Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pitt, Thomas (1737-1793)
PITT, THOMAS, first Baron Camelford (1737–1793), politician and connoisseur of art, born and baptised at Boconnoc in Cornwall on 3 March 1736–7, was the only son of Thomas Pitt (d 1760), lord warden of the Stannaries. William Pitt, first earl of Chatham [q. v.], was his father's elder brother. His mother was Christian, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Lyttelton, bart., of Hagley. He was admitted fellow-commoner at Clare College, Cambridge, on 7 Jan. 1754, and resided there until 1758. While at the university his uncle, William Pitt, sent him much advice in a series of sensible and affectionate letters, which were printed in 1804, and were included, together with the nephew's replies, in the ‘Chatham Correspondence.’ In 1759 Pitt obtained the degree of M.A. per literas regias.
Pitt's health was bad even as an undergraduate; he was ‘troubled with fits.’ In search of a cure he accompanied Lord Kinnoull, British ambassador to the court of Portugal, on his journey to Lisbon in January 1760. Gray and his friends contrived that Lord Strathmore, a college companion, should go with him; and Philip Francis, who praises Pitt and Strathmore as ‘most amiable young men,’ and retained throughout life the warmest attachment for Pitt, also joined the expedition. They entered the Tagus on 7 March 1760, and left Lisbon on 21 May 1760. Passing through Spain to Barcelona, they crossed to Genoa, and passed some time in Italy. Pitt corresponded with Gray, by whom he is called ‘no bad observer,’ and wrote a manuscript journal of his travels, a copy of which formerly belonged to Mr. Richard Bentley, and a second copy, by the Rev. William Cole, transcribed from that in the possession of Richard Gough, is No. 5845 of the Additional MSS. in the British Museum. Gough speaks with pleasure of this ‘most delicious tour, with most accurate descriptions, and some plans.’ Cole notes that the description of the bull-fight in the manuscript is identical with that in the Rev. E. Clarke's ‘Letters on the Spanish Nation,’ 1763 (pp. 107–13). Horace Walpole introduced Pitt to Sir Horace Mann at Florence as ‘not a mere matter of form, but an earnest suit to know him well,’ and praised his conduct in cutting off the entail to pay his father's debts and to provide for his sisters. Pitt was staying at Florence with his uncle, Sir Richard Lyttelton, and making himself very popular, when news arrived of the death of his father, on 17 July 1761.
He now became owner of the controlling interest in the parliamentary representation of Old Sarum and a considerable share in that of Okehampton in Devonshire. He accordingly sat for the former borough from December 1761 to the dissolution in March 1768, for Okehampton in the parliament from 1768 to 1774, and for Old Sarum from 1774 until his elevation to the peerage in January 1784. He followed in politics his near relative, George Grenville, who made him a lord of the admiralty in his ministry of 1763. He was invited, in compliment to his uncle, Chatham, to continue in office with the Rockingham ministry; but he was politically at variance with Chatham, and followed Grenville into opposition (cf. Walpole, Memoirs of George III, i. 339–43, Walpole, Letters, iv. 238–45, and The Grenville Papers, ii. 232, 320–60).
At intervals Pitt played an active part in politics. He was one of the seventy-two whig members who met at the Thatched House Tavern, London, on 9 May 1769, to celebrate the rights of electors in the struggle for the representation of Middlesex; he seconded Sir William Meredith in his attempt to relax the subscription to the Thirtynine Articles, and he spoke against the Royal Marriage Bill. Through his influence, supported by Lady Chatham, the reconciliation of his uncle and Lord Temple was effected in 1774. Walpole, who quarrelled with him on political topics, calls him a ‘flimsy’ speaker, though not wanting in parts; but Wraxall recognised in him the possession of no ordinary powers of oratory, and remarked that, although he rarely spoke, his name and family relations ‘procured him a most favourable audience.’ It was acknowledged on all sides that he never spoke so well as in his speech in 1780 on Dunning's celebrated motion to limit the influence of the crown. He was one of the strongest opponents of Lord North's ministry, and a warm antagonist of the coalition. In November 1781 he protested against voting supplies until grievances were redressed, in a speech to which Fox referred in his own justification on 4 Jan. 1798, when opposing the passage of the Assessed Taxes Bill (Hansard, xxxiii. 1230). In February 1783 he moved the address for the Shelburne ministry, protesting that he had always been opposed to the use of force against the American colonies, and he attacked Fox's East India Bill with energy.
A very favourable account is given by Wraxall of his speech in 1782 against parliamentary reform, in which he did not ‘make a false step,’ although hampered by the knowledge that he was returned to the House of Commons in respect of a single tenement. Next year, when the same question was brought forward, he incurred much ridicule by a change of opinion, and by an offer to sacrifice his borough for the public good. He was satirised by the authors of the ‘Rolliad’ (ed. 1795, pp. 171–2), and he was mercilessly chaffed in the House of Commons by Fox (13 March 1784) and Burke (28 Feb. 1785). In March 1783, when the king was endeavouring to form an administration in opposition to North and Fox, the leadership of the House of Commons and the seals of a secretary of state were ‘offered to and pressed upon Thomas Pitt’ (Buckingham, Court of George III, 1853, i. 190), although Lord Ashburton, who conferred with the king on the subject, pleaded that he was a ‘wrongheaded man’ (Fitzmaurice, Life of Shelburne, ii. 375–82). On 5 Jan. 1784 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Camelford of Boconnoc, a signal proof, as was generally remarked, of the influence of his cousin, the young William Pitt (cf. Chatham Correspondence, iv. 526–7).
Ill-health often drove him to the continent. From 1789 to 1792 he was in Italy, and, although he landed at Deal in June 1792, he was obliged to flee to the continent again in September. Peter Beckford says in his ‘Familiar Letters’ (1805 edit. i. 159), that Lord Camelford ‘left Florence for Pisa with the gout upon him, and died immediately on his arrival;’ but it is generally said that he died at Florence on 19 Jan. 1793. He was buried on 2 March at Boconnoc, where he had added to the old mansion, from his own designs, a second wing, in which is a gallery sixty-five feet long, containing many family and other portraits. In 1771 he had erected, on the hill above the house, an obelisk, 123 feet high, to the memory of his uncle, Sir Richard Lyttelton (Parochial Hist. of Cornwall, i. 74–5).
Pitt married, on 28 or 29 July 1771, Anne, younger daughter and coheiress of Pinckney Wilkinson, a rich merchant of Hanover Square, London, and Burnham, Norfolk. She had ‘thirty thousand pounds down and at least as much more in expectation,’ wrote Gray. She died at Camelford House, Oxford Street, London, on 5 May 1803, aged 65, pining from grief at the career of her son, and was buried in the vault in Boconnoc churchyard on 19 May. Their issue was one son, Thomas, second earl of Camelford, who is separately noticed, and one daughter, Anne, born in September 1772. In March 1773 William Wyndham Grenville, baron Grenville [q. v.], wrote that the girl was ‘either dying or actually dead,’ but she lived to marry him in 1792, and survived until June 1864.
Lady Camelford's sister Mary made an unhappy marriage, in 1760, with Captain John Smith, by whom she was mother of Admiral Sir Sidney Smith. Camelford, who treated his sister-in-law and her children with much kindness, printed in 1785 a ‘Narrative and Proofs’ of Smith's bad conduct (Bibl. Cornub. ii. 500).
Pitt was high-minded, generous, and distinguished for suavity of manners, but was of irresolute temperament. Sir Egerton Brydges describes him as ‘a man of some talents and very elegant acquirements in the arts’ (Collins, Peerage, ix. 438). Mrs. Piozzi, with more emphasis, calls him ‘a finical, lady-like man’ (Piozzi, Notes on Wraxall, ed. 1836, vol. iv. addenda p. vii), and by Sir J. Eardley-Wilmot he was dubbed in 1765 ‘the prince of all the male beauties,’ and ‘very well bred, polite, and sensible’ (Wilmot, Memoirs, p. 182).
Several fugitive tracts have been loosely assigned to Camelford. Sir John Sinclair credits him with a reply to his own ‘Lucubrations during a Short Recess,’ 1782 (Corresp. vol. i. pp. xxviii, xxix). A few days after his elevation to the peerage a pamphlet, in which ‘the constitutional right of the House of Commons to advise the sovereign’ was warmly upheld, was attributed to Camelford, and referred to in parliament by Burke, who also ridiculed him as the alleged author of a tract relating to parliamentary reform. In the autumn of 1789 Camelford found it necessary to deny that he had published a treatise on French affairs. He is included in Park's edition of Walpole's ‘Royal and Noble Authors,’ iv. 348–50, as ‘the reputed author of a tract concerning the American war.’
From March 1762 Pitt lived at Twickenham, playfully calling his house the ‘Palazzo Pitti.’ He was then the neighbour of Horace Walpole, who recognised his skill in Gothic architecture, and went so far as to call him ‘my present architect.’ On the death in 1779 of the second Earl of Harrington, he bought the lease of Petersham Lodge (beneath Richmond Park, but now demolished and the grounds included in the park boundaries), and he purchased the fee-simple in 1784 from the crown, an act of parliament being passed for that purpose. In 1790 it was sold by him to the Duke of Clarence. Pitt also built Camelford House, fronting Oxford Street, at the top of Park Lane, London; and as a member of the Dilettanti Society, to which he had been elected on 1 May 1763, he proposed in February 1785 that the shells of two adjoining houses constructed by him in Hereford Street should be completed by the society for a public museum, but considerations of expense put a stop to the project. He interested himself greatly in the porcelain manufactory at Plymouth, where employment was found for the white saponaceous clay found on his land in Cornwall (Polwhele, Devonshire, i. 60; Polwhele, Reminiscences, i. 79–80; Prideaux, Relics of Corkworthy, pp. 4–5; Owen, Two Centuries of Ceramic Art, pp. 77–8, 115–16, 139–44). Angelica Kauffmann wrote to him on the free importation into England by artists of their own studies and designs (J. Y. Smith, Book for a Rainy Day, 1861, pp. 186–7). Pitt was a friend of Mrs. Delany, to whom he gave for her lifetime portraits of Sir Bevil Grenville, his wife, and his father, and he proposed to Count Bruhl that they should jointly assist Thomas Mudge in his plans for the improvement of nautical chronometers. The wainscoting of the stalls in Carlisle Cathedral, where his uncle, Charles Lyttelton, was bishop, was designed by him.
Pitt's letters to George Hardinge are printed in Nichols's ‘Illustrations of Literature,’ vi. 74–139. Some of the originals were sold on 5 Dec. 1874, from the library of John Gough Nichols. Further letters by Pitt are in the British Museum, Additional MS. 28060, and Egerton MSS. 1969, 1970. Some letters written to him by the second William Pitt are among the Fortescue MSS. (Hist. MSS. Comm. 13th Rep. App. pt. iii. pp. 219, 558, 591–2).
Pitt's portrait by Romney, a favourable specimen of the artist's talents, depicts him dressed in a scarlet suit and seated, resting his left elbow on a table. His daughter's portrait, by Madame Vigée le Brun, represented her as Hebe. It was painted at Rome in the winter of 1789–90, when she is described as ‘sixteen, and very pretty.’ Both portraits belong to the Fortescues of Boconnoc (Archæol. Journ. xxxi. 26).[Gent. Mag. 1771 p. 377, 1793 pt. i. pp. 94, 141, 1803 pt. i. p. 485; Hutchins's Dorset (1861 edit.), i. 164; Merivale's Life of Sir P. Francis, i. 29, 331, ii. 217; Fitzmaurice's Lord Shelburne, ii. 375–82, iii. 79, 345; Souvenirs of Madame Vigée le Brun, i. 192–3; Gray's Works, ed. Gosse, ii. 378, iii. 28, 30, 85, 98–9, 406; Walpole's Memoirs of George III, i. 259, 396, ii. 194; Walpole's Journal of George III, i. 9–11, 43, 64, 368, ii. passim; Walpole's Letters, vol. i. p. xcvi, iii. 286, 402, 422, 479, 497, 501, 504, iv. 112, v. 312, vii. 58, 127, 348; Miss Berry's Journals, i. 181–3; Wraxall's Hist. Memoirs (ed. 1836), ii. 442–6, 511, 520–1, iii. 82–4, 93, 240–1, 400–6, iv. 571, 692–3; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 588; Hansard, xxiv. 348, 762, xxv. 248; Grenville Papers, ii. 198, iii. 79, 241; Letters of Gray and Mason, pp. 109–10, 200–2, 255–6, 484, 508, 513; Barrow's Sir Sidney Smith, ii. 120; Lysons's Environs, i. 400; Duke of Buckingham's Court of George III, i. 190, 207–213, ii. 198, 213–16; Flint's Mudge Memoirs, p. 59; Mrs. Delany's Life, v. 340–1, 400, vi. 488; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. ii. 498–500, iii. 1314; Boase's Collect. Cornub. p. 740; information from Rev. Dr. Atkinson, Clare Coll. Cambridge.]