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CHARLES JAMES FOX
A man who enters Parliament at nineteen, after incurring debts by gambling and other dissipation to the amount of half a million of dollars in two years; who begins political life, at that boyish age, as a Tory, but adopts the principles of the Whigs, and becomes a leader of the party before he is thirty; who was born an aristocrat, with royal blood in his veins on the maternal side, and on that of his father, Lord Holland, inheriting a vast fortune; but who, owing to the soundness of his heart and the clearness of his brain, became a champion of popular rights, and the enemy and terror of his quondam friends; and who died at the age of fifty-seven with a world-wide reputation as a statesman, patriot, and friend of humanity; such a man as this would be sufficient, one might think, to be the adornment of an age. And yet Charles James Fox was but one of the incomparable galaxy of genius which blazed in the firmament of the latter part of the eighteenth century, and made the reign of one of the most stupid and narrow-minded kings that ever sat upon the throne of England the most brilliant . with the exception of that of Elizabeth, that modern history records.
He was born in London in 1749; his mother being Lady Caroline Georgina, daughter of the second Duke of Richmond, who was a grandson of Charles II. He was schooled at Eton, and went to Oxford; but left without taking his degree. His home influences were unfavorable to the right development of his genius and character; and there is little doubt that he might have been a far greater and more useful man than he actually became, had he enjoyed the advantage of wise and strict training where he had the best right to expect it. But his father was a dissolute and cynical man of the world, who encouraged his son to embrace the vices, and surfeit himself with the pleasures of the town; ; : him all the money he asked for, and enabling him to get credit or much more. The naturally pure and noble instincts of the boy at first revolted against the coarse and unprincipled self-indulgence which Lord Holland surrounded him with: but though his heart was good, it was hot, and his nature was but too prone to the pleasures of the senses and the excitements of a life of dissipation. On the other hand, we can hardly doubt that Fox gained by the circumstances of his birth, placing him as that did among the highest nobles of the land as their equal or superior. Had he been of plebeian origin, with his own way to make, some of the loftier and more generous traits of his character would have suffered; something of the headlong courage, the matchless audacity, with which he attacked his opponents, and denounced even the King himself—for what was a Guelph to a scion of the Stuarts?—in the cause of the people. Moreover, had he been humble by birth, he would naturally have aimed to lift himself to the nobility; but
ssessing at the outset every advantage that wealth and lineage could [... he had nothing further to see or care for in that direction, and
gave himself the more unreservedly to those sympathies which his feelings and intelligence prompted.
After being dismissed by North (at the instance of the King) in 1775, he affiliated himself with the Whig leaders, and when Rockingham formed his ministry in 1782 Fox received the post of Foreign Secretary. But the next year, Rockingham being dead, and Fox having an antipathy to Shelburne, he formed a coalition with Lord North; which resulted in bringing in the Duke of Portland as Prime Minister, with North and Fox as Home and Foreign Secretaries. This rather unnatural combination of clay and iron did not long hold together. Fox's India bill was the arena in which it suffered defeat the same year, and through the direct and unconstitutional interference of the King, who would shrink from no baseness to gain his selfish ends. From this time until the year of his death Fox was forcibly kept from office by the King; but when, in 1806, Lord Grenville bluntly told George III that he would not form a ministry unless Fox were in it, the royal curmudgeon had to yield; but Fox died in September of the year he accepted the post of Foreign Secretary.
Fox made his reputation as an orator in defending the American colonists against the injustice and greed of the King's party in England. The tyranny of England roused his ire as much as if it had been directed against himself; his sympathetic imagination enabled him to enter into the feelings of the colonists; and he supplied himself by research with the facts needed for his argument. is education had in some respects furnished him with the weapons of an orator; but he was deficient in statistics, and in scientific acquaintance with the principles of political economy. These gaps in his training he was obliged to make up by prodigious efforts, or by drawing attention from them by brilliance in other directions. He better loved debate than set oratory; it suited his temperament, and the splendid readiness and resources of his mind. He did not depend upon figurative flights, or appeals to emotion; but he himself felt emotion, and communicated it to others by contagion from himself. He was strong and cogent in argument, and instant in its application; piercing the weak point of his opponent's armor the instant that it was uncovered. His force was tremendous, and his courage astounding; he would thunder out in the House what other men hardly dared to think in the privacy of their chambers. Withal he was one of the kindest and most lovable of men, with a heart as big as his body, and sound enough to balance his brain. His wide reading and knowledge of life furnished him with an inexhaustible supply of allusion and illustrative anecdote. Almost any one of his principal speeches would fairly give the measure of the man; but it is generally conceded that that “On the Rejection of Napoleon's Overtures” is on the whole the best.
ON REJECTION OF BONAPARTE'S
R. SPEAKER: At so late an hour of the night, I am M sure you will do me the justice to believe that I do not mean to go at length into the discussion of this great question. Exhausted as the attention of the House must be, and unaccustomed as I have been of late to attend in my place, nothing but a deep sense of my duty could have induced me to trouble you at all, and particularly to request your indulgence at such an hour. Sir, my honorable and learned friend [Mr. Erskine] has truly said that the present is a new era in the war, and the right honorable gentleman opposite to me [Mr. Pitt] feels the justice of the remark; for, by travelling back to the commencement of the war, and referring again to all the topics and arguments which he has so often and so successfully urged upon the House, and by which he has drawn them on to the support of his measures, he is forced to acknowledge that, at the end of a seven years' conflict, we are come but to a new era in the war, at which he thinks it necessary only to press all his former arguments to induce us to persevere. All the topics which have so often misled us—all the reasoning which has so invariably failed—all the lofty predictions which have so constantly been falsified by events—all the hopes which have amused the sanguine, and all the assurances of the distress and weakness of the enemy which have satisfied the unthinking, are again enumerated and advanced as arguments for our continuing the war. What! at the end of seven years of the most burdensome and the most calamitous struggle in which this country ever was engaged, are we again to be amused with notions of finance, and calculations of the exhausted resources
of the enemy, as a ground of confidence and of hope? GraWoL. I.-26 401
cious God! were we not told five years ago that France was not only on the brink and in the jaws of ruin, but that she was actually sunk into the gulf of bankruptcy? Were we not told, as an unanswerable argument against treating, “that she could not hold out another campaign—that nothing but peace could save her—that she wanted only time to recruit her exhausted finances—that to grant her repose was to grant her the means of again molesting this country, and that we had nothing to do but persevere for a short time, in order to save ourselves forever from the consequences of her ambition and her Jacobinism?” What! after having gone on from year to year upon assurances like these, and after having seen the repeated refutations of every prediction, are we again to be gravely and seriously assured, that we have the same prospect of success on the same identical grounds? And, without any other argument or security are we invited, at this new era of the war, to conduct it upon principles which, if adopted and acted upon, may make it eternal? If the right honorable gentleman shall succeed in prevailing on Parliament and the country to adopt the principles which he has advanced this night, I see no possible termination to the contest. No man can see an end to it; and upon the assurances and predictions which have so uniformly failed, we are called upon not merely to refuse all negotiations, but to countenance principles and views as distant from wisdom and justice, as they are in their nature wild and impracticable. I must lament, sir, in common with every genuine friend of peace, the harsh and unconciliating language which ministers have held to the French, and which they have even made use of in their answer to a respectful offer of a negotiation. Such language has ever been considered as extremely unwise, and has ever been reprobated by diplomatic men. I remember with pleasure the terms in which Lord Malmesbury, at Paris, in the year 1796, replied to expressions of this sort, used by M. de la Croix. He justly said, “that offensive and injurious insinuations were only calculated to throw new obstacles in the way of accommodation, and that it was not by revolting reproaches nor by reciprocal invective that a sincere wish to accomplish the great work of pacification could be evinced.” Nothing could be more proper nor more wise than this language; and such