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Thoughts On The Late Transactions Respecting Falkland’s Islands. 1771.
by [?]

[The following thoughts were published in 1771; from materials furnished to the author by the ministry. His description of the miseries of war is most eloquently persuasive, and his invectives against the opposition, and their mysterious champion, abound with the most forcible and poignant satire. In a letter to Mr. Langton, from Johnson, we find that lord North stopped the sale, before many copies had been dispersed. Johnson avowed to his friend, that he did not distinctly know the reason of the minister’s conduct; but, in all probability, it was dictated by a dread of the effects of unqualified asperity, and, accordingly, in the second edition, many of the more violent expressions were softened down or expunged. It has been thought, by some, that Dr. Johnson rated the value of the Falkland islands to England too low.–ED.]

To proportion the eagerness of contest to its importance seems too hard a task for human wisdom. The pride of wit has kept ages busy in the discussion of useless questions, and the pride of power has destroyed armies, to gain or to keep unprofitable possessions.

Not, many years have passed, since the cruelties of war were filling the world with terrour and with sorrow; rage was at last appeased, or strength exhausted, and, to the harassed nations peace was restored with its pleasures and its benefits. Of this state all felt the happiness, and all implored the continuance; but what continuance of happiness can be expected, when the whole system of European empire can be in danger of a new concussion, by a contention for a few spots of earth, which, in the deserts of the ocean, had almost escaped human notice, and which, if they had not happened to make a seamark, had, perhaps, never had a name!

Fortune often delights to dignify what nature has neglected; and that renown which cannot be claimed by intrinsick excellence or greatness, is, sometimes, derived from unexpected accidents. The Rubicon was ennobled by the passage of Caesar, and the time is now come, when Falkland’s islands demand their historian.

But the writer, to whom this employment shall be assigned, will have few opportunities of descriptive splendour, or narrative elegance. Of other countries it is told, how often they have changed their government; these islands have, hitherto, changed only their name. Of heroes to conquer, or legislators to civilize, here has been no appearance; nothing has happened to them, but that they have been, sometimes, seen by wandering navigators, who passed by them in search of better habitations.

When the Spaniards, who, under the conduct of Columbus, discovered America, had taken possession of its most wealthy regions, they surprised and terrified Europe, by a sudden and unexampled influx of riches. They were made, at once, insupportably insolent, and might, perhaps, have become irresistibly powerful, had not their mountainous treasures been scattered in the air, with the ignorant profusion of unaccustomed opulence.

The greater part of the European potentates saw this stream of riches flowing into Spain, without attempting to dip their own hands in the golden fountain. France had no naval skill or power; Portugal was extending her dominions in the east, over regions formed in the gaiety of nature; the Hanseatick league, being planned only for the security of traffick, had no tendency to discovery or invasion; and the commercial states of Italy, growing rich by trading between Asia and Europe, and not lying upon the ocean, did not desire to seek, by great hazards, at a distance, what was, almost at home, to be found with safety.

The English, alone, were animated by the success of the Spanish navigators, to try if any thing was left that might reward adventure, or incite appropriation. They sent Cabot into the north, but in the north there was no gold or silver to be found. The best regions were pre-occupied, yet they still continued their hopes and their labours. They were the second nation that dared the extent of the Pacifick ocean, and the second circumnavigators of the globe.