With a few hundred English and sepoys he pushed through a thunderstorm to the surprise of Arcot, the Nabob's capital, entrenched himself in its enormous fort, and held it for fifty days against thousands of assailants. Moved by his gallantry, the Mahrattas, who had never believed that Englishmen would fight before, advanced and broke up the siege; but Clive was no sooner freed than he showed equal vigour in the field. At the head of raw recruits who ran away at the first sound of a gun, and sepoys who hid themselves as soon as the cannon opened fire, he twice attacked and defeated the French and their Indian allies, foiled every effort of Dupleix, and razed to the ground a pompous pillar which the French governor had set up in honour of his earlier victories.
Clive was recalled by broken health to England, and the fortunes of the struggle in India were left for decision to a later day. But while France was struggling for the Empire of the East she was striving with even more apparent success for the command of the new world of the West. Populous as they had become, the English settlements in America still lay mainly along the sea-board of the Atlantic; for only a few exploring parties had penetrated into the Alleghanies before the Seven Years' War; and Indian tribes wandered unquestioned along the lakes. It was not till the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle that the pretensions of France drew the eyes of the colonists and of English statesmen to the interior of the Western Continent. Planted firmly in Louisiana and Canada, France openly claimed the whole country west of the Alleghanies as its own, and its governors now ordered all English settlers or merchants to be driven from the valleys of Ohio or Mississippi which were still in the hands of Indian tribes. Even the inactive Pelham revolted from pretensions such as these.
The original French settlers were driven from Acadia or Nova Scotia, and an English colony founded the settlement of Halifax. An Ohio Company was formed, and its agents made their way to the valleys of that river and the Kentucky; while envoys from Virginia and Pennsylvania drew closer the alliance between their colonies and the Indian tribes across the mountains. Nor were the French slow to accept the challenge. Fighting began in Acadia. A vessel of war appeared in Ontario, and Niagara was turned into a fort. A force of 1,200 men despatched to Erie drove the few English settlers from their little colony on the fork of the Ohio, and founded there a fort called Duquesne, on the site of the later Pittsburg. The fort at once gave this force command of the river valley. After a fruitless attack on it under George Washington, a young Virginian, the colonists were forced to withdraw over the mountains, and the whole of the west was left in the hands of France. The bulk of the Indian tribes from Canada as far as the Mississippi attached themselves to the French cause, and the value of their aid was shown in 1755, when General Braddock led a force of English soldiers and American militia to an attack upon Fort Duquesne. The force was utterly routed and Brad-dock slain.
The Marquis of Montcalm, who in 1756 commanded the French forces in Canada, was gifted with singular powers of administration. He carried out with even more zeal than his predecessor the plans of annexation; and the three forts of Duquesne on the Ohio, of Niagara on the St. Lawrence, and of Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, were linked together by a chain of lesser forts, which cut off the English colonists from all access to the west. The defeat of Braddock had already roused England to its danger, for it was certain that war in America would be followed by war in Europe. The ministers looked on a league with Prussia, as the only means of checking France; but Frederick held cautiously aloof, while the advances of England to Prussia only served to alienate Maria Theresa, whose one desire was to regain Silesia. The two powers of the House of Bourbon were still bound by the Family Compact; and as early as 1752 Maria Theresa by a startling change of policy drew to their alliance. The jealousy which Russia entertained of the growth of a strong power in North Germany brought the Czarina Elizabeth to promise aid to the schemes of the Queen of Hungary; and in 1755 the league of the four powers and of Saxony was practically completed.
So secret were these negotiations that they remained unknown to Henry Pelham and to his brother the Duke of Newcastle, who succeeded him on his death in 1754 as the head of the Ministry. But they were detected from the first by the keen eye of Frederick of Prussia, who saw himself fronted by a line of foes that stretched from Paris to St. Petersburg.
The danger to England was hardly less; for France appeared again on the stage with a vigour and audacity which recalled the days of Lewis the Fourteenth. The weakness and corruption of the French government were screened for a time by the daring and scope of its plans, as by the ability of the agents it found to carry them out. In England, on the contrary, all was vagueness and indecision. It was not till the close of the year that a treaty was at last concluded with the Prussian King. With this treaty between England and Frederick began the Seven Years' War. No war has had greater results on the history of the world or brought greater triumphs to England; but few have had more disastrous beginnings. Newcastle was too weak and ignorant to rule without aid, and yet too greedy of power to purchase aid by sharing it with more capable men. His preparations for the gigantic struggle before him may be guessed from the fact that there were but three regiments fit for service in England at the opening of 1756. France, on the other hand, was quick in her attack. Port Mahon in Minorca, the key of the Mediterranean, was besieged by the Duke of Richelieu and forced to capitulate.
To complete the shame of England, a fleet sent to its relief under Admiral Byng retreated before the French. In Germany Frederick seized Dresden at the outset of the war and forced the Saxon army to surrender; and in 1757 a victory at Prague made him master for a while of Bohemia; but his success was transient, and a defeat at Kolin drove him to retreat again into Saxony. In the same year the Duke of Cumberland, who had taken post on the Weser with an army of fifty thousand men for the defence of Hanover, fell back before a French army to the mouth of the Elbe, and engaged by the Convention of Closter-Seven to disband his forces. In America things went even worse than in Germany. The inactivity of the English generals was contrasted with the genius and activity of Montcalm. Already masters of the Ohio by the defeat of Braddock, the French drove the English garrison from the forts which commanded Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain, and their empire stretched without a break over the vast territory from Louisiana to the St. Lawrence. A despondency without parallel in our history took possession of our coolest statesmen, and even the impassive Chesterfield cried in despair, "We are no longer a nation".