Imágenes de página

WILLIAM PITT. William Pitt, the younger, was born at Hayes, in Kent, on the 28th of May, 1759, and was the second son of Lord Chatham and of Lady Hester Grenville, Countess of Temple. His constitution was so weak from infancy that he was never placed at a public school, but pursued his studies as he was able, from time to time, under a private tutor, at his father's residence in the country. After eight years spent in this way, half of which time, however, was lost through ill health, he was sent, at the age of fourteen, to the University of Cambridge ; and so great had been his proficiency, notwithstanding all his disadvantages, that, according to his tutor, Dr. Prettyman, afterward Bishop of Lincoln, “ in Latin authors he seldom met with difficulty; and it was no uncommon thing for him to read into English six or eight pages of Thucydides which he had not previously seen, without more than two or three mistakes, and sometimes without even one." His ardor of mind and love of study may be inferred from a letter written by his father at this time, which gives a beautiful view of the familiarity and affection which always reigned in the intercourse of Lord Chatham with his children. “Though I indulge with inexpressible delight the thought of your returning health, I can not help being a little in pain lest you should make more haste than good speed to be well. You may, indeed, my sweet boy, better than any one, practice this sage dictum (festina lentè] without any risk of being thrown out (as little James would say) in the chase of learning. All you want at present is quiet; with this, if your ardor to excel can be kept in till you are stronger, you will make noise enough. How happy the task, my noble, amiable boy, to caution you only against pursuing too much all those liberal and praiseworthy things, to which less happy natures are perpetually to be spurred and driven! I will not teaze you with too long a lecture in favor of inaction and a competent stupidity—your two best tutors and companions at present. You have time to spare : consider there is but the Encyclopedia ; and when you have mastered all that, what will remain ? You will want, like Alexander, another world to conquer ! Your mamma joins me in every word, and we know how much your affectionate mind can sacrifice to our earnest and tender wishes. Vive, vale, is the increasing prayer of your truly loving father.

CHATHAM." But all these cautions were unavailing. His constitution was so frail, and his strength so much reduced by the illness referred to, that during the first three years of his college life he was never able to keep his terms with regularity ; It was not until the age of eighteen that he gained permanent health, and from that time onward few persons had greater powers of application to the most exhausting study or business. But though his early life at Cambridge seems to have been “one long disease,” his quickness and accuracy of thought made up for every deficiency arising from bodily weakness. His whole soul from boyhood had been absorbed in one idea

-that of becoming a distinguished orator; and when he heard, at the age of seven, that his father had been raised to the peerage, he instantly exclaimed, " Then I must · take his place in the House of Commons.” To this point all his efforts were now directed, with a zeal and constancy which knew of no limits but the weakness of his frame, and which seemed almost to triumph over the infirmities of nature. His studies at the University were continued nearly seven years, though with frequent

intervals of residence under his father's roof; and the reader will be interested to know how the greatest of English orators trained his favorite son for the duties of public life.

Three things seem to have occupied his time and attention for many years, viz., the classics, the mathematics, and the logic of Aristotle applied to the purposes of debate. His mode of translating the classics to his tutor was a peculiar one. He did not construe an author in the ordinary way, but after reading a passage of some length in the original, he turned it at once into regular English sentences, aiming to give the ideas with great exactness, and to express himself, at the same time, with idiomatic accuracy and ease. Such a course was admirably adapted to the formation of an English style, distinguished at once for copiousness, force, and elegance. To this early training Mr. Pitt always ascribed his extraordinary command of language, which enabled him to give every idea its most felicitous expression, and to pour out an unbroken stream of thought, hour after hour, without once hesitating for a word, or recalling a phrase, or sinking for a moment into looseness or inaccuracy in the structure of his sentences. One of the great English metaphysicians was spoken of by Voltaire as "a reasoning machine," and the mind of Mr. Pitt might, in the same way, be described as a fountain ever flowing forth in clear, expressive, and commanding diction. In most persons, such a mode of translating would have a tendency to draw off the mind from the idiomatic forms of the original to those of our own language, but it was otherwise with him. “He was a nice observer,” says Dr. Prettyman, “of the different styles of the authors read, and alive to all their various and characteristic excellences. The quickness of his comprehension did not prevent close and minute application. When alone, he dwelt for hours upon striking passages of an orator or historian, in noticing their turns of expression, marking their manner of arranging a narrative, or of explaining the avowed or secret motives of action. He was in the habit of copying any eloquent passage, or any beautiful or forcible expression, which occurred in his reading.” The poets, in the mean time, had a large share of his attention ; his memory was stored with their finest passages; and few men ever introduced a quotation in a more graceful manner, or with a closer adaptation to the circumstances of the case. “So anxious was he to be acquainted with every Greek poet, that he read with me,” says his tutor, " at his own request, the obscure and generally uninteresting work of Lycophron, and with an ease, at first sight, which, if I had not witnessed it, I should have considered beyond the compass of the human intellect. The almost intuitive quickness with which he saw the meaning of the most difficult passages of the most difficult authors, made an impression on my mind which time can never efface. I am persuaded that, if a play of Menander or Æschylus, or an ode of Pindar, had been suddenly found, he would have understood it as soon as any professed scholar.” Dr. Prettyman adds, that there was scarcely a Greek or Latin classical writer of any eminence, the whole of whose works Mr. Pitt had not read to him, in this thorough and discriminating manner, before the age of twenty.

The mathematics, in the mean time, had their daily share of attention, being reg. ularly intermingled with his classical studies. Here he was equally successful, showing surprising promptitude and acuteness in mastering the greatest difficulties, and especially in solving problems in algebra, trigonometry, &c.—an employment which, though many consider it as dull and useless, is better fitted than almost any mental exercise to give penetration, sagacity, and fixedness of thought, and to establish the habit of never leaving a subject until all its intricacies are fully explored. When we remember the high standard of mathematical study at Cambridge, we learn with surprise that, in addition to all his attainments in the classics, “ he was master of every thing usually known by young men who obtain the highest academical honors, and felt a great desire to fathom still farther the depths of the pure mathematics." “When the connection of tutor and pupil was about to cease between us," says Dr. Prettyman, “ from his entering on the study of the law, he expressed a hope that he should find leisure and opportunity to read Newton's Principia again with me after some summer circuit; and, in the later periods of his life, he frequently declared that no portion of his time had been more usefully employed than that which had been devoted to these studies, not merely from the new ideas and actual knowledge thus acquired, but also on account of the improvement which his mind and understanding had received from the habit of close attention and patient investigation.”

In regard to dialectics, Dr. Prettyman gives us less information as to the course pursued ; but Mr. Pitt being asked by a friend how he had acquired his uncommon talent for reply, answered at once that he owed it to the study of Aristotle's Logic in early life, and the habit of applying its principles to all the discussions he met with in the works he read and the debates he witnessed. Dr. Prettyman thus describes a mode of studying the classics, which opened to Mr. Pitt the widest scope for such an exercise of his powers: “It was a favorite employment with him to compare opposite speeches on the same subject, and to examine how each speaker managed his own side of the argument, or answered the reasoning of his opponent. This may properly be called a study peculiarly useful to the future lawyer or statesman. The authors whom he preferred for this purpose were Livy, Thucydides, and Sallust. Upon these occasions his observations were often committed to paper, and furnished a topic for conversation at our next meeting." · But he carried this practice still farther. He spent much of his time at London during the sessions of Parliament, and as he listened to the great speakers of the day, Burke, Fox, Sheridan, and others, he did so, not to throw his mind on the swelling tide of their eloquence, not even to analyze their qualities as orators, and catch the excellences of each with a view to his own improvement, but to see how he could refute the arguments on the one side, or strengthen them on the other, as he differed or agreed with the speakers. It was this practice which enabled him to rise, at the end of a debate of ten or twelve hours, extending over a vast variety of topics, and reply to the reasonings of every opponent with such admirable dexterity and force, while he confirmed the positions of his friends, and gave a systematic thoroughness to the whole discussion, such as few speakers in Parliament have ever been able to attain.

This severe training prepared Mr. Pitt to enter with ease and delight into the abstrusest questions in moral and political science. Locke on the Human Understanding was his favorite author upon the science of mind; he soon mastered Smith's Wealth of Nations, which was first published when he was a member of college ; he gave great attention to an able course of lectures by Dr. Halifax on the Civil Law; and, in short, whatever subject he took up, he made it his chief endeavor to be deeply grounded in its principles, rather than extensively acquainted with mere details. “Multum haud multa” was his motto in pursuing these inquiries, and, indeed, in most of his studies for life. The same maxim gave a direction to his reading in English literature. He had the finest parts of Shakspeare by heart. He read the best historians with great care. Middleton's Life of Cicero, and the political and historical writings of Bolingbroke, were his favorite models in point of style ; he studied Barrow's sermons, by the advice of his father, for copiousness of diction, and was intimately acquainted with the sacred Scriptures, not only as a guide of his faith and practice, but, in the language of Spenser, as the true well of English undefiled.”

How far Lord Chatham contributed by direct instruction to form the mind and habits of his son, it is difficult now to say. That he inspired him with his own lofty and generous sentiments; that he set integrity, truth, and public spirit before him as the best means of success even in politics ; that he warned him against that fashionable dissipation which has proved the ruin of half the young English nobility ; that he made him feel intensely the importance of character to a British statesman ; that, in short, he pursued a course directly opposite to that of Lord Holland with his favorite son, is obvious from what remains to us of his correspondence, and from the results that appear in the early life of Mr. Pitt. But there is no evidence that he took any active part in his intellectual training. - Dr. Prettyman says "the only wish ever expressed by his Lordship relative to Mr. Pitt's studies, was that I would read Polybius with him ;" and we should naturally conclude, from the character of Lord Chathain, and the confidence he had in the talents and industry of his son, that having settled the general outline of his studies, he left his mind to its own free growth, subject only to those occasional influences which would, of course, be felt when they met in the intervals of collegiate study. Such, at least, is the only inference we can draw from the statements contained in the biographies of the father and the son ; from all the letters between them which have come down to us; and especially from the course which Lord Chatham pursued with his favorite nephew, Lord Camelford, as shown in his correspondence afterward published. There must, therefore, have been an entire mistake in the statements of Coleridge on this subject. In a bitter, disparaging sketch of Mr. Pitt, written in early life, under the infinence of hostile feelings, he says: “ His father's rank, fame, political connections, and parental ambition were his mold

-he was cast rather than grew. A palpable election, a conscious predestination controlled the free agency and transfigured the individuality of his mind, and that which he might have been was compelled into that which he was to be. From his early childhood, it was his father's custom to make him stand upon a chair and declaim before a large company, by which exercise, practiced so frequently, and continued for 80 many years, he acquired a premature and unnatural dexterity in the combination of words, which must, of necessity, have diverted his attention from present objects, obscured his impressions, and deadened his genuine feelings.” This story of his declaiming from a chair is not alluded to either by Dr. Prettyman in his Life of Mr. Pitt, or by Mr. Thackeray in his Memoirs of Lord Chatham. That the boy sometimes recited the speeches of others in a circle of family friends is not improbable, for it was at that time a very common practice in England; but if Coleridge meant that Lord Chatham set a child, under fourteen years of age, to “declaim," or make speeches of his own, “ before a large assembly," and that Mr. Pitt thus “ acquired a premature and unnatural dexterity in the combination of words," productive of all the evils stated, it is what few men would believe, except from a desire to make out some favorite theory. Mr. Coleridge's theory (for he could do nothing without one) was intended to run down Mr. Pitt as having “an education of words," which “ destroys genius ;" as "a being who had no feelings connected with man or nature, no spontaneous impulses, no unbiased and desultory studies, nothing that constitutes individuality of intellect, nothing that teaches brotherhood or affection." So much for theory; we may learn the fact from the testimony of his tutor and of his most intimate companions. Dr. Prettyman says: “Mr. Pitt now began (at the age of sixteen) to mix with other young men of his own age and station in life then resident in Cambridge, and no one was ever more admired and beloved by his acquaintances and friends. He was always the same person in company, abounding in playful and quick repartee." Mr. Wilberforce, who became his most intimate friend at the age of twenty, remarks : “He was the wittiest man I ever knew, and, what was quite peculiar to himself, had at all times his wit under entire control. Others appeared struck by the unwonted association of brilliant images ; but every possible combination of ideas seemed always present to his mind, and he could at once produce whatever he desired. I was one of those who met to spend an evening in memory of Shakspeare, at the Boar's Head, East Cheap. Many professed wits were present, but Pitt was the most amusing of the party, and the readiest and most apt in the required allusions. He entered with the same energy into all our different amusements."

i In America the word declaim is often used for recite in the English sense of the term; e., to pronounce the speech of another when committed to memory. But in England it is very rarely used in this sense; and the context seems to show that such could not have been the meaning of Coleridge.

The truth is, Mr. Pitt had by nature a mind of such peculiar and unyielding materials, that Lord Chatham would have been wholly unable (whatever might be his wishes) to mold or fashion it after any preconceived model of his own. With some general resemblance in a few points, it has rarely happened in the case of two individuals so highly gifted, and placed in such similar circumstances, that a son has been so entirely unlike a father in all the leading traits of his intellectual character. It may interest the reader to dwell for a moment on some of the differences between them, before we follow Mr. Pitt into the scenes of public life. Lord Chatham, with all his splendid abilities, was still pre-eminently a man of feeling and impulse, governed by the suggestions of an ardent imagination, hasty in his resolves, wanting in selfcommand, irregular and often changeable in his plans and purposes. Mr. Pitt, with all his burning energy, was equally the man of intellect, deficient in imagination, gifted with extraordinary powers of abstract reasoning, having all his faculties brought into complete subjection to his will; so wary and circumspect in the midst of his boldest schemes, that Mr. Fox declared “he had never caught him tripping in a single instance” during a twenty years' contest ; inflexible in his determinations, regular and symmetrical in the entire structure of his character. Both were lofty and assuming, but these qualities in Lord Chatham were connected with a love of display, with ceremonious manners notwithstanding the warmth of his affections, and a singular delight in the forms of office and state ; while Mr. Pitt had the severe simplicity of one of the early Romans, with a coldness of address, as he advanced in life, which was repulsive to every one except his most intimate friends. Lord Chatham loved fame, and was influenced more than he would have been willing to acknowledge by a desire for popularity and a regard to the opinion of others. Mr. Pitt loved power : he cared but little for office except as it gave him command over others. Without a particle of vanity, he had excessive pride ; he despised popularity, and looked with contempt on the vulgar, “among whom he included a large proportion of the peerage and commonalty of England.” Mr. Pitt had less genius than his father, but greater strength of mind; and while the one swayed the feelings of his countrymen by the vehemence of his own, the other guided their wills and formed their purposes by the intense energy of his understanding.

Mr. Pitt lost his father in 1778, and being left in straitened circumstances, applied himself to the law as affording the most direct means of support, and was called to the bar on the 12th of June, 1780. He rode the western circuit during that and the next year, having causes put occasionally into his hands which he managed with great skill and success, especially one which he argued before Judge Buller, in a manner that awakened the admiration of the bar, and another before Lord Mansfield, on granting the writ of habeas corpus to a man charged with murder, in which he received the warmest applause from that distinguished jurist. He was a favorite with his brethren of the circuit, one of whom remarks : “Among the lively men of his own time of life, Pitt was always the most animated and convivial in the many hours of leisure which occur to young men on circuit. He joined all the little excursions to Southampton, Weymouth, and such parties of amusement as were habitually formed. He was extremely popular. His name and reputation for high acquirements at the University commanded the attention of his seniors. His wit and

« AnteriorContinuar »