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[See larger version]Lord William Bentinck, after having retired to Alicante, once more returned to Tarragona, and made himself master of that place. Attempting further advantages in this country, he was compelled to fall back on Tarragona with considerable loss. He then returned to Sicily, and General Clinton took the command of the forces, and strengthened the defences of the post. At the same time news arrived of the retreat of Buonaparte from Russia and the rising of Germany, which compelled Suchet to disarm his German regiments, and march them into France under guard. He had also to send some of his best French troops to recruit Buonaparte's decimated army, and the Italian ones to resist the Austrians in Italy, who were once more in motion through the Alps. In these circumstances the campaign in the south-east of Spain closed for the year.
The year 1823 opened auspiciously, and continued to exhibit unequivocal marks of progressive prosperity. Every branch of manufacturing industry was in a flourishing state. The cotton trade was unusually brisk. There was a considerable increase in the quantity of silks and woollens manufactured; and in consequence of augmenting exportation, the demand for hardware and cutlery was quickened from the state of stagnation in which it had remained since the conclusion of the war. The shipping interest, which had been greatly depressed, fully shared in the general improvement. The agriculturists, however, were still embarrassed and discontented. In January no less than sixteen English counties had sent requisitions to their sheriffs to call meetings to consider the causes of their distresses. The principal remedies proposed were reduction of taxation; reform of the House of Commons; depreciation of the currency; commutation of tithes; and appropriation of the redundant wealth of the Church to public exigencies. At the Norwich meeting a series of resolutions was proposed and seconded by the gentry of the county, but they were rejected and put aside on the motion of Mr. Cobbett, who read a petition which was adopted with acclamation. It recommended an appropriation of part of the Church property to the payment of the public debt; a reduction of the standing army; an abolition of sinecures and undeserved pensions; the sale of the Crown lands; an equitable adjustment of contracts; the suspension of all legal processes for one year for the recovery of rents and tithes; and the repeal of the taxes on malt, soap, leather, hops, and candles.
It was one of the most interesting scenes in any warfare; and there was not a man who did not enjoy the astonishment and disappointment of the French when, on the 11th, they marched in wonder up to the foot of these giant fortifications. Wellington had doubly obtained his wish; for he was not only safely ensconced in his strong position, but the rainy season which he was anticipating had set in in earnest. The main body of the French had been detained by the bad roads and the floods, and now, when the proud general, who expected so rapidly to drive the British into the sea, surveyed the scarped cliffs bristling with cannon and with bayonets far above him, his astonishment was evident. He rode along the foot of the hills for several days reconnoitreing the whole position, which seemed suddenly to have altered the situation of the combatants, and not so much to have shut up Wellington and his army in Lisbon, as to have shut him and his numerous one out to famine and the wintry elements.