صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني


The memory of some men is mainly preserved by the generous resources of biography, while the fame of others endures wholly independent of artificial commemoration. The influence of the former is faint and occasional, like the borrowed rays of the moon; but the power of the latter is constant and universal, as the light of the sun. From among this constellation, of fixed stars, no greater character can be delivered to the latest ages with honours more faithful than that of William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham. As an orator, he rivalled the most splendid ornaments of ancient eloquence, and as a statesman, equalled the ablest politicians of modern history. Philip, of Macedon, by his own confession, stood more in awe of Demosthenes than of all the Grecian States he laboured to oppress; but George the IId. of England, after exhibiting for years a far less honourable obnoxiousness, was at last necessitated to pay a much higher tribute to the superior genius of Chatham, by receiving from it the brightest services that adorned his reign.

The nobleman thus eminent, was the second son of Thomas Pitt, of Old Sarum, in Wilts, and was born in the parish of St. James, Westminster, on the 18th of November, 1708. Entering upon the foundation of Eton School at a proper age, he had for his companions in study George, afterwards Lord Lyttleton; Henry Fox, afterwards Lord Holland; Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the poet; and Fielding, the novelist. His master was Dean Bland, who is reported to have frequently pointed him out to visitors as a young prodigy. In his eighteenth year, he was sent to Trinity College, Oxford, and there distinguished himself before a twelvemonth had elapsed, by a Latin Poem on the death of George the Ist, which was printed by the University, with several others upon the same subject.

At this early period, the gout, a disorder hereditary in his family, began to make those attacks upon his constitution by which his after-life was most bitterly persecuted. So intense was the affliction, that he was obliged to abandon the University without a degree, and seek for some alleviation of his sufferings in a milder climate. He therefore travelled into France and Italy; and, although nothing materially relieved in health, refined his manners and enriched his mind by a large fund of premature and useful information. Returning to England, he was first elected to a seat in Parliament in February 1735, and about the same time, as his fortune was small, amounting only to 1001. a year, obtained a cornetcy in the Blues. Taking his seat with the opposition, he began his career as a whig, and to the very close of his life exulted in the distinction. He delivered his maiden speech upon the same occasion with his former schoolfellow, Lyttleton, the one moving and the other seconding an address of congratulation to the King, upon the marriage of the Prince of Wales. In the imperfect report of this first effort now extant, there is little, if any, earnest of superiority; it was a flowing compliment, well enounced, on all concerned in its appli. cation, and as such could not fail to secure praise: the prince, as the head of the party, and chief object of the address, of course stood particularly forward to reward the exertion by his notice.

But the ardour of his spirit soon grew remarkable, for his devotion to the cause he had espoused in politics was peremptory; and Sir Robert Walpole thought it of consequence to abuse the authority of a minister by procuring the dismissal of the young member from the army. Amongst an independent people, such an indignity can only add importance to the sufferer: Pitt's talents were thus sharpened into bolder activity, and he found his loss honourably compensated by the sympathy of his countrymen. He was immediately patronized by Lord Cobham, a popular general, who had received similar treatment from the arbitrary minister: he was moreover celebrated by the poets,* and ranked among the most * Lyttleton published the following lines on the occasion :

To. WILLIAM Pitt, Esquire,

. On his losing his Commission.
Long had thy virtues marked thee out for fame
Far, far superior to a Cornet's name:

promising men of the day. That his appearance was already commanding, and his opposition highly formidable, are facts for · which sufficient evidence is to be found in the pointed attacks made upon his capacity and conduct in the Gazetteer, which was the ministerial paper of the time. There he is alluded to as a young man only just brought into the House, and already holding himself equal to Tully in eloquence, and to the oldest senators in reputation and experience. The youth against whom such sarcasms could have been anonymously levelled, must have supplied no common symptoms of energy or ambition.

At length the disagreements between the Prince of Wales and his father ran into such extremes, that the former was deprived of his apartments in St. James's Palace, and compelled to form a separate household in Leicester-square. Upon this establishment Lyttleton was made Private Secretary, and Pitt Groom of the Bedchamber. From this moment he became a more frequent speaker in the House, and was even accustomed to reply to Sir Robert Walpole. A judicious character of his eloquence was soon, therefore, publicly drawn, and we are thus instructed, that his voice was sonorous, his delivery consecutive, his manner impressive, and his style forcible and convincing. At this time the language of the House of Commons was declamatory rather than argumentative; and more polished than pointed : he was, therefore, among the first who rested on reason and facts. Still he had much to cope with, for his forward abilities were repulsed upon every occasion with an acrimony over which personal reflexions systematically preponderated. Up to the session of 1740 the molestation continued unabáted, but his patience became exhausted, and he at length resisted this line of obloquy with a promptitude, an energy, and satirical pith, which for ever silenced the repetition of such ungenerous hostility. The address was extemporaneous

This generous Walpole saw, and grieved to find
So mean a post disgrace that noble mind :
That servile standard from thy freeborn hand
He took, and bade thee lead the Patriot band.

Thomson also makes honourable mention of his name in the Seasons, as does Hammond in his Elegies.

and characteristic in an eminent degree : it is therefore given here.

On this occasion Mr. Horace Walpole had observed, that formidable sounds, and furious declamation, confident assertions, and lofty periods, might affect the young and inexperienced ; and that perhaps the Honourable Gentleman might have contracted his habits of oratory by conversing more with those of his own age, than such as had greater opportunities of acquiring knowledge, and more successful methods of communicating their sentiments. To this were added some remarks upon vehement gestures, theatrical emotion, &c. &c.

Pitt instantly rose and replied :-..

“The atrocious crime of being a young man, which the Honourable Gentleman has with such spirit and decency charged upon me, I shall neither attempt to palliate nor deny, but content myself with wishing that I may be one of those, whose follies cease with their youth, and not one of that number who are ignorant in spite of experience. Whether youth can be imputed to any man as a reproach, I will not assume the province of determining : but surely age may become justly contemptible, if the opportunities which it brings have passed away without improvement; and vice appears to prevail when the passions have subsíded. The wretch, who having seen the consequences of a thousand errors, continues still to blunder, is surely the object either of abhorrence or contempt, and deserves not that, his grey hairs should secure him from insult. Much more is he to be abhorred, who, as he has advanced in age, has receded from virtue; who becomes more wicked with less temptation ; who prostitutes himself for money he cannot enjoy ; and spends the remains of his life in the ruin of his country. But youth is not my only crime: I am accused of acting a theatrical part. A theatrical part may either imply some peculiarities of gesture, or a dissimulation of my real sentiments, and an adoption of the opinions and language of others. In the first sense, the charge is too trifling to be confuted; and deserves only to be mentioned that it may be despised. I am at liberty, like every other man, to use my own language, and though I may perhaps have some ambition, yet to please this gentleman I will not lay myself under any restraint; nor very solicitously copy his dictation or mien, however matured by age or modelled by experience. If any man shall, by charging me with theatrical

behaviour, imply that I utter any sentiments but my own, I shall treat him as a calumniator ; nor shall any protection shelter him from the treatment he deserves. I shall, on such an occasion, without scruple, trample on all those forms in which wealth and pride always entrench themselves; nor shall any thing but age restrain my resentment, age, which always brings one privilege, that of being insolent and supercilious without punishment. But with regard to those whom I have offended, I am of opinion, that if I had acted a borrowed part, I should have avoided their censure; the heat that offended them is the ardour of conviction, and that zeal for the welfare of my country which neither hope nor fear shall influence me to suppress. I will not sit unconcerned while my liberty is invaded, nor look in silence upon public robbery. I will exert my endeavours, at whatever hazard, to repel the aggressor, and drag the thief to justice-whoever may protect them in their villainy, and whoever may partake of their plunder. And if the honourable gentleman—"

Here he was interrupted by a cry of order from Mr. Winnington, who was proceeding to enforce his opinion by the most direct abuse, when Pitt in his turn retorted the point of order, and added- .

If this be to preserve order, there is no danger of indecency from the most licentious tongue ; for what calumny can be more atrocious, or what reproach more severe, than that of speaking without any regard to truth? Order may sometimes be broken by passion or inadvertency, but will seldom be re-established by a monitor like this, who cannot govern his own passion while restraining the impetuosity of others. Happy would it be for mankind if every one knew his own province: we should not then see the same man at once a criminal and a judge, nor would this gentleman assume the right of dictating to others, what he has not learned himself. That I may return in some degree the favour which he intends me, I will advise him 'never again to exert himself on the point of order, but whenever he feels himself inclined to speak on such a subject, to remember how he has now succeeded, and condemn in silence what his censures will never reform.”

Such was the style of his opposition, and he persevered in it unshaken, until an address to the King for the removal of Sir Robert Walpole was moved for in the House of Commons. He supported the question by a philippic of extraordinary, but ineffecs

« السابقةمتابعة »