Page:Lord Chatham as an Orator.djvu/27

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Lord Chatham as an Orator

of March the Bill to repeal the Stamp Act received the Royal Assent. A few weeks afterwards, the Ministry of Lord Rockingham, which passed it, was dismissed by the King, and on the 30th of July Mr. Pitt became Prime Minister as Lord Privy Seal, and, to the general amazement, entered the House of Lords as the Earl of Chatham.

To-day we are dealing with this great man not directly as a Statesman but as an Orator. We shall therefore pass over the mysterious illness which almost at once unnerved him, and for just three years and a half secluded him from the public eye. It was a veritable eclipse. While it lasted, grievous things were done. At home the liberty of the subject was wantonly invaded. Abroad fresh wrongs were inflicted on America, wrongs which no timely legislation could any longer repeal.

At length, at the beginning of 1770, Lord Chatham returned to Parliament, I had almost said returned to life. As Macaulay says of this startling resurrection, 'It was a strange recovery. Men had been in the habit of talking of him as of one dead; and, when he first showed himself at the King's levée, started as if they had seen a ghost.'

I hope that some of my hearers know and admire as much as I do the fascinating book published some thirty-two years ago by my dear friend, Sir George Trevelyan, under the title of The Early Years of Charles James Fox. If so, they will remember his brilliant chapter on 'the effect produced by the re-appearance of Chatham'; how he compares it with the breathless scene in Measure for Measure, where Lucio pulls aside the cowl of the Friar, and discloses the features of the Ruler who has returned at the moment when he is least expected, to call his Deputy to account for the evil deeds that had been done in his name.