Pitt, William

, second son of the preceding, and his legitimate successor in political talents and celebrity, was born May 28, 1759. He was educated at home under the immediate eye of his father, who, as he found him very early capable of receiving, imparted to him many of the principles which had guided his own political conduct, and in other respects paid so much attention to his education that at the age of fourteen, he was found fully qualified for the university; and accordingly, was then entered of Pembroke-hall, Cambridge, where he was distinguished alike for the closeness of his application, and for the success of his efforts, in attaining those branches of knowledge to which his studies were particularly directed; nor have many young men of rank passed through the probation of an university with a higher character for morals, abilities, industry, and regularity. He was intended by his father for the bar and the senate, and his education was regulated so as to embrace both these objects. Soon after he quitted the university, he went to the continent, and passed a short time at Rheims, the capital of Champagne. The death of his illustrious father, while he was in his 19th year, could not fail to cast a cloud over the prospects of a | younger son, but the foundation was laid of those qualities which would enable him to clear the path to eminence by his own exertions. He had already entered himself a student of Lincoln’s Inn, and as soon as he was of age, in 1780, he was called to the bar, went the western circuit once, and appeared in a few causes as a junior counsel. His success during this short experiment was thought to be such as was amply sufficient to encourage him to pursue his legal career, and to render him almost certain of obtaining a high rank in his profession. A seat in parliament, however, seems to have given his ambition its proper direction, and at once placed him where he was best qualified to shine and to excel. At the general election in 1780, he had been persuaded to offer himself as a candidate to represent the university of Cambridge, but finding that his interest would not be equal to carry the election, he declined the contest, and in the following year was, through the influence of sir James Lowther, returned for the borough of Appleby. This was during the most violent period of political opposition to the American war, to which Mr. Pitt, it may be supposed, had an hereditary aversion. He was also, as most young men are, captivated by certain theories on the subject of political reform, which were to operate as a remedy for all national disasters. Among others of the more practical kind, Mr. Burke had, at the commencement of the session, brought forward his bill for making great retrenchments in the civil list. On this occasion Mr. Pitt, on the 26th of February, 1781, made his first speech in the British senate. The attention of the house was naturally fixed on the son of the illustrious Chatham, but in a few moments the regards of the whole audience were directed to the youthful orator on his own account. Unembarrassed by the novelty of the situation in which he had been so lately placed, he delivered himself with an ease, a grace, a richness of expression, a soundness of judgment, a closeness of argument, and a classical accuracy of language, which not only answered, but exceeded, all the expectations which had been formed of him, and drew the applauses of both parties. During the same and the subsequent session, he occasionally rose to give his sentiments on public affairs, and particularly on parliamentary reform. This he urged with an enthusiasm which he had afterwards occasion to repent; for when more mature consideration of the subject, had convinced him | that the expedient was neither safe nor useful, he was considered as an apostate from his early professions. As a public speaker, however, it was soon evident that he was destined to act a high part on the political stage; yet, although he seemed to go along generally with the party in opposition to lord North, he had not otherwise much associated with them, and therefore when, on the dissolution of lord North’s, a new one was formed, at the head of which was the marquis of Rockingham, Mr. Pitt’s name did not appear on the list. Some say he was not invited to take a share; others, that he was offered the place of a lord of the treasury, which he declined, either from a consciousness that he was destined for a higher station, or that he discerned the insecurity of the new ministers. Their first misfortune was the death of the marquis of Rockingham, which occasioned a fatal breach of union between them, respecting the choice of a new head. Of this the earl of Shelburne availed himself, and in July 1782, having, with a part of the former members, been appointed first lord of the treasury, associated Mr. Pitt, who had just completed his 23d year, as chancellor of the exchequer. A general peace with America, France, Spain, &c. soon followed, which was made a ground of censure by a very powerful opposition; and in April 1783, the famous coalition ministry took the places of those whom they had expelled. Mr. Pitt, during his continuance in office, had found little opportunity to distinguish himself, otherwise than as an able defender of the measures of administration, and a keen animadverter upon the principles and conduct of his antagonists; but a circumstance occurred which constitutes the first great æra in his life. This, indeed, was the eventual cause not only of his return to office, but of his possession of a degree of authority with the king, and of popularity with the nation, which has rarely been the lot of any minister, and which he preserved, without interruption, to the end of his life, although his character was supposed to vary in many respects from the opinion that had been formed of it, and although he was never known to stoop to the common tricks of popularity. The coalition administration, of which some notice has been taken in our accounts of Mr. Burke and Mr. Fox, was, in its formation, most revolting to the opinions of the people. Its composition was such as to afford no hopes of future benefit to the nation, and it was therefore narrowly | watched as a combination for self-interest. While the public was indulging such suspicions, Mr. Fox introduced his famous bill for the regulation of the affairs of India, the leading provision of which was to vest the whole management of the affairs of the East India company, in seven commissioners named in the act, and to be appointed by the ministry. It was in vain that this was represented as a measure alike beneficial to the company and to the nation; the public considered it as trenching too much on the prerogative, as creating a mass of ministerial influence which would be irresistible, and as rendering the ministry too strong for the crown. Mr. Pitt, who, in this instance, had rather to follow than to guide the public opinion, unfolded the hidden mystery of the vast mass of patronage which this bill would give, painted in the most glowing colours its danger to the crown and people on one hand, and to the company on the other, whose chartered rights were thus forcibly violated. The alarm thus becoming general, although the bill passed the House of Commons by the influence which the ministers still possessed in that assembly, it was rejected in the House of Lords.

To reconcile themselves to this disappointment, and perhaps to regain ground with the public, the ministers industriously circulated the report that the bill owed its rejection to secret intrigue and undue influence. It was said that lord Temple, afterwards the marquis of Buckingham, had demanded a private audience of his majesty, and represented the danger in such a light, that directions were sent to all the noblemen connected with the court to vote against it. This, however, had it been true in its full extent, made no difference in the public opinion. In a case of such danger, a departure from the ordinary forms was not thought to bear any unfriendly aspect to the welfare of the state; and some were of opinion that all which lord Temple was supposed to communicate, must have already occurred to his majesty’s reflection. The consequence, however, was, that the ministry resigned their places, and in the new arrangement, Mr. Pitt, whose fitness for office was no longer a doubt, was made first lord of the treasury, and chancellor of the exchequer.

His appearance, at the early age of twenty-four in this high character, was as much applauded on the part of the nation at large, as it was ridiculed and despised by his | opponents, as the arrogant assumption of a stripling who owed to accident or intrigue, what a few weeks or months must certainly deprive him of. For some time, indeed, all this seemed not very improbable. The adherents of the coalition-ministry, in the House of Commons, had suffered no great diminution, and formed yet so considerable a majority, that when Mr. Pitt introduced his own bill into the House for the regulation of India affairs, it was rejected by 222 against 214. In this state matters remained for some months, during which meetings were held of the leading men of both parties, with a view to a general accommodation; but as Mr. Pitt’s previous resignation was demanded as a sine qua non, he determined to adhere in the utmost extremity to the sovereign by whom he had been called into office, and the people by whom he found himself supported. After many unavailing efforts, therefore, he determined on a step which, had his cause been less popular, might have been fatal to his sovereign as well as to himself. This was a dissolution of parliament, which took place in the month of March 1784; and although during the general election the country was thrown, by the struggles of the parties, into a greater degree of political heat and irritation than ever was known, and although some of his higher opponents greatly embarrassed their estates and families by the most wasteful expenditure, in order to secure the return of their friends, above thirty of the latter, all men of consideration, were thrown out, and the minister was enabled to meet the new parliament with a decided majority, including almost the whole of that class that had the credit of patriotism and independence, but certainly excluding a mass of talent such as few ministers have had to encounter.

The first important measure introduced into this parliament was the India Bill rejected by the last, which was passed; and, with some few alterations, constitutes the system by which the affairs of the East India company have ever since been managed. Another important plan, executed by Mr. Pitt, was that for the prevention of smuggling. This, in all branches of the revenue, occupied his attention for some years afterwards, but his present object was the frauds on the revenue in the article of tea, which he obviated by what was called the Commutation Act, which took off the principal duties from tea, and supplied the deficiency by a large addition to the window-tax. This, if we remember | right, was the first circumstance which occasioned some murmuring, and it was the first instance in which Mr. Pitt showed that he was not to be diverted from what he conceived would be generally a benefit, by any dread of the loss of popularity. If at this time he seems ambitious of any distinctive ministerial character, it was that of an able and successful minister of finance; and there cannot be a more decided proof of his having attained that honour, than that his plans are still operating, and have enabled the country to sustain for upwards of twenty years a war of unexampled expence, and at the same time to support feebler nations in recovering their independence from a tyranny to which they were thought to be irreversibly doomed.

In 1786, when few could have foreseen its future importance, he introduced a bill for setting apart a million annually for the purchase of stock, which sum was to be augmented by the interest of the stock so purchased. Perseverance in this plan, with occasional improvements, has already, amidst all the pressure of public burdens, extinguished between two and three hundred millions of debt, and produced a very considerable revenue to be applied to the same purpose. These effects his enemies are ready to acknowledge, but with a view to detract from his merit, they tell us that this was the least efficient of three plans given to him by Dr. Richard Price, and that for such an obligation he did not think it worth his while to make the smallest public acknowledgement. Whatever may be in this, the general system of finance now established was soon powerfully aided by various alterations in the mode of collecting taxes, and by a commercial treaty with France, concluded in 1787, so much in favour of our merchants, as to occasion considerable dissatisfaction among those of France.

Among the subsequent measures, in which Mr. Pitt was personally concerned, we may notice his acceding to the impeachment of Mr. Hastings; and his joining in the support of the established church by opposing the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, in both which he agreed with the majority, although in the latter he disappointed the hopes of the various sects of dissenters. His interference also to preserve the power of the Stadtholder in Holland, was a popular measure. But he was less successful in two other instances of interference in continental | politics, the one to check the aggrandizement of Russia under the empress Catherine, which the parliament forced him to abandon; and the other a dispute with Spain respecting the fur-trade at Nootka Sound, which was equally unpopular, and at length was adjusted by a convention.

The second great æra of Mr. Pitt’s public life was now approaching, in which his power and popularity arose to the greatest height in the very moment when in all human probability he was about to be deprived of both. In the autumn of 1788, the country was thrown into a state of alarm by a calamity which rendered his majesty incapable of exercising the royal functions. Parliament having been prorogued to Nov. 20, it became necessary it should meet that day, as the sovereign, by whom only it could be further prorogued, was not in a situation to assert his prerogative. In the mean time, the leaders of the different parties who were interested in the event, assembled in the capital; and an express was dispatched to Mr. Fox, then absent on the continent, to accelerate his return. This occurrence gave occasion to a display of the firmness and decision of Mr. Pitt’s character. In this article we cannot enter into many particulars; but we may observe, that the first material question brought up by this event was, in whom the office of regent was vested The prince of Wales being then connected with the party in opposition, Mr. Fox contended that the regency devolved upon him as a matter of course; while, on the other hand, Mr. Pitt supported the doctrine, that it lay in the two remaining branches of the legislature to fill up the office, as they should judge proper; admitting, at the same time, that no other person than the prince could be thought of for the office. By adopting this principle, he carried with him the concurrence as well of those who were attached to the popular part of the constitution, as of the king’s friends, whose great object was to secure his return to power, on the cessation of his malady; and he was enabled to pass a bill, greatly restricting the power of the regent, which his majesty’s timely recovery in the beginning of 1789 rendered unnecessary; but such was the general conviction of its propriety, that on a subsequent more melancholy occasion, the minister of the day, Mr. Perceval, found no great difficulty in reviving it, and it became the rule of the present regency. Mr. Pitt was now left to pursue his plans of internal economy, without those interruptions to which | he had lately been subjected. He had received, during the discussions on the regency, very decisive tokens of esteem from many of the great public bodies in the kingdom; and he had the satisfaction of knowing, that the firm and steady conduct which he observed, on a question peculiarly calculated to try the firmness, steadiness, and consistency of a public character, had obtained for him, in a very marked manner, the confidence of their majesties, and greatly increased his popularity throughout the nation.

The third great æra in Mr. Pitt’s life, and which, beyond all preceding parts of his conduct, will determine his character with posterity, was the French revolution, an event the most momentous in its consequences that modern history records. The influence of this vast convulsion could not be viewed, by the politician and the minister of a great empire, but in a double light, as exerted upon France itself, and upon the neighbouring states. In both cases, Mr. Pitt took up the opinion that it afforded just cause for jealousy, and he was the more strengthened in this opinion from observing the effects which the conduct of the French had already produced in this country. It is allowed by his enemies that he did not precipitately rush into war with France, or interfere in the affairs of that country, while the French seemed to be operating a change by means which were rational; and while their only objects seemed to be a representative government and a limited monarchy. It was not until they had destroyed the freedom of their representatives by the terrifying influence of clubs and parties more powerful than their legalized assemblies, and until they had dragged their helpless sovereign to the scaffold, that he saw the danger that would accrue to every country where such measures should be considered as a precedent. In England, it might have been thought that the enormities which preceded and followed the execution of the French king, would have excited universal abhorrence; that a moral, thinking, and industrious people, prosperous beyond all other nations in arts and commerce, and secure beyond all others in the essentials of liberty, would have found no provocation to imitate the most inhuman barbarities of the darkest ages. It soon, however, appeared that although the majority of the nation was disposed to contemplate what had happened in France, with the abhorrence it was naturally fitted to create, a party was arising, selected indeed from the lower | and illiterate orders, but guided by leaders of some knowledge, and of great activity and resolution, who seemed determined on a close imitation of all the licentiousness of France, and whose attacks were at once directed against the throne, the state, and the church. For some time their sentiments were considerably disguised. They affected moderation, and derived too much countenance from those who really were inclined to moderate changes, moderate reforms; and, with no little art, they revived the popular delusions of annual parliaments and universal suffrage; but moderation was neither the characteristic nor the object of this party: and finding themselves for some time unnoticed by government, they began to disdain the protection of their insignificance, and boldly avowed that they did not mean to leave the accomplishment of their projected changes to any of the legal authorities. In imitation of the French clubs, they were to produce the effect by self-created societies that should dictate to parliament, and when parliament was completely overawed, supply its place.

Such were the effects which the proceedings in France had already produced in England, among a party, which, if not originally numerous, was fast increasing, when Mr. Pitt thought it necessary to interfere. In taking this step he was accused of precipitation and of severity: the dangers he dreaded were represented as in a great measure imaginary; and the plan he adopted was said to be pregnant with mischief to the freedom of the press. It appeared, however, in consequence of inquiries instituted, that had he exercised a longer forbearance, the greatest of the dangers he apprehended must have followed in regular progress. Forbearance, in the republican language of the day, was “timidity, and the happy consequence of the vigour and spirit of the people.” It was time therefore to set the question at rest by appealing to the nation at large; and Mr. Pitt had no sooner begun the experiment of checking a licentiousness so dangerous and unprovoked, than he was supported by the general mass of the people, who assembled in every county, city, town, and village, to testify their satisfaction with the constitution as then administered, and to offer their lives and fortunes in support of the government under which they had flourished. It has been objected to Mr. Pitt by his opponents that in some instances he followed, rather than produced, public | opinion: why this should be an objection with those hold public opinion sacred, we know not. In the present instance, however, it may be allowed as a matter of fact, and it is a fact very honourable to the people of England, that he had, at this crisis, only to anticipate their wishes, and that in consequence of the precautions he took, harsh as they might have been thought at any other time, all the dangers of internal disturbance gradually disappeared, and the wild theories that had been propagated from the press either appeared ridiculous, or became obsolete.

With respect to the origin of the war with France, there was long a controversy turning on the question, whether it might not have been avoided by Great Britain preserving her relations of amity with the republican government of that nation. The party in opposition to Mr. Pitt contended that this was practicable, and the minister therefore was long censured as the cause, and held accountable for all the consequences of that war. The opinion of the minister, however, was, that enough had occurred in France to convince us that no relations of amity could be preserved with a country, which had decreed not only to spread its anarchical principles, but to send its arms to every people that sought its assistance. A negociation, indeed, had been opened between the French minister in this country, and lord Grenville, secretary of state, but was conducted on the part of the former in such a manner as to prove fruitless. The very last propositions offered by the French minister, lord Grenville said, involved new grounds of offence, which would prove a bar to every kind of negociation. The pretended explanations, his lordship added, were insults rather than concessions or apologies; and the motives which had induced his sovereign to prepare for violent extremities, still existed in full force; nor would the preparations be discontinued or omitted, while the French retained that turbulent and aggressive spirit which threatened danger to every nation in Europe. By a subsequent communication in the king’s name, the French minister was ordered to quit the realm within eight days. This mandate was considered by the French as equivalent to a declaration of war; and, as soon as the intelligence reached Paris, the convention declared that the king of Great Britain, and the Stadtholder of the United Provinces, were to be treated as enemies of the republic.

What has been termed the system or the principle of | Mr. Pitt in commencing and continuing the war with France, cannot perhaps be better expressed than in the above language of lord Grenville. Mr. Pitt considered it as our duty to continue it, “while the French retained that turbulent and aggressive spirit which threatened danger to every nation in Europe,” and which at length actually destroyed the independence of every nation in Europe, and ended in an attempt at universal empire, and slavish subjection to the ruler of France. It was Mr. Pitt’s opinion, and the opinion of all who acted with him, of the great majority of parliament and of the people at large, that no peace could be permanent or secure with France until she had returned to her proper station among the nations of Europe, admitted of the independence of other nations, and contented herself with the territories she possessed at the commencement of the revolution. On this principle the war was instituted, and on this principle it was supported at a risk and an expense beyond all precedent, but with a success so inadequate to produce the wished-for result, that when the opposition represented the continuance of it as obstinacy and infatuation, they seemed to speak a language which events fully justified. On our own element, our success was so great as to raise the character of our navy beyond all precedent; under such men as Howe, St. Vincent, Duncan, and Nelson, the navies of France, Spain, and Holland were almost annihilated, while ours had become, humanly speaking, invincible. Mr. Pitt was therefore blamed for not confining himself to a naval war, and his sending troops to join the powers of Europe in league against France, was represented as a species of Quixotism which would soon prove its own absurdity. All this for some years seemed confirmed by events. The French armies not only out-numbered those sent against them, but acquired a military skill absolutely new in their history. So frequent and decisive were their victories that all resistance seemed in vain, and either by valour or treachery they were enabled to dissolve every confederacy formed against them. Still the English minister saw nothing in this to prove his original opinion to be wrong; France, he conceived, must be ruined at last by successes of which she did not know how to make the proper use. With every extension of territory, she carried a portion of tyranny and a system of plunder and destruction, that must one day excite an effectual | resistance in the nations which she had deluded by offers of liberty and friendship. Mr. Pitt and his supporters, therefore, persisted in the opinion that France must at last yield to some confederacy or other; and when the state of Europe was such as to render it unwise to send English troops to join the confederates, he conceived that no better use could be made of the annual supplies than to subsidize the powers that were still willing to take the field. He even determined to continue the struggle when, in 1800, Bonaparte, the most successful of the French generals, had assumed the sovereign power, under the name of consul, and addressed a letter to our king intimating a desire for peace. The answer of our minister was, that it would be useless to negociate while the French seemed to cherish those principles which had involved Europe in a long and destructive war. And although he gave his assent to the experiment made by Mr. Addington in 1801, to conclude a peace with the French government, he soon had reason to revert to his former sentiments, and when recalled into office in 1804, again exerted all the vigour of his character to render the contest successful.

He did not, however, live to witness that glorious and wonderful termination which was at last brought about by a continuance of the same system he all along pursued, and which finally ended in the conquest of France, the annihilation of her armies, and the banishment of her ruler. The last event of importance in Mr. Pitt’s life-time was the fatal battle of Austerlitz, and he was at this time in a state of health ill calculated to meet this stroke. He had, from an early period of life, given indications of inheriting his father’s gouty constitution, with his talents, and it had been thought necessary to make the liberal use of wine a part of his ordinary regimen, a stimulant which, added to the cares and exertions of office during his long and momentous administration, brought on a premature exhaustion of the vital powers. In December 1805, he was recommended to go to Bath, but the change afforded him no permanent relief. On the 11th of January he returned to his seat at Putney, in so debilitated a state, as to require four days for the performance of the journey. The physicians, even yet, saw no danger, and they said there was no disease, but great weakness, in consequence of an attack of the gout. On the following Sunday he appeared better, and entered upon some points of public business with | his colleagues in office: the subject was supposed to relate to the dissolution of the new confederacy, by the peace of Presburgh, which greatly agitated him. On the 17th, at a consultation of his physicians, it was agreed, that though it was not advisable he should attend to business for the next two months, yet there was hope he would be able to take a part in the House of Commons in the course of the winter. On the 20th, however, he grew much worse, and his medical friends now saw that he was in the most imminent danger, and that, probably, he had not many hours to live. The bishop of Lincoln, who never left him during his illness, informed him of the opinion now entertained by sir Walter Farquhar, and requested to administer to him the consolations of religion. Mr. Pitt asked sir Walter, who stood near his bed, “How long do you think I have to live?” The physician answered that he could not say, at the same time he expressed a faint hope of his recovery. A half smile on the patient’s countenance shewed that he placed this language to its true account. In answer to the bishop’s request to pray with him, Mr. Pitt replied, “I fear I have, like too many other men, neglected prayer too much, to have any ground for hope that it can be efficacious on a death-bed—but,” making an effort to rise as he spoke, “I throw myself entirely on the mercy of God.” The bishop then read the prayers, and Mr. Pitt appeared to join in them with a calm and humble piety. He desired that the arrangement of his papers and the settlement of his affairs might be left to his brother and the bishop of Lincoln. Adverting to his nieces, the daughters of earl Stanhope by his elder sister, for whom he had manifested the sincerest affection, he said, “I could wish a thousand or fifteen hundred a-year to be given them; if the public should think my long services deserving of it.” He expressed also much anxiety respecting major Stanhope, that youthful hero, who fell a sacrifice to his valour at Corunna, in company with his friend and patron, general sir John Moore, and his brother, who was also at Corunna at the same time, and who has been engaged in all the great battles in the peninsula, and more than once severely wounded in his country’s service. Mr. Pitt died about four o’clock in the morning of the 23d of January 1806, in the 47th year of his age. A public funeral was decreed to his honour by parliament, and 40,000l. to pay those debts which he had incurred in his country’s | service. Public monuments have been since erected to his memory in Westminster-Abbey, in the Guildhall of the city of London, and by many public bodies in different parts of the kingdom.

In this sketch, we have avoided entering into those details which belong to history, although convinced that Mr. Pitt’s character as a statesman can never be duly appreciated, if detached from the events which he attempted to controul. Something yet remains to be added respecting his personal character.

Mr. Pitt possessed no particular advantages of person or physiognomy, but as a speaker he was thought to be without a rival; such was the happy choice of his words, the judicious arrangement of his subject, and the fascinating effect of a perennial eloquence, that his wonderful powers were acknowledged even by those who happened to be prepossessed against his arguments. In his financial speeches he manifested a perspicuity, eloquence, and talent, altogether wonderful; which carried the audience along with him in every arithmetical statement, left no calculation obscure or ambiguous, and impressed the House, at its close, with tumultuous admiration. When employed, say his opponents, in a good cause, he was irresistible; and in a bad one he could dazzle the judgment, lead the imagination captive, and seduce the heart, even while the mind remained firm and unconvinced. Yet they allow that although ambition and the love of power were his ruling passions, his mind was elevated above the meanness of avarice. His personal integrity was unimpeached, and so far was he from making use of his opportunities to acquire wealth, that he died involved in debts, which negligence, and the demands of his public station, rather than extravagance, had obliged him to contract; for his tastes were simple, and he does not appear to have had a fondness for splendour or parade. His private character has been drawn by a friend (the right hon. George Rose), and it corresponds perfectly with other accounts that we have had from those much in his confidence, and who were frequently in his company at times when the man and not the minister was displayed in all its native colours: “With a manner somewhat reserved and distant in what might be termed his public deportment, no man was ever better qualified to gain, or more successful in fixing, the attachment of his friends, than Mr. Pitt. They saw all the powerful energies | of his character softened into the most perfect complacency and sweetness of disposition in the circles of private life, the pleasures of which no one more cheerfully enjoyed, or more agreeably promoted, when the paramount duties he conceived himself to owe the public, admitted of his mixing in them. That indignant severity with which he met and subdued what he considered unfounded opposition; that keenness of sarcasm with which he expelled and withered, as it might be said, the powers of most of his assailants in debate, were exchanged in the society of his intimate friends for a kindness of heart, a gentleness of demeanour, and a playfulness of good humour, which no one ever witnessed without interest, or participated without delight.1


Gifford’s Life of Pitt, &c. &c. &c.