Edward Walford.

William Pitt: a biography online

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Formerly Scholar of Balliol College, Oxford ;

Author of
" The County Families" " T/ie Windsor PeeragCy'' etc.














Edvardus Walford.
Cal. Dec, mdccclxxxix.

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Introductory — Old and Later Whigs and Tories— Lord Russell
on Pitt's Policy i


The Pitt Family— Heredity— Pitt's Birth and Childhood—
His Education — His Delicate Health — Life at Burton
Pynsent ii


College Life at Cambridge — Removal to London— Takes Cham-
bers in Lincoln's Inn — Life in West-End Circles — "Goose-
tree's"' Club — Pitt's Social Habits and Early Friends . 24


Pitt enters Parliament — His Maiden Speech — He "gains the
Ear of the House" — His Eloquence— Testimony of Sir N.
W, Wraxall, of Lord North, and of Bishop Goodcnough . 35


Pitt's Second and Third Speeches — He goes Circuit— His
Spccclies on the- American Colonies, and on the Defeat of
Lord Cornwallis in North America — The Ministry of Lord
North : its Fall— Lord Rockingham succeeds as Premier , 44


Mr. Pitt brings forward his ^lotion for Parliamentary Reform
— Supports Bills for shortening Parliaments, and for pre-
venting Bribery at Ejections — Dr. Gifford's Vindication of
Pitt's Conduct 49

VI Contents.


Recognition of American Independence — Break up of Parties
in England — Lord Rockingham succeeded by Lord Shel-
burne — Pitt becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer— 'Resigns
with Lord Shelburne 58


The Duke of Portland and his '* Coalition " ]\Iinistry — Pitt in
Opposition— =-He opposes Fox's India Bill — Defeat of the
Coalition Ministry — Pitt makes a Tour to France . . 66


Mr. Pitt accepts the Premiership — His India Bill — Its Rejec-
tion — Pitt's Patience — Advises the King to dissolve
Parliament — The Dissolution and General Election — Pitt's
Majority — His Financial Measures — Pitt's Manner and Ap-
pearance — His Life at Hohvood 73


Pitt proposes a Reform Bill — Is defeated — Remedial IMeasures
for Ireland— Opposition of Manufacturers in the North of
L England— Pitt's Finance based on Adam Smith— Adminis-
trative "Reforms — His Commercial Treaty with P'rance —
His Sinking Fund — Mr. Lecky's Opinion on these
Measures 88


The King's Illness — Discussions in Parliament and in the
Cabinet on a Regency Bill — Treachery of Lord Thurlow ;
his Dismissal from the Chancellorship — The King's Re-
covery and Visit to St. Paul's to return Public Thanks —
Lord Buckingham resigns the Viceroyalty of Ireland . 104


Outburst 'of the Revolution in France— Attitude of Mr. Pitt
towards its Leaders — Wilberforce and West Indian Slavery
— Pitt opposes the Repeal of the Test Act and Parlia-
mentary Reform— Pitt's Budget— He is offered the Order
of the Garter— His Legislation for Canada— First Symptoms
of the Decay of Pitt's Power— His Letter to the Archbishop
of Canterbury on Tithe Commutation 123


rogress of the Revolution in France — Riots at Birmingham-
Pitt's Sanguine Nature— His Budget— " The Friends of
the People "—Pitt condemns the Slave Trade— Attitude of
Pitt and of other Statesmen towards France— Libel Bill-
Pitt's Sinking Fund , . 142

Contents, vii


Negotiations for widening the Ministry — Pitt appointed
Warden of the Cinque Ports— His Neutrality towards
France — Renewal of the Reform Question — Deprecated
and opposed by Pitt as unseasonable — " The Rights of
Man"— The Militia called out— Rupture with France . :.5o


England forced into War against France— Murders of Louis
XVI. and of Marie Antoinette — Seditious Meetings and
Publications in England— Pitt obtains the Support of the
JModerate Whigs — Accession of the Duke of Portland,
Lord Spencer, Mr. Windham, etc 159


Pitt's Policy towards Ireland — Lord FitzwilHam sent as Viceroy
to Dublin— His Sudden Recall— Its Fatal Effects— Mr.
Pitt's War Measures against France — Attempted Descent
on the Coast of Brittany— New Taxation— Napoleon
Buonaparte — Loyalty Loan — Pitt's attachment to Miss
Eden — Pitt's Social and Political Foresight . . . 165


French Projects of Invasion— Bank of England authorized to
issue a Paper Currency— Mutinies at Spithead and at the
Nore— Pitt urges Overtures for Peace— Pitt's Budget— The
Anti-Jacobi>i—'is\z(t\Xwz, of the ** Friends of the People" —
Supplementary Budget — Irish Discontent and Rebellion —
First Proposal of the Union with Ireland— Duel with IMr.
Tierney — An Income Tax proposed 184


Legislative Union between Great l>ritain and Ireland— Terms
proposed — Means employed to carrj' out the Measure— Op-
position of Sheridan to it — Reasons urged in Support of the
Bill — Virtual Promise of Roman Catholic Emancipation —
The King refuses — Resignation of Mr. Pitt — Aldington
appointed Premier — Difficulties between Pitt and his Suc-
cessor — Pitt loses confidence in Addington .... 200


Motives of the Union — The King's Obstinacy— Addington's
Cabinet — Lord Nelson's Victory at Copenhagen — Hostile
jMcasures on Part of Napoleon Buonaparte — Pitt, out of
Office, resides in Baker Street — Addington's Budget a
Failure — Cabal of Pitt's Friends to reinstate him — Open
Estrangement between Pitt and Addington — The Public
Voice demands the Restoration of Pitt to Power . . 218



Pitt and Addington— Vote of Thanks to Pitt, and Public Dinner
— Napoleon's Hostile Movements in the South of Europe —
Conspiracy of Col. Despard — Pitt removes to Baker Street
— Pitt's Friends desire his Return to Office — His Dis-
appointment at Addington's Budget — Misunderstanding
between Pitt and Addington— A Coalition Ministry sug-
gested 225


Pitt's Haughty Attitude towards the Proposed Coalition— Wil-
lingness of Mr. Addington to resign — Declaration of Open
War by France— The War opposed by Fox, Sheridan, and
Grey — Napoleon's Proposals as to Malta— Death of Pitt's
Mother 244


Pitt and his Volunteers at Walmer — He returns to London —
Resignation of Addington — 'Pitt forms a New Cabinet —
Napoleon at Boulogne and his Threatened Invasion — Pitt
and Addington reconciled 255


Wilberforce and the Slave Trade — Alarm at Napoleon's Threat-
ened Invasion — The Prince of Wales and his Wife— Re-
newal of Friendship between Pitt and Addington — Adding-
ton joins the Cabinet, and is created Lord Sidmouth . . 266


Napoleon proposes Peace, but is refused — Pitt and the Arch-
bishopric of Canterbury — Pitt's Last Budget — Impeachment
of Lord Melville — Pitt again visits Addington at Richmond
Park — Their Last Meeting 272


Pitt meets Sir Arthur Wellesley and Lord Nelson — Pitt's Firm
Opposition to Napoleon— First Symptoms of Serious Illness
— He is cheered by the News of the Victory at Trafalgar,
but crushed by that of the Defeat at Austerlitz— Goes to
Bath — Grows worse — Returns to his Home at Putney
Heath— His Death — His Funeral in Westminster Abbey . 283


Memorials of Pitt — Testimonies to his Public Character — His
Private Character : Fondness for Country Pursuits ; His
Learning ; his Popularity among Friends — Pitt as an
Orator — Lecky's Estimate of him — Conclusion . . . 2S9



Introductory — Old and Later Whigs and Tories
— Lord Russell on Pitfs Policy,

It is to be feared that although the lot ot
William Pitt was cast in an age which was
critical and eventful to a high degree, and
therefore one which must interest every
Englishman, yet the same can scarcely be
said of the biography of him who was the
ruler of the destinies of this country for the
last twenty years of the last century and
for the first few years of this. Mr. Pitt's
life itself was uneventful, and he himself
did not pour out his soul to his friends in



letters, or post up a diary day by day. In
^4iact, there are few men who let their ac-
/ quaintances, and much more the world
/ around them, so little into their secrets ;
I and therefore it has been well remarked
that his biography, however ably written,
*' must lack much of that picturesqueness,
and much also of the passion, which inte-
rests the majority of readers." To quote
Mr. Kebbel's own words: '* Pitt was a
minister as far removed above the intrigues
of common statesmen as above the intel-
lects of common men. In private life he
betrayed none of those frailties which,
however deplorable in a hero, make a bio-
graphy more interesting by widening the
circle within which mysteries can be bred
and public curiosity be sustained. Whether
as a man or as a minister, he stood out in
singularly bold relief before the public eye.
He had no secrets, either political or social.
When he came into power, he came in be-
cause he was necessary to Government, not
because Government was necessary to him.
. . . There has probably never been a
Prime Minister of this country who answers


so completely to the idea conveyed by the
popular phrase of being * above board.' " ^
But, on the other hand, there is comfort
to be found for the writer who is bold
enough to undertake such a task as his
biography. The main outlines of his public
life at least, and some few portions of his
private life, are no sealed book. He lived
for the last twenty years of his existence
under the bright light which beats down
not only on thrones, but on Ministries and
Cabinets. His life, at least ever since he
reached his majority, is interwoven with
that of the country which he served, and of
which he was so justly proud. Almost as'l
soon as he was of legal age he entered
Parliament, and scarcely had he taken his
seat in the House of Commons when he
was called to join the Administration, and
to take office, first as Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and then as Prime Minister.
In the words of his biographer, Gififord :
" Fortunately for the historian, the circum-
stances and transactions of Mr. Pitt's ad-

^ "Essays on History and Politics," by T. E
Kebbel, p. 137.


ministration are not locked up in the
Cabinet, or confined within the bosom of
any individual : they have all been sub-
jected to public analysis and submitted to
public discussion. He was, in fact, the his-
torian of his own measures, the expounder
of his own principles, and the herald of his
own deeds. Mr. Pitt's actions required no
subterfuge to disguise and no artifice to
conceal them. . . . With the pride of
conscious integrity he solicited investiga-
H:ion and courted publicity. In his lumi-
nous and comprehensive speeches in Par-
liament he has explained his motives and

^.^j unfolded his views, objects, and designs,
and has thus, by the supply of an invalu-

f^^>i able fund of materials, greatly facilitated
the labours of his political biographer."

It will also doubtless be a disappointment
to some readers to find that in the following
pages William Pitt, who is popularly identi-
fied with the Tory party and with the special
friends and favourites of King George
III., is not treated in a partisan spirit.
Though he inherited from his father some
of the traditions of the Whigs under the


two first Georges, yet, like that father, he
stood personally aloof from, or rather
superior to, party and party ties. The fact
is that in his natural instincts he was true
to both the King and the people, and that
he desired to legislate in the interests of
both, and so to maintain that equipoise in
our constitution which, if Aristotle is to be
accepted as an authority, is the preservation
of a State.^ It is true that in the second
period of his long tenure of the Premier-
ship (i 793-1 800) he departed to some ex-
tent from the public advocacy of those
advanced opinions which he held and
maintained in his earlier days ; but that
departure arose less from a change of
political opinions in the abstract than from
a conviction that there are times when it is
wise to keep in abeyance questions which
are not likely to be widely dealt with in
certain circumstances, or, to use a phrase
widely current in his day, that *' it is not
good to repair one's buildings in the hurri-
cane season.'' To this extent, it must be

^ To dvTi7T€7rov06s (To)^€L TO? TToXiTeias. Pol., B. ii.
chap. 9.


allowed that Mr. Pitt was a renegade from
those enlightened principles which he ad-
vocated firmly under a narrow-minded and
despotic sovereign ; and thus far we cannot
refuse to go along with Professor Goldwin
Smith when he writes of the younger
William Pitt that he was *' not one person,
but two."

Accordingly in the following pages the
reader, perhaps, will notice the almost total
absence of the terms "Whig" and "Tory."
And the reason is not far to seek. In the
course of a century terms come to change
their meaning by the course of events ; and
it is often said, with as much truth as wit,
that the Whigs of to-day are the Tories of
to-morrow. Lord Stanhope, in his History
of England, states that in Queen Anne's
reign the relative meaning of the two terms
" Whig " and " Tory " was not only differ-
ent, but opposite to that which they bore
at the accession of William IV. "The main
principle of each, no doubt, continued the
same, the leading principle of the Whigs
being the dread of Royal encroachment,
while the leading principle of the Tories


was the dread of popular licentiousness.
The same person who in 17 12 would have
been a Whig would probably have been a
Tory in 1830. For on examination it will
be found that, in nearly all particulars, a
modern Tory resembled a Whig of Queen
Anne's reign, and a Tory of Queen Anne's
reign was not unlike a modern Whig."

And what were the principles of the
Whig party a century ago } The answer
is not difficult to find. At the termina-
tion of the American War the new Whigs
attempted to bring about political reforms
and changes of which the old Whigs had
not thought. These schemes had for their
objects the acknowledgment of American
independence and the granting of political
equality to Ireland ; the promotion of re-
ligious liberty, parliamentary reform, and
the liberty of the press, which up to that
time had been in shackles. ** Had these
principles prevailed from 1770 to 1820,'*
writes Lord Russell, ** this country would
have avoided the American War and the
first revolutionary war, the rebellion of
1798 in Ireland, and the creation of three


or four hundred millions of National Debt."
How far such surmises would have been
verified by Mr. Pitt's history, had his life
been prolonged, the reader will be perhaps
more able to judge when he has studied
the following chapters of the present

Lord Russell appears to me to " hit the
right nail on the head " on this subject in
his " Recollections," which contain a brief
retrospect of the reign of George III., and
a general survey of his ministers. He
reminds us that it was Pitt who, first as
a private member and afterwards as a
minister, brought forward almost the first
proposals for a reform of the House of
Commons, and concluded the first com-
mercial treaty with France that was based
on the principles of free trade ; that it was
Pitt, not his antagonist Fox, who had pro-
claimed that Scotland and Ireland ought
to be placed on a footing of equality with
England ; and that he projected the ad-
mission of Roman Catholics to seats in
the legislature, and the permanent endow-
ment of the Roman Catholic clergy, though


he did not live to carry out either project.
But he also reminds us that it was through
" playing on the fears of England " at the
outbreak of the French Revolution, and
through the first ten years of the war with
the great Napoleon, that Pitt raised the
National Debt from a hundred and thirty
to eight hundred millions ; and he excuses
Pitt's departure in middle life from the
honest convictions of his youth on the
ground of the "imminent perils of the
war itself, and the necessity of combining
the elements of a majority who might
agree on the policy of continuing the war,
although they might differ upon all other
questions." If this be so, then we cannot
acquit the great minister from the charge
of postponing his zeal for reform, and of
putting free trade and justice to Ireland in
abeyance, partly in deference to what he
called the " Jacobin " party, and partly out
of too great deference to the wishes of the
king, and the strong religious scruples
which disturbed his mind with regard to
his coronation oath. *^ Had," he writes,
"Pitt Hved till 1815, he might have re-


curred to his study of Adam Smith, and
promoted freedom of trade with foreign
countries ; he might have introduced a
temperate reform of the representation ;
he might have pacified Ireland without
waiting for the threat of civil war, or fear-
ing the conscientious scruples of the Prince
Regent." ^

But it is idle to speculate on what would
or might have happened if such and such
conditions had only been fulfilled ; and
upon such points different minds will form
different estimates. We can judge men
only by their actions while they are free to
act ; and there can be little doubt in the
minds of Englishmen that William Pitt's
freedom of action came to an end with the
outbreak of the French Revolution, or at
all events that he thought such to be the
case, which comes pretty much to the same
thing practically.

^ " Recollections of Earl Russell,'' p. 23.


The Pitt Fa/nlly — Heredity — Fitl's Birth and
Childhood — His Education — His Delicate
Health —Life at Burton Fynsent,

The Pitt family, from which the Earl of
Chatham and his son were sprung, accord-
ing to Sir Bernard Burke and the heralds,
can be traced up to Nicholas Pitt, who
was living in the reign of Henry VI., and
whose grandson, John Pitt, was Clerk of
the Exchequer under one of the Tudors.
This John Pitt had three sons, of whom
the eldest. Sir William, Comptroller of the
Household and a principal officer of the
Exchequer under James I., was the ances-
tor of the Pitts of Stratfieldsaye, Hamp-
shire, whose representative in 1776 was
raised to the peerage as Lord Rivers of
Stratfieldsaye, a title which became ex-
tinct in 1828. His second son, another


John, settled in Ireland ; whilst the third
son, Thomas, who resided at Blandford, in
Dorsetshire, being appointed, in the reign
of Queen Anne, Governor of Fort St.
George, in the East Indies, was the
fortunate purchaser of the celebrated Pitt
diamond, which weighed 127 carats, and
by the sale of which to the Regent ot
France he made a profit of nearly
£ii$,ooo. He subsequently was Governor
of Jamaica, and, returning in middle age
to England, sat in four Parliaments as
M.P., first for Old Sarum, and secondly for
Thirsk. At his death in 1726 he was
buried in Blandford St. Mary Church,
where a large marble monument, with a
long Latin inscription, records his memory.
*' Governor " Pitt's second son, Thomas,
married an Irish heiress, and was created
Earl of Londonderry in Ireland ; but the
title lasted for only two generations. His
third and youngest son John, M.P., and an
officer in the army, married a daughter of
Lord Fauconberg, who, strangely enough,
was a connection of Oliver Cromwell's
family. His two daughters married re-


spectively James, first Earl Stanhope, and
Mr. Charles Cholmondeley, of Vale Royal,
a Cheshire squire, whose descendant in
the fourth generation is now Lord Dela-

Meantime Robert, the eldest son of
*' Governor '* Pitt, had bought the fine
estate of Boconnoc, near Lostwithiel, in
the south of Cornwall, where he settled
down as a country squire. He was a
member of the House of Commons, and
one of the clerks of the Board of Green
Cloth, and he married the sister of John
Villiers, Earl of Grandison in the Irish
peerage. He, however, enjoyed his pro-
perty but a few short months, for he
followed his father to the grave after an
interval of little more than a year. He
left two sons, Thomas, his successor at
Boconnoc (the father of another Thomas,
afterwards created Lord Camelford), and
William, '' the great Commoner " of the
reign of George H., who became Earl of
Chatham by creation, and was the father
of the statesman whose life is recorded in
these pages. When George HI. ascended


the throne of Great Britain, in the autumn
of 1760, the younger William Pitt was an
infant in his mother's nursery at Hayes,
near Beckenham, in Kent. The elder
Pitt was at that time in the prime of man-
hood, and in the full glory of his public
career, and he had lately purchased his
pleasant rural retreat of Hayes out of the
savings of his salaty as a minister of the
Crown. There he consoled himself in the
midst of his public labours by laying out
his grounds and planting those trees which
it was the fate of strangers to enjoy, for
his eldest son sold the estate almost as
soon as he inherited it.

At Hayes, then, William, the second son
of '* the great Commoner,'' first saw the
light on the 28th of May, 1759. He was
born, Lord Stanhope tells us, " in the best
bedroom, probably the same in which his
father died." He seems from his infancy
to have been his parents' favourite, prob-
ably in part on account of his extreme
precocity, but partly also for another rea-
son, which shall be mentioned presently.
"The year 1759," writes Lord Stanhope,


" was perhaps the most glorious and event-
ful in his father's life. The impulse given
to the war by that great orator and
statesman was apparent in unexampled
victories obtained in every quarter of the
globe. In Germany we gained the battle
of Minden ; in North America we gained
the battle of Quebec. In Africa we reduced
Goree, and in the West Indies Guadeloupe.
In the East we beat back the son of the
Emperor of Delhi, and the chiefs of the
Dutch at Chinsura. Off the coast of Brit-
tany we prevailed in the great naval conflict
of Quiberon ; off the coast of Portugal, in
the great naval conflict of Lagos. Indeed
— so Horace Walpole, at the close of this
year complains, in a letter to Sir Horace
Mann — *one is forced to ask every morn-
ing what victory there is, for fear of missing
one.' " ^ There can be little doubt that the
birth of this son thus coinciding with the
acme of his fortune and fame, made him
all the more dear to his proud paternal

* " Life of Pitt," vol. i. p. 2.


As a child, he learned with ease and
rapidity ; and as he passed into boyhood,
his remarks are said to have shown a
sagacity and wisdom far in advance of his
years. He was by no means strong in his
physique ; and hence he was not sent to
school, but was handed over to the care of
a governess, and afterwards of a private
tutor, the Rev. Edward Wilson, who subse-
quently became, by favour of his grateful
pupil, a canon of Westminster.

After all, however, he owed the greatest
part of his early education to his father,
who taught him the art of oratory in a
practical way, by making him stand on a
stage and recite speeches on historical
questions, and afterwards write long essays,
in which he discussed their "pros" and
their " cons/' after the manner of the poli-
ticians of the day.

Near the entrance to the stable yard at
Hayes Place is still shown a stone step or
horse-block, which is said to have been put
there by the great Lord Chatham for his
boys to mount their ponies. A tradition

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Online LibraryEdward WalfordWilliam Pitt: a biography → online text (page 1 of 14)