1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pitt, William
PITT, WILLIAM (1759-1806), English statesman, the second son of William Pitt, earl of Chatham, and of Lady Hester Grenville, daughter of Hester, Countess Temple, was born at Hayes, near Bromley, Kent, on the 28th of May 1759. The child inherited a name which, at the time of his birth, was the most illustrious in the civilized world, and was pronounced by every Englishman with pride, and by every enemy of England with mingled admiration and terror. During the first year of his life every month had its illuminations and bonfires, and every wind brought some messenger charged with joyful tidings and hostile standards. In Westphalia the English infantry won a great battle which arrested the armies of Louis XV. in the midst of a career of conquest; Boscawen defeated one French fleet on the coast of Portugal; Hawke put to flight another in the Bay of Biscay; Johnson took Niagara; Amherst took Ticonderoga; Wolfe died by the most enviable of deaths under the walls of Quebec; Clive destroyed a Dutch armament in the Hugli, and established the English supremacy in Bengal; Coote routed Lally at Wandewash, and established the English supremacy in the Carnatic. The nation, while loudly applauding the successful warriors, considered them all, on sea and on land, in Europe, in America, and in Asia, merely as instruments which received their direction from one superior mind. It was the great William Pitt who had vanquished the French marshals in Germany and French admirals on the Atlantic — who had conquered for his country one great empire on the frozen shores of Ontario and another under the tropical sun near the mouths of the Ganges. It was not in the nature of things that popularity such as he at this time enjoyed should be permanent. That popularity had lost its gloss before his children were old enough to understand that the earl of Chatham was a great man. The energy and decision which had eminently fitted him for the direction of war were not needed in time of peace. The lofty and spirit-stirring eloquence which had made him supreme in the House of Commons often fell dead on the House of Lords. Chatham was only the ruin of Pitt, but an awful and majestic ruin, not to be contemplated by any man of sense and feeling without emotions resembling those which are excited by the remains of the Parthenon and of the Colosseum. In one respect the old statesman was eminently happy. Whatever might be the vicissitudes of his public life, he never failed to find peace and love by his own hearth. He loved all his children, and was loved by them; and of all his children the one of whom he was fondest and proudest was his second son.
The child's genius and ambition displayed themselves with a rare and almost unnatural precocity. At seven the interest Early Life. which he took in grave subjects, the ardour with which he pursued his studies, and the sense and vivacity of his remarks on books and on events amazed his parents and instructors. One of his sayings of this date was reported to his mother by his tutor. In August 1766, when the world was agitated by the news that Mr Pitt had become earl of Chatham, little William exclaimed, “I am glad that I am not the eldest son. I want to speak in the House of Commons like papa.” At fourteen the lad was in intellect a man. Hayley, who met him at Lyme in the summer of 1773, was astonished, delighted, and somewhat overawed, by hearing wit and wisdom from so young a mouth. The boy himself had already written a tragedy, bad, of course, but not worse than the tragedies of his friend. This piece (still preserved) is in some respects highly curious. There is no love. The whole plot is political; and it is remarkable that the interest, such as it is, turns on a contest about a regency. On one side is a faithful servant of the Crown, on the other an ambitious and unprincipled conspirator. At length the king, who had been missing, reappears, resumes his power, and rewards the fathful defender of his rights. A reader who should judge only by internal evidence would have no hesitation in pronouncing that the play was written by some Pittite poetaster at the time of the rejoicings for the recovery of George III. in 1789.
The pleasure with which William's parents observed the rapid development of his intellectual powers was alloyed by apprehensions about his health. He shot up alarmingly fast; he was often ill, and always weak; and it was feared that it would be impossible to rear a stripling so tall, so slender, and so feeble. Port wine was prescribed by his medical advisers; and it is said that he was, at fourteen, accustomed to take this agreeable physic in quantities which would, in our more abstemious age, be thought much more than sufficient for any full-grown man. It was probably on account of the delicacy of his frame that he was not educated like other boys of the same rank. Almost all the eminent English statesmen and orators to whom he was afterwards opposed or allied North, Fox, Shelburne, Windham, Grey, Wellesley, Grenville, Sheridan, Canning went through the training of great public schools. Lord Chatham had himself been a distinguished Etonian; and it is seldom that a distinguished Etonian forgets his obligations to Eton. But William's infirmities required a vigilance and tenderness such as could be found only at home. He was therefore bred under the paternal roof. His studies were superintended by a clergyman named Wilson; and those studies, though often interrupted by illness, were prosecuted with extraordinary success. He was sent, towards the close of the year 1773, to Pembroke Hall, in the university of Cambridge. The governor to whom the direction of William's academical life was confided was a bachelor of arts named Pretyman, who had been senior wrangler in the preceding year, and, who though not a man of prepossessing appearance or brilliant parts, was eminently acute and laborious, a sound scholar, and an excellent geometrician. A close and lasting friendship sprang up between the pair. The disciple was able, before he completed his twenty-eighth year, to make his preceptor bishop of Lincoln and dean of St Paul's; and the preceptor showed his gratitude by writing a life of the disciple, which enjoys the distinction of being the worst biographical work of its size in the world. Pitt, till he graduated, had scarcely one acquaintance, attended chapel regularly morning and evening, dined every day in hall, and never went to a single evening party. At seventeen he was admitted, after the fashion of those times, by right of birth, without any examination, to the degree of master of arts. But he continued during some years to reside at college, and to apply himself vigorously, under Pretyman's direction, to the studies of the place, while mixing freely in the best academic society.
The stock of learning which Pitt laid in during this part of his life was certainly very extraordinary. The work in which he took the greatest delight was Newton's Principia. His liking for mathematics, indeed, amounted to a passion, which, in the opinion of his instructors, themselves distinguished mathematicians, required to be checked rather than encouraged. Nor was the youth's proficiency in classical learning less remarkable. In one respect, indeed, he appeared to disadvantage when compared with even second-rate and third-rate men from public schools. He had never, while under Wilson's care, been in the habit of composing in the ancient languages; and he therefore never acquired the knack of versification. It would have been utterly out of his power to produce such charming elegiac lines as those in which Wellesley bade farewell to Eton, or such Virgilian hexameters as those in which Canning described the pilgrimage to Mecca. But it may be doubted whether any scholar has ever, at twenty, had a more solid and profound knowledge of the two great tongues of the old civilized world. He had set his heart on being intimately acquainted with all the extant poetry of Greece, and was not satisfied till he had mastered Lycophron's Cassandra.
To modern literature Pitt paid comparatively little attention. He knew no living language except French; and French he knew very imperfectly. With a few of the best English writers he was intimate, particularly with Shakespeare and Milton. The debate in Pandemonium was, as it well deserved to be, one of his favourite passages; and his early friends used to talk, long after his death, of the just emphasis and the melodious cadence with which they had heard him recite the incomparable speech of Belial, He had indeed been carefully trained from infancy in the art of managing his voice, a voice naturally clear and deep-toned. At a later period the wits of Brookes's, irritated by observing, night after night, how powerfully Pitt's sonorous elocution fascinated the rows of country gentlemen, reproached him with having been “taught by his dad on a stool”.
His education, indeed, was well adapted to form a great parliamentary speaker. The classical studies of Pitt had the effect of enriching his English vocabulary, and of making him wonderfully expert in the art of constructing correct English sentences. His practice was to look over a page or two of a Greek or Latin author, to make himself master of the meaning, and then to read the passage straight forward into his own language. This practice, begun under his first teacher Wilson, was continued under Pretyman. Of all the remains of antiquity, the orations were those on which he bestowed the most minute examination. His favourite employment was to compare harangues on opposite sides of the same question, to analyse them, and to observe which of the arguments of the first speaker were refuted by the second, which were evaded, and which were left untouched. Nor was it only in books that he at this time studied the art of parliamentary fencing. When he was at home he had frequent opportunities of hearing important debates at Westminster; and he heard them, not only with interest and enjoyment, but with close scientific attention. On one of these occasions Pitt, a youth whose abilities were as yet known only to his own family and to a small knot of college friends, was introduced on the steps of the throne in the House of Lords to Fox, his senior by eleven years, who was already the greatest debater, and one of the greatest orators, that had appeared in England. Fox used afterwards to relate that, as the discussion proceeded, Pitt repeatedly turned to him, and said, “But surely, Mr Fox, that might be met thus,” or “Yes; but he lays himself open to this retort.” What the particular criticisms were Fox had forgotten; but he said that he was much struck at the time by the precocity of a lad who, through the whole sitting, seemed to be thinking only how all the speeches on both sides could be answered.
He had not quite completed his nineteenth year when, on the 7th of April 1778, he attended his father to Westminster. A great debate was expected. It was known that France had recognized the independence of the United States. The duke of Richmond was about to declare his opinion that all thought of subjugating those states ought to be relinquished. Chatham had always maintained that the resistance of the colonies to the mother country was justifiable. But he conceived, very erroneously, that on the day on which their independence should be acknowledged the greatness of England would be at an end. Though sinking under the weight of years and infirmities, he determined, in spite of the entreaties of his family, to be in his place. His son supported him to a seat. The excitement and exertion were too much for the old man. In the very act of addressing the peers, he fell back in convulsions. A few weeks later his corpse was borne, with gloomy pomp, from the Painted Chamber to the Abbey. The favourite child and namesake of the deceased statesman followed the coffin as chief mourner, and saw it deposited in the transept where his own was destined to lie. His elder brother, now earl of Chatham, had means sufficient, and barely sufficient, to support the dignity of the peerage. The other members of the family were poorly provided for. William had little more than £300 a year. It was necessary for him to follow a profession. He had already begun to “eat his terms.” In the spring of 1780 he came of age. He then quitted Cambridge, was called to the bar, took chambers in Lincoln's Inn, and joined the western circuit. In the autumn of that year a general election took place; and he offered himself as a candidate for the university; but he was at the bottom of the poll. He was, however, at the request of an hereditary friend, the duke of Rutland, brought into parliament by Sir James Lowther for the borough of Appleby.
The dangers of the country were at that time such as might well have disturbed even a constant mind. Army after army Parliament, 1780. had been sent in vain against the rebellious colonists of North America. Meanwhile the house of Bourbon, humbled to the dust a few years before by the genius and vigour of Chatham, had seized the opportunity of revenge. France and Spain had united against England, and had recently been joined by Holland. The command of the Mediterranean had been for a time lost. The British flag had been scarcely able to maintain itself in the British Channel. The northern powers professed neutrality; but their neutrality had a menacing aspect. In the East, Hyder Ali had descended on the Carnatic, had destroyed the little army of Baillie, and had spread terror even to the ramparts of Fort St George. The discontents of Ireland threatened nothing less than civil war. In England the authority of Lord North'r government had sunk to the lowest point. The king and the House of Commons were alike unpopular. The cry for parliamentary reform was scarcely less loud and vehement than afterwards in 1830.
The Opposition consisted of two parties which had once been hostile to each other, but at this conjuncture seemed to act together with cordiality. The larger of these parties consisted of the great body of the Whig aristocracy, headed by Charles, marquess of Rockingham. In the House of Commons the adherents of Rockingham were led by Fox, whose dissipated habits and ruined fortunes were the talk of the whole town, but whose commanding genius, and whose sweet, generous and affectionate disposition, extorted the admiration and love of those who most lamented the errors of his private life. Burke, superior to Fox in largeness of comprehension, in extent of knowledge, and in splendour of imagination, but less skilled in that kind of logic and in that kind of rhetoric which convince and persuade great assemblies, was willing to be the lieutenant of a young chief who might have been his son. A smaller section of the Opposition was composed of the old followers of Chatham. At their head was William, earl of Shelburne, distinguished both as a statesman and as a lover of science and letters. With him were leagued Lord Camden, who had formerly held the Great Seal, and whose integrity, ability and constitutional knowledge commanded the public respect; Barre, an eloquent and acrimonious declaimer; and Dunning, who had long held the first place at the English bar. It was to this party that Pitt was naturally attracted.
On the 26th of February 1781 he made his first speech in favour of Burke's plan of economical reform. Fox stood up at the same moment, but instantly gave way. The lofty yet animated deportment of the young member, his perfect self-possession, the readiness with which he replied to the orators who had preceded him, the silver tones of his voice, the perfect structure of his unpremeditated sentences, astonished and delighted his hearers. Burke, moved even to tears, exclaimed, “It is not a chip of the old block; it is the old block itself.” “Pitt will be one of the first men in parliament,” said a member of the Opposition to Fox. “He is so already,” answered Fox, in whose nature envy had no place. Soon after this debate Pitt's name was put up by Fox at Brookes's Club. On two subsequent occasions during that session Pitt addressed the house, and on both fully sustained the reputation which he had acquired on his first appearance. In the summer, after the prorogation, he again went the western circuit, held several briefs, and acquitted himself in such a manner that he was highly complimented by Buller from the bench, and by Dunning at the bar.
On the 27th of November the parliament reassembled. Only forty-eight hours before had arrived tidings of the surrender of Cornwallis and his army. In the debate on the report of the address Pitt spoke with even more energy and brilliancy than on any former occasion. He was warmly applauded by his allies; but it was remarked that no person on his own side of the house was so loud in eulogy as Henry Dundas, the lord advocate of Scotland, who spoke from the ministerial ranks. From that night dates his connexion with Pitt, a connexion which soon became a close intimacy, and which lasted till it was dissolved by death. About a fortnight later Pitt spoke in the committee of supply on the army estimates. Symptoms of dissension had begun to appear on the treasury bench. Lord George Germaine, the secretary of state who was especially charged with the direction of the war in America, had held language not easily to be reconciled with declarations made by the first lord of the treasury. Pitt noticed the discrepancy with much force and keenness. Lord George and Lord North began to whisper together; and Welbore Ellis, an ancient placeman who had been drawing salary almost every quarter since the days of Henry Pelham, bent down between them to put in a word. Such interruptions sometimes discompose veteran speakers. Pitt stopped, and, looking at the group, said with admirable readiness, “I shall wait till Nestor has composed the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles.” After several defeats, or victories hardly to be distinguished from defeats, the ministry resigned. The king, reluctantly and ungraciously, consented to accept Rockingham as first minister. Fox and Shelburne became secretaries of state. Lord John Cavendish, one of the most upright and honourable of men, was made chancellor of the exchequer. Thurlow, whose abilities and force of character had made him the dictator of the House of Lords, continued to hold the Great Seal. To Pitt was offered, through Shelburne, the vice-treasurership of Ireland, one of the easiest and most highly paid places in the gift of the Crown; but the offer was without hesitation declined. The young statesman had resolved to accept no post which did not entitle him to a seat in the cabinet; and a few days later (March 1782) he announced that resolution in the House of Commons.
Pitt gave a general support to the administration of Rockingham, but omitted, in the meantime, no opportunity of courting that ultra-Whig party which the persecution of Wilkes and the Middlesex election had called into existence, and which the disastrous events of the war, and the triumph of republican principles in America, had made formidable both in numbers and in temper. He supported a motion for shortening the duration of parliaments. He made a motion for a committee to examine into the state of the representation, and, in the speech (May 7, 1782) by which that motion was introduced, avowed himself the enemy of the close boroughs, the strongholds of that corruption to which he attributed all the calamities of the nation, and which, as he phrased it in one of those exact and sonorous sentences of which he had a boundless command, had grown with the growth of England and strengthened with her strength, but had not diminished with her diminution or decayed with her decay. On this occasion he was supported by Fox. The motion was lost by only twenty votes in a house of more than three hundred members. The Reformers never again had so good a division till the year 1831.
The new administration was strong in abilities, and was more popular than any administration which had held office since Office, 1782. the first year of George III., but was hated by the king, hesitatingly supported by the parliament, and torn by internal dissensions. It was all that Rockingham could do to keep the peace in his cabinet; and before the cabinet had existed three months Rockingham died. In an instant all was confusion. The adherents of the deceased statesman looked on the duke of Portland as their chief. The king placed Shelburne at the head of the treasury. Fox, Lord John Cavendish, and Burke immediately resigned their offices; and the new prime minister was left to constitute a government out of very defective materials. It was necessary to find some member of the House of Commons who could confront the great orators of the Opposition; and Pitt alone had the eloquence and the courage which were required. He was offered the great place of chancellor of the exchequer and he accepted it (July 1782). He had scarcely completed his twenty-third year.
The parliament was speedily prorogued. During the recess a negotiation for peace which had been commenced under Rockingham was brought to a successful termination. England acknowledged the independence of her revolted colonies; and she ceded to her European enemies some places in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf of Mexico. But the terms which she obtained were quite as advantageous and honourable as the events of the war entitled her to expect, or as she was likely to obtain by persevering in a contest against immense odds. There is not the slightest reason to believe that Fox, if he had remained in office, would have hesitated one moment about concluding a treaty on such conditions. Unhappily Fox was, at this crisis, hurried by his passions into an error which made his genius and his virtues, during a long course of years, almost useless to his country. He saw that the great body of the House of Commons was divided into three parties — his own, that of North, and that of Shelburne; that none of those three parties was large enough to stand alone; that, therefore, unless two of them united there must be a miserably feeble administration, or, more probably, a rapid succession of miserably feeble administrations, and this at a time when a strong government was essential to the prosperity and respectability of the nation. It was then necessary and right that there should be a coalition. To every possible coalition there were objections. But of all possible coalitions that to which there were the fewest objections was undoubtedly a coalition between Shelburne and Fox. It would have been generally applauded by the followers of both. It might have been made without any sacrifice of public principle on the part of either. Unhappily, recent bickerings had left in the mind of Fox a profound dislike and distrust of Shelburne. Pitt attempted to mediate, and was authorized to invite Fox to return to the service of the Crown. “Is Lord Shelburne,” said Fox, “to remain prime minister?” Pitt answered in the affirmative. “It is impossible that I can act under him,” said Fox. “Then negotiation is at an end,” said Pitt; “for I cannot betray him.” Thus the two statesmen parted. They were never again in a private room together. As Fox and his friends would not treat with Shelburne, nothing remained to them but to treat with North. That fatal coalition which is emphatically called “The Coalition” was formed. Not three-quarters of a year had elapsed since Fox and Burke had threatened North with impeachment, and had described him night after night as the most arbitrary, the most corrupt, and the most incapable of ministers. They now allied themselves with him for the purpose of driving from office a statesman with whom they cannot be said to have differed as to any important question. Nor had they even the prudence and the patience to wait for some occasion on which they might, without inconsistency, have combined with their old enemies in opposition to the government. That nothing might be wanting to the scandal, the great orators who had, during seven years, thundered against the war determined to join with the authors of that war in passing a vote of censure on the peace.
The parliament met before Christmas 1782. But it was not till January 1783 that the preliminary treaties were signed. On the 17th of February they were taken into consideration by the House of Commons. There had been, during some days, floating rumours that Fox and North had coalesced; and the debate indicated but too clearly that those rumours were not unfounded. Pitt was suffering from indisposition — he did not rise till his own strength and that of his hearers were exhausted; and he was consequently less successful than on any former occasion. His admirers owned that his speech was feeble and petulant. He so far forgot himself as to advise Sheridan to confine himself to amusing theatrical audiences. This ignoble sarcasm gave Sheridan an opportunity of retorting with great felicity. “After what I have seen and heard to-night,” he said, “I really feel strongly tempted to venture on a competition with so great an artist as Ben Jonson, and to bring on the stage a second Angry Boy.” On a division, the address proposed by the supporters of the government was rejected by a majority of sixteen. But Pitt was not a man to be disheartened by a single failure, or to be put down by the most lively repartee. When, a few days later, the Opposition proposed a resolution directly censuring the treaties, he spoke with an eloquence, energy and dignity which raised his fame and popularity higher than ever. To the coalition of Fox and North he alluded in language which drew forth tumultuous applause from his followers. “If,” he said, “this ill-omened and unnatural marriage be not yet consummated, I know of a just and lawful impediment; and, in the name of the public weal, I forbid the banns.” The ministers were again left in a minority, and Shelburne consequently tendered his resignation (March 31, 1783). It was accepted; but the king struggled long and hard before he submitted to the terms dictated by Fox, whose faults he detested, and whose high spirit and powerful intellect he detested still more. The first place at the board of treasury was repeatedly offered to Pitt; but the offer, though tempting, was steadfastly declined. The king, bitterly complaining of Pitt's faintheartedness, tried to break the coalition. Every art of seduction was practised on North, but in vain. During several weeks the country remained without a government. It was not till all devices had failed, and till the aspect of the House of Commons became threatening, that the king gave way. The duke of Portland was declared first lord of the treasury. Thurlow was dismissed. Fox and North became secretaries of state, with power ostensibly equal. But Fox was the real prime minister. The year was far advanced before the new arrangements were completed; and nothing very important was done during the remainder of the session. Pitt, now seated on the Opposition Bench, brought the question of parliamentary reform a second time (May 7, 1783) under the consideration of the Commons. He proposed to add to the house at once a hundred county members and several members for metropolitan districts, and to enact that every borough of which an election committee should report that the majority of voters appeared to be corrupt should lose the franchise. The motion was rejected by 293 votes to 149.
After the prorogation Pitt visited the Continent for the first and last time. His travelling companion was one of his most intimate friends, William Wilberforce. That was the time of Anglomania in France; and at Paris the son of the great Chatham was absolutely hunted by men of letters and women of fashion, and forced, much against his will, into political disputation. One remarkable saying which dropped from him during this tour has been preserved. A French gentleman expressed some surprise at the immense influence which Fox, a man of pleasure, ruined by the dice-box and the turf, exercised over the English nation. “You have not,” said Pitt, “been under the wand of the magician.”
In November 1783 the parliament met again. The government had irresistible strength in the House of Commons, and seemed to be scarcely less strong in the House of Lords, but was, in truth, surrounded on every side by dangers. The king was impatiently waiting for the moment at which he could emancipate himself from a yoke which galled him so severely that he had more than once seriously thought of retiring to Hanover; and the king was scarcely more eager for a change than the nation. Fox and North had committed a fatal error. They ought to have known that coalitions between parties which have long been hostile can succeed only when the wish for coalition pervades the lower ranks of both. At the beginning of 1783 North had been the recognized head of the old Tory party, which, though for a moment prostrated by the disastrous issue of the American war, was still a great power in the state. Fox had, on the other hand, been the idol of the Whigs, and of the whole body of Protestant dissenters. The coalition at once alienated the most zealous Tories from North and the most zealous Whigs from Fox. Two great multitudes were at once left without any head, and both at once turned their eyes on Pitt. One party saw in him the only man who could rescue the king; the other saw in him the only man who could purify the parliament. He was supported on one side by Archbishop Markham, the preacher of divine right, and by Jenkinson, the captain of the praetorian band of the king's friends; on the other side by Jebb and Priestley, Sawbridge and Cartwright, Jack Wilkes and Home Tooke. On the benches of the House of Commons, however, the ranks of the ministerial majority were unbroken; and that any statesman would venture to brave such a majority was thought impossible. No prince of the Hanoverian line had ever, under any provocation, ventured to appeal from the representative body to the constituent body. The ministers, therefore, notwithstanding the sullen looks and muttered words of displeasure with which their suggestions were received in the closet, notwithstanding the roar of obloquy which was rising louder and louder every day from every corner of the island, thought themselves secure. Such was their confidence in their strength that, as soon as the parliament had met, they brought forward a singularly bold and original plan for the government of the British territories in India. What was proposed in Fox's India bill was that the whole authority which till that time had been exercised over those territories by the East India Company should be transferred to seven commissioners, who were to be named by parliament, and were not to be removable at the pleasure of the Crown. Earl Fitzwilliam, the most intimate personal friend of Fox, was to be chairman of this board, and the eldest son of North was to be one of the members.
As soon as the outlines of the scheme were known all the hatred which the coalition had excited burst forth with an Fox's India Bill. astounding explosion. Burke, who, whether right or wrong in the conclusions to which he came, had at least the merit of looking at the subject in the right point of view, vainly reminded his hearers of that mighty population whose daily rice might depend on a vote of the British parliament. He spoke with even more than his wonted power of thought and language, about the desolation of Rohilcund, about the spoliation of Benares, about the evil policy which had suffered the tanks of the Carnatic to go to ruin; but he could scarcely obtain a hearing. The contending parties, to their shame it must be said, would listen to none but English topics. Out of doors the cry against the ministry was almost universal. Town and country were united. Corporations exclaimed against the violation of the charter of the greatest corporation in the realm. Tories and democrats joined in pronouncing the proposed board an unconstitutional body. It was to consist of Fox's nominees. The effect of his bill was to give, not to the Crown, but to him personally, whether in office or in opposition, an enormous power, a patronage sufficient to counterbalance the patronage of the treasury and of the admiralty, and to decide the elections for fifty boroughs. He knew, it was said, that he was hateful alike to king and people; and he had devised a plan which would make him independent of both. Some nicknamed him Cromwell, and some Carlo Khan. Wilberforce, with his usual felicity of expression, and with very unusual bitterness of feeling, described the scheme as the genuine offspring of the coalition, as marked with the features of both its parents, the corruption of one and the violence of the other. In spite of all opposition, however, the bill was supported in every stage by great majorities, was rapidly passed, and was sent up to the Lords. To the general astonishment, when the second reading was moved in the upper house, the Opposition proposed an adjournment, and carried it by eighty-seven votes to seventy-nine. The cause of this strange turn of fortune was soon known. Pitt's cousin Earl Temple, had been in the royal closet, and had there been authorized to let it be known that his majesty would consider all who voted for the bill as his enemies. The ignominious commission was performed, and instantly a troop of lords of the bedchamber, of bishops who wished to be translated, and Prime Minister 1783. of Scotch peers who wished to be re-elected, made haste to change sides. On a later day the Lords rejected the bill. Fox and North were immediately directed to send their seals to the palace by their under-secretaries; and Pitt was appointed first lord of the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer (December 1783).
The general opinion was that there would be an immediate dissolution. But Pitt wisely determined to give the public feeling time to gather strength. On this point he differed from his kinsman Temple. The consequence was that Temple, who had been appointed one of the secretaries of state, resigned his office forty-eight hours after he had accepted it, and thus relieved the new government from a great load of unpopularity; for all men of sense and honour, however strong might be their dislike of the India Bill, disapproved of the manner in which that bill had been thrown out. The fame of the young prime minister preserved its whiteness. He could declare with perfect truth that, if unconstitutional machinations had been employed, he had been no party to them.
He was, however, surrounded by difficulties and dangers. In the House of Lords, indeed, he had a majority; nor could any orator of the Opposition in that assembly be considered as a match for Thurlow,who was now again chancellor, or for Camden, who cordially supported the son of his old friend Chatham. But in the other house there was not a single eminent speaker among the official men who sat round Pitt. His most useful assistant was Dundas, who, though he had not eloquence, had sense, knowledge, readiness and boldness. On the opposite benches was a powerful majority, led by Fox, who was supported by Burke, North and Sheridan. The heart of the young minister, stout as it was, almost died within him. But, whatever his internal emotions might be, his language and deportment indicated nothing but unconquerable firmness and haughty confidence in his own powers. His contest against the House of Commons lasted from the 17th of December 1783 to the 8th of March 1784. In sixteen divisions the Opposition triumphed. Again and again the king was requested to dismiss his ministers; but he was determined to go to Germany rather than yield. Pitt's resolution never wavered. The cry of the nation in his favour became vehement and almost furious. Addresses assuring him of public support came up daily from every part of the kingdom. The freedom of the city of London was presented to him in a gold box. He was sumptuously feasted in Grocers' Hall; and the shopkeepers of the Strand and Fleet Street illuminated their houses in his honour. These things could not but produce an effect within the walls of parliament. The ranks of the majority began to waver; a few passed over to the enemy; some skulked away; many were for capitulating while it was still possible to capitulate with the honours of war. Negotiations were opened with the view of forming an administration on a wide basis, but they had scarcely been opened when they were closed. The Opposition demanded, as a preliminary article of the treaty, that Pitt should resign the treasury; and with this demand Pitt steadfastly refused to comply. While the contest was raging, the clerkship of the Pells, a sinecure place for life, worth three thousand a year, and tenable with a seat in the House of Commons, became vacant. The appointment was with the chancellor of the exchequer; nobody doubted that he would appoint himself, and nobody could have blamed him if he had done so; for such sinecure offices had always been defended on the ground that they enabled a few men of eminent abilities and small incomes to live without any profession, and to devote themselves to the service of the state. Pitt, in spite of the remonstrances of his friends, gave the Pells to his father's old adherent, Colonel Barre, a man distinguished by talent and eloquence, but poor and afflicted with blindness. By this arrangement a pension which the Rockingham administration had granted to Barre was saved to the public. Pitt had his reward. No minister was ever more rancorously libelled; but even when he was known to be overwhelmed with debt, when millions were passing through his hands, when the wealthiest magnates of the realm were soliciting him for marquisates and garters, his bitterest enemies did not dare to accuse him of touching unlawful gain.
At length the hard-fought fight ended. A final remonstrance, drawn up by Burke with admirable skill, was carried on the 8th of March by a single vote in a full house. The supplies had been voted; the Mutiny Bill had been passed; and the parliament was dissolved. The popular constituent bodies all over the country were in general enthusiastic on the side of the new government. A hundred and sixty of the supporters of the coalition lost their seats. The first lord of the treasury himself came in at the head of the poll for the university of Cambridge. Wilberforce was elected knight of the great shire of York, in opposition to the whole influence of the Fitzwilliams, Cavendishes, Dundases and Saviles. In the midst of such triumphs Pitt completed his twenty-fifth year. He was now the greatest subject that England had seen during many generations. He domineered absolutely over the cabinet, and was the favourite at once of the sovereign, of the parliament and of the nation. His father had never been so powerful, nor Walpole, nor Marlborough.
Pitt's first administration (1784-1801) lasted seventeen years. That long period is divided by a strongly marked line into Pitt's First Administration. two almost exactly equal parts. The first part ended and the second began in the autumn of 1792. Throughout both parts Pitt displayed in the highest degree the talents of a parliamentary leader. During the first part he was fortunate and in many respects a skilful administrator. With the difficulties which he had to encounter during the second part he was altogether incapable of contending; but his eloquence and his perfect mastery of the tactics of the House of Commons concealed his incapacity from the multitude.
The eight years which followed the general election of 1784 were as tranquil and prosperous as any eight years in the whole history of England. Her trade increased. Her manufactures flourished. Her exchequer was full to overflowing. Very idle apprehensions were generally entertained that the public debt, though much less than a third of the debt which we now bear with ease, would be found too heavy for the strength of the nation. But Pitt succeeded in persuading first himself and then the whole nation, his opponents included, that a new sinking fund, which, so far as it differed from former sinking funds, differed for the worse, would, by virtue of some mysterious power of propagation belonging to money, put into the pocket of the public creditor great sums not taken out of the pocket of the tax-payer. The minister was almost universally extolled as the greatest of financiers. Meanwhile both the branches of the house of Bourbon found that England was as formidable an antagonist as she had ever been. France had formed a plan for reducing Holland to vassalage. But England interposed, and France receded. Spain interrupted by violence the trade of the English merchants with the regions near the Oregon. But England armed, and Spain receded. Within the island there was profound tranquillity. The king was, for the first time, popular. From the day on which Pitt was placed at the head of affairs there was an end of secret influence. Any attempt to undermine him at court, any mutinous movement among his followers in the House of Commons, was certain to be at once put down. He had only to tender his resignation and he could dictate his own terms. For he, and he alone, stood between the king and the coalition. The nation loudly applauded the king for having the wisdom to repose entire confidence in so excellent a minister. His people heartily prayed that he might long reign over them; and they prayed the more heartily because his virtues were set off to the best advantage by the vices and follies of the prince of Wales, who lived in close intimacy with the chiefs of the Opposition.
How strong this feeling was in the public mind appeared signally on one great occasion. In the autumn of 1788 the king The Regency, 1788. became insane. The Opposition, eager for office, committed the great indiscretion of asserting that the heir apparent had, by the fundamental laws of England, a right to be regent with the full powers of royalty. Pitt, on the other hand, maintained it to be the constitutional doctrine that when a sovereign is, by reason of infancy, disease or absence, incapable of exercising the regal functions, it belongs to the estates of the realm to determine who shall be the vicegerent, and with what portion of the executive authority such vicegerent shall be entrusted. A long and violent contest followed, in which Pitt was supported by the great body of the people with as much enthusiasm as during the first months of his administration. Tories with one voice applauded him for defending the sick-bed of a virtuous and unhappy sovereign against a disloyal faction and an undutiful son. Not a few Whigs applauded him for asserting the authority of parliaments and the principles of the Revolution, in opposition to a doctrine which seemed to have too much affinity with the servile theory of indefeasible hereditary right. The middle class, always zealous on the side of decency and the domestic virtues, looked forward with dismay to a reign resembling that of Charles II. That the prince of Wales must be regent nobody ventured to deny. But he and his friends were so unpopular that Pitt could, with general approbation, propose to limit the powers of the regent by restrictions to which it would have been impossible to subject a prince beloved and trusted by the country. Some interested men, fully expecting a change of administration, went over to the Opposition. But the majority, purified by these desertions, closed its ranks, and presented a more firm array than ever to the enemy. In every division Pitt was victorious. When at length, after a stormy interregnum of three months, it was announced, on the very eve of the inauguration of the regent, that the king was himself again, the nation was wild with delight. Pitt with difficulty escaped from the tumultuous kindness of an innumerable multitude which insisted on drawing his coach from St Paul's Churchyard to Downing Street. This was the moment at which his fame and fortune may be said to have reached the zenith. His influence in the closet was as great as that of Carr or Villiers had been. His dominion over the parliament was more absolute than that of Walpole or Pelham had been. He was at the same time as high in the favour of the populace as ever Wilkes or Sacheverell had been. But now the tide was on the turn. Only ten days after the triumphant procession to St Paul's, the states-general of France, after an interval of a hundred and seventy-four years, met at Versailles.
The nature of the great Revolution which followed was long very imperfectly understood in England. Burke saw much French Revolution. further than any of his contemporaries; but whatever his sagacity descried was refracted and discoloured by his passions and his imagination. More than three years elapsed before the principles of the English administration underwent any material change. Nothing could as yet be milder or more strictly constitutional than the minister's domestic policy. Not a single act indicating an arbitrary temper or a jealousy of the people could be imputed to him. In office, Pitt had redeemed the pledges which he had, at his entrance into public life, given to the supporters of parliamentary reform. He had, in 1785, brought forward a judicious plan for the representative system, and had prevailed on the king, not only to refrain from talking against that plan, but to recommend it to the houses in a speech from the throne. This attempt failed; but there can be little doubt that, if the French Revolution had not produced a violent reaction of public feeling, Pitt would have performed, with little difficulty and no danger, that great work which, at a later period, Lord Grey could accomplish only by means which for a time loosened the very foundations of the commonwealth. When the atrocities of the slave trade were first brought under the consideration of parliament no abolitionist was more zealous than Pitt. A humane bill, which mitigated the horrors of the middle passage, was, in 1788, carried by the eloquence and determined spirit of Pitt, in spite of the opposition of some of his own colleagues. In 1791 he cordially concurred with Fox in maintaining the sound constitutional doctrine that an impeachment is not terminated by a dissolution. In the course of the same year the two great rivals contended side by side in a far more important cause. They are fairly entitled to divide the high honour of having added to the statute-book the inestimable law which places the liberty of the press under the protection of juries. On one occasion, and one alone, Pitt, during the first half of his long administration, acted in a manner unworthy of an enlightened Whig. In the debate on the Test Act he stooped to gratify the master whom he served, the university which he represented, and the great body of clergymen and country gentlemen on whose support he rested, by talking, with little heartiness indeed, and with no asperity, the language of a Tory. With this single exception, his conduct from the end of 1783 to the middle of 1792 was that of an honest friend of civil and religious liberty.
Nor did anything, during that period, indicate that he loved war, or harboured any malevolent feeling against any neighbouring nation. Those French writers who have represented him as a Hannibal sworn in childhood by his father to bear eternal hatred to France, as having, by mysterious intrigues and lavish bribes, instigated the leading Jacobins to commit those excesses which dishonoured the Revolution, as having been the real author of the first coalition, know nothing of his character or of his history. So far was he from being a deadly enemy to France that his laudable attempts to bring about a closer connexion with that country by means of a wise and liberal treaty of commerce brought on him the severe censure of the Opposition. He was told in the House of Commons that he was a degenerate son, and that his partiality for the hereditary foes of our island was enough to make his great father's bones stir under the pavement of the Abbey.
And this man, whose name, if he had been, so fortunate as to die in 1792, would have been associated with peace, with freedom, with philanthropy, with temperate reform, with mild and constitutional administration, lived to associate his name with arbitrary government, with harsh laws harshly executed, with alien bills, with gagging bills, with suspensions of the Habeas Corpus Act, with cruel punishments inflicted on some political agitators, with unjustifiable prosecutions instigated against others and with the most costly and most sanguinary wars of modern times. He lived to be held up to obloquy as the stern oppressor of England and the indefatigable disturber of Europe. Poets, contrasting his earlier with his later years, likened him sometimes to the apostle who kissed in order to betray, and sometimes to the evil angels who kept not their first estate. By the French press and the French tribune every crime that disgraced and every calamity that afflicted France was ascribed to the monster Pitt and his guineas. While the Jacobins were dominant it was he who had corrupted the Gironde, who had raised Lyons and Bordeaux against the Convention, who had suborned Paris to assassinate Lepelletier, and Cecilia Regnault to assassinate Robespierre. When the Thermidorian reaction came, all the atrocities of the Reign of Terror were imputed to him. Collot D'Herbois and Fouquier Tinville had been his pensioners. It was he who had hired the murderers of September, who had dictated the pamphlets of Marat and the carmagnoles of Barère, who had paid Lebon to deluge Arras with blood and Carrier to choke the Loire with corpses. The truth is that he liked neither war nor arbitrary government. He was a lover of peace and freedom, driven, by a stress against which it was hardly possible for any will or any intellect to struggle, out of the course to which his inclinations pointed, and for which his abilities and acquirements fitted him, and forced into a policy repugnant to his feelings and unsuited to his talents.
Between the spring of 1789 and the close of 1792 the public mind of England underwent a great change. If the change of Pitt's sentiments attracted peculiar notice, it was not because he changed more than his neighbours, for in fact he changed less than most of them, but because his position was far more conspicuous than theirs, because he was, till Bonaparte appeared, the individual who filled the greatest space in the eyes of the inhabitants of the civilized world. During a short time the nation, and Pitt as one of the nation, looked with interest and approbation on the French Revolution. But soon vast confiscations, the violent sweeping away of ancient institutions, the domination of clubs, the barbarities of mobs maddened by famine and hatred, produced a reaction. The court, the nobility, the gentry, the clergy, the manufacturers, the merchants, in short nineteen-twentieths of those who had good roofs over their heads and good coats on their backs, became eager intolerant Antijacobins. This feeling was at least as strong among the minister's adversaries as among his supporters. Fox in vain attempted to restrain his followers. All his genius, all his vast personal influence, could not prevent them from rising up against him in general mutiny. Burke set the example of revolt; and Burke was in no long time joined by Portland, Spencer, Fitzwilliam, Loughborough, Carlisle, Malmesbury, Windham, Elliot. In the House of Commons the followers of the great Whig statesman and orator diminished from about a hundred and sixty to fifty. In the House of Lords he had but ten or twelve adherents left. There can be no doubt that there would have been a similar mutiny on the ministerial benches if Pitt, had obstinately resisted the general wish. Pressed at once by his master and by his colleagues, by old friends and by old opponents, he abandoned, slowly and reluctantly, the policy which was dear to his heart. He laboured hard to avert the European war. When the European war broke out he still flattered himself that it would not be necessary for this country to take either side. In the spring of 1792 he congratulated the parliament on the prospect of long and profound peace, and proved his sincerity by proposing large remissions of taxation. Down to the end of that year he continued to cherish the hope that England might be able to preserve neutrality. But the passions which raged on both sides of the Channel were not to be restrained. The republicans who ruled France were inflamed by a fanaticism resembling that of the Mussulmans, who, with the Koran in one hand and the sword in the other, went forth conquering and converting, eastward to the Bay of Bengal, and westward to the Pillars of Hercules. The higher and middle classes of England were animated by zeal not less fiery than that of the crusaders who raised the cry of Deus vult at Clermont. The impulse which drove the two nations to a collision was not to be arrested by the abilities or by the authority of any single man. As Pitt was in front of his fellows, and towered high above them, he seemed to lead them. But in fact he was violently pushed on by them, and, had he held back but a little more than he did, would have been thrust out of their way or trampled under their feet.
He yielded to the current; and from that day his misfortunes began. The truth is that there were only two consistent courses Pitt's War Policy. before him. Since he did not choose to oppose himself, side by side with Fox, to the public feeling, he should have taken the advice of Burke, and should have availed himself of that feeling to the full extent. If it was impossible to preserve peace, he should have adopted the only policy which should lead to victory. He should have proclaimed a holy war for religion, morality, property, order, public law, and should have thus opposed to the Jacobins an energy equal to their own. Unhappily he tried to find a middle path; and he found one which united all that was worst in both extremes. He went to war; but he could not understand the peculiar character of that war. He was obstinately blind to the plain fact that he was contending against a state which was also a sect, and that a new quarrel between England and France was of quite a different kind from the old quarrels about colonies in America and fortresses in the Netherlands. It was pitiable to hear him, year after year, proving to an admiring audience that the wicked republic was exhausted, that she could not hold out, that her credit was gone, that her assignats were not worth more than the paper of which they were made — as if credit was necessary to a government of which the principle was rapine, as if Alboin could not turn Italy into a desert till he had negotiated a loan at 5%, as if the exchequer bills of Attila had been at par. It was impossible that a man who so completely mistook the nature of a contest could carry on that contest successfully. Great as Pitt's abilities were, his military administration was that of a driveller. In such an emergency, and with such means, such a statesman as Richelieu, as Louvois, as Chatham, as Wellesley, would have created in a few months one of the finest armies in the world, and would soon have discovered and brought forward generals worthy to command such an army. Germany might have been saved by another Blenheim; Flanders recovered by another Ramillies; another Poitiers might have delivered the Royalist and Catholic provinces of France from a yoke which they abhorred, and might have spread terror even to the barriers of Paris. But the fact is that, after eight years of war, after a vast destruction of life, after an expenditure of wealth far exceeding the expenditure of the American War, of the Seven Years' War, of the War of the Austrian Succession and of the War of the Spanish Succession united, the English army under Pitt was the laughing-stock of all Europe. It could not boast of one single brilliant exploit. It had never shown itself on the Continent but to be beaten, chased, forced to re-embark or forced to capitulate. To take some sugar island in the West Indies, to scatter some mob of half-naked Irish peasants — such were the most splendid victories won by the British troops under Pitt's auspices. The English navy no mismanagement could ruin. But during a long period whatever mismanagement could do was done. The earl of Chatham, without a single qualification for high public trust, was made, by fraternal partiality, first lord of the admiralty, and was kept in that great post during two years of a war in which the very existence of the state depended on the efficiency of the fleet. Fortunately he was succeeded by George, Earl Spencer, one of those chiefs of the Whig party who, in the great schism caused by the French Revolution, had followed Burke. Lord Spencer, though inferior to many of his colleagues as an orator, was decidedly the best administrator among them. To him it was owing that a long and gloomy succession of days of fasting, and most emphatically of humiliation, was interrupted, twice in the short space of eleven months, by days of thanksgiving for great victories.
It may seem paradoxical to say that the incapacity which Pitt showed in all that related to the conduct of the war is, in some sense, the most decisive proof that he was a man of very extraordinary abilities. Yet this is the simple truth. While his schemes were confounded, while his predictions were falsified, while the coalitions which he had laboured to form were falling to pieces, while the expeditions which he had sent forth at enormous cost were ending in rout and disgrace, while the enemy against whom he was feebly contending was subjugating Flanders and Brabant, the electorate of Mainz and the electorate of Treves, Holland, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, his authority over the House of Commons was constantly becoming more and more absolute. There was his empire. There were his victories — his Lodi and his Arcola, his Rivoli and his Marengo. Of the great party which had contended against him during the first eight years of his administration more than one-half now marched under his standard, with his old competitor the duke of Portland at their head; and the rest had, after many vain struggles, quitted the field in despair. Session followed session with scarcely a single division. In the eventful year 1799 the largest minority that could be mustered against the government was twenty-five.
In Pitt's domestic policy there was at this time assuredly no want of vigour. While he offered to French Jacobinism a Domestic Policy. resistance so feeble that it only encouraged the evil which he wished to suppress, he put down English Jacobinism with a strong hand. The Habeas Corpus Act was repeatedly suspended. Public meetings were placed under severe restraints. The government obtained from parliament power to send out of the country aliens who were suspected of evil designs; and that power was not suffered to be idle. Writers who propounded doctrines adverse to monarchy and aristocracy were proscribed and punished without mercy. The old laws of Scotland against sedition, laws which were considered by Englishmen as barbarous, and which a succession of governments had suffered to rust, were now furbished up and sharpened anew. Men of cultivated minds and polished manners were, for offences which at Westminster would have been treated as mere misdemeanours, sent to herd with felons at Botany Bay. Some reformers, whose opinions were extravagant, and whose language was intemperate, but who had never dreamed of subverting the government by physical force, were indicted for high treason, and were saved from the gallows only by the righteous verdicts of juries.
One part only of Pitt's conduct during the last eight years of the 18th century deserves high praise. He was the first English Irish Policy. minister who formed great designs for the benefit of Ireland. Had he been able to do all that he wished, it is probable that a wise and liberal policy would have averted the rebellion of 1798. But the difficulties which he encountered were great, perhaps insurmountable; and the Roman Catholics were, rather by his misfortune than by his fault, thrown into the hands of Jacobins. There was a third great rising of the Irishry against the Englishry, a rising not less formidable than the risings of 1641 and 1689. The Englishry remained victorious; and it was necessary for Pitt, as it had been necessary for Oliver Cromwell and William of Orange before him, to consider how the victory should be used. He determined to make Ireland one kingdom with England, and, at the same time, to relieve the Roman Catholic laity from civil disabilities, and to grant a public maintenance to the Roman Catholic clergy. Had he been able to carry these noble designs into effect the union would have been a union indeed. But Pitt could execute only one-half of what he had projected. He succeeded in obtaining the consent of the parliaments of both kingdoms to the union; but that reconciliation of races and sects without which the union could exist only in name was not accomplished. The king imagined that his coronation oath bound him to refuse his assent to any bill for relieving Roman Catholics from civil disabilities. Dundas tried to explain the matter, but was told to keep his Scotch metaphysics to himself. Pitt and Pitt's ablest colleagues resigned their offices (March 14, 1801).
It was necessary that the king should make a new arrangement. But by this time his anger and distress had brought back the malady which had, many years before, incapacitated him for the discharge of his functions. He actually assembled his family, read the coronation oath to them, and told them that, if he broke it, the crown would immediately pass to the house of Savoy. It was not until after an interregnum of several weeks that he regained the full use of his small faculties, and that a ministry after his own heart was at length formed. In an age pre-eminently fruitful of parliamentary talents, a cabinet was formed containing hardly a single man who in parliamentary talents could be considered as even of the second rate. Henry Addington was at the head of the treasury. He had been an Addington Ministry, 1801-1804. early, indeed an hereditary friend of Pitt, and had by Pitt's influence been placed, while still a young man, in the chair of the House of Commons. He was universally admitted to have been the best Speaker that had sat in that chair since the retirement of Onslow. But nature had not bestowed on him very vigorous faculties; and the highly respectable situation which he long occupied with honour had rather unfitted than fitted him for the discharge of his new duties. Nevertheless, during many months, his power seemed to stand firm. The nation was put into high good humour by a peace with France. The enthusiasm with which the upper and middle classes had rushed into the war had spent itself. Jacobinism was no longer formidable. Everywhere there was a strong reaction against what was called the atheistical and anarchical philosophy of the 18th century. Bonaparte, now first consul, was busied in constructing out of the ruins of old institutions a new ecclesiastical establishment and a new order of knighthood. The treaty of Amiens was therefore hailed by the great body of the English people with extravagant joy. The popularity of the minister was for the moment immense. His want of parliamentary ability was, as yet, of little consequence; for he had scarcely any adversary to encounter. The old Opposition, delighted by the peace, regarded him with favour. A new Opposition had indeed been formed by some of the late ministers, and was led by Grenville in the House of Lords and by Windham in the House of Commons. But the new Opposition could scarcely muster ten votes, and was regarded with no favour by the country.
On Pitt the ministers relied as on their firmest support. He had not, like some of his colleagues, retired in anger. He had expressed the greatest respect for the conscientious scruple which had taken possession of the royal mind; and he had promised his successors all the help in his power. But it was hardly possible that this union should be durable. Pitt, conscious of superior powers, imagined that the place which he had quitted was now occupied by a mere puppet which he had set up, which he was to govern while he suffered it to remain, and which he was to fling aside as soon as he wished to resume his old position. Nor was it long before he began to pine for the power which he had relinquished. Addington, on the other hand, was by no means inclined to descend from his high position. He took his elevation quite seriously, attributed it to his own merit, and considered himself as one of the great triumvirate of English statesmen, as worthy to make a third with Pitt and Fox. Meanwhile Pitt's most intimate friends exerted themselves to effect a change of ministry. His favourite disciple, George Canning, was indefatigable. He spoke; he wrote; be intrigued; he tried to induce a large number of the supporters of the government to sign a round robin desiring a change; he made game of Addington and of Addington's relations in a succession of lively pasquinades. The minister's partisans retorted with equal acrimony, if not with equal vivacity. Pitt could keep out of the affray only by keeping out of politics altogether; and this it soon became impossible for him to do. The treaty of Amiens had scarcely been signed when the restless ambition and the insupportable insolence of the First Consul convinced the great body of the English people that the peace so eagerly welcomed was only a precarious armistice. As it became clearer and clearer that a war for the dignity, the independence, the very existence of the nation was at hand, men looked with increasing uneasiness on the weak and languid cabinet which would have to contend against an enemy who united more than the power of Louis the Great to more than the genius of Frederick the Great. They imagined that Pitt was the only statesman who could cope with Bonaparte. This feeling was nowhere stronger than among Addington's own colleagues. The pressure put on him was so strong that he could not help yielding to it. His first proposition was that some insignificant nobleman should be first lord of the treasury and nominal head of the administration, and that the real power should be divided between Pitt and himself, who were to be secretaries of state. Pitt, as might have been expected, refused even to discuss such a scheme, and talked of it with bitter mirth. “Which secretaryship was offered to you?” his friend Wilberforce asked. “Really,” said Pitt, “I had not the curiosity to inquire.” Addington was frightened into bidding higher. He offered to resign the treasury to Pitt on condition that there should be no extensive change in the government. But Pitt would listen to no such terms. Then came a dispute such as often arises after negotiations orally conducted, even when the negotiators are men of strict honour. Pitt gave one account of what had passed; Addington gave another; and, though the discrepancies were not such as necessarily implied any intentional violation of truth on either side, both were greatly exasperated.
Meanwhile the quarrel with the First Consul had to come to a crisis. On the 16th of May 1803 the king sent a message calling on the House of Commons to support him in withstanding the ambitious and encroaching policy of France; and on the 22nd the house took the message into consideration.
Pitt had now been living many months in retirement. There had been a general election since he had spoken in parliament, and there were two hundred members who had never heard him. It was known that on this occasion he would be in his place, and curiosity was wound up to the highest point. Unfortunately, the shorthand writers were, in consequence of some mistake, shut out on that day from the gallery, so that the newspapers contained only a very meagre report of the proceedings. But several accounts of what passed are extant; and of those accounts the most interesting is contained in an unpublished letter written by a very young member, John William Ward, afterwards earl of Dudley. When Pitt rose he was received with loud cheering. At every pause in his speech there was a burst of applause. The peroration is said to have been one of the most animated and magnificent ever heard in parliament. “Pitt's speech,” Fox wrote a few days later, “was admired very much, and very justly. I think it was the best he ever made in that style.” The debate was adjourned; and on the second night Fox replied to it in an oration which, as the most zealous Pittites were forced to acknowledge, left the palm of eloquence doubtful. Addington made a pitiable appearance between the two great rivals; and it was observed that Pitt, while exhorting the Commons to stand resolutely by the executive government against France, said not a word indicating esteem or friendship for the prime minister.
War was speedily declared. The First Consul threatened to invade England at the head of the conquerors of Belgium and Italy, and formed a great camp near the Straits of Dover. On the other side of those straits the whole British population was ready to rise up as one man in defence of the soil. In the spring of 1804 it became evident that the weakest of ministries would have to defend itself against the strongest of Oppositions, an Opposition made up of three Oppositions, each of which would, separately, have been formidable from ability, and which, when united, were also formidable from number. It was necessary to give way; the ministry was dissolved, and the task of performing a government was entrusted (May 1804) to Pitt. Pitt was of opinion that there was now an opportunity, such as had never before offered itself, and such as might never offer itself again, of uniting in the public service, on honourable Pitt's Second Administration. terms, all the eminent talents of the kingdom, The treasury he reserved for himself; and to Fox he proposed to assign a share of power little inferior to his own. The plan was excellent; but the king would not hear of it. Dull, obstinate, unforgiving, and at that time half mad, he positively refused to admit Fox into his service. In an evil hour Pitt yielded. All that was left was to construct a government out of the wreck of Addington's feeble administration. The small circle of Pitt's personal retainers furnished him with a very few useful assistants, particularly Dundas (who had been created Viscount Melville), Lord Harrowby and Canning.
Such was the inauspicious manner in which Pitt entered on his second administration (May 12, 1804). The whole history of that administration was of a piece with the commencement. Almost every month brought some new disaster or disgrace. To the war with France was soon added a war with Spain. The opponents of the ministry were numerous, able and active. His most useful coadjutors he soon lost. Sickness deprived him of the help of Lord Harrowby. It was discovered that Lord Melville had been guilty of highly culpable laxity in transactions relating to public money. He was censured by the House of Commons, driven from office, ejected from the privy council and impeached of high crimes and misdemeanours. The blow fell heavy on Pitt. His difficulties compelled him to resort to various expedients. At one time Addington was persuaded to accept office with a peerage; but he brought no additional strength to the government. While he remained in place he was jealous and punctilious; and he soon retired again. At another time Pitt renewed his efforts to overcome his master's aversion to Fox; and it was rumoured that the king's obstinacy was gradually giving way. But, meanwhile, it was impossible for the minister to conceal from the public eye the decay of his health and the constant anxiety which gnawed at his heart. All who passed him in the park, all who had interviews with him in Downing Street, saw misery written in his face. The peculiar look which he wore during the last months of his life was often pathetically described by Wilberforce, who used to call it the Austerlitz look.
Still the vigour of Pitt's intellectual faculties and the intrepid haughtiness of his spirit remained unaltered. He had staked everything on a great venture. He had succeeded in forming another mighty coalition against the French ascendancy. The united forces of Austria, Russia and England might, he hoped, oppose an insurmountable barrier to the ambition of the common enemy. But the genius and energy of Napoleon prevailed. While the English troops were preparing to embark for Germany, while the Russian troops were slowly coming up from Poland, he, with rapidity unprecedented in modern war, moved a hundred thousand men from the shores of the ocean to the Black Forest, and compelled a great Austrian army to surrender at Ulm. To the first faint rumours of this calamity Pitt would give no credit. He was irritated by the alarms of those around him. “Do not believe a word of it” he said; “it is all a fiction.” The next day he received a Dutch newspaper containing the capitulation. He knew no Dutch. It was Sunday, and the public offices were shut. He carried the paper to Lord Malmesbury, who had been minister in Holland; and Lord Malmesbury translated it. Pitt tried to bear up, but the shock was too great; and he went away with death in his face.
The news of the battle of Trafalgar arrived four days later, and seemed for a moment to revive him. Forty-eight hours after that most glorious and most mournful of victories had been announced to the country came the Lord Mayor's Day; and Pitt dined at Guildhall. His popularity had declined. But on this occasion the multitude, greatly excited by the recent tidings, welcomed him enthusiastically, took off his horses in Cheapside, and drew his carriage up King Street. When his health was drunk, he returned thanks in two or three of those stately sentences of which he had a boundless command. Several of those who heard him laid up his words in their hearts; for they were the last words that he ever uttered in public: “Let us hope that England, having saved herself by her energy, may save Europe by her example.”
This was but a momentary rally. Austerlitz soon completed what Ulm had begun. Early in December Pitt had retired to Bath, in the hope that he might there gather strength for the approaching session. While he was languishing there on his sofa arrived the news that a decisive battle had been fought and lost in Moravia, that the coalition was dissolved, that the Continent was at the feet of France. He sank down under the blow. Ten days later he was so emaciated that his most intimate friends hardly knew him. He came up from Bath by slow journeys, and on the 11th of January 1806 reached his villa at Putney. Parliament was to meet on the 21st. On the 20th was to be the parliamentary dinner at the house of the first lord of the treasury in Downing Street; and the cards were already issued. But the days of the great minister were numbered. On the day on which he was carried into his bedroom at Putney, the Marquess Wellesley, whom he had long loved, whom he had sent to govern India, and whose administration had been eminently able, energetic and successful, arrived in London after an absence of eight years. The friends saw each other once more. There was an affectionate meeting and a last parting. That it was a last parting Pitt did not seem to be aware. He fancied himself to be recovering, talked on various subjects cheerfully and with an unclouded mind, and pronounced a warm and discerning eulogium on the marquis's brother Arthur. “I never,” he said, “met with any military man with whom it was so satisfactory to converse.” The excitement and exertion of this interview were too much for the sick man. He fainted away; and Lord Wellesley left the house convinced that the close was fast approaching.
And now members of parliament were fast coming up to London. The chiefs of the Opposition met for the purpose of considering the course to be taken on the first day of the session. It was easy to guess what would be the language of the king's speech, and of the address which would be moved in answer to that speech. An amendment condemning the policy of the government had been prepared, and was to have been proposed in the House of Commons by Lord Henry Petty (afterwards 3rd marquess of Lansdowne). He was unwilling, however, to come forward as the accuser of one who was incapable of defending himself. Lord Grenville, who had been informed Death. of Pitt's state by Lord Wellesley, and had been deeply affected by it, earnestly recommended forbearance; and Fox, with characteristic generosity and good nature, gave his voice against attacking his now helpless rival. “Sunt lacrymae rerum,” he said, “et mentem mortalia tangunt.” On the first day, therefore, there was no debate. It was rumoured that evening that Pitt was better. But on the following morning his physicians pronounced that there were no hopes. It was asserted in many after-dinner speeches, Grub Street elegies and academic prize poems and prize declamations that the great minister died exclaiming, “Oh my country!” This is a fable, but it is true that the last words which he uttered, while he knew what he said, were broken exclamations about the alarming state of public affairs. He ceased to breathe on the morning of the 23rd of January 1806, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the day on which he first took his seat in parliament.
It was moved in the House of Commons that Pitt should be honoured with a public funeral and a monument. The motion was opposed by Fox in a speech which deserves to be studied as a model of good taste and good feeling. The task was the most invidious that ever an orator undertook; but it was performed with a humanity and delicacy which were warmly acknowledged by the mourning friends of him who was gone. The motion was carried by 288 votes to 89. The 22nd of February was fixed for the funeral. The corpse, having lain in state during two days in the Painted Chamber, was borne with great pomp to the northern transept of the Abbey. A splendid train of princes, nobles, bishops and privy councillors followed. The grave of Pitt had been made near to the spot where his great father lay, near also to the spot where his great rival was soon to lie. Wilberforce, who carried the banner before the hearse, described the awful ceremony with deep feeling. As the coffin descended into the earth, he said, the eagle face of Chatham from above seemed to look down with consternation into the dark house which was receiving all that remained of so much power and glory.
Pitt was emphatically the man of parliamentary government, the type of his class, the minion, the child, the spoiled child, Character. of the House of Commons. He was a distinguished member of the House of Commons at twenty-one. The ability which he had displayed in the House of Commons made him the most powerful subject in Europe before he was twenty-five. It was when the House of Commons was to be convinced and persuaded that he put forth all his powers. Of those powers we must form our estimate chiefly from tradition; for, of all the eminent speakers of that age, Pitt has suffered most from the reporters. Even while he was still living, critics remarked that his eloquence could not be preserved, that he must be heard to be appreciated. They more than once applied to him the sentence in which Tacitus describes the fate of a senator whose rhetoric was admired in the Augustan age: “Haterii canorum illud et profluens cum ipso simul exstinctum est.” There is, however, abundant evidence that nature had bestowed on Pitt the talents of a great orator; and those talents had been developed in a very peculiar manner, first by his education, and secondly by the high official position to which he rose early, and in which he passed the greater part of his public life.
At his first appearance in parliament he showed himself superior to all his contemporaries in command of language. He could pour forth a long succession of round and stately periods, without premeditation, without ever pausing for a word, without ever repeating a word, in a voice of silver clearness, and with a pronunciation so articulate that not a letter was slurred over. He had less amplitude of mind and less richness of imagination than Burke, less ingenuity than Windham, less wit than Sheridan, less perfect mastery of dialectical fence and less of that highest sort of eloquence which consists of reason and passion fused together than Fox. Yet the almost unanimous judgment of those who were in the habit of listening to that remarkable race of men placed Pitt, as a speaker, above Burke, above Windham, above Sheridan and not below Fox. His declamation was copious, polished and splendid. In power of sarcasm he was probably not surpassed by any speaker, ancient or modern; and of this formidable weapon he made merciless use. In two parts of the oratorical art which are of the highest value to a minister of state he was singularly expert. No man knew better how to be luminous or how to be obscure. When he wished to be understood, he never failed to make himself understood. Nothing was out of place; nothing was forgotten; minute details, dates, sums of money, were all faithfully preserved in his memory. On the other hand, when he did not wish to be explicit — and no man who is at the head of affairs always wishes to be explicit — he had a marvellous power of saying nothing in language which left on his audience the impression that he had said a great deal.
The effect of oratory will always to a great extent depend on the character of the orator. There perhaps never were two speakers whose eloquence had more of what may be called the race, more of the flavour imparted by moral qualities, than Fox and Pitt. The speeches of Fox owe a great part of their charm to that warmth and softness of heart, that sympathy with human suffering, that admiration for everything great and beautiful, and that hatred of cruelty and injustice, which interest and delight us even in the most defective reports. No person, on the other hand, could hear Pitt without perceiving him to be a man of high, intrepid and commanding spirit, proudly conscious of his own rectitude and of his own intellectual superiority, incapable of the low vices of fear and envy, but too prone to feel and to show disdain. Pride, indeed, pervaded the whole man, was written in the harsh, rigid lines of his face, was marked by the way in which he walked, in which he sat, in which he stood, and above all, in which he bowed. Such pride, of course, inflicted many wounds. But his pride, though it made him bitterly disliked by individuals, inspired the great body of his followers in parliament and throughout the country with respect and confidence. It was that of the magnanimous man so finely described by Aristotle in the Ethics, of the man who thinks himself worthy of great things, being in truth worthy. It was closely connected, too, with an ambition which had no mixture of low cupidity. There was something noble in the cynical disdain with which the mighty minister scattered riches and titles to right and left among those who valued them, while he spurned them out of his way. Poor himself, he was surrounded by friends on whom he had bestowed three thousand, six thousand, ten thousand a year. Plain Mister himself, he had made more lords than any three ministers that had preceded him. The garter, for which the first dukes in the kingdom were contending, was repeatedly offered to him, and offered in vain.
The correctness of his private life added much to the dignity of his public character. In the relations of son, brother, uncle, master, friend, his conduct was exemplary. In the small circle of his intimate associates he was amiable, affectionate, even playful. He indulged, indeed, somewhat too freely in wine, which he had early been directed to take as a medicine, and which use had made a necessary of life to him. But it was very seldom that any indication of undue excess could be detected in his tones or gestures; and, in truth, two bottles of port were little more to him than two dishes of tea. He had, when he was first introduced into the clubs of St James's Street, shown a strong sense for play, but he had the prudence and the resolution to stop before this taste had acquired the strength of habit. From the passion which generally exercises the most tyrannical dominion over the young he possessed an immunity, which is probably to be ascribed partly to his temperament and partly to his situation. His constitution was feeble; he was very shy; and he was very busy. The strictness of his morals furnished such buffoons as Peter Pindar and Captain Morris with an inexhaustible theme for merriment of no very delicate kind. But the great body of the middle class of Englishmen could not see the joke. They warmly praised the young statesman for commanding his passions, and for covering his frailties, if he had frailties, with decorous obscurity.
The memory of Pitt has been assailed, times innumerable, often justly, often unjustly; but it has suffered much less from Estimates of Pitt. his assailants than from his eulogists. For, during many years, his name was the rallying cry of a class of men with whom, at one of those terrible conjunctures which confound all ordinary distinctions, he was accidentally and temporally connected, but to whom, on almost all great questions of principle, he was diametrically opposed. The haters of parliamentary reform called themselves Pittites, not choosing to remember that Pitt made three motions for parliamentary reform, and that, though he thought that such a reform could not safely be made while the passions excited by the French Revolution were raging, he never uttered a word indicating that he should not be prepared at a more convenient season to bring the question forward a fourth time. The toast of Protestant ascendancy was drunk on Pitt's birthday by a set of Pittites who could not but be aware that Pitt had resigned his office because he could not carry Catholic emancipation. The defenders of the Test Act called themselves Pittites, though they could not be ignorant that Pitt had laid before George III. unanswerable reasons for abolishing the Test Act. The enemies of free trade called themselves Pittites, though Pitt was far more deeply imbued with the doctrines of Adam Smith than either Fox or Grey. The very negro-drivers invoked the name of Pitt, whose eloquence was never more conspicuously displayed than when he spoke of the wrongs of the negro. This mythical Pitt, who resembles the genuine Pitt as little as the Charlemagne of Ariosto resembles the Charlemagne of Eginhard, has had his day. History will vindicate the real man from calumny disguised under the semblance of adulation, and will exhibit him as what he was — a minister of great talents, honest intentions and liberal opinions, pre-eminently qualified, intellectually and morally, for the part of a parliamentary leader, and capable of administering with prudence and moderation the government of a prosperous and tranquil country, but unequal to surprising and terrible emergencies, and liable in such emergencies to err grievously, both on the side of weakness and on the side of violence.
Authorities. — Lord Macaulay's article, a classic on its subject, written in 1859 for this Encyclopaedia and included in the 9th edition unaltered, is preserved above in its essentials, but has been shortened and readjusted. Among standard biographies are the 5th Earl Stanhope's important Life (4 vols., 2nd ed., 1862), and Lord Rosebery's masterly study in the “Twelve English Statesmen Series” (1891). See also the bibliographical note to the Rev. William Hunt's article on Pitt in the Dict. Nat. Biog., and also the same historian's app. i., pp. 461-462, to his vol. x. (for the years 1760-1801) of The Political History of England (1905), dealing with the authorities for the period.
- George Pretyman (1750-1827) was senior wrangler in 1772. In 1803, on falling heir to a large estate, he assumed the name of Tomline. From Lincoln, to which see he had been elevated in 1787, he was translated to Winchester in 1820. Tomline, to whom Pitt when dying had bequeathed his papers, published his Memoirs of the Life of William Pitt (down to the close of 1792) in 1821 (3 vols. 8vo).
- The speech with which the king opened the session of 1785 concluded with an assurance that his majesty would heartily concur in every measure which could tend to secure the true principles of the constitution. These words were at the time understood to refer to Pitt's Reform Bill.