As you can probably tell I am going through all my MSS notes and trying to track down certain references. At the same time I have been finding all sorts of fun and interesting stuff. The following, for example, consists of snippets and summaries from the correspondence of George Rose, one of Pitt’s Secretaries to the Treasury and a close political associate, to George Pretyman, Bishop of Lincoln.
The subject of the correspondence was the death of Pitt’s brother-in-law Edward James Eliot at the age of 39. Eliot had married Pitt’s sister Harriot in 1785, but she died in childbirth in 1786. Eliot had known Pitt since they had been at Pembroke College together and was one of his oldest and closest friends. His death knocked Pitt for six at a time when he was already feeling the strain of the war with France: 1797 was not a good year for the British war effort.
Rose was with Pitt when he first heard the news of Eliot’s unexpected death. He detailed Pitt’s reaction in a letter to Pretyman, dated 20 September 1797:
“The Effect produced by the Event on him is not to be described; the suddenness of the Blow aggravated the Misfortune, he received the Account by the common Post in a Letter from Lord Eliot [Eliot’s father] not knowing the writing; no Circumstances whatever mention’d, but the Event must have been sudden as Mr Pitt told me last Night the latest Accounts were extremely favourable, & Mr Carthew [Pitt’s secretary] who returned to Town last night says our poor Friend had been remarkably well latterly.
I found Mr Pitt last Monday at Holwood with Lord & Lady Chatham, complaining of a Head Ach which had tormented him for a Fortnight, some Degree of Cold, & a Loss of Appetite; I therefore prevailed with him to see Sir Walter Farquhar [his physician] which I hope he will do this Evening. I suppress’d my own Feelings all I could to avoid working his, to say that I am griev’d to my Heart for the Loss we have sustain’d is an Expression far, very far, short of the real Impression made on me by it. I pity Mr Pitt with my whole soul & I lament most unaffectedly the loss of one of the very best Men I have met with in my Intercourse with Mankind”.
The next letter, 22 September 1797, continued to describe the effect of Eliot’s death on Pitt’s health:
“I was in so much real Agitation of Mind yesterday that I do not know whether I mentioned to you my having prevail’d with Mr Pitt the Day before to allow me to send for Sir Walter Farquhar in consequence of which I had appointed him to come last Night. Towards the Evening he grew Sick & reached [retched] violently, after which he was better; Sir Walter came to him about 9, he says he is quite clear about the Case & is sure he can do his Patient effectual Good, that there is much Gout in it [….sorry, but this is a typical Sir Walter diagnosis]. Mr Pitt could not of course go to St James’s yesterday & will therefore stay for the Levee on Wednesday next, after which I trust he will immediately go to Walmer … He feels anxious about the Removal of the little Girl [his niece, Eliot’s daughter Harriot Hester] to Burton, & yet the State of his Mother’s Health makes her being there at Present a Matter of Anxiety. … I did not leave Mr Pitt yesterday, & while I can afford him any Sort of Consolation I shall not think of going anywhere else. He is much better to-day.”
By 26 September Pitt was feeling much better, but was under a fair amount of anxiety over what to do with his orphaned niece Harriot Hester. According to Rose it looked like Eliot had not left a will, although this did turn up later. Pitt, as usual, turned to his usual method of burying pain:
“Mr Pitt continues much better than when I found him here a week ago; his Mind has been diverted from the melancholy Subject by an almost unremitting Attention to the imortant Business of providing the Means of carrying on the War”.
I do find it quite amazing that so many of his friends found it normal to see him dealing with grief and ill health by immersing himself in overwork. I suppose they were used to it by then and it represented a sign that Pitt had returned to normality. Also … probably better than drowning his sorrows in port. :-/
All quotations from Ipswich RO Pretyman Papers HA 119/T108/44
Pitt was being labelled a Tory by his opponents in order to discredit him, the implicit assumption being that Tory = bad, therefore Pitt = bad. I think this piece is suggesting a different equation: if Pitt = Tory, then Tory = a strong and successful minister pursuing sensible policies, and from that it follows that Tory = good. It’s a simplistic view, but it certainly illustrates that simplistic labels can be very misleading.
This sounds much like our Mr. Pitt, since he’s often penniless… making his own way with news-reporting and photography… and with aristocratic connections (like with the Phantomhives). If it had not been for Mr. Tanaka’s kindness, poor Mr. Pitt might have starved by now….
A Peep at the Parisot with Q in the corner!, by Isaac Cruikshank, 1796.
Mademoiselle Parisot was a French opera singer and ballet dancer in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Her provocative costumes and dances caused an uproar in London and led to the imposition of restrictions on performances. Here, Fox, Sheridan and “Q” (the Duke of Queensberry, a notorious rake) enjoy the view from the front row, while Pitt, behind Fox, can apparently hardly believe his eyes…
It was on this day in British history, 9 January 1799 that the income tax was first introduced in Britain. With the War of the Second Coalition in full swing and France the better organized country, Britain’s national debt was on the rise.William Pitt the Younger, functioning as both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, saw an income tax as the much needed source of funds for the war. Obviously, when it was first instituted the income tax was a ‘temporary’ tax, but it remained in place almost continually until 1816 when the Napoleonic Wars concluded.
The political cartoon above was printed in 1806 and titled “The FRIEND of the PEOPLE’, and his Petty-New-Tax-Gatherer, paying John Bull a visit.” It reflects the widespread criticism of the income tax and its impact on the population. In addition to the many other types of taxes listed in the tax collector’s book, the coin purse in his pocket labelled ‘Poundage’ is a nod to the percentage of a worker’s wages taken by the government.
The dangers of relying on 19th century printed sources
Still going through my MSS notes, and in doing so I found the following letter from Lord Mornington (later Marquis Wellesley, brother of the Duke of Wellington) to Henry Addington, Speaker of the House of Commons. The letter, dated 14 October 1797 (Devon RO Sidmouth MSS, 152M C1797 OZ 38), refers to Pitt’s ill health following the death of his brother-in-law Eliot (for which see more here):
“I trust you are now quite recovered, it was rather too much that you & Pitt should be ill at the same moment. I found him just as you had described him to me, & still more depressed by the death of poor Eliot; he did not disguise to me the state of his health, & I contributed to prevail on him to see Farquhar, I also took care that Farquhar should be apprised (without Pitt’s knowledge) of some leading defects in his system of life; this enabled Farquhar to form a much more accurate judgment of the case. Since Farquhar has seen him & put him upon a course of medicine, he is evidently much better, & has greatly recovered his appetite, & spirits. He went to Walmer quite a different man but he has not yet quite reformed his bad habit of drinking too much at supper.”
I quote the passage in its entirety, not only because it is interesting in itself but also and primarily because it demonstrates a phenomenon I have identified: the habit of 19th century biographers to (for want of a better word) bowdlerise the letters of their subjects.
You will note that in the letter above, Mornington makes no bones about the “leading defects in [Pitt’s] system of life” that he (and Addington, and presumably most of Pitt’s other friends) believed partially responsible for the breakdown in Pitt’s health, namely Pitt’s drinking– “his bad habit of drinking too much at supper”.
Alas this view of Pitt, famous and undeniable though it is, did not sit well with George Pellew, Henry Addington’s Victorian biographer. So … he just decided to leave out the bits of Mornington’s letter he didn’t like. The following is the same passage as the above, only taken from Pellew’s Life of Lord Sidmouth, volume 1, 196:
“I trust you are now quite recovered: it was rather too much that you and Pitt should be ill at the same moment. I found him just as you had described him to me, and still more depressed by the death of poor Eliot. He did not disguise to me the state of his health, and I contributed to prevail on him to see Farquhar, who has put him upon a course of medicine from which he has derived much improvement, and he went to Walmer quite a different man.”
(Spot the difference!)
This trend has ensnared at least one of Pitt’s biographers: Robin Reilly, who cited the Sidmouth Papers in his bibliography but evidently decided Pellew was to be trusted on this occasion. In his biography of Pitt (p. 276) Reilly quotes Pellew’s version of Mornington’s letter. I can’t help feeling that Reilly, whose aim in writing his biography of Pitt was to flesh out “three important influences in his life: his health, his alcoholism and his sexuality” (p. 2), would have kicked himself to know what he was missing by not going back to the source.
Thus ends my cautionary tale for all 18th century historians. ;-)
THIS DORK HE GOT MARRIED TODAY AND I’M SOOOOO HAPPY FOR HIM. I REALLY SHOULDN’T BE. I DON’T EVEN KNOW HIM. BUT HE’S THE SWEETEST MAN THAT I’LL EVER NOT KNOW AND SHUT UP I KNOW THAT DOESN’T MAKE MUCH SENSE BUT IT MEANS SOMETHING TO ME.
BECAUSE He is the actor that made me realize just how beautiful acting can be. He is the one that opened my eyes to a different world filled with beauty. Without Ben, I wouldn’t know about about Parade’s End. I would have never gotten to cherish the wonderful, beautiful, simply amazing character that is Christopher Tietjens. Without Ben, I would not know about William Pitt the Younger and his struggles. Without Ben, I would not have known about Alan Turing and his amazing, incredible mind. And without you, seeing Sherlock Holmes come to life in the same way as I pictured in my imagination while reading the original books, would never have been so much fun. I wouldn’t know a lot of things is I didn’t know about him. But I’m so glad that I do. And I’m super happy that he’s finally settled down. He deserves this. He deserves to be happy. (He also deserves all the best actor awards that are going around these days but I’m sure he’ll win all of them in a few years’ times)
Here’s to the wonderful man who has inspired me to see beauty in everything. Here’s to you Benedict Cumberbatch - the best actor of your generation
Congratulations and I hope you’ll have a very happy future :D
“Oh! It makes me sick to think that … they [Lord Liverpool and George Canning] must even bring discredit to his [Pitt’s] memory by attributing to him a line of conduct he never pursued. To think of Canning’s going about and saying, ‘This is the glorious system of Pitt’; and the papers echoing his words–'This is the glorious system of Pitt!’”
(Charles Meryon, Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope (London, 1845), III, 168)
Lady Hester, I salute you. You may have been barmy as a sackful of squirrels but you saw something that many of your contemporaries had lost sight of, and most historians too.
I have been recently getting quite hot under the collar about this topic (always sure to raise my blood pressure), so much so that I am contemplating getting a huge flashing neon sign pinned up on every single social network platform I frequent reading “PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY”.
Can I say that again? PITT THE YOUNGER WAS NOT A TORY. (Yes, I am shouting. So shoot me.)
I’m not just talking about his self-identification as an “Independent Whig” – something he declared publicly only once to my knowledge, and which was less a statement of his Whiggery (which he would have taken for granted, much as, say, I take for granted the fact that I am female) than a declaration that he was attached to no other political leader available at the time.
Perhaps historiography has moved on a little in the past ten years since I studied this academically, and I would be very grateful if anyone could pass any more recent references my way, but to my mind Jennifer Mori in William Pitt and the French Revolution, J.J. Sack in From Jacobite to Conservative and his super article “The memory of Burke and the memory of Pitt” (Historical Journal 30(3) 1987), and Michael Duffy’s biography Pitt the Younger have it covered. In sum, Pitt’s ideologies were drawn from very traditional Whig sources (unsurprisingly). Conservative (with a small “c”), yes, undoubtedly; rooted in tradition, absolutely; not very creative perhaps either–but Tory? Big T Tory? “Founder of the modern-day Conservative Party” (……..and at this point I would like to bitch-slap William Hague) Tory? No.
Even Pitt’s immediate followers struggled to fit him into the strait-jacket of party political ideals. Even in his own lifetime Pitt (during the short time he spent in opposition to Henry Addington between 1803 and 1804) drove Canning half-mental by refusing to shackle himself to a particular line of conduct, going out of his way to stay aloof to such an extent that he managed to drive off half his old political following by the time he ended up back in office. (Incidentally John Ehrman deals with this confusing period excellently in his chapter of The Younger Pitt: The Consuming Struggle entitled “The pursuit of 'Character’”). When the old “Pittite” following was splintering and reforming itself in the 1820s Pitt’s stance on parliamentary reform, abolition of the slave trade and Catholic Emancipation (to name only the most important) allowed men who identified with him to invoke his name in support of all sorts of diametrically opposed political positions. At the annual Pitt Club dinner Pitt was toasted as the opponent of religious toleration, which I find especially ironic as Pitt’s support of the issue led to his resignation in 1801. True enough the modern-day Conservative Party traces its ancestry back to Pitt, but not directly by any means, and to say “But modern Tories come from Pitt” is like saying Gladstone was a Liberal Democrat.
So what was Pitt? The question would have astounded him. Why, he was a Whig, of course. And it wasn’t his fault that Fox’s followers were much more ideologically organised than his own were, and able to lay claim to that label far more successfully.
(And incidentally, WHY is Lord Grenville described as a “Whig” when he was MUCH more ideologically conservative than Pitt was? Is it because he was in government coalesced with the Foxites? Give me strength!)
So, are we clear? :-)
By the way I welcome any discussion of the above points. I’m sure many of you have a very different opinion. :-)
An actual photograph of a long dead person makes them seem much more real, more present, than a painted portrait. This fine old gentleman is Lord Palmerston (1784-1865), Victorian Prime Minister. In 1799, at the age of 15, his father took him to the House of Commons - where he shook the hand of William Pitt.