Imágenes de páginas

arranged with the air of a Grecian drapery, and the crutch placed as gracefully as that of Belisarius or Lear.

Yet, with all his faults and affectations, Pitt had, in a very extraordinary degree, many of the elements of greatness. He had splendid talents, strong passions, quick sensibility, and vehement enthusiasm for the grand and the beautiful. There was something about him which ennobled tergiversation itself. He often went wrong, very wrong. But to quote the language of Wordsworth,

"He still retained,

'Mid such abasement, what he had received From nature, an intense and glowing mind."

In an age of low and dirty prostitution-in the age of Doddington and Sandys-it was something to have a man who might, perhaps, under some strong excitement, have been tempted to ruin his country, but who never would have stooped to pilfer from her;-a man whose errors arose, not from a sordid desire of gain, but from a fierce thirst for power, for glory, and for vengeance. History owes to him this attestation-that, at a time when any thing short of direct embezzlement of the public money was considered as quite fair in pub-without having received much benefit from his lic men, he showed the most scrupulous dis- excursion, and continued, till the close of his interestedness; that, at a time when it seemed life, to suffer most severely from his constitu to be generally taken for granted that govern- tional malady. ment could be upheld only by the basest and most immoral arts, he appealed to the better and nobler parts of human nature; that he made a brave and splendid attempt to do, by means of public opinion, what no other statesman of his day thought it possible to do, except by means of corruption; that he looked for support, not like the Pelhams, to a strong aristocratical connection, not, like Bute, to the personal favour of the sovereign, but to the middle class of Englishmen; that he inspired that class with a firm confidence in his integrity and ability; that, backed by them, he forced an unwilling court and an unwilling oligarchy to admit him to an ample share of power; and that he used his power in such a manner as clearly proved that he had sought it, not for the sake of profit or patronage, but from a wish to establish for himself a great and durable reputation by means of eminent services rendered to the state.

venteen he was entered at Trinity College, Oxford. During the second year of his resi dence at the University, George the First died; and the event was, after the fashion of that generation, celebrated by the Oxonians in many very middling copies of verses. On this occasion Pitt published some Latin lines, which Mr. Thackeray has preserved. They prove that he had but a very limited knowledge even of the mechanical part of his art. All true Etonians will hear with concern, that their illustrious school-fellow is guilty of making the first syllable in labenti short. The matter of the poem is as worthless as that of any college exercise that was ever written before or since. There is, of course, much about Mars, Themis, Neptune, and Cocytus. The Muses are earnestly entreated to weep for Cæsar; for Cæsar, says the poet, loved the Muses;-Cæsar, who could not read a line of Pope, and who loved nothing but punch and fat women.

The family of Pitt was wealthy and respectable. His grandfather was Governor of Madras; and brought back from India that celebrated diamond which the Regent Orleans, by the advice of Saint Simon, purchased for upwards of three millions of livres, and which is still considered as the most precious of the crown jewels of France. Governor Pitt bought estates and rotten boroughs, and sat in the House of Commons for Old Sarum. His son Robert was at one time member for Old Sarum, and at other for Oakhampton. Robert had two sons. Thomas, the elder, inherited the estates and the parliamentary interest of his father. The second was the celebrated William Pitt.

He was born in November, 1708. About the early part of his life little more is known than that he was educated at Eton, and that at se

Pitt had been, from his schooldays, cruelly tormented by the gout; and was at last advised to travel for his health. He accordingly left Oxford without taking a degree, and visited France and Italy. He returned, however,

Walpole had now been, during fourteen years, at the head of affairs. He had risen to power under the most favourable circumstances. The whole of the Whig party-of that party which professed peculiar attachment to the principles of the Revolution, and which exclusively enjoyed the confidence of the reigning house-had been united in support of his administration. Happily for him, he had been out of office when the South Sea Act was passed; and, though he does not appear to have foreseen all the consequences of that measure, he had strenuously opposed it, as he opposed almost all the measures, good or bad, of Sunderland's administration. When the South Sea Company were voting dividends of fifty per cent.-when a hundred pounds of their stock were selling for eleven hundred pounds an--when Threadneedle street was daily crowded with the coaches of dukes and prelates when divines and philosophers turned gamblers when a thousand kindred bubbles were daily blown into existence-the periwig company, and the Spanish-jackass company, and the quicksilver-fixation company-Walpole's calm good sense preserved him from the general in

His father was now dead, and had left very little to the younger children. It was neces sary that William should choose a profession. He decided for the army, and a cornet's commission was procured for him in the Blues.

But, small as his fortune was, his family had both the power and the inclination to serve him. At the general election of 1734, his elder brother Thomas was chosen both for Old Sa rum and for Oakhampton. When Parliament met in 1735, Thomas made his election to serve for Oakhampton, and William was returned for Old Sarum.

fatuation. He condemned the prevailing madness in public, and turned a considerable sum by taking advantage of it in private. When the crash came-when ten thousand families were reduced to beggary in a day--when the people, in the frenzy of their rage and despair, clamoured not only against the lower agents in the juggle, but against the Hanoverian favourites, gainst the English ministers, against the king himself—when Parliament met, eager for confiscation and blood-when members of the House of Commons proposed that the directors should be treated like parricides in ancient Rome, tied up in sacks, and thrown into the Thames, Walpole was the man on whom all parties turned their eyes. Four years before he had been driven from power by the intrigues of Sunderland and Stanhope, and the If there was any man with whom Walpole lead in the House of Commons had been in- could have consented to make a partition of trusted to Craggs and Aislabie. Stanhope was power, that man was Lord Townshend. They no more. Aislabie was expelled from Parlia- were distant kinsmen by birth, near kinsmen ment, on account of his disgraceful conduct by marriage. They had been friends from regarding the South Sea scheme. Craggs was childhood. They had been schoolfellows at saved by a timely death from a similar mark Eton. They were country-neighbours in Norof infamy. A large minority in the House of folk. They had been in office together under Commons voted for a severe censure on Sun- Godolphin. They had gone into opposition derland, who, finding it impossible to withstand together when Harley rose to power. They the force of the prevailing sentiment, retired had been persecuted by the same House of from office, and outlived his retirement but a Commons. They had, after the death of Anne, very short time. The schism which had di- been recailed together to office. They had vided the Whig party was now completely again been driven out by Sunderland, and had healed. Walpole had no opposition to en-again come back together when the influence counter except that of the Tories, and the of Sunderland had declined. Their opinions Tories were naturally regarded by the king on public affairs almost always coincided with the strongest suspicion and dislike. They were both men of frank, generous, and

For a time business went on with a smooth-compassionate natures; their intercourse had ness and a despatch such as had not been been for many years most affectionate and corknown since the days of the Tudors. During dial. But the ties of blood, of marriage, and the session of 1724, for example, there was of friendship, the memory of mutual services only a single division. It was not impossible and common persecutions, were insufficient to that, by taking the course which Pelham after-restrain that ambition which domineered over wards took-by admitting into the government all the virtues and vices of Walpole. He was all the rising talents and ambition of the Whig resolved, to use his own metaphor, that the firm party, and by making room here and there for of the house should be, not "Townshend and a Tory not unfriendly to the House of Bruns- Walpole," but "Walpole and Townshend." wick-Walpole might have verted the tre- At length the rivals proceeded to personal mendous conflict in which he passed the lat- abuse before witnesses, seized each other by ter years of his administration, and in which the collar, and grasped their swords. The he was at length vanquished. The Opposition women squalled. The men parted the combatwhich overthrew him was an opposition cre- ants.* By friendly intervention the scandal ated by his own policy, by his own insatiable of a duel between cousins, brothers-in-law, old love of power. friends, and old colleagues, was prevented. In the very act of forming his ministry, he But the disputants could not long continue to turned one of the ablest and most attached of act together. Townshend retired, and with his supporters into a deadly enemy. Pulteney rare moderation and public spirit, refused to had strong public and private claims to a high take any part in politics. He could not, he situation in the new arrangement. His fortune said, trust his temper. He feared that the rewas immense. His private character was collection of his private wrongs might impel respectable. He was already a distinguished him to follow the example of Pulteney, and to speaker. He had acquired official experience oppose measures which he thought generally in an important post. He had been, through beneficial to the country. He, therefore, never all changes of fortune, a consistent Whig. visited London after his resignation; but passWhen the Whig party was split into two sec-ed the closing years of his life in dignity and tions, Pulteney had resigned a valuable place, repose among his trees and pictures at Rainand had followed the fortunes of Walpole. Yet ham. when Walpole returned to power, Pulteney was not invited to take office. An angry disenssion took place between the friends. The minister offered a peerage. It was impossible for Pulteney not to discern the motive of such

Next went Chesterfield. He too was a Whig

an offer. He indignantly refused to accept For some time he continued to brood over his wrongs, and to watch for an opportunity of revenge. As soon as a favourable conjuneture arrived, he joined the minority, and be came the greatest leader of Opposition that the House of Commons had ever seen.

Of all the members of the cabinet, Carteret was the most eloquent and accomplished. His talents for debate were of the first order; his knowledge of foreign affairs superior to that of any living statesman; his attachment to the Protestant succession was undoubted. But there was not room in one government for him and Walpole. Carteret retired, and was, from that time forward, one of the most persevering and formidable enemies of his old colleague.

The scene of this extraordinary quarrel was we beMr. Ellice, the Secretary at War. It was then the restlieve, a house in Cleveland Square, now occupied by dence of Colonel Selwyn.

and a friend of the Protestant succession. He | character could drag down such parts; and was an orator, a courtier, a wit, and a man of Winnington, whose private morals lay, justly or etters. He was at the head of ton in days unjustly, under imputations of the worst kind. when, in order to be at the head of ton, it was The discontented Whigs were, not perhaps not sufficient to be dull and supercilious. It in number, but certainly in ability, experience, was evident that he submitted impatiently to and weight, by far the most important part of the ascendency of Walpole. He murmured the Opposition. The Tories furnished little against the Excise Bill. His brothers voted more than rows of ponderous fox-hunters, fat against it in the House of Commons. The with Staffordshire or Devonshire ale-men minister acted with characteristic caution and who drank to the king over the water, and becharacteristic energy ;--caution in the conduct lieved that all the fundholders were Jewsof public affairs; energy where his own ad- men whose religion consisted in hating the ministration was concerned. He withdrew Dissenters, and whose political researches had his bill, and turned out all his hostile or waver-led them to fear, like Squire Western, that their land might be sent over to Hanover to be put into the sinking-fund. The eloquence of these patriotic squires, the remnant of the one formidable October Club, seldom went beyond a hearty Ay or No. Very few members of this party had distinguished themselves much in Parliament, or could, under any circumstances, have been called to fill any high office; and those few had generally, like Sir William Not long after these events, the Opposition Wyndham, learned in the company of their was reinforced by the Duke of Argyle, a man new associates the doctrines of toleration and vainglorious indeed and fickle, but brave, elo-political liberty, and might indeed with strict quent, and popular. It was in a great mea- propriety be called Whigs.

ing colleagues. Chesterfield was stopped on the great staircase of St. James's, and summoned to deliver up the staff which he bore as Lord Steward of the Household. A crowd of noble and powerful functionaries-the Dukes of Montrose and Bolton, Lord Burlington, Lord Stair, Lord Cobham, Lord Marchmont, Lord Clinton-were at the same time dismissed from the service of the crown.

sure owing to his exertions that the Act of Set- It was to the Whigs in opposition, the patlement had been peaceably executed in Eng-triots, as they were called, that the most disland immediately after the death of Anne, and tinguished of the English youth, who at this that the Jacobite rebellion which, during the season entered into public life, attached themfollowing year, broke out in Scotland, was sup-selves. These inexperienced politicians felt pressed. He too carried over to the minority all the enthusiasm which the name of liberty the aid of his great name, his talents, and his naturally excites in young and ardent minds. paramount influence in his native country. They conceived that the theory of the Tory In each of these cases taken separately, a Opposition, and the practice of Walpole's goskilful defender of Walpole might perhaps | vernment, were alike inconsistent with the make out a case for him. But when we see principles of liberty. They accordingly rethat during a long course of years all the foot-paired to the standard which Pulteney had set steps are turned the same way-that all the up. While opposing the Whig minister, they most eminent of those public men who agreed professed a firm adherence to the purest docwith the minister in their general views of trines of Whigism. He was the schismatic; policy left him, one after another, with sore and they were the true Catholics, the peculiar peoirritated minds, we find it impossible not to ple, the depositaries of the orthodox faith of believe that the real explanation of the phe- Hampden and Russell; the one sect which, nomenon is to be found in the words of his son, amidst the corruptions generated by time, and "Sir Robert Walpole loved power so much by the long possession of power, had preserved that he would not endure a rival."* Hume has inviolate the principles of the Revolution. Of described this famous minister with great feli- the young men who attached themselves to city in one short sentence-"moderate in exer- this portion of the Opposition, the most discising power, not equitable in engrossing it." tinguished were Lyttleton and Pitt. Kind-hearted, jovial, and placible as Walpole was, he was yet a man with whom no person of high pretensions and high spirit could long continue to act. He had, therefore, to stand against an Opposition containing all the most accomplished statesmen of the age, with no better support than that which he received from persons like his brother Horace, or Henry Felham, whose industrious mediocrity gave him no cause for jealousy; or from clever adventurers, whose situation and character diminish- Nothing is more natural than that, in a mo ed the dread which their talents might other-narchy, where a constitutional Opposition ex wise have inspired. To this last class belong-ists, the heir-apparent of the throne should put ed Fox, who was too poor to live without office; himself at the head of that Opposition. He is Sir William Yonge, of whom Walpole himself impelled to such a course by every feeling of said, that nothing but such parts could buoy up ambition and of vanity. He cannot be more such a character, that nothing but such a than second in the estimation of the party which is in. He is sure to be the first mem

When Pitt entered Parliament, the whole political world was attentively watching the progress of an event which soon added great strength to the Opposition, and particularly to that section of the Opposition in which the young statesman enrolled himself. The Prince [of Wales was gradually becoming more and more estranged from his father and his father's ministers, and more and more friendly to the patriots.

*Memoirs, vol. i. p. 201.

ber of the party which is out. The highest


favour which the existing administration can expect from him is, that he will not discard them. But, if he joins the Opposition, all his associates expect that he will promote them; and the feelings which men entertain towards one from whom they hope to obtain great advantages which they have not, are far warmer than the feelings with which they regard one who, at the very utmost, can only leave them in possession of what they already have. An heir-apparent, therefore, who wishes to enjoy, in the highest perfection, all the pleasure that can be derived from eloquent flattery and profound respect, will always join those who are struggling to force themselves into power. This is, we believe, the true explanation of a fact which Lord Granville attributed to some natural peculiarity in the illustrious house of In April, 1736, Frederic was married to the Brunswick. "This family," said he at Council, Princess of Saxe-Gotha, with whom he afterwe suppose after his daily half-gallon of Bur-wards lived on terms very similar to those on gundy, "always has quarrelled and always which his father had lived with Queen Carowill quarrel, from generation to generation." line. The prince adored his wife, and thought He should have known something of the mat- her in mind and person the most attractive of ter; for he had been a favourite with three suc- her sex. But he thought that conjugal fidelity cessive generations of the royal house. We was an unprincely virtue; and, in order to be cannot quite admit his explanation; but the like Henry the Fourth and the Regent Orleans, fact is indisputable. Since the accession of he affected a libertinism for which he had no George the First, there have been four Princes taste, and frequently quitted the only woman of Wales, and they have all been almost con- whom he loved for ugly and disagreeable stantly in opposition. mistresses.

of politicians, who had considered themselves as placed under sentence of perpetual exclusion from office, and who, in their despair, had been almost ready to join in a counter-revolution, as the only mode of removing the proscription under which they lay, now saw with pleasure an easier and safer road to power opening before them, and thought it far better to wait till, in the natural course of things, the crown should descend to the heir of the house of Brunswick, than to risk their lands and their necks in a rising for the house of Stuart. The situation of the royal family resembled the situation of those Scotch families in which father and son took opposite sides during the rebellion, in order that, come what might, the estate might not be forfeited.

Whatever might have been the motives which induced Prince Frederic to join the party opposed to Sir Robert Walpole, his support infused into many members of that party a courage and an energy, of which they stood greatly in need. Hitherto, it had been impossible for the discontented Whigs not to feel some misgivings when they found themselves dividing night after night, with uncompromising Jacobites, who were known to be in constant communication with the exiled family; or with Tories who had impeached Somers, who had murmured against Harley and St. John as too remiss in the cause of the Church and the landed interest; and who, if they were not inclined to attack the reigning family, yet considered the introduction of that family as, at best, only the less of two great evils-as a necessary, but a painful and humiliating preservative against Popery. The minister might plausibly say that Pulteney and Carteret, in the hope of gratifying their own appetite for office and for revenge, did not scruple to serve the purposes of a faction hostile to the Protestant succession. The appearance of Fre-mosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cideric at the head of the patriots silenced this cero? We know no living orator, from Lord reproach. The leaders of the Opposition might Brougham down to Mr. Hunt, who is not en now boast that their proceedings were sanc- titled to the same magnificent eulogy. It would tioned by a person as deeply interested as the be no very flattering compliment to a man's king himself in maintaining the Act of Settle- figure to say, that he was taller than the Polish ment; and that, instead of serving the pur- Count, and shorter than Giant O'Brien ;-fatter poses of the Tory party, they had brought that than the Anatomie Vivante, and more slender party over to the side of Whigism. It must than Daniel Lambert. indeed be admitted that, though both the king and the prince behaved in a manner little to their honour-though the father acted harshly, the son disrespectfully, and both childish- as empty and wordy as a maiden speech on ly-the royal family was rather strengthened such an occasion might be expected to be than weakened by the disagreement of its two But the fluency and the personal advantages most distinguished members. A large class of the young orator instantly caught the ear

Pitt's speech, as it is reported in the Gentleman's Magazine, certainly deserves Tindal's compliment, and deserves no other. It is just

The address which the House of Commons presented to the king on occasion of the prince's marriage, was moved, not by the minister, but by Pulteney, the leader of the Whigs in opposition. It was on this motion that Pitt, who had not broken silence during the session in which he took his seat, addressed the House for the first time. "A contemporary historian," says Mr. Thackeray, "describes Mr. Pitt's first speech as superior even to the models of ancient eloquence. According to Tindal, it was more ornamented than the speeches of Demosthenes, and less diffuse than those of Cicero." This unmeaning phrase has been a hundred times quoted. That it should ever have been quoted, except to be laughed at, is strange. The vogue which it has obtained may serve to show in how slovenly a way most people are content to think. Did Tindal, who first used it, or Archdeacon Coxe, or Mr. Thackeray, who have borrowed it, ever in their lives hear any speaking which did not deserve the same compliment? Did they ever hear speaking less ornamented than that of De

But it was not solely or principally to outward accomplishments that Pitt owed the vast influence which, during nearly thirty years, he exercised over the House of Commons. He was undoubtedly a great orator; and, from the descriptions of his contemporaries, and the fragments of his speeches which still remain, it is not difficult to discover the nature and extent of his oratorical powers.

and eye of his audience. He was, from the day of his first appearance, always heard with attention; and exercise soon developed the great powers which he possessed.

In our time, the audience of a member of Parliament is the nation. The three or four hundred persons who may be present while a speech is delivered may be pleased or disgusted by the voice and action of the orator; but in the reports which are read the next day by He was no speaker of set speeches. His hundreds of thousands, the difference between few prepared discourses were complete failthe noblest and the meanest figure, between ures. The elaborate panegyric which he pro the richest and the shrillest tones, between the nounced on General Wolfe was considered as most graceful and the most uncouth gesture, the very worst of all his performances. "No altogether vanishes. A hundred years ago, man," says a critic who had often heard him, scarcely any report of what passed within the "ever knew so little what he was going to walls of the House of Commons was suffered say." Indeed his facility amounted to a vice. to get abroad. In those times, therefore, the He was not the master, but the slave of his impression which a speaker might make on own speech. So little self-command had he the persons who actually heard him was every when once he felt the impulse, that he did not thing. The impression out of doors was hard-like to take part in a debate when his mind ly worth a thought. In the Parliaments of was full of an important secret of state. "I that time, therefore, as in the ancient common- must sit still," he once said to Lord Shelburne wealths, those qualifications which enhance on such an occasion; "for when once I am the immediate effect of a speech, were far up, every thing that is in my mind comes more important ingredients in the composition out." of an orator than they would appear to be in Yet he was not a great debater. That he our time. All those qualifications Pitt pos- should not have been so when first he enter sessed in the highest degree. On the stage, heed the House of Commons, is not strange. would have been the finest Brutus or Coriola- Scarcely any person had ever become so nus ever seen. Those who saw him in his without long practice an 1 many failures. It decay, when his health was broken, when his was by slow degrees, as Burke said, that the mind was jangled, when he had been removed late Mr. Fox became the most brilliant and from that stormy assembly of which he tho- powerful debater that ever Parliament saw. roughly knew the temper, and over which he Mr. Fox himself attributed his own success to possessed unbounded influence, to a small, a the resolution which he formed when very torpid, and an unfriendly audience, say that young, of speaking, well or ill, at least once his speaking was then, for the most part, a every night. "During five whole sessions," low, monotonous muttering, audible only to he used to say, "I spoke every night but one: those who sat close to him-that, when vio- and I regret only that I did not speak on that lently excited, he sometimes raised his voice night too." Indeed, it would be difficult to for a few minutes, but that it soon sank again name any great debater, except Mr. Stanley into an unintelligible murmur. Such was the whose knowledge of the science of parliament. Earl of Chatham; but such was not William ary defence resembles an instinct, who has Pitt. His figure, when he first appeared in not made himself a master of his art at the Parliament, was strikingly graceful and com- expense of his audience. manding, his features high and noble, his eye full of fire. His voice, even when it sank to a whisper, was heard to the remotest benches; when he strained it to its full extent, the sound rose like the swell of the organ of a great cathedral, shook the house with its peal, and was heard through lobbies and down staircases, to the Court of Requests and the precincts of Westminster Hall. He cultivated all these eminent advantages with the most assiduous care. His action is described by a very malignant observer as equal to that of Garrick. His play of countenance was wonderful; he frequently disconcerted a hostile orator by a single glance of indignation or scorn. Every tone, from the impassioned cry to the thrilling aside, was perfectly at his command. It is by no means improbable that the pains which he took to improve his great personal advantages had, in some respects, a prejudicial operation, and tended to nourish in him that passion for theatrical effect which, as we have already remarked, was one of the most conspicuous blemishes in his character.

But as this art is one which even the ablest men have seldom acquired without long practice, so it is one which men of respectable abilities, with assiduous and intrepid practice, seldom fail to acquire. It is singular that in such an art, Pitt, a man of splendid talents, cr great fluency, of great boldness--a man whose whole life was passed in parliamentary conflict-a man who, during several years, was the leading minister of the crown in the House of Commons-should never have attained to high excellence. He spoke without premeditation; but his speech followed the course of his own thoughts, and not the course of the previous discussion. He could, indeed, treasure up in his memory some detached expres sion of a hostile orator, and make it the text for sparkling ridicule or burning invecuve Some of the most celebrated bursts of his eloquence were called forth by an unguarded word, a laugh, or a cheer. But this was the only sort of reply in which he appears to have excelled. He was perhaps the only great English orator who did not think it any advantage

« AnteriorContinuar »