The year 1757 was one of the gloomiest ever known to England. At home, the government was in a state of utter confusion, though the country was at war with France, and France was in alliance with Austria; these two nations having departed from their policy of two centuries and a half, in order that they might crush Frederic of Prussia, England's ally. Frederic was defeated at Kolin, by the Austrians, on the 18th of June, and a Russian army was in possession of East Prussia. A German army in British pay, and commanded by the “Butcher” hero of Culloden, was beaten in July, and capitulated in September. In America, the pusillanimity of the English commanders led to terrible disasters, among which the loss of Fort William Henry, and the massacre of its garrison, were conspicuous events. In India, the English were engaged in doubtful contest with the viceroy of Bengal, who was supported by the French. Even the navy of England appeared at that time to have lost its sense of superiority; for not only had Admiral Byng just been shot for not behaving with proper spirit, but a combined expedition against the coast of France ended in signal failure, and Admiral Holburne declined to attack a French fleet of Louisburg. No wonder that the British people readily believed an author who then published a work to establish the agreeable proposition, “that they were a race of cowards and scoundrels; that nothing could save them; that they were on the point of being enslaved by their enemies, and that they richly deserved their fate.” Such a succession of disasters might well discourage a people, some of whom could recollect the long list of victories which commenced with Blenheim and closed with Malplaquet, and by which the arrogance of the Grand Monarque had been punished.
Yet it is from this very year of misfortune that the power of modern England must take its date. “Adversity,” said El Hakim to the Knight of the Leopard, “is like the period of the former and of the latter rain, — cold, comfortless, unfriendly to man and to animal; yet from that season have their birth the flower and the fruit, the date, the rose, and the pomegranate.” In the summer of 1757 was formed that ministry which succeeded in carrying England's power and glory to heights which they did not reach even under the Protectorship of Cromwell or the rule of Godolphin. Then were commenced those measures which ended in the expulsion of the French from North America, and gave to England a territory here which may perpetuate her institutions for ages after they shall have ceased to be known in the mother-land. Then was America conquered in Germany, and not only was Frederic so assisted as to be able to contend successfully against the three great houses of Bourbon, Habsburg, and Romanoff, and a horde of lesser dynasties, but British armies, at Minden and Creveldt, renewed on the fields of the continent recollections of the island skill and the island courage. Then was a new spirit breathed into the British marine, by which it has ever since been animated, and which has seldom stopped to count odds. Then began that dashing course of enterprise which gave almost everything to England that was assailable, from Goree to Cuba, and from Cuba to the Philippines. Then was laid the foundation of that Oriental dominion of England which has been the object of so much wonder, and of not a little envy; for on the 23rd of June, 1757, was fought the battle of Plassey, the first of those many Indian victories that illustrate the names of Clive, Coote, Wellesley, Gough, Napier, and numerous other heroes. It seems odd, that the interest in Indian affairs should have been suddenly and strangely revived in the hundredth year after the victory that laid Bengal at the feet of an English adventurer. Had the insurgent Sepoys delayed action but a few weeks, they might have inaugurated their movement on the very centennial anniversary of the birth of British India.