Windham, William

, a late distinguished statesman, was descended of an ancient family in Norfolk, and was born in Golden-square, London, May 3, 1750. His father was colonel William Windham, of Felbrigg in Norfolk, a man of versatile talents and an ardent mind. He was the associate of the wits of his time, the friend and admirer of Garrick, and the distinguished patron of all manly, exercises. In his father’s (Ash Windham’s) life-time, he had lived much on the continent, particularly in Spain, and of his proficiency in the language of that country, he gave proof in some printed observations on Smollett’s translation of Don Quixote. At home he had devoted his attention to the improvement of the militia, of which he became lieutenant-colonel, and was the author of a “Plan of Discipline composed for the use of the militia of the county of Norfolk,1760, 4-to, which was much esteemed, and generally adopted by other corps of the establishment. He died of a consumptive disorder in the following year, leaving one son, the subject of the present article.

At seven years of age young Mr. Windham was placed at Eton, where he remained until he was about sixteen, distinguishing himself by the vivacity and brilliancy of his talents. On leaving Eton in 1766, he went to the university of Glasgow, where he resided for about a year in the house of Dr. Anderson, professor of natural philosophy, and diligently attended his lectures and those of Dr. Robert Simson, professor of mathematics. For this study Mr. Windham had an early predilection, and left behind him three treatises on mathematical subjects. In Sept. 1767 he was entered a gentleman commoner of University-college, Oxford, Mr. (afterwards sir Robert) Chambers being his tutor. While here he took so little interest in public | affairs, that it became the standing joke of one of his contemporaries, that “Windham would never know who was prime minister.” This disinclination to a political life, added to a modest diffidence in his own talents, led him about this period, to reject an offer which, by a youth not more than twenty years of age, might have been considered as a splendid one, that of being named secretary to his father’s friend, lord Townshend, who had been appointed lord-lieutenant of Ireland.

After four years residence, he left Oxford in 1771; he always retained feelings of gratitude towards his alma mater, and preserved to the last an intimate acquaintance and correspondence with some of the most distinguished resident members. He probably took his degree of B. A. while at college, but did not obtain that of A. M. until 1732, and then by creation, as he did that of LL. D. in 1793 at the installation of the duke of Portland. It is related that on this occasion, almost the whole assembly rose from their seats, when he entered the theatre, and received him with acclamations of applause. Nor was his memory forgotten at the late installation of lord Grenville; for in the recitations made on that occasion, due honours were paid to the genius, taste, and acquirements of which the public had recently been deprived.

In 1773, when he was but twenty-three years old, his love of adventure and his thirst of knowledge, induced him to accompany his friend, Constantine lord Mulgrave, in his voyage towards the North Pole; but he was so harassed with sea-sickness, that he was under the necessity of being landed in Norway, and of wholly abandoning his purpose. His earliest essay as a public speaker was occasioned by a call which was made on the country, for a subscription in aid of government, to be applied towards carrying on the war with our American colonies. A meeting for this purpose was held at Norwich, and his speech, which has been preserved by his biographer, though it must not be compared with later specimens of his eloquence, may be allowed to exhibit some proofs of acuteness, dexterity, and vigour. He opposed the subscription, as well as the war itself. Some time before this he had entered himself as an officer in the western battalion of Norfolk militia, and when quartered at Bury in Suffolk, by his intrepidity and personal exertion, he quelled a dan^ gerous mutiny which had broke out, notwithstanding he | was highly beloved by the regiment. Soon afterwards, in consequence of remaining several hours in wet cloaths, he was seized with a dangerous bilious fever, which nearly deprived him of his life. In the autumn of that year, partly with a view of restoring his health, he went abroad, and spent the two following years in Switzerland and Italy. Previously to his leaving England, he was chosen a member of the Literary club founded by sir Joshua Reynolds and Dr. Johnson, who had the greatest esteem for Mr. Windham; and, notwithstanding his engagements in consequence of his parliamentary business, and the important offices which he filled, he was a very frequent attendant at the meetings of that society, for which he always expressed the highest value, from 1781 to near the time of his death. In 1782 he came into parliament, where he sat for twenty-eight years, at first for Norwich, and afterwards for various boroughs; and he so early distinguished himself in the House of Commons, that he was selected by Mr. Burke in 1784 to second his motion for a representation to his majesty on the state of the nation. He was at this time in the ranks of the opposition, created by the appointment of Mr. Pitt to be prime-minister, and may have been said to be particularly of the school of Burke, with whom he afterwards thought and acted on many important occasions. In the preceding year, he had been appointed principal secretary to the earl of Northington, then constituted lord-lieutenant of Ireland; and in that capacity he visited Dublin in the spring of 1783, and intended to have accompanied his excellency, when he afterwards opened the session of parliament there in October*, but being prevented by illness, he relinquished the office.

* When about to visit that country in perhaps I make the time shorter than his official capacity, he called on Dr. it was. Such conversation I shall not Johnson and in the course of con- have again till I come back to the reversation lamented that he should be gions of Literature, and there Windunder the necessity of sanctioning ham is inter stellas luna. minores.“Alpractices of which he could not ap- though e have said that illness was prove.Don‘t be afraid, sir,“said the cause of Mr. Windham’s resignathe tioctor, with a pleasant smile, tion, his biographer affords some rea­”you will soon in -ke a very pretty son to think that it really arose from rascal.“Dr. Johnson in a letter to the conscientious scruples which Dr. Dr. Bruckle.-’by, written an Ashbourne Johnson thought might soon vanish, in 1784 says:” Mr. Wjiuiham has and that it was owing to his being been here to see me he came, [ dissatisfied with some part of the lord think, forty miles ou of his Vay, lieutenaut’s conduct, and staid about a day aud a half; | Although from the time of his coming into parliament, he usually voted with the opposition of that day, he never was what is called a thorough party-man, frequently deviating from those to whom he was in general attached, when, in matters of importance, his conscience directed him to take a different course from them; on which account his virtues and talents were never rightly appreciated by persons of that description, who frequently on this ground vainly attempted to undervalue him. After thq rupture between Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke, in consequence of the French revolution, Mr. Windham attached himself wholly to the latter, with whom he had for many years lived in the closest intimacy; and of whose genius and virtues he had always the highest admiration. Being with him thoroughly convinced of the danger then impending over his country from the measures adopted by certain classes of Englishmen, in consequence of that tremendous convulsion, he did not hesitate to unite with the duke of Portland, lord Spencer, and others, in accepting offices under the administration in which Mr. Pitt then presided. On this arrangement Mr. Windham was appointed secretary at war, with a seat in the cabinet, an honourable distinction which had never before been annexed to that office. This station he continued to fill with the highest reputation from that time (17S4) till 1801, when he, lord Spencer, lord Grenville, and Mr. Pitt, resigned their offi-r ces; and shortly afterwards Mr. Addington (now lord viscount Sidmouth) was appointed chancellor of the exchequer and first lord of the treasury. On the preliminaries of peace with France being acceded to by that statesman aod his coadjutors, in 1801, Mr. Windham made his celebrated speech in parliament, which was afterwards (April 1802) published, with an Appendix, containing a character of the Usurper of the French throne, which will transmit to posterity the principal passages of his life up to that period, in the most lively colours. On Mr. Addington being driven from the helm, in 1805, principally by the battery of Mr, Windham’s eloquence, a new administration was again formed by Mr. Pitt, which was dissolved by his death, in 1806; and shortly afterwards, on lord Grenville’s accepting the office of first lord of the Treasury, Mr. Windham was appointed secretary of state for the war department, which he held till his majesty in the following year thought fit to constitute a new administration. During this period | he carried into a law his bill for the limited service of those who enlist in our regular army; a measure which will ever endear his name to the English soldiery. But it is not our purpose to detail the particular measures which either originated from him, or in which he took a part. This indeed would be impossible within any prescribed limits; and would involve the history of perhaps the whole of the war. It may suffice to notice that his genius and talents were universally acknoxvledged. He was unquestionably not inferior, in many respects, to the most admired characters of the age that is just gone by. He had been in his earlier years a very diligent student, and was an excellent Greek and Latin scholar. In his latter years, like Burke and Johnson, he was an excursive reader, but gathered a great variety of knowledge from different books, and from occasionally mixing, like them, with very various classes and descriptions of men. His memory was most tenacious. In his parliamentary speeches his principal object always was to convince the understanding by irrefragable argument, which he at the same time enlivened by a profusion of imagery, drawn sometimes from the most abstruse parts of science, but oftener from the most familiar objects of common life. But what gave a peculiar lustre to whatever he urged, was his known and uniform integrity, and a firm conviction in the breasts of his hearers, that he always uttered the genuine and disinterested sentiments of his heart. His language, both in writing and speaking, was always simple, and he was extremely fond of idiomatic phrases, which he thought greatly contributed to preserve the purity of our language. He surveyed every subject of importance with a philosophic eye, and was thence enabled to discover and detect latent mischief, concealed under the plausible appearance of public advantage. Hence all the clarnourers for undefined and imaginary liberty, and all those who meditate the subversion of the constitution under the pretext of Reform, shrunk from his grasp; and persons of this description were his only enemies. But his dauntless intrepidity, and his noble disdain of vulgar popularity, held up a shield against their malice; and no fear of consequences ever drove him from that manly and honourable course, which the rectitude and purity of his mind induced him to pursue. As an orator, he was simple, elegant, prompt, and graceful. His genius was so fertile, and his reading so extensive, that there were few subjects on which | he could not instruct, amuse, and persuade. He was frequently (as has justly been observed) “at once entertaining and abstruse, drawing illustrations promiscuously from familiar life, and the recondite parts of science; nor was it unusual to hear him through three adjoining sentences, in the first witty, in the second metaphysical, and in the last scholastic.” But his eloquence derived its principal power from the quickness of his apprehension, and the philosophical profundity of his mind. In private life no man perhaps of any age had a greater number of zealous friends and admirers. In addition to his extraordinary ta-^ lents and accomplishments, the grace and happiness of his address and manner gave an irresistible charm to his conversation; and few, it is believed, of either sex (for his address to ladies was inimitably elegant and graceful) ever partook of his society without pleasure and admiration, or quitted it without regret. His brilliant imagination, his various knowledge, his acuteness, his good taste, his wit, his dignity of sentiment, and his gentleness of manner (for he never was loud or intemperate) made him universally admired and respected. To crown all these virtues and accomplishments, it mav be added, that he fulfilled all the duties. of life, the lesser as well as the greatest, with the most scrupulous attention; and was always particularly ardent in vindicating the cause of oppressed merit. But his best eulogy is the general sentiment of sorrow which agitated every bosom on the sudden s and unexpected stroke which terminated in his death. During the nineteen days of his sickness, his hall was daily visited by several hundred successive inquirers concerning the state of his health; and that part of Pall Mall in which his house was situated, was thronged with carriages filled with ladies, whom a similar anxiety brought to his door. Every morning, and also at a late hour every evening, when his physicians and surgeons attended, several apartments in his house were filled with friends, who anxiously waited to receive the latest and most accurate accounts of the progress or abatement of his disorder. This sympathetic feeling extended almost through every class, and even reached the throiio, for his majesty frequently inquired concerning the state of his health, pronouncing on him this high eulogy, that “he was a genuine patriot, and a truly honest man.” Of the fatal malady which put an end to his invaluable life, erroneous accounts have been published, but the fact was, that | on the 8th of July 1809, Mr. Windham, returningon foot at twelve o’clock at niiht from the house of a friend, as he passed by the end of Conduit-street, saw a house on fire, and instantly hastened to the spot, with a view to assist the sufferers; and soon observed that the house of the Hon. Mr. Frederic North was not far distant from that which was then on fire. He therefore immediately undertook to save his friend’s library, which he knew to be very valuable. With the most strenuous activity he exerted himself for four hours, in the midst of rain and the playing of the fire-engines, with such effect that, with the assistance of two or three persons whom he had selected from the crowd assembled on this occasion, he saved four parts out of five of the library; and before they could empty the fifth book room, the house took fire. The books were immediately removed, not to Mr. Windham’s house, but to the houses of the opposite neighbours, who cook great care of them. In removing same heavy volumes he accidentally fell, and suffered a slight contusion on his hip, of which, however, he unfortunately took no notice for some months, when an indolent encysted tumour was formed, which, after due consultation, it was judged proper to cut out. The operation was accordingly performed apparently with success on May 17, 1810, but soon after unfavourable symptoms came on, and terminated fatally June 4, to the unspeakable regret of all who knew him. 1

1 Gent. Mag. vol. Jlxxx. Speeches in Parliament, with an excellent account of Mr. Wiiulhaifc’s Life by Thomas Amyot, esq. 1812, 3 vols. 8vo.