Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/16

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
Lord Chatham as an Orator

correct traditions, but simply to hear, as intelligently as we can, a voice which once could move and warn and terrify.

We begin, then, with the year 1755, five years before the death of George II. The Duke of Newcastle has been Prime Minister for nearly two years, succeeding his younger brother, Henry Pelham. War has just broken out with France, and the King and his Government are bent on a system of foreign treaties backed by foreign subsidies. Henry Fox, the first Lord Holland, has been made Secretary of State and Leader of the House of Commons, to the exclusion of Pitt, who is left in his old subordinate position as only Paymaster of the Forces. Pitt, who had been fairly loyal to Pelham, has but little respect for Newcastle. Before the Duke had been a full year in office, his nominal colleague astonished the House by asking 'in tones of thunder' whether 'Parliament sat only to register the edicts of one too-powerful subject'.

Another year passed, and in November, 1755, again the Houses met. In the vivid language of Macaulay, based on the contemporary evidence of Horace Walpole, 'Public opinion was wound up to the height. After ten quiet years there was to be an Opposition, countenanced by the Heir-Apparent of the Throne, and headed by the most brilliant orator of the age. The debate on the Address was long remembered as one of the greatest Parliamentary conflicts of that generation. It began at three in the afternoon, and lasted till five the next morning. It was on this night that young Gerard Hamilton delivered that "single speech" from which his nickname was derived. His eloquence threw into the shade every orator except Pitt, who declaimed against the subsidies for an hour and a half with extraordinary energy and effect.'