Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

of sorrowing friends to collect have, in his case, become matter of historical record. Some of them have even become subjects of historical controversy. All of them are collected here, with many more that have never been given to the world before. Lord Stanhope has enjoyed peculiar opportunities of adding fresh touches to the well-known picture. The Duke of Wellington was staying in the same house with Pitt shortly before his death, and has communicated to Lord Stanhope several interesting details. The biographer's own father lived in constant intercourse with him, and was one of his latest correspondents : and his uncle Mr. James Stanhope stood by the Minister's death-bed and heard his last words. Lord Stanhope's narrative leaves upon the mind the impression that the popular idea of Pitt's having died from mere exhaustion is scarcely founded in fact. He was feeble throughout his life, and perhaps more feeble during the last six years of it: and the early age at which he began the laborious life of a Prime Minister would almost prepare one to believe that he must have been early worn out, whether he actually was SO or not. The real cause of his death was his hereditary malady the gout, from which he was a sufferer almost before he left college. In one sense his work killed him, in that it did not allow him to apply the usual remedies in time. The isolation in which Lord Grenville had left him for the sake of reading to the King a practical lecture upon obstinacy, had thrown the whole burden of Government upon his shoulders : and the danger which threatened England was too closely imminent to allow him any lengthened intermission of his labour. The application of the Bath waters, the customary remedy of the time for his disease, became in his case an impossibility. The gout does not appear to have been the special result of his official labours': for it had fastened on him before those labours began, and continued to cling to him after they had closed. One of his severest fits attacked him in 1803, when he had been free from the labours of office for two years. In the autumn of 1804 it returned again, and his physicians strongly pressed on him a sojourn at Bath. But it was impossible for him to leave at that crisis, even for a week, the momentous duties which depended wholly upon his exertions. We find Lord Grenville at this period ridiculing him for his activity in superintending the military preparations against the expected invader ? Can anything,' he writes, equal the ridicule of Pitt's riding about from Downing Street to Wimbledon, and from Wimbledon to Cox Heath, to inspect military carriages, impregnable batteries, and Lord Chatham's reviews ? Can he possibly be serious in expecting Bonaparte now?'

w?' His alliance with Fox had not lasted Vol. 111.- No. 222.

very

[ocr errors]

very long, but in point of patriotic sentiment he was an apt scholar in his new master's school. As a matter of fact we know now from the researches of M. Thiers that the very day this letter was written, the 25th of August, 1804, was just about the time that Napoleon had fixed for the invasion of England, and that he entertained so little doubt of its success, that he had actually caused the medals to be struck that were to be issued after its accomplishment, with the inscription, 'Frappé à Londres en 1804. But Lord Grenville, who was lounging at Dropmore between his garden and his library, knew or chose to know nothing of all this. Four or five years earlier he would not have sneered at the danger of invasion, or at a Minister's activity in providing against even the chance of it; but it was his sincere belief that there was something eminently ridiculous in an attempt to carry on the Government without his aid. He had not recovered the mortification of discovering that even his own refusal to take office without Fox had not forced the King to an unconditional surrender.

But in the mean time the anxiety and toil, at which Grenville was comfortably sneering, bore heavily upon Pitt. He obtained no interval of repose throughout the whole recess, and was forced to begin another Session with the gout still hanging about him. That Session chanced to be singularly trying. It was the Session in which the House of Commons employed itself in the task of hunting down Lord Melville. Now that the lapse of time has disengaged the question from the partisan feelings of the moment, no one believes Lord Melville to have been guilty of any dishonourable act. His own culpability was confined to the fact that he was charged with expending both the Navy money and a portion of the secret-service money, and did not keep the two accounts very carefully apart. As a necessary consequence, being bound to secrecy with respect to one portion of the expenditure, he could not give the House of Commons a very clear account of the items that were intermingled with it. But under cover of this general laxity, his paymaster, Mr. Trotter, had been guilty of actual malversation. It was a very fair case for an Opposition to take up. Unfortunately, Lord Melville's enemies were not confined to the Opposition. Addington-now Lord Sidmouth-had become his colleague ; but Lord Melville had been among those who contributed to the fall of the Addington administration, and Lord Sidmouth was not a man who easily forgave. Wilberforce, too, and others of the independent members, were glad to make an example of Lord Melville at a time when suspicions of administrative malversation were very general, and not, perhaps, very unjust. In this state of feeling

Pitt was unable to muster a majority for the purpose of defending his early friend. Lord Melville was condemned by the Speaker's casting vote. It was a crushing blow to Pitt. Lord Fitzharris, who was sitting next him at the time the numbers were announced from the chair, relates how he failed, under the first shock of the disappointment, to repress emotions of which few living men had ever seen the signs. Pitt immediately put on the little cocked hat that he was in the habit of wearing when dressed for the evening, and jammed it deeply over his forehead; and I distinctly saw the tears trickling down his cheeks.'

A few nights afterwards he acknowledged to the House that the punishment of Lord Melville had given him a deep and bitter pang. Lord Macaulay had heard from several spectators an account of the scene when these words were uttered. As Pitt uttered the word “pang,” his lip quivered, his voice shook, he paused, and his hearers thought that he was about to burst into tears. He suppressed his emotion, however, and proceeded with his usual majestic self-possession.'

Pitt, in spite of his cold manners, was a man of intense feelings ; and the very restraint in which he usually held them gave to them, when they did escape from his control, a violence against which his physical strength was unequal to bear up. From this time forward we hear a good deal more of his failing health and of the necessity for repose. But yet there were no symptoms to alarm his friends or to inspire his enemies with hope. In August Fox speaks of an appearance of extreme uneasiness, and almost misery.' On Michaelmas Day, Lord Sidmouth writes that ‘Pitt looked tolerably well, but had been otherwise.' The King himself never suspected the imminence of the calamity that was impending over him. Pitt visited him at Weymouth, and strongly urged a reconstruction of the Ministry on a comprehensive principle. He had felt the numerical weakness of the Government in the Melville debates, and dreaded the results to the national security of any passing clamour or panic. Mr. George Rose spoke still more plainly. He told the King, if Mr. Pitt should be confined by the gout for only two or three weeks “there would be an end of us. But the King refused to believe in the gout, and Mr. Rose found him more impracticable than ever. The gout, however, was all this time making formidable, though unobserved, progress. The physicians were constantly urging him again to try the waters of Bath ; but the press of business and the urgency of the crisis were as severe as they had been the year before. The army of Boulogne was still threatening the shores of England, and Pitt could not venture to absent himself for any length of time from London. No one,

2 0 2

however,

however, appears to have been even anxious except his physicians. In the end of October he paid a visit to his colleague Lord Camden, at the Wilderness, in Kent, and there he chanced to meet Sir Arthur Wellesley. In after years the Duke of Wellington gave to Lord Stanhope in conversation his reminiscences of that too brief acquaintance, and Lord Stanhope has printed the notes of the conversation, which he took down at the time. Considering who were the two individuals concerned, we shall make no apology for extracting these notes at length. It is to be observed that the Duke makes a mistake in speaking of the visit as having taken place in November. Pitt was in London the whole of November :

* The Duke and I spoke of Mr. Pitt, lamenting his early death. “I did not think,” said the Duke, “ that he would have died so soon. He died in January, 1806; and I met him at Lord Camden's, in Kent, and I think that he did not seem ill, in the November previous. He was extremely lively, and in good spirits. It is true that he was by way of being an invalid at that time. A great deal was always said about his taking his rides—for he used then to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day—and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef-steak or mutton chop ready at some place fixed beforehand. That place was always mentioned to the party, so that those kept at home in the morning might join the ride there if they pleased. On coming home from these rides, they used to put on dry clothes, and to hold a Cabinet, for all the party were members of the Cabinet, except me and, I think, the Duke of Montrose. At dinner Mr. Pitt drank little wine; but it was at that time the fashion to sup, and he then took a great deal of port-wine and water.

6 “In the same month I also met Mr. Pitt at the Lord Mayor's dinner; he did not seem ill. On that occasion I remember he returned thanks in one of the best and neatest speeches I ever heard in my life. It was in very few words. The Lord Mayor had proposed his health as one who had been the Saviour of England, and would be the Saviour of the rest of Europe. Mr. Pitt then got up, disclaimed the compliment as applied to himself

, and added, England has saved herself by her exertions, and the rest of Europe will be saved by her example !' That was all; he was scarcely up two minutes; yet nothing could be more perfect.

"" I remember another curious thing at that dinner. Erskine was there. Now Mr. Pitt had always over Erskine a great ascendencythe ascendency of terror. Sometimes, in the House of Commons, he could keep Erskine in check by merely putting out his hand or making a note. At this dinner, Erskine's health having been drank, and Erskine rising to return thanks, Pitt held up his finger, and said to him across the table, “Erskine! remember that they are drinking your health as a distinguished Colonel of Volunteers.' Erskine, who had intended, as we heard, to go off upon Rights of Juries, the State

Trials,

Trials, and other political points, was quite put out; he was awed like a school-boy at school, and in his speech kept strictly within the limits enjoined him." ;

It was not till the foreign news became disastrous that his disease began to take a dangerous turn. The first blow was Mack's capitulation at Ulm. It was an act of cowardice wholly beyond an Englishman's calculations to foresee, and it offered a gloomy_omen of the approaching fate of the Coalition upon which Pitt had staked so much. It affected him as no other event had ever affected him before, except the public disgrace of his early friend. It at first reached England only in the form of a vague rumour. Pitt absolutely refused to credit it. •Don't believe a word of it; it's all a fiction,' he said almost peevishly, loud enough to be heard by the whole company, at a dinner at which the report was being discussed. But the next day—the 3rd of November--which happened to be a Sunday, a Dutch newspaper came to the Foreign Office, containing an account of the capitulation. Pitt could not read Dutch, and none of the clerks who could were in the

way. So they went off to Lord Malmesbury for an interpretation, and he read out to them the fatal news.

'I observed,' he writes in his journal, but too clearly the effect it had on Pitt, though he did his utmost to conceal it. This was the last time I saw him. The visit left an indelible impression on my mind, as his manner and look were not his own, and gave me, in spite of myself, a foreboding of the loss with which we were threatened.' This must have been the look which Wilberforce used, in after days, pathetically to call the · Austerlitz look ;' for, as Lord Stanhope drily observes, • The expression was striking and well chosen, but not strictly accurate, since Wilberforce never once saw Pitt after the battle of Austerlitz was fought.'

No dangerous effect, however, followed from this shock: as we have seen, Sir Arthur Wellesley saw him a week later at the Lord Mayor's dinner, and did not think him looking ill. Early in December, he found time at last to go down to Bath. The object of his physicians was to bring out the gout, which had been flying about him for some time, in the form of a regular fit. The Bath waters did their duty; and a good fit of gout soon made its appearance in his foot. During this time his spirits were good, and his cure was visibly progressing. He seems to have amused himself in his unwonted leisure with the somewhat uncongenial task of criticising the poetical effusions of his friends. Canning sent him a poem inspired by Trafalgar, together with a string of critical questions for him to answer. Lord Mulgrave, his colleague in the Cabinet, was also staying at Bath ; and he

was

« AnteriorContinuar »