Fox, Charles James

, one of the most illustrious statesmen of modern times, the second son of the preceding lord Holland, was born Jan. 13, O. S. 1748. We have already noticed that lord Holland was an indulgent father, and it has been said that his partiality to this son was carried to an unwarrantable length. That his father might have been incited by parental affection, a feeling of which few men can judge but for themselves, by the early discovery he made of his son’s talents, to indulge him in the caprices of youth, is not improbable; but that this indulgence was not excessive, may with equal probability be inferred from the future conduct of Mr. Fox, which retained no traces of the “spoiled child,” and none of the haughty insolence of one to whom inferiors and servants have been ordered to pay obsequious obedience. Nor was his education neglected. At Eton, where he had Dr. Barnard for his master, he distinguished himself by some elegant exercises, which are to be found in the *‘ Musce Etonenses,“and at Hertford college, Oxford, where he studied under the tutorage of Dr. Newcome, afterwards primate of Ireland, his proficiency in classical and polite literature must have been equal to that of any of his contemporaries. The fund indeed of classical learning which he accumulated both at Eton and Oxford was such as to remain inexhausted during the whole of his busy and eventful political career; and while it proved to the last a source of elegant amusement in his leisure hours, it enabled him to rank with some of the most eminent scholars of his time. This we may affirm on the authority of Dr. Warton, with whom he frequently and keenly contested at the literary club, and on that of a recent publication of his letters to Gilbert Wakefield, with whom he corresponded on subjects of classical taste and criticism. | From Oxford, where, as was the custom with young men intended for public life, he did not remain long enough to accumulate degrees, he repaired to the continent. In his travels it is said that he acquired more of the polish of foreign intercourse than those who knew him only in his latter days could have believed, and returned a fashionable young man, noted for a foppish gaiety of dress and manner, from which he soon passed into the opposite extreme. As his father intended him to rise in the political world, he procured him a seat for the borough of Midhurst, in 1768, before he had attained the legal age; a circumstance which, if known, appears to have been then overlooked. Two years afterwards, his father’s interest procured him the office of one of the lords commissioners of the admiralty; but in May 1772, he resigned that situation, and in January 1773, was nominated a commissioner of the treasury. At this time it cannot be denied that his political opinions were in unison with those of his father, who was accounted a tory, and were adverse to the turbulent proceedings of the city of London, which at this time was deluded by the specious pretences to patriotism displayed by the celebrated Wilkes. It was in particular Mr. Fox’s opinion, in allusion to the public meetings held by the supporters of” Wilkes and liberty,“that” the voice of the people was only to be heard in the house of commons." That he held, however, some of the opinions by which his future life was guided, appears from his speech in favour of religious liberty, when sir William Meredith introduced a bill to give relief from subscription to the thirty-nine articles; and perhaps other instances may be found in which his natural ingenuousness of mind, and openness of character, burst through the trammels of party; and although it must be allowed that the cause he now supported was not that which he afterwards espoused, it may be doubted whether he was not even at this time, when a mere subaltern in the ministerial ranks, more unresirained in his sentiments than at some memorable periods of his subsequent life.

After having displayed his talents to the greatest advantage in favour of the minister for about six years, the latter (lord North) procured his dismissal from office in a manner not the most gracious, and which, if it did not leave in Mr. Fox’s mind some portion of resentment, he must have been greatly superior to the infirmities of our nature, | a pre-eminence which he never arrogated. It is said, that on Feb. 19, 1774, while he was actually engaged in conversation with the minister on other subjects in the house of commons, he received the following laconic note by the hands of one or the messengers of the house:

His Majesty has thought proper to order a new commission of Treasury to be made out, in which I do not see your name. North.

This event was not occasioned by any opposition on the part of Mr. Fox to lord North’s measures, but to a difference of opinion as to the best mode of carrying them into effect, and that in an instance of comparatively smalt importance. This was a question respecting the committal of Mr. H. S. Woodfall, the printer of the Public Advertiser, who had been brought to the bar of the house for inserting a letter supposed to have been written by the rev. J. Home, afterwards J. Home Tooke, in which most unjustifiable liberties had been taken with the character of the speaker, sir Fletcher Norton, with a coarse virulence of language peculiar to Tooke. Mr. Woodfall having given up the author, and thrown himself on the mercy of the house, it was moved by Mr. Herbert that he should be committed to the custody of the serjeant at arms. Mr. Fox, at that period a zealous advocate for the privileges of the house, declared that the punishment was not sufficiently severe, and moved “that he be committed to Newgate, as the only proper place to which offenders should be sent; though hints,” he said, “had been thrown out that the sheriffs would not admit him.” To this lord North replied, that he was very sorry that hints had been thrown out of what the sheriffs would or would not do; he hoped there were no persons who would dispute the power of that house; he therefore moved that the printer be committed to the Gate-house, as he thought it imprudent to force themselves into a contest with the city; but Mr. Herbert carried his motion in opposition both to lord North and Mr. Fox, by a majority of 152 to f>8, to the great displeasure of lord North, who asserted that it was entirely owing to the interference of Mr. Fox, that he was left in a minority.

To this trifling dispute, we are left to refer the whole of Mr. Fox’s subsequent conduct, and as he appears to have immediately commenced hostilities with the minister and his friends, -it has been recorded, as peculiarly | fortunate for him, that he had no occasion to degrade his consistency by opposing any of the measures he had formerly supported, in detail at least; and that a new sera of political hostility had just commenced on which he could enter with all the apparent earnestness of honest conviction. This, we need scarcely add, originated in the dispute between Great Britain and her American colonies. During the whole of this period, and of the war which followed, Mr. Fox spoke and voted in direct opposition to the ministerial system, which ended at last in the separation of the colonies from the mother state. It was now that Mr. Fox’s talents appeared in their fullest lustre, and that he took the foremost rank among the speakers of the house, although it could at that time, and in his own. party, boast of a Burke, a Barre, and a Dunning.

At the general election in 1780, Mr. Fox became candidate for the city of Westminster, in which, after a violent contest, he succeeded, though opposed, as we are told, by the formidable interest of the Newcastle family, and by the whole influence of the crown. Being now the representative of a great city, it is added, “he appeared in parliament in a more dignified capacity, and acquired a considerable increase of consequence to his political character. In himself he was still the same: he now necessarily lived and acted in the bosom of his constituents j his easiness of access, his pleasant social spirit, his friendly disposition and conciliating manners, which appeared in, all he said, and the good temper which predominated in all he did, were qualities that rendered him the friend and acquaintance, as well as the representative, of those who sent him into parliament; his superior talents, and their powerful and frequent application to popular purposes, made him best known among political men, and gave him a just claim to the title so long applied to him, of * The man of the people.’” Notwithstanding all this, it might not be difficult to prove that Mr. Fox was upon the whole no great gainer by representing a city in which the arts of popularity, even when most honestly practised, are no security for its continuance; and indeed the time was not far distant when he had to experience the fatal effects of preferring a seat, which the purest virtues only can neither obtain nor preserve, and in contesting which, corruption on one side must be opposed by corruption on the other. | The subjects of debate in the new parliament affording the opposition opportunities for the display of their eloquence, they now became formidable by an increase of numbers. Ministers were assailed in the house by arguments which they could neither repel nor contradict, and from without they were overwhelmed by the clamours of that same people to whom the war was at first so acceptable; till at length lord North and his adherents were obliged to resign, and it was thought, as such vengeance had been repeatedly threatened both by Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke, that they would have been made responsible for all the mischiefs and bloodshed that had occurred during their calamitous administration. The Rockingham party, however, who came into power in the spring 1782, and whose resentments the* attainment of that object seems to have sofiened, contented themselves with the defeat of their opponents. Mr. Fox obtained the office of secretary of state for foreign affairs, and the marquis of Rockingham was nominated the first lord of the treasury. Still the expectation of the nation was raised to the highest pitch; with this party, they hoped to see an end to national calamity, and the interests of the country supported and maintained in all quarters of the globe. Much indeed was performed by them considering the shortness of their administration. Though they had succeeded to an empty exchequer, and a general and most calamitous war, yet they resolved to free the people from some of their numerous grievances. Contractors were excluded by act of parliament from the house of commons; custom and excise officers were disqualified from voting at elections; all the proceedings with respect to the Middlesex election were rescinded; while a reform bill abolished a number of useless offices. A more generous policy was adopted in regard to Ireland; a general peace was meditated, and America, which could not be restored, was at least to he conciliated. In the midst of these promising appearances, the marquis of Hockingham, who was the support of the new administration, suddenly died, an event which distracted and divided his party. The council board was instantly torn in pieces by political schisms, originating id a dispute respecting the person who should succeed as 6rsfc lord of the treasury. The candidates were, lord Sbelburne, afterwards marquis of Lansdowne, and the Jgrte duke of Portland j the former, supposed to have the ear of | the King, and a majority in the cabinet, was immediately entrusted with the reins of government, and Mr. Fox retired in disgust, declaring that “he had determined never to connive at plans in private, which he could not publicly avow.” What these plans were, we know not, but he now resumed his station in opposition, and joined the very man whose conduct he had for a series of years deprecated as the most destructive to the interests of his coqntry, and most baneful to the happiness of mankind; while his former colleague, the earl of Shelburne, was busied in concluding a peace with France, Spain, Holland, and the United States of America. But as this nobleman, though by no means deficient in political wisdom, had omitted to take those steps which preceding ministers had ever adopted to secure safety, a confederacy was formed against him by the union of the friends of Mr. Fox and lord North, known by the name of “The Coalition,” which proved in the event as impolitic, as it was odious to the great mass of the people. Never indeed in this reign has any measure caused a more general expression of popular disgust; and although it answered the temporary purpose of those who adopted it, by enabling them to supplant their rivals, and to seize upon their places, their success was ephemeral; they had, it is true, a majority in the house of commons, but the people at large were decidedly hostile to an union which appeared to them to be bottomed on ambition only, and destitute of any common public principle. It was asserted, with too much appearance of truth, that they agreed in no one great measure calculated for the benefit of the country, and the nation seemed to unite against them as one man. Their conduct in the cabinet led the sovereign to use a watchful and even jealous eye upon their acts; and the famous India bill proved the rock on /which they finally split, and on account of which they forfeited their place Mr. Fox had now to contend for the government of the empire with William Pitt, a stripling scarcely arrived at the age of manhood, but who nevertheless succeeded to the post of premier, and maintained that situation with a career as brilliant as that of his opponent, for more than twenty years.

The tide of popularity had set in so strongly against Mr. Fox, that at the general election about seventy of his most active friends and partizans lost their seats in the house of commons, and be himself was forced into a long and | turbulent contest for the city of Westminster. He had, as we have seen, been originally returned for that place by the voice of the inhabitants, in opposition to the influence of the crown; but his junction with lord North had now lost him the affections of a considerable number of his voters, and although he ultimately succeeded, it was at an expence to his friends which some of them felt for many years afterwards. He lost also, what, we are persuaded, must have affected him more than all, the support of that class without doors of independent men, and able writers on constitutional questions, who had revered him during the American war as the patron of liberty. Still, although in the new parliament which met in 1784, Mr. Pitt had a decided majority, Mr. Fox made his appearance at the head of a very formidable opposition, and questions of general political interest were for some years contested with such a display of brilliant talents, as had never been known in the house of commons.

In 1788, Mr. Fox repaired to the continent, in company with the lady who was afterwards acknowledged as his wife, and after spending a few days with Gibbon, the historian, at Lausanne, departed for Italy, but was suddenly recalled home, in consequence of the king’s illness, and the necessity of providing for a regency. On this memorable occasion, Mr. Fox, and his great rival, Mr. Pitt, appeared to have exchanged systems; Mr. Pitt contending for the constitutional measure of a bill of limitations, while Mr. Fox was equally strenuous for placing the regency in the hands of the heir apparent, without any restrictions; and powerful as he and his party were at this time, and perhaps they never shone more in debate, Mr. Pitt was triumphant in every stage of the bill, and was supported by the almost unanimous voice of the nation. Yet the ministers must have retired, as it was well known that Mr. Fox and his party stood high in favour with the future Regent, and Mr. Pitt had actually meditated on the ceconomy of a private station, when the intemperance of Mr. Burke, who was never less Joyal than at this crisis, delayed the passing of the bill, on one pretence or another, until by his majesty’s recovery, it became happily useless. On this great question Mr,‘ Fox had again the misfortune to forfeit the regard of those who have been considered as the depositories of constitutional principles, and consequently appeared to have traversed the system of | which he had been considered,as the most consistent and intrepid advocate. In 1790 and 1791 he recovered some of the ground he had lost, by opposing with effect a war with Spain, and another with Russia, for objects which he thought too dearly purchased by such an experiment; and in 1790 he appeared again the friend of constitutional liberty, by his libel bill respecting the rights of juries in criminal cases. This, although strongly opposed, terminated at last in a decision that juries are judges of both the law and the fact. But the time was now arrived when he was, by a peculiarity in [his way of thinking, to be for ever separated from the political friends who had longest adhered to him, and many of whom he loved with all the ardour of affection.

When the revolution took place in France, Mr. Fox perhaps was not singular in conceiving that it would be attended with great benefit to that nation; in some of his speeches he went farther; and continued an admirer of what was passing in France long after others had begun to foresee the most disastrous consequences. While Mr. Fox perceived nothing but what was good, Mr. Burke predicted almost all, indeed, that has since happened, and an accidental altercation in the house of commons, (See Burke,) separated these two friends for ever. “This,” says one of his biographers, “was a circumstance that affected Mr. Fox more than any other through life; he had seen his plans for the public good disappointed; he had been deserted by a crowd of political adherents; a thousand times his heart and his motives had been slandered, still he had abundant resources in himself to bear up against the tide setting in against him. No opposition, no injuries could excite in him the spirit of revenge, or the principles of acrimony; even when his friend, on whom he hung with almost idolatrous regafd, broke from him in the paroxysm of political madness, and with furious cruelty explored, in his attack on him, every avenue to pain, far from repelling enmity with enmity, he discovered his sensibilities of wrong only with tears, and he subsequently wept, with a pertinacity of affection almost vrithout example, over the sepulchre of that very man, who had unrelentingly spurned all his offers of reconciliation, and who, with reference to him, had expired in the bitterness of resentment.” We have little scruple in adopting these sentiments; for whatever may be thought of Mr. Fox’s | opinions, there are few, we hope, whose hearts would hav permitted them to act the part of Mr. Burke in this interesting scene.

The policy of the war which followed, belongs to history. On its concluision in 1801, after the resignation of Mr. Pitt, when Mr. Addington, (since lord Sid mouth,) concluded the treaty of Amiens, Mr. Fox and his friends gave him his support. When hostilities were again meditated, Mr. Fox at first expressed his doubts of their necessity; but when, on the death of Mr. Pitt, in 1806, he came again into power, as secretary of state for the foreign department, in conjunction with the Grenville party, he found it necessary to support the war by the same means and in the same spirit as his predecessor. Some measures of a more private nature, which he was obliged to adopt in order to satisfy the wishes of the new coalition he had formed, served rather to diminish than increase his popularity but his health was now decaying; symptoms of dropsy appeared, and within a few months he was laid in the grave close by his illustrious rival. He died Sept. 13, 180G, without pain and almost without a struggle, in the 58th year of his age.

The present lord Holland has said, in the preface to Mr. Fox’s historical work, that although “those who admired Mr. Fox in public, and those who loved him in private, must naturally feel desirous that some memorial should be preserved of the great and good qualities of his head and heart;” yet, “the objections to such an undertaking ai present are obvious, and after much reflection, they have appeared to those connected with him insuperable.” Such a declaration, it is hoped, may apologize for what we have admitted, and for what we have rejected, in this sketch of Mr. Fox’s life. We have touched only on a few memorable periods, convinced that the present temper of the times is unfavourable to a more minute discussion of the merits of his long parliamentary life. Yet this consideration has not had much weight with those who profess to be his admirers, and soon after his death a number of “Characters” of him appeared sufficient to fill two volumes 8vo, edited by Dr. Parr. Of one circumstance there can be no dispute. Friends and foes are equally agreed in the amiable, even, and benign features of his private character. “He was a man,” said Burke, “made to bo loved,” aud he was loved by all who knew him. | Mr. Fox must now be considered as an author. While at Eton, his compositions were highly distinguished, some of which are in print; as one composed in or about 1761, beginning, “Vocat ultimus labor;” another, “I, fugias, celeri volitans per nubila cursu,” written in 1764; and his “Quid miri faciat Natura,” which was followed by a Greek dialogue in 1765. See “Musse Etonenses,” &c. He was also author of the 14th, 16th, and perhaps, says the present lord Holland, his nephew, a few other numbers of a periodical publication in 1779, called the “Englishman.” In 1793 he published “A Letter to the Electors of Westminster,” which passed through thirteen editions within a few months. This pamphlet contains a full and ample justification of his political conduct, with respect to the discussions in which he had engaged on the French revolution.

It does not appear that the parliamentary speeches, printed separately as his, of which there are many, were ever revised by him, but were taken from the public papers. But “A Sketch of the Character of the late most noble Francis duke of Bedford, as delivered in his introductory speech to a motion for a new writ for Tavistock, on the 16th of March, 1802,” was printed by his authority, and from his own manuscript copy; and it is said, that he observed on that occasion, “that he had never before attempted to make a copy of any speech which he had delivered in public.” After that he wrote an epitaph on the late bishop of Downe, which is engraved on his tomb in. the chapel of St. Jatnes, in the Hampstead road. “There are,” says lord Holland, “several, specimens of his composition in verse, in different languages; but the lines on. Mrs. Crewe, and those on Mrs. Fox, on his birth-day, are, as far as I recollect, all that have been printed.” An ode to Poverty, and an epigram upon Gibbon, though very generally attributed to him, are certainly not his com,-’ positions.

To lord Holland, however, the world is indebted for an important posthumous publication of this great statesman, entitled “A History of the early part of the Reign of James the Second, with an introductory chapter,” &c. It is not known when Mr. Fox first formed the design of writing a history; but in 1797 he publicly announced in parliament his intention of devoting a greater portion of his time to his private pursuits, and when he had determined to oonscv | crate a part in writing history, he was naturally led, from his intimate knowledge of the English constitution, to prefer the history of his own country, and to select a period favourable to the general illustration of the great principles of freedom on which it is founded. With this view he fixed on the revolution pf 1688, but had made a small progress in this work when he was called to take a principal part in the government of the country. The volume comprehends only the history of the transactions of the first year of the reign of James II. with an introductory chapter on the character and leading events of the times immediately preceding. Whatever opinion may be entertained of the views Mr. Fox takes of those times, or of some novel opinions advanced, there is enough in this work to prove that he might have proved an elegant and sound historian, and to make it a subject of regret that he did not employ his talents on literary composition when they were in their full vigour. 1


From various periodical journals. Sir E. Brydges’s edition of Collins’s Peerage. Reet’s Cyclopædia. Character of C. J. Fox, selected and in part written by Pbilopatris Varrienis, i. e. Dr, Parr, 1809, 8vo.