The American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, Literature, Art, and Science/Volume 02/December 1845/The Flight of Helle

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[The following passages, on an important period of England's greatest minister, come to us from an accomplished pen, with an intimation of their being the only part yet written of a popular memoir of that statesman. The public will judge with us that such a memoir, written by an American, clearly and vigorously, could not fail to be of great interest to American readers, and will look for it accordingly.]—Ed. Am. Rev.

From the year 1757 to the death of George II., William Pitt was Prime Minister of England. By the predominance of his genius he had composed all intestine feuds, and carried her power and fame to their farthest limits. Canada, after Wolfe's victory, had fallen, and the great colonial fabric which France had been for more than a century building, was at a single blow destroyed. The American Colonies were thus relieved from a dangerous neighboring enemy, and one superintending authority was extended over the continent of North America. And so it was throughout the world. France was everywhere humbled, and Great Britain everywhere triumphant. "George II.," said Burke, in one of his oration-like pamphlets, "carried the glory, the power, the commerce of England, to a height unknown even to this renowned nation, in the times of its greatest prosperity; and he left his succession resting on the true and only foundations of all natural and all regal greatness—affection at home, reputation abroad, trust in allies, terror in rival nations."

Every one is apt to shrink from that theory of history which attributes great effects to the power of a single man; but it is vain to question that, in the case of Mr. Pitt, individual power, the character of one man, had its direct and controlling influence. It was personal influence that made him prime minister, contrary to the wishes of the king, who disliked him with a truly king-like antipathy to popular favorites. In spite of the prejudices and cabals of a set of courtiers and courtier-like statesmen, with whom he had no sympathy, he had been forced, or rather forced himself, into power. Being there, the same power of individual will showed itself, in absolute, almost tyrannical control at home, both in the cabinet and out of it—both over his colleagues and his nominal master, and in the conduct of a war which involved every power in Europe, and agitated every quarter of the globe. He was emphatically a war-minister; for, as is very apparent, when he mingled afterwards in peaceful councils, (his health, to be sure, enfeebled,) his success was by no means so illustrious. But as a war-minister, his merit was brilliant indeed. Into every branch of the public service he seemed to infuse his own fierce spirit; and just so long as the military men of Great Britain felt the impulse which his vigor gave them, they triumphed over every enemy that opposed them. There is, in the biography of Lord Keppel, a very curious correspondence of General Field-Marshal Hodgson and Lord Albemarle, in which the peculiar vigor of the British minister is most happily hit off. In a letter written just before the expedition against Belle Isle, of which he was to take command. General Hodgson says: "After my interview with the king, I waited on Mr. Pitt by appointment. The element was calm and serene—not a dimple on the surface but what was occasioned by a smile. Wondered I would go this afternoon—why not stay till to-morrow? Recommended me not to stay for trifles if the wind was fair, or confine myself to forms; and promised to support me in all stretches of power whatever, and against whomsoever. Told me that perhaps the money might not be ready when we were to sail, but not to mind that, but go without it. I assured him that I would, and said, were things to be bought, they might be taken. He kissed me, and did not doubt of my success."

There is, too, a beautiful passage in a letter of Horace Walpole, who had no personal affection for the minister:

"The single eloquence of Mr. Pitt can, like an annihilated star, shine many months after it has set. I can tell you it has conquered Martinico. If you will not believe it, read the Gazette—read Monckton's letter. There is more martial spirit in it than in half of Thucydides, and in all the Grand Cyrus. Do you think Demosthenes or Themistocles ever raised the Greek stocks two per cent, in four-and-twenty hours? I shall burn all my Greek and Latin books; they are the history of a little people. The Romans never conquered the world till they had conquered three parts of it, and were three hundred years about it; we subdue the world in three campaigns, and a globe, let me tell you, as big again as it was in their days."[1]

Nor was, as we have said, Mr, Pitt's power more strongly illustrated in his foreign than in his domestic policy, or rather in his political relations at home. He was master in the cabinet, and the intrigues which had been actively perplexing the government since the termination of Mr. Pelham's, if not of Sir Robert Walpole's administration, were forced to rest by his single predominance. On the 14th January, 1760, Lord Barrington thus describes this state of things: "If I were to give you an account of the past and present state of things here since I wrote last, I should compose a volume. For the present it may suffice that I assure you of the union, cordiality and good-will which reign at present among the king's servants. It (fortunately for them, our master and the public) is such that there never was more at any period of our time. I could not have said this three months ago, but I can safely assert it now; and I think there is every appearance that the same happy temper will continue. I verily believe that the Duke of Newcastle and' his brother (Mr. Pelham) did not more cordially wish each other to continue in their respective stations, than the Duke of Newcastle and Mr. Pitt do now; and there are less disputes and coldness by a great deal than there used to be between the two brothers. This union, great and extraordinary as it may seem, is nothing in comparison with that of the Parliament and the nation; and seem to have one mind and one object. What is most astonishing, the object in which the whole people is united is wise and good. Do not, however, imagine that this proceeds from any improvement made by our countrymen in either wisdom or virtue; for it arises solely from this: no man who can raise any sort of disturbance, finds it either convenient or agreeable to be out of humor at this time. These are happy conjunctures, and I hope and believe the proper use will be made of them."

How different was the condition of things when the influence of Mr. Pitt's unimpaired vigor was removed, cannot be better shown than from the following extract, having reference to the ministry of 1769, but which is applicable to each portion of that interval of impotent intrigue and perplexity, beginning with Mr. Pitt's resignation in 1761, and ending with Lord North's premiership, in 1770: "An opinion has too long prevailed, that all ministers are alike, and that the measures proposed by all will have the same tendency. Many think the form of government not worth contending for, and very little attachment is discoverable, in the body of our people, to our excellent constitution; no reverence for the customs or opinions of our ancestors, no attachment but to private interest, nor any zeal but for selfish gratification. While party distinctions of Whig and Tory, High-Church and Low-Church, Court and Country, subsisted, the nation was divided, and each side held an opinion for which they would have hazarded everything; for both acted upon principle. If there were some who sought to alter the constitution, there were many others who would have spilt their blood to preserve it from violation. If divine hereditary right had its partisans, there were multitudes to stand up for the superior sanctity of a title founded upon an act of Parliament, and the consent of a free people. But the abolition of party names seems to have destroyed all public principles among the people; and the frequent changes of ministers, having exposed all sets of men to the public odium, and broke all bands of compact and association, has left the people but few objects for their confidence. The power of the crown was, indeed, never more visibly extensive over the great men of the nation; but then the great men have lost their influence over the lower order of the people. Even Parliament has lost much of its reverence with the subjects of the realm, and the voice of the multitude is set up against the sense of the Legislature. An impoverished and heavily burdened public; a declining trade and decreasing specie; a people luxurious and licentious, impatient of rule and despising all authority; government relaxed in every sinew, and a corrupt, selfish

  1. Letter to George Montague, 22d March, 1762. (IV. Walpole, 219.) The news of the capture of Martinico was brought to England by Mr. Horatio Gates, who, it seems, was Walpole's god-son, and who is pleasantly referred to in the above letter. (p. 220.)