT UPON THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. - SEA BATTLE OFF USHANT.
If England had reason to complain that she had not reaped from the Treaty of Paris all the advantages that her military achievements and position entitled her to expect, France had every cause for discontent at the position in which the war left her. The gain of England was nearly measured by her losses; even the cession of Florida, made to the conqueror by Spain, had been bought by France at the price of Louisiana. Naturally the thoughts of her statesmen and of her people, as they bent under the present necessity to bear the burden of the vanquished, turned to the future with its possibilities of revenge and compensation. The Duc de Choiseul, able though imperious, remained for many years more at the head of affairs, and worked persistently to restore the power of France from the effects of the treaty. The Austrian alliance had been none of his seeking; it was already made and working when he came to office in 1758; but he had even at the first recognized that the chief enemy was England, and tried as far as could be to direct the forces of the nation against her. The defeat of Conflans having thwarted his projects of invasion, he next sought, in entire consistency with his main purpose, to stir up Spain and gain her alliance. The united efforts of the two kingdoms with their fine seaboards could, under good administration and with time for preparation, put afloat a navy that would be a fair counterpoise to that of England. It was also doubtless true that weaker maritime States, if they saw such a combination successfully made and working efficiently, would pluck up heart to declare against a government whose greatness excited envy and fear, and which acted with the disregard to the rights and welfare of others common to all uncontrolled power. Unhappily for both France and Spain, the alliance came too late. The virtual annihilation of the French fleet in 1759 was indeed followed by an outburst of national enthusiasm for the navy, skilfully fostered and guided by Choiseul. "Popular feeling took up the cry, from one end of France to the other, 'The navy must be restored.' Gifts of cities, corporations, and private individuals raised funds. A prodigious activity sprang up in the lately silent ports; everywhere ships were building and repairing." The minister also recognized the need of restoring the discipline and tone, as well as the material of the navy. The hour, however, was too late; the middle of a great and unsuccessful war is no time to begin preparations. "Better late than never" is not so safe a proverb as "In time of peace prepare for war." The condition of Spain was better. When war broke out, the English naval historian estimates that she had one hundred ships of all sizes; of these, probably sixty were of the line. Nevertheless, although the addition of Spain to her numerous enemies might make the position of England seem critical, the combination in her favor of numbers, skill, experience, and prestige, was irresistible. With seventy thousand veteran seamen, she had only to maintain a position already won. The results we know. After the peace, Choiseul wisely remained faithful to his own first ideas. The restoration of the navy continued, and was accompanied and furthered by a spirit of professional ambition and of desire to excel, among the officers of the navy, which has been before mentioned, and which, in the peculiar condition of the United States navy at the present day, may be commended as a model. The building of ships-of-war continued with great activity and on a large scale. At the end of the war, thanks to the movement begun in 1761, thee were forty ships-of-the-line in good condition. In 1770, when Choiseul was dismissed, the royal navy numbered sixty-four of the line and fifty frigates afloat. The arsenals and storehouses were filled, and a stock of ship-timber laid up. At the same time the minister tried to improve the efficiency of the officers by repressing the arrogant spirit of those of noble birth, which showed itself both toward superiors and toward another order of officers, not of the nobility, whose abilities made them desired on board the fleet. This class-feeling carried with it a curious sentiment of equality among officers of very different grades, which injuriously affected the spirit of subordination. Members, all, of a privileged social order, their equality as such was more clearly recognized than their inequality as junior and senior. The droll story told by Marryatt of the midshipman, who represented to his captain that a certain statement had been made in confidence, seems to have had a realization on the French quarter-deck of that day. "Confidence!" cried the captain; "who ever heard of confidence between a post-captain and a midshipman!" "No sir," replied the youngster, "not between a captain and a midshipman, but between two gentlemen." Disputes, arguments, suggestions, between two gentlemen, forgetful of their relative rank, would break out at critical moments, and the feeling of equality, which wild democratic notions spread throughout the fleets of the republic, was curiously forestalled by that existing among the members of a most haughty aristocracy. "I saw by his face," says one of Marryatt's heroes, "that the first lieutenant did not agree with the captain; but he was too good an officer to say so at such a moment." The phrase expresses one of the deepest-rooted merits of the English system, the want of which is owned by French writers: -