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THACKERAY'S HISTORY OF THE EARL OF CHATHAM.'
[edinburgh Review, 1831.]
Though several years have elapsed since the publication of this work, it is still, we believe, a new publication to most of our readers. Nor are we surprised at this. The book is large and the style heavy. The information which Mr. Thackeray has obtained from the State Paper Office is new, but much of it is to us very uninteresting. The rest of his narrative is very little better than Gilford's or Tomline's Life ofnhe Second Pitt, and tells us little or nothing that may not be found quite as well told in the "Parliamentary History," the "Annual Register," and other works equally common.
Almost every mechanical employment, it is »aid, has a tendency to injure some one or other of the bodily organs of the artisan. Grinders of cutlery die of consumption; weavers are stunted in their growth; and smiths become blear-eyed. In the same manner almost every intellectual employment has a tendency to produce some intellectual malady. Biographers, translators, editors—all, in short, who employ themselves in illustrating the lives or the writings of others, are peculiarly exposed to the Luet Boswclliatm, or disease of admiration. But we scarcely remember ever to have seen a patient so far gone in this distemper as Mr. Thackeray. He is not satisfied with forcing ns to confess that Pitt was a great orator, a vigorous minister, an honourable and highspirited gentleman. He will have it that all virtues and all accomplishments met in his hero. In spite of gods, men, and columns, Pitt must be a poet—a poet capable of producing a heroic poem of the first order; and we are assured that we ought to find many charms in such lines as these:
"Midut all the tumults of the warring sphere, My lielil-chargen b:irk may haply glide;
8ome (rale may waft, eome conscious thought shall cheer, And ihe small freight linanxlouBf/iaV."
Pitt w«s in the army for a few months in time of peace. Mr. Thackeray accordingly insists on our confessing that, if the young cornet had remained in the service, he would have been one of the ablesi commanders that ever lived. But this is not all. Pitt, it seems, was not merely a great poet in esse, and a great general in posse, but a finished example of mo
♦ A History ofthe Right Honourable William Pin. hUirl of Chahaio. containing his Speeches in Parliament, a considerable portion «f his Carrttjwitdcncc lehen Secretary of State, upon French. Spanish, ami American Sfftiirt. never he/arc published; anil an account of the principal Kvents and I'ersuns of hi* Time, connected with his Life, Sentiments, and Administration. By llie Rev. Fuakcis Tuackuit, A.M. »YOl«. 410. London. 1627.
ral excellence—the just man made perfect • He was in the right when he attempted to establish an inquisition, and to give bounties lor perjury, in order to get Walpole's head. He was in the right when he declared Walpole to have been an excellent minister. He was in' the right when, being in opposition, he maintained that no peace ought to be made with Spain, till she should forma'ly renounce the right of search. He was in ihe right when, being in office, he silently acquiesced in a treaty by which Spain did not renounce the right of search. When he left the D'ike of Newcastle, when he coalesced with the Duke of Newcastle ; when he thundered against subsidies, when he lavished subsidies with unexampled profusion; when he execrated the Hanoverian connection; when he declared that Hanover ought to be as dear to us as Hampshire; he was still invariably speaking the language of a virtuous and enlightened statesman.
The truth is, that there scarcely ever lived a person who had so little claim to this sort of praise as Pitt. He was undoubtedly a great man. But his was not a complete and wellproportioned greatness. The public life of Hampden, or of Somers, resembles a regular drama, which can be criticised as a whole, and every scene of which is to be viewed in connection with the main action. T\." jrabl;c :fe of Pitt, on the other hand, is a rude though striking piece—a piece abounding in incongruities—a piece without any unity of pian. but redeemed by some noble passages, the effect of which is increased by the lameness or extravagance of what precedes and of what follows. His opinions were unfixed. His conduct at some of the most important conjunctures of his life was evidently determined by pride and resentment. He had one fault, which of all human faults is most rarely found in company wilh true greatness. He was extremely affected. He was an almost solitary instance of a man of real genius., and of a brave, lofty, and commanding spirit, without simplicity of character. He was an actor in the closet, an actor at Uouncik an actor in Parliament; and even in private society he could not lay aside his theatrical tones and attitudes. We know that one of the most distinguished
] of his partisans often complained that he could never obtain admittance to Lord Chatham's room till every thing was ready for the representation, till the dresses and properties were all correctly disposed, till the liffhl was thrown with Rembrandt-like effect on. the head of ihe
: illustrious performer, till the flannels had been
arranged with the air'of a Grecian drapery, and the cratch placed as gracefully as that of Belisarius or Lean
Yet, with all his faults and affectations, Pitt hail, in a. very extraordinary degree, many of ihe 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 me . language of Wordsworth,
"He still retained,
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 grlory, 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 public men, he showed the most scrupulous disinterestedness; that, at a time when it seemed to be generally taken for granted that government 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 rendeced to the state.
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 ami 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 another for Oakhampton. Robert had two sons. Thomas, the elder, inherited the estates and the parliamentary interest of his father. The second was the cclebraierl William Pitt.
He was born in November. 1708. About the early part of his life little more is known than that he was edncated at Eton, and that at se
venteen he was entered at Trinity College, Oxford. During the second year of his residence at the University, George the First died; and the event was, after the fashion of that generation, celebrated by the Oxcuians in many very middling copies of v.erses. 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 Oa;sar; for Ctesar, says the poet, loved the Muses ;—Caesar, who could not read a line of Pope, and who leved nothing but punch and fat ■women.
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, without having received much benefit from his excursion, and continued, till the close of his life, to suffer most severely from his constitutional malady.
His father was now dead, and had left very little to the younger children. It was necessary 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 eldet brother Thomas was chosen both for Old Sarum and for Oakhampton. When Parliament met in 1735, Thomas made his eleciion to serve for Oakhampton, and William was returned for Old Sarum.
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 —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 quicksilv.er-fixation company—Walpole's calm good sense preserved him from the-peneial infatuatkm. 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, against 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 lead in the House of Commons had been intrusted to Craggs and Aislabie. Stanhope was no more. Aislabie was expelled from Parliament, on account of his disgraceful conduct regarding the South Sea scheme. Craggs was saved by a timely death from a similar mark of infamy. A large minority in the House of Commons voted for a severe censure on Sun■ derland, who, finding it impossible to withstand the force of the prevailing sentiment, retired from office, and outlived his retirement but a very short time. The schism which had divided the Whig parly was now completely healed. Walpole had no opposition to encounter except that of the Tories, and the Tories were naturally regarded by the king with the strongest suspicion and dislike.
For a time business went on with a smoothness and a despatch such as had not been known since the days of the Tudors. During the session of 1724, for example, there was enly a single division. It was not impossible that, by taking the course which Pelham afterwards took—by admitting into the government all the rising talents and ambition of the Whig party, and by making room here and there for a Tory not unfriendly to the House"of Brunswick—Walpole might have averted the tremendous conflict in which he passed the latter years of his administration, and in which he was at length vanquished. The Opposition which overthrew him was an opposition created by his own policy, by his own insatiable love of power.
In. the very act of forming his ministry, he turned one of the ablest and most attached of his supporters into a deadly enemy. Pulteney had strong public and private claims to a high situation in the new arrangement His fortune was immense. His private character was respectable. He was already a distinguished speaker. He had acquired official experience tn an important post. He had been, through all changes of fortune, a consistent Whig. When the Whig party was split into two sections. Pulteney had resigned a valuable place, and had followed the fortunes of Walpole. Yet when Walpole returned to power, Pulteney was not invited to take office. An angry discission took place between the friends. The minister offered a peerage. It was impossible for Pulteney not to discern the motive of such
an offer. He indignantly refused to acceptV* For some time he continued to brood over hi* wrongs, and to watch for an opportunity of revenge. As soon as a favourable conjuncture arrived, he joined the minority, and became 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.
If there was any man with whom Walpole could have consented to make a partition of power, that man was Lord Townshend. They were distant kinsmen by birth, near kinsmen by marriage. They had been friends from childhood. They had been schoolfellows at Eton. They were country-neighbours in Norfolk. They had been in office together under Godolphin. They had gone into opposition together when Harley rose to power. They had been persecuted by the same House of Commons. They had, after the death of Anne, been recalled together to office. They had again been driven out by Sunderland, and had again come back together when the influence of Sunderland had declined. Their opinions on public affairs almost always coincided They were both men of frank, generous, and compassionate natures; their intercourse had been for many years most affectionate and cordial. But the ties of blood, of marriage, and of friendship, the memory of mutual services and common persecutions, were insufficient to restrain that ambition which domineered over all the virtues and vices of Walpole. He was resolved, to use his own metaphor, that the firm of the house should be, not "Townshend and Walpole," but "Walpole and Townshend." At length the rivals proceeded to personal abuse before witnesses, seized each other by the collar, and grasped their swords. The women squalled. The men parted the combatants.* By friendly intervention the scandal of a duel between cousins, brothers-in-law, old friends, and old colleagues, was prevented. But the disputants could not long continue to act together. Townshend retired, and with rare moderation and public spirit, refused to take any part in politics. He could not, he said, trust his temper. He feared that the recollection of his private wrongs might impel him to follow the example of Pulteney, and to oppose measures which he thought generally beneficial to the country. He, therefore, never visited London after his resignation; but passed the closing years of his life in dignity and repose among his trees and pictures at Rainham.
Next went Chesterfield. He too was a Whig
* The icene of this extraordinary quarrel wm, we believe, n hnu»e In Cleveland Square, imw occupied by Mr. Ellice.the Secretary at War. It waa then the residence of Colonel fletwvn.
Hid a friend of the Protestant succession. He was an oiator, a courtier, a wit, and a .man of filers. He was at the head of ton in days when, in order to be at the head of ton, it was aoi sufficient to be dull and supercilious. It was evident that he submitted impatiently to the ascendency of Walpole. He murmured against the Excise Bill. His brothers voted against it in the House of Commons. The minister acted with characteristic caution and characteristic energy;—caution in the conduct of public affairs; energy where his own administration was concerned. He withdrew his bill, and turned out all his hostile or wavering 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.
Not long after these events, the Opposition was reinforced by the Duke of Argyle, a man vainglorious indeed and fickle, but brave, eloquent, and popular. It was in a great measure owing to his exertions that the Act of Settlement had been peaceably executed in England immediately after the death of Anne, and that the Jacobite rebellion which, during the following year, broke out in Scotland, was suppressed. He too carried over to the minority the aid of his great name, his talents, and his paramount influence in his native country.
In each of these cases taken separately, a skilful defender of Walpole might perhaps make out a case for him. But when we see that during a long course of years all the footsteps are turned the same way—that all the most eminent of those public men who agreed with the minister in their general views of policy left him, one after another, with sore and irritated minds, we find it impossible not to believe that the real explanation of the phenomenon is to be found in the words of his son, "Sir Robert Walpole loved power so much that he would not endure a rival."* Hume has described this famous minister with great felicity in one short sentence—"moderate in exercising power, not equitable in engrossing it." 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 person* like his brother Horace, or Henry Pelhaxn, whose industrious mediocrity gave him Bo cause for jealousy; or from clever adventurers, whose situation and character diminished the dread which their talents might otherwise have inspired. To this last class belonged Fox, who was too poor to live without office; Sir William Yonge, of whom Walpole himself said, that nothing but such parts could buoy up inch .a character, that nothing but such a
character could drag down such parts; and Wilmington, whose private morals lay, justly or unjustly, under imputations of the worst kind.
The discontented Whigs were, not perhaps in number, but certainly in ability, experience, and weight, by far the most important part of the Opposition. The Tories furnished little more than rows of ponderous fox-hunters, fat with Staffordshire or Devonshire ale—men who drank to the king over the water, and believed that all the landholders were Jews— men whose religion consisted in hating the Dissenters, and whose political researches had led them to fear, like Squire Western, thai 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 on :e formidable October Club, seldom went bejond a hearty Ay or No. Very few members < f this party had distinguished themselves much in Parliament, or could, under any circumstances, have bean called to fill any high office; and those few had generally, like Sir William Wyndham, learned in the company of their new associates the doctrines of toleration and political liberty, and might indeed with strict propriety be called Whigs. «
It was to the Whigs in opposition, the patriots, as they were called, that the most distinguished of the English youth, who at this season entered into public life, attached themselves. These inexperienced politicians felt all the enthusiasm which the name of liberty naturally excites in young and ardent minds. They conceived that the theory of the Tory Opposition, and the practice of Walpole's government, were alike inconsistent with the principles of liberty. They accordingly repaired to the standard which Pulteney had set up. While opposing the Whig minister, they professed a firm adherence to the purest doctrines of Whigism. He was the schismatic; they were the true Catholics, the peculiar people, the depositaries of the orthodox faith of Hampden* and Russell; the one sect which, amidst the corruptions generated by time, and by the long possession of power, had preserved inviolate the principles of the Revolution. Of the young men who attached themselves to this portion of the Opposition, the most distinguished were Lyttlelon and Pitt.
When Pitt entered Parliament, the whole political world was attentively watching tne 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.
Nothing is more natural than that, in a mo narchy, where a constitutional Opposition ex ists.the heir-apparent of the throne should put himself at the head of that Opposition. He is impelled to such a course L>y every feecing of ambition and of vanity. He cannot be more than second in the estimation of the party which ir in. He is sure to be the first member of the party which is out. The highest favour which the existing administration can exprct from lii:n is, thai he will not discard them, lilit, if lie 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 Brunswick. "This family," said he at Council, we suppose after his daily half-gallon of Burgundy, "always has quarrelled and always will quarrel, from generation to generation." He should have known something of the matter; for he had been a favourite with three successive generations of the royal house. We cannot quite admit his explanation; but the «fact is indisputable. Since the accession of George the First, there have been four Princes of Wales, and they have all been almost constantly in opposition.
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 Frederic at the head of the patriots silenced this, reproach. The leaders of the Opposition might now boast that their proceedings were sanctioned by a person as deeply interested ns the king himself in maintaining the Act of Settlement; and that, instead of serving the purposes of the Tory party, they had brought that party over to the side of Whigism. It must 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 childishly—the royal family was rather strengthened than weakened by the disagreement of its two owwi flistinzuished members. A large class
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 lather and son took opposite sides during the rebellion, in order that, come what might, the estate might not be forfeited.
In April, 1736, Frederic was married'to the Princess of Saxe-Gotha, with whom he afterwards lived on terms very similar to those on which his father had lived with Queen Caroline. The prince adored his wife, and thought her in mind and person the most attractive of her sex. But he thought that conjugal fidelity was an unprincely virtue; and, in order to be like Henry the Fourth and the Regent Orleans, he afTected a libertinism for which he had no taste, and frequently quitted the only woman whom he loved for ugly and disagreeable mistresses.
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 Demosthenes, or more diffuse than that of Cicero? We know no living orator, from Lord Brougham down to Mr. Hunt, who is not en titled to the same magnificent eulogy. It would be no very flattering compliment to a man's figure to say, that he was taller than the Polish Count, and shorter than Giant O'Brien;—fatter than the Jnatomit Vivante, and more slender than Daniel Lambert.
Pitt's speech, as it is reported in the Gentleman's Magazine, certainly deserves Tindal's compliment, and deserves no other. It is just as empty and wordy as a maiden speech on such an occasion might be expected to be. But the fluency and the personal advantages of the young orator inslantlv caught the ear