Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Charles James Fox
FOX, Charles James (1749-1806), born on the 24th of January 1749, at 9 Conduit Street, in the city of Westminster, was the third son of Henry Fox, first Lord Holland. His mother was the eldest daughter of the second duke of Richmond. As his great-great-grandmother was duchess of Portsmouth, he had in his veins the blood of Charles II. of England and Henry IV. of France. His paternal grandfather, Sir Stephen Fox, was born shortly after Charles I. ascended the throne, and died shortly after the accession of George I. The public services of this member of the Fox family have received less notice than they deserve. He was a yeoman's son who, having been taught to read, write, and cipher, was considered capable of rising in the world. When a youth he first obtained a situation in the household of the earl of Northumberland; then he entered the service of Lord Percy, the earl's brother, and he was present with the royalist army at the battle of Worcester as Lord Percy's deputy at the ordnance board. Accompanying Charles II. in his flight to the Continent, he served him in a menial capacity during his exile, till he was promoted to be keeper of the privy purse. He was employed as intermediary between the king and General Monk. Honours and emolument were his reward after the Restoration; he was knighted, and appointed to the lucrative offices of clerk of the green cloth and paymaster of the forces. He entered the House of Commons, first as member for Salisbury, and secondly for Westminster. He succeeded the earl of Rochester as a commissioner of the treasury, filling that office for 23 years and during three reigns. At the mature age of seventy-seven he married for the second time; four children were the issue of this marriage. He died in 1716 at the age of eighty-nine, and left a large fortune. It is his distinction to have founded Chelsea hospital, and to have contributed £13,000 in aid of this laudable public work. Though his place as a statesman is in the second or even the third rank, yet he was a useful man in his generation, and a public servant who creditably discharged all the duties with which he was entrusted. Unlike other statesmen of his day, he grew rich in the service of the nation without being suspected of corruption, and without forfeiting the esteem of his contemporaries. Sir Stephen Fox's second son by his second marriage was named Henry. Inheriting a large share of the riches which his father had accumulated, he squandered it soon after attaining his majority. Henry Fox went to the Continent to escape from his creditors. There he made the acquaintance of a country woman of fortune, who became his patroness and was so lavish with her purse that, after several years absence, he was in a position to return home and to enter parliament as member for Hindon. He became the favourite pupil and devoted supporter of Sir Robert Walpole, achieving unequalled and unenviable proficiency in the worst political arts of his master and model. As a speaker he was fluent and self-possessed, imperturbable under attack, audacious in exposition or retort, and able to hold his own against Pitt himself. Thus he made himself a power in the House of Commons, and an indispensable member of several administrations. He heaped up riches when acting as paymaster of the forces during the war which Pitt conducted with extraordinary vigour, and in which the nation was intoxicated with glory. He served under the earl of Bute in order that he might exercise his skill in cajolery and corruption to induce the House of Commons to approve of the treaty of Paris; as a recompense, he was raised to the House of Lords with the title of Baron Holland. He strove, but in vain, to obtain promotion to the dignity of an earl, a dignity upon which he had set his heart, and he died a sorely disappointed man, with a reputation for cunning and unscrupulousness which cannot easily be matched, and with an unpopularity which justifies the conclusion that he was the most thoroughly hated statesman of his day. Henry Fox's affection for his son Charles James verged on idolatry. The boy was both precocious and engaging. Whatever he chose to learn, he acquired with ease, and he displayed more than a boy's good sense in correcting his faults. Once he overheard his mother, with whom he was no favourite, remark to his father, “Charles is dreadfully passionate; what shall we do with him?” and the reply, “Oh, never mind; he is a very sensible little fellow, and he will learn to cure himself.” Thereupon he resolved to repress his angry passions, and he succeeded in rendering himself a pattern for gentle bearing and command of temper. He went to Eton when he was nine, having spent the preceding year, at his own request, in the school kept at Wandsworth by Pampelonne, a French refugee. The boy's health was delicate, and this caused his father much anxiety. He was not diligent in learning, nor was his tendency towards indolence at school counteracted by the discipline to which he was subjected. The Rev. Dr Francis, his tutor, sent to his father accounts more flattering than just of his son's progress and attention, and better fitted to gratify parental fondness than set forth the truth. He often went home in order to accompany his parents to some notable spectacle, chief among them being the coronation of George III., where he met with a slight accident, which, being reported in the newspapers, caused his father to write, “The article [in the newspapers] of Charles's mishap has brought several messages. The boy is a great deal better beloved than his father is.” When fourteen he left school for four months, which he spent with his parents at Spa and Paris. His father taught him to game at Spa, giving him several gold pieces wherewith to try his luck, as the saying is, every evening. Hence he early became addicted to the vice which was for some years his besetting sin, and for which he could urge no other excuse, when taunted with it later by Lord Hillsborough in the House of Commons, than that it was a vice “countenanced by the fashion of the times, a vice to which some of the greatest characters had given way in the early part of their lives, and a vice which carried with it its own punishment, and entailed a curse upon those who were addicted to it.” He returned to Eton thinking himself a thorough young man of the world; but his dandified airs only excited the ridicule of his comrades, and Dr Barnard, the head master, by flogging him for misconduct, made him feel keenly that he was still a mere schoolboy. More instructive and advantageous than trips to the Continent and visits to Continental gaming houses were the visits which he made to the Houses of Parliament, in company with his father, to hear important debates. He was in the gallery of the House of Commons when Lord North moved “that the paper entitled the North Briton is a false, scandalous, and seditious libel.” His father impressed upon him that John Wilkes was a bad man, and that the earl of Bute was a sagacious minister; these opinions were embodied by him in some French verses, which injudicious admirers have reproduced to show his want of mastery over the French language, and the absurdity of his boyish political sentiments. Leaving Eton in 1764, Fox went to Oxford, where he entered Hertford College. In a letter to his friend Mr Macartney, he professed a great liking for Oxford and fondness for mathematics, adding, in another letter, that he believed mathematics were useful, and was sure they were entertaining, this being enough, in his opinion, to recommend them. The same letter contained his judgment on a newly published poem, which is far less paradoxical and more creditable to his discernment than the foregoing statement concerning mathematics. The poem was the Traveller, which the youthful critic pronounced, with perfect truth, “to have a good deal of merit.” A trip to Paris and a stay there of two months interrupted Fox's university career. Dr Newcome, the head of his college, readily sanctioned this holiday, making the complimentary remark that such application as his required “some intermission, and you are the only person with whom I have ever had connexion to whom I could say this. . . . You need not interrupt your amusements by severe studies; for it is wholly unnecessary to make a step onward without you, and therefore we shall stop until we have the pleasure of your company.” This visit to the capital of France was no more serviceable to him, in a moral sense, than his previous one. His father encouraged him to indulge himself without stint in pleasures to which young men are only too prone, and, what is still more blameworthy, jested at the scruples of a son who had no strong liking for vicious courses. On his return to Oxford he worked hard at his studies, spending the greater part of a vacation in systematic reading along with his friend Dickson, who was afterwards bishop of Down. Their leisure was devoted to perusing the works of the early English dramatists, all of which they read. Taking his degree in 1766, he left Oxford and spent the succeeding two years in Continental travel, traversing France and Italy, either in company with his parents, or else with his friends Lord Carlisle, Lord Fitzwilliam, and Mr Uvedale Price. Along with Mr Price he visited Voltaire at Ferney, where he was heartily welcomed by the great Frenchman for his father's sake, and was advised to read Voltaire's published works in order that he might emancipate himself from religious prejudices and increase his stock of ideas. He became a proficient in speaking the French tongue, and he practised himself in writing it by penning poetical epistles in French to his friend Fitzpatrick. He also mastered Italian, which he admired beyond measure, saying that there was “more good poetry in Italian than in all other languages that I understand put together.” He was then passionately fond of amateur acting and of wearing fine clothes. In after days his friends could scarcely credit the assurance of the friends of his youth when the latter stated that Fox, who had become a sloven in dress, was once a “macaroni,” having made a journey from Paris to Lyons in order to buy waistcoats, and was in the habit of walking about with a little French hat on his head and red-heeled shoes on his feet. As difficult was it for some among them to realize that Fox, the leader of the Whigs, and even further advanced in Liberal opinions than the majority of his party, had been such a Tory at the outset of his parliamentary career as to write to George Selwyn in the following terms: “I am reading Clarendon, but scarcely get on faster than you did with your Charles V. I think the style bad, and that he has a great deal of the old woman in his way of thinking, but hate the opposite party so much that it gives one a kind of partiality for him.” Hating the opposite party so thoroughly, it is not surprising that he should have been inimical to the first administration of the marquis of Rockingham, an administration that repealed the Stamp Act which George Grenville had designed to raise a revenue in the American Colonies, an administration which was far too liberal in tendency and independent in character to suit the narrow and personal views of George III., and that he should have written to Sir George Macartney, “every body laughs at its members, holds them cheap, but, according to the fashionable phrase, doing justice to their good intentions.” In 1768, when still under age, Fox was returned for Midhurst, then a pocket borough. His father having made the arrangements necessary for his election had thereby provided a supporter of the ministry of the day which the earl of Chatham had formed, and in which the duke of Grafton was first lord of the treasury. Fox's maiden speech in the House of Commons was delivered in defence of the ministry and in opposition to seating John Wilkes as member for Middlesex. He at once made his mark as a parliamentary speaker, recalling to some members the best traits of Charles Townshend and the elder Pitt. His father, delighted at the success achieved by his favourite son, communicated his satisfaction to his acquaintances, and wrote to one of them that he had been told Charles had spoken extremely well: — “It was all off-hand, all argumentative, in reply to Mr Burke and Mr Wedderburn, and excessively well indeed. I hear it spoken of by everybody as a most extraordinary thing, and I am, you see, not a little pleased with it.” Fox had his reward by being appointed a lord of the admiralty immediately after attaining his majority, and when Lord North had succeeded the duke of Grafton as prime minister. Two years afterwards he resigned, on account of a misunderstanding with his chief and a determination to oppose the Royal Marriage Bill, which the ministry introduced out of deference to George III., and about which the king wrote to Lord North: — “I do expect every nerve to be strained to carry the Bill through both Houses with a becoming firmness, for it is not a question that immediately relates to administration, but personally to myself; therefore I have a right to expect a hearty support from every one in my service, and shall remember defaulters.” Fox not only opposed this bill, which was framed to discourage members of the royal family from marrying, and to throw artificial obstacles in their way should they desire to make love matches, but he also introduced a bill to amend Lord Hardwicke's Act, “For the better preventing of Clandestine Marriages,” which his father had virulently opposed. This conduct, which gave great offence to George III., was the origin of that implacable enmity to his great subject which ever after prevailed in the royal breast, to the detriment alike of the throne and the country. In introducing his bill Fox is said by Horace Walpole to have spoken “with ease, grace, and clearness”; he effectively answered Edmund Burke and Lord North who opposed it, ridiculing the arguments of the former and confuting those of the latter, “with a shrewdness that, from its multiplicity of reasons, as much exceeded his father in embracing all the arguments of his antagonists as he did in his manner and delivery.” This was doubly agreeable to his father, who had formed a clandestine marriage, and who thought such an Act as Lord Hardwicke's a slur upon himself. The attempt of his son failed, though he had the triumph of beating the ministry by a majority of one on a motion for leave to introduce the bill. After being a year out of office, he became reconciled to Lord North, and re-entered the administration as a junior lord of the treasury. But he soon reasserted his independence, differing from Lord North on a question of procedure, and causing the defeat of the ministry in the House of Commons by pressing an unwelcome motion to a division. The king was incensed at what he styled Charles Fox's presumption, adding, in a letter to the premier, “Indeed, that young man has so thoroughly cast off every principle of common honour and honesty that he must become as contemptible as he is odious; and I hope you will let him know you are not insensible of his conduct towards you.” Lord North, acting in conformity with the king's suggestion, wrote as follows to Fox: — “Sir, his Majesty has thought proper to order a new commission of the treasury to be made out, in which I do not see your name.” Thus ended the first stage of Fox's political career. A year later he avowed in the House of Commons that “the greatest folly of his life was in having supported Lord North.” He was chargeable with follies of another kind. Among the young men of the day he was conspicuous for staking money at play and making bets on horse races. Sometimes he won bets made at Newmarket, but he almost invariably lost larger sums in a gaming club at Almack's, where the stakes were £50, and where as much as £10,000 was on the table at a time. Lord Holland advanced £40,000 to pay his debts, but, this did not suffice, and he became the dupe of a Mrs Grieve, who, on the pretext of introducing him to a Miss Phipps, a West Indian heiress, obtained money from him. His reputation stood so low in public estimation that, according to Horace Walpole, it was commonly supposed he had been dismissed by Lord North for robbing the treasury. In 1774 Fox began that opposition to the ill-advised and ill-fated measures of Lord North which gave him a place among the greatest of orators and the most prescient of statesmen. He lost both his parents in that year, and his brother Stephen, second Lord Holland, soon followed them to the grave, leaving behind him the boy whom Fox treated with almost paternal fondness and care, whose memory as third Lord Holland is held in kindly remembrance, and who, with characteristic modesty, considered it his chief glory to have been the nephew of Fox and friend of Grey. Soon after Fox entered the ranks of the Opposition he became its acknowledged chief. This rapid advancement was largely due to the lessons in practical politics taught him by Edmund Burke, whose acquaintance he had made in early life. The story of his career from 1774, when he left Lord North's administration, to 1782, when Lord North resigned and when he became secretary of state in the second Rockingham administration, is associated with the unsparing and brilliant opposition of the Whig party to the war which ended with the ratification of the independence of the Thirteen United Colonies of America. An important episode during that period was his election as member for the city of Westminster. On the 2d of February 1780, a meeting in favour of parliamentary reform was held in Westminster Hall, at which such leading members of the Whig party were present as the duke of Portland, Earl Temple, John Wilkes, General Burgoyne, Alderman Sawbridge, Edmund Burke, and over which Fox presided. He delivered a stirring speech in favour of a redress of grievances, and in particular of a reform in the representation of the people. After it had been resolved that a petition to that effect should be presented to parliament, it was proposed and carried by acclamation that Fox, “the Man of the People,” should become a candidate to represent Westminster in the House of Commons, and before the year closed he was a member for the constituency which he represented till the end of his life. A little more than a century had then elapsed since Sir Stephen Fox, his grandfather, had been first returned for the city of Westminster. George III. encouraged the opposition to the election of the “Man of the People,” of whom he wrote that “Fox never had any principle, and can therefore act as his interest may guide him.” Eight thousand pounds were contributed out of the civil list to promote the success of Lord Lincoln, the favourite of the court, yet neither corrupt expenditure nor royal disapproval sufficed to hinder the triumph of Fox. As secretary of state in the ministry of the Marquis of Rockingham, and leader of the House of Commons, Fox displayed great business aptitude and capacity for conciliation. A short time before he became minister, Horace Walpole wrote to Sir Horace Mann: — “Mr Fox is the first figure in all the places I have mentioned, the hero in parliament, at the gaming-table, at Newmarket.” After he became minister, the same writer informed his correspondent — “Mr Fox already shines as greatly in place as he did in opposition, though infinitely more difficult a task. He is now as indefatigable as he was idle. He has perfect temper, and not only good humour but good nature, and, which is the first quality of a prime minister in a free country, has more common sense than any man, with amazing parts that are neither ostentatious nor affected.” His experience of high office was very short. Lord Rockingham became premier on the 27th of March 1782; he died on the first of the following July, and Fox resigned immediately afterwards. He had finally resolved to do so before the death of his chief, having been outvoted in the cabinet on the question of unconditionally acknowledging the independence of the United Colonies. His brother secretary of state, the earl of Shelburne, and other colleagues thought that the concession of independence should be made one of the conditions of peace. Fox regarded Shelburne with undisguised aversion. When the administration was formed, he fancied that Shelburne was disposed to imitate Lord North and to pay undue deference to George III., and he told him that it appeared “the administration was to consist of two parts, one belonging to the king, the other to the public.” Four weeks after being in office Fox wrote to his friend Fitzpatrick: — “Shelburne shows himself more and more every day, is ridiculously jealous of my encroaching on his department, and wishes very much to encroach upon mine.” Shelburne, in turn, suspected Fox of designs to monopolize power, and to have his own way in all things. This unfortunate antagonism between two men of remarkable ability caused a split in the Whig party, and enabled the king to succeed in his policy of entrusting power only to ministers who were subservient to his will. Succeeding Lord Rockingham as premier, Shelburne held office till the 24th February 1783. The coalition ministry, in which the duke of Portland was premier, and Lord North and Fox were secretaries of state, took the place of that over which Shelburne had presided. It was with extreme and undisguised reluctance that the king permitted this administration to be formed. When he found it hopeless to struggle against the inevitable result, he communicated his real feelings on the subject to those politicians who prided themselves upon being his friends. In conversation with Mr Wyndham Grenville, he poured out his indignation “upon Fox, whom he loaded with every expression of abhorrence; upon the duke of Portland, against whom he was little less violent; upon Lord North, to whose conduct he imputed all the disasters of the country; upon American independence, which seemed to have been a most bitter pill indeed.” His early detestation of Fox had now been intensified, owing to the unnatural behaviour of his eldest son, which he erroneously attributed to the teaching of the great Whig statesman. The king even consulted Lord Chancellor Thurlow and Lord Ashburton as to “what redress he could have against a man who alienated from him the affections of his son,” and it is said that Thurlow told him “he would have no peace till his son and Fox were secured in the Tower.” One of the first acts of the coalition was to arrange about the establishment and income of the Prince of Wales. The king was shocked at the proposition which the ministry laid before him, considering the sum which had been agreed upon as a fitting one for the prince to receive utterly extravagant; and he alleged that his advisers were ready to sacrifice the public interests to gratify an “ill-advised young man.” In consequence of the king's disapproval of the scheme, his eldest son had to content himself with an allowance which was wholly inadequate; hence he had to make repeated applications to parliament to pay his debts. While the coalition ministry held office the definitive treaties of peace were signed between Great Britain and France, Spain, and the United States of America, and thus the war which a ministry after George III.'s own heart had provoked and carried on with amazing incompetence ceased to impoverish and humiliate the nation. But the chief act of the administration and the cause of its downfall was the introduction of a bill for the just and efficient government of British India. Though Burke had the principal share in planning the measure, yet Fox, having made himself thoroughly master of the questions at issue, expounded the scheme in the House of Commons with great lucidity and impressiveness. The opposition to it was vehement and disingenuous; the measure was falsely described as having been solely designed in order to confiscate the property of the East India Company and establish the supremacy of the Whig party. William Pitt, who was then unsparing and unfair in his criticism, afterwards did practical justice to the wisdom of Fox and his colleagues by bringing a measure into parliament resembling that of the coalition ministry in many essential particulars. Fox's prediction was thus verified, for the day arrived when his statesmanlike and much maligned bill was “regarded in its true light as a strong, but as a necessary and a just measure.” But the king had determined that the bill which Fox had safely piloted through the House of Commons should never pass into law; several persons calling themselves his friends aided him in accomplishing his object, and the ministry, after being defeated by a small majority in the House of Lords, was summarily and contemptuously dismissed. Twenty-two years elapsed before Fox returned to office.
During three months after his dismissal, Fox endeavoured to counteract the power of the sovereign to dissolve parliament; but he was baffled by the boldness and patience of William Pitt, the young prime minister. Then followed a more trying discomfiture when the country pronounced in favour of his rival at the general election of 1784. Even the Nonconformists, who had no warmer advocate than Fox, and whose only hope for the redress of intolerable grievances consisted in the Whig party being in office, turned against their true friends, rallying to the shout of “Pitt and the constitution,” instead of aiding by voice and vote the cause of “Fox and free government.” They deserted him at a critical juncture. Nevertheless he continued to plead for them with his whole heart and soul, and merely remarked, “on recollection of what had been their conduct upon that occasion [the coalition], the House would at least do him the justice to say that, in supporting them that day, he was not influenced by any very obvious motives of private partiality or attachment. Yet he was determined to let them know that, though they could upon some occasions lose sight of their principles of liberty, he would not upon any occasion lose sight of his principles of toleration.” It was not enough for the king and the young and haughty premier that the Whig party should be defeated in the country; they were resolved to exclude Fox from parliament, and in any case to prevent his re-election for Westminster. Admiral Lord Hood, Sir Cecil Wray, and Fox were the candidates for the two seats. The court and the ministry were bent upon the first two being chosen. What the king styled “gold pills” were lavished on the occasion. Moreover, 280 of the Guards were sent to vote as householders, a thing which Horace Walpole said his father “in the most quiet season would not have dared to do.” The character of the struggle recalled an envenomed contest 89 years previously, when the Jacobites strove with all their might to hinder the re-election of Sir Stephen Fox, a declared supporter of the Revolution settlement. In 1784, as in 1695, the party of freedom and constitutional government carried the day in Westminster, and Fox was returned by a majority of 236. But the partisans of divine right in 1695 never dreamed of retrieving their defeat in the manner which found favour in the eyes of George III. and his advisers in 1784. A scrutiny was demanded, in order that Fox might not take his seat. Happily, this pettifogging manœuvre was thwarted by the action of attached friends, who procured his election for the Kirkwall burghs. The validity of this election was challenged, but without result, and Fox was able to make that impassioned and masterly protest in the House of Commons against the shameful treatment to which he had been subjected, which is known as his speech on the Westminster scrutiny, and which ranks among the best speeches ever delivered in parliament. The scrutiny went on for a year, till even Pitt's docile majority resented the further continuance of the unconstitutional farce, and voted that it should end. In consequence of this Fox took his seat as member for Westminster, brought an action against the high bailiff, who had conducted himself in the affair as a tool of the ministry, and recovered £2000 damages, which he distributed among the Westminster charities. The remainder of Fox's parliamentary career is more remarkable for eloquent speeches than for stirring personal incident. His criticism of Pitt's measures was always shrewd and vigorous, though not invariably just. He blundered most seriously in denouncing the commercial treaty with France, a scheme of far-seeing policy and admirable patriotism. When this subject was debated he gave utterance to a phrase which, like the utterances of many other notable men, has been repeated to his discredit by persons who, purposely or inadvertently, dissociate it from the context, and withhold the qualifying clauses. Having said that “France was the natural political enemy of Great Britain,” he was reproached for calling the French the natural enemies of the English. What he meant to convey was, not that enmity necessarily existed between the English and the French, but that the policy of France, as directed by the house of Bourbon, was irreconcilably opposed to the interests of England, — a proposition which was really incontrovertible. His liking for the French people was extreme, and this was openly displayed so soon as they had emancipated themselves from a rule which they detested, and which rendered them the disturbers of the world. Then he avowed his conviction that the new form of government in France “would render her a better neighbour, and less disposed to hostility, than when she was subject to the cabal and intrigues of ambitious and interested statemen.” Again, it is forgotten or concealed by those persons who have censured Fox on account of his objection to this treaty, “that he earnestly recommended, instead of the present treaty, a more intimate connexion with the United States of America, such an intercourse for Britain that could be devised, and was entirely consistent with her true political interests, and such an intercourse he had the best reasons for believing America was both willing and eager to enter into upon fair and equitable terms.” Indeed, Washington was anxious to conclude a commercial treaty with Great Britain, but Pitt discountenanced the notion. It was wise in Fox to urge this as most desirable, yet he would have shown still greater wisdom in aiding to the utmost the project for increasing commercial intercourse with France also. On other questions he displayed genuine liberality of sentiment and the highest statesmanship. He declared emphatically against the slave trade at a time when Pitt took credit for delivering no opinion in favour or in disapproval of the traffic in negroes. He repeatedly moved for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, and he advocated a thorough-going scheme of parliamentary reform. He was one of the managers when Warren Hastings was impeached by the Commons of England of high crimes and misdemeanours; he had mastered the subject, spoke on it in a more business-like, though less rhetorical and sensational style than Burke and Sheridan, while his judgment was accepted as conclusive when his brother managers differed in opinion. His health being impaired, he went to the Continent in 1788 for relaxation and change, revisiting Switzerland and Italy. He spent a short time with Gibbon at Lausanne. The luminous historian has chronicled the pleasure which he reaped from this visit of the illustrious statesman; how they conversed without ceasing from morning to night, adding, “we had little politics; though Fox gave me in a few words such a character of Pitt as one great man should give of another his rival; much of books, from my own, on which he flattered me very pleasantly, to Homer and the Arabian Nights; much about the country, my garden (which he understands far better than I do); and upon the whole I think he envies me, and would do so were he a minister.” At Bologna, in November 1788, he received an urgent summons to return home, owing to the meeting of parliament on the 20th of that month having been rendered necessary on account of the king's sudden and serious illness. While journeying to England he heard a report that George III. was dead, being the truth that the monarch had been suddenly bereft of his reason. Travelling with all the speed possible in those days, Fox arrived in London on the ninth day after leaving Bologna. He had gone abroad for his health; the journey back nearly killed him. Wraxall says that Fox's appearance when he entered the House of Commons on the 4th of December, “excited a great and general sensation. I never saw him, either previously or subsequently, exhibit so broken and shattered an aspect. His body seemed to be emaciated, his countenance sallow and sickly, his eyes swollen; while his stockings hung upon his legs, and he rather dragged himself along, than walked up the floor to take his seat.” Both Pitt and he made mistakes during the debates on the regency, both thinking less of what was best to be done in the circumstances than about the most suitable course to pursue for the purpose of securing the supremacy of their respective parties. Pitt dreaded the loss of office should the Prince of Wales become regent, with full power to conduct the government; Fox was confident that, if the prince exercised the royal prerogatives, a Whig administration would be constituted. The unexpected recovery of the king put an end alike to hopes of promotion and fears of dismissal; but the record of blunders which cannot be excused, and of aspirations which were wanting in patriotism, remained to sully the fame of Tory and Whig leaders. The divergence of opinion between the Whig and Tory parties, and among the members of the Whig party, grew wider and more deplorable when the French Revolution agitated Europe and terrified many Englishmen. An outcry was raised against French principles, and against those persons who held that the surest way to avert danger to England was to remove all reasonable grounds for popular dissatisfaction. The mob of Birmingham, frenzied with panic and overflowing in loyalty, pillaged the houses of Dr Priestley and other Nonconformists, in order to testify attachment to “church and king,” a cry which Dr Parr characterized as the toast of Jacobites and the yell of incendiaries, meaning, “a church without the gospel, and a king above the laws.” Handbills circulated in the neighbourhood where Fox dwelt contained the threat, “Destruction to Fox and his Jacobite crew.” He expressed in the House of Commons his foreboding that his own dwelling might be dealt with in the same way as Dr Priestley's, yet he persevered in upholding freedom of speech and of the press when the ministry carried the Traitorous Correspondence Act, the Seditious Practices Act, and the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. He too suffered for his attachment to liberal principles. For proposing as a toast at the Whig club, “the sovereignty of the people of Great Britain,” his name was expunged by the king from the list of privy councillors, at the special suggestion of Pitt. The duke of Norfolk had previously been subjected to the like indignity for having proposed on Fox's birthday the toast: — “Our sovereign's health; the majesty of the people.” Finding it hopeless to struggle against the ministerial majority, which had been swelled by defections from the ranks of his own party and friends, he discontinued attending parliament in 1797, and spent his time at St Anne's Hill in literary study and in writing a history of England from the reign of James II. The debts which had long embarrassed him were discharged by private friends in 1793, who settled an annuity of £3000 upon him. From that date he never touched a card. In 1795 he married Mrs Armitstead, a lady with whom he had lived for some time. During this period he watched over the training of his nephew, the third Lord Holland, and prepared him for playing a useful part on the political stage. Immediately after the peace of Amiens he visited Paris, chiefly in order to examine the archives in the French foreign office for historical purposes. He visited Lafayette, and was cordially welcomed by the republican patriot, planting, in remembrance of his visit, the ivy which now mantles the turrets of the gateway at Lagrange. In common with other distinguished visitors to Paris, he was presented to Bonaparte. The war recommencing soon after his return home, he resumed his advocacy of peace; indeed, as the poet has truly said of this stage in his career, “peace, when he spoke, was ever on his tongue.” Another feature of it was a complete understanding with the marquis of Lansdowne, formerly earl of Shelburne, on questions of foreign policy, the two acting in concert when any such matter was under debate in either House of Parliament.
Pitt died in January 1806. The ministry of “All the Talents” was then formed, with Lord Grenville as first lord of the Treasury and Fox as secretary of state, despite the aversion and resistance of George III. Though loving peace as much as ever, he was yet ready to resist the inordinate pretensions of Bonaparte, and he declared war against Prussia when that power, acting as the vassal of the French conqueror and at his suggestion, annexed Hanover. Fox's last appearance in the House of Commons was on the 10th of June 1806. Feeble in health, he appeared there at the risk of his life; but he could not forbear making a special effort in order to move resolutions preparatory to introducing a bill for the suppression of the slave trade. The resolutions were carried by large majorities in both Houses. The bill giving effect to them became law the following year. In this, his farewell speech, he said, “So fully am I impressed with the vast importance and necessity of attaining what will be the object of my motion this night, that if, during the almost forty years that I have had the honour of a seat in parliament, I had been so fortunate as to accomplish that, and that only, I should think I had done enough, and could retire from public life with comfort, and the conscious satisfaction that I had done my duty.” On the 13th of the following September, he died, at the age of fifty-eight, of a schirrous affection of the liver. The room in which he drew his last breath is in the duke of Devonshire's villa at Chiswick, and is the one wherein, at a later day, Canning died also. By Fox's death the country lost a statesman who, despite his failings, is one of the finest and most fascinating figures in modern history, — a man who, in the phrase which Burke uttered six years after the friendship between them had ended, was “a man made to be loved,” and of whom even George III., his single open and bitter enemy, said to Lord Sidmouth, “little did I think that I should ever live to regret Mr Fox's death,” and to his daughter Princess Mary, “I never thought I should have regretted the death of Mr Fox as much as I do.” Lamented by an unappreciative sovereign and by all discerning men, the mortal remains of the incomparable Whig statesman were curried in public funeral to Westminster Abbey, and laid alongside those of his brilliant and triumphant rival William Pitt.
It is not easy to determine the exact place which Fox would have held among English statesmen, if he had been allowed a suitable opportunity for the exercise and display of his talents. His name is associated with one great measure of practical legislation, the Act for amending the law of libel. Peace with the United States, the better government of India, the abolition of the slave trade, were some grand results of his untiring efforts and commanding advocacy. Scarcely any of the measures of reform carried into effect after his death had not been sanctioned and supported by him. Yet he performed but a small part of what he desired to accomplish. His fate had a close similarity to that of the earl of Shelburne, for whom, till a late period in his career, he felt a repugnance which was none the less unfortunate because it was reciprocated. Lord Shelburne, in common with Fox, was far in advance of his age. He neither dreaded the people nor overestimated their capacity. But he never had the chance of giving full effect to his convictions, and his best traits remained in obscurity till a descendant, with ample knowledge and admirable taste, has made them clear to the public of our day. Like Shelburne, the Whig commoner has been the victim of popular misunderstanding. His addiction to pleasure was considered by many contemporaries to be a fatal blot on his character. They argued in his case as Junius did in that of the duke of Grafton, who was denounced as an incompetent statesman because he appeared in public with Nancy Parsons, and was supposed to prefer the attractions of Newmarket to the sober business of cabinet councils. That the duke of Grafton was a man of exceptional capacity is now indisputable. Notwithstanding his liking for gaming and horse-racing, Fox was a thorough man of business, ard a statesman for whom no work was too severe and no problem too difficult. The obstacles which Fox could not overcome, and which proved equal stumbling-blocks in Shelburne's path, were the dislike and distrust of George III. Yet, intensely as the king detested what he considered the Jesuitism of Shelburne, his feeling of antipathy to Fox was still more extreme and indefensible. This was due to aversion to his father, to the independence displayed by Fox when a member of Lord North's administration, and to the supposition that the undutiful behaviour of his worthless eldest son was the result of Fox's direct influence and prompting. Charles Butler notes in his interesting miscellanies — “Cardinal de Pietz said to a person who taunted him with the superiority of Cardinal Mazarin, ‘Give me the king but for one day, and you'll see who has the real superiority.’ Mr Fox never had the king with him, even for one hour.” When he was secretary of state in the coalition ministry, the king in his demeanour to him was “civil, but no more.” The reason of this is obvious to all those persons who have studied George III.'s character. Not deficient in shrewdness, and abounding in the cunning which is the characteristic of men conscious and ashamed of their weakness of intellect, that monarch liked to have advisers who were not too strongly in contrast to himself, or else who would veil their capacity in their intercourse with him. A mere simpleton was as distasteful to him as a towering genius. Pitt, who liked to surround himself with dummies, had chosen Lord Hawkesbury to conduct foreign affairs. His incompetency being too conspicuous, the king told George Rose with gusto that, though the foreign ministers differed on many points, they were unanimous in their contempt and dislike for Lord Hawkesbury, and that “his lordship always approached him with a vacant grin, and had hardly ever any tiling business-like to say to him.” In the presence of men of strong individuality and of great intellect, such as Chatham, Shelburne, and Fox, the king felt ill at ease, being conscious that his nominal servants were his real superiors. William Pitt pleased him, because Pitt, though a man of supreme talent and haughty to his equals and inferiors, was supple in the presence of his sovereign, and ready to defer to the sovereign's desires, to flatter his prejudices. Instead of impressing him with the opinion of the public on a given question, he professed anxiety to learn what his own view was in order to give effect to it. Once only did Pitt insist upon having his own way; failing, he resigned. But he returned to power on the clear understanding that he would not press the measure of justice to the Roman Catholics which he previously held to be necessary, and to which the king was sternly opposed. If George III. had deemed it possible that Fox would have been as submissive and considerate as Pitt, he would never have told George Rose that “he had taken a positive determination not to admit Mr Fox into his councils, even at the hazard of a civil war,” nor would he have written to Addington that “ Mr Fox is excluded by the express command of the king to Mr Pitt.” The wonder is that, despite the hindrances which were thrown in Fox's path, and the slight occasion which he had of proving in office how well fitted he was to discharge the most onerous tasks, he should yet have proved that no statesman of his age was better qualified for conducting the government of England. What Gibbon said of him during the war with the American colonies is applicable to his entire political career; he exhibited in the conduct of a party capacity for governing an empire.
It is unquestionable that, as a parliamentary orator, Fox has no superiors. Yet, notwithstanding many volumes contain his speeches, there is an insuperable difficulty in setting forth the secret of his oratorical greatness. One speech only is there printed as it was delivered, the single speech which he wrote out beforehand, being a eulogium on the deceased duke of Bedford. Another, that on the Westminster scrutiny, is said to have been reported with the accuracy which is now the rule. The records of Warren Hastings's trial comprise verbatim reports of the speeches which he delivered before the House of Lords. But no such evidence suffices to explain the extraordinary effects which his spoken words produced; hence, it is necessary to rely upon the testimony of contemporaries, and to accept their decision as conclusive. Pitt styled him a magician who laid a spell upon his hearers so long as words issued from his lips. A noble lord, thinking to curry favour with the premier, abused one of Fox's speeches, and received the generous reply from Pitt: “Don't disparage it; nobody could have made it but himself.” Rogers has recorded that never did he “hear anything equal to Fox's speeches in reply; they were wonderful. Burke did not do himself justice as a speaker; his manner was hurried, and he always seemed to be in a passion. Pitt's voice sounded as if he had worsted in his mouth.” Charles Butler said that Fox had a captivating earnestness of tone and manner; “the moment of his grandeur was when, after he had stated the argument of his adversary, with much greater strength than his adversary had done, and with much greater than his hearers thought possible, he seized it with the strength of a giant, and tore and trampled it to destruction.” Sir James Mackintosh records that Fox “certainly possessed, above all moderns, that unison of reason, simplicity, and vehemence which formed the prince of orators.” Burke pronounced him “the most brilliant and accomplished debater that the world ever saw.” A man may be accomplished in statecraft and unrivalled in oratory, and yet may want the charm which renders him as worthy of love as of admiration. Few men whose statesmanship is indisputable, and whose pre-eminence as orators is acknowledged, have surpassed Fox in the graces which soften life and attract affection. His friends regarded him with idolatry. At the time of the French Revolution, when his party had become a fragment, Lord Thurlow said, “there are but forty of them, but there is not one of them who is not ready to be hanged for Fox.” Lord Sidmouth, an uncompromising Tory, could not resist the fascination of his nature, and wrote, after knowing him personally, “I never knew a man of more apparent sincerity, more free from rancour, or even severity, and hardly any one so entirely devoid of affectation.” Gibbon, another political opponent, admired in him “the powers of a superior man, as they are blended in his attractive character, with the softness and simplicity of a child. Perhaps no human being was ever more perfectly exempt from the taint of malevolence, vanity, or falsehood.” It is unnecessary to supplement these testimonies with the eulogies of enthusiastic friends. Nor can there be any excess of partiality for him in the decision that Charles James Fox stands conspicuous among the English statemen whose virtues ought to be kept in loving and perpetual remembrance. (W. F. R.)