The alarm of the Continental Powers had been brought to a head by Napoleon's annexation of Genoa; Pitt's subsidies had removed the last obstacle in the way of a league; and Russia, Austria, and Sweden joined in an alliance to wrest Italy and the Low Countries from the grasp of the French Emperor. Napoleon meanwhile swept the sea in vain for a glimpse of the great armament whose assembly in the Channel he had so skilfully planned. Admiral Villeneuve, uniting the Spanish ships with his own squadron from Toulon, drew Nelson in pursuit to the West Indies, and then, suddenly returning to Cadiz, hastened to form a junction with the French squadron at Brest and crush the English fleet in the Channel. But a headlong pursuit brought Nelson up with him ere the manoeuvre was complete, and the two fleets met on the 21 st of October, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar. "England," ran Nelson's famous signal, "expects every man to do his duty;" and though he fell himself in the hour of victory, twenty French sail had struck their flag ere the day was done. "England has saved herself by her courage," Pitt said in what were destined to be his last public words: "she will save Europe by her example!" But even before the victory of Trafalgar Napoleon had abandoned the dream of invading England to meet the coalition in his rear; and swinging round his forces on the Danube he forced an Austrian army to capitulation in Ulm three days before his naval defeat.
From Ulm he marched on Vienna, and crushed the combined armies of Austria and Russia in the battle of Austerlitz. "Austerlitz," Wilberforce wrote in his diary, "killed Pitt." Though he was still but forty-seven, the hollow voice and wasted frame of the great Minister had long told that death was near; and the blow to his hopes proved fatal" Roll up that map," he said, pointing to a map of Europe which hung upon the wall: " it will not be wanted these ten years!" Once only he rallied from stupor; and those who bent over him caught a faint murmur of" My country! How I leave my country!" On the 23rd of January, 1806, he breathed his last; and was laid in Westminster Abbey in the grave of Chatham. "What grave," exclaimed Lord Wellesley, "contains such a father and such a son! What sepulchre embosoms the remains of so much human excellence and glory!"
So great was felt to be the loss that nothing but the union of parties, which Pitt had in vain desired during his lifetime, could fill up the gap left by his death. In the new Ministry Fox, with the small body of popular Whigs who were bent on peace and internal reform, united with the aristocratic Whigs under Lord Grenville and with the Tories under Lord Sidmouth. All home questions in fact were subordinated to the need of saving Europe from the ambition of France, and in the resolve to save Europe, Fox was as resolute as Pitt himself. His hopes of peace, indeed, were stronger; but they were foiled by the evasive answer which Napoleon gave to his overtures, and by a new war which he undertook against Prussia, the one power which seemed able to resist his arms. On the 14th of October, 1806, a decisive victory at Jena laid North Germany at Napoleon's feet. Death only a month before saved Fox from witnessing the overthrow of his hopes; and his loss weakened the Grenville Cabinet at the opening of a new and more desperate struggle with France. Napoleon's earlier attempt at the enforcement of a Continental System had broken down with the failure of the Northern League; but in his mastery of Europe he now saw a more effective means of realizing his dream; and he was able to find a pretext for his new attack in England's own action.
By a violent stretch of her rights as a combatant she had declared the whole coast occupied by France and its allies, from Dantzig to Trieste, to be in a state of blockade. It was impossible to enforce such a " paper blockade," even with the immense force at her disposal; and Napoleon seized on the opportunity to retaliate by the entire exclusion f British commerce from the Continent, an exclusion which he trusted would end the war by the ruin it would bring on the English manufacturers. A decree was issued from Berlin which - without a single ship to carry it out - placed the British Islands in a state of blockade. All commerce or communication with them was prohibited; all English goods or manufactures found in the territory of France or its allies were declared liable to confiscation; and their harbours were closed, not only against vessels coming from Britain, but against all who had touched at her ports. The attempt to enforce such a system was foiled indeed by the rise of a widespread contraband trade, by the reluctance of Holland to aid in its own ruin, by the connivance of officials along the Prussian and Russian shores, and by the pressure of facts.
It was impossible even for Napoleon himself to do without the goods he pretended to exclude; an immense system of licences soon neutralized his decree; and the French army which marched to Eylau was clad in great-coats made at Leeds, and shod with shoes made at Northampton. But if it failed to destroy British industry, it told far more fatally on British commerce. Trade began to move from English vessels, which were subject to instant confiscation, and to pass into the hands of neutrals, and especially of the Americans. The merchant class called on the Government to protect it, and it was to this appeal that the Grenville Ministry replied in January, 1807, by an Order in Council which declared all the ports of the coast of France and her allies under blockade, and any neutral vessels trading between them to be good prize. Such a step was far from satisfying the British merchants. But their appeal was no longer to Lord Grenville. The forces of ignorance and bigotry which had been too strong for Pitt were too strong for the Grenville Ministry. Its greatest work, the abolition of the slave trade, in February, was done in the teeth of a vigorous opposition from the Tories and the merchants of Liverpool; and in March the first indication of its desire to open the question of religious equality by allowing Catholic officers to serve in the army was met on the part of the King by the demand of a pledge not to meddle with the question.